Sappho’s notion of love

Describe how Plato, Sappho, and/or Catullus conceive of love (and/or friendship). You can choose to only discuss one of the three works or compare two or three of them. You can also choose to focus more specifically on either the lover or the beloved if you like.

Sappho’s notion of love is filled with negativity; anger, jealousy, alienation. Moreover, she strays from the traditional sense of love and instead embraces homosexuality, a subject that I would imagine was condemned at the time. Poem 94 “I simply want to be dead / Weeping she left me” portrays the powerful feelings Sappho had for another woman, but the lack of reciprocity from her female lover leaves her feeling alienated and angry. In Poem 16, Sappho emphasizes that love is more important than war, and yearns for her lover Anaktoria, who is now gone — “I would rather see her lovely step / and the motion of light on her face / than chariots of Lydians or ranks / of foot soldiers in arms.” As shown in fragment 51, Sappho is able to express these extreme feelings of love when she says “I don’t know what to do / two states of mind in me.” She masterfully evokes a sense of distance from her lover and herself.

One thought on “Sappho’s notion of love

  1. The entire comment is thoughtful, but I think your concluding line about her desire to evoke distance lands the most forcefully (oddly violent metaphor for me to use, but I digress). It seems to me that you caught, perhaps only semi-consciously, that the experience of distance is what brings some of these poems into being in the first place and so the poet tries to convey this sense to the reader in as vivid a way as possible, to make us feel it as well, and then the question is whether he or she succeeds in doing it, which is why your judgment in that last line with the adverb “masterfully” works: it comes at the right time and rings true and well-considered rather than hollow. Great work!

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