Sappho I, Version Alpha via Beta: Essays on ancient performances of her songs

2023.12.28 | By Gregory Nagy

 

Detail from Attic krater attributed to the Brygos painter, 480-470 BCE. Line drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

Preface

This book about the songs of Sappho is one of three standalone volumes that belong to a series of works published in Classical Continuum—some of those works appear both online and in print while others appear only online.

The title of this book, Sappho I, Version Alpha via Beta: Essays on ancient performances of her songs, complements the title of another one of the three books, Sappho II, Version Beta: Essays on ancient imitations of her songs. As for the third book, the content is more introductory, and I have therefore given it a title that is not symmetrical with the titles of the other two books. In that case, the title is, simply, Sappho from ground zero, which I will abbreviate hereafter as Sappho 0, to be contrasted with the titles of the two other books, which I will hereafter abbreviate simply as Sappho I and Sappho II.

By contrast with Sappho 0, the chronological starting-point for Sappho I, is not “zero.” Rather, my starting-point here is a time that historians posit as the era of Sappho herself, whom they date at around 600 BCE. This era cannot be considered an absolute starting-point, however. As I argue in Sappho 0, especially in Essay Four there, the traditions of songmaking exemplified by the received text of Sappho can be reconstructed farther back in time, much farther, than the date posited by historians for Sappho herself, around 600 BCE.

These three books about Sappho can be read independently of each other, though the online versions, all published in the last month of 2023, are provided with cross-references by way of links to the essays contained in all three books. The links keep track of the rewritten as well as the original online content of each essay. Even in the printed versions of these three books, the cross-references to the online content need to be retained—though not by way of links.

Introduction: Diachronic Sappho

rewritten from 2015.10.22

0§1. My approach to the songmaking of Sappho is diachronic as well as synchronic—to be contrasted with other approaches taken by some other classicists who seem to be disinterested in diachronic perspectives. In order for me to emphasize the importance of diachronic approaches to Sappho, I have pointedly made a subtitle here for my Introduction, “Diachronic Sappho.”

0§2. Before I say more about diachronic approaches to Sappho, I first offer some general observations about the terms “synchronic” and “diachronic,” taken together. These terms stem from a distinction established by a pioneer in the field of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure. For Saussure (1916:117), synchrony and diachrony refer respectively to a current state of a language and to a phase in its evolution. I draw attention to Saussure’s connecting of diachrony with evolution—a connection that has proved to be crucial, over the years, for my analysis of Homeric poetry in particular. And the same connection of diachrony with evolution has also been crucial, as we will see, for my analysis of Sappho’s songmaking.

0§3. In my work here on Sappho, as in my work elsewhere on Homer, I add two restrictions to my use of the terms synchronic and diachronic. First, I apply these terms consistently from the standpoint of an outsider who is thinking about a given system, not from the standpoint of an insider who is thinking within that system. Second, I use “diachronic” and “synchronic” not as synonyms for “historical” and “current,” respectively. Diachrony refers to the potential for evolution in a structure. History is not restricted to phenomena that are structurally predictable.

0§4. In the formulations I have made so far in §§1–3 about synchronic and diachronic approaches, I have drawn most of the content and wording from the first page of a book I wrote about Homer, and I cite it now: it is Homeric Responses, the printed version of which was published in 2003. Here and in the rest of the present volume, I will be making further such citations, where relevant, from earlier publications of mine. A prime example will be an essay published in 2011(b), “Diachrony and the Case of Aesop.”

0§5. Though all such publications are fully listed in the Bibliography for my volume here, I have designed a streamlined format for immediate citations I will be making as my argumentation now gets underway. I will be referring to relevant studies of mine by noting simply the dates of publication. I now list here, in chronological order, the dates for publications that are particularly relevant, together with the titles I had previously given to these publications, most of which were originally available only in printed versions:

1973/1990b = “Phaethon, Sappho’s Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas.” (The article of 1973 is rewritten as Ch. 9 in the book of 1990b.)

1974 = GIM = Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter

1979/1999 = BA = The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry

1985 = “Theognis and Megara: A Poet’s Vision of His City”

1990a = PH = Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past

1990b = GMP = Greek Mythology and Poetics

1993 = “Alcaeus in Sacred Space”

1994-1995a = “Genre and Occasion”

1994-1995b = “Transformations of Choral Lyric Traditions”

1996a = PP = Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond

1996b = HQ = Homeric Questions

2003 = HR = Homeric Responses

2004 = “Transmission of Archaic Greek Sympotic Songs”

2007|2009 = “Did Sappho and Alcaeus Ever Meet?”

2011a = “Diachrony and the Case of Aesop”

2011b = “The Aeolic Component of Homeric Diction”

2013a|2013 = H24H = The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours

2013b = “The Delian Maidens and their relevance to choral mimesis in classical drama”

2015 = MoM = Masterpieces of Metonymy:

2015.10.01 = “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited” (rewritten here as Essay 4)

2015.10.22 = “Diachronic Sappho: some prolegomena” (rewritten here as the Introduction)

2015.11.05 = “Once again this time in Song 1 of Sappho” (rewritten here as Essay 1)

2015.12.31 = “Some imitations of Pindar and Sappho by Horace”

2015|2016 = “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho”

2017.06.10 = “Diachronic Homer and a Cretan Odyssey”

2018.06.30 = “Sacred Space as a frame for lyric occasions”

2018.12.06 “Previewing an essay on the shaping of the Lyric Canon in Athens”

2021.11.29 = “On the Shaping of the Lyric Canon in Athens”

0§6.  In the online version of the present volume here, Sappho I, there are links embedded in the date of publication for each of the works listed above. Where possible, the dating indicates the year/month/day of online publication; otherwise, the dating indicates only the year.

0§7. From here on, whenever I cite these publications, I will refer to them simply by “author’s name”—in this case, “Nagy,” regularly abbreviated as “N”—followed by date of publication. For example, the essay “Diachrony and the Case of Aesop” will regularly be cited simply as N 2011a. On the other hand, in cases where I cite any one of the nine books that I listed, I will add, as prefixes to the original dates of publication in print, the following abbreviations for their titles: GIM, BA, PH, GMP, PP, HQ, HR, H24H, MoM. Thus for example the book Pindar’s Homer will regularly be cited simply as PH=1990a; in such cases, of course, there is no need for an additional prefixing of N.

0§8. In what follows, then, I will be using this streamlined system of citations as I proceed to track references to my own studies concerning the songmaking of Sappho—with special emphasis on my dual perspective in analyzing  the songs of Sappho diachronically as well as synchronically.

0§9. What will become increasingly clear in the present volume is that the combining of diachronic with synchronic approaches to Sappho’s songmaking can help us see the coherence of her art as an evolving medium. To be contrasted are single-minded views about Sappho’s poetics in the publications of some experts who seem to avoid any diachronic perspective. What results, I think, from such avoidance is a lack of clarity in viewing Sappho’s medium as it changes through time.

0§10. To make more specific the thought that I have just expressed, I now offer a working inventory of five hypothetical formulations, numbered ABCDE, where I symbolize contrasting views by way of contrasted boldface and non-boldface fonts. In boldface font, I will paraphrase various views that seem to avoid diachronic perspectives, to be countered in non-boldface font by paraphrases of my own views combining diachronic with synchronic perspectives. These paraphrases of mine are based mostly on relevant publications as listed above, many of which I will be now be citing below in streamlined format.

A. Sappho wrote poems. I disagree. There is no proof that the composition of songs by Sappho depended on the technology of writing. In N 1974 as also in the Appendix to PH=1990a, I offer proof that a composition like Song 44 of Sappho was created by way of a formulaic language that is cognate with the formulaic language used in the compositions that we know as the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey. Such formulaic language provides evidence for thinking of Sappho’s songmaking in terms of oral poetics. As I summarize in N 2011b:155–156, the songs attributed to Sappho—and, as we will see, also the songs attributed to a male contemporary of hers named Alcaeus—cannot be divorced from the performing of these songs. To put it as simply as possible: the songs of Sappho—and of Alcaeus—were meant to be performed, not read as texts. And here is an additional specific point that I need to make already now: the compositions attributed to Sappho and Alcaeus are not simply poems. They are, as I have been saying already, songs—that is songs meant to be sung. More on this point in what follows.

B. Sappho is a historical person, to be dated around 600 BCE, who intended her songs for other historical persons named or unnamed in the wording of these songs. This formulation is based on assumptions of obvious certainties, but things become less obvious when we stop and think further about what we actually know—and what we cannot know for sure. Before we can speak of what we know about Sappho, we must first ask ourselves this all-important question: for whom were her compositions intended? The answer, as I hope to show in the essays I present in this volume, is that Sappho’s compositions were songs that had been “intended,” in their earliest phases, for all the people of Lesbos. In other words, these songs were “intended” not only for, say, some inner circle of women or girls, not only for any sub-group of people. And I view the concept of “intention” diachronically here, not only synchronically. The persons to whom Sappho speaks in her songs become personae or—let me say it more simply—characters in the world of these songs. So also Sappho—by virtue of speaking (1) to these characters and (2) about these characters and (3) about herself—becomes a character in her own right. The ancient Greek word for the functioning of personalities or personae or characters in the world of song is mimesis, as I argued in N 2015.10.01—rewritten as Essay Five below. A more extended argument, with reference to Greek songmaking in general, is made in N 2013b.

C. The occasion for the songs of Sappho can be determined by whatever the words of these songs have to say about the world of Sappho. But is there a static world of Sappho? As I hope to show in the essays that follow, the actual occasion for each of Sappho’s songs was determined by the historical circumstances that shaped the traditions of performing the songs—and these circumstances changed over time.

D. The medium of Sappho, in the performance of her songs, was monodic—in other words, the medium was a solo performance of song. As I hope to show in this volume, however, Sappho’s songs were choral as well as monodic. When I say choral, I have in mind the general idea of performances by a khoros, conventionally translated as ‘chorus’—though the word in Greek includes dancing as well as singing, whereas the English word excludes dancing. From the start, I offer here a working definition of the khoros ‘chorus’: the Greek chorus is a group of performers who both sing and dance a given song within a space (real or notional) that is sacred to a divinity or to a constellation of divinities. This working definition will be tested and further developed diachronically in the essays that follow. Time and again, the question will arise: how can we tell whether a given song of Sappho is sung as a choral or as a monodic form of singing? From a diachronic and a historical point of view, as we will see in this volume, both choral and monodic singing were accommodated in the overall repertoire of Sapphic songmaking. If we deprived ourselves of a diachronic point of view, however, we would be forced to choose, in the case of each song we read, whether its performance had been meant to be either choral or monodic, as if choral performance excluded the possibility of monodic performance or the other way around. It would all depend on which one of Sappho’s songs we happened to be reading. Without a diachronic point of view, we could be tempted to assume that any given song of Sappho must have been only choral or only monodic.

E. The personality of Sappho shows that she is a woman who loves girls. To say it this way is to engage in an overly narrow typing of Sappho as represented by the words of her songs. The songs of Sappho, as we will see, reveal a wide variety of female personae. Sappho can be a middle-aged woman or even an old woman, but she can also be a young girl. She can be a woman who loves girls, or a girl who loves another girl or is loved by other girls or by women. She can behave in a wide variety of ways, ranging from the stateliness exemplified by a priestess of the goddess Hera (Essay 4§35) all the way to frivolities evoking visions of a courtesan who enchants men listening to her songs sung at their drinking parties (Essay 21). She can also be a loving or a scolding sister (again, Essay 4). She can even show her love of boys, as we will see when we read Sappho’s poetic declaration of an erotic desire for radiant young male heroes like Phaon (Essay 8 and beyond).

0§11. Having outlined here, in ABCDE, some diachronic perspectives on the songmaking of Sappho, I will now need to find the most basic possible point of departure for tracing the evolution of this songmaking in light of my central argument, noted at §10C, that the occasions for each of the songs attributed to Sappho were determined by the historical circumstances that shaped the traditions of actually performing the songs. My plan, in what follows, is to start by focusing on one particular kind of occasion for performance—an occasion that I will initially describe simply as the celebration of a festival. And I already ask myself this hypothetical question: what would it be like, to hear—and see—a song of Sappho being performed at a festival in a given time and place? For answers, I will need to find evidence for the existence of such a festival, celebrated in Lesbos.

0§12. Such a festival did in fact exist. It was called the Kallisteia, and the name of this festival can be translated, roughly, as ‘Pageant of Beauty’. I summarize here some relevant details originally presented in N 2007/2009, rewritten as Essay 2 in the book Sappho 0. These details are numbered here as ##1 2 3 4 (corresponding to §§4 5 6 7 in Essay 2 of Sappho 0):

#1. In the words of Alcaeus, preserved in a papyrus fragment (F 130b.13), there was in Lesbos a federal space called the temenos theōn ‘sacred precinct of the gods’, which was the designated place for celebrating a festival described as the occasion for the seasonally recurring assemblies or ‘comings together’ of the people of Lesbos (F 130b.15, sunodoisi; N 1993:22). This festival, as we will see later in this book here (Essay 4§25 and following), took place seasonally at a place called Messon, which means, appropriately, ‘middle ground’, situated at the very center of the island of Lesbos. In the words of Alcaeus, this festival featured as its main spectacle the choral singing and dancing of Lesbiades ‘women of Lesbos’, described as ‘exceptional in their beauty’ (130b.17, krinnomenai phuān).

#2. The reality of such a seasonally recurring festival in Lesbos featuring the choral performances of women—or, to say it more broadly, women and girls—is independently verified by a scholion—that is, a learned note—written in a manuscript of the Homeric Iliad (scholion for 9.130), and from this note we learn that the name of the festival was the Kallisteia or ‘Pageant of Beauty’. In the relevant passage of the Iliad (9.130) as well as elsewhere in that epic, we find mythologized references to the women of Lesbos, described as exceptional in their beauty, who were captured by Achilles in the years that preceded the final destruction of Troy (Iliad 9.128–131, 270–273). These references in the Iliad can be analyzed as indirect references to the festival of the Kallisteia in Lesbos (further details in HPC=2010|2009:236, 242 | II§§289–290, 302).

#3. Another reference to the Kallisteia is attested in a poem from the Greek Anthology (9.189), where we read that this festival is celebrated within the temenos ‘sacred precinct’ of the goddess Hera, and that the celebrations involve choral singing and dancing by the women of Lesbos, with Sappho herself pictured as the leader of their khoros ‘chorus’ (Page 1955:168n4). Sappho in her songs is conventionally pictured as the lead singer of a chorus composed of the women of Lesbos, and she speaks as their main choral personality (PH=1990a:370 [12§60]).

#4. As we see from the wording of this poem in the Greek Anthology, Sappho’s songs are pictured as taking place within this sacred place, marked by the deictic word tuide ‘here’, as for example in Sappho’s Song 17 (line 7). Also, in Song 96 of Sappho, this same federal space of the people of Lesbos is once again marked by the deictic word tuide ‘here’ (line 2) as the sacred place of choral performance, and the noun molpā (line 5) makes it explicit that the performance takes the form of choral singing and dancing. In archaic poetry, the verb for ‘sing and dance in a chorus’ is melpesthai (PH=1990a:350–351 [12§29n62 and n64]).

0§13. One common feature of most ancient Greek festivals was that they were seasonally recurrent (extensive documentation in Nilsson 1906). And the festival of the Kallisteia in Lesbos was no exception, as we have already seen from the wording of Alcaeus in referring to this festival. In the very first essay of this volume, I will argue that there is a poetics of recurrence built into the songmaking of Sappho, and the wording that refers to such recurrence is most evident in the very first Song in the received textual tradition of Sappho’s songs.

Essay 1: Once again this time, Song 1 of Sappho

rewritten from 2015.11.05

1§0. The seasonal recurrence of the festival of the Kallisteia in Lesbos is ostentatiously signaled, I argue, in Song 1 of Sappho. The wording that actually refers to such recurrence, I further argue, is the expression dēute (δηὖτε), which I translate this way: ‘once again, this time’.

1§1. This expression dēute ‘once again, this time’, which occurs at lines 15 and 16 and 18 in Song 1, refers not only to some episodically recurrent emotion of love as experienced by the speaker but also to the seasonally recurrent performance of the song on the festive occasion of the Kallisteia—a festival that I reconstruct all the way back to the earliest attested phases of the song’s evolution. About my translating this expression dēute specifically as ‘once again this time’, I cannot resist remarking here, for the first but also the last and only time in this case, the delight I recurrently feel whenever I read Jonathan Culler, in his interpretation of Sappho’s Song 1, where he cites this translation of mine.[1]

1§2. I now show the Greek text of Song 1, followed by my working translation of the whole text, where I have highlighted the three occurrences of dēute (δηὖτε) ‘once again this time’:

|1 ποικιλόθρον’ ἀθανάτἈφρόδιτα, |2 παῖ Δίοc δολόπλοκε, λίϲϲομαί ϲε, |3 μή μ’ ἄϲαιϲι μηδ’ ὀνίαιϲι δάμνα, |4 πότνια, θῦμον,

|5 ἀλλὰ τυίδ’ ἔλθ’, αἴ ποτα κἀτέρωτα |6 τὰc ἔμαc αὔδαc ἀίοιϲα πήλοι |7 ἔκλυεc, πάτροc δὲ δόμον λίποιϲα |8 χρύϲιον ἦλθεc

|9 ἄρμ’ ὐπαϲδεύξαιϲα· κάλοι δέ ϲ’ ἆγον |10 ὤκεεc ϲτροῦθοι περὶ γᾶc μελαίναc |11 πύκνα δίννεντεc πτέρ’ ἀπ’ ὠράνωἴθε|12ροc διὰ μέϲϲω·

|13 αἶψα δ’ ἐξίκοντο· ϲὺ δ’, ὦ μάκαιρα, |14 μειδιαίϲαιϲ’ ἀθανάτωι προϲώπωι |15 ἤρε’ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι |16 δηὖτε κάλημμι

|17 κὤττι μοι μάλιϲτα θέλω γένεϲθαι |18 μαινόλαι θύμωι· τίνα δηὖτε πείθω |19 βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην ἐc ϲὰν φιλότατα;[2] τίc ϲ’, ὦ |20 Ψάπφ’, ἀδικήει;

|21 καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέωc διώξει, |22 αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ’, ἀλλὰ δώϲει, |23 αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέωc φιλήϲει |24 κωὐκ ἐθέλοιϲα.

|25 ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦϲον |26 ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄϲϲα δέ μοι τέλεϲϲαι |27 θῦμοc ἰμέρρει, τέλεϲον, ϲὺ δ’ αὔτα |28 ϲύμμαχοc ἔϲϲο.

stanza 1||1 You with pattern-woven flowers, immortal Aphrodite, |2 child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I implore you, |3 do not dominate with hurts and pains, |4 Mistress, my heart!

stanza 2||5 But come here [tuide], if ever at any other time |6 hearing my voice from afar, |7 you heeded me, and leaving the palace of your father, |8 golden, you came,

stanza 3||9 having harnessed the chariot; and you were carried along by beautiful |10 swift sparrows over the dark earth |11 swirling with their dense plumage from the sky through the |12 midst of the aether,

stanza 4||13 and straightaway they arrived. But you, O holy one, |14 smiling with your immortal looks, |15 kept asking what is it once again this time [dēute] that has happened to me and for what reason |16 once again this time [dēute] do I invoke you,

stanza 5||17 and what is it that I want more than anything to happen |18 to my frenzied [mainolās] heart [thūmos]? “Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade, |19 setting out to bring [agein] her to your love? Who is doing you, |20 Sappho, wrong?

stanza 6||21 For if she is fleeing now, soon she will be pursuing. |22 If she is not taking gifts, soon she will be giving them. |23 If she does not love, soon she will love |24 even against her will.”

stanza 7||25 Come to me even now, and free me from harsh |26 anxieties, and however many things |27 my heart [thūmos] yearns to get done, you do for me. You |28 become my ally in war.

Song 1 of Sappho = Prayer to Aphrodite[3]

1§3. As I proceed to elaborate on my interpretation of dēute (δηὖτε) ‘once again this time’ at lines 15 and 16 and 18 here, I begin by examining the context of line 18, where we see a shift from the persona of Sappho as the first-person speaker to the persona of Aphrodite herself, who now takes over as the first-person speaker. This shift is correlated with a shift from the persona of Aphrodite as the second-person addressee to the persona of Sappho, addressed by Aphrodite as Psapphă at line 20. Here is how I interpret this correlation:

In the part of Song 1 that we see enclosed within quotation marks in the visual formatting of modern editions (lines 18–24), the first-person ‘I’ of Sappho is now replaced by Aphrodite herself, who has been a second-person ‘you’ up to this point. We see here an exchange of roles between the first-person ‘I’ and the second-person ‘you’. The first-person ‘I’ now becomes Aphrodite, who proceeds to speak in the performing voice of Sappho to Sappho herself, who has now become the second-person ‘you’. During Aphrodite’s epiphany inside the sacred space of the people of Lesbos, a fusion of identities takes place between the goddess and the prima donna who leads the choral performance tuide, ‘here’ (line 5), that is, in this sacred space.[4]

1§4. I add here a detail, with reference to line 20: I interpret the underlying vocative form for the name of Sappho here, Ψάπφ’, as Psapphă, to be contrasted with the nominative form Psapphō. In terms of this interpretation, the short final vowel of Psapphă is then elided into the initial vowel of the next word (similarly in the case of Ψάπφ’ at line 5 of Song 94). The morphological variation that I posit here, Psapphă / Psapphō, corresponds to the morphological variation we see in the hypocoristic terms of affection apphă / apphō (ἄπφα / ἀπφώ), meaning something like ‘dear little girl’—and referring to a sister or some other girl or woman who is being addressed in a demonstratively loving way.[5]

1§5. That said, I now proceed to analyze further the affectionate exchange that is taking place between the persona of Aphrodite and the persona of Sappho in the context of praying a prayer. Why the prayer? It is because the persona of Sappho is suffering from the torment of unrequited love: some unnamed girl refuses to love her. But what is it that Aphrodite should do about this torment? The answer depends on the wording that we read at lines 18–19: τίνα δηὖτε πείθω |19 βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην ἐc ϲὰν φιλότατα; ‘Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade, |19 setting out to bring [agein] her to your love?’. The restored form βαῖϲ᾿ ‘going’ at line 19 can be credited to Maryline G. Parca,[6] and I agree with the restoration.[7] The idiom that we see here involves the combining of bainō / bainein ‘go’ as a primary verb with the infinitive of a secondary verb, which in this case is agēn (agein), meaning ‘bring’, and Parca finds a comparable idiom in Homeric usage, citing this example:

βῆ δ’ ἰέναι ‘he set out to go’ (Iliad 4.199)

1§6. This idiom, which occurs frequently in both the Iliad and Odyssey—there are almost forty attestations—is the only Homeric example cited by Parca. But there are other examples, and I show two of them here:

βῆ δὲ θέειν ‘he went and ran’ (Iliad 2.183; 11.617, 805; 12.352; 14.354; 17.119, 698; 18.416; Odyssey 14.501; 22.19)

βῆ δ’ ἐλάαν ‘he went and drove off [in his chariot]’ (Iliad 13.27)

1§7. In these two Homeric examples, I have chosen to translate the idiom in informal English. Instead of saying ‘he set out to run’ and ‘he set out to drive off’, I have chosen more colloquial expressions that correspond more closely to the meaning of the first part of the idiom: ‘he went and ran’ and ‘he went and drove off’. But what about the first Homeric example, the one that was cited by Parca? In this case, βῆ δ’ ἰέναι, the colloquialism that I used to translate the second and the third examples won’t work. It would be a pleonasm to say in English ‘he went and went off’, matching ‘he went and ran’ or ‘he went and drove off’. That is why I resorted to the wording ‘he set out and went off’. Even in this case, though, colloquial English gives us a useful equivalent: ‘he up and went off’, which could be matched by saying ‘he up and ran’ or ‘he up and drove off’.

1§8. Now that I have compared the three Homeric examples I have cited, I am ready to interpret βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην ἐc ϲὰν φιλότατα at line 19 in Song 1 of Sappho. The prayer spoken by the persona of Sappho here, as understood by Aphrodite, expresses a wish that the goddess should set out and bring the girl, or, to say it more colloquially, Aphrodite should go and bring the girl. And now let me say it even more colloquially: the goddess should go out and get her. But Sappho is too shy to go out and get the girl. She wants Aphrodite to do it for her. In saying it this way, I am thinking of the line in “Hey Jude” . . .

Hey Jude, don’t be afraid | You were made to go out and get her | The minute you let her under your skin | Then you begin to make it better.

[“Hey Jude,” composed by Paul McCartney and performed by The Beatles; recorded 1968, side B: “Revolution”]

1§9. In Song 1 of Sappho, to repeat, it is not the persona of Sappho who goes out and gets the girl: rather, she wants Aphrodite to do it for her, and the wording of Aphrodite at lines 13–24 shows that she understands what Sappho wants. Similarly in Iliad 3.399–412, the persona of Helen says reproachfully to Aphrodite that the goddess has a nasty habit of ‘bringing’ her, as a love-object, to her multiple lovers, and the Greek word that is used here for the ‘bringing’ of Helen by Aphrodite is agein (401: ἄξειc)—which is the same word used in Song 1 of Sappho with reference to the wish of Sappho—a wish well understood by Aphrodite—that the goddess should be ‘bringing’ (1.19: ἄγην) the unnamed girl, as a love-object, to Sappho.

1§10. As I said before, I agree with the reading and the interpretation of Parca for lines 18–19 of Song 1 of Sappho: τίνα δηὖτε πείθω |19 βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην ἐc ϲὰν φιλότατα; ‘Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade, |19 setting out to bring [agein] her to your love?’ But I disagree with her view that the adverb dēute (δηὖτε) ‘once again this time’ at line 18 (and, by extension, at lines 15 and 16) is some kind of textual reference to the Homeric exchange between Aphrodite and Helen in Iliad 3.[8] In my view, the poetic language of Sappho does not cross-refer to the text of the Homeric Iliad as we know it: as I argued in the Introduction (above, 0§10A), the poetic language of Sappho is cognate with but not dependent on the poetic language of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey.

1§11. Distancing myself from the argument that the wording of Sappho’s Song 1 at lines 18–19 is based on “Homeric allusion,” I agree with the position of J. C. B. Petropoulos, who argues instead that this wording, including the insistent dēute (δηὖτε) ‘once again this time’ at line 18 (and, by extension, at lines 15 and 16), is related to the kind of wording we find in the language of love spells.[9] As Petropoulos shows, Sappho’s prayer in Song 1 is asking Aphrodite to go and bring an unnamed girl to Sappho by persuading this girl: τίνα δηὖτε πείθω |19 βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην ἐc ϲὰν φιλότατα; ‘Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade [peithein], |19 setting out to bring [agein] her to your love [philotēs]?’ But what will it take to ‘persuade’ the girl, peithein, and thus ‘bring’ her, agein, to Sappho? In the traditional language of love spells, as we will now see, the actual ‘bringing’ of the beloved to the lover can readily modulate from ‘persuasion’ into compulsion.

1§12. In love spells, as Petropoulos shows, the lover who suffers from unrequited love can pray to the powers of the higher—or the lower—world to compel the unresponsive beloved to start loving in return.[10] The act of compelling the unwilling beloved to become a willing lover can be seen as physical, not just mental and emotional. A striking example comes from a papyrus found at Hawara and dating from around the second century CE. In this text, a woman named Hērais is casting a spell on an unresponsive female beloved named Sarapias:

ἐξορκείζ[ω] cε Εὐάγγελε | κατὰ τοῦ ᾿Ανούβι[δο]c καὶ | τοῦ ῾Ερμοῦ καὶ [τ]ῶν λοι[πῶν] πάν|των κάτω, ἄξαι καὶ καταδ|ῆcαι Cαραπιάδα ἣν ἔτε|κεν ῾Ελένη ἐπ’ αὐτὴν ῾Ηρα|είδαν ἣν ἔτεκεν Θερμο|υθαριν, ἄρτι ἄρτι, τα|χὺ ταχύ. ἐξ ψυχῆc καὶ καρδίαc | ἄγε αὐτὴν τὴν Cαραπιά|δα . . .

I adjure you, Euangelos, by Anubis and Hermes and by all the rest of you down below, bring [agein] and bind Sarapias whose mother is Helenē, [bringing Sarapias] to this Hērais here whose mother is Thermoutharin, now, now, quick, quick. By way of her soul [psūkhē] and her heart [kardiā], bring [agein] this Sarapias herself [to me] . . .

Papyri Graecae Magicae (see PGM in the Bibliography) II 32.1–11

1§13. I highlight the sense of urgency in the desire that is being expressed in the wording of this love spell. The ritualized haste that we see at work here in the insistent repetition ἄρτι ἄρτι, ταχὺ ταχύ ‘now, now, quick, quick’ is comparable to the wording of Aphrodite as she responds to the prayer of Sappho about the unresponsive girl: καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέωc διώξει, |22 αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ’, ἀλλὰ δώϲει, |23 αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέωc φιλήϲει |24 κωὐκ ἐθέλοιϲα ‘For if she [= the girl] is fleeing now, soon [quickly: ταχέωc] she will be pursuing. |22 If she is not taking gifts, soon she will be giving them. |23 If she does not love, soon [quickly: ταχέωc] she will love |24 even against her will’. As in love spells, the wording of Sappho’s prayer is meant to compel the unresponsive and unwilling beloved to turn around and love back, all too willingly.[11]

1§14. In this love spell, the act of agein ‘bringing’ the beloved to the lover is more a matter of physical compulsion and less a matter of verbal persuasion by way of sweet talk. And the compulsion can get even more intense. In the texts of other love spells, we see that the lover who suffers from unrequited love can pray to the powers of the netherworld to compel the unresponsive beloved to suffer in the same way—that is, to suffer the same physical symptoms of unrequited love as suffered by the compulsive lover.[12] The compulsion can be made visible by the symptoms of the torment caused by the experience of falling in love. For an example, Petropoulos cites the text of a love spell inscribed on a lead tablet from Hermoupolis Magna, dating from the third or fourth century CE. In this text, Supplementum Magicum I 42 (ed. Daniel and Maltomini, as cited in my Bibliography), a woman named Sophia who loves another woman named Gorgonia adjures a nekuodaimōn or ‘demon of corpses’ (line 12) to bring the unresponsive Gorgonia to a balaneion ‘bath-house’ (line 14), where the demon will then change into a balanissa ‘female bath-house attendant’ (again, line 14) who will now heat up the bath-water for Gorgonia. In this steamy situation, the torment of falling in love can begin:

καῦcον ποίρω|cον φλέξον τὴν ψυχὴν, τὴν καρδίαν, τὸ ἧπαρ, τὸ πνεῦμα ἐπ’ ἔρωτι Cοφία<c> ἣν αἴτεγεν ᾿Ιcάρα. ἄξατε | Γοργονία<ν> ἣν αἴτεγεν Νιλογενία, ἄξατε αὐτὴν, βαcανίcατε αὐτῆc τὸ cῶμα νυκτὸc καὶ ἡμαίραc, δαμάcα|ται αὐτὴν ἐκπηδῆcη ἐκ παντὸc τόπου καὶ πάcηc οἰκίαc φιλοῦcα<ν> Cοφία<ν>

Burn and set on fire her soul [psūkhē], her heart [kardiā], her liver, and her breath with love for Sophia whose mother is Isara. [All] you [powers] must bring [agein] Gorgonia, whose mother is Nilogeneia, [to me]. You must bring [agein] her [to me], tormenting her body night and day. Compel her to bolt from wherever she is, from whatever household, as she feels the love for Sophia.

Supplementum Magicum I 42.14–17 (ed. Daniel and Maltomini)

1§15. Reading such attestations of agein ‘bring’ in these love spells, we can see clearly the specialized use of this word in expressing sexual attraction. I suggest that we can see a comparable use of agein ‘bring’ in the expression βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην ἐc ϲὰν φιλότατα ‘setting out to bring [agein] her to your love’ at line 19 of Song 1, where Aphrodite’s wording refers to the action of attracting most urgently the unresponsive beloved. But the urgency of sexual attraction that we see expressed in the songmaking of Sappho is more subtle, as Petropoulos observes in making this wry comment: “What Aphrodite tactfully omits, it seems, is the provision that Sappho’s new favo[u]rite will suffer the impediments of bodily and psychological functions and activities conventionally associated with love spells.”[13]

1§16. Petropoulos concludes his comparison of love spells with Song 1 of Sappho by observing: “Once the girl falls in love and comes to Sappho, the poetess will be only too glad to accept her philotēs [love].”[14]

1§17. But there is an alternative interpretation of Sappho’s prayer to Aphrodite, as formulated by Anne Carson. She thinks that Sappho is asking Aphrodite to make sure that the unnamed girl who is being pursued, once she is a woman, will suffer the same torment of unrequited love that Sappho is now suffering: the next time around, it will be this new woman who will be rejected by some new girl emerging from the next generation of girls—and deservedly so, because such is the “justice” of Aphrodite.[15] A variation on this kind of interpretation is offered by Benjamin Bennett: in terms of his argument, the unrequited love that will be suffered by the new woman is better understood as the “revenge” of Aphrodite—or, we may say, the “revenge” of Sappho.[16]

1§18. So, how am I to choose between two such interpretations? From a diachronic point of view, as I outlined it in the Introduction, I would argue that I really do not have to choose. Here is what I mean. The persona of Sappho may be praying to Aphrodite to go and bring to her the girl who has so far rejected her love, but this girl may in the future become a woman who prays the same prayer. Now it will be this future woman’s turn to be praying to Aphrodite to go and bring to her the girl, but, this time around, that girl will be a new girl—and, this time around, the future woman will be the new Sappho. Each successive ‘dear little girl’ pursued by Sappho will become a new Sappho in her own turn. And here once again I recall the meaning of the name of Sappho, ‘dear little girl’. So, each successive Sappho was once upon a time a ‘dear little girl’ in her own right.

1§19. Support for this diachronic interpretation can be found in the visual arts of Athens in the fifth century. I have in mind an image of Sappho that is painted on a red-figure kalyx-krater dated to the first third of the fifth century BCE and attributed to the Tithonos Painter (Bochum, Ruhr-Universität Kunstsammlungen, inv. S 508).[17] On the obverse side of this vase, we see the image of a woman in a dancing pose.[18] She is wearing a cloak or himation over her khitōn, and a snood (net-cap) or sakkos is holding up her hair. As she “walks,” she carries a barbiton in her left hand, while her gracefully extended right hand is holding a plectrum (Greek plēktron). The inscribed lettering placed not far from her mouth indicates that she is Sappho (CΑΦΦΟ).

1§20. This picture of Sappho on the obverse side of this vase painted by the Tithonos painter must be contrasted with the picture on the reverse side, as Dimitrios Yatromanolakis has shown.[19] He argues that the obverse and the reverse must be viewed together, seeing a symmetry in the depiction of Sappho on the obverse and the depiction of another female figure dressed similarly on the reverse: she too, like Sappho, is wearing a cloak or himation over her khitōn, and a snood or sakkos is holding up her hair.

1§21. The correlation of the pictures painted on the two sides of this vase is analyzed further by Yatromanolakis:

The symmetry is clarified as soon as we realize that there is a second, hitherto unknown, inscription on the reverse of this vase. Near the sakkos holding up the hair of this female figure paired with Sappho is lettering that reads ΗΕ ΠΑΙC (= hē pais), meaning ‘the girl’. If the viewer’s eye keeps rotating the vase, the two female figures eternally follow each other, but because their position is symmetrically pictured, they can never gaze at each other. Nor can a viewer ever gaze at both figures at the same time—at least, without a mirror.[20]

1§22. So, the pais ‘girl’ is eternally pursued by the singing and dancing Sappho as painted by the Tithonos painter. But Sappho is in turn eternally pursued by the girl. The girl of the present time will become the woman of a future time who will pursue a girl of that future time just as she herself had once been pursued in time past. As we hear in Song 1 of Sappho, line 21, καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέωc διώξει ‘for if she is fleeing now, soon she will be pursuing’.

1§23. Still, I think that the moment of catching up is eternally deferred. The woman cannot catch up with the girl she once had been, and the girl cannot catch up with the woman she will become. This is not just amor versus, it is amor conversus. It is a yearning for a merger of identities as woman pursues girl pursues woman. Such a merger could conceivably happen, but only in the mentality of myth fused with ritual. I have studied this mentality elsewhere, comparing it to the concept of the “Changing Woman” in the female initiation rituals and songs of the Navajo and Apache peoples:[21] as we learn from interviews with women who experience such rituals, Changing Woman defies old age even as she grows old, since “she is always able to recapture her youth.”[22]

1§24. I come to the end of this essay without being able to come to a full stop. A diachronic Sappho will need further contemplation, and I will have to come back to this subject not just once again as I go ahead with my argumentation.


Notes
[1] Culler 2015:356n1, with reference to my translation in PP=1996a:100. In an article about dēute (δηὖτε) by Sarah Mace (1993), she points to an idea I expressed in an earlier work of mine: that the specific attestations of this word at lines 15 and 16 and 18 in Song 1 of Sappho should be compared with all other attestations in ancient Greek lyric poetry (Mace 1993:337n8 with reference to N 1973:142n18). While surveying these attestations in the same article, she goes on to say that I do not “pursue the idea to any distinct conclusions” (Mace p. 338n11). I object. Instead, I would say that my conclusions about this word, as outlined in my essay here (and as already noted in N 1973:142n18), are distinct from hers.

[2] In what follows, I will comment on the restored reading βαῖϲ᾿ ἄγην at line 19.

[3] H24H Hour 5 Text F.

[4] H24H 5§50, with reference to a more detailed analysis in N 1996a:97–103.

[5] I elaborate on this point in Essay 4§§4–5 below.

[6] Parca 1982:47–48.

[7] PP=1996a:98n34

[8] Parca 1982:60, relying on the argumentation of Rissman 1980.

[9] Petropoulos 1993. At p. 51n51, he specifically argues against the idea that the wording in Sappho 1.18–19 is a matter of “Homeric allusion,” as argued by Parca 1982:49–50. See also Petropoulos p. 44n5.

[10] Petropoulos 1993:45–53. For more on the theme of “compulsory persuasiveness,” see Petropoulos p. 48.

[11] For further examples of ritualized haste in love spells, see Petropoulos 1993:47.

[12] Petropoulos 1993:45–53.

[13] Petropoulos 1993:52.

[14] Petropoulos 1993:52.

[15] Carson 1980.

[16] Bennett 2014:14–18.

[17] In what follows, I present a compressed version of what I argue in N 2010:193–95.

[18] I have more to say in N 2007/2009 about the stylized dance implied by such a “walking style” in fifth-century Athenian paintings.

[19] Yatromanolakis 2005; also 2007: 88–110, 248, 262–279.

[20] Nagy 2007/2009:239, following Yatromanolakis 2005, who was the first to read and publish this inscription.

[21] PP=1996a:101–103.

[22] Basso 1966:151.

 

Essay 2: Sappho’s Tithonos

rewritten from 2015.11.12 merged with a rewritten text of N 2010 (the page-breaks in the printed version of that text will be tracked here in Essay Two)

 

Detail from red-figure stemless kylix by the Penthesilea Painter, ca. 460 BCE. Exterior, Side A: Eos pursuing Tithonos. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 96.18.76. Purchase by subscription, 1896. Photo courtesy of the Museum’s Open Access for Scholarly Content program, www.metmuseum.org.[/caption]

2§0. Essay Two here picks up from where I left off in Essay One, where I highlighted the idea of a cycle from girl to woman back to girl in the poetics of Sappho—and where I noted the use of the word pais in the sense of ‘girl’ as inscribed in a vase painting that showed the pursuit of a girl by a woman who was in turn pursued by the girl in a seemingly eternal cycle. I see a comparable use of the word pais in line 1 of a song of Sappho about Tithonos. In what follows, I will be referring to this song simply as Sappho’s Tithonos.

2§1. There are two attested versions of Sappho’s Tithonos, and I start here by quoting only one of the two versions of this song (as edited by Dirk Obbink 2010), followed by my own translation:

|1 [. . . words missing . . . ἰ]ο̣κ[ό]λ̣πων κάλα δῶρα, παῖδεϲ, |2 [. . . words missing . . .τὰ]ν̣ φιλάοιδον λιγύραν χελύνναν· |3 [. . . words missing . . .] π̣οτ̣’ [ἔ]ο̣ντα χρόα γῆραϲ ἤδη |4 [. . . words missing . . .]ἐγ]ένοντο τρίχεϲ ἐκ μελαίναν· |5 βάρυϲ δέ μ’ ὀ [θ]ῦμο̣ϲ̣ πεπόηται, γόνα δ’ [ο]ὐ φέροιϲι, |6 τὰ δή ποτα λαίψηρ’ ἔον ὄρχηϲθ’ ἴϲα νεβρίοιϲι. |7 τὰ ⟨μὲν⟩ ϲτεναχίϲδω θαμέωϲ· ἀλλὰ τί κεν ποείην; |8 ἀγήραον ἄνθρωπον ἔοντ’ οὐ δύνατον γένεϲθαι. |9 καὶ γάρ π̣[ο]τ̣α̣ Τίθωνον ἔφαντο βροδόπαχυν Αὔων |10 ἔρωι φ̣ ̣ ̣α̣θ̣ε̣ιϲαν βάμεν’ εἰϲ ἔϲχατα γᾶϲ φέροιϲα[ν], |11 ἔοντα̣ [κ]ά̣λ̣ο̣ν καὶ νέον, ἀλλ’ αὖτον ὔμωϲ ἔμαρψε |12 χρόνωι π̣ό̣λ̣ι̣ο̣ν̣ γῆραϲ, ἔχ̣[ο]ν̣τ̣’ ἀθανάταν ἄκοιτιν. |13 [. . . words missing . . .]ιμέναν νομίϲδει |14 [. . . words missing . . .]αιϲ ὀπάϲδοι |15 ⸤ἔγω δὲ φίλημμ’ ἀβροϲύναν, . . .⸥ τοῦτο καί μοι |16 τὸ λά⸤μπρον ἔρωϲ ἀελίω καὶ τὸ κά⸥λον λέ⸤λ⸥ογχε.

|1 [. . .] gifts of [the Muses], whose contours are adorned with violets, [I tell you] girls [paides] |2 [. . .] the clear-sounding song-loving lyre. |3 [. . .] skin that was once tender is now [ravaged] by old age [gēras], |4 [. . .] hair that was once black has turned (gray). |5 The throbbing of my heart is heavy, and my knees cannot carry me |6 ­—(those knees) that were once so nimble for dancing like fawns. |7 I cry and cry about those things, over and over again. But what can I do? |8 To become ageless [a-gēra-os] for someone who is mortal is impossible to achieve. |9 Why, even Tithonos once upon a time, they said, was taken by the dawn-goddess [Eos], with her rosy arms |10 —she felt [. . .] passionate-love [eros] for him, and off she went, carrying him to the ends of the earth, |11 so beautiful [kalos] he was and young [neos], but, all the same, he was seized |12 in the fullness of time by gray old age [gēras], even though he shared the bed of an immortal female. |13 [. . .] |14 [. . .] |15 But I love delicacy [(h)abrosunē] [. . .] this, |16 and passionate-love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance [tò lampron] and beauty [tò kalon].

Sappho’s Tithonos 1–16

2§2. This fragmentary text of Sappho is based primarily on two sets of papyrus fragments, varying in date, which Obbink calls Π¹ and Π². The first, Π¹, is a Cologne papyrus dated to the third century BCE (P.Köln inv. 21351 + 21376); the second, Π², is an Oxyrhynchus papyrus dated to the second or third century CE (P.Oxy. 1787). The papyrus Π¹ preserves those parts of the Tithonos Song that occupy the opening portions of the lines, while the papyrus Π² preserves the closing portions. The text that follows line 12 in Π¹ is another song, composed in non-Sapphic meter, and this text is not given in what I have just quoted above. The text that follows line 12 in Π² continues the same song, and it is this text that I give in lines 13–16 above. These lines Π² 13–16 are the equivalent of lines 23–26 in a text that used to be known simply as Fragment 58 of Sappho. At lines 15–16, the wordings enclosed in half-square brackets are restorations from a quotation by Athenaeus 15.687b (Clearchus F 41 ed. Wehrli). My translation of lines 15–16 above is based on the reading ἔρωϲ ἀελίω instead of ἔροc τὠελίω (PH=1990a:285 [10§18], GMP=1990b:261–262, PP=1996a:90, 102–103). In terms of the first reading, ἔρωϲ ἀελίω, the Sun is the objective genitive of erōs, ‘passionate-love’. In terms of the second reading, ἔροc τὠελίω, the translation would be … ‘passionate-love [eros] has won for me the radiance and beauty of the Sun’.

2§3. Before I comment on the paides ‘girls’ who are addressed by the speaker at line 1 as I have quoted it above—the word paides here refers not to ‘boys’ but to ‘girls’— I first give further background about the overall composition of Sappho’s Tithonos.

