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Sappho is a Greek poet, who lived on the island of Lebos in the seventh-sixth centuries B.C. (Reynolds 3). She composed lyric poetry. Unfortunately, only fragments of her poetry have survived (Williamson 1). The target of her affections described in the poetry was female (“Sappho circa 630 B.C.” par. 4). Careful study of the existing fragments of her poems helps to explore the intimate world of her poetry and determine its specific features.
“Deathless Aphrodite of the Spangled Mind”
This poem explores the theme of love and friendship. The poem is written in the form of appeal to Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality. The speaker praises the goddess, asks for her mercy and prays her to appear and comfort the suffering caused by love.
The speaker appears to entreat Aphrodite before. It can be proved by such words presented in the poem:
But come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father’s
golden house and came. (Sappho Feminist Writings 9)
This episode proves the fact that the speaker has met Aphrodite before. The verbs used to describe the previous appearances of the goddess in front of the speakers are put in the past tense. That means that the speaker requested for the goddess’s mercy before, and she accomplished his request.
The poem explores female desire, as Aphrodite appears to be the one who deals with the speaker’s love concerns. The speaker is a woman as the goddess clearly addresses Sappho. The speaker is longing for “heart longs to accomplish”. The poem can be considered exploring homoerotic friendship, as the object of the speaker’s love appears to be female. It can be proven by numerous usage of “she” during Aphrodite’s monologue:
For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
even unwilling. (Sappho Feminist Writings 10)
“He Seems to Me Equal to Gods”
This poem is considered exploring both homosexual and heterosexual love. Though the hero of the poem is not clearly differentiated, the female hero appears to be the object of the speaker’s love. That means that the speaker describes her heterosexual love. In the same time, the object of her love appears to be involved in heterosexual relations with a man: “It seems to me that man is equal to the gods, that is, whoever sits opposite you” (Sappho Victorian Sappho 29).
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The speaker focuses on her emotional experience related to love relations. She describes the feelings she experiences when the object of her love is present next to her. The description of these feelings is very expressive and full of bright illustrations.
“Some Men Say an Army of Horse”
The argument of the poem is what can be considered the “most beautiful thing on the black earth” (Sappho The Cambridge Companion 161). The speaker claims that what you love can be considered the best thing. She supports her argument with an example of Helen, who left her bravest husband. This example illustrates the argument that no treasures and valor are stronger than the power of love is.
Studying the poetry of Sappho reveals the most distinctive features of her poetry and demonstrates the amazing mastery of the author to describe and analyze intimate feelings and emotions.
Reynolds, Margaret. The Sappho Companion, New York: Random House, 2010. Print.
Sappho. “Deathless Aphrodite of the Spangled Mind.” Trans. Anne Carnson. Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History: A Global Sourcebook and History. Ed. Tiffany Wayne. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print.
—. “He Seems to Me Equal to Gods.” Trans. Anne Carnson. Victorian Sappho. Ed. Yopie Prins. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999. Print.
—. “Some Men Say an Army of Horse.” Trans. Anne Carnson. The Cambridge Companion to Archaic Greece. Ed. Alan Shapiro. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
Williamson, Margaret. Sappho’s Immortal Daughters, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995. Print.