Sappho’s Love/Erotic Poetry in Comparison to Male Love/Erotic Poetry of Her Time customized essays
In actuality, the objective, non-biased analysis of Sappho’s love and erotic poetry in comparison to that of male contemporaries of the poet reveals the substantial differences which make it possible to speak about unique, female approach to these themes which had little in common with traditional male view on the theme of love and eroticism. In this respect, it is primarily necessary to point out that in her lyrics, Sappho really admired female beauty and she highly appreciated female nature, feelings and emotion of women and often she underlined the unjust and superior attitude of males to women. In fact, unlike many of her male contemporaries, she was probably the first who made a woman the object of love but not a subject, a tool which males use to satisfy their physiological needs. In this respect, it should be said that Sappho’s love and erotic poetry opposes to her male contemporaries such as Alcaeus since she portrays women as desiring lovers rather than passive objects of desire. For instance, it is possible to refer to the depiction of Helen in the poetry of Sappho. Sappho represents Helen as a woman that is an object of desire and, what is more, who is really able to love and she is ready to sacrifice her current position, her family for the sake of her love as she abandons her parents, husband and daughter for the love of Paris. In stark contrast, male poets described Helen as the cause of the war and they blamed her that it was because of her actions the bloody war between Greece and Troy started. In such a way, male poets viewed her as a subject which was used by males in their conflict. Instead, Sappho emphasized that Helen was a desired object and in her poem she perfectly illustrated the power of love:
“Some say a host of horses, some say an army of infantry, and some say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say that it is whatever one loves… For Helen, who surpassed all mortals by far in beauty, left her noble husband, and went sailing to Troy, nor did she remember at all her child or her parents, but for lightly reminded me of Anaktoria, who isn’t here. I would rather see her sexy walk and the shining sparkle of her face than Lydian chariots or armed infantry” (Sappho, 91).
In such a way, the poet emphasizes the fact that women are able to independent decisions and that the female beauty should be respected and appreciated not less than traditional male chariots or armed infantry.
Furthermore, on comparing the love and erotic poetry of Sappho and her male contemporaries, it should be said that in a way it is possible to agree that there was certain similarity between both poetries. To put it more precisely, speaking about the love and erotic poetry of Sappho and Anacreon it is possible to easily trace the fact that both authors agree that there exist a significant differences between sexes and, what is more important, both poets tend to emphasize the relationships between genders is destructive for both male and females. In other words, Sappho and Anacreon agrees that love and heterosexual contacts inevitably leads to the oppression of one gender by another and such relations may be viewed as an attempt to demonstrate the power of one gender over another. For instance, it is possible to refer to Anacreon’s poem where he writes:customized essays
Thracian filly, why do you
… stubbornly flee me, and why
Do you think I’ve no skills?
… I could well throw a bridle on you,
And holding the reins I could turn
Round the goal on the track (Greene, 133).
In such a way, the poet demonstrates the power a male have over a woman and love and sexual contacts between them are viewed as a victory of a male over a female that is a proof of a biased attitude of men to women. On the other hand, this fragment of the poem contains indication to certain apprehensions of the author since in case of his inability to prove his power he would demonstrate his inability to control a woman and romantic reciprocal control in this respect is practically impossible. At first glance, Anacreon demonstrates confidence in his easy capacity to conquer a woman, maintaining face in a male arena, though this poem also contains implicit vulnerability of male, as the female’s potentially persistent sexual avoidance threatens his skills, his ability to achieve, and so his very male potency. In such a way, Anacreon represents love as a one-sided goal-oriented process in which the major goals is the mail conquest of a female that demonstrates his power and ability to achieve.
In stark contrast, Sappho, even though she recognizes the fact that love and sexual contacts implies certain sacrifices and sufferings of genders, offers quite original feminine perspective on male-female sexual relations. She agrees that love and sexual relations tend to show the power of one gender over another, but, on the other hand, she argues that such a trend is really destructive and abusive in relation to women. For instance, in her poem she depicts a marriage night:
Raise high the roof!
You carpenter men
The bridegroom approaches like Ares
Much bigger than a big man (Sappho, 112).
In such a way, the poet shows a male lover as a huge man with pounding tools and she depicts male love as insensitive to feminine pleasure and identity. In this regard, the love and erotic poetry of Sappho differs dramatically from the poetry of male poets such as that of Anacreon which has been just discussed above. Instead of the conquest, the desire to dominate, Sappho lays emphasis on the sufferings of a woman who actually interests a man just as an object of conquest and a tool of satisfaction his physiological needs. Sappho draws the audience’s attention to the feelings and emotions of a woman, her dominated position and inability to resist to the male power.
On the other hand, it is necessary to underline that Sappho understands perfectly the extent, to which such a treatment of women is unjust and this is why in her works she attempts to show women as very sensitive and loving, her female characters are subjects of desire and, what is more they are able to love. In fact, such an attitude is quite contrasting to the attitudes of male who believed that women are simply unable to have some feelings of emotions and men viewed physical sufferings of women as a norm because their own needs were prior to them and poets, contemporaries of Sappho did not differ from other men in this respect.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Sappho creates very specific and very different love and erotic poetry which had little in common with male love and erotic poetry of her epoch. Basically, she agrees that there exist a substantial difference between genders and that love and sexual relations inevitably leads to the demonstration of power of a gender but, unlike her male contemporaries such as Anacreon or Archilochus, Sappho shows that a woman is not an object but rather a subject of desire which is not only able to be loved but she is also able to love and feel too.
Brown, Andrew L. “Hymenaeus.” The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Eds. Simon Hornblower
and Antony Spawforth. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Carson, Anne. If not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Clark, Christina. “The Body of Desire: Nonverbal Communication in Sappho 31V.” Syllecta Classica 12 (2001): 1-29.
Greene, E., ed. Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Sappho et al. Sappho’s Lyre. Trans. Diane Rayor. California: University of California Press,
Williamson, Margaret. Sappho’s Immortal Daughters. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1995.
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