2§4. This composition, Sappho’s Tithonos, belongs to a larger textual set that is sometimes called the “New Sappho”—where the “newness” is due to the “new” text of a newly-found Cologne papyrus, already mentioned, which is dated to the third century BCE (P.Köln inv. 21351 + 21376). This “new” text, as we have seen, is distinct in both form and content from an already-known text of Sappho, found in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus, which is dated to the second or third century CE (P.Oxy. 1787). In the two papyri, Π¹ and Π², dated about a half a millennium apart, the songs of Sappho are evidently arranged in a different order. Both papyri contain fragments of three songs, but only the second of the three songs in each papyrus is the same. The other two songs in each papyrus are different from each other. The sameness of the second song in each papyrus is evident from an overlap between the wording of lines 9–20 in the earlier papyrus (Π1 in the working edition of Obbink) and of lines 11–22 in the later papyrus (Π2). But even this same song, which is about Tithonos, is not really the same in the two papyri. The text of Sappho’s Tithonos in the later papyrus is longer, as we have already seen. After line 22, which corresponds to line 20 of the earlier papyrus, the song seems to keep going for another four lines, all the way through line 26, before a third song starts at line 27. By contrast, the text of Sappho’s Tithonos in the earlier papyrus is shorter: after line 20, there are no further lines for this song, and a third song starts at line 21. This difference between the two texts of Sappho’s Tithonos leads to a question: which of the texts is definitive—the shorter one or the longer one? In what follows, I will formulate an answer based on what we know about the reception of Sappho in the city-state of Athens during the fifth century BCE.

2§5. This reception, as I argue, was an aspect of the actual transmission of Sappho’s songs in performance—a continuous transmission that I trace all the way back to the foundational context of these songs as they had been performed at Lesbos—maybe as early as around 600 BCE. In other words, I am arguing that the reception of Sappho in Athens, many years later, was not some new revival of an old Aeolian lyric tradition that had been discontinued. This is not a story of Sappho interrupted and then revived. Instead, it is a story of Sappho continued—and thereby transformed. As an analogy for the reception of Sappho’s songmaking in Athens during the fifth century, I think of the reception of Homeric poetry in the same city during {176|177} the same period. This Athenian Homer was not some revival of an old Ionian epic tradition that had been discontinued: rather, the Homeric tradition in Athens during the Classical period of the fifth century BCE was an organic continuation of earlier Preclassical traditions stemming from Ionia. [1]

2§6. An essential aspect of Sappho’s reception in Athens, I argue, was the tradition of performing her songs in a sympotic context, which differentiated these songs from what they once had been in their primarily choral context. [2] Before proceeding further, I pause for a moment to explain what I mean by sympotic and choral contexts.

2§7. 2§7. When I speak of a choral context, I have in mind the general idea of performances by a khoros, conventionally translated as ‘chorus’. Already in the Introduction, §10D, I offered a working definition of the khoros: it is a group of performers who sing and also potentially dance a given song within a space (real or notional) that is sacred to a divinity or to a constellation of divinities. [3] In the case of songs attributed to Sappho, they were once performed by women or girls who were singing and dancing within such a sacred space. [4] And the divinity most closely identified with most of her songs was Aphrodite. [5]

2§8. When I speak of a sympotic context, I have in mind more specifically the idea of comastic performances, that is, performances by a kōmos, which is a group linked with an occasion conventionally termed a ‘revel’. Pragmatically speaking, we can say that the kōmos is both the occasion of a ‘revel’ and the group engaged in that ‘revel’. I offer a working definition of the kōmos: it is a group of male performers who sing and also potentially dance  a given song on a festive occasion that calls for the drinking of wine. [6]
2§9. Here I review the implications of this definition. The combination of wine and song expresses the ritual communion of those participating in the kōmos. This communion creates a bonding of the participants with one another and with the divinity who makes the communion sacred, that is, Dionysus. [7] To the extent that the kōmos is a group of male performers who sing and dance in a {177|178} space (real or notional) that is sacred to Dionysus, it can be considered a subcategory of the khoros. [8]
2§10. The concept of the kōmos is linked with the more general concept of the symposium. [9] That is why I have found it convenient to use the more general term sympotic as well as the more specific term comastic in referring to the context of the kōmos. I should note, however, that the ancient symposium, in all its attested varieties, could accommodate other kinds of singing and dancing besides the kinds we find attested for the kōmos. And, for the moment, I concentrate on the specific concept of the kōmos.
2§11. Back when Sappho is thought to have flourished in Lesbos, around 600 BCE, we expect that her songs would be performed by women in the context of the khoros. Around the same time in Lesbos, the songs of Alcaeus would be performed by men in the context of the kōmos. This context is signaled by the use of the verb kōmazein ‘sing and dance in the kōmos’, which is actually attested in one of his songs (Alcaeus F 374.1). His songs, on other occasions, could be performed, potentially, not by a kōmos but even by a male khoros, as for example his Hymn to the Dioskouroi (Alcaeus F 34).
2§12. There is an overlap, however, in performing the songs attributed to Sappho. I argue that such songs could be performed not only by women in a khoros but also by men in a kōmos. [10] To avoid any misunderstanding here, I should note that the kōmos involves forms of “high art” as well as “low art.” A prominent example of the higher forms is the epinician poetry of Pindar and Bacchylides, which is stylized as comastic performance. And, within the mythological framework of the stylized kōmoi of Pindar and Bacchylides, the male singers and dancers could be imagined at special moments as female singers and dancers who are performing in a chorus. A case in point is Song 13 of Bacchylides, which features a mythically performing khoros ‘chorus’ of nymphs embedded within a ritually performing kōmos of men. [11]
2§13. I trace this kind of embedded choral performance from Lesbos to Samos, where it became part of the court poetry of Anacreon: [12]
§13.1. Anacreon was court poet to Polycrates of Samos, the powerful ruler of an expansive maritime empire in the Aegean world of the late sixth century. The lyric role of Sappho was appropriated by the imperial court poetry of Anacreon. {178|179}
§13.2. This appropriation can be viewed only retrospectively, however, through the lens of poetic traditions in Athens. That is because the center of imperial power over the Aegean shifted from Samos to Athens when Polycrates the tyrant of Samos was captured and executed by agents of the Persian empire. Parallel to this transfer of imperial power was a transfer of musical prestige, politically engineered by Hipparkhos the son of Peisistratos and tyrant of Athens. Hipparkhos made the powerful symbolic gesture of sending a warship to Samos to fetch Anacreon and bring him to Athens (“Plato” Hipparkhos 228c). This way, the Ionian lyric tradition as represented by Anacreon was relocated from its older imperial venue in Samos to a newer imperial venue in Athens. Likewise relocated was the Aeolian lyric tradition as represented by Sappho – and also by Alcaeus.
§13.3. The new Aegean empire that was taking shape under the hegemony of Athens became the setting for a new era in lyric poetry, starting in the late sixth century and extending through most of the fifth. In this era, Athens became a new stage, as it were, for the performing of Aeolian and Ionian lyric poetry as mediated by the likes of Anacreon. The most public context for such performance was the prestigious Athenian festival of the Panathenaia, where professional monodic singers performed competitively in spectacular restagings of lyric poetry. The Aeolian and Ionian lyric traditions exemplified by Anacreon figured prominently at this festival.
§13.4. This kind of poetry, despite the publicity it got from the Panathenaia as the greatest of the public festivals of Athens, could also be performed privately, that is, in sympotic contexts. Most telling are the references in Athenian Old Comedy to the sympotic singing of Aeolian and Ionian lyric. I cite an example from Aristophanes (F 235 ed. Kassel/Austin), where singing a song of Anacreon at a symposium is viewed as parallel to singing a song of Alcaeus: ᾆσον δή μοι σκόλιόν τι λαβὼν Ἀλκαίου κἈνακρέοντος ‘sing me some skolion, taking it from Alcaeus or Anacreon’. [13] {179|180} Elsewhere, in the Sympotic Questions of Plutarch (711d), singing a song of Anacreon at a symposium is viewed as parallel to singing a song of Sappho herself: ὅτε καὶ Σαπφοῦς ἂν ᾀδομένης καὶ τῶν Ἀνακρέοντος ἐγώ μοι δοκῶ καταθέσθαι τὸ ποτήριον αἰδούμενος ‘whenever Sappho is being sung, and Anacreon, I think of putting down the drinking cup in awe’.
§13.5. In general, the Dionysiac medium of the symposium was most receptive to the Aeolian and Ionian lyric traditions exemplified by the likes of Anacreon, Alcaeus, and Sappho. There is an anecdote that bears witness to this reception: it is said that Solon of Athens became enraptured by a song of Sappho as sung by his own nephew at a symposium (Aelian via Stobaeus 3.29.58). [14]
§13.6. The correlation of Aeolian lyric with the Ionian lyric of Anacreon in these contexts is relevant to an explicit identification of Anacreon with the Dionysiac medium of the symposium. In a pointed reference, Anacreon is pictured in the lavish setting of a grand symposium hosted by his patron, the tyrant Polycrates, in the heyday of the Ionian maritime empire of Samos. The reference comes from Herodotus (3.121), who pictures Polycrates in the orientalizing pose of reclining on a sympotic couch in the company of his court poet Anacreon: καὶ τὸν Πολυκράτεα τυχεῖν κατακείμενον ἐν ἀνδρεῶνι, παρεῖναι δέ οἱ καὶ Ἀνακρέοντα τὸν Τήιον ‘and he [= a Persian agent] found Polycrates reclining in the men’s quarters, and with him was Anacreon of Teos’. [15]
2§14. The poet Anacreon, as a protégé of the tyrant Polycrates, would of course be featured as the celebrated performer of the poet’s own songs at such symposia, which in ordinary contexts would be private events. In the case of tyrants however, the distinction between singing in a symposium and singing in a concert, which would be a public event, could easily be blurred, since the political ambitions of a tyrant like Polycrates led to a mentality of claiming ownership of public events like concerts featuring the singing of songs, as if such events were the tyrant’s own private property—property that he would be willing to share with the public in his claimed role as a generous sponsor. In a standalone essay (N 2024.01.11) I have more to say about such an ideological merger of what is private and what is public in media controlled by tyrants, especially with reference to songs as publicly performed by Anacreon and sponsored by Polycrates as patron. For now, however, I will focus not on the songmaking done by Anacreon himself in Samos but on his appropriation, in that same context, of the earlier songmaking of Sappho and Alcaeus in the context of Lesbos. Such appropriation, I must emphasize, would still be part of Anacreon’s songmaking in the context of Samos, where he merged his own songs with the earlier songs of predecessors like Sappho and Alcaeus. Accordingly, I will hereafter refer to such merged songmaking more generally: such songs were not so much Anacreon’s songs, they were merely Anacreontic songs. And the point is, the performance traditions of Anacreontic songmaking in Samos lived on in Athens. Even the compatibility of Anacreontic songmaking with both private and public contexts of performance lived on in Athens, where the traditions of performing Anacreontic songs continued to be shaped and reshaped {180|181} in two different contexts—both the private context of symposia and the public context of grand concerts organized at the festival of the Panathenaia.
2§15. A symbol of the convergence of sympotic and Panathenaic traditions in performing the songs of Anacreon – and of Sappho and Alcaeus – was an exotic string instrument of Lydian origin known as the barbiton (a byform is barbitos), as we see from references in the visual as well as the verbal arts. [16] The morphology of this instrument made it ideal for a combination of song, instrumental accompaniment, and dance. With its elongated neck, the barbiton produced a low range of tone that best matched the register of the human voice, and its shape was “ideally suited to walking musicians, since it could be held against the left hip and strummed without interfering with a normal walking stride.” [17] What is described here as “a normal walking stride” could modulate into a dancing pose, as we see in pictures representing Anacreon himself in the act of singing and dancing while accompanying himself on the barbiton. [18]
2§16. The figure of Anacreon as a performer at the Panathenaia is parodied in the verbal as well as the visual arts:
A case in point is Women at the Thesmophoria, a comedy by Aristophanes. Here the tragic poet Agathon is depicted as wearing a turban and a woman’s khitōn – costuming that matches the costume of the lyric poet Anacreon as depicted by the Kleophrades Painter (Copenhagen MN 13365). [19] In the comedy of Aristophanes, the stage Agathon even says explicitly that his self-staging is meant to replicate the monodic stagings of Ibycus, Anacreon, and Alcaeus (verses 159-163). This reference indicates that Agathon as a master of tragic poetry was strongly influenced by the tradition of performing lyric poetry monodically at the Panathenaia. [20]
2§17. Another source of influence was the tradition of performing lyric poetry in an ensemble like the kōmos. There is a potential for choral as well as monodic parody in Old Comedy: [21] {181|182}
The case in point is again the Women at the Thesmophoria. In this comedy of Aristophanes, the Panathenaic persona of the tragic poet Agathon extends into a Dionysiac persona when the acting of the actor who plays Agathon shifts from dialogue to chorus. Once the shift takes place, there can be a choral as well as monodic self-staging of the stage Agathon. [22] And such choral stagings would most likely be comastic in inspiration.
2§18. Returning to the symbolic value of the barbiton, I next consider two conflicting myths about the invention of this string instrument. According to one myth, the inventor was Anacreon (Athenaeus 4.175e); according to the other, the inventor was an archetypal poet from Lesbos known as Terpander (Athenaeus 14.635d). I interpret the symbolic value of these myths as follows: [23]
Just as the figure of Anacreon was associated with the kithara as well as the barbiton, so too was the older figure of Terpander. In fact, Terpander of Lesbos was thought to be the prototype of kitharōidoikithara-singers’ (Aristotle F 545 ed. Rose and Hesychius s.v. μετὰ Λέσβιον ᾠδόν; Plutarch Laconic sayings 238c). Pictured as an itinerant professional singer, Terpander was reportedly the first of all winners at the Spartan festival of the Karneia (Hellanicus FGH 4 F 85 by way of Athenaeus 14.635e). [24] Tradition has it that the Feast of the Karneia was founded in the twenty-sixth Olympiad, that is, between 676 and 672 BCE (Athenaeus 14.635e-f).
Not only was Terpander of Lesbos thought to be the prototypical kitharōidos or ‘kithara-singer’ (“Plutarch” On Music 1132d, 1133b-d). He was also overtly identified as the originator of kitharōidia or ‘kithara-singing’ as a performance tradition perpetuated by a historical figure named Phrynis of Lesbos; just like Terpander, Phrynis was known as a kitharōidos (“Plutarch” On Music 1133b). And the historicity of this Phrynis is independently verified: at the Panathenaia of 456 (or {182|183} possibly 446), he won first prize in the competition of kitharōidoi (scholia to Aristophanes Clouds 969). [25]
2§19. Given the interchangeability of barbiton and kithara in traditions about Terpander as the prototypical kitharōidoskithara-singer’, I return to the traditions about Anacreon as shown in Anacreontic vase paintings: here too we find an interchangeability of barbiton and kithara.
In both cases of interchangeability, it is implied that the kithara is the more traditional of these two kinds of instrument, since the barbiton is figured as something invented by the Asiatic Ionian Anacreon according to one version (Athenaeus 4.175e) or by the Asiatic Aeolian Terpander according to another (Athenaeus 14.635d).
2§20. Pursuing further the idea of a Panathenaic context for the performance of songs attributed to Anacreon – and, by extension, of songs attributed to Sappho and Alcaeus – I turn to the evidence of a picture painted on a red-figure vase of Athenian provenance. This vase, a krater shaped like a kalathos and made in Athens sometime in the decade of 480-470 BCE (Munich, Antikensammlungen no. 2416; ARV2 385 [228]), shows on its two sides two paintings attributed to the so-called Brygos Painter. I analyze these two paintings with reference to two line drawings I have provided, Image 1 and Image 2: [26]
Image 1
Image 2
2§21. In Image 1 we see two figures in a pointedly musical scene. The figure on the left is Alcaeus playing the specialized string instrument known as the barbiton, while the figure on the right is Sappho playing her own barbiton. […] The two figures in the painting are described as follows by a team of art historians:
[They are] side by side in nearly identical dress. But under the transparent clothing of one – a bearded man – the sex is clearly drawn. The other is a woman – her breasts are indicated – but a cloak hides the region of her genitals, apparently distancing her from any erotic context. She wears a diadem, while the hair of her companion is held in a ribbon (tainia). Each holds a barbiton and seems to be playing. The parallelisms of the two figures, male and female, is unambiguous here. A string of vowels (Ο Ο Ο Ο Ο) leaving the man’s mouth {183|184} indicates song. An inscription, finally, gives his name, Alcaeus [ΑΛΚΑΙΟΣ], and indicates the identity of his companion, Sappho [ΣΑΦΟ – sic]. […] The long garment and the playing of the barbiton are […] connected with Ionian lyric. [27]
2§22. Next we turn to Image 2 as painted on the Munich vase. Here we see two figures in a  pointedly sympotic scene. The figure on the left is Dionysus, while the figure on the right is a female devotee, that is, a Maenad. Sympotic themes predominate. Dionysus, god of the symposium, is directly facing the Maenad, who appears to be coming under the god’s possession, transfixed by his direct gaze. The symmetry of Dionysus and the Maenad is reinforced by the symmetrical picturing of two overtly sympotic vessels, one held by the god and the other, by his newly possessed female devotee: he is holding a kantharos while she is holding an oinokhoē. The pairing creates a sort of sympotic symmetry. {184|185}
2§23. Matching the sympotic symmetry of Dionysus and the Maenad in Image 2 is the musical symmetry of Alcaeus and Sappho in Image 1. Both Alcaeus and Sappho are shown in the musical moment of striking all seven strings of the barbiton in a sweep of the plēktron held in the right hand. Each of the two figures has just executed this masterful instrumental sweep, and now the singing may begin. Alcaeus has already begun to sing, but Sappho has yet to begin. She appears to be waiting for her own turn to sing.
2§24. The idea of taking turns in performing a song, as I have just expressed it, is essential for the rest of my essay. What I have just described as a musical scene in Image 1 of the Munich vase is more specifically a Panathenaic scene, which is symmetrical with the sympotic scene in Image 2. I say Panathenaic scene because Sappho and Alcaeus are being pictured here as if they were citharodes competing with each other at the festival of the Panathenaia in Athens. [28] And {185|186} the idea of taking turns in performing a song is a defining feature of singing in competition.
2§25. This idea of taking turns in performing a song brings me back full circle to the question I asked at the beginning of this essay, with reference to the two different texts of Sappho’s Tithonus as transcribed in two different papyri. The question was: which text of the song is definitive – the shorter one as written in the earlier Cologne papyrus (Π1) or the longer one as written in the later Oxyrhynchus papyrus (Π2)?
2§26. My answer is this: I think that the shorter and the longer texts of Sappho’s Tithonos are actually two versions of the same song, and that both the shorter and the longer versions can be considered definitive. This definitiveness, however, has to be viewed in terms of performing the song, not in terms of writing the text of the song.
2§27. Viewed in this light, the longer version of Sappho’s Tithonos as written in the later Oxyrhynchus papyrus did not result from a textual addition. Conversely, the shorter version as written in the earlier Cologne papyrus did not result from a textual subtraction. Rather, both the addition and the subtraction were a matter of alternative performances. And the differences in addition or subtraction correspond to differences in the contexts of alternative performances.
2§28. I think that the longer version of Sappho’s “song of Tithonos,” where the additional four lines express a hope for an afterlife, would have been most appropriate for performance in the context of choral singing and dancing at public events like the festivals of Lesbos. As for the shorter version, which is without those four lines and without an expression of hope for an afterlife, I think it would have been more appropriate for performance in the context of monodic singing at (1) public events like the competition of citharodes at the festival of the Panathenaia in Athens or at (2) private events like the competitions of symposiasts at symposia. Such Panathenaic and sympotic events are analogous to (1) the Panathenaic scene and (2) the sympotic scene as depicted in Images 1 and 2 of the Munich vase.
2§29. I do not mean to say, however, that the longer version of Sappho’s “song of Tithonos” would have been inappropriate for Panathenaic or sympotic performances at Athens. That version too could have been appropriate. I am only saying that there was something special about the shorter version that made it particularly appropriate for Panathenaic or sympotic performances. That special something is what I call the mentality of relay performance. In terms of this mentality, it is not that the speaker has given up hope for an afterlife. Rather, the hope for an afterlife is being expressed indirectly, by way of a relay from one performance to the next. {186|187}
2§30. As we will see in the next essay, the mentality of relay performance is the driving force for a poetics of continuity, as when girl becomes woman becomes girl ‘once again this time’ in Song One of Sappho.

Notes

[ back ] 1. N 2007b.
[ back ] 2. N 2007a and 2007/2009. Hereafter I refer to N 2007/2009 as “SA.” My views on the transmission of Sappho’s songs converge with those of Deborah Boedeker, who had long ago kindly shared with me a copy of a paper of hers about the transmission of Sappho’s songs in sympotic as well as choral contexts. This paper, presented at a conference, remains unpublished, like all the other papers presented at that same conference. Fortunately, another work of hers, Boedeker 2010, makes clear the essentials of her views.
[ back ] 3. SA 211. Also PP=1996a:53-54, with extensive references to Calame 1977 / 2001; Bierl 2003:98-101.
[ back ] 4. N 2007a:24-43; PH=1990a:371 [12§62]; PP=1996a:87; also Lardinois 1994 and 1996.
[ back ] 5. N 2007a:26-35; PP=1996a:96-103; cf. Gentili 1988:216-222.
[ back ] 6. SA 212. For the kōmos, see in general Bierl 2001 Ch. 2 pp. 300-361; also Pütz 2003 and the review by Bierl 2005.
[ back ] 7. SA 212. Frontisi-Ducroux and Lissarrague 1990:230.
[ back ] 8. SA 212.
[ back ] 9. SA 212; PP 85; Nagy 2004:31n17.
[ back ] 10. SA 212.
[ back ] 11. Power 2000; cf. Stehle 1997:106 and Fearn 2003:359n48.
[ back ] 12. SA 226-227.
[ back ] 13. The word skolion, as used in the time of Aristophanes, is a distinctly sympotic term. Details in N 2004:37n31.
[ back ] 14. PP=1996a:219.
[ back ] 15. Commentary by Urios-Aparisi 1993:54 on the explicitly sympotic features of the description given by Herodotus.
[ back ] 16. SA 233, 237-238-246.
[ back ] 17. Price 1990:143n30.
[ back ] 18. SA 238.
[ back ] 19. Price 1990:169, with further bibliography.
[ back ] 20. For more on Anacreon in Aristophanes Women at the Thesmophoria, see Bierl 2001:160–163; on Agathon as a stage Anacreon, see Bierl p. 158 n137, 165; on Agathon as parody of Dionysus see Bierl pp. 164–168, 173, 321n60.
[ back ] 21. SA 246.
[ back ] 22. Price 1990:169-170.
[ back ] 23. SA 244.
[ back ] 24. PH=1990a:86-87 [3§§6-9], with further discussion.
[ back ] 25. PH=1990a:98 [3§32]. On the date 446 see Davison 1968 [1958] 61-64.
[ back ] 26. SA 233-234, 237.
[ back ] 27. Frontisi-Ducroux and Lissarrague 1990:219.
[ back ] 28. SA 234–254.

 

Essay 3: Echoes of Sappho in epigrams of Posidippus

rewritten from 2015.11.19

Charles Fairfax Murray’s “Replica of Beata Beatrix,” c. 1900-1910. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; “Beata Beatrix,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, c. 1864–1870.

3§0. Essay 3 here picks up from where I left off in Essay 2. There I highlighted the use of the word paides in Sappho’s Tithonos, line 1, and I interpreted this word to mean ‘girls’ in that context, comparing the use of the word pais in the sense of ‘girl’ as inscribed on a vase painting that I analyzed in Essay 1. That painting, as we saw, shows the pursuit of a girl by a woman who is in turn pursued by the girl in a seemingly eternal cycle. In Essay 2, I argued for a comparable use of the word pais in Sappho’s Tithonos. Here in Essay 3, we will see yet another comparable use of the word pais in the sense of ‘girl’—this time in an epigram of Posidippus, a poet who was active in the third century BCE. Also, I will adduce a second epigram of Posidippus that is likewise relevant. In that epigram, as I predicted at the end of Essay 2, we will see a learned reference to a mentality of relay performance in the poetics of Sappho.

3§1. I will now quote and translate both of these epigrams composed by Posidippus. The first is a poem numbered Epigram 52 in the received collection of epigrams attributed to Posidippus (here and elsewhere, my numbering of this poet’s epigrams follows the edition by Bastianini and Gallazzi 2001, as listed in the Bibliography below). I quote here the text of Epigram 52 as re-edited by Francesca Angiò 2015, followed by my own working translation:

|1 Τίμων, ὃϲ ϲκιό[θηρον ἐθή]κατο τοῦθ’, ἵνα μετρῆι |2 ὥραϲ, νῦν ιδεκ̣[±10 letters]αι πεδίον |3 Ἄϲτη παῖϲ θ[±10 letters ὁ]δοιπόρε, τὴν ἔλιφ’, εἵωϲ |4 ἐνδέχετ’ ἐλπ[ι±6 letters π]αρθένον ὡρολογε̣ῖν· |5 ἀλλὰ ϲὺ γῆραϲ ἱκ̣οῦ, κούρ̣η· παρὰ ϲήματι τούτωι |6 ϲωρὸν ἐτέων μέτρει τὸν καλὸν ἠέλιον.

|1 Timon, who set up this sundial for it to measure-out [metreîn]|2 the passing hours [hōrai], now [. . .] ground. |3 The girl [pais] Astē [. . .]—I say this to you the passerby—she was left behind by him for as long a time as |4 is possible to hope [. . .] that the girl [parthenos] will continue to read the passing hours [hōrai]. |5 As for you, O girl [kourē], you will approach old age at this marker [sēma] as you, |6 for piles and piles of years to come, will be measuring-out [metreîn] the beautiful sun.

Posidippus Epigram 52[1]

Next, I quote the text of Epigram 55, as re-edited by Bernd Seidensticker 2015, followed here again by my own working translation:

|1 πάντα τὰ Νικομάχηϲ καὶ ἀθύρματα καὶ πρὸϲ ἑώιαν |2 κερκίδα Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ |3 ὤιχετο Μοῖρα φέρουϲα προώρια· τὴν δὲ τάλαιναν |4 παρθένον Ἀργείων ἀμφεβόηϲε πόλιϲ, |5 Ἥρηϲ τὸ τραφὲν ἔρνοϲ ὑπ’ ὠλένοϲ· ἆ τότε γαμβρῶν |6 τῶν μνηϲτευομένων ψύχρ’ ἔμενον λέχεα.

|1 Everything about Nikomakhe, all her pretty things and, come dawn, |2 as the sound of the weaving-pin [kerkis] is heard, all of Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next, |3 are all gone, carried away by fate, all too soon [pro-hōria], and the poor |4 girl [parthenos] is lamented by the city of the Argives. |5 She had been raised by the goddess Hera, who cradled her in her arms like a tender seedling. But then, ah, there came the time when all her would-be husbands, |6 pursuing her, got left behind, with cold beds for them to sleep in.

Posidippus Epigram 55[2]

3§2. In the second of these two poems by Posidippus, Epigram 55, the words of the poem actually refer to Sappho by name. Viewing the words of Epigram 55 together with the words of Epigram 52, I will argue that the poetry of Posidippus is echoing references to a choral interaction between paides ‘girls’ and the persona of Sappho in her song about Tithonos. And such a reference to choral performance, as we will see, does not rule out the possibility that the same kind of reference could also be made in sympotic and concertizing performances of Sappho’s songs.

3§3. The second of these two epigrams by Posidippus, Epigram 55, pictures those happy times long ago when a girl named Nikomakhe would be partying all night with her girl-friends while singing and listening to the love songs of Sappho. I focus here on the expression we read at line 2, Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ, which I have just translated as ‘Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next’. In the dictionary of Liddell and Scott, I should note for background, this noun oaros is said to be the synonym of the noun oaristus, which is glossed as ‘familiar converse, fond discourse’. But there is more to it: from a survey of attestations, we find that these nouns oaros and oaristus refer specifically to love-songs.[3] Viewed in this light, the combined use of the terms ‘familiar’ and ‘fond’ in the definition of Liddell and Scott is apt. And it goes without saying that the ‘familiar converse’ or ‘fond discourse’ indicated by the words oaros and oaristus may be seen as songs of homoerotic as well as heterosexual courtship. But there is still more to it. The expression Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ ‘Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next’ at line 2 of Epigram 55 indicates that the songs are sung in relay, from one song to the next. Each singer is followed by the next singer in singing her song. Such relay singing, as I have argued in other projects, is typical of performances at private symposia arranged by and for male participants, as also at public concerts, most notably at the Athenian festival of the Panathenaia, where kitharōdoi ‘kithara-singers’ or aulōidoi ‘aulos-singers’ compete with each other for prizes as they take turns in singing citharodic or aulodic songs respectively.[4] Similarly in Epigram 55, I argue, we see a reference here to the taking of turns in singing citharodic songs of Sappho at a symposium—but the difference here is that the singers are represented as girls, not as boys or men. Essentially, we see here a female symposium.

3§4. In Essay 2, I had argued that the shorter of two versions we have of Sappho’s song about Tithonos was suitable for relay singing at private symposia or at public concerts. Now I can take the argument further: the shorter version of the Sappho’s Tithonos would have been suitable also for relay singing at private female symposia at well. At least, that is what we have seen being represented in the stylized wording of Posidippus at line 2 of Epigram 55. Just as Sappho’s medium comes full circle from one oaros or ‘amorous converse’ to the next, so also Sappho herself comes full circle, for eternity. She is a girl who becomes a woman who becomes a girl again, coming full circle.

3§5. In Epigram 52, as I have already quoted it above, the closing words of the sixth and last line focus on the image of the beautiful sun (52.6: τὸν καλὸν ἠέλιον), and the beauty of the sun is linked with the accumulation of years (52.6: σωρὸν ἐτέων), which is being measured out by a skiothēron ‘sundial’ set up to commemorate a dead man named Timon (52.1). Observing the sundial is a pais ‘girl’ named Astē (52.3), whom the dead man has left behind just as he has left behind the sundial. On the surface, the girl seems to be the dead man’s surviving daughter.[5] But there is more to it. I now focus on the conclusion of the epigram, where Astē is addressed as a kourē ‘girl’ (52.5). This alternative way of saying ‘girl’ is relevant to the name Astē. The adjective astos, including the feminine astē, is conventionally used to indicate a native of a given city, and so it seems perfectly appropriate to a local girl who is native to the city where the sundial is located. But, as I say, there is more to it. The fact is, the feminine substantive byform of this adjective, Astos, is attested as the epithet of the local Korē in Paros (IG 12[5] 225, 5th century BCE). In such a sacral context, korē or kourē refers to a goddess nymph par excellence. In such a context, the word for ‘girl’ refers to the primary local nymph worshipped by the local population.[6]

3§6. In Epigram 52 of Posidippus, the name Astē—whether or not we read it as an epithet—may evoke the idea of a local Kourē or nymph goddess in the making. I think that this local nymph is pictured as part of an object of art, probably a statue, which functions as an accessory of the sundial. So, I agree with those who think that the sundial here is figured together with the statue of a girl.[7] The dead man who notionally commissioned the sundial expects the parthenos ‘maiden’ to keep time, ‘to watch the time go by’ or hōrologeîn—even as the sundial watches the time go by (52.4: ἐνδέχετ’ ἐλπ[. . . π]αρθένον ὡρολογε̣ῖν). There she is, this parthenos or ‘maiden’ who is ever watching time go by. It happens on her ancient watch, as it were, which is a sundial ever watching the movement of time, ever observing the solar radiance that is ever loved by this lamenting pais or ‘girl’. The sundial is meant to metreîn or ‘measure out’ the hōrai or passing ‘hours’ (52.1–2: ἵνα μετρῇ | ὥρας). It measures out one hōra after the next hōra. That is its purpose. That is why the sundial is there, marking time to compensate for the death of the dead man. The sundial measures out time, which is the passage of one seasonal phase or hōra to the next. The sundial measures one hōra at a time, counting the hours from one hōra to the next one. The plural of hōra, hōrai, is a metonymic expression of this eternal passage of time. When I say “metonymic” here, I am speaking of metonymy simply as an expression of meaning by way of making mental connections, which is the essence of what I argue in my book Masterpieces of Metonymy (2015). In this case, we see the connecting of a singular hōra, as a single point in time, with an open-ended continuity of plural hōrai leading into eternity. Relevant, I think, is what we hear in a song of Sappho, παρὰ δ’ ἔρχετ’ ὤρα ‘and time [hōra] goes by’. Here is the text of the song as it has survived to our time:

δέδυκε μὲν ἀ cελάννα | καὶ Πληϊάδεc, μέcαι δὲ | νύκτεc, παρὰ δ’ ἔρχετ’ ὤρα· | ἐγὼ δὲ μόνα καθεύδω

The moon has set beneath the horizon | And the Pleiades as well. It is the middle of the | Night, over and over. Time [(h)ōrā] goes by. | But I sleep alone.

[Sappho] PMG Fragmentum Adespotum 976

The subtext here, as I interpret it (N 2007a:41), is this: when the moon-goddess Selene sets beneath the horizon, she goes to sleep with her lover Endymion. That happens every night, for eternity. To be contrasted is the ‘I’ here—who is a ‘she’, as we see from the grammatical gender of monā ‘alone’— this ‘she’, by contrast with the goddess of the moon, has no lover to sleep with, and, for this ‘she’, the passage of time seems like an eternity. As for the ‘I’ here, she has no lover to sleep with. For a persuasive demonstration that this song should be attributed to Sappho, I follow the argumentation of Diskin Clay 2011.

3§7. The maiden in Epigram 52 of Posidippus is herself measuring-out time just as the sundial measures-out time, and, as she is measuring, she is addressed as kourē ‘girl’: ἀλλὰ ϲὺ γῆραϲ ἱκ̣οῦ, κούρ̣η· παρὰ ϲήματι τούτωι |6 ϲωρὸν ἐτέων μέτρει τὸν καλὸν ἠέλιον ‘As for you, O girl [kourē], you will approach old age at this marker [sēma] as you, |6 for piles and piles of years to come, will be measuring out [metreîn] the beautiful sun’ (52.5–6). If we apply terminology that suits the poetics of the Hellenistic era, we may say that there is an adunaton or ‘impossibility’ at work here at the close of this epigram. The fact is, this closing cannot really be a closure because the wording leaves everything openended. The kourē or ‘girl’ cannot ever reach gēras ‘old age’ because the sundial cannot ever finish counting one hōra after the next—just as the lamenting girl cannot ever finish measuring the radiance of the sun that shines its light for the sundial to measure out time. So, the kourē cannot be simply a ‘girl’ interrupted.[8] The girl cannot be interrupted by gēras ‘old age’. She cannot grow old with the passage of time, despite the abrupt command for her to reach gēras ‘old age’ finally. That is because she measures out the passage of time by observing the sun just as the sundial observes the radiance of the sun. She can be a ‘girl’ for eternity because the passage of time can never come to an end, just as the sun can never lose its radiant light.

3§8. The uninterrupted pais or ‘girl’ of Epigram 52 as I have interpreted it can be compared to the use of this same word pais in the invocation addressed to the ensemble of singers and dancers at the beginning of Sappho’s Tithonos as quoted in Essay 2§1. I quote again my working translation of the song:

|1 [. . .] gifts of [the Muses], whose contours are adorned with violets, [I tell you] girls [paides] |2 [. . .] the clear-sounding song-loving lyre. |3 [. . .] skin that was once tender is now [ravaged] by old age [gēras], |4 [. . .] hair that was once black has turned (gray). |5 The throbbing of my heart is heavy, and my knees cannot carry me |6 ­—(those knees) that were once so nimble for dancing like fawns. |7 I cry and cry about those things, over and over again. But what can I do? |8 To become ageless [a-gēra-os] for someone who is mortal is impossible to achieve. |9 Why, even Tithonos once upon a time, they said, was taken by the dawn-goddess [Eos], with her rosy arms |10 —she felt [. . .] passionate love [eros] for him, and off she went, carrying him to the ends of the earth, |11 so beautiful [kalos] he was and young [neos], but, all the same, he was seized |12 in the fullness of time by gray old age [gēras], even though he shared the bed of an immortal female. |13 [. . .] |14 [. . .] |15 But I love delicacy [(h)abrosunē] [. . .] this, |16 and passionate love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance [tò lampron] and beauty [tò kalon].

Sappho’s Tithonos

3§9. At line 1 of the Tithonos Song, the first-person speaker speaks to paides ‘girls’, and she goes on to lament at line 3 the passage of time and the coming of gēras ‘old age’. The theme of old age persists till line 12, where we hear of the gēras ‘old age’ that afflicts Tithonos, mortal lover of Eos the goddess of dawn. Then the song stops, right then at there at line 12, in the papyrus labeled Π1.[9] In another papyrus, however, labeled Π2 by Obbink, the same Tithonos Song continues from line 12 and keeps on going for four more lines, 13–16, culminating in an affirmation of hope for an afterlife. These lines 13–16 of the Tithonos Song are the equivalent of lines 23–26 in a text that used to be known simply as Fragment 58 of Sappho.[10] I should note the special formatting at lines 15–16 (= Π2 25–26) of the Tithonos Song as we see these lines quoted above: the wordings enclosed in half-square brackets are restorations based on a quotation by Athenaeus 15.687b (Clearchus F 41 ed. Wehrli).[11]

3§10. The longer text of the Tithonos Song of Sappho as recorded in Π2—a text that extends through line 16, as we just saw in the quotation above—is a version designed for choral performance. By contrast, the shorter text of the same song as recorded in Π1—a text that extends only through line 12—is a version repurposed for sympotic or concertizing performance. That is what I have argued, in Essay 2, about the longer and the shorter texts. [12]

3§11. At line 16 (= Π2 26), which is the last line in the longer version of the Tithonos Song, the speaker affirms her ‘passionate love of the sun’—her ἔρως ἀελίω.[13] This love is what makes it possible for the speaker to possess everything that is bright and beautiful in life—and to prevail over old age and death.

3§12. I repeat here my translation of the last line in the longer version of Sappho’s Tithonos Song, line 16 (= Π2 26): ‘passionate-love [erōs] of the Sun has won for me its radiance and beauty’. This translation is based on the reading ἔρωϲ ἀελίω. I must note again, however, that there is also an alternative reading, ἔροc τὠελίω, which would require a different translation for the whole line: ‘passionate-love [erōs] has won for me the radiance and beauty of the Sun’. I prefer the first of these two readings, ἔρωϲ ἀελίω, which makes the Sun the objective genitive of erōs ‘passionate love’.[14]

3§13. Such an objective genitive construction ἔρωϲ ἀελίω ‘passionate love of the sun’ would be parallel to the phrase ὄττω τις ἔραται ‘whatever one loves’ in Song 16 of Sappho, where this ‘whatever’ (16.3–4) is described as κάλλιστον ‘the most beautiful thing’ in the whole wide world (16.3). Here is the text of that song, along with my translation:

|1 [ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων ϲτρότον οἰ δὲ πέϲδων |2 οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖϲ’ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν |3 [ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιϲτον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-|4-τω τιc ἔραται· |5 [πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρεc ϲύνετον πόηϲαι |6 [π]άντι τ[ο]ῦ̣τ’, ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περϲκέ̣θ̣ο̣ι̣σ̣α |7 κ̣άλ̣λο̣c̣ [ἀνθ]ρ̣ώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα |8 τ̣ὸν̣ [πανάρ]ιϲτον |9 κ̣αλλ[ίποι]σ̣’ ἔβα ’c Τροΐαν πλέοι̣ϲα |10 κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδοc οὐδὲ φίλων τοκήων |11 π̣ά[μπαν] ἐμνάϲθη, ἀλλὰ παράγ̣α̣γ̣’ α̣ὔταν |12 […]ϲαν |13 […γν]αμπτον γὰρ […] ν̣όημμα |14 […]κούφωϲ τ[…] ν̣οήϲηι |15 [..]μ̣ε̣ νῦν Ἀνακτορί[αc ὀ]ν̣έ̣μναι-|16 [-ϲ’ οὐ ] παρεοίϲαc, |17 [τᾶ]c κε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα |18 κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προϲώπω |19 ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοιϲι |20 [πεϲδομ]άχενταc.

|1 Some say a massing of chariots and their drivers, some say of footsoldiers, |2 some say of ships, if you think of everything that exists on the surface of this black earth, |3 is the most beautiful thing of them all. But I say it is that one thing |4 that anyone passionately loves [erātai]. |5 It’s really quite easy to make this understandable |6 to everyone, this thing. You see, that woman who was by far supreme |7 in beauty among all mortals, Helen, |8 she […] left her best of all husbands, |9 him she left behind and sailed to Troy, |10 caring not about her daughter and her dear parents, |11 not caring at all. She was swept along […] |13 […] twisted […] thinking |14 […] lightly […] think. |15 [All this] reminds me right now of Anaktoria. |16 She is [not] here. [15] |17 Oh, how I would far rather wish to see her taking a dancing step that-arouses-passionate-love [= eraton], |18 and to see the luminous radiance from the look of her face |19 than to see those chariots of the Lydians and the footsoldiers in their armor |20 as they fight in battle […].

|1 Some say a massing of chariots and their drivers, some say of footsoldiers, |2 some say of ships, if you think of everything that exists on the surface of this black earth, |3 is the most beautiful thing of them all. But I say it is that one thing |4 that anyone passionately loves [erâtai]. |5 It’s really quite easy to make this understandable |6 to everyone, this thing. You see, that woman who was by far supreme |7 in beauty among all mortals, Helen, |8 she [. . .] left her best of all husbands, |9 him she left behind and sailed to Troy, |10 caring not about her daughter and her dear parents, |11 not caring at all. She was swept along [. .  ] |15 [All this] reminds me right now of Anaktoria. |16 She is [not] here.[15] |17 Oh, how I would far rather wish to see her taking a dancing step that arouses passionate love [= eraton], |18 and to see the luminous radiance from the look of her face |19 than to see those chariots of the Lydians and the footsoldiers in their armor |20 as they fight in battle [. . .].

Sappho Song 16 [16]

3§14. There are three things to compare with ‘the most beautiful thing’ in Song 16 of Sappho here, but each one of them pales in comparison to ‘whatever’ that thing is that ‘one’ loves. These three things to be compared are three radiant visions of beauty. The first of these visions is the dazzling sight of magnificent chariot-fighters in their luminous war-chariots massing for frontal assault against their terrified enemy; the second vision is of footsoldiers on the battlefield; and the third vision is of battleships at sea (16.1–2). But none of these three radiant visions of beauty can match that ultimate brightness radiating from the speaker’s love-object, Anaktoria (16.15–16). When Anaktoria sings and dances in the chorus, the loveliness of her steps and the brilliant light you see radiating from her looks (16.17–8: ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα | κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω) cannot be surpassed by anything in the whole wide world. That radiance of Anaktoria is now directly compared with the radiance of the luminous chariots and the other two luminous foils (16.19–20).

3§15. In the logic of Sappho’s poetic cosmos, nothing can surpass the radiance of the sun. So the all-surpassing radiance of ‘whatever’ it is that the speaker says she loves more than anything else in the whole wide world must be the same thing as the sun—or at least it must be a metonymic extension of the sun, such as the radiance of Anaktoria herself as she sings and dances in the chorus.[17]

3§16. Similarly in the Tithonos of Sappho, a song about the terrors and sorrows of dark old age, the speaker’s declared love for the sun is what turns her life into a world of radiance and beauty. As we read toward the end of the longer version of the song, at line 15 (= Π2 25), she loves habrosunē ‘luxuriance’: ἔγω δὲ φίλημμ’ ἀβροσύναν, and this love is associated with her passionate love for the sun. In the poetics of Sappho, this association extends to the beautiful heroes Adonis and Phaon, lovers of Aphrodite and projected lovers of Sappho: they are habroi ‘luxuriant’ and they shine like the sun in their radiant attractiveness.[18]

3§17. In the Tithonos Song of Sappho, then, the sun is the promise of recycling for the girl who fears the interruption of her youth by old age, for the woman who fears the termination of her life. The passionate love or eros (ἔρως) for the sun as experienced by Sappho in the longer text of this song, at line 16 (= Π2 26), is the converse of the passionate love or eros (ἔρος) for Tithonos as experienced by the goddess of dawn, Eos, in the shorter text that we now call the “New Sappho,” at line 10 (= Π1 18). As we see from the wording that survives at line 11 (= Π1 19) of the shorter text, the beauty of Tithonos, who was kalos ‘beautiful’ as a neos ‘young man’, will be ruined by what is described as a polion gēras ‘gray old age’ at line 12 (= Π1 20), just as the speaker’s beauty has been ruined (line 3 = Π1 11) by the graying of her hair (line 4 = Π1 12) because of gēras ‘old age’ (line 3 = Π1 11)—after all, no human can remain a-gēra-os ‘ageless’ forever (line 8 = Π1 16). For a human to remain a-gēra-os ‘ageless’ is ou dunaton ‘impossible’ (line 8 = Π1 16). This impossibility, this adunaton, is keenly felt by the speaker as she laments her inability to dance any more, now that her knees are no longer nimble for dancing —no longer nimble like the limbs of playful fawns (lines 5–6 = Π1 13–14).

