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Dissertation: Where Sappho Meets Frog Woman: Mythopoesis with Place.

Kirsten Ellen Johnsen, 2021.


This is a personal journey of a settler woman into the imposition of a Western myth of the conquest of women and nature upon a Central Pomo landscape. The "fakelore" tale of an Indigenous woman leaping to her death for unrequited or denied love was ubiquitous throughout the Americas in the nineteenth century. This false legend was based on another untrue story about Sappho, the Lesbian Greek poet. In my inquiry into the core elements of this myth from its origins in the mystery religions of the Mediterranean to its application in European culture as an image of the sublime in art, I uncover how the eroticized image of feminine death was used to silence women writers, romanticize genocide, and enforce white male supremacy.

Within this tale is a story about how Western European and settler-colonizer cultures have imagined women and nature. Set in contrast to Pomo cultures' appreciation for the powers of the natural world, the question remains how Western-thinking peoples may remember what it means to face the Supernatural Other in the age of the Anthropocene.

Sappho's poetic fragments offer a clue to this remembrance. Her relational eros offers a way to respect Frog Woman's agency and to begin to recognize Indigenous Peoples' sovereignty, cultural resilience, and prior claim to these lands.

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