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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Let's Talk Sappho

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Hey, how’s everyone doing? Hope everyone is staying safe while the states reopen here in America. Please remember wash your hands and wear your mask while you’re out, the second spike is a real thing so please be safe and careful.

Ducks in masks waving.
Remember your mask when you go out!

Anyway, this week I delved into Sappho’s poetry for the first time in five years. I’m not gonna lie, I really dislike poetry; it’s not my thing. I’ve never been a fan of writing it, and I’ve never been a fan of reading it. You all know I love Poe, but outside of “The Raven” I think I’ve read maybe two other poems of his. Don’t expect much poetry on this blog.

"Sorry not sorry."
Sorry not sorry to all the poetry lovers I've just offended.

When it comes to Sappho, I cannot tell you which pieces of hers that I’ve read. I can tell you it probably wasn’t “Charaxos and Larichos” AKA “Brothers Poem.” This poem was discovered in 2014 and I first read Sappho around 2016 so the poem wasn’t in the anthology I was using for the class I had to read Sappho in solely for the fact that the anthology I was using was published pre-2014.

Portrait of Sappho.
Meet Sappho everyone.

I have to say, I really appreciate “Charaxos and Larichos.” I found it to be highly amusing, and I felt that sibling comradery between Sappho and her brothers. The word choice definitely showed that, and it also showed the playful nature between siblings.

Traditionally, people read this poem as Sappho wanting both her brothers to return safely from where they are fighting, and her want for Larichos to grow up and stop being a lazy bum. Sappho’s words, not mine.

Mariah Carey saying "sorry."
Sorry Larichos, think you need to have a chat with your sister.

When I was reading this piece however, I read it as Sappho making fun of those who pray to the Greek Gods for basically everything. She says that people can pray to the Gods for a family member’s safe return, but it’s ultimately up to said family member to make the correct choices to actually do so because the Gods do as they please; i.e. creating storms to sink ships and electrical storms. That’s why Sappho claims its up to her brothers to make the decisions to get home safely, but she does so in that playful manner that close siblings have. It’s a nice respite from the love poetry she’s known for.

“The Brothers” is a quick little read, and was quite fun. I love that poems of hers are still being discovered. The me in a parallel universe where I’m an archeologist has such a cool job because there is a me searching for more Sappho poetry and possibly finding it. I hope more poetry of hers is discovered in the near future. There’s no telling what might be found of hers, and we could possibly find another love poem along the lines of “Ode to Aphrodite” or a funny ditty like “Blame Aphrodite.” Seriously, the excuse that Sappho gives “Blame Aphrodite” is going to be my next excuse I give my mom as to why I can’t finish my weaving.

Upside-down Pusheen saying "so lazy, can't move."
"I can't do anything today, I saw a hot guy" is my new excuse for everything.

And speaking of “Ode to Aphrodite,” this is perhaps Sappho’s most famous poem or at least one of them. It’s seven stanzas and is one of the longer Sappho pieces. This piece is the one that historians use as proof that she was interested in women as she uses the feminine form for the Greek word lover.

Stich saying hi.
Hi, I'm just here to reiterate information you already know.

Anyway, give “Ode to Aphrodite” a read when you get the chance. This is such a great piece of poetry, but it’s also such an important piece of LGBTQ+ poetry. Sappho is the oldest known LGBTQ+ author; I mean the term lesbian does derive from Lesbos where Sappho was born. Again, I’m just here to reiterate information you book nerds already know. Anyway, “Ode to Aphrodite” is the main piece that leads historians to believe Sappho was a lesbian.

But on top of that, it’s just a damn good poem. You can hear the yearning in Sappho’s voice as she calls to Aphrodite. There is passion, the sadness of unrequited love, helplessness, and belief that one day all will be right. Poetry should make you feel something, and this poem makes me feel things.

Baby Rapunzel watching the lanterns.
Me sitting here hoping everything worked out for Sappho and her lady love.

She is yearning for the day her love will love her back. She is longing for the day of wistful glances to be over, and they can be in each other’s arms. She is impatiently waiting for Aphrodite to favor her, and as Sappho herself says, she’s waiting for Aphrodite to be her ally. This is just a love poem that makes you feel things, and it just so happens to be about two women.

This is a gorgeous poem; seriously give Sappho a read if you haven’t. There is a wide variety of her poems to take a look at online, and the range is fairly large. Give her some attention this Pride. Give her some attention when it’s not Pride month. But give her some attention if you’ve never read her.

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