3§18. Such a poetic adunaton is a specifically choral poetic adunaton, as we see from a comparable expression in a choral song of Alcman, Song 26, where the speaker declares that he is too old and weak to dance with the chorus of women who sing and dance his song: by implication, he continues to sing as the lead singer—even if he cannot dance any more.[19]

3§19. The promise of the girl who comes back full circle, as expressed in the longer version of the text of Sappho’s song when the speaker declares her passionate love (ἔρως) for the sun at line 16 (= Π2 26), is withheld in the shorter version of the song. As Lowell Edmunds has shown, the shorter version fails to return to the present poetic situation that had started the song—and had introduced the myth of Tithonos.[20] There is no return to the start, which is the present. Such failure to return to the present suspends the coming full circle that is being promised by the present. And this suspension creates a sense of suspense. It is not so much a truncation of something that is thereafter left out of mind as it is a withholding of something that is thereafter kept in mind. I find this effect comparable to the suspense created by the narrative device of ending one performance with a men-clause (‘on the one hand’) and then beginning the next performance with a de-clause (‘on the other hand’).[21] Such a device is typical of transitions in the relay-performances of rhapsodes competing at the festival of the Panathenaia, as we see for example in the transition from Rhapsody 2 of the Odyssey (ending with a men-clause at verse 434) to the subsequent Rhapsody 3 (starting with a de-clause at verse 1).[22]

3§20. Such transitions are to be expected in the relay-performances of kithara-singers, not only of rhapsodes. If it is true that the songs of Sappho were included in the repertoires of kithara-singers competing at the Panathenaia, then the shorter and earlier version of Sappho’s song featuring the myth of Tithonos and Eos may be viewed as a variant stemming from the performances of kithara-singers competing at the Panathenaia.

3§21. I should add that both the shorter and the longer versions of Sappho’s song may also be viewed as variants stemming from the performances of participants in private symposia. Variations in the singing of Sappho’s songs by men and boys at Athenian symposia help explain differences in the textual transmission of Sappho—including differences that have come to light with the discovery of the Cologne Papyrus showing a different version for the closure for the Tithonos Song.

3§22. In the case of Song 2 of Sappho, for example, we find two attested versions for the closure of this song. In the version inscribed on the so-called Florentine ostrakon dated to the third century BCE, at lines 13–16, the last word is οἰνοχόεισα ‘pouring wine’, referring to Aphrodite herself in the act of pouring not wine but nectar. In the “Attic” version of these lines as quoted by Athenaeus (11.463e), on the other hand, the wording after οἰνοχοοῦσα ‘pouring wine’ continues with τούτοις τοῖς ἑταίροις ἐμοῖς γε καὶ σοῖς ‘(pouring wine) for these my (male) companions [hetairoi], such as they are, as well as for your (male divine) companions [= Aphrodite’s]’.[23] Both kinds of sympotic closure, I argue, are compatible with the singing of Sappho’s songs by men and boys at Athenian symposia.[24]

§23. On the basis of such sympotic contexts, I infer that the shorter version of Sappho’s Song of Tithonos, attested in the Cologne papyrus containing the “New Sappho” (Π2), is not necessarily an earlier version than the longer version as attested in the later papyrus (Π1)—or the other way around.

3§24. In the case of the Tithonos Song as transmitted in the older papyrus, the failure of the song to return to its own present time, back from the timeless myth of Tithonos and Eos, means that the speaker’s contact with the paides ‘girls’ whom she addresses at line 1 (= Π1 9) has been for the moment suspended. There is a comparable sense of suspension between Sappho and her paides ‘girls’ in the visual arts of Athens in the fifth century. I started this essay by comparing the use of the word pais in the sense of ‘girl’ as inscribed on a vase painting that I analyzed in Essay 1. I now come back to that painting, which as we saw shows the pursuit of a girl by a woman who is in turn pursued by the girl in a seemingly eternal cycle. So, the moment of catching up is eternally deferred. The woman, who is Sappho, cannot catch up with the pais or ‘girl’ she once had been, and the girl cannot catch up with the woman she will become. As I said in Essay 1, we see here not just amor versus, but amor conversus. It is a yearning for a merger of identities as woman pursues girl pursues woman.

§3.25. As I also said in Essay 1, the mentality of yearning for a merger of identities is comparable to the concept of the “Changing Woman” in the female initiation rituals and songs of the Navajo and Apache peoples. I repeat what I quoted there (1§23) from interviews with women who experience such rituals: Changing Woman defies old age even as she grows old, since “she is always able to recapture her youth.”

3§26. I am reminded of a detail we find in another one of the three songs that are attested in the Cologne Papyrus. This particular song, quite fragmented though it is in the papyrus, reveals a glimpse of Sappho as she heads off to Hades, holding in her hand a lyre (Π17-8). In fact, all three of the songs contained in the Cologne Papyrus offer variations on the theme of Sappho the citharode holding on to her exotic lyre—not only at Π17–8 but also at Π111–12 and even in the Tithonos Song, at  Π12). It is as if Sappho were holding on to her exotic lyre—and her exotic life—for just a little while longer. But Sappho, addressing her paides ‘girls’ while lamenting her old age in her Song of Tithonos, is not a woman whose life is about to be terminated. She is a woman to be continued. More than that, she is the girl who comes back full circle.

3§27 Here I circle back to the expression Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ ‘Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next’ at line 2 of Epigram 55, where the wording indicates that the songs of Sappho are sung by girls in relay, from one song to the next.

3§28. In the poetics of Sappho, as we see from this learned reference, one oaros or ‘love song’ continues after another, over and over again. Each oaros is a coming full circle from the previous oaros. Each song extends from the previous song into the next song. The singing of the songs of Sappho is envisioned as an unbroken cycle of song, a singing by relay.

3§29. Just as Sappho’s medium comes full circle from one oaros or ‘love song’ to the next, from one amorous converse to another, so also Sappho herself comes full circle, for eternity. She is a girl who becomes a woman who becomes a girl again, coming full circle. That is the perennial poetic theme of Sappho. This girl will not be interrupted.[25]


Notes

[1] For an apparatus criticus that tracks editorial work that has been done on this text since its original publication by Bastianini and Gallazzi 2001, see Angiò, Cuypers, Acosta-Hughes, and Kosmetatou 2021.

[2] For an apparatus criticus, see again Angiò, Cuypers, Acosta-Hughes, and Kosmetatou 2021.

[3] GMP=1990b:200n123, with reference to Iliad 22.126–127; also GMP=1990b:253.

[4] N 2007a, 2010.

[5] Such is the interpretation of Angiò 2015:215–20.

[6] Starting with this paragraph, I offer an improved version of what I wrote in N 2010.

[7] I cite the relevant remarks of Ewen Bowie 2002:161. In a conversation I once had with EB—it must have been in 2010 or thereafter—I remember his telling me about an occasion, not attended by me, where he had participated in a viva voce discussion about this epigram of Posidippus, and he told me that he vaguely remembers that he may have been the first, back then, to bring up the idea of a statue as figured together with a sundial. Angiò 2015:217 expresses her doubts about such an idea. She does not mention my initial observations in N 2010:187–188.

[8] The expression “girl, interrupted” comes from the title of the 1993 book of Susanna Kaysen. I first used this phrase in relation to Sappho in N 2010.

[9] Obbink 2010.

[10] Again, Obbink 2010.

[11] The last two lines of this version of the Tithonos Song, 15–16 = Π2 25–26 = Sappho F 58.25–26 V, are highlighted in H24H Hour 5 Text I.

[12] In the original version of Essay 2, N 2010, I had not yet merged some of the content with the content of Essay 3—which is what I have done here.

[13] The noun ἔρως in this phrase ἔρως ἀελίω (F 58.26) is a byform of ἔρος in the diction of Sappho (as also at F 23.1).

[14] On the reading ἔρωϲ ἀελίω instead of ἔροc τὠελίω, see PH=1990a:285 [10§18], GMP=1990b:261-262; PP=1996a:90, 102–103.

[15] In the papyrus fragment, the negative ‘not’ is not visible, but its restoration is supported by editors.

[16] H24H Hour 5 Text H.

[17] I offer a fuller analysis of Sappho’s Song 16 in H24H 5§§73–77. For more on this song, see Bierl 2003.

[18],PH=1990a:285 [10§18], 298 [10§29] n113; GMP=1990b:235, 255, 257, and especially 261–62; PP=1996a:90, 102–103.

[18] PH=1990a:285 [10§18], 298 [10§29] n113; GMP=1990b:235, 255, 257, and especially 261–62; PP=1996a:90, 102–103.

[19] PH=1990a:352 [12§32]; N 2007b:22.

[20] Edmunds 2006.

[21] Nagy 1996:161–62, with reference to Plutarch Quaestiones convivales 736e.

[22] PP=1996a:161–62n30. Further examples in N 2002:61–69. Relay-performances in rhapsodic contests at the Panathenaia require collaboration as well as competition: see Nagy 2002:22. For a comparative perspective on the concept of competition-in-collaboration, see PP=1996a:18. There is now a third edition of N 2002 in Classical Continuum, N 2021.10.01.

[23] On the relevance of this wording to questions of genre, see Yatromanolakis 2004 [2003]:65. On the “Attic” transmission of the sympotic songs of Alcaeus, see N 2004:37–41. The term Attic here is used not only to indicate the Attic dialect but also the Athenian cultural context of transmission.

[24] Nagy 2010:191–192.

[25] Once again this time,, I note that this expression “girl, interrupted” comes from the title of the 1993 book of Susanna Kaysen.

 

Essay 4: Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited– with special reference to the “newest Sappho”

rewritten from 2015.10.01

4§0. This essay originates from a tripartite project. The first part of the project, “Genre and Occasion,” was published in ΜΗΤΙΣ (1994), and the second part, “Transmission of Archaic Greek Sympotic Songs: From Lesbos to Alexandria,” was published ten years later in Critical Inquiry (2004). These two essays are both listed in the Bibliography below. The present essay, “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited,” was originally intended as the third part of the tripartite project. This third and last part was preliminarily published online, eleven years still later than the second part, in Classical Inquiries (2015.10.01). Here in the volume Sappho I, I rewrite this last part as a selfstanding essay, Essay 4, interweaving the content with what precedes in Essay Three and with what is to follow in Essay 5 and Essay 6.

4§1. I now need to situate the original context of the essay that I am rewriting here. The initial publication of this essay, in Classical Inquiries (2015.10.01), occurred one week after a “live” presentation of the content (2015.09.24). That presentation took the form of a keynote lecture that I was invited to deliver at the University of California at Berkeley on the occasion of a conference organized and hosted by Leslie Kurke, together with Margaret Cecilia Foster and Naomi Weiss. These three colleagues later became the designated editors of a print publication of some of the papers presented at that conference. With their kind permission, I then submitted for that publication a pre-edited version of my original online essay. What resulted was a revised and edited version that was published in print, four years later, by the editors in a book titled Genre in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry (ed. Foster, Kurke, and Weiss 2019), as listed in the Bibliography below. That version of my essay, listed as Nagy 2019a in the Bibliography, is shorter and in many ways different from the original online pre-edited version that I have rewritten here. Still, the present rewritten version faithfully retains some fond reminiscences of the original occasion of the “live” lecture at Berkeley (2015.09.24).

4§2. The subtitle of my essay refers to the “Newest Sappho,” by which I mean the new fragments of Sappho that appeared in a book titled The Newest Sappho (P. Obbink and P. GC Inv. 105, frs. 1–5), published by Brill in 2016 and edited by Anton Bierl and André Lardinois.  1  This book, listed in the Bibliography below, contains not only the new fragments of Sappho but also a set of chapters that comment extensively on those fragments. I focus here on two of those chapters in that book: (1) Chapter 11 by Leslie Kurke, “Gendered Spheres and Mythic Models in Sappho’s Brothers Poem” and 2) Chapter 21 by me (Nagy), “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” A longer version of my Chapter 21 has been rewritten as Essay Three in my selfstanding book Sappho 0.

4§3. My Essay Four here, just like my original keynote lecture at Berkeley, is dedicated to two people named Leslie/Lesley. I start with the first of the two, my friend Leslie Kurke. I focus on her interpretation of a song that is part of the new set of Sappho fragments that I just mentioned. In this Sappho fragment, containing a large part of a text now known as the Brothers Song, we read near the beginning that a female speaker, evidently the character of Sappho, is in the process of speaking to someone. In Chapter 11 of the book that I also already mentioned, The Newest Sappho, Leslie Kurke offers her interpretation, arguing that this someone to whom Sappho is speaking is Sappho’s mother.. I am quite persuaded by Leslie’s argument, though my own argument here will be slightly different from hers.

4§4. Let me draw attention to a detail. A minute ago, I started speaking about the character of Sappho. One reason for my referring to Sappho this way is that, as I argue in Chapter 21 of the book The Newest Sappho (at §§156–162 of a rewritten version, Essay 5 in Sappho 0), the name of Sappho actually means ‘sister’. In my book here, I have already hinted at such a meaning at §4 of Essay 1, but now I summarize more fully my argument that the name of Sappho had meant ‘Sister’. I start with the fact that linguists call this kind of name a nomen loquens or ‘speaking name’, which is a form of identification where a given person is named after a primary characteristic of that person. In various regions of the United States, I should now add, women are given the name Sissy or even Sister. But there is also a deeper reason for my speaking about the character of Sappho, not simply about Sappho. It is because the speaking persona of Sappho is a mimetic speaker.

4§5.  As I elaborate in a standalone essay (N 2023:12.19, rewritten from N 2015.10.15), the word mimetic comes from the ancient Greek concept of mīmēsis, which I will spell hereafter simply as mimesis and which I define as meaning primarily ‘re-enactment’ and secondarily ‘imitation’. We may also translate this word as ‘representation’, in the sense that any imitation of an original something or someone can be seen as a representation of that something or someone. I argue, then, that the speaking done by Sappho in her songs is achieved by way of a process that I call mimesis in the title of my presentation here. In terms of my argument—and I cannot emphasize this enough—the name of Sappho meant ‘sister’ not necessarily because (1) she was a historical person who was simply named that way or because (2) she was a fictitious sister—a character of “fiction” who was created by her own songs. Rather, Sappho meant ‘sister’ primarily because her identity was re-enacted and kept on being re-enacted by way of the singing and the dancing performed on festive occasions by the girls and the women of the island of Lesbos.

4§6. Yes, I just said girls and women, not just girls, and we will see later why I said it this way. These girls and these women, as we will also see, are bonded together on festive occasions by way of a system of social grouping that is known in ancient Greek as the khoros. As I noted already in the Introduction to this volume, at 0§10D, and again in Essay 2 at 2§§7–11, this word khoros is usually translated as ‘chorus’, but such a translation can be misleading, since the modern word chorus is ordinarily understood to mean simply a group that sings. By contrast, the Greek term refers to a group that dances as well as sings. That is why, when I say choral mimesis in the title of this essay, I mean a re-enactment by way of a group that sings and dances. In the case of Sappho, as I have been arguing since 1990, her songs reveal her to be a choral personality, that is, someone who performs in a dancing as well as singing group known as a khoros ‘chorus’.2 Relevant here is the fact, noted in Essay 3 above, that the speaking persona of Sappho in the Tithonos Song is addressing paides, to be translated as ‘girls’. This fact can be connected with new evidence found for lines 13–16 in Song 17 of Sappho, where we see a reference to some form of interaction between girls and women in choral performance (N 2015 §§119–127). The reference to an interaction between the paides ‘girls’ and the persona of Sappho in the Tithonos Song, as I argued in Essay 3 (3§§17–19), is likewise a matter of choral performance. Such a reference, however, as I also noted in Essay 3, does not rule out the possibility that the same kind of reference can be made in sympotic and concertizing performances as well.

4§7. In another work on choral mimesis, centering on the Delian Maidens in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, I emphasized the mimetic power of the chorus in performance.3 And, as I also emphasized in that work, there is an astounding variety to be found in this power of the chorus to re-enact, to imitate, to represent different kinds of persons or places or things.4 In my present essay, however, I limit my scope of interest to the choral character of Sappho herself in the songs that are attributed to her. Even in this limited sphere, as we will see, there is a remarkable variety of roles that are played out in the words spoken by Sappho as a prima donna who leads the choral singing and dancing.

Genre and occasion

4§8. Now that I have contextualized the term choral mimesis in the title of this essay, I need to elaborate on my relevant use of the terms genre and occasion. In an essay I mentioned at the beginning, “Genre and Occasion” (1994), I outlined the essentials of what I will now outline here.5

4§9. Of the two terms genre and occasion, the first is more problematic than the second. It would be more useful, I argue, to confront a more fundamental challenge, which is, to arrive at a definition of poetry itself in an archaic social context where the technology of writing was involved in neither the composition nor the performance of any given poem or song. Within such a context, definitions of genre have to be correlated with questions of occasion.6 And the occasion is captured, longterm, in a process that I have already described as mimesis.7

4§10. What I just said applies to both poetry and song. I should add that, as in my earlier work, I treat poetry here as a subcategory of song and of songmaking in general. That is why, for example, I prefer to say “the Brothers Song” instead of “the Brothers Poem” in referring to what I am about to quote and to translate, “Text 2.” And I should also add that, as I argued already in the book Pindar’s Homer (1990a), the term “lyric” is too broad a category to qualify as a “genre” in ancient Greek verbal art; as for “epic,” this term is too imprecise and can likewise be disqualified as a “genre”—at least, with reference to the earliest attested phases of Greek songmaking.8

Correlating genre and occasion with composition and performance

4§11. In order to achieve a more accurate taxonomy of Greek songmaking in its earliest phases, two factors must be consistently kept in mind: composition and performance. Only this way, I think, can we arrive at a basis for considering the utility of a concept such as genre—and of the related concept, occasion.9

4§12. For the moment, I define occasion as the context of performing something that is composed or pre-composed. And I define genre as a set of rules that generate such a performance.10

4§13. A genre, as a set of rules that generate a given performance of a given composition, can equate itself with the occasion of performance.11 To this extent, the occasion is the genre.12 For example, a song of lament—that is, a song that follows the generic rules for composing and performing a lament—can equate itself with the occasion of ritually grieving for the dead.13 Moreover, if the occasion is destabilized or even lost, the genre can compensate for it, even recreate it.14

4§14. Just a moment ago, I referred to the act of lamentation for the dead as a ritual. I justify my use of this term here because, as is most evident in the earliest attestations of ancient Greek songmaking, the occasions for the performances of songs such as laments are in fact occasions of ritual. And here I understand ritual in the broadest possible sense of the term. I now offer a working definition: ritual in any given traditional society is doing things and saying things in a way that fits the cosmic order as viewed by that society. Correspondingly, I must add, myth in any given traditional society is saying things that ultimately connect with the ritual world of that society. In terms of these general working definitions of ritual and myth, ritual frames myth in traditional societies: myth is performed, and the performance is ritual. To put it another way, performance frames the composition of myth, and we cannot fully grasp the essence of such composition without knowing about its performative frame.15

4§15. These broad definitions are meant to address the worries of experts in literature who are unfamiliar with anthropological approaches to customary events in traditional societies. Such unfamiliarity leads to a narrow understanding of ritual. It is as if ritual were confined to events that involve making direct contact with something that is overtly sacred, as in the case of sacrificing to superhuman powers. But ritual can in fact include a wide variety of events that are framed by such acts as sacrifice. The trouble is, many of these events would no longer seem to have anything to do with ritual in the narrow sense of the word as understood by the modern mind.

4§16. One such event would be the singing of a song about unrequited love in the traditional world of songmaking. To the modern mind, the act of singing such a song may seem nothing more than a form of artistic self-expression. In a traditional society, on the other hand, the singing may be framed in the context of, say, a celebration that is inaugurated by a sacrifice. Such celebrations, as we will see in the case of songs attributed to Sappho, include events like the singing of songs about unrequited love.

4§17. But what happens if the frame is lost? That is, what happens if the occasion for performing a given genre of song—like a love song—becomes obsolete? Such obsolescence seems in fact inevitable when we consider the eventual breakdown of older conventions in the history of ancient Greek song culture. So, if we face up to the historical realities, the question is most justifiable: to repeat, what happens if the occasion for performing a given genre of song becomes obsolete? My answer, as I work it out in this presentation, is that there are two possible outcomes:

1) If the occasion becomes obsolete, then the corresponding genre may become obsolete as well.

2) Even if the occasion becomes obsolete, the corresponding genre may remain current by way of compensating for the obsolescence of the occasion. And the compensation may take place by way of some alternative occasion of performance.16

4§18. In this essay, I concentrate on a historical example where both outcomes are attested, and this example involves the songmaking of Sappho.

Genre and occasion in the songmaking of Sappho

4§19. On the island of Lesbos around 600 BCE, which is the historical situation that leads ultimately to the texts recording the songs attributed to Sappho, the primary genre that mediated the relevant songmaking can be described as choral lyric song, and the kind of occasion that called for such song can best be described as festive performances by groups of girls and, as we will soon see, of women as well. At this point, I must emphasize again that the original Greek word for such a group was khoros.

4§20. But there is more to it. In the case of Sappho, we can detect alternative kinds of occasion for performing her songs. Here I summarize briefly my relevant findings as presented in two lengthy essays: the first is “Did Sappho and Alcaeus Ever Meet?”17 and the second is “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.”18   Rewritten versions appear as Essay 4 and Essay 5 respectively in the selfstanding volume Sappho 0.

4§21. Besides the primary kind of occasion for the performing of Sappho’s songs, which was the singing and dancing of female khoroi ‘choruses’, there were also secondary kinds of occasion. Already in the same era, around 600 BCE at Lesbos, the songs of Sappho could also be sung and danced by male performers in a kind of informal singing and dancing group known as the kōmos, which can be translated roughly as ‘a gathering of revelers’ (Essay 2§§8–12). Further, these songs could even be sung monodically—that is, solo—by male performers at occasions that could be either public or private. In the case of public occasions, the monodic performers would be professional singers who competed with each other at festivals.19 Timothy Power has done important research on this kind of public occasion.20 As for private occasions, the word for this kind of venue was sumposion or ‘symposium’: here I single out the arguments of Ewen Bowie in Chapter 6 of Newest Sappho, “How did Sappho’s Songs get into the Male Sympotic Repertoire?”21 So we see here a variety of different occasions for performing the songs of Sappho, and all these occasions could have coexisted with each other at the same time and in the same place, that is, around 600 BCE on the island of Lesbos.22

4§22. Of all the possible occasions for singing the songs of Sappho, however, I think only two survived beyond the original setting as dated at around 600 BCE. These two kinds of occasion were the public concert and the private symposium, since the songs of Sappho kept on being performed for centuries beyond 600 BCE in places like Samos and Athens by professional solo singers at public festivals and by amateur solo singers at private symposia.23 And the textual recording of Sappho’s songs seems to derive from this ongoing phase of performing the songs. But the actual wording of the songs themselves, as I argue, goes back all the way to the choral lyric phase of the tradition, dating back roughly to 600 BCE.

More about Diachronic Sappho

4§23. A minute ago, I used the term “original setting” in referring to the performances of female choruses on the island of Lesbos at around 600 BCE. But this term is for me inadequate, since my own reconstruction of such performances depends on a diachronic perspective, which I combine with a synchronic perspective in analyzing the texts reflecting the songmaking attributed to Sappho. The terms synchronic and diachronic, as I already observed in the Introduction, come from linguistics. [24] When linguists use the word synchronic, they are thinking of a given system or structure as it exists in a given time and space; when they use diachronic, they are thinking of that system as it evolves through time. I must add that a historical perspective is not the same thing as a diachronic perspective:

Both synchronic and diachronic perspectives are a matter of model building. We can build synchronic models to describe and explain the workings of a structure as we see it attested in a given historical context. We can likewise build diachronic models to describe and explain how that given structure may have evolved from one of its phases into other phases. What we have built, however, is a set of models to be tested on historical realities. The models are not the same thing as the realities themselves. And the realities of history as a process are not dependent on such models. History may either confirm or upset any or all aspects of our models, since the contingencies of history do not need to follow the rules of existing structures. [25]

4§24. From a diachronic perspective, the system that we know as Sappho’s poetics can be viewed, I argue, as an evolving medium. So, when I say “diachronic Sappho” in the title of this section, I am referring to a model of a poetic system as I reconstruct it through time. By contrast, when we speak of a “historical Sappho,” we are imagining the existence of a person who lived in a historically identifiable era. I say “imagining” because for me the existence of such a historical person is not at all proven to be a fact if we rely simply on the words that are attributed to Sappho in the texts ascribed to her. What she says about herself and about anyone and anything else in her songs is a function of her songmaking: it is not some kind of reportage about her historical circumstances. In terms of my argument, the words of Sappho can be used as evidence for understanding the history of the songmaking attributed to her, but I insist that whatever the persona of Sappho says about herself cannot be used as factual evidence about the life and times of Sappho.

A diachronic view of Sappho’s occasions

4§25. From a diachronic point of view, the earliest transmission of Sappho’s songmaking depended on an ongoing tradition of performing her songs in a setting that corresponded to a primary occasion, which was the choral lyric singing and dancing of girls and even of women at festive events.  In the two lengthy essays of mine that I mentioned a few minutes ago, “Did Sappho and Alcaeus ever meet” and “A poetics of sisterly affect,” I investigated in some detail the historical evidence for identifying a location for such a primary occasion, which was a sacred precinct located in the middle of the island of Lesbos. The ancient Greek name for this precinct was Messon, meaning ‘middle place’, and this name survives in Modern Greek as Mesa, referring to the very same place that had once been a venue, as I see it, for the songs of Sappho—and even of Alcaeus.

4§26. I show below this paragraph a picture of me at a happy moment when I first got to visit the place: in my awkwardly unrestrained happiness, I could not resist posing, as you can see, in front of the yellow-on-brown signage used in Greece to indicate archaeological sites. I was happy because, after all, I was standing at Mesa, where the songs of Sappho had once upon a time been performed on festive occasions.

4§27. And such festive choral lyric performance, as the primary genre for Sappho’s songs, was also the primary occasion for these songs. Further, this occasion is captured, longterm, in the process of mimesis.

An occasion for a song of Sappho

4§28.  Here I return to the work of Leslie Kurke on the Brothers Song of Sappho in Chapter 11 of the book published in 2016 about the Newest Sappho. As I noted from the start, she thinks that the woman who is being addressed by the speaking persona of Sappho in this song is the mother of Sappho. She points to the fact that Martin West, in his reconstruction of Song 9 of Sappho by way of a new papyrus fragment, thinks that this other song, which features the speaker addressing someone as ‘mother’, immediately preceded the Brothers Song in the textual tradition of Sappho’s collected songs.26 I quote here only the relevant wording of the new Sappho fragment:

Text 1

… |2 [πάμ]παν οὐκ ἔχη[ϲθα πόθεν δυναίμαν, |3 [μ]ᾶτερ, ἐόρταν|4 [φαιδί]μαν ὤραι τέλε[ϲαι; τὸ δ’ ἐστί] |5 [χάρμ’ ἐ]παμέρων

… Don’t you have the resources for me to be able, Mother, to celebrate [teleîn] at the right season [ōrā] the festival [eortā], which is a delight [kharma] for [us] mortals, creatures of the day that we are?

Sappho Song 9.2-527

4§29. In terms of Leslie’s argument, Sappho here is speaking to her mother on the occasion of a festival that she desires to celebrate. As I infer from the wording of Text 1 here, the occasion for any given song of Sappho may at times be a festival, and the genre of such a festive song is normally choral singing and dancing. In what follows, I will try to link the terms “choral” and “mimesis” as featured in the title of my essay.

4§30. Leslie thinks that Sappho is speaking to her mother not only here in Song 9 but also in the Brothers Song. Let me now quote for you the surviving part of the Brothers Song:

Text 2

… |5 ἀλλ᾽ ἄϊ θρύληϲθα Χάραξον ἔλθην |6 νᾶϊ ϲὺν πλήαι. τὰ μέν̣ οἴο̣μα̣ι Ζεῦϲ |7 οἶδε ϲύμπαντέϲ τε θέοι· ϲὲ δ̣᾽ οὐ χρῆ |8 ταῦτα νόηϲθαι, |9 ἀλλὰ καὶ πέμπην ἔμε καὶ κέλεϲθαι |10 πόλλα λί̣ϲϲεϲθαι βαϲί̣λ̣η̣αν Ἤ̣ραν |11 ἐξίκεϲθαι τυίδε ϲάαν ἄγοντα |12 νᾶα Χάραξον |13 κἄμμ᾽ ἐπεύρην ἀρτ̣έ̣μεαϲ. τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλα |14 πάντα δαιμόνεϲϲ̣ιν ἐπι̣τ̣ρόπωμεν· |15 εὔδιαι̣ γ̣ὰρ ἐκ μεγάλαν ἀήτα̣ν̣ |16 αἶψα πέ̣λ̣ο̣νται. |17 τῶν κε βόλληται βαϲίλευϲ Ὀλύμπω |18 δαίμον᾽ ἐκ πόνων ἐπάρωγον ἤδη |19 περτρόπην, κῆνοι μ̣άκαρεϲ πέλονται |20 καὶ πολύολβοι· |21 κ̣ἄμμεϲ, αἴ κε ϝὰν κεφάλα̣ν ἀέρρ̣η |22 Λάρι̣χος καὶ δή ποτ᾽ ἄνη̣ρ γένηται, |23 καὶ μάλ᾽ ἐκ πόλλαν βαρ̣υθυ̣μίαν̣ κεν |24 αἶψα λύθειμεν.

… |5 But you are always saying, in a chattering way [thruleîn], that Kharaxos will come |6 in a ship full of goods. These things I think Zeus |7 knows, and so also do all the gods. But you shouldn’t have |8 these things on your mind. |9 Instead, send [pempein] me off and instruct [kelesthai] me |10 to implore [lissesthai] Queen Hera over and over again [polla] |11 that he should come back here [tuide] bringing back [agein] safely |12 his ship, I mean Kharaxos, |13 and that he should find us unharmed. As for everything else, |14 let us leave it to the superhuman powers [daimones], |15 since bright skies after great storms |16 can happen quickly. |17 Those mortals, whoever they are, |18 whom the king of Olympus wishes |18 to rescue from their pains [ponoi] by sending as a long-awaited helper a superhuman force [daimōn] |19 to steer them away from such pains—those mortals are blessed [makares] |20 and have great bliss [olbos]. |21 We too, if he ever gets to lift his head up high, |22 I mean, Larikhos, and finally mans up, |23 will get past the many cares that weigh heavily on our heart, |24 breaking free from them just as quickly.

Sappho Brothers Song

4§31. In this song, as in the fragment from the other song I quoted, Sappho Song 9, we read about a festival. As we saw also in Sappho Song 9, the word for such a festival is eortā. As for the Brothers Song, there is a corresponding reference to a festival, expressed by way of the word pempein ‘send’, which is a terminus technicus, as Leslie calls it, for the idea of organizing a sacred procession that culminates in a festival that is celebrated at the precinct of a divinity. In this case, the festival is sacred to Hera, and Sappho is pictured as readying herself to lead a procession that will be heading off for the festival. In her Chapter 11, Leslie at this point refers to my Chapter 21 (§§37–38), where I make the argument about the word pempein as such a terminus technicus. Comparing a passage from the Electra of Euripides with reference to the festival of Hera at Argos (lines 167–174), I argue in Chapter 21 = Essay Five (§§42–44) in the book about the “Newest Sappho” (ed. Bierl and Lardinois 2016) that the Brothers Song features the speaking persona of Sappho as a choral leader who wishes to be sent in a procession to the sacred precinct at Messon, where a festival of the goddess Hera will be celebrated, just as the same speaking persona of Sappho in Song 9 had wished that her mother should find the means for her to celebrate this festival. We see here a validation of a formula proposed by Anton Bierl concerning processions as represented in Greek theater: he argues that any procession that leads into a choral performance will thereby become part of the choral performance.28

4§32. The choral essence of the performance that is represented in the Brothers Song is likewise evident in another song of Sappho that has now been supplemented by the newly-found fragments:

Text 3

|1 πλάϲιον δη μ̣[…..]…οιϲ᾿ α̣[….]ω |2 πότνι’ Ἦρα, ϲὰ χ[αρίε]ϲ̣ϲ᾿ ̣ἐόρτ[α] |3 τὰν ἀράταν Ἀτρέϊδαι̣ π̣ό̣ηϲαν |4 τόι βαϲίληεϲ, |5 ἐκτελέϲϲαντεϲ μ[εγά]λ̣οιϲ ἀέθλοιϲ̣ [ ] |6 πρῶτα μὲν πὲρ Ẹἴ̣[λιον]· ἄψερον δέ̣ […] |7 τυίδ’ ἀπορμάθεν[τεϲ, ὄ]δ̣ο̣ν γὰρ̣ εὔρη̣[ν] |8 οὐκ ἐδύναντο, |9 πρὶν ϲὲ καὶ Δί’ ἀντ[ίαον] πεδέλθην |10 καὶ Θυώναϲ ἰμε[ρόεντα] παῖδα· |11 νῦν δὲ κ[αί….. …] ]…πόημεν |12 κὰτ τὸ πάλ[αιον |13 ἄγνα καὶ κα̣[….. ὄ]χλοϲ |14 παρθέ[νων….. γ]υναίκων |15 ἀμφιϲ̣.[…] |16 μετρ’ ὀ̣λ̣[ολύγαϲ].

|1 Close by, …, |2 O Queen [potnia] Hera, … your […] festival [eortā], |3 which, vowed-in-prayer [arâsthai], the Sons of Atreus did arrange [poieîn] |4 for you,29 kings that they were, |5 after first having completed [ek-teleîn] great labors [aethloi], |6 around Troy, and, next [apseron], |7 after having set forth to come here [tuide], since finding the way |8 was not possible for them |9 until they would approach you (Hera) and Zeus lord of suppliants [antiaos] |10 and (Dionysus) the lovely son of Thyone. |11 And now [nun de] we are arranging [poieîn] [the festival], |12 in accordance with the ancient way […] |13 holy [agna] and […] a throng [okhlos] |14 of girls [parthenoi] […] and women [gunaikes] |15 on either side … |16 the measured sound of ululation [ololūgā].

Sappho Song 17.1–16

4§33. Here it is made explicit that the festival in progress, while the speaker is represented as speaking, is in honor of the goddess Hera. In my Chapter 21 of the book about Newest Sappho, = Essay Five, “A poetics of sisterly affect,” rewritten in the volume Sappho 0, I offer a description (§51 in that essay):

Although the first line of Song 17 here is too fragmentary to be understood for sure, the next line makes it clear that the persona of Sappho is praying to Hera herself, speaking to her about the eortā ‘festival’ (2: ἐόρτ[α]) that is being arranged in honor of the goddess. The speaking Sappho goes on to say that the festival that ‘we’ in the present are arranging (11: πόημεν), as ‘we’ offer supplications to Hera, is being arranged ‘in accordance with the ancient way’ (12: κὰτ τὸ πάλ[αιον]) of arranging the festival, just as the heroes of the past had arranged it (3: π̣όηϲαν). In these contexts, I am translating the word poieîn ‘make’ in the specific sense of ‘arrange’, with reference to the observance of a ritual. I find in Thucydides (2.15.2) a striking parallel in wording: ‘and the Athenians, continuing what he [= Theseus] started, even now arrange [poieîn] for the goddess [= Athena], at public expense, the festival [heortē] named the Sunoikia’ (καὶ ξυνοίκια ἐξ ἐκείνου Ἀθηναῖοι ἔτι καὶ νῦν τῇ θεῷ ἑορτὴν δημοτελῆ ποιοῦϲιν).

4§34. Comparing Texts 1, 2, and 3, I now highlight the significance of the word ōrā (hōrā) in Text 1. As I have argued in another project, hōrā in the sense of ‘season, seasonal recurrence’ is linguistically and even thematically related to Hērā, which is the name for the goddess of seasons.30 So, the use of the word ōrā (hōrā) in Text 1 points to Hera as the honorand of the eortā (heortē)

4§35. Now I return to the relevant wording in Text 2, the Brothers Song: πέμπην ἔμε καὶ κέλεϲθαι |10 πόλλα λί̣ϲϲεϲθαι̣ βαϲί̣λ̣η̣αν Ἤ̣ραν ‘send [pempein] me off and instruct [kelesthai] me |10 to implore [lissesthai] Queen Hera over and over again [polla]’. I understand such an act of instructing someone to do something as a choral act, and I interpret the relation between the instructor and the instructee as a choral relationship between the mother as a woman and the daughter as a girl. The woman chorally authorizes the girl. And such a choral relationship is formalized in the distinction between gunaikes ‘women’ and parthenoi ‘girls’ at the end of Song 17 of Sappho, in Text 3. This song that we see here in Text 3 refers explicitly to a choral performance at the sacred precinct of the goddess Hera on the occasion of her festival, which is called an eortā. As I argued in “A poetics of sisterly affect,” the occasion of Song 17 marks the performance of Sappho herself as the prima donna who leads the choral singing and dancing at the festival of Hera. As the prima donna, she is the main celebrant, as marked by the programmatic use of the verb poieîn at line 11 of this song in the sense of ‘celebrate a festival’. It is as if Sappho were a priestess of the goddess Hera.

4§36. In the Brothers Song, then, if Leslie is right, there is a mother involved. And then there are the brothers. In this Brothers Song, Text 2, the brother called Kharaxos is mentioned by name, and so too is another brother called Larikhos. And then there is also another song where one of the two brothers is mentioned without being named, and it must be Kharaxos. Here is the relevant part of the song:

Text 4

|1 πότνιαι Νηρήιδεϲ ἀβλάβη[ν μοι] |2 τὸν καϲίγνητον δ[ό]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεϲθα[ι] |3 κὤττι ϝῶ̣ι̣ θύμωι κε θέληι γένεϲθαι |4 κῆνο τελέϲθην, |5 ὄϲϲα δὲ πρόϲθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦϲα[ι] |6 καὶ φίλοιϲι ϝοῖϲι χάραν γένεϲθαι |7 κὠνίαν ἔχθροιϲι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι |8 μηδάμα μηδ’ εἶϲ· |9 τὰν καϲιγνήταν δὲ θέλοι πόηϲθαι |10 [μέ]ϲδονοϲ τίμαϲ, [ὀν]ίαν δὲ λύγραν |11 […]οτοιϲι π[ά]ροιθ’ ἀχεύων

|1 O Queen Nereids, unharmed [ablabēs] |2 may my brother, please grant it, arrive to me here [tuide], |3 and whatever thing he wants in his heart [thūmos] to happen, |4 let that thing be fulfilled [telesthēn]. |5 And however many mistakes he made in the past, undo them all. |6 Let him become a joy [kharā] to those who are near-and-dear [philoi] to him, |7 and let him be a pain [oniā] to those who are enemies [ekhthroi]. As for us, |8 may we have no enemies, not a single one. |9 But may he wish to make his sister [kasignētā] |10 worthy of more honor [tīmā]. |11 The catastrophic [lugrā] pain [oniā] … in the past, he was feeling sorrow [akheuōn]… .

Sappho Song 5.1–11

4§37. Here I recapitulate what I said in Chapter 21 = Essay 5 in Sappho 0 (§§5–7). I start with the fact that the loving sister in Song 5 is expressing a wish that her errant brother should become a kharā or ‘joy’ to her loved ones (6), not an oniā or ‘pain’ (7)—a pain that is then described as lugrā ‘catastrophic’ (10).31 It should be the other way around, she is saying, so that the family will have the joy—while the enemies will have the pain.

4§38. Later on in Song 5, the speaking persona of Sappho turns to Aphrodite, addressing her as Kypris and describing her with the epithet semna ‘holy’ (18: ϲὺ [δ]ὲ̣ Κύπ̣[ρ]ι̣ σ̣[έμ]να). Although the fragmentary state of the papyrus here prevents us from seeing the full context, it is clear that the sister is praying to the goddess to prevent further misfortune from happening to her brother, who ‘in the past was feeling sorrow [akheuōn]’ (11: π[ά]ροιθ’ ἀχεύων).

4§39. But the pain that torments the family because of the brother’s misfortunes is not the only kind of torment we find in the poetics of Sappho. The same word oniā ‘pain’ that refers to the torment experienced by the family of Sappho refers also to the torment of erotic love experienced by Sappho herself. In Song 1 of Sappho, her speaking persona prays to Aphrodite to release her from such torment:

Text 5

|3 μή μ’ ἄϲαιϲι μηδ’ ὀνίαιϲι δάμνα, |4 πότνια, θῦμον

|3 Do not dominate with hurts [asai] and pains [oniai], |4 O Queen [potnia], my heart [thūmos].

Sappho Song 1.3–4

4§40. Similarly in the first six lines of the Kypris Song, Text 6, the speaking persona of Sappho once again turns to Aphrodite, that is, to Kypris, and she prays yet again that the goddess may release her from the torment of an erotic love that is quite unrequited:

Text 6

|1 πῶϲ κε δή τιϲ οὐ θαμέω̣ϲ̣ ἄϲαιτ̣ο, |2 Κύπρι δέϲ̣π̣ο̣ι̣ν̣’̣, ὄττινα [δ]ὴ̣ φι̣λ̣[ήει] |3 [κωὐ] θέλοι μάλιϲτα πάθα̣ν̣ χ̣άλ̣[αϲϲαι;] |4 [ποῖ]ον ἔχηϲθα |5 [νῶν] ϲ̣άλοιϲί μ’ ἀλεμά̣τ̣ω̣ϲ̣ δ̣αΐϲ̣δ̣[ην] |6 [ἰμέ]ρω<ι> λύ{ι̣}ϲαντι γ̣όν̣’ ω̣μ̣ε.[

|1 How can someone not be hurt [= asâsthai, verb of the noun asā ‘hurt’] over and over again, |2 O Queen Kypris [Aphrodite], whenever one loves [phileîn] whatever person |3 and wishes very much not to let go of the passion? |4 [What kind of purpose] do you have |5 [in mind], uncaringly rending me apart |6 in my [desire] as my knees buckle?

Sappho, Kypris Song 1–6

4§41. The ending of this song was already known before the discovery of the new supplements for the beginning as I just quoted it. At this ending, we find the persona of Sappho declaring the poetics of her own self-awareness:

Text 7

|11 … ἔγω δ’ ἔμ’ [αὔται |12 τοῦτο ϲυ]νοίδα

|11 And I—aware of my own self—|12 I know this.

Sappho Song 26.11–12

4§42. We have just seen, then, some powerful examples of singing about unrequited love. To the modern mind, as I said at the beginning of this essay, the act of singing such songs may seem nothing more than a form of artistic self-expression. But we can see from comparing these texts with each other that the medium for expressing the emotions in such songs is in fact choral.

