Witnessing History: Sappho’s recollections

It’s a very faraway idea and a very profound one; Sappho, the lyric poetess standing eternally in the middle of a public square of her homeland; gazing; exploring her descendants amidst the chaos;

“Burn them”, people shout in the poetess’ feet and smoke blurs her marble sight, as screams reach her ears, the wailing of mothers and children, the pleadings for help in words that seem extraneous but all too familiar. Sappho remembers.

Stories spun around her through the ages and Sappho has become a symbol of female loving and shameless desire, carving the path for women’s right to creative expression.

Sappho loved luxury and visual gorgeousness arriving from foreign places, and Lesvos’ position as an Eastern trading hub strengthens such a claim.

Sappho was also exiled, seeking refuge in Sicily because of her political views, and later history did her justice; statues were raised in her honor, coins were minted with her name and image on them. When Sappho’s statuesque figure settled in Lesvos once again, decades ago, she would inevitably be once again at the very heart of history-making.

Lesvos soon becomes a non- topos, a place where asylum seekers are on the island and yet they remain “unseen”. Only when emerging from the camps to occupy her square – a place historically intertwined with awakening and the changing of direction- do they bring the faraway, the suffering far from sight, near.

The asylum seekers, attacked by her descendants, are later on arrested. The police officers’ shadow cast on the base of the statue as Sappho watches motionless peoples’ frantic running. What if Sappho was called to testify on what happened? Would she demand to be called in front of the bench? And how would she be treated by the authorities?

The “space” was the only thing that did not move that night. The Topos that is reconstructed for the purposes of a court case that will -one day- take place. A 3D model that renders the at the time inanimate, which is now already partly gone.

Sappho’s square will soon be redeveloped. The redevelopment feels like another attempt to remove evidence of a crime. If and when the trial actually takes place, the appointed judges won’t be able to walk on the same stones, see the same trees and the trashcans that the perpetrators moved that night. They might not even recognize the bus stop in the square or the street lights surrounding it.

Yet the poetess will remember. If only she could point out to us those responsible for these actions. If only her gaze could once more extend beyond this island.

μνάσασθαί τινά φαιμι καὶ ἄψερον ἀμμέων.
I’m saying that someone will remember us in the future.
– Sapphο

*On the night of April 22nd 2018, a group of asylum seekers was attacked by mob of locals in Sapfous square, in Mytilene, Lesvos island, Greece. Almost 3 years after, the court case is still pending, many of the accused perpetrators are at large, participating in other violent actions against people on the move and Greek citizens.

Disinfaux Collective


/Disinfaux is a not-for-profit research collective based in Greece. We conduct in-depth investigations on human and environmental rights issues, borders and surveillance, detention/exclusion regimes, migration/displacement, and alt-right/far-right movements. We operate as an autonomous network of on-the-ground researchers, academics, and journalists, interested in open-source investigations, field research, and investigative journalism.

Images 1,2,3: Disinfaux Collective
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