This is a statue of an ancient Greek woman.


On Michael Field's book Long Ago, this is the portrait of Sappho that was used. It is a cut out from the larger portrait by Alma-Tadema, which is seen on the history portion of this website. When Sappho's students moved away to get married and lead their own lives, some of them tried to cling to their teacher like children would to their mother. When Atthis is about to depart, she tells Sappho, " 'This parting must be/ endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly." (Barnard, 42) This statement is a reflection of how many young girls felt when they had to leave home, often times to marry men they did not know. Even though Sappho might have wanted the girl to stay, she took a motherly tone and says, "Go and be happy/ but remember (you know/ well) whom you leave shackled by love." In this verse, she offers Atthis advice and comfort, telling her to go and live her life the way she is expected to, but also asks her to remember that Sappho will always love her. This poem, though it is about a particular person, can be used to teach her other students about the hesitant feelings ancient Greek women had about marriage.

This portrait of Sappho shows her holding a pick and a stone, ready to write. Some of Sappho's love poems, including the one addressed to Atthis referred to above, can be seen in a different context. Aside from having maternal feelings for her students, Sappho fell in love with some of them. The only documentation available to support this statement is Sappho's poetry. In a poem directed towards a particular woman, Sappho begins by expressing her jealousy towards "the man who is allowed/ to sit beside you-he/ who listens intimately to the sweet murmur of/ your voice" (Barnard, 39). The woman to whom Sappho is speaking to in this poem is with a man, and Sappho wishes she could be that man in order to be close to the object of her desire. She goes on to explain how she feels when this particular woman is around her by saying, "If I met/ you suddenly, I can't/ speak-my tongue is broken;/ a thin flame runs under/ my skin; seeing nothing,/ hearing only my own ears/ drumming. I drip with sweat;/ trembling shakes my body." Here she is describing a feeling that many people experience once they are in the presence of someone they adore. Because of this direct expression of adoration, modern interpreters of Sappho's poetry believe that she was a lesbian. This assumption is not so far-fetched, considering that in ancient Greece love between two people of the same gender was not taboo as long as these individuals eventually got married to someone of the opposite sex.

Also, Sappho's unconditional love is another feeling she has for her students that resembles the mother/daughter relationship. To Atthis, she wrote a little poem which states, "I loved you/ long ago while you/ still seemed to me a/ small ungracious child." (Barnard, 50). This poem implies that Sappho knew Atthis from a very young age and loved her dearly despite her immaturity. She also wrote a poem to Gongyla, another friend, imploring her to return from her travels and stay with her. In "Return," she says, "O Gongyla…/ I want/ you to come back quickly." (Barnstone, p 71). She desires to be with her friend even though Gongyla is away.

She yearns to feel the loving connection between them again. Sappho portrays the subjects in her poems like children who long to be with their mothers but are forced to live other lives away from her. In one poem, she writes, "You will say/ See, I have come/ back to the soft/ arms I turned from/ in the old days" (Barnard, 57). When life proves not to be what they expected, they can turn to Sappho for comfort, once again alluding to the image of a mother comforting her child in times of grief and distress, regardless of how hurt Sappho was when they first left her. In several of her poems she expresses her disdain about marriage and sexual relationships, about the fact that it is normal to feel as though one has lost a part of oneself after one's first sexual encounter with a man. In three poems, Sappho mourns the loss of her virginity and portrays her confusion after such a thing has happened. In "Remorse," she says, "Do I still long/ for my virginity?" which implies that even after her first sexual experience with a man, Sappho feels the desire to gain back the virginity she lost (Barnstone, p. 57). These poems serve as a teaching tool and also as a way to personally express her anguish and doubts about the life she had been forced to lead. In one poem, she refers to the goddess Artemis, who has never been tainted by marriage or sexual relations. Artemis never endures the averse feelings these ancient Greek women felt after losing their virginity so they revere her in a way because she is pure and untainted by these feelings.

This is a sculpture from Ancient Greek to represent Aphrodite.


Sappho used her poetry to teach her students as well as to express how much she loved and cared for them. Her poetry was geared to transcend time, helping those to whom she offered the advice throughout their lives, not just at the moment the poem was written. This, in itself, is characteristic of the maternal feelings Sappho had towards her "children." In many poems there are various mother/child metaphors where she compares her relationship with her friends to the relationship she has with her daughter, and any mother to her daughter. There are only a few poems directly addressing her daughter, Kleis, and in these poems, the same common themes are seen. She expresses her unconditional, undying love for Kleis in "Kleis" by stating, "I would not trade/ my darling Kleis for all Lydia or even/ for lovely Lesbos" (Barnstone, p 89). Sappho explains that she will not leave her daughter for all the riches and power in the world. She loves Kleis so much that she would rather live a simple life in order to be with her. Sappho also gives Kleis advice, explaining in "To Her Daughter When Sappho Was Dying" that there should be no grief in their house, even though she is dying. She says, "It would be wrong for us. It is not right/ for mourning to enter a home of poetry" (Barnstone, p. 109). Sappho does not want her daughter to be sad so she tries to comfort her in the only way she sees possible, by admonishing Kleis and telling there that there will be no mourning in their house.



The relationship between Kleis and Sappho is very much like the relationship between Sappho and her students. The desire to keep her "children" safe, out of harm's way, and give them a well rounded education so they are prepared to face obstacles in life are all feelings that a mother has toward her child. Sappho's feelings towards certain students were a little more intense and slightly out of context of the mother daughter relationship, which is seen in a few poems which are directly addressed to Atthis and Gongyla, amongst others. The maternal image is strong in her poetry and those themes are repeated many times in different poems, emphasizing the struggles she faced when her "children" left home.


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