Rethinking mimesis

4§43. As I have already argued, mimesis involved primarily re-enactment and secondarily imitation.32 But now I rethink the formulation:

If you re-enact an archetypal action in ritual, it only stands to reason that you have to imitate those who re-enacted before you and who served as your immediate models. But the ultimate model is still the archetypal action or figure that you are re-enacting in ritual, which is coextensive with the whole line of imitators who re-enact the way in which their ultimate model acted, each imitating each one’s predecessor.33

4§44. When it is your turn, your moment to re-enact something in this forward movement of mimesis, you become the ultimate model in that very moment. As a way of understanding occasion, then, I propose to equate it with the moment of mimesis.34

4§45. Things started changing, however, by the middle of the fifth century before our era. By now the primary meaning of mimesis as ‘reenactment’ was becoming lost or at least destabilized, and the secondary meaning was encroaching on the primary meaning.35

4§46. My interpretation of mimesis as an authoritative ‘re-enactment, impersonation’ is supported by the celebrated description of mimesis in the Poetics of Aristotle as the mental process of identifying the representing ‘this’, as in the ritual of acting a drama, with the represented ‘that’, as in the myth that is being acted out by a drama: in Greek this mental process can be expressed by way of the equation houtos ekeinos ‘so this is that!’ (1448 b 17).36 The same equation, restated as touto ekeino ‘this thing is that thing’ in Aristotle Rhetoric 1.1371 a 21, makes it clear that the media of representation that Aristotle has in mind are not just the visual arts but also the verbal arts, primarily the art of songmaking and poetry as performed in drama.37 So long as the represented ‘that’ remains absolute—that is, absolutized by the myth—the representing ‘this’ remains a re-enacting ‘this’.38 So long as ‘this’ imitates an absolute ‘that’, it re-enacts as it imitates; the re-enactment remains primary, and the imitation remains secondary.39 Once you start imitating something that is no longer absolute, however, you can no longer re-enact the absolute: then you can only make a copy, and your model may be also just a copy. I have just described here the general mentality induced by the destabilization of the conceptual world of mimesis.40

4§47. Earlier, I made the claim that genre can compensate for the occasion. But now, applying the semantics of mimesis, I extend the argument by claiming that genre can even absolutize the occasion. A striking example is the “epinician moment” as dramatized in the epinician songs (“victory odes”) of Pindar.41 Seth Schein has analyzed Pindar’s Pythian 6 as an illustration of that moment,42 and he quotes in this context the remarks of Hans-Georg Gadamer, who has this to say about the element of the occasional in the epinician songs of Pindar:

The occasional in such works has acquired so permanent a form that, even without being realised or understood, it is still part of the total meaning. Someone might explain to us the particular historical context, but this would be only secondary for the poem as a whole. He would only be filling out the meaning that exists in the poem itself.43

4§48. With this formulation in mind, I tried to rethink the essentials of Pindaric songmaking in my 1994 essay “Genre and Occasion.” I argued that any given Pindaric composition defies the realization of all the signs of occasionality that it gives out about itself. This defiance is not the result of any failure to adhere to the given occasion of real performance. Rather, it is a mark of success in retaining aspects of occasionality that extend through time. If we think of occasion as a performative frame, even a ritual frame, then what we see in a Pindaric composition is an absolutized occasion. Moreover, this occasion is absolutized by deriving from the diachrony of countless previous occasions. In other words, a Pindaric composition refers to itself as an absolute occasion that cannot be duplicated by any single actual occasion. Only an open-ended series of actual occasions, occurring in a continuum of time, could provide all the features of an absolutized occasion.44

Occasions for the songs of Sappho

4§49. That said, I now turn from the occasions for the songmaking of Pindar, as sketched in my essay “Genre and Occasion,” to occasions for the songmaking of Sappho. As the title for my current presentation indicates, where I speak of choral mimesis, I am concentrating here on choral occasions for Sappho’s songmaking, not on monodic occasions, which would be appropriate for concerts featuring professional male singers or for symposia featuring amateur male singers. And the primary occasion for a choral performance would be a festival, the word for which is eortā (the Aeolic equivalent of Attic heortē) in the diction of Sappho’s songmaking. We see the word in Text 1 line 3 and in Text 3 line 2.

4§50. In the discursive framework of a chorus, what Sappho says when she speaks by way of choral song is not simply some kind of reportage about her historical life and times. What she says, rather, is a mimesis of situations as sung and danced by a chorus led by a prima donna. Such situations are exemplified, as we have seen, by choral songs about unrequited love. And the choral mimesis is not only the act of talking about persons in the third person, thus representing those persons, such as the two brothers named Kharaxos and Larikhos in Text 2, which is the Brothers Song. Nor is it only the act of addressing persons in the second person, thus also representing those persons, such as the mother in Text 1. It is also the act of representing a person even in the first person, and this represented person does not have to be the same person as the representing performers who say ‘I’ or ‘we’ when they perform in the chorus.

4§51. Choral performance at a festival is not some ad hoc event. It is a seasonally recurring event, celebrated in honor of the god or goddess whose sacred precinct is the venue for the celebration. But this is not to say that the chorus sings and dances only about the festival. “Hi, here we are, ready to sing and dance about the festival.” True, the chorus can sing and dance about its own context by referring to the festival, as we see in Text 3, for example, but it can also sing about anything and everything that can happen to any persons in the third person or to the addressees in the second person or even to the self, who can be pictured as the main speaker, that is, as the prima donna of the singing and the dancing of the chorus. The things that happen, however, do not have to be things that are being experienced then and there in the context of the performance. The things that happen do not even have to be things experienced in the past by the choral personalities who are speaking in the first person as they sing and dance their song. The experiences may belong primarily to the personalities who figure in the mimetic world of the song that is being sung and danced and only secondarily to the persons who perform the song in the here and now of the festival.

4§52. This formulation, I argue, can apply to choral performance not only on the occasion of seasonally recurring festivals but also on the occasion of ad hoc events like laments performed at funerals or love songs performed at weddings. On such occasions as well, choral mimesis can allow for the modeling of identities on pre-existing identities. In this essay, however, I concentrate on the seasonally recurring event of a festival held at the sacred precinct of Messon, as described by the words of Sappho in Text 3.

4§53. In terms of my overall argument, moreover, the Brothers Song as I quote it in Text 2 likewise has as its occasion the sacred precinct of Messon. Here we see the persona of a sister who is singing about her experiencing ponoi ‘pains’ (line 18) caused by two brothers named Kharaxos and Larikhos. In the case of the second brother to be mentioned, Larikhos (line 22), the sister is upset that the brother cannot seem to achieve adulthood: he fails to ‘man up’ (line 22). That is the pain. In the case of the first brother to be mentioned, named Kharaxos (lines 5 and 12), the pain that he causes can be reconstructed by combining the references here in the Brothers Song with references in other songs of Sappho, and I am one of those people who are convinced that these references add up to a story about a disastrous love affair that depletes the wealth of the whole family. As we reconstruct the story, Kharaxos has fallen in love with a courtesan from Naucratis whose name in the songs of Sappho is Dōrikhā.

4§54. These three names, Dōrikhā and Larikhos and Kharaxos, can all be explained in terms of generic namings, much as the name of Sappho herself can be explained as generically meaning ‘sister’. In Chapter 4 of the book about Newest Sappho, “Sappho, Iambist: Abusing the Brother,” Richard P. Martin argues persuasively that Dōrikhā means something like ‘tiny little gift’, derived from dōron ‘gift’. Such a meaning, combined with a diminutive suffix like -ikhā, would produce a fitting name for a courtesan or prostitute. Similarly, I would argue that Larikhos is a diminutive name derived from the adjective laros, which in Odyssey 2.350 is associated with the delicious taste of wine.45 It is as if the name of this brother meant something like ‘tiny little delicacy’.46 Such an interpretation can supplement, I think, the argumentation of André Lardinois in Chapter 7 of the Newest Sappho. He highlights the testimony of Athenaeus (10.425a), who says: Ϲαπφώ τε ἡ καλὴ πολλαχοῦ Λάριχον τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἐπαινεῖ ὡc οἰνοχοοῦντα ἐν τῷ πρυτανείῳ τοῖc Μυτιληναίοιϲ ‘The beautiful Sappho in many contexts praises her brother Larikhos, because he poured the wine for the Mytilenaeans in their presidential hall’. In the Scholia T for Iliad 20.234, we read further: ἔθοc γὰρ ἦν, ὡc καὶ Ϲάπφώ φηϲι, νέουc εὐγενεῖc εὐπρεπεῖc οἰνοχοεῖν ‘For it was the custom, as even Sappho says, for good-looking young aristocrats to serve as wine-pourers’. And then there is Kharaxos, which I think is a diminutive name derived from the noun kharā ‘delight, joy’. We have seen this word kharā in line 6 of Song 5, Text 4, where the voice of Sappho wishes that Kharaxos become a ‘joy’ to her and to the whole family. It is as if the name of Kharaxos were a wish-fulfillment for the sister who has experienced so much pain in worrying about her errant brother. And here we may consider also the festive context of the restored word kharma ‘delight’ in Song 9, Text 1. So, Kharaxos is the would-be ‘tiny little joy’ or ‘tiny little delight’ for the family. This theme seems to be picked up by the poet Posidippus (122 ed. Austin and Bastianini, quoted in Athenaeus 13.596c) when he describes Kharaxos at line 3 as kharieis ‘charming’ (χαρίεντα … Χάραξον).47

4§55. To talk this way about your brothers is a sisterly thing to do. And the intimacy of such talk, replete with diminutives, can be imitated in choral song. Such talk can sound like baby talk, and I think that the verb thruleîn, which is conventionally translated as ‘chatter’, can refer to such baby talk. As I argued in “A poetics of sisterly affect,” even the name of Sappho conveys the impression of such baby-talk as imitated in the mimetic performances of female choruses. I find it significant that Electra in the Euripidean drama that is named after her uses this word thruleîn at line 910 when she expresses her strong desire, in the past, to ‘chatter’ on and on about all the sufferings inflicted on her by Aigisthos, whose death she now celebrates. And such talk is not just sisterly talk: it can also be motherly talk, as imitated in choral song. That is the sense of thruleîn at line 5 of the Brothers Song, Text 2. Such baby-talk points to the intimate conversations that can take place between mothers and daughters, between women and girls, in choral performance.

4§56. Such relationships—between mother and daughter, between sister and brothers—are not “fictional” in the songs of Sappho. But they are not “historical,” either. Rather, such relationships are simply mimetic. To speak of a “fictional” or a “biographical” relationship, either way, is to set up a false dichotomy. And the same goes for the idea of a “fictional” or a “biographical” Sappho. All these personae are primarily mimetic, and their occasion is what happens by way of choral performance. The crisis of worrying over an errant brother—or of suffering from an unrequited love—is not the occasion for choral performance. No, the occasion is the mimesis of such emotional crises. And such occasions can happen at festivals, even if such festivals take place only once every year.

A second Lesley

4§57. Here I finally arrive at a point where I can introduce the second Lesley to whom I dedicate this presentation. She is Lesley Gore—spelled Lesley, not Leslie—who recorded in 1963 a song that became wildly popular and stayed that way for a long time. The title of the song is “It’s my party.”

As I look back at this picture, I see a girl wearing a mischievous half-smile. It takes me back many years to the time when I first heard it— back when the song was released, in 1963. The singer is, as I said, Lesley Gore, who died in 2015, at age 68. Lesley’s looks in the picture I show here don’t match the feelings that she is singing about in her song, “It’s my party,” which is all about crying—crying about unrequited love.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
You would cry too, if it happened to you

Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone
But Judy left the same time
Why was he holding her hand
When he’s supposed to be mine?

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
You would cry too, if it happened to you

Play all my records, keep dancing all night
But leave me alone for awhile
Till Johnny’s dancing with me
I’ve got no reason to smile

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
You would cry too, if it happened to you

Judy and Johnny just walked through the door
Like a queen with her king
Oh, what a birthday surprise
Judy’s wearing his ring

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
Cry if I want to
You would cry too, if it happened to you

Oh, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to |…

 

4§58. I like to compare this song about an emotional crisis with some songs attributed to Sappho, who dates all the way back to 600 BCE or thereabouts. My favorite part of the song sung by Lesley Gore is where the singer tells her listeners that she doesn’t mind if they play all her records all night, dancing all the while to the music of the song, but she wants to be left alone for a while, because she has no reason to smile. Back then in 1963, records would be played at occasions like birthday parties, and, yes, young people could dance all night long to the songs that were sung on the records. But the occasion for the singing recorded on records is not the sadness of a lonely speaker who sings about unrequited love. Rather, the occasion is the performance of her song as recorded double-track for a vinyl disk that makes 45 revolutions per minute every time the song is played on the record-player. And, as the record gets played and replayed over and over again, the sadness of the girl who is pictured in the song recurs over and over again. So also the singer in the songs of Sappho implores Aphrodite over and over again to free her from the sadness of unrequited love. Or she prays to Hera over and over again to make things all better for her family and thus ease her anxieties. Each time a chorus sings and dances her songs, the sadness and the worries recur. And the occasion is the mimesis of these emotions by way of song and dance. The emotions themselves are not the occasion.

4§59. For all we know, the occasion for such singing could be a yearly festival, where the song could get performed and reperformed every year, over and over again, just as the sadness of the girl who is pictured in the song recurs over and over again. But that will not stop the singer from wearing a mischievous half-smile.

4§60. As the blues singer Rubin Lacy once said, you don’t have to have the blues to sing the blues:

I’ve sung ’em on many a day and never thought I had ’em. What did I want to have the blues for, when I had everything I wanted, all the liquor, all the money I needed, and more gals than I needed? What did I need with the blues? I was playin’ ’em because everybody loved to hear me play ’em and I loved to play ’em. I could play ’em, yeah.48

 


Notes

1 In an online version of that same book published by Brill, the two editors added a postscript, calling attention to questions about the reported provenance of the papyri discussed in the book, especially in Chapter 2: C. M. Sampson, “Deconstructing the Provenances of P.Sapph.Obbink,” in Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 57 (2020) 143-169.

2 N 2015|2016 (rewritten in Sappho 0) §25. I first used this expression choral personality in PH=1990a:370 [12§60], with reference to Calame 1977:367–377 (also 126–127). I now cite also Lardinois 1996 and the remarks of Calame 2009:5. Also Ferrari 2014:17.

3 N 2013b.

4 In N 2013b:245–246, I give examples from the songmaking of Pindar.

5 From here on, I will refer to this essay “Genre and Occasion” (N 1994, more precisely 1994–1995) simply as GO.

6 In GO 12, I draw attention to the perceptive use of the term occasion in Calame 1974:116, 120, 121. In the same article, he provides a particularly useful critique of various concepts of genre in both the pre-Alexandrian and the Alexandrian eras. Important also is his assessment of Rossi 1971. To my mind, any argumentation that cites Rossi 1971 without citing Calame 1974 is incomplete.

7 PP=1996a:59–103.

8 PH=1990a:17–115 [Chapters 1 2 3].

9 GO 12.

10 This formulation is a compressed version of what I said in GO 13, where I had also introduced the notion of performance as a speech act, analyzed in PH=1990a:31 [1§27]. In my compressed presentation here, I force myself to make do without using the term speech act.

11 GO 13. There but not here, I consider the factor of performance in the context of a speech act.

12 GO 13, following PH=1990a:362 [12§47].

13 GO 13, following BA=1999:79–93 [5§§21–41] on the Homeric use of akhos and penthos, both meaning ‘grief,’ as programmatic indicators of ritual songs of lament.

14 PH=1990a:9 [0§18], 362 [12§47] n127.

15 GO 14, following PH=1990a:8–9 [0§§17–19], 31–33 [1§§29–30].

16 GO 13–14, following PH=1990a:9 [0§18], 362 [12§47].

17 N 2007/2009.

18 N 2015.

19 I make the argument in both N 2007/2009 and N 2015.

20 On singing to the accompaniment of the cithara in monodically performing the songs of Sappho: Power 2010:258–263, followed by Nagy 2011b:155–158.

21 In Chapter 17 of the Newest Sappho (2016),, “Loving, but not Loved: Some Thoughts about the New Kypris Song in the Context of Sappho’s Poetry,” Renate Schlesier argues that the performers of Sappho’s songs at symposia could be courtesans.

22 Again, N 2007/2009 and N 2015.

23  N 2007/2009.

24  N 2011a §11, with reference to Saussure 1916:117.

25 N 2011a §16.

26 West 2014:7.

27 I follow here the text as restored by West 2014. But the translation is my own.

28 Bierl 2009:57n152, 107, 272–273, 284, 294–295, 318–319. See also Bierl 2011.

29 West 2014:4 suggests that we read π̣ό̣ηϲάν τοι, not π̣ό̣ηϲαν τοί. But I defend the accentuation preserved in the new papyrus, τόι. This reading τόι (in the new P.GC inv. 105 fr. 2) differs from the reading τοι (PSI 123 and P.Oxy. 1231). As I argue, we see here an emphatic use of the pronoun, ‘for you’, not an enclitic use.

30 H24H 1§§26–28, 15§44.

31 It is possible, of course, that [ὀν]ίαν … λύγραν is a genitive plural, not an accusative singular.

32 See further GO 14; also already PH=1990a:42–44 [1§§46–48], 373–375 [12§§68–70]; especially 42 [1§46] n125.

33 PP=1996a:56.

34 GO 15.

35 PH=1990a:339–381 [Chapter 12], taking into account the acute observations of Nehamas 1982.

36 PH=1990a:44 [1§49].

37 GO 15–16.

38 PH=1990a:42–44 [1§§46–48].

39 GO 16, following PH=1990a:42–44 [1§§46–48]. See also PP=1996a:55–56.

40 Nehamas 1982.

41 PH=1990a:381 [12§81].

42 Schein 1987:246–247.

43 Gadamer 1975:129.

44 GO 18–19.

45 I think that the long a of laros in Homeric diction results from a kind of innovative poetic lengthening that I describe in N 2008a:34–35.

46 In Chapter 14 of Newest Sappho (2016), “All you Need is Love’: Some Thoughts on the Structure, Texture, and Meaning of the Brothers Song as well as on Its Relation to the Kypris Song (P. Sapph. Obbink),” Anton Bierl has already drawn attention to the association of Larikhos with the adjective laros.

47 On this association of Kharaxos and kharieis ‘charming’, see also BFO 24.

48 Quoted in Evans 1982:112. Thanks to Adam Holland. More via N 2004:48.

 

Essay 5: The poetics of repetition in the songmaking of Sappho

5§0. As we have seen in Essay 4, mimesis in the poetics of Sappho—as also of Pindar—can be understood in the old sense of that word, which I have described so far as re-enactment, while all along emphasizing that the idea of imitation is a vitally important aspect of such re-enactment. Here in Essay 5, I will extend the description by arguing that the poetics of re-enactment is a poetics of repetition. This essay is one of two separate rewritings of an older essay, titled “Some imitations of Pindar and Sappho by Horace” (N 2015.12.31), where I had argued that the Roman poet Horace, active in the second half of the first century BCE, thoroughly understood and actually imitated the poetics of repetition as exemplified by both Sappho and Pindar. I concentrate, in the present rewriting, on Sappho, while the other of the two rewritings, now published as a standalone essay (N 2024.02.01), concentrates on Pindar. In the present essay, I will analyze primarily Horace’s imitation of Sappho in Poem 1 of his fourth and last “Book” of Odes, that is, in Ode 4.1, but I will also need to epitomize my analysis of this Roman poet’s imitation of Pindar in his Ode 4.2. Although I will leave aside here the full version of that analysis, available in the standalone essay (again, N 2024.02.01), I will nevertheless start with my epitome about Horace’s imitation of Pindar in Ode 4.2 before I delve into my full treatment of this poet’s imitation of Sappho in Ode 4.1.

5§1. Horace, imitating Pindar in Ode 4.2, begins his poem with these words: Pindarum quisquis studet aemulari ‘whoever is eager to imitate [aemulārī] Pindar’. Besides the word aemulārī ‘to imitate’ here at line 1, I draw attention to the word imitātus ‘imitating’, from imitārī ‘to imitate’, at line 57, towards the very end of the poem. These two Latin words aemulārī and imitārī, along with a third, imāgō, are cognate forms, derived from the same Indo-European root. Moreover, these Latin words are conceptually related to the Greek word mīmēsis. Like the Greek word, these Latin words convey the idea of ritualized re-enactment. Most telling is what the related use of Latin word aemulus in the sense of ‘striving to equal’—or even ‘functioning as an understudy’. Another most telling usage is the meaning of imāgō in the specialized ritualistic sense of ‘death-mask of an ancestor’.[1]

5§2. I have already analyzed in Essay 4 the meanings of Greek word mīmēsis, transliterating it simply as mimesis. And, in my analysis, I have been arguing that the primary meaning of this word was ‘re‑enactment’ in such media as drama, whereas its secondary meaning was ‘imitation’—which is a built‑in aspect of re‑enactment and which became the new primary meaning of this word only after its older dramatic sense became destabilized. For an updated version of this argument, I cite my essay “Homo ludens in the world of ancient Greek verbal art” (N 2023.12.29). In what follows, I will argue that Horace’s own dramatic sense of re-enactment through poetry brings to life the older and more traditional idea of mimesis.

5§3. In terms of mimesis, I will further argue, those who re-enact something are not only imitating a model: by re-enacting they also become models in their own right, to be imitated by a series of successors who perpetuate, moving forward in time, the chain of re-enactment.

5§4. Horace’s poetic aim in Ode 4.2, to imitate Pindar, is characteristically complex, matching the complexity of his ancient Greek predecessor. It looks at first as if Horace does not want to have Pindar as a model. Whoever seeks to imitate Pindar, the poem starts to say, is like the doomed Icarus, whose wings were a botched imitation of real wings: ceratis ope Daedalea | nititur pinnis ‘he relies on wings crafted by Daedalus and fastened with wax’ at lines 2–3.

5§5. So, we may ask, with Giorgio Pasquali: why should Horace be trying to imitate Pindar precisely at the moment when he advises against imitating Pindar?[2] Gregson Davis offers an answer, and I agree with him that this much is relatively straightforward: “the disavowal [recūsātiō] itself,” he writes, “by virtue of its form [emphasis mine], reveals the speaker’s actual competence to undertake precisely what he claims to be incapable of doing.”[3] We see here the pride of the artist in achieving an imitation—or, better, let us call it a mimesis in the older sense of the word, in that this particular ‘imitation’ claims to become a model in its own right.

5§6. But how is such a poetics of re-enactment also to be understood as a poetics of repetition? Here I turn to a most relevant formulation I found in a work of Søren Kierkegaard, the title of which has been translated into English as Repetition. In what follows, I will quote from an English translation of the original Danish version (listed in the Bibliography as Kierkegaard 1843). Just as ancient Greek philosophy teaches, as we read in Repetition, “that all knowledge is a recollecting,” so also “modern philosophy will teach that all life is a repetition.”[4] To quote further: “repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been, is repeated backward, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forward.”[5]

5§7. Mimesis is like the “genuine repetition” that is posited in this formulation of Kierkegaard. When you re-enact an archetypal action, as in drama, that action is a repetition that is being “recollected forward.” You are imitating those who re-enacted before you and who served as your immediate models, but your ultimate model is still the archetypal figure that you are acting out or re-enacting, who is coextensive with the whole line of imitators who had re-enacted the way in which their ultimate model acted, each imitating each one’s predecessor. When it is your turn, your moment to re-enact something in this forward movement of mimesis, you become the ultimate model in that very moment. As a working definition, I will equate this moment of mimesis with the poetic occasion.

5§8. In Sappho’s poetics of repetition, such a poetic occasion is ideally expressed by adverbs meaning ‘again’. The most notable example is the adverb dēute in the fourth and fifth stanzas of Song 1 of Sappho, where Aphrodite is being addressed. I quote here again, repeating from Essay 1, my translation of Sappho’s Song 1, which I will then proceed to analyze further:

stanza 1||1 ‘You with pattern-woven flowers, immortal Aphrodite, |2 child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I implore you, |3 do not dominate with hurts and pains, |4 Mistress, my heart!

stanza 2||5 But come here [tuide], if ever at any other time |6hearing my voice from afar, |7 you heeded me, and leaving the palace of your father, |8 golden, you came,

stanza 3||9having harnessed the chariot; and you were carried along by beautiful |10 swift sparrows over the dark earth |11swirling with their dense plumage from the sky through the |12 midst of the aether,

stanza 4||13 and straightaway they arrived. But you, O holy one, |14 smiling with your immortal looks, |15 kept asking what [otti] is it once again this time [dēute] that has happened to me and for what reason [k’ōtti] |16 once again this time [dēute] do I invoke you,

stanza 5||17and what [k’ōtti] is it that I want more than anything to happen |18 to my frenzied [mainolās] heart [thūmos]? “Whom am I once again this time [dēute] to persuade, |19 setting out to bring [agein] her to your love? Who is doing you, |20Sappho, wrong?

stanza 6||21 For if she is fleeing now, soon she will be pursuing. |22 If she is not taking gifts, soon she will be giving them. |23 If she does not love, soon she will love |24 even against her will.”

stanza 7||25 Come to me even now, and free me from harsh |26 anxieties, and however many things |27 my heart [thūmos] yearns to get done, you do for me. You |28 become my ally in war.

Song 1 of Sappho = Prayer to Aphrodite

5§9. At the beginning of this song, as we saw already in Essay 1, the female speaker invokes Aphrodite, the archetype of love, in the form of a prayer (first stanza). The goddess is then represented as flying down from Olympus, but this narration—or in Greek terms, this diēgēsis—happens not in a third-person diegesis but still in the second person, so that the potential diegesis is subsumed by the syntax of prayer (second, third, and fourth stanzas, lines 5–18). Then, as the goddess arrives all the way from her distant celestial realm, she is quoted by the speaker as speaking directly in the first person to this speaker, who is now suddenly switched into the second person (fifth and sixth stanzas, lines 18–24). Aphrodite’s first question is: What is wrong with you this time (line 15)? And she is addressing a woman whom she calls Sappho (line 20). So, we learn that the speaker who had started speaking at the beginning of the song was Sappho. But now the speaker Sappho is speaking in the first person of Aphrodite (lines 18–24): she is in effect re-enacting the goddess. Moreover, at the end of Sappho’s prayer (lines 25–28), she asks the goddess to let her become an equal partner, a summakhos ‘fellow fighter’ in the warfare of love. The active telessai ‘to get done, to get someone to experience’ as used in place of the expected passive telesthēn ‘to experience’ toward the end of the song (line 26) suggests that the heart of Sappho is in control, as if Sappho were equivalent to Aphrodite herself.[6]

5§10. The re-enactment of Aphrodite as the archetype of love is made manifest—in the heart of Sappho, as it were—by the adverb dēute ‘again’ (lines 15, 16, 18), which refers to the onset of love in the speaker’s thūmos (lines 17 and 27), which I have been translating here as ‘heart’. And the re-enactment is reinforced by the repetition of this adverb denoting repetition—three times at that (to repeat, lines 15, 16, 18). Also, there is further reinforcement in the triple repetition of the insistently questioning pronoun otti / k’ōtti ‘what?’ (line 15 twice, line 17 once). Yet, in this medley of repetition, the more you hear ‘again’ or ‘one more time’, the more changes you see. It is all an archetypal re-enactment for the archetypal goddess of love, but for the humans who re-enact love it becomes a vast variety of different experiences by different people in different situations. Thus the variety in the repetition creates newness.

5§11. The newness of repetition brings to mind a further formulation by Kierkegaard: “The dialectic of repetition is easy, for that which is repeated has been—otherwise it could not be repeated—but the very fact that it has been makes the repetition into something new.”[7]

5§12. The variety of new erotic situations suggested by dēute ‘again’ and highlighted by the instances of amor versus ‘reverse love’ toward the end of Sappho’s song (lines 21 to 24) can also be illustrated by the strikingly plentiful set of examples that we may find in the relatively few surviving fragments of Anacreon:

σφαίρηι δηὖτέ με πορφυρῆι | βάλλων χρυσοκόμης Ἔρως | νήνι ποικιλοσαμβάλωι | συμπαίζειν προκαλεῖται

Golden-haired Eros throws at me once-again-this-time [dēute] a purple ball, prompting me to frolic with a young girl who wears multicolored [poikila] sandals.

Anacreon PMG 13.1–4

ἀρθεὶς δηὖτ’ ἀπὸ Λευκάδος | πέτρης ἐς πολιὸν κῦμα κολυμβῶ μεθύων ἔρωτι

Lifting off once-again-this-time [dēute] from the white rock I dive down into the gray eddies below, intoxicated with eros.

Anacreon PMG 31.1–2

μνᾶται δηὖτε φαλακρὸς Ἄλεξις

Bald Alexis is wooing once-again-this-time [dēute].

Anacreon PMG 49b.1

παρὰ δηὖτε Πυθόμανδρον | κατέδυν Ἔρωτα φεύγων.

Once-again-this-time [dēute] I went down, slinking, to Pythomandros, trying to get away from Eros.

Anacreon PMG 55.1–2

μεγάλωι δηὖτέ μ’ Ἔρως ἔκοψεν ὥστε χαλκεὺς | πελέκει, χειμερίηι δ’ ἔλουσεν ἐν χαράδρηι.

Once-again-this-time [dēute] Eros struck me with a great hammer [pelekus] like a coppersmith [khalkeus] and washed me in a wintry torrent.[8]

Anacreon PMG 67.1–2

ἐρέω τε δηὖτε κοὐκ ἐρέω | καὶ μαίνομαι κοὐ μαίνομαι

I passionately-love [erô] once-again-this-time [dēute]—and don’t love [erô]. I am going mad—and I’m not going mad.

Anacreon PMG 83.1–2

5§13. Surveying these and other instances of dēute in Greek love lyric, Anne Carson (1986:118–119) remarks about the constituents ‘now’ and aute ‘again’: “The particle marks a lively perception in the present moment: ‘Look at that now!’ The adverb aute peers past the present moment to a pattern of repeated actions stretching behind it: ‘Not for the first time!’ places you in time and emphasizes that placement: now. Aute intercepts ‘now’ and binds it into a history of ‘thens’.”

5§14. I could go on with other illustrations, but the point has already been made. Every time I say to myself, “here I go again,” I am repeating the pattern of Aphrodite, but each time it is a different experience for me. It is a new experience.

5§15. Here I return to the idea of mimesis, which drives the poetics of repetition as I reconstruct it. This idea, as I have been arguing, works on the principle that those who re-enact something are not only imitating a model: by re-enacting they also become models in their own right, to be imitated by a series of successors who perpetuate, moving forward in time, the chain of re-enactment. As we are about to see, the Roman poet Horace has achieved an imaginative repetition of this idea in the poetics of his odes imitating Sappho.

5§16. I now turn to Horace Ode 4.1, which centers on an imitation of Sappho. The metaphor of re-enactment as repetition, expressed in Song 1 of Sappho by way of Greek adverbs such as dēute meaning ‘again’, is in turn repeated in Horace’s use of corresponding Latin words that likewise mean ‘again’. As we are about to see, these words are preverbs and adverbs such as re-, rursus, iterum, and so on, all meaning ‘again’.

5§17. The repetitions are activated at the very beginning of Ode 4.1 of Horace. After a long interruption of warfare in love (line 1), Venus is being addressed once again in prayer—precor, precor ‘I pray, I pray’— as she begins the battle rursus ‘once again’ (line 2). The doubling of precor, precor ‘I pray, I pray’ reinforces the repetitiveness already marked by rursus ‘once again’.

5§18. Venus the warrior reminds us of Aphrodite the summakhos ‘fellow-warrior’ invoked by Sappho in the final line of her Song 1. But now the Roman poet does not want any part of such warfare: Horace’s poem is now the opposite of Sappho’s song of invocation, since the poet here prays that the goddess be absent, not present. ‘Come here, right now!’—Sappho had prayed to Aphrodite: ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν (line 25). ‘Go away from here!’—Horace now prays to Venus: abī (line 7). Go instead to the young men whose prayers do indeed invoke you: quo blandae iuvenum te revocant preces ‘to where the pleasing prayers [preces] of young men are re-calling [re-vocant] you’ (line 8). The re of revocant preces reinforces the repetitiveness of their prayers invoking the goddess—the same kind of insistent repetitiveness that we saw in Sappho’s dēute ‘once again this time’.

5§19. I compare at this point Horace Ode 4.13, which begins audivere, Lyce, di mea vota, di | audivere, Lyce ‘the gods have heard, Lycus, my prayers, | they have heard, Lycus’. The repeated sound of di reinforces the repeated words of the prayers, mea vota, which are in fact repeated prayers. This poem mentions Cinara (line 21), as does the poem that we are now considering, Ode 4.1 (line 4). More on Cinara in what follows.

5§20. In Ode 4.1, Horace shows that he too, like Sappho, had once made repetitions in his own invocations when he was a young love poet—but supposedly no more, now that he is old: non sum qualis eram, he declares: ‘I’m not the man I used to be’ (4.1.3). Then I was the love slave of the girl Cinara (line 4), and I was the young love poet of Odes Books 1–3. But now this is Book 4: I am past fifty years of age (line 6), and I am a love poet no more. Remarkably, Horace’s denial of repetition happens precisely at the moment when he is repeating the words of a love poet—just as his denial of imitating Pindar in Ode 4.2 happens precisely at the moment when he replicates and even re-enacts the sum total of Pindar’s poetics. At the very moment that Horace says non sum qualis eram ‘I’m not the man I used to be’ at line 3 of Ode 4.1, as if he were no longer the love poet of Books 1–3, he not only repeats the words of a love poet, but that love poet is none other than his old self, back in his old love poems: the expression dulcium | mater saeva Cupidinum ‘savage mother of sweet passionate loves’ that follows at lines 4–5 is an imitation, even more, a repetition, of mater saeva Cupidinum ‘savage mother of passionate loves’ at line 1 of Ode 1.19 (I follow here the comments of Putnam 1986:42; also Davis 1991:65–66). So, Horace is repeating his words of love poetry, repeating himself, repeating his self, at the very moment when he prays never again to be a love poet. He is up to his old tricks of poetic reversal.

5§21 In that same earlier poem of Horace, Ode 1.19, we see at line 9 an image that clearly imitates what we find in a song of Sappho: at line 9, we read in me tota ruens Venus ‘Venus, rushing into me with her entire essence’. Before I show what wording in the songs of Sappho is being imitated here, I emphasize that Horace’s imitation, in this case as well, plays on the idea of poetic reversal. In the same context of Ode 1.19, the poet pictures Parthian cavalry who at first seem to be fleeing from their pursuing enemy, but then, as we read further at line 11, these fleeing horsemen have suddenly and most unexpectedly turned their speeding horses around (versis … equis) and, the next thing you know, the Parthians and their enemies have reversed their roles, since the pursuing enemy are now the ones who are pursued—and doomed to be massively defeated. We may compare the poetics of amor versus in Sappho 1.21–24, as noted above. And now I show the actual text of Sappho that is being as model for imitation in Ode 1.19 of Horace. That model is the celebrated Song 31 of Sappho, which I quote here, followed by my working translation:

|1 φαίνεταί μοι κῆνοc ἴϲοc θέοιϲιν |2 ἔμμεν’ ὤνηρ, ὄττιc ἐνάντιόc τοι |3 ἰϲδάνει καὶ πλάϲιον ἆδυ φωνεί-|4ϲαc ὐπακούει |5 καὶ γελαίϲαc ἰμέροεν, τό μ’ ἦ μὰν |6 καρδίαν ἐν ϲτήθεϲιν ἐπτόαιϲεν, |7 ὠc γὰρ ἔc ϲ’ ἴδω βρόχε’ ὤc με φώναι-|8ϲ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ἔτ’ εἴκει, |9 ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶϲϲα ἔαγε λέπτον |10 δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν, |11 ὀππάτεϲϲι δ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-|12βειϲι δ’ ἄκουαι, |13 κάδ δέ μ’ ἴδρωc κακχέεται τρόμοc δὲ |14 παῖϲαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίαc |15 ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ’πιδεύηc |16 φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔται·

|1 He appears [phainetai] to me, that one, equal to the gods [īsos theoisin], |2 that man who, facing you |3 is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours |4 he listens to, |5 and how you laugh a laugh that brings desire. Why, it just |6 makes my heart flutter within my breast. |7 You see, the moment I look at you, right then, for me |8 to make any sound at all won’t work anymore. |9 My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate |10 —all of a sudden—fire rushes under my skin. |11 With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar |12 my ears make. |13 Sweat pours down me and a trembling |14 seizes all of me; paler than grass|15 am I, and a little short of death |16 do I appear [phainomai] to myself. […]

Sappho Song 31

5§22 I see a comparable “erotic melt-down” in Horace’s Ode 1.19, picturing ‘Venus rushing into me with her entire essence’ at line 9: in me tota ruens Venus.

5§23. The virtuoso display of repetitions in Horace Ode 4.1 reinforces Michael Putnam’s conclusion about this poem (1986:40): “Looked at, therefore, as an epigone to Sappho’s masterpiece, Horace’s ode is a prayer for the reritualization of Venus.” Such a reritualization, I would add, reflects Horace’s success in mimesis, and again I mean it in the older sense of the word.

5§24. The reritualization in Horace Ode 4.1 turns out to be a revitalization. The poet’s denial of interest in love poetry, expressed as mollibus | iam durum imperiis ‘hard [durus] in responding to soft commands’ at lines 6–7, is suggestive. The word imperiis ‘commands’ in this expression picks up on the word regno ‘régime’ in the earlier expression bonae | sub regno Cinarae ‘under the régime of good Cinara’ at lines 3–4, which was the actual context for non sum qualis eram ‘I’m not the man I used to be’ at line 3. Who, then, is this Cinara, the girl who had once made the young love poet Horace become a slave to her régime? And what does it mean that the poet has by now grown ‘hard’ to the ‘soft’ imperia ‘commands’ of Venus?

5§25. Let us start with Cinara. The schoolbook from which I first studied Horace many years ago (Bennett 1934:367) taught me that she was a “real” person, “alone among Horace’s loves.” Her name, however, suggests that there is more to it. The cinara is a kind of thistle, now known as Cinara scolymus in the Linnaean taxonomy. Particularly suggestive of its implications is a passage in Columella 10.235–236 where we learn that ingesting this plant was good for ‘a drinking Bacchus’ but ‘bad for a singing Apollo’: hispida ponatur cinara, quae dulcis Iaccho | potanti veniat nec Phoebo grata canenti ‘let the bristly cinara be planted, which comes across as sweet to Bacchus when he drinks but displeases Phoebus [Apollo] when he sings’. The Greek word from which the Latin cinara was borrowed is κινάρα (and variant κυνάρα), which is synonymous with σκόλυμος (skolumos). This other Greek word for ‘thistle’ is prominently featured in a drinking song of Alcaeus (F 347), as also in a Hesiodic passage (Works and Days 582–588; on the relationship between the Alcaic and Hesiodic passages, I cite my analysis in PH=1990a:462–463 [Appendix §§35–36])). Gregson Davies (1991:68–69) was the first to notice the sympotic connotations of the name Cinara by making the connection with the Alcaic and Hesiodic passages; he links Horace’s reference to Cinara in Ode 4.1 to the very idea of the symposium—and, by extension, to the idea of sympotic poetry. Going further, Michèle Lowrie (1991) notes another detail in both these Greek passages: the blossoming of the thistle marks the time in the Dog Days of summer when men are least potent sexually—and women are most desirous and lascivious (for more on the Dog Days, I cite Oliensis 1991, Ceragioli 1992, Petropoulos 1994). Lowrie combines this detail with the observations of Pliny Natural History 20.262 and 22.86–87, to the effect that the thistle is an aphrodisiac when it is ingested with wine. I agree therefore with Lowrie’s conclusion that “the reign of Cinara was erotic as well as sympotic.”

5§26. Let us return, then, to the passage that I cited from Columella, which says that the cinara is good for ‘a drinking Bacchus’ but ‘bad for a singing Apollo’. If Horace was following a régime—let us say a diet—of cinara, on the grounds that the thistle is an aphrodisiac when ingested with wine, then the poet’s declaration that he is now ‘hard’ to the ‘soft’ régime of love may well be yet another example of Horatian affirmation through denial. The poet may say that he has lost interest in Venus, and yet he is now ‘hard’ to her ‘soft’ régime. What, then, do we make of the ancien régime of Cinara? Evidently it is not after all a thing of the past, if indeed the poet is now ‘hard’ in response to Venus’s ‘soft’ commands.

5§27. Here I invoke the important observations of Ellen Oliensis (1991) concerning the negative imago of the Horatian female love-partner, the notorious Canidia, especially as she figures in Epodes 5 and 17 as well as in Satire 1.8. In Epode 17, as Oliensis shows, the poet in fact prays to Canidia in what amounts to a sinister mirror image of the prayer to Venus in Ode 4.1:

On my knees I pray, … leave off (parce) casting spells, and loose, loose the magic wheel (solve, solve turbinem) so it may run backward.’ [= Epode 17.2, 6–7] In both poems, Horace pleads unfitness for love—decorously formulated in the late ode (non sum qualis eram … [‘I’m not the man I used to be’]), but spelled out in ugly detail in the epode (21–22): ‘My youth has fled, the modest blush has abandoned my bones in their wrapper of sallow hide …’ (fugit iuventas et verecundus color | reliquit ossa pelle amicta lurida …). If Venus is ‘looking for a suitable liver to scorch’ (si torrere iecur quaeris idoneum [Ode 4.1.]12), Canidia already has Horace on the coals ([Epode 17.]30, 33–35): ‘O sea and earth, I’m on fire. {422|423} … Are you going to keep up the heat, you workshop of Colchian drugs, until I’m nothing but arid ashes scattered by the injurious winds? (Oliensis 1991:120).

Notes

[1] PH=1990a:349n58 [12§24]; on imāgō I note especially the reference in Pliny Natural History 35.6.

[2] Pasquali 1920:782.

[3] Davis 1991:134.

[4] Kierkegaard [1843] p. 141 in the translation.

[5] Kierkegaard [1843] again p. 141 in the translation.

[6] GMP=1990b: 259–260.

[7] Kierkegaard [1843] p. 149 in the translation.

[8] For objections to the interpretation of pelekus as a smith’s ‘hammer’, I cite Goldhill 1987:9–11. He argues that, as we see from Odyssey 9.391–393, a khalkeus ‘coppersmith’ is a craftsman who has mastered the craft of manufacturing a pelekus or ‘axe’, and that such an axe is a product of the craft, not an instrument used by the craftsman in his activity as a coppersmith. But I should note that a coppersmith can actually be pictured as wielding his own axe: as we see for example in what we read from Diogenes Laertius 1.76.

 

Essay 6: Sappho’s ‘fire under the skin’ and the erotic syntax of an another epigram by Posidippus

rewritten from 2015.07.08

Flaming June, by Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896) [Public domain]

6§1. I return to a chapter that I contributed to the book Newest Sappho (ed. Bierl and Lardinois 2016), where I focused on what I call “sisterly affect” in the songs of Sappho (N 2015|2016, rewritten in Sappho 0). I follow up here on what I already observed in Essay 4 of my book here about the role of Sappho as an affectionate sister who comments on a passionate love affair of a brother of hers named Kharaxos. One of these songs has been preserved almost in its entirety in a papyrus text that has come to be known simply as “The Brothers Poem” or “The Brothers Song.” (editio princeps: Obbink 2014).

6§2. Herodotus in his History  (2.135.6) says that Sappho makes pointed references in her songs to the passionate love affair of Kharaxos, and the historian adds that she sings disapprovingly of this affair. The cause of her disapproval becomes clear as we read the whole tale as retold by Herodotus (2.134–135). It is a tale of a self-destructive passion that led Kharaxos, a wealthy aristocrat from the Greek city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, to squander his wealth on a beautiful and most seductive courtesan named Rhodōpis, who lived in the Greek enclave of Naucratis in Egypt.

6§3. So, of course, the aristocratic sister would disapprove of such self-destructive passion. And yet, as I argue, the sister would also understand such an experience, even showing empathy. And such empathy is most sensually expressed in the songs of Sappho about the affair. As I showed in Essay 4§39, the pain that torments the family because of the brother’s misfortunes is not the only kind of torment we find in the poetics of Sappho. The torment experienced by the family of Sappho refers also to the torment of erotic love experienced by Sappho herself. The sensuality of such understanding, as I also argued, is what made the songs of Sappho about Kharaxos and the courtesan so famous in the era of Herodotus. The historian pointedly refers to the fame of this courtesan throughout the Greek-speaking world—a fame that was due, he implies, to such songs as once sung by Sappho herself about the love-affair of her errant brother with this sexually irresistible woman.

6§4. Sappho understands and shows empathy because she too has experienced—and will experience—both the torment and the delight of passionate love. As I argue in Essay 4§§40–41, quoting from Sappho, such passionate love is what her words are lovingly describing in her Song 1.3–4 and in her so-called Kypris Song 1–6. In the essay here, I extend the argument by analyzing an epigram of Posidippus that actually visualizes Sappho’s vicarious understanding.

6§5. The poet Posidippus of Pella, who as we have seen lived in the third century BCE, actually composed an epigram that memorializes the life and times of the courtesan from Naucratis who was passionately loved by Kharaxos, brother of Sappho. In this epigram, however, the name of the courtesan is not Rhodōpis, as she is called by Herodotus, but Dōrikhā. The epigram is quoted by Athenaeus (13.596c), who lived in the third century CE—and whose native city was in fact Naucratis. In the context of this quotation, Herodotus is accused of being unaware that Rhodōpis and Dōrikhā are different women. But I will argue that Rhodōpis is in fact an alternative name for the same woman who is called Dōrikhā in the epigram of Posidippus.

6§6. After all, we cannot even be sure that Dōrikhā was the only name for this courtesan in Sappho’s songs (on the reading [Δ]ωρίχα at line 11 of Sappho F 15: Yatromanolakis 2007:330–331). Granted, Dōrikhā is understood to be the only name in the text of Athenaeus. But, aside from this one source, we find in no other source any indication that the names Dōrikhā and Rhodōpis were mutually exclusive. Even in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1800, where we read only the name Dōrikhā, we cannot be sure that this naming is meant to exclude Rhodōpis as an alternative. By contrast, in the reportage of Strabo (17.1.33 C808), it is clear that the names Dōrikhā and Rhodōpis are used interchangeably with reference to the same woman.

