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The Poem “Hymn to Aphrodite” by Sappho Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2020


Any literary work is a reflection of what is happening in the society. Authors normally voice their opinion about issues affecting the society through various themes. The poem, Hymn to Aphrodite, by Sappho is skilfully written and addresses various issues in the society. The poem explores relevant themes, which makes it appealing to readers on the themes of love, war, and the supernatural power. These themes are closely linked together through analysis of Martin Litchfield West’s translation. Thus, this reflective treatise analyses the poem composed by Sappho on the significance of the era of composition and the bigger picture intended by the poet.

Critical analysis

The poem, Hymn to Aphrodite, refers to a piece drafted by Sappho. The poem was composed several centuries back. The era of composition can be dated back to the period between the seventh century BCE and the sixth century CE (West, 2008). The poem was one of the premium poems by Sappho, who was one of the greatest renowned poets in the ancient Greek civilization.

The poem exposes the themes of love, life, and religion. The main theme is appeal for mercy in order to avoid love rejection. Love is an obsession in the life of this society. Ironically, Sappho paints the affluent goddess as a merciful lady with a big physique to withstand the realities of the love arrows. He asserts, “For though she flee, soon she’ll be chasing; though she refuse gifts, she’ll be giving(West, 2008, stanza 5). This appeal forms the foundation of moral belief as a solution to the plague of love (Hunh & Kiefer, 2005). Severally, the poem points at the society as a vacillating unit, that appears confused as the social disparities widen. Besides, Sappho is a distrustful and bitter loner who has astringent hatred towards the effects of the love desire (Harding & Doumerc, 2007). To affirm the bad feeling, his poetry adopts a sombre mood in displaying loyalty to the goddess as the best revenge against abnormal circumstances that knock indiscriminately in the direction of anyone seeking romance (Obsidian Dream, 2014).

This poem described how love strikes when least expected. In the third stanza, Sappho expressed how he would be devoted to the goddess in dedicating indefinite quantity of time to beg for revival since the high and mighty in the society has no control. He asserts, “scheming daughter of Zeus, I pray you, with pain and sickness, Queen, crush not my heart, but come, if ever in the past you” (West, 2008, stanza 2). Apparently, Sappho would use much time to esteem every organ of his body towards romantic endeavours. The goddess’ denial to conform to Sappho’s request would daunt him and even kill his manhood. Sappho recalls how short a person’s life is in the second verse. The poet asserts, “Soon they were here, and you, Blessed Goddess…asked why I’d called, what was the matter now” (West, 2008, stanza 4). Reflectively, once life has gone, the chance to make pleasure with one another is also gone since nobody can enjoy life in grave. Love is presented as a natural thing, and despite the fact that it is suppose to be an ecstatic affair, it might be more hurting if the other party is not reciprocating the feelings (Wagner, 2003).

Irrespective of social class, religious inclination, size of accumulated wealth, epoch inclination, and beauty, love kisses people equality every time it knocks on the door of its prey, as indicated in Sappho’s poem. Sappho urges the goddess to accept his request, explaining that such passionate affection would enable them to use the most of time they have to exist in the world. The poet laments, what was my heart insanely craving: “Who is it this time I must cozen to love you, Sappho? Who’s unfair to you?” (West, 2008, stanza 3). Actually, Sappho intends to turn over features of time in order to have command over his love life with the goddess.

Theme of religion also presents itself in the poem. In fact, if love is a marvellous nasty task to Sappho, then religion is but a fantastic power that he wants to dominate over his adversary. During the era when this poem was created, religious ideas were rarely discussed in public within the great Roman society (Oxford University, 2010). However, with intelligence and braveness, Sappho talks about religion in an open, attractive, and agitating language, without having to adopt a hardliner position (Sappho, 2011). Using a colourful language, the poet adopts the best praise words to refer to the goddess, who has struck his heart with her beauty. Sappho states, “Rich-throned immortal Aphrodite, chariot yoked; and pretty sparrows, brought you swiftly across the dark earth” (West, 2008, stanza 5).


The poet was a humorous narrator who built an interesting and amusing poem delving on the thin line between love and power. The unique language used in this poem is difficult to understand and interpret. The traditional Greek language makes this poem difficult to understand. Within the complex language, the author uses satire, metaphor, and imagery to add taste to a rather sombre topic. However, the translation by West gives the poem a flow.


Harding, W., & Doumerc, E. (2007). An introduction to poetry in English. Oxford, UK: Presses Mirail.

Hunh, P., & Kiefer, J. (2005). The narratological analysis of lyric poetry: studies in English poetry from the 16th to the 20th Century. New York, NY: Walter de Gruyter.

Obsidian Dream. (2014). . Web.

Oxford University. (2010). Greek Poetry: Elegiac and Lyric: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Sappho. (2011). . Web.

Wagner, P. (2003). Poetry Analysis: Poetry analysis 2. London, UK: Learning Essentials.

West, M.L. (2008). Greek Lyric poetry: The poems and fragments of the Greek Iambic, Elegiac, and Melic poets (excluding Pindar and Bacchylides) down to 450 BC. Oxford, UK: OUP Oxford.

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