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Sappho c. 620 B.C.-c. 550 B.C. Biographical Info Little is known with certainty about the life of Sappho She was born probably about 620 B.C. to an aristocratic.

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Presentation on theme: "Sappho c. 620 B.C.-c. 550 B.C. Biographical Info Little is known with certainty about the life of Sappho She was born probably about 620 B.C. to an aristocratic."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sappho c. 620 B.C.-c. 550 B.C

2 Biographical Info Little is known with certainty about the life of Sappho She was born probably about 620 B.C. to an aristocratic family on the island of Lesbos during a great cultural flowering in the area. Apparently her birthplace was either Eressos or Mytilene, the main city on the island, where she seems to have lived for some time. She seems to have married and had a daughter named Cleis. Sappho seems also to have exchanged verses with the poet Alcaeus.


4 Phaon and Sappho Phaon in Greek mythology was a boatman of Mitylene in Lesbos. He was old and ugly when Aphrodite came to his boat. She put on the guise of a crone. Phaon ferried her over to Asia Minor and accepted no payment for doing so. In return, she gave him a box of ointment. When he rubbed it on himself, he became young and beautiful. Many were captivated by his beauty. According to mythology, Sappho fell in love with him. He lay with her but soon grew to resent her and devalue her. Sappho was so distraught with his rejection that she threw herself into the sea to drown. Story is re-told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

5 Jacques-Louis David (1748 –1825, influential French neo-classical painter), “Sappho, Phaon, and Cupid” (1809)

6 Reception and Reputation The history of Sappho’s reception is itself part of Sappho's significance. Her attitudes toward love attracted a great deal of attention, both positive and negative. It is perhaps as an icon of the erotic that Sappho has been best known. In antiquity and in modern times there have been those who enthusiastically applauded her celebration of physical love, finding in her valorization of subjective experience an affirmation often absent in the European tradition.

7 Reception and Reputation In antiquity Sappho was regularly counted among the greatest of poets and was often referred to as "the Poetess," just as Homer was called "the Poet." Plato hailed her as "the tenth Muse," and she was honored on coins and with civic statuary. Nonetheless, an ancient, scurrilous tradition attacked and ridiculed her for her evident sexual preferences. Sappho was lampooned by the writers of New Comedy. New Comedians rendered the poet a popular burlesque comic figure on the stage.

8 Reception and Reputation Christian antiquity and middle ages: censors condemned her in words such as those of Tatian, who called her "a whore who sang about her own licentiousness." Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Pope Gregory VII ordered her works burned.

9 Reception and Reputation Great influence on the Romantic poets, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Alfred Tennyson, who all translated her poetry into English. influenced the Romantic idea of the poet as a creature of feeling, one whose solitary song is overheard, as opposed to the classical model of the poet as a socially defined craftsperson who speaks to a group (compare to the “Bards” in Homer’s Odyssey!).

10 Reception and Reputation Many readers particularly uncomfortable with expressions of Lesbian love. Many modern editors eliminated or changed words or lines in her poems that they believed would be “misunderstood” by readers. Nevertheless, her works speak to both heterosexual and homosexual readers, to men as well as to women.

11 Her poetry Only a handful of fragments of her poetry survive Nevertheless, her poems have been applauded by readers in all eras, and she has been regarded by many as one of the greatest poets of European history. One of the few female poets of the antiquity, whose work survived. greatest importance of Sappho in literary history has been her contribution toward the definition of the lyric genre.

12 Her poetry THE LYRIC (DEF.): A usually short, personal poem expressing the poet’s emotions and thoughts rather than telling a story. As a broadly inclusive genre, the lyric includes the elegy, ode, ballad, and sonnet. Its distinguishing characteristics are emotion, subjectivity, melodiousness, imagination, description, and (sometimes) meditation. In ancient Greece, a lyric was a poem to be sung with accompaniment of a lyre. “The lyric” usually includes any type of love poetry.

13 Sappho’s contributions to “the lyric” Her emphasis on emotion, on subjective experience, and on the individual marks a stark contrast between her work and the epic, liturgical, or dramatic poetry (and usually public) of the period. But much of Sappho's work is intimate and putatively private, addressed to specific women or to her friends; and her tone of colloquial familiarity anticipates medieval and modern practice. emphatic directness, using few figures of speech; she celebrates love as the highest of human faculties while recognizing its complex nature, including elements of jealousy, rivalry, and aggression. In her poetry, subjective emotion expressed with intellectual dignity. power of Eros is self-justifying and literally, in its extremest dimensions, religious.

14 Relationship to social function of poetry much earlier literature had been sustained by the social consensus of collective vision expressed in myth and legend (e.g. The Iliad or The Odyssey) Sappho was free to be critical, to point out the gaps and problems in the received opinions of her society. challenges the heroic ethos that buttressed patriotism throughout her work she asserts the potentially subversive primacy of the individual consciousness and the validity of its opinions and impulses. –A notion little known in archaic and traditional societies (there: primacy of a collective consciousness)

15 Not entirely modern… But: her poetry was still meant to be performed orally she adhered, consciously or not, to the view that poetry was a form of magic and that, by manipulating language, one could also manipulate the reality that it described. Thus: poetry as a type of religious rite.

16 Images and Representations (through the age) Fresco from Pompeii, National Archeological Museum, Naples

17 Athenian depiction of Sappho and Alcaeus, about 450 B.C.E.

18 Musei Capitolini, Roma

19 Charles Nicolas Rafael Lafond (1774–1835): Sappho sings for Homer, 1824

20 Charles-August Mengin. 1877. (part of pre- Raphaelite movement in painting, founded by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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