6§7. As for the text of the epigram by Posidippus as quoted by Athenaeus, I will now argue that its wording actually recognizes the name Rhodōpis as an alternative to Dōrikhā. We are about see a reference to the rosy complexion of Dōrikha, and this reference is I think a subtle allusion to the name Rhodōpis. Here is the wording of the epigram:

|1 Δωρίχα, ὀστέα μὲν σὰ πάλαι κόνις οἵ τ’ ἀπόδεσμοι |2 χαίτης ἥ τε μύρων ἔκπνοος ἀμπεχόνη, ||3 ᾗ ποτε τὸν χαρίεντα περιστέλλουσα Χάραξον |4σύγχρους ὀρθρινῶν ἥψαο κισσυβίων. ||5 Σαπφῷαι δὲ μένουσι φίλης ἔτι καὶ μενέουσιν |6 ᾠδῆς αἱ λευκαὶ φθεγγόμεναι σελίδες. ||7 οὔνομα σὸν μακαριστόν, ὃ Ναύκρατις ὧδε φυλάξει, |8 ἔστ’ ἂν ἴῃ Νείλου ναῦς ἐφ’ ἁλὸς πελάγη.

|1 Dōrikhā, your bones have turned into dust a long time ago—and so too the ribbons |2 of your hair, and so too the shawl, exhaling that perfumed scent of yours, ||3 in which you enveloped once upon a time the charming Kharaxos, |4 skin next to skin, complexion making contact with complexion, as you reached for cups of wine at the coming of the dawn. ||5 But from Sappho there still do remain and will forever remain her loving |6 song’s columns of verses that shine forth as they sound out her voice. ||7 That name of yours has been declared most fortunate, and Naucratis will guard it safely, just as it is, |8so long as there are ships sailing the waters of the Nile, heading out toward the open sea.

Posidippus 122 ed. Austin and Bastianini, quoted in Athenaeus 13.596c

6§8. At verse 4 of this epigram, the adjective sun-khrous can be interpreted as ‘having one’s complexion make contact with someone else’s complexion’. In describing Dōrikhā, this adjective captures the moment when the beautiful courtesan embraces with one arm her lover Kharaxos under the cover of her perfumed shawl while she reaches out with the other arm for yet another sip of wine after having spent a whole night of lovemaking that now extends, like some unending aubade, into the light of dawn. The element -khrous in this compound formation sun-khrous comes from the noun khrōs– / khrōt– meaning ‘complexion’, while the prefix sun– expresses the experience of mutual contact: that is why I translate sun-khrous here as ‘skin to skin, complexion making contact with complexion’.

6§9. This reference to the complexion of the courtesan who is pictured in the act of making contact with her lover’s skin evokes the name by which she will be known forever in the city of Naucratis. The city, as the final wording of the epigram promises, will forever guard safely the name of this woman, keeping it ‘just as it is’. And what name is this name? Is it the name that was spoken at the beginning, Dōrikha, or is it a name left unspoken at the ending, which would be Rhodōpis? Such an unspoken name would be signaled by the complexion of this woman, ignited by the skin-to-skin contact of lovemaking with her lover. The unsaid name here, I suggest, would be Rhodōpis, which means ‘she with the rosy looks’.

6§10. The question remains, how do ‘rosy looks’ that radiate from a beautiful woman’s face connect with the erotic syntax of body language that pictures skin touching skin in the suggestive wording of the epigram by Posidippus? The answer, I argue, has to do with the fact that the eroticism of the khrōs– / khrōt– ‘complexion’ is a distinctive feature of Sappho’s own poetics. I now show Sappho’s words describing sexual arousal as a sudden ‘fire under the skin’:

λέπτον | δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν

And a delicate |—all of a sudden—fire rushes under my skin [khrōs-].

Sappho Song 31.9–10

6§11. It is sex, then, that ignites the complexion, creating its rosy blush. And the erotic syntax of the epigram by Posidippus evokes, I think, the original words of Sappho herself in describing the torrid bodily contact between her ‘charming’ brother and his beautiful lady love. Thus the words of the epigram, in capturing the embrace of brother and courtesan, will be telling forever the tale of the lady with the rosy complexion—a tale also told by the name of Rhodōpis.

Frederic Leighton, The Fisherman and the Syren-c. 1856–1858 [Public domain]

6§12. Such a tale as told in the epigram of Posidippus would have a special meaning in the Greek-speaking city of Naucratis in Egypt. I think that the people of this city, and of all Egypt as well, were meant to understand in the final words of this epigram a veiled reference to the beauty of a woman who channels, as it were, the irresistible sexuality of a most exotic Egyptian queen.

6§13. Here I turn to Egyptian variations on a theme (analyzed more fully in three essays not included in my book here: N 2015.07.01, N 2015.07.15, N2015.08.19) that is relevant to the Greek name Rhodōpis. This theme goes all the way back to an Egyptian queen named Nitōkris who ruled toward the end of the 6th Dynasty, in the late third millennium BCE. The dating and the naming originate from the Egyptian historian Manetho, who lived in the third century BCE. In a surviving paraphrase from the work of Manetho, who composed in Greek, we read these further details about Nitōkris the queen:

Νίτωκρις, γεννικωτάτη καὶ εὐμορφοτάτη τῶν κατ’ αὐτὴν γενομένη, ξανθὴ τὴν χροιάν, ἣ τὴν τρίτην ἤγειρε πυραμίδα, ἐβασίλευσεν ἔτη ιβʹ.

Nitōkris was the most noble and beautiful of all the women of her generation. She was fair [xanthē] in complexion [khroia]. It was she who erected the third pyramid. She ruled for twelve years.

Manetho FGrH 609 F 2 (p. 26) lines 18–21

The chronology here is further supported, it seems, by Eratosthenes, who lived in the third/second centuries BCE: FGrH 610 F1 κβ. Also Dio Cassius 62.6.

6§14. I translate xanthē here as ‘fair’, having primarily in mind the English expression ‘fair-skinned’—though there is room for allowing an alternative translation, ‘blonde’. According to the relevant paraphrase of Manetho by Eusebius in this context, the description of Nitōkris in the surviving Armenian translation of Eusebius’ original Greek wording is rendered in Latin as flava rubris genis ‘blonde with blushing cheeks’. These descriptions of Nitōkris correspond closely to the meaning of the Greek name Rhodōpis, ‘the one with the rosy face’—or ‘the one with the rosy looks’. A striking point of comparison is the portrayal of the sensuous Beroe, daughter of Aphrodite and Adonis, in the Dionysiaca of Nonnus (42.75–78): the cheeks of this nymph are described as ‘having rosy looks [rhodoeidea]’ (77: ῥοδοειδέα) and showing a natural blush that needs no cosmetics simulating ‘the complexion [khrōs-] of a blonde [xanthē]’ (76: ξανθόχροϊ κόσμῳ).

6§15. In an Egyptian context, it is unjustifiable to infer that Manetho describes Nitōkris as a blonde with blushing cheeks simply because he thinks that this woman from the 6th Dynasty, dating back to the third millennium BCE, must be identified with a woman named Rhodōpis who dates back only as far as the sixth century. Instead, the appearance of Nitōkris as described by Manetho is a traditional Egyptian theme that becomes a model for describing, many centuries later, the good looks of a courtesan by way of renaming her as Rhodōpis, that is, as the lady with the rosy face (and here I refer again to two relevant essays: N 2015.07.01, N 2015.08.19).

Essay 7: How Homeric poetry may help us achieve a keener appreciation of Sappho’s wedding songs.

rewritten from 2020.09.25

7§0. In Essay 6, I noted the erotic imagining of ‘fire under the skin’ as attested in Song 31 of Sappho. But now I must ask myself: is such an erotic image appropriate in the context of a wedding song? The question is most pressing, since there is no consensus among experts who study Sappho about the context of Song 31, and there is some doubt whether this song is really a wedding song. In my own work, as we will see, I argue that Song 31 is in fact a wedding song—featuring a bridegroom and a bride and, as a third party, a participant in the ceremony. I use guardedly this word ceremony in referring here to a wedding, since such a description does not have the same force as the word ritual, which is more appropriate, as we will see. For now, however, the word ceremony will do. To return to the point I am making about the person who is shown speaking in the grammatical first person on the occasion of what I argue is a wedding: this first person is grammatically identifiable as a she not a he in the overall wording of Song 31. And this first-person she is speaking in the grammatical first person directly to a beautiful young person who is addressed in the grammatical second person and who is also a she—as we can see once again this time on the basis of the grammatical gender assigned to her in Song 31. And the first-person she is speaking to the second-person she about a third-person he, grammatically defined by a demonstrative masculine pronoun. Although the second-person ‘you’ and the third-person ‘he’ are not explicitly described as bride and bridegroom respectively, I will argue that their roles, as worded in the song, do in fact correspond to the roles of a couple who are about to be married to each other. Which brings me back to my question: if the context of Song 31 really is a wedding, would it be appropriate for a first-person speaker to be speaking about her own eroticized reactions when she is participating in the celebration of a marriage? Would she be talking about her own ‘fire under the skin’ while talking to a second-person bride about that bride’s third-person bridegroom? I say her reactions here because, to repeat, the self-dramatized speaker of Song 31 is clearly indicated, by way of the grammatical feminine gender, as a she. In what follows, my proposed answer to my own question about appropriateness is that the eroticism expressed by the self-dramatized speaker of Song 31 is a perfectly appropriate reaction—in terms of Sappho’s poetics—to the actual occasion of a traditional wedding. That will be my argument.

La Jalousie (1802), by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774-1833). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Erinna Taken from Sappho (1865), by Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Jealousy and Flirtation (1874), by Haynes King (1831-1904). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

On the Beach– Two Are Company, Three Are None (1872), by Winslow Homer. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

7§1. I begin by viewing what we see on the surface in Sappho’s Song 31, reviewing the content superficially by not yet delving into context. I have already quoted the Greek text in Essay 5§21, and I repeat here only my working translation of the text, showing it for the second time now:

|1 He appears [phainetai] to me, that one, equal to the gods [īsos theoisin], |2 that man who, facing you |3 is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours |4 he listens to, |5 and how you laugh a laugh that brings desire. Why, it just |6 makes my heart flutter within my breast. |7 You see, the moment I look at you, right then, for me |8 to make any sound at all won’t work anymore. |9 My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate |10 —all of a sudden—fire rushes under my skin. |11 With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar |12 my ears make. |13 Sweat pours down me and a trembling |14 seizes all of me; paler than grass|15 am I, and a little short of death |16 do I appear [phainomai] to myself. […]

7§2. On the surface, this much we know already: We see here a she who is speaking in the grammatical first person singular to another she who is addressed in the grammatical second person, and the first-person she is feeling erotically aroused but also, it seems, envious of the charming third-person he who is dominating the attention of the second-person she. There is erotic jealousy in the making here, and the emotional chemistry could readily be described, in terms of our own modernities, as a love-triangle. In such a love-triangle, as we are about to see, the grammar of the first and second and third persons who are involved displays a poetics of its own. Such a poetics exemplifies a celebrated observation once made by Roman Jakobson (1960): There is not only a grammar of poetry, there is also a poetry of grammar.

7§3. Even from a modernistic perspective, then, it is imaginable that an unrequited lover in a love-triangle could be expressing the feelings that we see expressed in Song 31 of Sappho. Such feelings could perhaps play out even in the context of celebrations at a modern or post-modern wedding. These days, in the context of ceremonies celebrating the marriage of a couple, I could imagine a “best man” declaring formulaically, in toasting a bridegroom: “You’re so lucky—you got the girl of your dreams, but what about my dreams?” Such erotic jealousy, of course, could be a mock formality. But I would add that such formalities are public, not necessarily even personal. And I could imagine a comparable situation in a celebration where, say, a “maid of honor” toasts the bride instead of the bridegroom. The “maid of honor” could jokingly say: “I so wish the bridegroom were mine, not yours.” Less imaginable, however, would be a situation where a woman, on the formal occasion of a wedding, were to declare in public to another woman who was getting married: “I so wish you loved me, not him”—and where she would add, for good measure: “I could just die, I’m so frustratingly in love with you, right now, right here at this wedding.”

7§4. In terms of Sappho’s poetics, however, I argue that the eroticism of ‘fire under my skin’ could be not only personal but also public in the context of a traditional wedding. In order to make such an argument, I first need to make three points as relevant background, listed here as paragraphs A B C:

7§4A. If we view the social institution of traditional weddings from an anthropological standpoint, then our own post-traditional ways of thinking about the very idea of a wedding may give way to rethinking how we view the formal occasion where a couple get married to each other. Such an occasion is a personal experience for the given couple, of course, but it is a public experience for the whole group that arranges or even merely attends the ritual. I stress this word ritual, because getting married is a genuine ritual in traditional societies. And what is ritualized in traditional weddings is a fusion of experiences. For the couple who are getting married, the public experience of the group that attends their wedding becomes their own public experience, while the personal experience of the couple becomes, vicariously, the personal experience—in varying degrees—of the whole group that attends. I cite here my own comparative work (especially in PP 94–95; also in H24H 20§§39–40, with further references, especially to the work of Olga Levaniouk 2011), where I studied such patterns of fusion in public and personal experiences at festive occasions, as at weddings—also at funerals. I pointedly add here a mention of funerals because, on the basis of the comparative work I just cited, I find that the singing of laments at traditional funerals is morphologically comparable to the singing of love-songs at weddings; moreover, love-songs about unrequited love, as I also note in my previous work, can even be interchangeable with laments.

7§4B. A moment ago, I described the event of a ritualized wedding as festive. But I need to make a distinction here between festive events like weddings and funerals on the one hand, and, on the other hand, festive events like the “beauty contest” of the Kallisteia in Lesbos, where the occasion is a seasonally recurring festival, not a one-time event as in the case of weddings and funerals. As I argued in Essay 1, a festival like the Kallisteia was the likely context for other songs of Sappho, including her Song 1. But I now concentrate here on one-time ritual events like weddings as I proceed to argue further that Song 31 of Sappho can in fact be viewed as a wedding song. As I will also argue, the ritualized dimensions of such events, involving a fusion of public and personal experiences, are matched by mythological dimensions. Such matchings of ritual and myth, as we are about to see, can be reconstructed for Sappho’s Song 31 by way of analyzing comparable matchings in the Homeric Iliad.

7§4C. I have in fact already analyzed the relevant matchings of ritual and myth in the book titled The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, which I continue to abbreviate as H24H in my book here. In that other book, I had taken the risk of drastically expanding Hour 5 of the 24 “Hours,” making it twice as long as the other 23 “Hours”. What turned that one hour—Hour 5—into something more like two hours in length was the fact that I added to my analysis of passages selected from the Homeric Iliad a corresponding analysis of passages selected from the songs of Sappho. And my analysis of passages from Sappho was not really an addition: rather, I inserted rather than merely added my analysis of passages from Sappho, since I wanted to find points of comparison in my analysis of various passages in the Iliad. I had a good reason for doing this, since I thought then, and I still think now, that a reading of selections from Sappho’s surviving songs helps achieve a better understanding of Homeric poetry. But I also think, conversely, that Homer helps achieve a better understanding of Sappho. So, in Essay 7 here, I propose to turn inside-out my original project, where I had analyzed Homeric poetry by way of comparing it with what I know about Sappho’s songs. That is, I will now reconsider Song 31, one of Sappho’s most celebrated songs, by way of comparing it, however briefly, with what I know about Homeric poetry. More specifically, I will concentrate on the Homeric gesture of picturing the hero Achilles as an eternal bridegroom. This Homeric gesture, I will argue, helps us appreciate more keenly Song 31 of Sappho as a wedding song.

7§5. Before I turn to relevant details that we learn about Achilles in the Iliad, however, I need to review what I say in H24H in my analysis of what is said explicitly about this hero in the songs of Sappho. In these songs, as we will now see, Achilles was pictured not only as a warrior but also as a bridegroom. I start here with a preview of this idea of Achilles as a bridegroom by highlighting an important piece of information about the poetic traditions of Sappho. It comes from an oration by Himerius (fourth century CE), who says:

Σαπφοῦς ἦν ἄρα  μήλῳ μὲν εἰκάσαι τὴν κόρην, …  τὸν νυμφίον τε  Ἀχιλλεῖ παρομοιῶσαι καὶ εἰς ταὐτὸν ἀγαγεῖντῷ ἥρωι τὸν νεανίσκον ταῖς πράξεσι.

Sappho compared the girl to an apple […] she compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.

Sappho Fragment 105b via Himerius Oration 9.16

7§6. Besides the Achaean hero Achilles, the Trojan hero Hector, the most hated enemy of Achilles, is also pictured as a bridegroom in the songs of Sappho. I will now focus on Song 44 of Sappho, which is all about the wedding of Hector and Andromache. I note in H24H (4§16) an all-important idea that we find in that song: the happy bridegroom and bride, in the wording of line 4 of Song 44 of Sappho, are destined to have kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, and the wording that we see being used here in Sappho’s song is identical with the wording kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, spoken at line 413 of Iliad 9 by Achilles himself in anticipation of his own epic fame in the future.

7§7. As I argue in H24H (4§§17–21), we see in Iliad 9.413 that the main hero of the Iliad leaves as his signature the kleos ‘glory’ of his own epic, which turns out to be the Iliad. But now we see in Song 44 of Sappho that the kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, of Achilles in the Iliad is matched by the kleos aphthiton, ‘imperishable glory’, of Hector and Andromache in Song 44 of Sappho. In the first case, the ultimate context of winning such glory is war. In the second case, the immediate context is a wedding.

7§8. Since Song 44 of Sappho is about a wedding, it is important to note right away the traditional wording that applies to brides at weddings. That word is numphē, which means both ‘bride’—as in Iliad 18.492—and ‘goddess’, that is, ‘nymph’—as in Iliad 24.616; the same double meaning is attested in fragments of Sappho—at for example in F 116 and 117, where the Aeolic words numpha ‘bride’ and gambros ‘bridegroom’ are paired, by contrast with F 103.5, where the word numpha evidently refers to the goddess Aphrodite. By implication, the ritual occasion of a wedding, as formalized in a wedding song, collapses the distinction between ‘bride’ and ‘goddess’. The same can be said, as I argue, about the distinction between ‘bridegroom’ and ‘god’. At the wedding of Hector and Andromache as narrated in Song 44 of Sappho, the bride and groom are transformed into gods—at the actual climax of this wedding. I am about to elaborate on this argument in what follows. And, later on, I will also make a related argument. We will see how something comparable happens at the climactic moment of war: at the actual moment of that climax, the warrior is transformed into a god.

7§9. Here I highlight the epithet theoeikeloi, ‘looking just like the gods’, describing Hector and Andromache as the bridegroom and the bride in line 34 of Song 44 of Sappho; also relevant is ikeloi theois, ‘looking just like the gods’, describing the couple in line 11. The same epithet theoeikelos, ‘looking just like the gods’, is used in the Iliad, but there it is reserved for Achilles (1.131, 19.155). No other hero receives this epithet in that epic. So, the doomed couple and the doomed Achilles are all part of one song, as it were—that is, part of one kleos or ‘glory’ of song. Such is the kleos that Sappho’s Song 44 is recreating. In the songmaking traditions of women, this song is morphologically related to but distinct from the epic songs that derive primarily from the songmaking traditions of men. To put it another way, Song 44 of Sappho is an example of epic as refracted in women’s songmaking traditions.[1]

7§10. But who are the gods who are ritually identified with the bridegroom and the bride at the moment when they are wedded to each other? In the wedding songs of Sappho, as I will now show, epitomizing from H24H (5§§36–37), these divinities matching the bridegroom and the bride are respectively Arēs and Aphrodite.

7§11 [5§36]. In the wedding songs of Sappho, the god Arēs is a model for the generic gambros, ‘bridegroom’, who is explicitly described as īsos Areui, ‘equal [īsos] to Arēs’, in Sappho Song 111.5. Correspondingly, there are many instances of implicit equations of the generic bride with the goddess Aphrodite: in Sappho Song 112, for example, the bridegroom is said to be infused with the divine charisma of Aphrodite, evidently by way of his direct contact with the bride.

7§12 [5§37]. At a wedding, which is a ritual of initiation in terms of ancient Greek song culture, the likening of the bridegroom and the bride to a god and a goddess leads to death. But this death is only figurative. And that is because death in rituals of initiation is not physical but psychic. From cross-cultural surveys of rituals of initiation as practiced in traditional societies around the world, it becomes evident that initiands who are identified with divinities at the moment of initiation are imagined as dying to their old selves as members of a given age-class and being reborn into their new selves as members of the next age-class.[2] A prime example of such psychic death at a wedding, as I argued in H24H “Hour” 5, is Song 31 of Sappho. I repeat here my working translation of this song, showing it now for the second time in this book:

|1 He appears [phainetai] to me, that one, equal to the gods [īsos theoisin], |2 that man who, facing you |3 is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours |4 he listens to, |5 and how you laugh a laugh that brings desire. Why, it just |6 makes my heart flutter within my breast. |7 You see, the moment I look at you, right then, for me |8 to make any sound at all won’t work anymore. |9 My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate |10 —all of a sudden—fire rushes under my skin. |11 With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar |12 my ears make. |13 Sweat pours down me and a trembling |14 seizes all of me; paler than grass|15 am I, and a little short of death |16 do I appear [phainomai] to myself. […]

Song 31 of Sappho

7§13. What follows is an epitome of what I argue further in H24H (5§§38–43):

[5§38]. The form phainetai, ‘he appears’, at line 1 of this song and the form phainomai, ‘I appear’, at line 16 are the third and the first persons of a verb related to the noun phantasiā, a derivative form that means ‘fantasy’ in prose texts found in later periods of the Greek language (as in Plato Republic 2.382e). Or, to put it more accurately, phantasiā means ‘imagined vision’ or even ‘imagination’. The English word fantasy, derived from phantasiā, is actually misleading as a translation, since this word implies a vision that is unreal. In ancient Greek song culture, however, there is no ‘fantasy’ about the kind of vision that is seen here in Song 31 of Sappho. This kind of vision is an epiphany, and I am now using here another word that actually derives from the same verb phainetai, ‘he appears’, / phainomai, ‘I appear’, as we have just seen it at lines 1 / 16. An epiphany is a vision that is felt to be real, not unreal. It is the appearance of something divine, something that is understood to be absolutely real.

[5§39]. The ‘he’ in line 1 of this song, in terms of my argument, refers to a bridegroom, and he is figured as a god at the moment when this song is being sung. It is as if a god has appeared at a wedding. In the words of line 1 of the song, the bridegroom phainetai, ‘appears’, to be īsos theoisin, ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’. Appearances become realities here. I say this because phainetai means not only ‘appears’ but also ‘is manifested in an epiphany’, and this epiphany is felt as real.[3] Literally, the bridegroom ‘appears in an epiphany’, phainetai, in line 1. In ritual terms, the word phainetai, ‘he appears’, here signals a real epiphany. And the pronoun kēnos(ekeinos), ‘that one’, as I show in H24H 15§45 (where I analyze the attestation of this pronoun in Philostratus Hērōikos 9), also signals the epiphany.

[5§40]. As for the ‘you’ who is being addressed by the speaker, this ‘you’ is a she. In terms of my argument, she is the bride. And, just as the bridegroom phainetai, ‘appears’, to be īsos theoisin, ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’ at line 1 of the song, the bride is figured as a goddess at the same moment in the song. The ritual occasion of a wedding, as formalized in a wedding song, collapses the distinction between ‘bride’ and ‘goddess’. Here I recall what I noted earlier, where we saw that the word numphē means both ‘bride’—as in Iliad 18.492—and ‘goddess’, that is, ‘nymph’—as in Iliad 24.616. And, as we also saw, the same double meaning is attested in fragments of Sappho—at for example in F 116 and 117, where the Aeolic words numpha ‘bride’ and gambros ‘bridegroom’ are paired, by contrast with F 103.5, where the referent is evidently the goddess Aphrodite.

[5§41]. The ‘I’ who is speaking in Song 31, like the ‘she’ to whom the ‘I’ is speaking, is also a ‘she’. She is the lead singer who sings the song, and she is ‘Sappho’. This woman who speaks in the first person here is vicariously speaking for the whole group that is notionally participating in the ritual of the wedding. Such a female lead singer is a prima donna, to borrow an Italian term used in the world of opera. And this lead singer, this female speaker, experiences an attraction to both the bridegroom and the bride. Or, we might say, she experiences an attraction to the attraction between the two. The attraction is both esthetic and erotic. It is a totalizing attraction, creating feelings of total connectedness. And this totalizing connectedness activates all the senses of the speaker, who experiences an “erotic meltdown.”

[5§42]. The feelings come to a climax described as just one moment away from death. Here is the way it is expressed in line 16 of the song: tethnakēn d’oligō ’pideuēs | phainom’ emautāi, ‘and a little short of death | do I appear [phainomai] to myself’. The wording here matches what is expressed in line 1 of the song: phainetai moi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘that man appears [phainetai] to me (to be) equal to the gods’. In both line 1 and line 16, what is ‘appearing’ or ‘seeming’ on one level is an epiphany on a deeper level. To translate phainom’ emautāi at line 16 on such a deeper level proves to be difficult: ‘I am manifested to myself in an epiphany’.

[5§43]. The wording in line 16 of Song 31 of Sappho, however we translate it, expresses the idea that the speaker is personally experiencing an epiphany. She undergoes a fusion with divinity, and this fusion is not only esthetic but also erotic. But I think it would be too simple to say that such an experience is auto-erotic. Rather, as I will argue, it is an experiencing of auto-epiphany. And such an experience is not only erotic. It is also mortally dangerous.

7§14. So far, we have seen that the epiphany in line 16 of Song 31 induces a near-death experience for the speaker: tethnakēn d’oligō ’pideuēs | phainom’ emautāi, ‘and a little short of death | do I appear [phainomai] to myself’. As I had argued in H24H 5§44—and as I will now argue further in Essay 8 of my book here—the figurative personal death of the first-person ‘I’ in Song 31 of Sappho, expressed in the ritualized context of a wedding, is modeled on a realized mythical death. In terms of my argument, death in myth is a prototype for the vicarious experience of the first-person speaker in her interaction with the second-person bride and with the third-person bridegroom. And such an experience of death can be described as an initiation. As I explained a few minutes ago, the likening of a bridegroom and a bride to a god and a goddess leads to a figurative death in rituals of initiation such as weddings.

7§15. Here I am ready to make a related argument, as signaled already at 7§8 above. Just as the generic bride and bridegroom are notionally transformed into divinities at the ritual climax of a wedding, the generic warrior is likewise transformed into a divinity at the ritual climax of war. But how are we to imagine such a ritual climax in war? In the context of war, as also in the context of weddings, the climax is figured as death. A shining example is a set of two Homeric passages that I analyzed in H24H 5§45. Both passages are taken from Iliad 16, where we see the logic of myth at work in the words that tell about the death of Patroklos. In the first passage, Patroklos is likened indirectly to the god Apollo (16.705); in the second passage, he is likened directly to the god Arēs (16.784) and again indirectly to the god Apollo (16.786). For the moment, I focus on the direct likening of Patroklos to the god of war, Arēs. This likening, as we will see, is relevant to Song 31 of Sappho, where, as I argue, the bridegroom and the bride are likened indirectly to Arēs and Aphrodite. In the logic of myth, as we see in the Iliad, a hero’s identity at the moment of death merges with a god’s identity, and, at that moment, the hero can be likened to a god. In the logic of ritual, as I am arguing in the case of Song 31 of Sappho, such a merger of identity leads only to a figurative death, a near-death, as expressed in the words that tell about the near-death experience of the woman who is speaking in the first person.[4]

7§16. Such a moment, when the bridegroom is the god and the bride is the goddess, is signaled by the epithet īsos theoisin, ‘equal [īsos] to the gods’, which is applied to the bridegroom in line 1 of Song 31. That is where my argumentation has taken me so far, continuing from 7§§6-7 (and from even earlier elsewhere, from H24H 4§§17–21), where I noted a comparable epithet in Song 44 of Sappho. There we saw Andromache and Hector as bride and bridegroom, and the two of them were described as theoeikeloi, ‘looking just like the gods’ (line 34). As we saw from the context there, the two of them were looking like gods at their wedding, that is, at the ritual moment when they got married to each other.

7§17. In the songs of Sappho, as I argue further in H24H 5§48. we see also other variations in the merging of human and divine identities. In Song 165, for example, we find the wording phainetai woi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘he appears [phainetai] to her, that one, equal [īsos] to the gods’. In that song, the third-person woi, ‘to her’, seems to be referring to the bride, in contrast with the wording we find in line 1 of Song 31, phainetai moi kēnos īsos theoisin, ‘he appears [phainetai] to me, that one, (to be) equal [īsos] to the gods’, where the first-person moi, ‘to me’, refers to the speaker, who is ‘Sappho’. In Song 31, the subjectivity is linked to the first-person speaker, who is the vicarious participant; in Song 165, on the other hand, the subjectivity is linked to the third person, who is the immediate participant—that is, apparently, the bride herself. There is a shifting of referents that accompanies the shifting of pronouns from ‘I’ to ‘she’.

7§18. There is still a gap to be filled in my argumentation about Song 31 of Sappho. The question remains: to whom is the bridegroom compared here, if he really is the bridegroom? In H24H “Hour” 5, I went on to argue that the referent to whom the third-person ‘he’ is being compared is not only the god Arēs, who as we have seen is normally the comparand of the bridegroom in the wedding songs of Sappho, but also the hero Achilles, who as we saw already at 7§5 is likewise a comparand for bridegrooms in her wedding songs.

7§19. As I argue in both “Hour” 4 and “Hour” 5 of H24H, Achilles can cross over from the world of epic into the world of lyric. In terms of this crossover, Achilles is pictured not only as a warrior but also as a bridegroom. And, like Hector, Achilles too is pictured as a bridegroom who is ‘equal to the gods’. Unlike Hector, however, who actually marries Andromache in Song 44 of Sappho, Achilles will never get formally married to any woman—either in Sappho’s songs or anywhere else, and, precisely for that reason, he is lamented in a special way. As I argue in “Hour” 5 of H24H, Achilles is lamented as an eternal bridegroom because his fulfillment as a married adult is eternally deferred.

7§20. I will develop my argument further here, building on what I have already argued about Song 31 of Sappho. If in fact this song is a wedding song, then the ‘he’ in the song is the bridegroom, comparable to the god Arēs, while the ‘you’ is the bride, comparable to the goddess Aphrodite. Although I am more convinced than ever about this aspect of my argumentation, I must reckon with the fact, already noted, that there exists, as of now, no consensus in the field of Classics about the meaning of Song 31. It follows, then, that there is even less of a consensus about the case that I am making—though I am by no means the only one to do so—in arguing that Song 31 is really a wedding song. Here is where the comparative evidence of Homeric poetry may help me make a better case. All along, there has been a missing piece in my argumentation about Song 31 of Sappho. When I argue that the third-person ‘he’ in this song refers to a bridegroom who is being compared to the god Arēs as a model for the hero Achilles, I have no direct evidence for the presence of Achilles in the song itself. But this missing piece can be reconstructed by way of comparing the poetics of Sappho with the poetics of Homer. Already in the Homeric Iliad, Achilles is pictured as an eternal bridegroom—as I already started to describe him in my preceding paragraph. He will never become a husband. And we find a glaring analogy in the Homeric Odyssey. As we see in Rhapsody 8 of that epic, the god Arēs is likewise an eternal bridegroom. This war-god, paramour of the love-goddess Aphrodite, will never succeed in marrying her. Aphrodite, in the Homeric version of the story, is stuck forever with her slow-footed husband Hephaistos. If, then, the ‘you’ in Song 31 refers to the bride as comparable to Aphrodite while the ‘he’ refers to the bridegroom as comparable to Arēs, then the question arises: Why would the bride and groom in a song that celebrates a wedding be compared to an adulterous couple? To ask the question another way: why would such a love-triangle become a source of inspiration for a wedding song?

7§21. In the wedding songs of Sappho, as I noted already, the god Arēs is a model for the generic gambros, ‘bridegroom’, who is explicitly described as īsos Areui, ‘equal [īsos] to Arēs’, in Sappho Song 111.5. Correspondingly, there are many instances of implicit equations of the generic bride with the goddess Aphrodite: in Sappho Song 112, for example, the bridegroom is said to be infused with the divine charisma of Aphrodite, evidently by way of his direct contact with the bride. Accordingly, I read the ‘you’ in Song 31 of Sappho as a reference to the bride, comparable to Aphrodite, just as the ‘he’ is a reference to the bridegroom, comparable to Arēs. This pattern of linking Arēs with the bridegroom and Aphrodite with the bride brings me back to my question about the love-triangle of Arēs, Aphrodite, and Hephaistos: why would such a configuration become a source of inspiration for a wedding song?

7§22. My answer to this question is based on the comparative evidence of Homeric poetry, with specific reference to the myth about the love affair of Arēs and Aphrodite as narrated by the blind singer Demodokos in his second of three songs he performs in Rhapsody 8 of the Odyssey. I epitomize here what I argue in Homer the Preclassic (Nagy 2010|2009:88–89 = 2009 I§210):

It has generally been thought that the story of this torrid affair represents a poetic form that is somehow newer than the epic of Homeric poetry. As Walter Burkert (1960:132) has observed, however, the “divine burlesque” that characterizes this story is in fact not innovative but archaizing, and there are numerous parallels to be found in the myths and rituals of Near Eastern civilizations; this observation applies also to the “divine burlesque” that characterizes some of the narrative sequences in the Iliad, especially in Rhapsodies 1, 14, and 20–21—and in the Homeric Hymns (Burkert 1960:132). So, it is unjustified to view the myth about the adulterous liaison between Arēs and Aphrodite as an innovative interpolation within the epic narrative of the Odyssey (bibliography in Burkert 1960:132n3). Such a view was current already in the world of ancient scholarship: we are told in the scholia for the Birds of Aristophanes (at verse 778) that editors of Homer athetized the verses about the love affair of Arēs and Aphrodite.

7§23. The “divine burlesque” involving Arēs and Aphrodite in the second song performed by the blind singer Demodokos in Odyssey 8 is analogous to a scene in Iliad 14 where Hērā, goddess of marriage, seduces her husband Zeus for ulterior motives that have nothing to do with love. The myth, as retold in the Homeric story, implies a loveless marriage that is nevertheless fueled by intermittently spectacular sex. I analyze this scene in my selective Homeric commentary (Nagy 2022.12.01), with specific reference to Iliad 14.200–210. Here is an epitome:

In this scene in Iliad 14, Hērā has a sexual encounter with Zeus on the heights of Mount Ida. In my comments on the wording of the goddess at the moment when she initiates her encounter with the god, at verses 200–210, I argue that this wording “derives from genuine theogonic traditions centering on the idea of sacred intercourse as an act of cosmogonic creation.” But I am forced to admit: “From the dramatic standpoint of the immediate narrative context, Hērā is making up what she is saying.” And the goddess is making things up because her ultimate intent here is to deceive the god. How, then, does the intent to deceive square with the cosmic prestige of Zeus and Hērā as the divine married couple who rule the universe of the ancient Greeks? Is their marriage dysfunctional? My answer is two-sided: yes, the marriage of Zeus and Hērā is surely dysfunctional in the “past” world of myth, but it becomes functional in the “present” world of ritual as a re-enactment of myth.

7§24. I see the same principle at work in Song 31 of Sappho. The wedding of bride and bridegroom is perfectly legitimate in the functional world of ritual, to be contrasted with the imperfect and even dysfunctional past world of stories told by myth, which can become functional—become perfected—only within the present world of ritual as a re-enactment of myth.

7§25. Besides the god Arēs, what about that other “eternal bridegroom,” the hero Achilles? I think that he too is a referent in Song 31 of Sappho, in the sense that he is the mortal substitute for the immortal Arēs. In Hour 5 of H24H, I add a further complication: Achilles is not only the substitute for Arēs: he also substitutes, by way of his own death, for the god Apollo. But that is yet another story, which I analyze in H24H 5 §§115–124. For now, I concentrate on Achilles in his role as the understudy, as it were, of Arēs as eternal bridegroom.

7§26. As I noted already at 7§5 (going back further to H24H 4§21), Achilles was featured as a generic bridegroom in the poetic tradition of Sappho. I quoted Himerius (Orations 9.16), who says, and I translate: ‘Sappho [Fragment 105b] … compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.’

7§27. This idea of Achilles as a bridegroom is relevant to the fact that Achilles is a focus of lament in lyric as well as in epic traditions. Achilles is lamented as an eternal bridegroom because, as I already noted, his fulfillment as a married adult is eternally deferred. In the poetics of Sappho, this idea of Achilles as a lamented bridegroom who failed to become a husband is connected with his sorrowful fate of dying prematurely, cut down in the bloom of his youth like a tender seedling that is thus doomed to wilt. Such a connection is implied in the wording we read in this fragment of Song 115 of Sappho:

τίωι σ’, ὦ φίλε γάμβρε, κάλως ἐικάσδω; | ὄρπακι βραδίνωι σε μάλιστ’ ἐικάσδω.

To what shall I liken you, dear bridegroom, to make the likeness beautiful? | To a tender seedling, I liken you to that most of all.

7§28. In Homeric poetry as well, Achilles is compared to a tender seedling. A prime example can be found in a lament by Thetis, where the goddess makes such a comparison while expressing her sorrow over the sad fate of her son Achilles:

|54 ὤ μοι ἐγὼ δειλή, ὤ μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια, |55 ἥ τ’ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε |56 ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὃ δ’ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος· |57 τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνῷ ἀλωῆς |58 νηυσὶν ἐπιπροέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω |59 Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ’ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις |60 οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω. |61 ὄφρα δέ μοι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο |62 ἄχνυται, οὐδέ τί οἱ δύναμαι χραισμῆσαι ἰοῦσα. |63 ἀλλ’ εἶμ’, ὄφρα ἴδωμι φίλον τέκος, ἠδ’ ἐπακούσω |64 ὅττί μιν ἵκετο πένθος ἀπὸ πτολέμοιο μένοντα.

|54 Ah me, the pitiful one! Ah me, the mother, so sad it is, of the very best. |55 I gave birth to a faultless and strong son, |56 the very best of heroes. And he shot up [anedramen] equal [īsos] to a seedling [ernos]. |57 I nurtured him like a shoot in the choicest spot of the orchard, |58 only to send him off on curved ships to Troy, to fight Trojan men. |59 And I will never be welcoming him |60 back home as returning warrior, back to the House of Peleus. |61 And as long as he lives and sees the light of the sun, |62 he will have sorrow [akh-nutai], and though I go to him I cannot help him. |63 Nevertheless I will go, that I may see my dear son and learn |64 what sorrow [penthos] has befallen him though he is still holding aloof from battle.

Iliad 18.54–64

7§29. Besides Achilles as a primary example of a failed bridegroom in the Iliad, there exist secondary and even negativized examples of such figures in the Odyssey. I have in mind especially the dashing young Phaeacians of Odyssey 8, and I epitomize here what I have to say about them in Homer the Preclassic (Nagy 2010|2009:90–90 = I§§214–216):

I§214. In the second of three songs performed by the blind singer Demodokos in Odyssey 8, Hephaistos is angry at the dashing young Arēs for seducing Aphrodite, the wife of Hephaistos (verse 276). This theme of the anger of Hephaistos is pertinent to the story of Odysseus. By the time we reach the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus will have his own revenge as the outraged husband who is angry at the dashing young suitors for trying to seduce his own wife, Penelope. We can see in the victory of Hephaistos over Arēs a narrative link between the inner and the outer stories: just as Hephaistos flaunts his slowness of foot when he boasts that he has bested Arēs, described as the swiftest of all the gods in his footwork (329–331), so also Odysseus flaunts his own slowness of foot when he competes with the Phaeacians, attributing such slowness to the “sea legs” of sailors who have done too much sailing (230–233). Conversely, Alkinoos flaunts the fleet-footedness of the dashing young Phaeacians in both footracing and dancing, linking this skill with their skill in sailing (247).

I§215. Implicitly, the Phaeacians’ skill in dancing is being applied in the choral performance of the second song of Demodokos, which is all about the revenge of Hephaistos. The Phaeacian dancers are dancing the parts. That is, they are implicitly dancing the parts of such characters as the swift Arēs and the slow Hephaistos while the singer is explicitly singing the same parts in concert. (This is not to rule out any accessory choral singing on the part of the dancers.) Moreover, the Phaeacians’ fleet-footedness in footracing and dancing matches the fleet-footedness associated with the god Arēs himself, who is traditionally pictured as a nimble runner and dancer. I analyze at length in The Best of the Achaeans (Nagy 1979/1999:327–335 = 20§§10–16) the ubiquitous representations of the dashing young god Arēs as ‘swift of foot’—in dancing as well as in running—and I highlight here a parallelism with the dashing young hero Achilles, who is likewise ubiquitously ‘swift of foot’.

I§216 The dancers’ displays of fleet-footedness in dancing the part of Arēs may have been highlighted further by displays of mock slow-footedness in dancing the part of Hephaistos. Pointedly, the slow-footed Odysseus does not participate in the dancing, just as he did not participate in any footracing. He does not have to dance now, but he will sing later. And, just as he does not have to dance now, he will not have to sail later: when the time comes, the Phaeacians will do the sailing for him, just as they are doing the dancing for him right now—both the fast dancing of Arēs and the slow dancing of Hephaistos.

7§30. I return once again to Song 115 of Sappho, where the generic bridegroom is pictured as a tender seedling—and to Iliad 18.56–59, where the goddess Thetis, in lamenting her son Achilles, pictures him as a tender seedling that is doomed to be cut down in war. As I have argued in my book about ancient Greek heroes and heroines, the analogizing of the generic bridegroom with the doomed hero Achilles is matched by a symmetrical analogizing of the generic bride with various doomed heroines who suffered and died, as we read in various Aeolian myths, because of their unrequited love for Achilles. In the four paragraphs that follow, I offer an epitome (from H24H 5§§99–102).

7§31. Just as the generic bridegroom in the songs of Sappho can be visualized as the hero Achilles, so also the generic bride can be visualized as a heroine. In Aeolic traditions, such heroines figured in myths about the conquests of Achilles—not only martial but also amorous conquests—in the years that preceded the destruction of Troy. These myths told of beautiful Aeolic girls of Asia Minor and the outlying island of Lesbos who had once been immune to love and thus unreachable to their frustrated suitors. But then they fall helplessly in love with Achilles—that dashing young Aeolic hero who had sailed across the sea from his home in European Thessaly to attack the Aeolic people of Asia Minor and Lesbos.[5]

7§32. Comparable to these once-unreachable Aeolic girls is a prize apple, unreachable to the apple-pickers, which ‘blushes’ enticingly from the heights of a “shooter-branch” in a song of Sappho:

οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρωι ἐπ’ ὔσδωι, | ἄκρον ἐπ’ ἀκροτάτωι, λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπηες, | οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ’, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐδύναντ’ ἐπίκεσθαι.

Just like the sweet apple that blushes on top of a branch, | the topmost apple on the topmost branch. It has eluded the notice of the apple pickers. | Oh, but no. It’s not that they haven’t noticed it. They just couldn’t reach it.

Sappho Fragment 105a

7§33. And the brides of Sappho’s songs are conventionally compared to apples, as we have already seen from the testimony of Himerius, and I repeat here my translation

Sappho compared the girl to an apple […] she compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.

Sappho Fragment 105b via Himerius Oration 9.16

7§34. Like Sappho’s prize apple, these contemporary brides are imagined as unreachable. But they are unreachable only up to the moment when they take the place of Aeolic heroines who had once upon a time fallen in love with Achilles, that model bridegroom. These Aeolic girls of the heroic past are imagined as throwing themselves at Achilles. That is, they throw a metonymic extension of themselves at Achilles by throwing an apple at him: such a theme is attested in the bittersweet story of a lovelorn girl from the Aeolic city of Pedasos (Hesiod Fragment 214, via Homeric D scholia for Iliad 6.35).[6] In the logic of myth, the love felt by such heroines is doomed from the start, and, in the end, they die for their love. In the logic of ritual, however, as in the case of ritualized courtship, that same love promises to be requited. Such is the love expressed by girls pictured in the ritualized act of throwing apples at their prospective lovers in the songs of Sappho (Fragment 214A). A moment ago, I described such a throwing of apples as a metonymic extension of the female self, using the term metonymic in line with the working definition I offered in Essay 3§6: metonymy is an expression of meaning by way of connecting something to something. In this case, I the would-be bride am throwing an apple I am holding, aiming it at my intended bridegroom, but I am really throwing myself at him.

7§35. In concluding, I see a basic idea underlying those songs of Sappho that celebrate weddings. The idea is that the bridegroom will experience a ritualized death if he is pictured as the hero Achilles, who is doomed to die in war, while the bride will experience a ritualized death if she is pictured as a heroine who has fallen in love with the hero and is thus also doomed to die because of that love. Pursuing this idea, I now reformulate, in my final paragraph here, an earlier formulation (H24H5§110)

7§36. The ritualized death of the bridegroom in a wedding as described by Sappho matches the mythologized death of Achilles in war. The bridegroom’s stylized death in ritual marks the transition from bridegroom to husband, while the hero’s real death in myth marks an eternal deferral of such a transition. By dying in war, Achilles becomes the very picture of the ultimate bridegroom in eternally suspended animation, forever on the verge of marrying. In the logic of ritual, what is needed for female initiands, especially for brides, is such an eternal bridegroom.[7]

Notes

[1] HQ=1996b:57.

