Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



In her collection Hymen (1921), the modernist poet H.D. engages in a collaborative, composite reception of the archaic Greek lyric poet Sappho. H.D. draws on Sappho as a source of lyric power and lesbian erotic authority, and brings together the various women’s voices and perspectives represented in Sappho’s poems—especially those that have to do with marriage—into her own present poetic moment. As the title Hymen suggests, of particular significance to H.D.’s Sapphic reception work is the genre of the epithalamium, or “wedding song.” Sappho, in her epithalamia, constructs a woman-centered and woman-identified thiasos that is centered on the bride, her companions, and the poet; she emphasizes these women’s experiences of the marriage rite and the several moments of transition necessitated by it. In Hymen, H.D. constructs a similar thiasos, and like Sappho prioritizes female perspectives of marriage, sex, desire, and loss. Yet, while Sappho’s epithalamia appear rather celebratory in tone and look with optimism toward the bride’s future as a wife and mother, H.D. reverses the ancient generic function of the epithalamium and uses the form to criticize rather than celebrate traditional heterosexual marriage. H.D. views marriage and the necessitated forfeiture of virginity as a symbolic death for the bride, and throughout Hymen highlights the various forms of loss that the institution entails.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Zoe Stamatopoulou

Committee Members

Catherine Keane, Robert Henke


Permanent URL: