Sappho
























In the two paintings above, Sappho is depicted with her lyre in what can be considered to be the light of inspiration. In both paintings, she seems to be floating, making her seem almost angelic, which justifies the claim that she is "the sixth muse."


"Awed by her splendor

Stars near the lovely
moon cover their own
bright faced
when she
is roundest and lights
earth with her silver."

This is an ancient Greek rendition of a small girl holding a dove. Maternal Images Through Poetry

As is the case with the works of many writers, Sappho's poetry reflects her personality and the innovative way in which she expresses her feelings towards the young women she taught. When involved in a religious community dedicated to Aphrodite, Sappho taught her female students how to write poetry along with other fundamental aspects of life - much like a mother would to her children. Along with her emotional expression, Sappho uses her poetry as a teaching tool, giving advice to her students about how they should act and what to expect from life. Sappho's intention was to teach through verse, facilitated by her use of colloquial language and the harp, which were two media that were unused before Sappho incorporated them into her work (Barnard, p. 102). There are four themes in Sappho's poems, aside from those she composed for weddings and ritual prayers she wrote to the goddess Aphrodite. These themes include: advice, her personal feelings towards society and life, her romantic feelings towards some of her students, and her expression of the relationship between Sappho and her students which can be interpreted as a kind of mother/child relationship.

In this drawing, Sappho seems to be dancing to what I interpret as her own lyrical/musical poetry. Here, Sappho is holding the lyre which she wrote her lyrics with accompanied by a man who might be interpreted to be an admirer of her talents. In her poetry there is evidence that upper-class women were intellectually independent of men and even though they were expected to marry as soon as possible and have children, they were also expected to have a well-rounded education. The qualities that made a woman desirable to marry were her knowledge of music, dancing, seduction and charm; these things were what gave women "personality" or at least the ability to express themselves (Cantarella, p. 72). Since Sappho's poetry was written for a female audience about problems they confronted, her works show that women were not only passive and observant of a male-dominated society, but they also had their own views and judgments of the events that occurred in life (Barnstone, p. 175). Unfortunately, due to the decline in the importance of education during the medieval period, "the papyrus scrolls were eventually torn into strips, crosswise of the roll, lengthwise of the poem, and pasted together to form cartonage coffins.... Other strips were wadded and stuffed into the mouth of mummified crocodiles." (Bernard,p. 104-105) These are the only remnants of Sappho's poetry that were found. Not having a complete collection of Sappho's work leaves room to interpret her poetry in many different ways, but also makes it difficult to get the true meaning she is trying to convey.

Once again, Sappho is depicted in a familiar environment -- with her students, her lyre and what seems to be a tablet with poetry written on it.

While teaching these young women, Sappho became emotionally attached to them and treated them as if they were her children. Because of this close-knit relationship, Sappho's attachment to her students was very strong. In some of her poetic fragments, Sappho gives advice to her students as well as explains to them the dilemmas she is experiencing. In "A Woman's Plea," when Sappho says, "I pray for long life and health/ My children, I would escape/ from wrinkles and cling to youth," she expresses the desire to stay young and healthy (Barnstone, p. 99). This poem is aimed at her children, who are presumably her students since Sappho only had one daughter, and she explains to them that she wishes she could be young forever. In doing this, she is explaining to them that wanting to stay young and beautiful forever is not an isolated feeling, which gave her students a sense of comfort at moments they felt confused and depressed. She offers further advice to other woman in "A Ring," stating, "Silly woman. Yes, it is a ring/ but really, don't be so proud" (Barnstone, p. 63). In this short fragment, Sappho tells the woman in the poem not to be so proud of material things, implying that there are other virtues which she should be concerned with. Sappho also portrays her desire to keep her friends safe and to comfort them when, in "When You Come," she writes, "You will lie down and/ I shall lay out soft/ pillows for your body" (Barnstone, p. 77). She wants to pamper her friends and make them feel as protected as a mother would one of her children when she is in need.

This depiction of Sappho writing poetry was taken from a jar on which it was painted. Consequently, her students viewed her as a mother figure as well. Sappho quoted her friend Atthis saying, " 'she will walk/ among us like a mother with/ all her daughters around her' " (Barnard, 43). Atthis viewed Sappho as a mother within their community and she wished for Sappho to be with them and help them when she is needed. Sappho's bitterness in the poem is apparent because she believes that Atthis has forgotten about her after she moved away to be with her husband. Atthis also seems very capricious in this poem, telling Sappho, " 'If you will not get/ up and let us look at you/ I shall never love you again!' " Her childlike manner in this statement reveals a bit of Atthis' personality, implying that Sappho has pampered her to the extent that she expects Sappho to do what she wants at the moment.


A profile painting of Sappho, which was used on the cover of Sappho's Immortal Daughters
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