[2] PP=1996a:101–103.

[3] PH=1990a:201 = 7§2n10.

[4] PP=1996a:87-97.

[5] On the political implications of mythologizing Achilles as an Aeolian originating from Europe, in Thessaly, not from Asia Minor, I have relevant comments in HPC 2010|2009:149, 250-251 = II§§49, 321.

[6] BA=1979/1999:141 = 7§29n6.

[7] Most relevant are the comments of Dué 2006:82–83.

 


 

Essay 8: Death of a maiden, and death at sunset for Sappho

rewritten from 2020.09.04

8§0.As I signaled in the previous essay (7§14), I am about to argue that the figurative personal death of the first-person ‘I’ in Song 31 of Sappho, expressed in the ritualized context of a wedding, is modeled on a realized mythical death. This death will be the death of a maiden, as I refer to it in the title of this essay. In terms of my argument, the death of a maiden in myth is a prototype for the vicarious experience of the first-person speaker in her interaction with the second-person bride and with the third-person bridegroom in Song 31 of Sappho. Relevant, I think, is what we see in a painting that goes by the title Safo, by Miguel Carbonel Selva, dated 1880, where we see the figure of Sappho at the moment when she is about to leap to her mythologized death, plunging into the sea from the heights of Leukas. Her death is timed to happen at sunset, and the timing is the same in other renditions as well. A most striking additional example is a painting by Gustave Moreau, dated around 1893. But I ask this question: why sunset?

Safo CARBONELL SELVA, MIGUEL
Image via Museo Nacional del Prado
Sappho (c. 1893), by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

8§1. The story about the fatal leap of Sappho into the sea at a headland named Leukas, which means ‘White Rock’, is best known today from a version that we read in a collection of elegiac poems by Ovid about female heroes, the Heroides. This version is Heroides 15, which fictionalizes a plaintive letter written by a lovesick Sappho before she takes her fatal leap. Her letter is addressed to a beautiful young male lover named Phaon, whom she tearfully reproaches for having abandoned her and having voyaged off to parts West. Although the attribution of Heroides 15 to Ovid has been questioned (Tarrant 1981), the artistry of this poem has been much admired—and it merits being described as Ovidian (Peponi 2018, with extensive bibliography).

8§2. In any case, I concentrate here not on the artistic merits of Heroides 15 but rather on the mass of learned references that the poet is making to the poetics of Sappho. In my work on the songs of Sappho, I have found these references to be a most valuable source of information in my efforts to reconstruct the original wording of Sappho’s songs, the textual transmission of which is lamentably fragmentary (a case in point is analyzed in MoM=2015 §129).

8§3. The text of Heroides 15 is evidently a main source of inspiration for the paintings that I have shown here, and there are many details in these paintings that correspond closely to the details imagined in the verbal art of the poem. My own favorite, among the many such details, is the sight of Sappho’s disheveled hair, as lovingly described at line 73: ecce, iacent collo sparsi sine lege capilli ‘just look how they are arranged, all over the nape of my neck, those lawlessly disheveled tresses of mine’. There is a playful oxymoron at work here, since the form iacent, which I translate as ‘are arranged’, would ordinarily refer to a carefully arranged hairdo, whereas Sappho’s hair is at this moment ‘lawlessly’ and thus erotically disheveled, disarranged. As Charles Murgia (1985:456–457) has noted, the verb iaceō that we see here, as the third-person-plural form iacent ‘are arranged’, is used as the passive “voice” of the active verb pōnō (corresponding to the Greek usage of κεῖμαι as the functional passive of active τίθημι), and this verb pōnō ‘put, place, arrange’ can refer to the art of making a hairdo, as it were, for unruly hair. A fine example is the wording we find in Ovid’s Heroides 4.77, with reference to the beautiful locks of the boy hero Hippolytus, love-object of Phaedra: positi […] sine arte capilli ‘locks of hair arranged [verb pōnō] without artifice’. I cite also an imitative reference to the hair of Hippolytus, compared to the unruly locks of Apollo himself, in Seneca’s Phaedra 803–804: coma | nulla lege iacens ‘a head of hair, in an unruly way arranged’. The oxymoron, then, is that the verbal art of the poet has artfully arranged the disarrangement of a would-be hairdo. And, evidently, there is a parallel artistic arrangement going on in the visual art of the painter who depicts the disarrangement of Sappho’s hair in the painting I showed as the first featured image for this  essay.

8§4. But one detail that we see in both the paintings I have shown is missing in Heroides 15. It is the sunset that frames the fatal leap of Sappho. This detail, I think, can be linked more generally to a powerful myth underlying the professed love of Sappho for Phaon, and this myth, I further think, is what may have inspired the painters to synchronize the setting of the sun with the death of Sappho.

8§5. The myth, native to the island of Lesbos, homeland of Sappho, is about Phaon as a beautiful boy who was loved, once upon a time, by the goddess Aphrodite. And the meaning of this boy’s name is relevant to sunset, because Pháōn is a “speaking name,” a nomen loquens. Quite transparently, Pháōn means ‘shining [like the sun]’. And, as I showed long ago in an article about the poetics of Sappho (N 1973), Sappho’s solar boy Pháōn is parallel to another celebrated solar boy in Greek myth, whose name is Phaéthōn—a name that likewise means ‘shining [like the sun]’. In fact, there is evidence for the existence of at least two different myths about two different solar boys named Phaethon, but I limit myself here to only one detail about only one of these boys: in the Hesiodic Theogony 986–991, we read that the goddess Aphrodite abducted this solar boy.

8§6. Aside from his link with Aphrodite, I will spare further details about this solar boy Phaethon and return to that other solar boy, Sappho’s Phaon. As I also showed in the article I mentioned in the previous paragraph (again Nagy 1973), the poetics of Sappho visualized Phaon as the setting sun personified, who is pursued at sunset by the planet Venus. This planet, which was for Sappho the planet Aphrodite, was visualized as setting into the dark waters of the Western horizon after sunset, evidently in pursuit of the solar boy Phaon. Just as Aphrodite was madly in love with Phaon, so also Sappho, by projection, could fall madly in love with the sun, source of her poetic eroticism, and so the poetess in her reveries could take her own plunge from on high, at sunset, down into the dark waters below.

8§7. The sun, which I have just described as the source of Sappho’s poetic eroticism, is actually highlighted as the love-object of her passionate yearning, which is eros, as we read in the final two lines of Sappho’s Tithonos, quoted in Essay 2§1, and I quote again from there both the text and my translation of those two lines:

⸤ἔγω δὲ φίλημμ’ ἀβροϲύναν, …⸥ τοῦτο καί μοι | τὸ λά⸤μπρον ἔρωϲ ἀελίω καὶ τὸ κά⸥λον λέ⸤λ⸥ογχε.

But I love delicacy [(h)abrosunē] […] this, | and passionate-love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance and beauty.

Sappho’s Tithonos 15–16


 

Essay 9: Looking for references to Sappho’s songs in Athenian vase paintings: preliminary comments

rewritten from 2020.10.30

9§0. In this essay, I am not looking for references to the text of Sappho’s songs in Athenian vase paintings. Instead, I look merely for traces of pictorial references to the contents of these songs, especially as performed in the city-state of Athens during the Classical period, in the fifth century BCE and beyond. In other words, I am looking for aspects of Sappho’s songs that Athenians of that era would have remembered from hearing these songs being performed at symposia and even at public concerts—especially at the festival of the Great Panathenaia. But we are faced with a problem whenever we consider more closely this kind of remembrance by audiences—and even by the painters who were surely part of such audiences. Just as the painters of Classical Athens, masters of their visual art, would have tuned in, as it were, to the masters of verbal art who transmitted, in performance, the songs of Sappho, these painters would have been no different from the general audiences if they also remembered many other kinds of relevant songs besides those of Sappho, and their references to any and all such songs in any single painting would not need to be compartmentalized. So, whenever we happen to see in any given painting some detail that corresponds to a detail we read in a surviving text of Sappho—or even in some later text where Sappho is being imitated—we cannot really expect such painted details to be restricted to any single song attributed to Sappho or to any other maker of songs, as if such a song were merely a text. Instead, we do need to expect, in any given painting, a possible mixing of different details heard in different songs. Such mixing, however, would not disprove the reality of references actually made in visual art to specific details that would be heard in verbal art. As my first example of such a reality, I show here a close-up from an Athenian painting that dates back to the fifth century BCE.

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81947. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Featured in this close-up are Phaon and a lady named Demonassa. For the overall painting, which is the work of the so-called Meidias Painter, I refer to the Beazley Archive, which also provides a commentary. Vase number: 220494. Link: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/776A027C-4A90-40B1-B75F-FB97B44CACF0. In providing information from the Beazley Archive, here and elsewhere, I thank Alvin Zhou for helping me guard against broken links.

9§1. I proceed to examine this close-up in the light of the overall painting, which the reader may view by consulting the available images in the Beazley Archive. The link to this resource is signaled in the caption immediately above. In the close-up that I show here, we see pictured the youthful hero Phaon, renowned for his beauty and made famous in the songs of Sappho—his identity is guaranteed by the lettering ΦΑΩΝ (not visible in the close-up), placed next to the painted figure. Phaon is shown playing his music on a lyre while sitting inside a luxuriant bower and enjoying the attentive company of a lady named Demonassa, who is identified by way of lettering similarly placed next to her beautiful figure. There is no question here, to my mind, that this Phaon is Sappho’s Phaon. As we have just seen in Essay 8 above, Phaon was featured as a primary love object for Sappho—that is, for her poetic persona. For Sappho, Phaon was an ultimate emblem of unrequited love, and this aspect of Sappho’s poetics is still most clearly visible in the Ovidian poem Heroides 15. But who was Demonassa? Was she too featured in the songs of Sappho? Given the sadly fragmentary state of the textual tradition of Sappho, we cannot be certain: she may have been a figure in songs of Sappho that are lost to us—or maybe not. But my point is, her presence in the painting is in any case relevant to the poetics of Sappho, as we can see from the context of the overall painting from which I have highlighted this close-up.

9§2. The context of the overall painting highlights an amorous atmosphere enjoyed by an ensemble of ladies pictured in the painting, including Demonassa. The amorousness of these ladies is explicitly signaled by the presence of the goddess of love incarnate, Aphrodite herself: she is shown driving a chariot drawn by two naked adolescent ‘cupids’ or eros-figures, whose names are inscribed into the painting: the two figures are personified by way of their inscribed names Himeros and Pothos, both meaning ‘longing, desire’. Here is a close-up of Aphrodite and her ‘cupids’:

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81947. Line drawing by Jill Robbins.

9§3. The other ladies represented in the overall painting are identified, just like Demonassa, by way of lettering placed next to their beautiful figures, and their names are listed in the commentary provided by the Beazley Archive, signaled in the caption I provided at 9§1 above: they are Hygieia, Eudaimonia, Leura, Chrysope, Erosora (ΗΡΟΣΩΡΑ), and Pannychis. At a later point, I will focus on the last of these names, but, for now, it is enough for me to emphasize that the association of these ladies with Aphrodite in the visual art of this painting is relevant to the association of Sappho’s Phaon with this same goddess in the verbal art of Sappho, where our beautiful hero is the love-object of Aphrodite herself. It is, in fact, this amorous role of Phaon that makes him a concurrent love-object of the Sapphic persona, as I have argued in my earlier work (especially in N 1973).

9§4. And now I show a close-up from another Athenian painting that features Phaon in the amorous company of ladies, one of whom is preparing to embrace him. The lettering next to Phaon says ‘Phaon is beautiful’ (ΦΑΩΝ ΚΑΛΟΣ).

Red-figure calyx krater. Palermo, Museo Archeologico Regionale, 2187. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Featured in this close-up are Phaon and an amorous lady. For the overall painting from which this close-up is taken, I refer to the Beazley Archive, which also provides a commentary. Vase number: 220558. Link: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/88F16C22-D8EC-4197-8D9B-E5E0A1B15B35.

9§5. Besides Phaon, another love-object of the goddess Aphrodite is the beautiful youthful hero Adonis, as pictured in another related Athenian painting:

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Line drawing by Noel Spencer, aided by Natasha Bershadsky. Featured in this close-up is Adonis, attended by Aphrodite and by a winged Eros. Also attending is a lady who is teasing a pet bird. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 220493. Link: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/6706EEEC-AA15-4154-BD9C-58BD99542FB3
Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Detail: Aphrodite with Adonis, who gazes, dazed, at Eros and his magic wheel (now mostly lost). Line drawings by Jill Robbins.
Line-drawing by Jill Robbins. Featured in this close-up is a lady named Eurynoe, who is playfully teasing a pet bird.

9§6. In this picture, we see Adonis (the lettering says ΑΔΩΝΙΟΣ) embraced from behind by Aphrodite (ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗ) on our right while on our left he is being prompted into erotic action by a winged Eros named Himeros ‘longing, desire’ who is hovering overhead. Further to our left, an attending lady named Eurynoe (ΕΥΡΥΝΟΗ) is teasing her pet bird by provoking it to peck at her pointed index finger. Such a picturing in the visual art of this painting is matched by comparable visualizations in the verbal art of song and poetry, as for example in Poem 2 of Catullus, where ‘the girl from Lesbos’, Lesbia, is pictured in the act of playfully provoking her pet sparrow to peck at the tip of her index finger. As I argue in Essay 8 of Sappho II, the pet bird pecking at the fingertip of Lesbia in Poem 2 of Catullus may have been modeled on an erotic image that originated—indirectly or perhaps even directly—from a now-lost song of Sappho. Perhaps the pet bird in the image painted by the Meidias Painter is an earlier example of such modeling.

9§7. And then, painted on this same Athenian vase, we see again a lady by the name of Pannychis:

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Line drawing by Noel Spencer, aided by Natasha Bershadsky. Featured in this close-up is Pannychis, holding a garland while playing on the tambourine.
Line drawing by Jill Robbins.

9§8. Although the lettering that matches this figure is fragmentary, the lady’s name is evidently Pannychis ([ΠΑ]ΝΝΥ[ΧΙΣ]), and she is one of an ensemble of ladies attending the amorous Aphrodite and Adonis. The ladies, as indicated by the letterings, are Eutychia, Eudaimonia, Hygieia, Paidia, Pandaisia, and Eurynoe (ΕΥΡΥΝΟΗ).

9§9. So, where do we go from here? For me, the beautiful figure of Pannychis, viewed in the last picture I have shown in this preliminary essay, gives us viewers her own special gift of a possible response. When I was reading through the commentary in the Beazley Archive as cited in my caption for the illustration that I show at 9§5 above, I couldn’t help but notice a common thread of thought running through the overall painting that highlights this figure of Pannychis, revealed here in all her beauty. And I am hardly the only viewer who has picked up on this thread. Like me, a number of the commentators cited in the Archive view this figure Pannychis as some kind of a divine personification. Such a way of viewing Pannychis makes sense to me. I find it most relevant that our beautiful Pannychis, as pictured in this exquisite painting, is seen in the act of making eye-contact with the male personification of erotic longing, desire—and he is none other than the beautiful boy Eros, named here Himeros, which actually means ‘longing, desire’. Pannychis is fixing her gaze downward at the divine boy, and he is looking upward, eye to eye, matching with his own gaze her looks of love.

9§10. The beautiful Pannychis of this painting matches the comparably beautiful Pannychis of a related painting that I already cited at 9§1 above, referring to the relevant commentary in the Beazley Archive. As I then went on to observe at 9§3, citing the same commentary, Pannychis in that painting is accompanied by the following beautiful ladies, each named by way of adjoined letterings: Hygieia, Eudaimonia, Leura, Chrysope, Erosora, and Demonassa. Two of the names for those companions of Pannychis as listed at §3—Hygieia and Eudaimonia—are matched in the group of her companions as listed at §8.

9§11. The ladies who accompany the beautiful Pannychis in both Athenian paintings considered here are I think divine personifications, as we see clearly in the case of Hygieia and Eudaimonia, for example, whose names indicate fond wishes for ‘[good] health’ and ‘good fortune’ respectively. That is their literal meaning. And Pannychis herself must be in her own right a divine personification of something related to such fond wishes. But what is that something? For a possible answer, I turn to the songs of Sappho, where the verb pannukhizein, which I propose to translate as ‘have a merry time all night long’, is actually attested (παννυχισδο.[.]α̣.[…] in Fragment 30.3 and [παν]νυχίσ[δ]ην in Fragment 23.13).

9§12. In Epigram 55 of Posidippus, as I argue in Essay 3 above, there is a reference to a custom of singing love songs of Sappho on the occasion of all-night parties enjoyed by unmarried girls. I suggest that Pannychis is a personification of this merry premarital custom. And the ideal model for such all-night partying would hardly be some everyday girl supervised by some everyday mother who is hoping to marry her off to some everyday suitor, as Mrs. Bennet hopes to marry off her eldest daughter Jane in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). No, the ideal model would be the divine Persephone, supervised by her divine mother Demeter. Such a model is echoed in the words of Aristophanes in Frogs 447, picturing a festive moment at the grand all-female Athenian festival known as the Thesmophoria: οὗ παννυχίζουσι θεαί ‘where the [two] goddesses celebrate-their-all-nighter [verb pannukhizein]’. There is an apt comment made on this wording in scholia derived from Tzetzes (12th century CE), who reads θεαί ‘the [two] goddesses’ instead of  θεᾷ ‘to the goddess’ (both variant readings θεαί and θεᾷ are attested in the manuscript tradition): οὗ ἡ Κόρη καὶ ἡ Δημήτηρ χορεύουσι, χαίρουσι, παίζουσι, παννύχιον ᾄδουσιν ‘where the Girl [Korē = Persephone] and [her Mother] Demeter sing-and-dance [khoreuein], take-pleasure-in-the-beauty [khairein], get-playful [paizein], and make-song [āidein] that lasts-all-night-long [pannukhion]’. Such a “[girls’] all-nighter,” to say it in American popular language, is the essence of pannukhis, an ‘all-night’ merriment divinely personified as Pannychis.

Epilogue

I am eager to put on record my profound appreciation for all the generous help I had received from my dear colleague and friend Natasha Bershadsky in the course of my struggling to produce a preliminary draft of the comments offered in my essay here. Natasha’s perceptive insights in her own explorations of relevant images and commentaries as made available in the online Beazley Archive have been a steady guide for me. The captions that the reader finds embedded within the paragraphs of my essay refer to some but hardly all of the relevant images. I hope that Natasha will share her further insights by eventually adding annotations to my captions, not only to my paragraphs. That way, the epilogue here can in due course be turned into a prologue for further study.


 

Essay 10: On the reception of Sappho as a personal experience expressed in two pictures of close-ups taken from vase paintings produced in Classical Athens, fifth century BCE

rewritten from 2020.11.06

10§0. The two pictures that I mention in the title of this essay are line drawings of close-ups taken from two separate vase paintings attributed to an artist who is known to art historians as the Meidias Painter, already featured in Essay 9, whose artistic career in Athens can be dated to the late fifth century BCE. In these close-ups, shown below at the end of my introductory paragraph here, I focus on a single figure who is represented in both paintings. She is a beautiful lady who is given the name Pannychis by way of the lettering next to her painted figure in each of the two pictures (this lettering is barely visible even in the best photographs). As I argued in Essay 9 above, the meaning of this name Pannychis, ‘all-night-long’, tells the story: she is a goddess who personifies the experience of a girl who is enjoying the beauty and the pleasure of an all-night party in the company of other girls. Such beauty and pleasure, as I also argued, is represented in the songs of Sappho, and it is to such songs that the painter refers. So, the painting of the painter becomes part of what I would call the reception of Sappho in the ancient world. But now I take the argument further. In this essay, I hope to show that such reception, which is ordinarily viewed as a collectivized experience, can be, at the same time, also an individual experience—something that is deeply personal. And one way to express such personal experience in visual art is to personify what is being experienced. That personification is the goddess Pannychis.

10§1. The two separate vase paintings that I show here—and that I have shown already in Essay 9—can be viewed as an inseparable pair, as I have learned from the work of Alan Shapiro (1993). They are a pair because the two vases on which the Meidias Painter painted these separate paintings were found together inside a tomb at Populonia in Etruria, and, to this day, they stay together on display as inventory items 81947 and 81948 in the Museo Archeologico of Florence. Further, just as the vases themselves are an inseparable pair, so too are the overall pictures that are painted on them. In those pictures, as I already showed them in Essay 9, the focus is on two mythological figures, the pretty lover-boy Phaon at 81947 and the pretty lover-boy Adonis at 81948, each one of whom is directly linked to Aphrodite, goddess of love, in each one of the two separate paintings.

10§2. And here is where I took my argument further, already in Essay 9. These two pretty lover-boys are not only linked pictorially to the goddess of love. In myth, we can see that there is more to it, since both boys are passionately loved by Aphrodite herself. Even further, both boys are passionately loved by a poetic surrogate of this goddess, who is none other than the persona of Sappho as self-represented in the songs of Sappho.

10§3.  In both of the two paintings by the Meidias Painter that I highlight here in Essay 10, we can find a parallel to the poetic role of Sappho as a poetic surrogate for Aphrodite in her love for Phaon and Adonis. In both pictures, Aphrodite is attended by a bevy of beautiful ladies who are evidently her pictorial surrogates-in-love, just as Sappho is Aphrodite’s poetic surrogate-in-love. In terms of my argument, then, the symmetrical positioning of Phaon and Adonis in the two pictures painted by the Meidias Painter seem to be modeled on their comparably symmetrical positioning in the poetics of Sappho.

10§4.  In earlier work (starting with N 1973), I have argued that Phaon and Adonis as mythological personae are symmetrical love-objects of Sappho as a poetic persona in her songs, just as these two pretty boys are symmetrical love-objects of Aphrodite as a mythological persona in her own right. But there is a difference between Phaon and Adonis in their roles as love-objects: the love of Aphrodite for Phaon, unlike her love for Adonis, is a myth that can be traced back directly to the native poetic traditions of Sappho’s land of Lesbos. In the case of Adonis, by contrast, his links with Aphrodite are far more general—and not at all restricted to myths anchored in Lesbos. Thus, the only certain piece of direct evidence for the reception of Sappho’s songs in these paintings comes from the specific linking of a boy named Phaon with the goddess Aphrodite in one of the two paintings under consideration.

10§5.  If Sappho’s Phaon is the only piece of direct evidence for the reception of Sappho in these two paintings of the Meidias Painter, the question remains: where, for the painter, is Sappho herself in his paintings? My answer is: even if there is for him no Sappho, there can be personal memories of his having heard Sappho’s songs, whether oftentimes or rarely, and the feelings that such memories bring back with them can best be expressed by idealizing these feelings, which can be deeply personal. And such idealized personal feelings can inspire divine personifications attached to images of beautiful and sensual ladies who attend Aphrodite in the pictures painted by the Meidias Painter. In this regard, I recommend a most relevant book by Alan Shapiro (1993), who offers a wide-ranging analysis of such visual personifications.

10§6. The personifications, then, that take shape in the picturing of the beautiful ladies in the paintings of the Meidias Painter can be understood as pictorial surrogates of Aphrodite in her humanized role as goddess-in-love, corresponding to the persona of Sappho as the poetic surrogate of the same goddess in the same role.

10§7. To say it more generally, these ladies correspond, as personifications, to the personal feelings of love and sensuality expressed in the songs of Sappho. A most beautiful example is the persona of Pannychis as painted by the Meidias Painter. Both of the painter’s pictures of Pannychis are highlighted as a diptych at the beginning of the essay here. This goddess, as we have seen, personifies the personal experience of a girl who is enjoying the beauty and the pleasure of an all-night party in the company of other girls, as expressed for example in Epigram 55 of Posidippus, highlighted in Essay 3, where girls take turns in singing, all night long, the love songs of Sappho. The lady called Pannychis, whose name means ‘all-night-long’, is figured as a goddess precisely because her personification idealizes a personal experience that proves to be worthy of the goddess Aphrodite herself.


 

Essay 11: Some narrowings and some widenings of my lens for viewing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world.

rewritten from 2020.11.13.

11§0. For an illustration that is most relevant to what I have to say in this essay, I show again a line-drawing of a close-up from a vase painting by the Meidias Painter. In this close-up, we see the picturing of a lady named Eurynoe (ΕΥΡΥΝΟΗ), who is playfully teasing a pet bird. As I have been arguing already in Essays 9 and 10, such a picturing may possibly be traced back to comparable scenes that are pictured in songs of Sappho that are now lost to us. Such a possibility, however, depends on both a widening and a narrowing of perspectives, as I note in the title of this essay, for viewing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world.

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Line-drawing by Jill Robbins. Featured in this close-up is a lady named Eurynoe, who is playfully teasing a pet bird. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive, the links for which have already been noted in Essays 9 and 10.

11§1. Where does my perspective need to be widened? I start with the pet bird that is pictured in the close-up that I show here from a painting painted by the Meidias Painter. As I already noted in Essay 9§6, this pet is comparable to another pet bird, pictured in Poem 2 of Catullus. The pet bird in that poem is a passer or ‘sparrow’, as I also already noted. But can we say that such a bird would have been a ‘sparrow’ also for Sappho? In Song 1 of Sappho, Aphrodite the goddess of erotic love is pictured as riding on the platform of a chariot that is drawn by birds called strouthoi in Greek. So, to ask the question in another way, can we say that the strouthoi of Sappho’s songmaking are ‘sparrows’? I  have consulted my colleague and friend Natasha Bershadsky about this question, and she has an answer, to be found in an essay of hers published in Classical Inquiries 2020.11.13, as listed in my Bibliography for this book here. Suffice it for me to report here that she finds no need to insist that the strouthoi of Sappho’s Aphrodite are specifically ‘sparrows’.

11§2. So, with reference to the birds that are described as drawing the chariot of Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho, it should be enough for me to say, with my perspective widened, that these birds in her song are pets of Aphrodite, and, by extension, of Sappho herself. But I could add, by way of a perspective that gets widened even further, that Aphrodite’s menagerie of love-pets include not only birds but also humanoid personifications of erotic love. As a parallel to the picturing of birds drawing the chariot of the goddess in Song 1 of Sappho, I cite a comparable picturing of the same goddess in another painting by the Meidias Painter, shown already in Essay 9. In this other painting, which features the figure of Phaon receiving the amorous attention of a beautiful lady, we see positioned above the heads of the loving couple the figure of Aphrodite herself in the act of driving a chariot drawn by two “cupids” who are identified by adjacent letterings as Himeros and Pothos, both of which names are personifications conveyed by the nouns himeros and pothos—and both of which personifications can be translated as ‘longing, desire’.

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81947. Line drawing by Jill Robbins.

11§3. But where does my perspective for viewing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world need to be narrowed instead of widened? To highlight a telling example, I will first need to refocus my reconstruction of this reception, where I go as far back in time as my diachronic modeling can take me—back to the songmaking traditions of the island of Lesbos in the archaic period, conventionally dated by classicists to 600 BCE or thereabouts. Starting from this archaic period, I will now need to “reconstruct forward,” going forward in time all the way into the Classical period of Athens in the late fifth century BCE, as represented in the paintings produced by the Meidias Painter. In reconstructing situations of all-night all-female partying, there is relatively more evidence to be found in the Classical period, as exemplified by the beautiful Pannychis, whom the Meidias Painter pictures not just once but twice as a personification of such partying. By contrast, there is relatively less evidence in the archaic period as exemplified by Sappho. In the archaic period, we see in general merely the basic facts about all-night festivities involving girls and women. In the Classical period of Athens, on the other hand, we see various different kinds of such festivities. A case in point is the grand Athenian festival of the Thesmophoria, mentioned in Essay 9§12 above.

11§4. As I proceed now to narrow my perspective, however, I will for the moment focus not on the Thesmophoria, a festival sacred to two goddesses representing a combination of the idealized Daughter, who in many situations goes without a name and is called simply Korē ‘Girl’, and her idealized Mother, called Demeter. Rather, I will focus on a festival sacred to a single goddess representing not only the premarital and marital aspects of female life-experiences but also the extramarital aspects. She is of course Aphrodite, goddess of illicit as well as licit sexuality. I have in mind here the Classical Athenian phase of a festival celebrating what are called the Gardens of Adonis, linked with a wide range of premarital and extramarital merriment. On the occasion of this festival, the female population of Athens—girls and mothers, wives, and courtesans, too—are engaged in all-night partying while they are mock-mourning the death of the pretty-boy hero Adonis. For a most engaging introduction, I recommend the English-language translation of a relevant book by Marcel Detienne (1977/1994), who surveys the surviving rituals and myths about the life and death of Adonis as a mortal lover of Aphrodite, goddess of love and sexuality.

11§5. I should emphasize, however, that Adonis is a “boy-toy” for Aphrodite only while he is alive, and that he then becomes, once dead, the “boy-toy” of Persephone, who is the Korē or ‘Girl’ of Hades, as we read at lines 54-57 and 96 in the Lament for Adonis by Bion of Smyrna (second /first century BCE). Although the ‘Girl’ or Kōrā, as she is called in the poetic dialect of Bion at line 96, is unwilling to release Adonis from death, all hope is not lost: there is an implication, in the concluding lines 97–98 of the Lament by Bion, that Adonis will come alive, as it were, whenever sexual desire comes alive again—which will happen, it is playfully predicted, at the yearly festival of Adonis: year after year, he can come alive and then die again and be mourned by his loving Aphrodite on the occasion of his annual festival.

11§6. I have much to say about Adonis, but for now I focus on observing how the very idea of celebrating any festival of Adonis matches what we see being pictured in a painting by the Meidias Painter, as I analyzed it in Essay 9§6. In that painting (Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948), we see Adonis (the lettering says ΑΔΩΝΙΟΣ) embraced from behind by Aphrodite (ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗ), and hovering over the amorous couple is a winged cupid or Eros named Himeros, a personification of ‘longing, desire’. Also attending the party is the beautiful lady Pannychis, who as we have seen is the personification of all-female partying that lasts all night long. She is highlighted in the two pictures that I show at the beginning of Essay 10. In short, it can be said that the scene of female all-night partying, centered on Adonis in one of the two painting by the Meidias Painter, mirrors the festivities of the Gardens of Adonis in Classical Athens.

11§7. In the diction of Sappho, we find indications of comparable festivities involving both details I have highlighted, that is, both the all-night partying and Adonis. In the case of “all-nighters,” as we saw in Essay 9§11, we find references to pannukhizein, which actually means ‘to party all night long’. As for Adonis, we find references to him as well in the surviving songs of Sappho, but I note with interest here an added detail: these references, it seems, accentuate a note of sadness. That is to say, it seems that Adonis is about to die, and so he must be mourned:

Fragment 140a.1:
κατθνα<ί>σκει, Κυθέρη’, ἄβρος Ἄδωνις· τί κε θεῖμεν;
He is dying, O Aphrodite, luxuriant [habros] Adonis is dying. What can we do?

Fragment 168.1
ὦ τὸν Ἄδωνιν
Alas for Adonis!

11§8. I detect a comparable note of sadness in the atmosphere of the party swirling around the amorous pair of Adonis and Aphrodite in the painting painted by the Meidias Painter. In an essay that I have already cited, Natasha Bershadsky (2020.11.13) likewise detects a note of sadness. Maybe, she asks in her essay, the little bird perched on the finger of the lady attending Adonis is destined to die? Responding to my friend’s rhetorical question, I cite Poem 3 of Catullus, which begins with these five lines:

lugete o veneres cupidinesque
et quantum est hominum venustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.

Start your laments, O you Venuses and Cupids,
and you too, however many of you mortals there may be out there who are more amorous than the rest of the lot.
The sparrow, he is dead, the one that belonged to my girl,
the sparrow, delight of my girl,
the one whom she loved more than her own eyes she loved.

The Venuses and Cupids here are depersonalized by way of making their names plural. In the singular, Venus and Cupid—that is, Aphrodite and Eros—are divine persons, yes, but then, in the plural, they become the depersonalized sensations of love and desire, which can then become re-personalized in the roles of attendants who minister to Aphrodite and Eros—and I would add here to the figure of Eros also the figure of Adonis as a ritualized stand-in for Eros. Such are the attendants, I suggest, also of Aphrodite and Adonis in the painting of the Meidias painter. These attendants are personifications corresponding to the Venuses and Cupids in Poem 3 of Catullus.

11§9. But what about the dead sparrow of Lesbia in Poem 3 of Catullus? I think that the death of this little bird is a poetic signal for the impending death of Adonis himself.

11§10. That said, I turn now to an argument I made in Essay 8 of the selfstanding book Sappho II. In that book, I argue that the picturing of a bird pecking at the fingertip of Lesbia in Poem 2 of Catullus may have been an erotic image that originated—indirectly or perhaps even directly—from a now-lost song of Sappho. But perhaps we have to think of not one but two lost songs of Sappho, matching the combination of Poems 2 and 3 by Catullus. The picturing of the little bird in the painting of the Meidias Painter could then perhaps be seen as a poetic signal pointing toward more than any one single song of Sappho, now lost to us. Who knows? There may have survived in the memories of Athenian audiences not one but two such songs—or maybe even more than two. In one such song, the girl is taking delight in her little bird—maybe she could be pictured as Sappho herself or, more likely, as an inamorata of Sappho. Then, in another song, she could be mourning the death of her pet love. And, by extension, she could be mourning for Adonis.


 

Essay 12:  Thinking of desiderata while tracing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world.

rewritten from 2020.11.20

12§0. For a picture that illustrates one of my many desiderata as I go about tracing the ancient reception of Sappho,, I have chosen as my featured image here a line-drawing that shows a close-up from a vase painting. The painting, if we were to view it in its entirety, centers on the youthful male beauty Adonis. In the moment that is captured by the painter, Adonis is being kissed by a personified Eros, a cupid. Meanwhile, framing the figure of Adonis on both sides are two female beauties—or I could just as readily say two girls—whose names, indicated by lettering placed next to their beautiful figures, are likewise personifications—the girl to our left is Eunomia and the girl to our right is Eukleia. In the close-up, we see Eukleia, personified as ‘she who has genuine kleos’—where kleos means ‘glory of song’. The girl is holding a lyre in her left hand, and she is fingering the strings of her lyre while a little bird is perched on the index finger of her right hand.  In the light of what we have already seen in the essays preceding this one, a girl like Eukleia could be imagined, I would like to think, as Sappho herself.

Red-figure squat lekythos; Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg, F2705. Close-up of Eukleia. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 220523. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/66FC770C-CEA9-4177-921B-8DBDF2484A3D. Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.

12§1. But how could I say more formally here what I have just said—that I would like to think of Eukleia as Sappho herself? I could say that this girl personifies a fleeting memory of an image that our painter had in mind by remembering—maybe only vaguely—how he once had heard a performer sing a song by Sappho that pictured such an idealized girl. Or, to put it a better way, I could say that not only our painter but many other painters painted their own reminiscences of girls—not one but many girls—as idealized in songs by Sappho or by her imitators. My desideratum, in any case, would be to show that such a picturing of a girl in the visual art of a painting is reminiscent of girls pictured in the verbal art of Sappho. But such desiderata cannot be backed up by way of any single thread of argumentation. Rather, a whole web of arguments would be needed.

12§2. Engaging now in such argumentation, I pick up the thread by asking another question: what seems to be missing in the overall painting that pictures the beautiful girl Eukleia, who is standing next to the loving pair of Adonis and Eros? What is missing, I argue, is Aphrodite, goddess of erotic desire. To say it somewhat playfully, the desideratum for reading the overall picture here is the missing personification of desire itself.

12§3. But such a personification is not really missing in this picture, as it turns out. Aphrodite is not really absent, since Eros himself is present, and he is the male personification of erotic desire, the noun for which is eros. In this same picture, the male beauty who is Eros is seen in the act of kissing the male beauty Adonis. Further, such an Eros can also be personified as Himeros, a male beauty whose name personifies the noun himeros, which means ‘longing, desire’.

12§4. The connectivity of Himeros with Aphrodite is evident. I cite as a blatant example a painting by the Meidias Painter, as I analyzed it in Essay 9§6: there we see Adonis embraced from behind by Aphrodite, and hovering over the loving pair is a winged cupid, or Eros, named Himeros, who as I say is a personification of ‘longing, desire’. In a paired painting by the Meidias Painter, as I noted  in Essay 9§2, Himeros together with Pothos, whose name likewise means ‘longing, desire’, are pictured as drawing a chariot driven by Aphrodite herself. In that painting, the focus of attention is not on Adonis but rather on another love-object of Aphrodite, the youthful male beauty named Phaon.

12§5. In the case of the painting where the Meidias Painter highlights Phaon and not Adonis as the main object of erotic desire, this love-object is pictured as playing on a lyre, just as Eukleia in our painting of the moment is pictured as playing on her own lyre. I find such connectivities most telling. If we may define metonymy simply as an expression of meaning by way of making mental connections, which is the essence of what I argue in my book Masterpieces of Metonymy (2015), as I noted already in Essay 3, then the connectivities that we see in these two paintings may be described as metonymic.

12§6. And the metonymy extends further. We may compare the little bird that is perched on the index finger of the beautiful girl Eukleia in our painting of the moment with a detail we find in yet another painting created by the Meidias Painter—where another beautiful girl is extending her index finger to receive another little bird that is perched on the index finger of another Eros. In this painting by the Meidias Painter, the center of attention is occupied by yet another youthful male beauty, Thamyris, who is shown playing his own music on yet another lyre.

Red-figure squat lekythos by the Meidias Painter; Ruvo, Museo Jatta 1538. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 220508. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/1B3262A5-C755-41F3-8FA4-26FCF23D7593. Drawing after G. Nicole, Meidias et le style fleuri (Geneva, 1908), plate 7.4.

 

Close-up of Eros offering a small bird to the young lady with an outstretched finger.

Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.

12§7. As we consider once again the overall painting that features Eukleia with her lyre and with her little pet bird perched on her index finger, I may ask again, as if I had not already asked this question before: who is really missing in this picture, if not Aphrodite herself? My answer is: Sappho is missing. But then again, just as Aphrodite herself is not really missing, since many of her connectivities are made patently visible, so also Sappho herself, as a surrogate of the goddess, is not really missing, either. Rather, Sappho is simply being replaced by another surrogate of Aphrodite, who is Eukleia. This other surrogate is an invisible Sappho made visible again, like the Lesbia of Catullus, that poetic girl who teases her own little bird in Poem 2, only to mourn his death in Poem 3. Just like Aphrodite, Sappho too can be invisible and yet present, ever-present, embodied in the beauty of the girls in her songs.


 

Essay 13:  Thinking of further desiderata while tracing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world.

rewritten from 2020.11.27

13§0. For my starting point here at Essay 13, I first look back to the featured image for Essay 12. We saw there, in the form of a line-drawing, a detail from a vase painting dated to the Classical era of Athens, that is, to the fifth century BCE. As I argued in Essay 12, what we saw in that detail was a picturing of a female beauty who could be viewed as a depersonalized vision of Sappho. To introduce my present essay, I show that picture again, but now I place right next to it, side-by-side, a line-drawing of a detail taken from another vase painting dated to the fifth century BCE. In this other painting, what we see being pictured is a personalized vision of Sappho herself. As I will argue, this particular picture of Sappho fills a big gap as we seek to achieve a fuller understanding of her reception in the ancient world. Among the many desiderata for any study of Sappho’s reception, as I will also argue, a closer look at the evidence from Classical Athenian visual arts is in any case most desirable.

On the left: red-figure lekythos attributed to the Painter of the Frankfurt Acorn; Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung, F2705. Close-up of Eukleia. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 220523. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/66FC770C-CEA9-4177-921B-8DBDF2484A3D
.
On the right: red-figure calyx krater by the Tithonos Painter; Bochum, Ruhr Universität, Kunstsammlungen, S508. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 4979. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/3DC645B2-3EB6-42C3-88C0-592B9B3F2B2F.  Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.

13§1. I begin by analyzing the context of the picture painted on the Bochum vase, identified in the caption that accompanies the line-drawing as shown above. In what follows, §§2-5, I include some wording epitomized from an earlier analysis (Nagy 2007:238–239).

13§2. Pictured in this painting on the Bochum vase is a female beauty in a dancing pose. She is wearing a cloak or himation over her tunic or khitōn, and a snood (net-cap) or sakkos is holding up her hair. As she “walks,” she is fingering with her left hand the strings of a barbiton, a special kind of lyre that is propped snugly against her left hip, while her gracefully extended right hand is dangling a  plectrum (Greek plēktron) or ‘twanger’ for strumming on her instrument. The inscribed lettering that we see positioned not far from her lips, ΣΑΦΦΟ, indicates that this female beauty is Sappho.

13§3. The morphology of the barbiton, the musical instrument of choice for this figure labeled Sappho, made it ideal for a combination of song, instrumental accompaniment, and dance. With its elongated neck, it produced a low range of tone that best matched the register of the human voice, and its shape was “ideally suited to walking musicians, since it could be held against the left hip and strummed without interfering with a normal walking stride” (Price 1990:143n30). The “normal walking stride,” as described here, is what modulates into a dancing pose (for more on Sappho’s pose, I cite Yatromanolakis 2005).

13§4. Of special interest in this picture is a carrying bag that we see hanging from the lower arm of Sappho’s barbiton. Such a bag was evidently used for carrying inside it a wind instrument known as the aulos, ‘reed-pipe’. As we look more closely at the picture, we see that the carrying bag, attached to the barbiton, is flowing in the air, and the contour of this flow is synchronized with the graceful motion of the dance step. This flowing effect is evidently caused by the absence of an aulos inside the bag (for further background on the Bochum vase, I cite Yatromanolakis 2007 chapter 2).

13§5. What we see represented here in this painting on the Bochum vase is a visual fusion of song and dance as accompanied by either lyre or reed, and such fusion is indicative of a stylized performance that can be imagined as taking place either at a public concert or at a private symposium, as I argue at length in an essay I cited in §1—Essay 4 in the volume Sappho 0.

13§6. I see a comparable visual fusion in the picture painted on the Berlin vase, identified in the caption that accompanies the line-drawing that I have placed to the left of the line-drawing for the picture painted on the Bochum vase. In this other picture, we see a female beauty who is named as Eukleia, and her name, as we saw in Essay 12, means ‘she who has genuine kleos’—where kleos means ‘glory of song’. Like the figure of Sappho as painted on the Bochum vase, the figure of Eukleia is holding a lyre in her left hand, and she is fingering the strings of her lyre. I would argue that the painter of this Berlin vase, just like the painter of the Bochum vase, is imagining a stylized performance that could take place either at a public concert or at a private symposium.

13§7. But the stylized performance of Eukleia, unlike the performance of Sappho, is more difficult to imagine here. The little bird that we see perched on the index finger of the performer’s right hand is more difficult to fit into any visualized choreography of any real-life performance. Such difficulties can be explained, I think, in terms of distinctions in artistically imagining, on the one hand, an idealized performance by Eukleia, who is a divine personification, and, on the other hand, a more realistic performance by an updated Sappho whose persona as a performer is anachronistically reconfigured to follow the model of real-life lyre-singings and reed-singings in the Classical era of Athens. The occasions for such real-life performances, in terms of my argument, would be not only private, as at symposia, but also public, as at grand public concerts, especially at the Great Panathenaia. In the case of public events like the Great Panathenaia, the performances would be an all-male affair, restricted to professional male lyre-singers and reed-singers who would compete with each other in pursuit of sumptuous prizes. In the case of symposia, on the other hand, there would have existed a wide variety of such private occasions—not only all-male affairs where the only female participants would have been hetairai or ‘courtesans’. There is ample reason to think that there were also all sorts of all-female sympotic events going on, and I leave room here for traditional venues where the participants were socially respectable, as I suppose in cases of all-night wedding parties arranged for daughters by their mothers. I will have more to say in Essay 23 about this supposition.

13§8. So, what about the little bird that we see perched on the index finger of the diva Eukleia? I think that this little pet is emblematic of the content, not the form, of songs performed at public concerts—and at private symposia. Thus the choreography of performance by Eukleia as she sings to the accompaniment of the lyre that she holds in her left hand is not necessarily impeded by the little bird that is perched on the index finger of her right hand. I think there is no contradiction in imagining the presence of the bird while our diva is performing—if our little bird happens to be the subject of our diva’s song instead of some real-life intrusion on the performance of this song.

13§9. In essays still to come, I will have more to say about the bird of Eukleia and about her lyre—even about the shape of her lyre. For now, however, I concentrate on the actual personification conveyed by the name of Eukleia, whom I am describing anachronistically as a diva of sorts. I will now argue that even the personification of this diva can become the subject of song—and that we actually see an attestation of such a subject in a song once composed by the lyric master Bacchylides. Further, I will argue that the painter who painted the picture of Eukleia may well have heard such a song being sung at symposia or even at the grand concerts of the Great Panathenaia. My reason for positing the Panathenaia as a possible venue is that there is evidence, as I showed in a related project (N 2019b), that the Lyric Canon as represented by poetic personae like Sappho and Bacchylides was the basic repertoire for performances of lyre-songs and reed-songs at the Panathenaia.

