(Book Summary) codex sapphistra from Dark Matters by Susan Hawthorne

Capitoline Museum in Rome © 2013 Susan Hawthorne

In my novel, Dark Matters, Desi niece of the main character Kate, is trying to work her way through her aunt’s papers. She keeps coming across fragments, poems and writing about her life and family. Kate is entranced by the Greek mythic history which connects to her family ancestry. But she is also attempting to Foreground, in the Mary Daly sense, the history of lesbians and constantly trying to find ways of putting that at the centre.

The following extract includes Desi’s ruminations on the bequest left to her by Kate as she is figuring it out within her own framework.

I have been reading Sappho for decades. I read Mary Barnard’s Sappho: A New Translation (1958) around 1976 and remember being totally bowled over. Not until Canadian Classicist Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2003) came out did I think anyone had captured the spirit of Sappho. A lesbian history cannot ignore Sappho and in the novel, Kate is reclaiming her in her way.


Capitoline Museum in Rome © 2013 Susan Hawthorne


Among her papers are scraps of undated writing. At least she arranged most things into boxes with dates, though some seem out of place. It’s the scraps that have me intrigued.

Codex psapphistra

What could it mean? A kind of imaginary encyclopedia about lesbians. She contemplates writing in Nüshu. She describes a range of animals from a lesbian-centric point of view. She is creating a universe in which lesbian symbols lie at the centre.



a nonsense idea

non sense

only maniacs would dream such things

a pillow book of nonsense dreams

a papyrus of unwritten words

a shard fallen from space

like a meteoroid bringing life

making passage through

the double disk dark matter zone

dingoes will talk

trees will walk

seas will dry

just as likely


that’s what she said

imagine a different world

not the one outside your door

not the one at the top of your brain

turn everything over

create an imaginary world

with imaginary animals and words

create a time when the impossible

becomes possible

If you are interested in variations and translations I have made of Sappho, you’ll find some of them on this blog which I posted in 2014. http://susanslambdawolfblog.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/sappho-translations.html

You can find out more about my novel, Dark Matters here:


(Meet Mago Contributor) Susan Hawthrone.

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