13§10. Before I can present my argument about the figuring of Eukleia as the personified subject of a song sung at the Panathenaia, I need to show, side-by-side with her picture, a picture of another such diva, named Eunomia:

Eunomia on the left, Eukleia on the right: from a red-figure lekythos attributed to the Painter of the Frankfurt Acorn; Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung, F2705.For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 220523. Link: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/66FC770C-CEA9-4177-921B-8DBDF2484A3D. Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.

13§11.The Berlin painter has positioned the two personified goddesses as a symmetrical pair, and there is a comparable pairing to be found in Victory Ode 13 of the poet Bacchylides. As Natasha Bershadsky reminds me, I once made a comment about these two goddesses Eukleia and Eunomia as they are pictured in the poetry of Bacchylides, and I epitomize here the relevant parts of that comment (Nagy 2011c:198–199):

In Ode 13 of Bacchylides, the flash of light emanating from the achievement or aretē (117) of the victorious athlete is personified as a goddess Aretē who makes that achievement visible to all, as expressed by the verb phainein (177). This goddess of achievement is ‘steering straight’ (kubernân 185) the island state of Aegina, which is thus envisioned as a ship of state. And this same goddess is linked by sacral metonymy with the fame or doxa (179) of the song that celebrates the victory—and with the true glory or kleos (185) that the song brings to the victor. Such a song of ‘true glory’ is personified as a second goddess, Eukleia (183-184), who is fused in song with the first goddess, Aretē or ‘achievement’ personified. This second goddess, who is Eukleia or ‘true kleos’ personified, is linked by sacral metonymy with stephanoi ‘garlands’ (184) plaited with blossoms. And the sacral metonymy extends further: these two goddesses, one of whom is linked with a fair voyage for the ship of state while the other is linked with garlands of blossoms for victorious athletes, are in turn fused in song with a third goddess, who is the personification of eunomia, meaning ‘true rule’. She is Eunomia (186). This third goddess Eunomia as ‘true rule’ personified has a special link of her own to the first goddess, whose steering of the ship of state is a metaphor for true rule. And, with her attribute of festivities or thaliai (187), this third goddess also has a special link to the second goddess, whose blossoms are a metaphor for the festivities that mark the third goddess. In the fusion of these three singing and dancing goddesses, I highlight the linking of the garlands or stephanoi (184) of blossoms with the glory or kleos (183-184) of singing and dancing in the festivities of a victory ode. In terms of my argument, such linking is not just a poetic gesture: rather, the garlanding of the victor, as expressed at the climax of this passage by the verb stephanoûn (197), is also a ritual act, which is part of the overall ritual act of performing the victory ode.

13§12. In the Classical era of Athens, such an old-fashioned pairing of Eukleia and Eunomia in special contexts where athletic victories were celebrated by way of song and dance in choral performance could now be renewed in more general or more varied contexts of monodic reperformances at public concerts and at private symposia. And, when I say “symposia” here, I leave room for imagining a wide variety of all-female merriment.


 

Essay 14: A sweet bird for the songs of Sappho.

rewritten from 2020.12.04.

14§0. In the title of this essay, the wording ‘sweet bird’ echoes what we hear in part of a poem by John Milton, Il Penseroso (1645/1646), later set to music by George Frideric Handel (1740), whose librettist merged the poem with Milton’s symmetrical L’Allegro (1645). So, Milton’s poetry became for Handel an extended song blending the mirth of L’Allegro with the melancholy of Il Penseroso. The part of Handel’s sung version that centers on the ‘sweet bird’—and I will quote the words at a later point—is an aria that imitates birdsong by way of a female soprano voice accompanied by a baroque flute. The bird in this English-language song is evidently a nightingale, and it is a ‘she’. What I find remarkable about this nightingale is that she is not only the subject of the song but also the model performer of the song, since the music of what is being sung is ostentatiously modeled on her birdsong. And what I will now argue is that something comparable is happening in the songs of Sappho. Here too we will see a kind of bird—in this case, it is a ‘he’—who is figured both as the subject of song and as a model for singing the song. In this case, however, a question arises: is the ‘sweet bird’ of Sappho, highlighted in the title of my essay, really ‘sweet’ like the pensive and melancholy ‘sweet bird’ of Milton’s poetry turned into song? I will argue that Sappho’s ‘sweet bird’ really is ‘sweet’, yes, though he is also quite mirthful and joyous, like the character by the name of L’Allegro, who is symmetrical with the character named Il Penseroso in the music of Handel. Like L’Allegro, Sappho’s bird takes joy in both pastoral and urban settings. In both settings, he is not only mirthful and joyous: he is even spicy or saucy. Before we consider the famous reference to such a ‘sweet bird’ in one of Sappho’s songs, however, I will first look at relevant references in Classical Athenian vase paintings.

Red-figure squat lekythos by the Meidias Painter; Ruvo, Museo Jatta 1538. For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 220508. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/1B3262A5-C755-41F3-8FA4-26FCF23D7593. Drawing after G. Nicole, Meidias et le style fleuri (Geneva, 1908), plate 7.4.

14§1.  My introductory illustration, shown immediately above, is most relevant. We see here a rollout line-drawing of the overall picture painted on what I have been calling in previous essays the Thamyris Vase, attributed to the Meidias Painter. I have already shown this picture before, in Essay 10§6, but now I show it again with an added detail: I now highlight, by way of three pink circles, the picturing of three lyres handled by three female beauties who are part of an overall scene centering on the mythical lyre-singer Thamyris, who is seen handling his own lyre. My question of the moment about the overall scene in this “zoom-out” picture is this: if the three female beauties handling their lyres could actually be heard in the act of playing their musical instruments in accompaniment of a song, would we expect such a song to be mirthful and joyous—even spicy or saucy? I could ask the same question about an audio-video song, “Addicted to Love,” sung by Robert Palmer (1985) to the accompaniment of female beauties who are seen and heard in the act of playing their guitars. I now show a line-drawing that pictures in a freeze-frame a moment in the performance of this song, and, in the picture, the three guitars handled by the three female beauties are highlighted by way of three pink circles:

From the video-audio of the song “Addicted to Love,” sung by Robert Palmer (1985).
The solo singing is by Palmer, who also composed the song. For a brief documentary of what happened, in later phases of their lives, to the female beauties who are represented as accompanying Palmer’s singing in this video-audio, I recommend this video. For a “ladies only” edition, I cite this video.

14§2. Returning to the overall painting of the Meidias Painter on the Thamyris Vase, I focus again on the three female beauties handling their lyres. I argue that they too, like Robert Palmer’s “girls,” could be described as saucy. A telling sign, if we “zoom in” and focus on a detail in the overall picture, is a fluttering little bird that is being passed from one fingertip to another. I have shown that detail in Essay 10§6, and I return to it now:

Close-up of Eros offering a small bird to the young lady with an outstretched finger.

Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.

14§3. I note a visual choreography of graceful poses in this detail, as the mind’s eye wanders from the delicately posed fingers of a miniature male beauty, who is a cupid, known as Eros in Greek, to the likewise delicately posed fingers of a “life-size” female beauty—here I use the wording “life-size” in contrast with the miniature or “smaller-than-life-size” male beauty. Perched on the index finger of the male beauty Eros, who is of course sexuality personified, is a fluttering small bird who is about to be transferred to the index finger of the female beauty.

14§4. There is a comparable visual choreography to be noted, I think, in a detail we saw in another vase painting, as I analyzed it in Essay 11§1, and I now return to that detail. I show it below in the picture on our left, which is again paired here with another relevant detail in the picture on our right:

On the left: red-figure lekythos attributed to the Painter of the Frankfurt Acorn; Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung, F2705. Close-up of Eukleia. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.
On the right: red-figure calyx krater by the Tithonos Painter; Bochum, Ruhr Universität, Kunstsammlungen, S508. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Line-drawing by Jill Robbins.

In the picture on our left, we see a look-alike of Sappho. To be compared, in the picture on our right, on the other hand, is a representation of Sappho herself, and she is actually labeled as Sappho.

14§5. In the previous essay that I just cited in §4 about this diptych of pictures representing Sappho herself on our right and a would-be Sappho on our left, I pointed out that the would-be Sappho is shown in the act of gazing intently at a little bird perched on the index finger of her right hand, which is the hand that should be holding the plēktron (plectrum) or ‘twanger’ with which she should be strumming the strings of the lyre that she is fingering in her left hand. I find it most remarkable that the bird is substituted here for the ‘twanger’—especially in view of the fact that we see a reverse substitution in the picturing of another female beauty that is painted on the Thamyris Vase by the Meidias Painter. In this case, we see a female beauty gazing intently not at a little bird perched on the index finger of her right hand but rather at a plectrum (Greek plēktron) or ‘twanger’ that is substituted as the love-object of her gaze. Here is a close-up of this female beauty:

Close-up from red-figure squat lekythos by the Meidias Painter; Ruvo, Museo Jatta 1538. For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive.  Vase number: 220508. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/1B3262A5-C755-41F3-8FA4-26FCF23D7593.

In this case, the holding of the ‘twanger’ in the right hand is to be expected, as we see in this related picture, which is a close-up from another painting:

Close-up of a Muse from a red-figure Hydria by the Polygnotos Group (Berlin, Antikensammlung F2388). Details here: https://recherche.smb.museum/detail/686666/hydria.

14§6. Having shown, then, that the little bird in these Classical Athenian vase paintings is connected to the eroticism of songs accompanied by lyres played by female beauties, I am now ready to consider the connectedness of such a bird with the songmaking of Sappho.

14§7. Delving into these considerations, I start by reviewing my earlier work on the metaphorical world of birdsong. In my book Poetry as Performance (N 1996a), I studied birdsong as a metaphor for poetry, especially poetry that is sung and instrumentally accompanied. I concentrated on the singing of the nightingale, whose song reveals a virtuosity that verges on the celestial in the imagination of poets. But what about a more earthy kind of singing, like the tweeting of, say, a sparrow? This question is relevant to Song 1 of Sappho, the very first song in the ancient canonical collection of her verbal art. As we read at line 10 in that song, birds she calls strouthoi—ordinarily translated as ‘sparrows’—are drawing the celestial chariot of Aphrodite. It is generally assumed that these birds in Song 1 of Sappho, if they really are to be imagined as randy little sparrows, symbolize simply the sexuality of the goddess, but I argue that there is more to it, much more. Yes, the earthiness of Aphrodite’s sexuality could be personified as a sparrow or some other such sexually appetitive little bird. Still, birds and their birdcalls can signal not only an urge to mate but also something higher—which is love, love itself, personified also by Aphrodite. And this kind of love can be made the highest form of love, celestial love, when you sing about it. What you are then singing is a love song, and the beauty of this song must surely give pleasure. If you think of it this way, then the beauty and the pleasure of song can be personified as the ‘sweet bird’ of Milton’s poetry as set to music by Handel, so that the poet’s words are turned into a song that is sung by a warbling soprano who sings to the obbligato accompaniment of a baroque flute. I quote here Milton’s words from Il Penseroso, which the music of Handel has turned into a stylized birdsong:

Sweet bird, that shun’st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!
Thee, chauntress, oft the woods among,
I woo to hear thy even-song.
Or, missing thee, I walk unseen,
On the dry smooth-shaven green,
To behold the wand’ring moon
Riding near her highest noon.

And here is a virtuoso performance of Handel’s music:

The aria “Sweet Bird” from Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato HWV 55. Amanda Forsythe, soprano, Emi Ferguson, baroque flute. Live, 4K ultra high definition video from their “As steals the morn” concert, March, 2019.

14§8. In this virtuoso performance, I find the body language of the singing Amanda Forsythe and of the accompanying Emi Ferguson evocatively comparable to the imagined singing and self-accompaniment of the female beauties in the Classical Athenian paintings that I have considered in this essay. Of course there are contrasts to be noted: in the performance of Handel’s music, the musical instrument is the baroque flute, not the lyre. And the dominant atmosphere of Handel’s music is more pensive than mirthful, whereas the atmosphere of the paintings is more mirthful—at least on the surface. Underneath the surface, however, the paintings, too, hint not only at the joy of love but also at the sorrow of love’s death, especially the sorrow felt over the death of Adonis, look-alike of Eros and boy-lover of Aphrodite. I think that Catullus understood the role of the sweet birds that draw the chariot of Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho as a blending of what is Allegro and what is Penseroso, as we see in his Poems 2 and 3 respectively, which convey the essence of his love poetry. I develop this thought in Essay 8 of Sappho II about a girl called Lesbia who loved dearly her playful little pet, her beloved passer or ‘sparrow’.

14§9. And the sparrows—if they are sparrows—that draw the chariot of Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho are not only earthy in their eroticism. They are also celestial, since they are sighted in the act of fluttering down from the bright celestial realms up above, coming all the way down to the dark soil of our earthbound existence. In Sappho’s Song 1, the earthy little birds of Aphrodite are analogous to the celestial cupids or Erotes that draw the chariot of Aphrodite in Athenian paintings. They are both the subjects of Sappho’s songmaking and the performers of her songs, becoming thus transformed into the celestial cupids who preoccupy the gaze of female beauty.

14§10.  To recognize the song, then, is to recognize the singer, the songbird. And yet, as I said at the end of Poetry as Performance (1996:224-225), the singer cannot be independent of the song, as it continues to be performed and re-performed. We may heed the words of Thomas Hardy (1929 [1978]:221), echoing the poems of Wordsworth, Keats, and many others:

The Selfsame Song

A bird sings the selfsame song,
With never a fault in its flow,
That we listened to here those long
Long years ago.

A pleasing marvel is how
A strain of such rapturous rote
Should have gone on thus till now
Unchanged in a note!

—But it’s not the selfsame bird.—
No: perished to dust is he….
As also are those who heard
That song with me.


 

Essay 15: Some rose-colored visions of the dancing dawn goddess in the painterly art of Sappho and beyond

rewritten from 2020.12.11

15§0. In the Tithonos Song of Sappho, the fragmented text of which has of late been supplemented with newly-found additional papyrus fragments, as analyzed in Essay 2, we read how the amorous goddess of the dawn, Eos, abducted the beautiful hero Tithonos to be her youthful lover—but she was unable to prevent him from slowly turning into an old man, deprived of his youth and beauty. This sad story is retold in the Tithonos Song, where the female speaker who is retelling the story, now an old woman, has just now called out mournfully to young girls with whom she used to sing and dance, declaring to them that her poor old knees are not up to it anymore: she is no longer able to dance. In what follows, I will argue that the loss of an old woman’s power to dance is being contrasted in this song of Sappho with the ever-youthful and ever-beautiful dancing power of the dawn goddess Eos. And that power of dance, I will also argue, is divinely fueled by the rose-colored female energy of the dawn’s early light. The entire body of the dawn goddess is activated by that power, so that all parts of this divine organism become engaged in her dance. All parts are in motion: her feet, her hands, all the rest of her—even the tips of her fingers. In the introductory illustration for my essay here, I show an extreme-zoom close-up of a not-so-ancient (seventeenth-century) painter’s highlighting of the delicately dancing fingers of the dawn goddess Eos, known in Latin as Aurora. The ancient epithet of this goddess in Homeric poetry, rhododaktulos (rhododactylos), is most fitting: the divine Eos is ‘rosy-fingered’ Dawn.

Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734), Aurora y Thyton [Aurora and Tithonus]. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

15§1. What I next show, immediately above, are (1) a mid-zoom close-up of Aurora viewed (1a) above the waist and (1b) below the waist, followed by (2) a zoom-out full view of the picture painted by our painter. As we can see, the complexion of Aurora is rosy from head to toe, and the painter has highlighted her rosy complexion by showing her delicately pink fingers on the verge of touching a delicately pink rose. This rose mediates the rose-coloring of the rising sun that attends the dawn goddess as she gracefully rises up from the darkness below the horizon. Left behind in the dark is the sad old man Tithonos (the Spanish spelling for him here is Thyton). Our painting has faithfully captured the Homeric moment, described in both the Iliad (11.1–2) and the Odyssey (5.1-2), when Eos rises at dawn, leaving the bed she shared all night with Tithonos.

15§2. Our painting shows Eos striking the pose of a dancer. But how do we know that Eos was a dancer in ancient Greek traditions? There is direct evidence in Homeric poetry. In Odyssey 12.1–4, we read that Eos the goddess of the dawn has her own palace in the Far East, where the sun rises, and she has a special space there for her choral ‘singing-and-dancing’, that is, for her khoroi (Nagy 2022.02.01 at O.12.003–004). And it is relevant, as I pointed out in my Greek Mythology and Poetics (Nagy 1990b:150), that a cognate goddess of the dawn, Indic Uṣas, is invoked as sūnr̥tāvatī ‘good at dancing’ (Rig-Veda 4.52.4).

15§3. But can we really think of the rosy fingers of Eos, goddess of the dawn, as fingers that dance? I have no doubt, having surveyed cross-culturally a wide variety of dance traditions. In dance, the graceful movements of fingers connect to hands connect to lower arms connect to upper arms and so on (… connect to shoulders connect to neck connect to head connect to mouth connect to eyes). So, I have no doubt that the fingers of Eos the dawn goddess are dancing fingers. And my thinking here is confirmed by the language of Sappho: at line 9 of the Tithonos Song (text in Essay 2 above), the dawn goddess Eos, whose name is pronounced Auōs in the Aeolic dialect, is described as ‘rosy-armed’ (βροδόπαχυν Αὔων). The Aeolic form brodopākhu-, which is rhodopēkhu- in the Ionic dialect and which I translate for the moment as ‘rosy-armed’, is built with a noun pēkhu- that means, literally, ‘elbow’. And, in terms of my understanding of metonymy as an expression of meaning by way of connecting, there is a metonymic force at work here, since the elbow is the joint that connects the upper arm to the lower arm, and, if we focus for the moment on the lower arm, the noun pēkhu– is actually attested as referring to the lower arm, extending from the elbow all the way down to the tip of the middle finger (Pollux 2.58). Thus, the rosy arms of the dawn goddess—both the upper arm and the lower arm that extends all the way down to the fingertips—are all activated in the bodily connectivity of motion in dance.

15§4. Just as the elbow is a joint that connects the upper arm to the lower arm, so that the rosiness of the dawn goddess extends downward from her elbow, down to her lower arm and then all the way further down to her fingertips—while the rosiness also extends upward to the upper arm and further up from there—the same kind of thing can be said about the knee as a joint that connects the upper leg to the lower leg, which in turn extends further down to the ankles and then to the foot and then all the way down to the toes of the foot. So, if the poor old knees of the old woman in the Tithonos Song are not up to dancing (text in Essay 2), then there can be no further fancy footwork poised on nimble toes.

15§5. The epithet of Dawn, rhodo-daktulos ‘rosy-fingered’, can actually mean also ‘rosy-toed’, as I pointed out in Greek Mythology and Poetics (1990b:247), since the -daktulos (-dactylos) of rhodo-daktulos can mean ‘toe’ as well as ‘finger’. There are numerous attestations in ancient Greek where the noun daktuloi refers to toes, not fingers (for example, Xenophon Anabasis 4.5.12). Thus the picture we have been viewing is faithful to yet another aspect of the dancing Eos, since the painter displays most sensually the rosy toes of the goddess, accentuated by her rose-colored sandals—and even her rosy knees.

Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734), Aurora y Thyton [Aurora and Tithonus]. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

15§6. In the poetry of John Milton, it seems that the Dawn, personified as Morn, can actually be pictured as both rosy-toed and rosy-fingered. With the guidance of my genial colleague Gordon Teskey, I cite two passages from Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). At 5.1–2, we read:

“Now Morn her rosy steps in th’eastern clime | Advancing sowed the earth with orient pearl.”

Then, at 6.3, Morn is pictured as “waked by the circling Hours,” unbarring the gates of light “with rosy hand.”

15§7. It almost goes without saying that the rosy beauty of the dawn goddess, timelessly admired by poets and painters, is matched by her sensuality. In an essay to come, I will have more to say about the traditional connectivity of roses with sensuality, especially as embodied in the goddess Aphrodite, but for now I remain focused on Eos, who is in her own right a mythological prototype of Aphrodite, goddess of sexuality and love, as I showed in Greek Mythology and Poetics (1990b chapter 9). In a Classical Athenian vase painting, Eos is actually pictured as a female Eros, with fluttering wings extending from her beautiful shoulders. In this painting, which I show here, we see Eos chasing after a youthful Tithonos. He is pictured as a singer, holding on to his lyre as he fearfully tries to run away from the pursuing goddess. The lyre signals, I think, the picturing of a musical pas de deux that is danced by the pretty boy and the sensual goddess who pursues him.

Detail from red-figure stemless kylix by the Penthesilea Painter, ca. 460 BCE. Exterior, Side A: Eos pursuing Tithonos. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 96.18.76. Purchase by subscription, 1896. Photo courtesy of the Museum’s Open Access for Scholarly Content program, www.metmuseum.org.

15§8. Such a scene, as sensual as it is also beautiful, evokes for me the poses of Sappho as a look-alike of goddesses, especially of Aphrodite. And, as I have shown in previous essays, listed in the Bibliography, such poses are dancing poses. So, I see a special sadness in the declaration of the old woman in the Tithonos Song of Sappho: my knees have given out, and I cannot dance any more.

15§9. I have learned much about the ancient reception of Sappho by viewing, time and again, painterly visions of female beauty in Classical Athenian vase paintings—especially in pictures attributed to the so-called Meidias Painter. Although the references to Sappho and to Sappho’s songs in the visual art of these paintings are more often indirect than direct, they have much to tell us about the verbal art of Sappho and of other Preclassical masters of song—and I include here that ultimate Poet, as Plato thinks of him, Homer himself. Such verbal art, I must point out, is a form of visual art in its own right, since it is integrated with the human body in the form of dance, which is an integral part of song in Preclassical and even Classical Greek verbal art.

15§10. In this essay, then, I have viewed song-and-dance as an integrated visual art that can be compared directly to the visual art of painting. That is why I referred metaphorically, already in the title of my essay, to the verbal art of Sappho and beyond as a painterly art. In terms of this metaphor, then, it becomes easier to see how such a painterly art of song-and-dance is most readily visualized in real paintings that represent real dance directly—and real song indirectly. And it becomes even easier to see how the art of the painter, in ancient times and ever since then, can bring to life such a reality.

Francesco Furini (1603–1646), Cephalus and Aurora. Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Adolphe Alexandre Lesrel (1839–1929), L’Aurore. Sotheby’s lot. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905), L’Aurore. Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Essay 16: From the heavenly to the earthy and back, variations on a theme of love-on-wings in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere

rewritten from 2020.12.18

16§0. In this essay, I start by considering, once again this time, the word strouthoi, conventionally translated as ‘sparrows’, in Song 1 of Sappho. At line 10, these birds are seen at the moment when they take wing and fly off. They are pulling behind them, as they fly, the chariot of the goddess Aphrodite, conveying their divine mistress from her heavenly home and winging their way, full speed, through the vast stretches of ethereal space extending from the luminous Sky up above all the way down below to the dark soil of Earth, described at line 10 as ‘black’. In the twinkling of an eye, the goddess arrives, in instant response to an earthbound female’s cry for divine help in her pursuit of success in love. The earthly female is earthy in her appeal to the celestial female, and I deliberately say “earthy” here to imply an eroticism that is not sublime but earthbound, maybe even soiled, dirty. So also the earthy little sparrows that are pulling the chariot of the goddess, notorious as they are for their voracious sexual appetite, can be seen as soiled, dirty. And I would compare also the earthy little passer or ‘sparrow’ in Poems 2 and 3 of Catullus. This pet bird, belonging to that ‘girl from Lesbos’, Lesbia, is a poetic replication of the strouthoi or ‘sparrows’ we saw in Song 1 of Sappho. But these winged attendants of Aphrodite are to be contrasted in their earthiness with the heavenliness of two alternative attendants that we see pictured in a Classical Athenian vase painting that I studied in Essay 12. These other attendants are heavenly cupids—humanoid Erotes fluttering with luxuriant swanlike wings that extend from their shoulders—and they too, like the sparrows in Song 1 of Sappho, are pictured as pulling the chariot of Aphrodite. The picturing of these heavenly Erotes brings me to the question I address in my essay here: despite the visible contrast between heavenly and earthy love-on-wings, is there anything heavenly—or at least sublime—about the earthy little sparrows of Aphrodite?

Further up: detail from Side A of red-figure paintings on an epinētron (ceramic surface for covering a woman’s thigh and knee while wool-working), by the Eretria Painter. Athenian, dated to the second half of the fifth century BCE. Athens, National Museum, inv. no. 1629. Further down: full view of Side A, which shows a scene from the wedding of Alcestis (to Admetus). Still further down: full views of Side A and of Side B and of the top band. Side B of the epinētron shows a similar scene, from the wedding of Harmonia (to Kadmos), with Aphrodite and Eros among those attending. On the curved top band is a scene picturing the abduction of Thetis by Peleus. For the overall painting, I cite the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 216971. Link: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/6F3FD6F6-F603-4BEC-B813-D1C81B0315EA. Drawings after E. Pfuhl, Malerei und Zeichnung der Griechen (Munich 1923) Fig. 561.

16§1. A visual hint of sublimity, I think, is to be found in the close-up of a detail in the first picture that I show above to lead off the illustrations I have chosen for this essay. In this detail, taken from a painting by an Athenian artist known as the Eretria Painter, we see a female beauty, named Hippolyte in the adjacent inscription, who is playfully teasing with the tip of her finger a little bird. Affectionately leaning over this beauty’s shoulder is another female beauty, named Asterope, whose fingertip is aiming the same playfully teasing gesture at the bird. Observing all the playfulness is the bride, whose name is inscribed as Alcestis—she is the same heroine who is featured in the well-known drama of Euripides.

16§2. There is another such detail in a picture painted by another Athenian artist, known as the Meidias Painter, and I have analyzed that painting in Essay 9. I show again a close-up of the relevant detail:

Close-up from a painting by the Meidias Painter. Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Line-drawing by Jill Robbins. Featured in this close-up is a lady named Eurynoe, who is playfully teasing a pet bird. For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive.

16§3. In Essay 9 and Essay 11, I had already argued that the little bird who is being playfully teased by the female beauty named Eurynoe in this painting can be compared to the pet sparrow who is playfully teased by Lesbia, poeticized as Sappho, in Poem 2 of Catullus. And now I can make a parallel argument about the little bird painted by the Eretria Painter.

16§4. It may seem tempting at this point to ask a question: are the little birds that we see pictured by these Athenian painters really sparrows, like the pet bird of Lesbia in Poem 2 of Catullus? This question is moot, however, since we find “a poetics of fluidity” in erotic references to birds, as we read in a relevant essay by Natasha Bershadsky by Natasha Bershadsky (2020.11.13), already cited. A more pertinent question, rather, would be this: what birds are sacred to Aphrodite in ancient Greek poetic traditions? And the answer is, we can see a wide variety, and the variations range from the sublime to the earthy. So, what needs to be studied is the range of traditional variations on the erotic theme of love-on-wings, as I referred to it in the title of this essay.

16§5. For surveying the variety of birds known for their mythological as well as poetical links to Aphrodite, I recommend a careful reading of an article by Michael Turner (2005), “Aphrodite and her birds,” where he shows that the identity of the goddess can be linked not only with small sparrow-size birds but also with large birds, like swans. As Turner points out in passing (p. 84n127), there is even a vase painting that pictures Aphrodite riding on a chariot pulled by swans (Attic red figure squat lekythos, dated to around 400–375 BCE; Providence, Rhode Island, School of Design 25.085). Among the smaller birds of Aphrodite, a particular favorite of the goddess is the iunx or ‘wryneck’ (Iunx torquilla), as Turner (2005) shows, adducing a plethora of examples. So, I find it relevant that Lucilla Burn, in her valuable book on the Meidias Painter, thinks that the little bird that is being teased by the female beauty Eurynoe in the picture painted by this painter, as I show it above, is actually a iunx (Burn 1987:43; similarly Detienne [1977] 1994:85, Reitzammer 2016:45). But I need to add here three observations about such contexts of erotic representations involving winged conveyors of love:

A. There is room for other possibilities—for other possible kinds of small birds that may be on the minds of painters in the Classical period of Athenian visual arts, and these other kinds of birds would include sparrows—as well as thrushes, warblers, larks, nightingales, and the list goes on.

B. Some of these small birds, such as the nightingale, are virtuoso singers, while others are not.

C. Some of these small birds, again, such as the nightingale, are suggestive of sublime sensuality— while others are exponents of the earthiest sexuality.

16§6. In the light of the three observations I just made, a new question arises as I now proceed to reconsider the generic scenes of a female beauty’s playfulness with her little bird in the Classical Athenian paintings. My new question is this: are we to think of the implied sexuality here as sublime or earthy? To say it another way, using the terms we find in the Symposium of Plato (180d–e), we could ask: are we thinking of Aphrodite here as Ouraniā or as Pandēmos? Is the goddess here ‘celestial’ or is she, shall we say, ‘vulgar’?

16§7. There are, yes, traces of vulgarity, as when we see a female beauty gazing longingly at the plectrum of her lyre—at her ‘twanger’, as I called it in , as I called it in Essay 12§5:

Close-up from a red-figure squat lekythos by the Meidias Painter; Ruvo, Museo Jatta 1538. For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive.

As we know from Athenian Old Comedy (Nelson 2000), the word plēktron ‘plectrum, strummer’, which refers to the musical instrument for strumming on the lyre, could metaphorically be applied to a leather penis or dildo, and the same goes for the word olisbos, the non-metaphorical meaning of which is ‘plectrum, strummer’. So, we could be thinking that the female beauty who gazes longingly at the plectrum of her lyre is really looking, by transference, at a “phallic bird” that substitutes for the “real birds” fingered by other female beauties in Classical Athenian paintings.

16§8. Such thinking, however, can lead to careless formulations that are typical of today’s academic world, of which I admit I am a part, whether willing or unwilling. I will have more to say about such thinking in the essay that follows this one. For now, however, I will simply focus on the term ‘vulgar’. Even when I use this term’, as I just did when I referred to Plato’s understanding of Pandēmos as an epithet of Aphrodite that he contrasts with that other epithet of hers, Ouraniā, meaning ‘celestial’ (again, Symposium 180d–e), I find myself engaging in class-conscious subjectivities—just as the speakers dramatized by Plato are engaging in their own class-consciousnesses.

16§9. Seeking refuge from subjective thinking about what is ‘vulgar’, I turn to linguistics. When linguists use the word ‘vulgar’, as when for example they refer to Vulgar Latin as opposed to Classical Latin, their aim is not to distinguish subjectively what is lower-class as opposed to upper-class. All they are trying to do is to distinguish objectively what has survived—or, better, what lives on—in the so-called Romance languages of the present as opposed to the “Classical” Latin of the past. So, when it comes to such problems as trying to visualize the little pet bird of Lesbia in Poem 2 of Catullus, whom he calls a passer, I find refuge in the etymological dictionary of Alfred Ernout and Antoine Meillet in the case of Classical Latin (I use the fourth edition, 1959) and in that of Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke in the case of Romance (I use the third edition, 1935). When I look up passer in the dictionary of Ernout and Meillet (at page 486), I find that it means ‘sparrow’ in some Latin contexts and, more generically, ‘bird’ in other contexts. And our linguists now add, in a one-word sentence, a narrative for what happens in Latin and after Latin, as it were. Here is their one-word sentence: “Panroman.” That is to say, you can find survivals of Vulgar Latin passer / passar attested in all Romance languages. Following up, this etymological dictionary of Classical Latin by Ernout and Meillet now sends you off to the etymological dictionary of Romance languages, by Meyer-Lübke, who informs you, when you look up the word under its Classical Latin form, passer (entry number 6268), that this word lives on with the specific meaning ‘sparrow’ in some Romance languages, as we see for example in Italian passero, or with the generic meaning ‘bird’ in other Romance languages, as we see for example in Spanish pájaro.

16§10. So, the empirical evidence collected by linguists can help us think of Lesbia’s little pet bird in Poem 2 of Catullus as either a sparrow or, more simply, as any kind of a small bird. This evidence may seem not all that helpful for literary critics whose desire is to decide between a sparrow, specifically, or a bird, generically. But I find this same evidence most helpful in my own efforts to find a link between the Latin word passer in Poem 2 of Catullus and the Greek word strouthoi in Song 1 of Sappho. In the case of Greek strouthos, I think we see a comparable range of meanings, between ‘sparrow’, specifically, and a wide variety of other kinds of birds, generically. And that variety, as the evidence of ancient Greek visual arts can show us, includes not only small birds, such as sparrows or wrynecks, but also big birds, such as swans. In the visual world of painters, one of many motivations for variation between, say, swans and sparrows is the symbolism of Aphrodite as goddess of sexuality in all its own varieties, ranging from extreme sublimity to extreme earthiness. I can apply here my model for interweavings of metaphor and metonym in terms of a vertical axis of selection and a horizontal axis of combination, explained in Masterpieces of Metonymy (N 2015 0§§04–06, 2§§01–03, building especially on the formulations of Jakobson 1990:119–120, 129). The vertical selector, in erotic situations involving winged conveyors of love, is Aphrodite herself, whose own sexuality ranges from heavenly to earthy—and back.


 

Essay 17: Back and forth from general to special kinds of erotic love, further variations on a theme of love-on-wings in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere

rewritten from 2020.12.25

17§0.  In Song 1 of Sappho, as our mind’s eye views Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love, at the moment when she starts driving her chariot pulled by birds called strouthoi and travels with the speed of light, in a miraculous instant, all the way down from the bright heavens above, down to the dark soil of our earthly human existence here below, how are we to imagine these birds of hers? Are they birds in general’ or are they, more specifically, sparrows—to name one special kind of bird? A special meaning that is given for strouthos, when we look up the word in dictionaries, is ‘sparrow’, but a general meaning of ‘bird’ is also attested. So, if we think specifically, we could imagine the birds of Sappho’s Aphrodite either as sparrows or as other special kinds of birds that are not sparrows. I say this because, if we consider the overall evidence of ancient Greek verbal and visual arts, Aphrodite as the goddess of erotic love is traditionally linked not only with sparrows but also with a wide variety of other birds. And, in many cases, the birds of Aphrodite cannot be identified as a special kind of bird, as a species. A case in point is the picture I have chosen as illustration for the cover of this essay. This picture, painted on a lekythos from South Italy, shows a girl gazing at a little bird that is perched on her finger. In this case, there are no distinctive visual markings to be found on the exterior appearances of the girl and the bird, and so, to the uninitiated eye, the two “characters” in the “story” of this picture appear to be, simply, a pretty girl and a little bird. But there are also more specific ways of looking at these two “characters.” As we will see in this essay, the pretty girl can become, more specifically, the goddess Aphrodite, and the little bird can become in turn, even more specifically, a special kind of bird that is specially favored by the goddess herself.

Lekythos, South Italy. Around 340 BCE. Copenhagen, Thorvaldsens Museum Inventory number: H632.

17§1. In the introduction that I have just written for this essay, I have rewritten what I wrote in the introduction to my previous essay by changing those wordings there that need to be changed here in order to fit a new but related point of interest, concentrating on variations between “general” and “special” kinds of erotic love in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere, whereas the older essay had concentrated on variations between “celestial” and “earthy” eroticism. So, why am I saying that variations between “general” and “special” kinds of erotic love are relevant to variations between what is “celestial” and what is “earthy.” My answer is really quite simple: it all goes back to a need for distinguishing between human nature, which is a constant, and human culture, which is a variable. In making such a needed distinction, I of course have in mind here primarily the ancient Greeks, but my simple formulation surely applies also to all human societies: there is a vast human capacity for different ways of thinking about the human condition in different cultures. In the case of sex and the ancient Greeks, to cite my primary example in this essay, an ordinary and everyday human activity like having sex, earthy sex, can be turned into an extraordinary and festive experience that is worthy of a celestial Aphrodite. We see here what is “general” being turned into what is “special” because the goddess Aphrodite, as a heavenly projection of earthly—and earthy—thinking, becomes a variable in her own right. I say “variable” because, in ancient Greece, Aphrodite was worshipped in various different ways at various different times in various different places. And, as I will argue, different birds are linked with different ways of visualizing her as the sacred presence who presides over erotic love.

17§2. That said, I now take a second look at the picture that I showed at the beginning of my essay. That vase painting from fourth-century South Italy showed simply a pretty girl looking at a little bird perched on her finger. Neither the girl nor the bird revealed any distinctive visual markings on their exterior appearances. But there have survived other vase-paintings, likewise originating from fourth-century South Italy, where the “pretty girl” is gazing at a bird that is painted with special markings that distinguish it as a specific kind of bird—as a species. One such vase painting from South Italy (Paestum, fourth century BCE, attributed to the painter Asteas), analyzed by Michael Turner (2005:75, Figure 9), stands out. In this case, the bird that attracts the gaze of “pretty girl” is clearly recognizable as a Jynx torquilla, known as the iunx in ancient Greek and as the ‘wryneck’ in English.

South Italy (Paestum), fourth century BCE. Attributed to Asteas. “Unprovenanced”: details from Turner 2005:75.

17§3. But what about “pretty girl”? As we can see from further analysis by Turner (2005:78), there is a vase painting on a lekanis from South Italy (this time, Apulia: Fig. 11, Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, University of Reading, RM 137.51; attributed to the Lampas Painter) that points to an answer. I start with Turner’s description of the bird (p. 78): “Although more schematic, the bird’s generic identifying feature is its long and banded tail.” So, this bird too is a wryneck. As for “pretty girl,” she wears on her head a diadem, and “her hair is caught up in a kekruphalos”: these tell-tale markings, as Turner goes on to show (again, p. 78), are characteristic of the goddess Aphrodite herself.

17§4. By contrast with such fourth-century vase paintings from South Italy, where the favorite little bird of Aphrodite is a wryneck, the fifth-century vase paintings from Athens that I studied in previous essays show a different way of pairing “pretty girl” with a small bird as pet. In the case of the little birds pictured in paintings created by the Meidias Painter, for example, there is generally an absence of specific features that would distinguish a wryneck, say, from any other little bird. Art historians like Elke Böhr (1997, 2000) can make a case that the little birds perched on the fingers of “pretty girls” painted by the Meidias Painter could possibly represent wrynecks, but she admits that these pets could just as easily be viewed as other kinds of passerines as well, including sparrows. As Böhr (1997:109) remarks, wryly: “often birds are rendered inaccurately or carelessly … Vase painters did not intend to draw these creatures for a ‘Handbook of Greek Birds’.”  And, just as the little birds of the Meidias Painter and his Athenian contemporaries seem more generic than speciated, so also the pretty girls who are playing with these little pets are representations not of Aphrodite herself but, rather, of her surrogates.

17§5. And here I return to the strouthoi that we saw in Song 1 of Sappho. In the poetics of this song, the persona of Sappho herself is presented as a surrogate of Aphrodite, as a would-be Aphrodite, as we saw in Essay 10 and in Essay 12. Accordingly, I think that these birds, too, could be imagined as passerines by default. We could simply view them as those earthy little things that anyone would recognize as sparrows. But, then again, these same earthly birds could be rethought as heavenly swans, as when we see Aphrodite herself driving a chariot pulled by swans in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (10.717–719). And such a vision of swans pulling the chariot of the goddess is already attested, as I pointed out in Essay 16, in an Athenian vase painting of the late Classical period (Attic red figure squat lekythos, 400–375 BCE, Providence, Rhode Island School of Design 25.085; commentary by Turner 2005:84n127).

17§6. But there are ways, I think, for the artistic imagination to come back down to earth and then flutter its way back up into the heavens. The feathered conveyors of love-on-the-wing do not even have to be real birds: they can be cupids, winged Erotes, at one extreme of the spectrum or, at the other extreme, they can be pictured in the visual arts and, occasionally, in the verbal arts, as winged penises or “phallus-birds,” once famously sensationalized in an essay by William Arrowsmith (1973: I draw attention especially to Plate 2 at p. 127: white-ground kyathos, Athenian, around 510 BCE, Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). And such “phallus-birds” can even be called strouthoi or ‘sparrows’, as imagined by Aristophanes in his Lysistrata, lines 723-725 (there is a passing reference to this passage by Arrowsmith 1973:166). The persona of Lysistrata herself is speaking here, and she is complaining about ongoing defections in her war of the sexes. Sexually frustrated women are starting to give up on their sex-strike against men. One example is an amorous lady who is caught in the act of mounting a strouthos (line 723) and attempting to fly away for an assignation with her lover. But the attempt is prevented, as Lysistrata comes up from behind and grabs the lady’s evidently disheveled hair, forcibly pulling her off her winged mount. I quote here lines 723-725 of the Lysistrata (commentary by Sommerstein 1998, keyed to these lines), followed by my working translation:

τὴν δ᾽ ἐπὶ στρούθου μίαν | ἤδη πέτεσθαι διανοουμένην κάτω | ἐς Ὀρσιλόχου χθὲς τῶν τριχῶν κατέσπασα.

Why, only yesterday, there was this one other woman who was already intending to fly-off [petesthai], mounted on a sparrow [strouthos], and she was going to get down to the house of Orsilokhos, but I grabbed her by the hair and pulled her off.

17§7. So also the passer in Poems 2 and 3 of Catullus can be seen as not only earthy but also celestial. The little bird’s links with Aphrodite can even elevate him to the lofty status of an Adonis, as we see at line 1 of Poem 3. There we read that the little passer of Lesbia has just died and must now be lamented by the veneres cupidinesque, ‘Venuses and Cupids’. And the sad little ‘Venuses’ of Poem 3, as I noted in Essay 11, match the pretty girl-surrogates of Aphrodite who attend the goddess as she caresses her pretty-boy lover Adonis in Classical Athenian vase paintings, while the little ‘Cupids’ match, correspondingly, the winged boy-Erotes who likewise attend the goddess. And, as I also noted in the same essay, a poem like the Lament for Adonis by Bion of Smyrna (second / first century BCE) is preoccupied not only with the tragic death of Adonis and with the lamentation that follows. There is also the idea of a resurrection that comes after the lamented death, and I repeat here the essence of such an idea. Although the ‘Girl’ or Kōrā, as she is called in the poetic dialect of Bion at line 96, is unwilling to release Adonis from death, all hope is not lost: there is an implication, in the concluding lines 97–98 of the Lament by Bion, that Adonis will come alive, as it were, whenever sexual desire comes alive again—which will happen, it is playfully predicted, at the yearly festival of Adonis: year after year, he can come alive and then die again and be mourned by his loving Aphrodite on the occasion of his annual festival.

17§8. In this light, as I view again the relevant Athenian paintings that I analyzed in Essay 14, I find it most relevant that the pretty winged boy-Erotes who are darting their amorous glances at the pretty girl-surrogates of Aphrodite are actually being reciprocated by the looks of the girls, who respond by darting back their own amorous glances. And the choreography of the darting eyes extends further, to the dancing hands and fingers of the girls, a few of whom are now openly playing with the “real” little birds of Aphrodite— whether we think of these pets as sparrows or wrynecks or some other such small birds.

17§9. Of course the earthy side of the passer as a randy little ‘sparrow’ in Poems 2 and 3 of Catullus can at times overshadow the celestial side, so that the sparrow of these poems can at times be understood as, simply, a metaphor for the human penis. Such an understanding of Poems 2 and 3 of Catullus was entertained, in his own earthy way, by the later Roman poet Martial (11.6.16), who pictures the sparrow of ‘Catullus’ as an erect penis, and I cite here the relevant comments of Richard Thomas (1993:132–135; further comment by David Wray 2001:68). The testimony of Festus (p. 410 ed. Lindsay) is most apt:

strutheum in mimis praecipue vocant obscenam partem virilem, <a> salacitate videlicet passeris, qui Graece struthos dicitur. (The <a> is restored by way of the epitome by Paulus, while the spelling “struthos” comes from the text of Festus himself: apparatus criticus p. 411 ed. Lindsay.)

In mimes especially, they call the obscene male member a strutheum, evidently because of the salaciousness of the sparrow [passer], who is called in Greek strouthos.

17§10.  If I am right in viewing the passer of Catullus as modeled directly on the strouthoi of Sappho—such a view is formulated already in Essay 9§6—then I think that those birds in Song 1 of Sappho, just like the pet bird of Lesbia in Poems 2 and 3 of Catullus, can be viewed as earthy little sparrows. So, the descent of Aphrodite, traveling in a chariot pulled by sparrows from the bright sky up above all the way down to the dark soil of earth below, can be viewed as an act of divine condescension. The goddess is making a condescending entry into an all-too human world of specialized variations in the visualization of her divine birds. And that is because our goddess of heavenly sexuality has been persuaded, by ‘Sappho’, to condescend to this earthly woman’s earthy needs. The needs of ‘Sappho’ are earthbound, because she, like all earthlings, is human, all too human.


Essay 18: About Aphrodite’s birds and her magical flowers in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere.

rewritten from 2020.12.31

18§0. The goddess Aphrodite is linked with a variety of birds and flowers. In this essay, I ask myself: what is it that links her with her birds and her flowers in Song 1 of Sappho? I can answer with one word, magic. I mean, the magic of love charms, of enchantments. When it comes to flowers, I can already say this much, from the start: the enchanting beauty of flowers, together with the pleasure that their beauty gives, is apparent, and it is in fact made apparent, as we will see, even in the first word of Sappho’s song. When it comes to birds, however, appearances can be deceiving. The picture I have chosen for the cover of this essay illustrates the point I have just made about deceptive appearances. It is an ancient painting of a songbird, most probably a nightingale, whose drabness in color is most deceptive in hiding the radiant coloratura of a beautiful singing voice that matches the brilliant colors of the equally beautiful roses that surround her. But how will such a picture help us understand the flowery magic of birdsong in Song 1 of Sappho? That magic is hidden, as we will see, in the first word of her song.

Image via Flickr.
Image via Flickr.
House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii (oecus 32, south wall). Image via Flickr.

18§1. The first word in Song 1 of Sappho, at line 1, is poikiló-thronos, an adjective used here in the vocative case (ποικιλόθρον’) as an epithet designed to invoke the goddess Aphrodite as a prime mover of erotic love. I interpret this epithet, in the overall context of Song 1, as meaning what I propose to translate this way: ‘[you, O goddess wearing your dress that is decorated] with varied-pattern-woven magical flowers’. In the next three paragraphs, I will offer a three-part explanation for this way of interpreting the epithet. The first part (A), with reference to the element poikilo-, is about my translation of that element as ‘varied-pattern-woven’. The second part (B), with reference to the combination of the element poikilo- with the element –throno-, derived from the noun thróna, explains why I translate these combined elements as ‘varied-pattern-woven flowers’. And the third part (C), with further reference to the same noun, thróna, is about an expanded translation, ‘with varied-pattern-woven magical flowers’.

18§1A. With reference to the element poikilo- in the epithet poikiló-thronos describing Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho, I start by citing what I already observed in Chapters 1 and 3 of my book Poetry as Performance (Nagy 1996, (N 1996a, which I will continue to abbreviate as PP). As I showed there, the adjective poikílos conveys the idea of variation, especially in the medium of pattern-weaving. So, I propose a general meaning ‘varied, various’ and a specialized meaning ‘varied-pattern-woven’ in such contexts as we see in Sappho’s Song 1. As I also observed in that same book, the specialized meaning that I translate here as ‘varied-pattern-woven’ became, early on, a metaphor for describing variation in song, specifically with reference to birdsong, and, even more specifically, with reference to the singing of the nightingale. What follows is an epitome of those observations (PP 64–65, with earlier bibliography):

In ancient Greek song culture, an apt adjective for the beautiful handiwork of pattern-weaving is poikílos ‘varied, patterned’, as we see it describing that ultimate pattern-woven fabric, the péplos ‘robe’ that the goddess Athena herself once wove with her own hands, as we read in the Homeric Iliad (5.734–735: πέπλον … ποικίλον). By way of metaphor, the fabric of song is likewise poikílos, as we see in the poetic wording of Pindar (F 179): ὑφαίνω δ᾿ Ἀμυθαονίδαισιν ποικίλον ἄνδημα ‘I weave [huphaínō] a varied [poikílon] headband [that is, of song] for the Amythaonidai’. In the Hesiodic Works and Days (203), the aēdṓn ‘nightingale’, as the ultimate songbird, is described with the epithet poikilódeiros ‘having a varied [‑sounding] throat’.

I should add that I have gone out of my way here to cite my book for these observations partly because, sadly, I find no reference to it in some important recent studies done by classicists on the metaphorical world of this adjective poikílo-. In any case, I remain happy about the relevance of the ancient nightingale gracing the cover of the book I am citing.

18§1B. With reference to the combination of the elements poikilo- and –throno- in the epithet poikiló-thronos describing Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho, I again epitomize from the same book (PP 101, with earlier bibliography; also PR 93):

I argue that the element -throno- is derived from the noun thróna, meaning ‘pattern-woven flowers’, and not from thrónos ‘throne’, so that poikiló-thronos can be translated ‘with varied-pattern-woven flowers’, referring to the dress worn by Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho. This goddess of love can make love happen in ways that are as limitlessly varied as the limitless varieties of flowers that are pattern-woven on the surface of her dress.

18§1C. But where is the magic that I think is implied by the epithet poikiló-thronos ‘with varied-pattern-woven magical flowers’? I now turn to an overt example where the word thróna refers to magical floral patterns that are woven as love-charms into a fabric intended to be worn by someone who is loved by a woman or a girl who weaves the fabric. The example comes from the Homeric Iliad (22.437–441), as I showed in Homer the Preclassic (N 2010|2009:273–277 | II§§373–384). I quote here the relevant lines (Iliad 22.440–441):

ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ ἱστὸν ὕφαινε μυχῷ δόμου ὑψηλοῖο
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, ἐν δὲ θρόνα ποικίλ’ ἔπασσε.
As for her [= Andromache], she was weaving [huphainein] a web in the inner room of the lofty palace,
a purple fabric that folds in two, and she was inworking [en-passein] patterns-of-flowers [thróna] that were varied [poikíla].

Next, I quote the wording that concludes my analysis of this Homeric passage (HPC=2010|2009: 275 | II§376, with bibliography):

Each flower in the sequence of flowers woven into the web is a love charm, an incantation that sings its own love song. Each flower is different from the next, and the sequence of flowers becomes a variety of love songs within a single sustained narrative, a single love story, which is the pattern-woven web in its entirety.

In Masterpieces of Metonymy (N 2015, which I will continue to abbreviate as MoM), I have more to say about comparative evidence concerning thróna as love charms, but I confine myself here to epitomizing the relevance of such evidence to Song 1 of Sappho (MoM 2§76):

Thus, poikiló-thronos in Song 1 of Sappho is an epithet invoking Aphrodite in her role as ‘our lady of the varied-pattern-woven floral love charms’. In terms of this epithet, the love charms or erotic enchantments conveyed in love songs are exteriorized as variegated floral patterns that are woven into a fabric. And it is the song itself—in this case, Song 1 of Sappho—that weaves these variegated floral patterns into the enchanted fabric. Once the singing begins, this fabric is ready to wear for the enchanting Aphrodite.

18§2. That said, I bring to a close my explanation for adding the word ‘magical’ in translating the epithet poikiló-thronos, and I continue to interpret this epithet, which is invoking Aphrodite at the beginning of Sappho’s Song 1, as ‘[you, O goddess wearing your dress that is decorated] with varied-pattern-woven magical flowers’. I must add, however, that thróna need not be visualized exclusively as floral patterns that are woven into the exterior of Aphrodite’s dress. The word thróna can refer to love charms in general, not only to floral love charms in particular. In Idyll 2 of Theocritus, for example, which dramatizes the incantations of a lovesick woman who is targeting her fickle ex-lover-man by spinning a magic wheel and chanting love spells that are programmed to attract him, to drag him back to her love, the same word thróna (line 59) is intoned with reference to love charms that are meant to be anointed as magical unguents at entrances to buildings frequented by the unsuspecting ex-lover. Such unguents, I would argue, are floral, made of oil that is scented with extracts of flowers. In any case, the thróna of Idyll 2 are a vital part of the love charms deployed by the lovesick woman—love charms that include the actual chanting of love spells while spinning a magic wheel. We can see a picture of such a magic wheel being spun in a Classical Athenian vase painting that I have already described in Essay 9. Pictured in that painting, by the Meidias Painter, is Aphrodite caressing her boy-love Adonis, and, hovering over the loving pair is a winged cupid or Eros, labeled Himeros, who is a personification of ‘longing, desire’’, described in Essay 9§§5–6. This hovering Eros is spinning a magic wheel, aiming it at Adonis, who languidly gazes back at it. The spinning of the wheel here is accurately described, with valuable commentary, by Lucilla Burn 1987:40, 43. And, as we now look further to our left, next to the figure of Eros who is targeting Adonis by spinning his wheel at this lover of Aphrodite, we see the figure of a female beauty who is teasing a little bird perched on her index finger. This figure is likewise described in Essay 9§§5–6. And the bird here, as we will now see, is directly relevant to the magic wheel.

18§3. There is more to say about the magic wheel in Idyll 2 of Theocritus, where we have just seen how a lovesick woman was anointing thróna (line 59) as magic charms to attract her fickle lover-man—and how she was spinning her magic wheel while singing incantations, conjuring the wheel to attract her ex-lover with its magical compulsion, dragging him back to her love. Now I must add that the actual word used for that ‘magic wheel’ throughout Idyll 2 of Theocritus is iunx, which is compulsively repeated in a sung refrain that is in and of itself a love spell, a magical formula designed to drag the ex-lover-man back to his lover-woman (lines 17, 22, 27, 32, 37, 42, 47, 52, 57, 63):

ἶυγξ, ἕλκε τὺ τῆνον ἐμὸν ποτὶ δῶμα τὸν ἄνδρα.
O magic-wheel [iunx], drag him to my house, that man of mine.

My translation, I should add, interprets the word ἐμόν here, meaning ‘my’, as applying in this magical refrain not only to ‘my house’ but also, by way of a device known as apo koinou in the verbal arts, to ‘my man’.

18§4. And here is where my essay can make a smooth transition from magical flowers to birds that I think are linked to the flowers we see being conjured in Song 1 of Sappho. The word iunx, which I have been translating just now as ‘magic wheel’, is the same word that is traditionally used in referring to a favorite bird of Aphrodite, namely, the iunx or wryneck, the Jynx torquilla. The wryneck, like the magic wheel that is apparently named after the bird (the wording of Pindar in Pythian 4.214 makes such an aetiology explicit), was believed to possess in its own right the magical powers of erotic attraction, and I think that the words of incantation that formalize such powers are making their presence felt in Song 1 of Sappho. The fact is, this song actually deploys wording that we find used in other texts that are explicitly meant to cast magic spells on intended lovers, as I pointed out in Essay 1 of this book here, following that most perceptive study by John Petropoulos 1993 bearing the evocative title “Sappho the Sorceress”. So, the magic eroticism of the wryneck, made explicit by way of the magic wheel in Idyll 2 of Theocritus, is at least an implied verbal aphrodisiac in Song 1 of Sappho.

18§5. Of course the linking of the wryneck with Aphrodite was not confined to the verbal arts. In the visual arts as well, this little bird, like the sparrow, was a favorite of the goddess, as we saw in Essay 16. So, on the basis of what we find in the visual arts, it would be tempting to think of the strouthoi at line 10 of Sappho’s Song 1 as wrynecks perhaps, not as sparrows. After all, as I noted in Essay 16, the birds that are the strouthoi of Aphrodite in Song 1 can be imagined as birds generically, not only as sparrows specifically. And, unlike the sparrow, the wryneck had an even more special connection to the goddess: whereas the sparrow is a sexual little thing, yes, that particular bird does not possess, it seems, any specially magical powers of sexuality. Here is where the wryneck is more special: this particular bird, not just the magic wheel named after it, is a love charm in its own right, as we see most clearly in the visual arts. A shining example, as I have just pointed out above (18§2), is a Classical Athenian painting by the Meidias Painter, picturing side-by-side a hovering Eros spinning his magic wheel and, to our left, a beautiful female attendant of Aphrodite who is holding a small bird perched on her index finger. Art historians are inclined to identify this small bird as a wryneck (Burn 1987:40, 43; further argumentation by Turner 2005:81). Thus the links of Aphrodite with the wryneck reveal the goddess in a special role, as mistress of erotic incantations, love spells, charms. It could even be said that Aphrodite is mistress of all charm, of everything that is charming, enchanting, about erotic love. I take advantage here of the fortunate coincidence that the English word charm is actually derived from the Latin word carmen, ‘song’, which conveys not only the general idea of singing but also the specific idea of magical singing, incantation. And the word incantation leads in turn to the idea of enchantment, which conveys both the beauty and the pleasure of charm.

18§6. Here I pause to take a second look at the strouthoi of Sappho’s Song 1. So, what are we to make of these birds now? Are they simply birds generically or are they sparrows or maybe even wrynecks specifically? Looking again at ordinary sparrows, I ask myself: what would be the beauty and the pleasure here? Well, we could invoke once again the notorious sexuality of these little birds, yes, and I have in fact already noted in my previous essays how sex can become celestially beautiful as well as pleasurable when we picture Aphrodite as the radiantly divine beauty who bestows her favor, her kharis—even when such divine favoritism extends all the way down to those earthy little sparrows, thus elevating them as favorites of the goddess. So, we cannot rule out sparrows as the sweet birds of Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho, but we cannot insist, either, that the strouthoi of this song must be sparrows—any more than we can insist that they are, say, the magical wrynecks. All that these birds need to be is to be charming—whether that charm is literally magical, as in the case of wrynecks, or just plain worldly, as in the case of sparrows. The beautiful Aphrodite is a fickle goddess, and she has many other favorite birds, not just ordinary sparrows or even magical wrynecks. It is almost as if any given species of the genus I am calling simply ‘birds’ could be made to fit the generic sense of the word strouthos—so long as the given bird is not lacking in at least a generic kind of charm—not lacking in what ancient Greeks would describe as kharis. But how to translate kharis? A moment ago, I used the English word favor in referring to the favoritism shown by Aphrodite to some of her favorite birds. And then, just now, I was using the English word charm. Both these words, favor and charm, convey aspects of a unified idea conveyed by the Greek word kharis. In the case of the word charm, it conveys the idea of beauty together with the pleasure that comes with the beauty. In the case of the word favor, it conveys the idea of sharing, of mutuality, of reciprocity—which is the give-and-take that is needed for the pleasure that comes with the beauty.

18§7. And whatever is charming about the favorite birds of Aphrodite can vary. The goddess, indifferent to variations in charm, favors a wide variety that ranges from the endearingly small to the stunningly grandiose. The variety of birds that could be called strouthoi, as we already saw in the previous essays, could include not only the earthy little sparrow on a small scale but also the celestial swan on a far grander scale. And a heavenly bird like the swan, with its gleaming appearance, would surely be far better suited to the grandeur of the beautiful goddess—far better than, say, the dusky or even drab little sparrow. Moreover, the radiant birds of Aphrodite do not even have to be big birds like swans. White doves, for example, can be just as grand—at least, they can be just as radiant in appearance. Still, as I already said, appearances can be deceiving. There are also other little birds that are just as drab as sparrows, like warblers or especially nightingales, but such other birds are drab only from the outside, for the eye to see, while they are most colorful from the inside, to the attentive ear. The hearing of a songbird’s song can give as much pleasure, with the beauty of its coloratura, as the heavenly vision of a most beautiful flower such as a rose. As I said before, it is with this contrast in mind that I show, as illustration for this essay, that ancient painting of a drab little nightingale singing in the company of radiantly colored roses.

18§8. Mention of beautiful roses brings me back to flowers. Whereas appearances can be deceiving when we consider the beauty and the pleasure that we experience in thinking about the charm of birds favored by Aphrodite, things are different when it comes to the charm of flowers. Here the kharis of Aphrodite is more readily visible, even if this kharis is just as variable. In terms of my overall argument, then, the variety of Aphrodite’s favorite birds is more than matched by the variety of her favorite flowers, visibly pattern-woven into the dress of the goddess.

18§9. For my analysis so far, I have been using two English words to express the Greek idea of kharis as the essence of beauty—and of the shared pleasure that comes with the beauty. My first word was charm, by which I meant to convey a sense of the enchantment that comes with kharis as a sublime experience of beauty and of the shared pleasure to be found in beauty. Then I introduced a second word, favor, to highlight the give-and-take of such a shared experience. And now I will add a third word, which is simply a variant of the first, by capitalizing the first letter of charm, thus personifying this noun. And I use this personification, Charm, in an effort to convey the enchanting totality of Aphrodite. But such a totality, we will now see, gets to be personified in Greek myth not as a singularity but as a varied multiplicity.

18§10. In Greek myth, the singular “common noun” kharis can be personified as a plural “proper noun” Kharites, which becomes in most mythological traditions the shared name of three goddesses, figured as multiple attendants of Aphrodite. These three goddesses, the Kharites, are traditionally called the ‘Graces’ in English. But such a translation, ‘Graces’, cannot fully capture the essence of the Greek plural name Kharites as it relates to Aphrodite—nor for that matter is ‘grace’ a fully adequate translation of the Greek singular noun kharis. In hopes, then, for a fuller understanding of the word kharis and of the name Kharites, I will supplement the idea of grace, personified as the Graces, with the idea of Charm personified—even if I back away from thinking of the multiple Graces as ‘Charms’.

18§11. I will now focus on a most relevant remark made by Pausanias, who traveled around the Greek-speaking world in the second century CE. I start by sketching the context (Pausanias 6.24.6-7). Our traveler happens to be visiting the agora of the people of Elis, and he sees there three statues representing the three Kharites or ‘Graces’, and each one of these three female beauties viewed by our traveler is holding a symbol of their identities. The first beauty, Pausanias reports, is holding a rhodon ‘rose’. As for the second beauty, she is holding an astragalon: this Greek word, when you look it up in dictionaries, is translated into English as ‘die’—as when gamblers cast a die or more than one die, that is, dice. Then, finally, Pausanias comes to the third of the three female beauties, and he describes this Kharis as holding a small branch of mursínē ‘myrtle’. After listing the three things that each one of the Kharites ‘Graces’ is holding, Pausanias goes out of his way to engage in a wistful generalization about the die that is held by the Kharis who is situated in the middle of this triad of statues. This die, our traveler remarks, is to be cast not at all in serious gambling for material gain, which as he says wistfully is comparable to the ugliness of old age, but as a beautiful paignion ‘plaything’ meant for playful love-games that bring delight to young meirakia ‘boys’ and young parthenoi ‘girls’. Here, then, is the text of Pausanias (6.24.6-7), followed by my working translation:

{6.24.6}… ἔστι δὲ καὶ Χάρισιν ἱερὸν καὶ ξόανα ἐπίχρυσα τὰ ἐς ἐσθῆτα, πρόσωπα δὲ καὶ χεῖρες καὶ πόδες λίθου λευκοῦ· {6.24.7} ἔχουσι δὲ ἡ μὲν αὐτῶν ῥόδον, ἀστράγαλον δὲ ἡ μέση, καὶ ἡ τρίτη κλῶνα οὐ μέγαν μυρσίνης. ἔχειν δὲ αὐτὰς ἐπὶ τοιῷδε εἰκάζοι τις ἂν τὰ εἰρημένα, ῥόδον μὲν καὶ μυρσίνην Ἀφροδίτης τε ἱερὰ εἶναι καὶ οἰκεῖα τῷ ἐς Ἄδωνιν λόγῳ, Χάριτας δὲ Ἀφροδίτῃ μάλιστα <φίλας> εἶναι θεῶν· ἀστράγαλον δὲ μειρακίων τε καὶ παρθένων, οἷς ἄχαρι οὐδέν πω πρόσεστιν ἐκ γήρως, τούτων εἶναι τὸν ἀστράγαλον παίγνιον. τῶν Χαρίτων δὲ ἐν δεξιᾷ ἄγαλμά ἐστιν Ἔρωτος· ἕστηκε δὲ ἐπὶ βάθρου τοῦ αὐτοῦ.

[In the agora of the people of Elis] there is also a sacred-space [hieron] for the Graces [Kharites]; their statues are made of wood, with their clothes gilded, while their faces, hands, and feet are of white marble. One of them [= the Kharites] holds a rose [rhodon], the middle one a die [astragalon], and the third a small spray of myrtle [mursínē]. {6.24.7} One would consider it likely that the things that have been said about them would be the reasons for their holding these things, and the reasons would be as follows. The rose [rhodon] and the myrtle [mursínē] are sacred [hiera] to Aphrodite and connected [oikeia] to what is said with regard to Adonis, while the Graces [Kharites] are of all deities [theoi] the nearest-and-dearest to Aphrodite. As for the die [astragalon], it is a plaything [paignion] of young-boys [meirakia] and young-girls [parthénoi], who are as yet totally exempt from the disenchantment [= that which is akhari ‘without kharis’ = what is without Charm] that awaits them with the coming of old-age [gēras]. On the right of the Graces [Kharites] is an image of erotic-love [Erōs], standing on the same pedestal.

18§12. I find it charming that Pausanias here has been wafted away, if only for a moment, from his down-to-earth description of the statues representing the Kharites accompanied by Erōs. We now find our traveler flying off on a wistful reverie about the beauty and the pleasure that are personified by the Kharites, goddesses whom he links with the playful eroticism of charming young boys and charming young girls as they take their chances in the game of love. On the eroticism of astragala ‘dice’ as represented in vase-paintings, I cite the relevant comments of Gloria Ferrari 2002:15–16, who actually compares the wording of Pausanias as quoted here.

18§13. In his far-flung generalizations about the enchanting love-games of youth, contrasted with the grim disenchantments of old age, Pausanias is starting to think about all the different visualizations of Aphrodite in all the different places that he has visited in his extensive travels, and now his mind’s eye fixes on two variations on the theme of Aphrodite’s favorite flowers: just as one of the Kharites, those beautiful attendants of Aphrodite, is holding a rose while another is holding a branch of myrtle, so also Aphrodite herself is commonly worshipped as “Our Lady of Roses” in some places and as “Our Lady of Myrtles” in other places. Such variations on the theme of Aphrodite’s charms match beautifully, I think, the varied flowers that are pattern-woven into the variegated dress of Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho.

18§14. I near the end here on a musical note, as it were, of “local color.” Or, really, on two musical notes, both of which are relevant to the generalization that we have just read in the comment of Pausanias about the various local connections of Aphrodite with either roses or myrtles, both of which flowers, as he says, are in turn also connected with that famous boy-love of the goddess, Adonis. First, I will consider the rose, and then, the myrtle. And I must emphasize, already in advance, that I will be relying heavily, in the course of these upcoming considerations about Aphrodite and Adonis and their flowers, on a relevant analysis by Marcel Detienne in his lastingly insightful book, The Gardens of Adonis (1994 [1977]), and by Laurialan Reitzammer (2016), in her intuitive follow-up book about those exotically perfumed Gardens.

18§14.1. I prioritize the rose here because we have more evidence about the connectivity of this flower with Aphrodite and Adonis together—as a loving couple. As I have already noted at §2 and §5 above, with reference to Essay 9, this couple’s amorous connections is pictured in a Classical Athenian vase painting by the Meidias Painter, showing Aphrodite caressing her boy-love Adonis. But I concentrate for the moment on visual evidence that comes not from Classical Athenian pictures but from post-Classical and non-Athenian vase-paintings that situate this amorous pair more specifically in a visual setting of roses and rosettes—a shining example of “local color.” The evidence comes from paintings on a special kind of lekythoi—known to art historians as “Pagenstecher Lekythoi,” named in honor of a pathfinding work by Rudolf Pagenstecher 1912, which were vases  produced in Paestum, Campania, and in Sicily from the middle of the fourth century and extending into the early years of the third century BCE. An incisive study by Michael Turner (2005, with extensive bibliography), has shown that these lekythoi were “containers for rose oil” (p. 66). With reference to the use of roses as an essential ingredient for the oil contained in these lekythoi, Turner (again, p. 66), links this use to “the mass cultivation of roses in Campania and Paestum mentioned by later writers,” and he cites an extensive list of references  to ancient sources (p. 67), especially the reportage of Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century CE, in his Natural History (3.40, 21.16; also 13.5, 13.26, 18.111). Turner (p. 67) also cites a most valuable set of earlier reportage, dating back to the fourth century BCE. It comes from an essay by Theophrastus, On scents (sections 45–47), and I quote here Turner’s summary (with reference to section 45, and with citations of relevant remarks by Jean-Pierre Brun 2000:281–282): “[Theophrastus says that] the perfume of rose oil was strong enough to overpower all other scents and smells, going on to add that it was produced on a large scale in Campania.” In this context, I cannot help but think back to the word thróna in Idyll 2 of Theocritus (line 59), referring to love charms that are meant to be anointed as aphrodisiac unguents at entrances to buildings frequented by an unsuspecting ex-boyfriend who is being targeted by his ex-girlfriend. As I argued in an earlier section of this essay (§2), such unguents could be floral, made of oil scented with extracts of flowers. And the most overpowering of such floral scents, as we have just read in the reportage of Theophrastus, is the sweet scent of roses.

18§14.2. But there are of course also other scents of other beautiful flowers that rival the rose. One such beauty is the myrtle, as we see in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, featuring a most memorable female character who embodies the tree that produces this beautiful flower. She is a sensuous young woman called Murrhínē (lines 70, 850,  851, 874), whose name personifies the mursínē  or ‘myrtle-tree’. Or, we can say ‘myrtle-bush’ or ‘myrtle-shrub’ if we shift our perspective from nature to culture, since this tree, known to botanists as the Mediterranean variety of Myrtus communis, can be cut down to the size of a bush or a shrub when it is transferred, from the wild, to be cultivated in gardens. Further, this word can also refer, more specifically, to a ‘myrtle-spray’ for making a garland to be worn as a beautiful adornment for the hair on festive occasions—including, of course, such amorous scenes of boy-girl courtship that we saw being imagined by Pausanias in that reverie of his that I had quoted earlier. Pronounced as mursínē by Pausanias, as we saw, this same word was pronounced as  murrhínē in the dialect of everyday Athenians in the Classical period, as we hear it spoken, for example, in the Clouds of Aristophanes (line 1364). In another comedy of Aristophanes, the Lysistrata (lines 937–948), we hear the words of Murrhínē herself, this sensuous female embodiment of the myrtle, speaking seductively about anointing her bare skin with oil that carries the scent of extractions from myrtle-blossoms. Her wording is designed to arouse—even further—someone who is actually already quite aroused by her sexuality. That someone is the sexually frustrated husband of Murrhínē, and his name, Kinēsíās, is comically associated here with the idea of sexual arousal implied by colloquial uses of the verb kineîn, meaning basically ‘set in motion’. The arousal of the man here is linked with the sexual implications that are built into the name of the woman, Murrhínē (line 874), since ancient Greek words for the flower and the berry of the myrtle tree can refer to female genitalia (Reitzammer 2016:193n88 helpfully cites the analysis by Detienne 1994 [1972] 62–64, and I highlight especially the references at his p.168n21). The sexual imagery involves not only the form murrhínē but also two shorter forms: first, múrtos, a feminine noun meaning either ‘myrtle-tree’ or ‘myrtle-spray’, and, second, múrton, a neuter noun meaning ‘myrtle-berry’. The sexual imagery built into these words is evident in the Lysistrata, where the Laconian word μύρτω (at line 1004), genitive singular of múrton ‘myrtle-berry’, is a metaphor referring to female genitalia. In general, such colloquial metaphorizing is well documented by medical writers who correlated their own clinical terms with a variety of such sexualized colloquialisms, especially in the case of múrton as a ‘myrtle-berry’ (we find a notable example in a treatise attributed to Rufus of Ephesus, On names for parts of the human body, sections 109–113; for accurate anatomical translations into English, with commentary, I recommend the work of Carolyn J. Gersh 2012). Also indicative of the sexual references built into the naming of Murrhínē, ‘Miss Myrtle’, are the sexualized terms of endearment that her frustrated husband directs at this alluring woman in the Lysistrata, reshaping her suggestive name with such diminutives as Murrhinídion (line 872) and Múrrhion (line 906), meaning ‘Little Myrtle’.

18§15. The noun referring to the scented oil that our ‘Little Myrtle’ in the Lysistrata brings with her, in a flask, for the purpose of anointing not only herself, if she ever gets around to stripping naked, but also her would-be sexual partner, is múron (lines 942, 944, 946). And the corresponding verb that refers to what I have just described here as the act of anointing one’s own bare skin as well as someone else’s with this scented oil is murízein.  We find a most relevant—and suggestive—context for this verb at a point where Murrhínē asks an intentionally seductive question: ‘do you want me to give you a [good] oiling [murízein]?’ (line 937: βούλει μυρίσω σε;).

18§16. It almost goes without saying that my attempt to render colloquially the suggestive Greek words spoken here by ‘Little Myrtle’, who offers to give her sexual partner a good ‘oiling’, comes closer to expressing in colloquial English the sensuality of her erotic scene here in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes—by contrast with the colorless description that I had attempted a moment ago when I spoke of ‘anointing’ the bare skin with scented oil. In this context, I cannot help but think back to my use of the same word ‘anoint’ in my description, earlier on (at §2 above), of the thróna in Idyll 2 of Theocritus (line 59) as love charms that are meant to be ‘anointed’ as aphrodisiac ‘unguents’ at entrances to buildings frequented by an unsuspecting ex-boyfriend who is being targeted by his ex-girlfriend. As I already argued (again, §2), such aphrodisiac ‘unguents’ could be floral, made of oil scented with extracts of flowers. And by now we can see that those flowers could be the myrtles of Aphrodite—or, for that matter, her roses.

18§17. But there is a problem here. My use of English words like ‘anoint’ and ‘unguent’ in referring to the scented oils of the ancient world does not do justice to the varieties of viscosity and liquidity in the manufacture of such oils in the context of any typical ancient unguentarium (for more on the technologies of unguentaria I recommend especially the work of Brun 2000). Variations in degrees of viscosity and liquidity would determine whether the scented oil, after pouring, is smeared or splashed on the bare skin. Either way, the skin will absorb the oil, especially after it is rubbed in, and the body will now give off a blended scent that combines nature with culture. In other words, the combined scent can now blend the natural smell of the human body with the cultivated scent of the manufactured oil that smells of flowers—as also, optionally, of other ingredients such as spices. So, modern references to ancient scented oil as perfume can be misleading—at least, to the extent that the manufacture of ancient perfumes did not involve alcohol, as in the case of modern perfumes, which can be splashed or even sprayed. So, we should try not to imagine an ancient ‘Miss Myrtle’ in the act of, say, spraying her naked body with myrtle perfume. That said, however, the fact remains that the use of the modern term perfume fits admirably, in most other ways, the sensuousness of erotic scenes that are conjured by ancient references to scented oil.

18§18. There is more to it. In ancient Greek civilization, ever since the Mycenaean era in the second millennium BCE, the sensuousness of scented oil could translate into the charisma, as it were, of power, wealth, and prestige. To put it more simply, the sexual messaging of perfumes could and did translate into political messaging. A striking example, as demonstrated by Joanne Murphy (2013), is the perfume industry that was managed, once upon a time, by the Mycenaean palace at Pylos (the dating for the destruction of which goes back to the thirteenth century BCE). The rulers of this palace, as Murphy shows, had developed a bureaucratic system for the production and distribution of scented oils as a way of showing off their political power, metaphorized as erotic power. What makes Murphy’s demonstration particularly compelling is her deft application of biological research concerning the sense of smell. I quote her formulation of the basics  (Murphy p. 246, with bibliography): “The physical structure of the nose and brain results in a privileged connection between the olfactory system and the limbic system”; the brain’s “limbic system,” as she points out, “manages emotions, behavior, and memory”. Murphy’s formulation here is relevant, I note in passing, to my analysis, in Masterpieces of Metonymy (MoM 1§§24–33), of a story told in the film Scent of a Woman (1992; directed by Martin Brest, screenplay by Bo Goldman). But that is another story. In the “story” of my argument there, I was analyzing how the power of smell is connected to the power of sexual attraction. By contrast, the “story” of Murphy’s argument about the production and distribution of scented oil at Pylos (the details are expertly documented by Shelmerdine 1985) is far more complex: in this case, as Murphy argues, the power of smell is connected to the power of sexual attraction only in a less direct way: more directly, this power is connected to the power of political attractiveness, metaphorized as the sensuality of perfume. Just as the scent of perfume can overpower and thus dominate other smells, including the unpleasant aspects of smells emanating from the human body, so also the elites who smell of perfume can dominate the non-elites while competing with each other in various different selections of various different fragrances.

18§19. I should add that the sensuality of perfume, as culturally encoded in ancient Greek times, was not limited to the contact of scented oil with your bare skin: the contact could extend to your head of hair, as we see in Murphy’s survey (2013:256–257), and even to the fabric of the clothes you wear, especially for festive occasions (p. 255). The visual effects of such luxurious clothing suffused with scented oil is evident in Iliad 18.595–596, where charming adolescents, both girls and boys, who are singing and dancing at a festive occasion are described as wearing fabrics that are ‘gleaming with olive oil’ (596: στίλβοντας ἐλαίῳ). And the visual effects are surely matched, in such sensuous contexts, by the olfactory power of the fragrances that are carried in the air by the perfume.

18§20. I now focus once again on the rose and the myrtle, those two favorite flowers of Aphrodite, which are highlighted by Pausanias in his wistful reverie, quoted above (§11), about the beauty and the pleasure that are personified by the Kharites or ‘Graces’, those charming goddesses whom he links with the playful eroticism, as I described it, of charming young boys and charming young girls as they take their chances in the game of love. When I first looked at the wording of Pausanias here, I was focusing on different visualizations of Aphrodite in all the different places that this man visited in his extensive travels. That is, I focused on the visual power of Aphrodite’s favorite flowers, embodied in the personification of Aphrodite herself  as “Our Lady of Roses” in some places and as “Our Lady of Myrtles” in other places. Such variations on the theme of Aphrodite’s charms match beautifully, I said, the varied flowers that are pattern-woven into the variegated dress of Aphrodite in Song 1 of Sappho. But now my focus shifts to the olfactory power of Aphrodite’s favorite flowers, which I think match the olfactory power of Aphrodite herself, whose divine body would be scented with the same fragrances that are carried in the air by the real flowers that are pictured as the thróna or ‘varied magical flowers’ that are pattern-woven into her dress. And the dress of the goddess, I dare say, would also be scented with the same fragrances. The scent of the goddess matches her beauty, and the charm of it all is captured by her captivating epithet, poikilóthronos, ‘[you, O goddess wearing your dress that is decorated] with varied-pattern-woven magical flowers’. The scented oils of those ‘varied magical flowers’ of the goddess will forever carry in the air the fragrance of the floral charms that are pattern-woven into the perfumed dress that covers the perfumed body of Sappho’s Aphrodite.


Essay 19: The theo-eroticism of mythmaking about Aphrodite’s love for boys like Adonis in ancient Greek paintings

rewritten from 2021.01.09.

19§0.  In the first chapter of my book Masterpieces of Metonymy (2015),, I used the term theo-eroticism as a way of describing a kind of sexuality that gets transformed into something sublime by way of blending eroticism with divinity. In line with terminology used by exegetes of the Bible in their interpretations of some intensely erotic situations pictured in the Song of Songs, I experimented with applying the terms of such biblical exegesis to ancient Greek myths. And, following the biblical model, my experimentation in that study concentrated on the sexuality of “divinity” as a male principle. But what about sexuality as a divinely female principle? In the present essay, I will attempt to make up for neglecting, in my previous work, the most obvious example of a sexually active female divinity, who is none other than the goddess Aphrodite herself. I will concentrate, however, on only one of the many surviving aspects of myth-making about Aphrodite’s sexuality, which is, the passionate love of this adult female immortal for a pre-adult male mortal, the boy Adonis. The mythical world of this divine love, as I hope to show, was quite real for real people in the real world of pre-modern times, ancient times. When I say “real people” here, I mean people who, back then, actually worshipped Aphrodite as the goddess of love and who would therefore actually think that the various different myths centering on such a divine love were relevant to the various different ritual practices that were intimately connected to their own life-experiences, especially when it comes to love, death, and, possibly, a coming back to life after death—since the ancient myths were telling them about a yearly resurrection of Adonis through the agency of Aphrodite’s love. For them, the boy Adonis could thus be figured as a vital part of an overall model for thinking about their own lives in terms of love, death, and a possible afterlife. In the spirit of such a frame of mind, I start my essay here by showing a modern painting that illustrates, in its own romanticizing way, the theo-erotic power of Aphrodite in bringing Adonis back to life and love. Such power, I must add most emphatically, was already verbalized in the songs of Sappho. And, as we will see, it was also visualized in vase paintings, some of which date back to the Classical era of Athens.

John William Waterhouse (1849–1917), The Awakening of Adonis. Andrew Lloyd Webber collection. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Close-up of The Awakening of Adonis.

19§1. Following up on the modern picture I just showed, I now turn to a comparably erotic ancient visualization that reaffirms, I think, the idea that Aphrodite did indeed bring Adonis back to life—or, to say it more accurately in terms of ritual practices that re-enact myth—that the goddess must bring her boy-love back to life again and again, every recurrent year, since Adonis must die every year, again and again. I will focus on a reference to such a visualization in a Classical Athenian painting that was inspired, as I argue in Essay 9, by songs of Sappho about Aphrodite’s love for Adonis. It is a painting created in Athens by the so-called Meidias Painter, who lived in the fifth century BCE. I have already shown, I have already shown, in Essay 9 (at §5 there), a line drawing of the central erotic scene that is pictured by the painter, and I now show it again here:

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Line-drawing by Noel Spencer, aided by Natasha Bershadsky. Featured in this close-up is Adonis at the center, attended by Aphrodite and by a winged Eros. Also attending is a lady who is teasing her pet sparrow. For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive.

But now I also show, by way of two side-by-side line drawings, a closer look at some salient details featured in this erotic scene:

Red-figure hydria by the Meidias Painter. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Details: lady teasing bird; Aphrodite with Adonis, who gazes, dazed, at Eros and his magic wheel, which is now mostly eroded. Line drawings by Jill Robbins.

In the left frame we see a female beauty teasing a small bird that is perched on her index finger, and I have already argued, in Essay 9, that the choreography of her gesture was inspired, as it were, by a poetic moment, now lost, in the songs of Sappho. And then, in the right frame, we see Adonis being caressed from behind by a female beauty who is Aphrodite herself, while a winged Eros is spinning a magic wheel to arouse the love of the languid boy for the goddess. We have seen it all before, in Essay 9. But I draw special attention, this time around, to the attempt of Eros at arousing Adonis with the magic wheel of love, called a iunx, which may be correlated with the kind of little bird that is perched on the other female beauty’s finger—a bird that art historians are tempted to identify with the wryneck, likewise called a iunx (the relevant argumentation of Michael Turner 2005:81 is for me most persuasive). Here too, we have seen it all before—in Essay 18. For good measure, however, since the painting of the magic wheel of love is in this case eroded, I now show a more visible attestation of such a iunx, and we see it being spun here again by a winged Eros:

Photo and cast of gilded copper ring: Eros playing with a iunx/iynx (magical wheel on a string). From Egypt, probably of Greek manufacture, ca. 300 BCE. British Museum #1888,0601.1. Image via British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
19§2.  Having taken a closer look at these details featured in the erotic scene painted by the Meidias Painter, I have by now come to the conclusion that Adonis here is being brought back to life by way of concerted attempts to bring back his sexual desire for the goddess. To put it another way, Adonis is not about to die in this picture. He has already died, and I have in fact already analyzed in previous essays the mourning for Adonis by Aphrodite and by her cupids and by all the female beauties who attend the goddess; I refer especially to Essay 11§§8–10. This is not to say, however, that Adonis will not die again. He will, next year, only to be brought back to life again, next year, and I will have more to say later about the cyclical death and resurrection of this boy-love of Aphrodite. Also, the same can be said for the little bird that is perched on the index finger of the female beauty in this same painting by the Meidias Painter: it too, like Adonis, can die and be mourned and then get resurrected every recurring year. But my point for now is simply this: Adonis is not about to die in the present tense of this picture painted by the Meidias Painter. Rather, he is about to be coaxed back, sexually, into life after death. I see an analogy here with the modern painting that I showed at the start, where Adonis wakes up to life by way of a loving kiss from Aphrodite.

19§3. If I am right, then, about the painting by the Meidias Painter, his picture depicts the moment where the mortal Adonis is brought back to life from death. And now I come to a most important point of comparison: there is another picture by the Meidias Painter that depicts the moment where the mortal Phaon is brought back to youth from old age. Again, we have seen it all before. I had originally shown the picture of a rejuvenated Phaon in Essay 9, then again in Essay 11, and now I once again compare this rejuvenated figure of Phaon with the resurrected figure of Adonis:

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81947. Line drawing by Jill Robbins.

19§4. The erotic scene that I have just now shown again, where we see a rejuvenated Phaon enjoying the amorous company of a female beauty while Aphrodite, overhead, is driving her chariot pulled by cupids, was inspired, as I argue, by the songs of Sappho—just like the other erotic scene painted by the Meidias Painter, where we see Adonis being caressed back to life by Aphrodite herself. But there are differences between Adonis and Phaon. I start with an apt formulation about Adonis by the art historian Lucilla Burn (1987:41): “The cult of Adonis probably reached the Greek mainland through Cyprus, with islands such as Lesbos helping in the diffusion of the cult.” This formulation highlights the intermediacy of Lesbos, homeland of Sappho, in diffusing the “cult”—that is, the myths and rituals connected with the figure of Adonis as lover of Aphrodite. And the fact is, as Burn points out (p. 41), that the earliest attestations of the figure of Adonis himself are to be found in the songs of Sappho. But Adonis is not a native son of Sappho’s Lesbos. He is an import from the Near East by way of Cyprus, as Burn has noted in her formulation, and his identity can be traced back from there, all the way back to a most ancient Near Eastern figure, namely, the Mesopotamian (Sumerian / Akkadian) Dumuzi / Tammuz, a youthful male mortal who is every year brought back to life from death by his divine female lover, the goddess Inanna / Ishtar. And here we see a basic difference between Adonis and Phaon, even though their identities are blended in the songs of Sappho. By contrast with the Near Eastern provenance of the myth about the love of Aphrodite for Adonis, there was a “home-grown” myth about the love of Aphrodite for Phaon, as I showed in an early study (N 1973, cited by Burn 1987:42n88). And while the figure of Adonis was a Near Eastern import of great antiquity, the “home-grown” figure of Phaon, native son of Lesbos, was even older. Phaon can be traced even further back in time, back to a prehistoric Indo-European figure whose divine female lover may not even always have been Aphrodite, whose own Cypriote provenance brings her closer, in any case, to the Near Eastern provenance of Adonis. What is more important for now, however, is the simple fact that the provenance of Adonis was from the very start a “foreign” intrusion into the Greek-speaking world, even if it was mediated by way of a blending with what I have described as the “home-grown” provenance of Phaon, who was a mythological native son, as it were, of Sappho’s homeland, Lesbos.

19§5. The mythological identity of Adonis as a “foreign” import from the Near East led to the perception of this figure as more “exotic” by comparison with “home-grown” boy-loves of Aphrodite such as Phaon. And this exoticism of Adonis, which was an aspect of his eroticism, inspired a specially powerful charisma of its own, since this particular boy-love of the goddess was, exceptionally for the ancient Greeks, a god in his own right. I have described him already as a pre-adult male mortal. But this description should not be taken to mean that Adonis was a human. No, he was not a human. He was a god. And this “foreign” god was not like the typical Greek gods, who were sky-dwelling immortals. No, Adonis was a mortal god, a dying god. According to various versions of a myth that already existed before Adonis was imported into a Greek context, this mortal god went hunting once upon a time, against the wishes of his goddess lover, and he was gored to death by a mighty boar, as we will see later in a Greek retelling. Further, this pre-existing myth was matched by pre-existing rituals that re-enacted annually the beautiful young god’s death—and his resurrection after death. Thus the exotic as well as erotic Near Eastern prehistory of Adonis inspired a specially powerful charisma of its own, as I was saying, and I am now ready to describe such charisma as a kind of theo-eroticism that is matched by the female lover of this dying god, who is the goddess Aphrodite herself. In terms of such a theo-erotic relationship between Adonis and Aphrodite, any personal engagement with their charisma could be valued as a luxury—as a kind of ‘luxuriance’ that we see being signaled by the word (h)abrosunē in the celebrated wording of Sappho (Π2 25–26 = Fragment 58.25–26 ed. Voigt, as analyzed in my earlier work, at §§29–31 in Nagy 2019.03.08, linked here). A visual sense of such luxuriance is I think well represented in two Renaissance paintings that I show here.

Annibale Carracci (1560–1609), Venus, Adonis, and Cupid. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640 ), Venus and Adonis. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 37.162; gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937. Image via The Met’s Open Access program.

19§6. My formulation of ‘luxuriance’ leads me now to think about the actual use of the two Classical Athenian vases considered so far, both of which are graced with paintings by the Meidias Painter. As we have seen, the central erotic theme in one of these painted pictures was the resurrection of Adonis by way of sexual arousal through the agency of Aphrodite, and, in the other, it was more simply the rejuvenation of Phaon by Aphrodite. Both of these erotic themes, driven by the primal sexuality of Aphrodite, involved a sense of ‘luxuriance’, as I argue—especially in the case of Adonis, whose exotic Near Eastern provenance made him seem all the more ‘luxuriant’—theo-erotically luxuriant. But this theo-erotic kind of luxuriance, on a mundane level, would have been as expensive as it was chic. In this essay, I propose to connect the worldliness of the materialistic observation I just made by taking a good hard look at the expensiveness of acquiring such objects as these two vases painted by the Meidias Painter.

19§7. And here I return to a basic fact about both vases. These expensive pieces of art were buried in the same tomb, together with the dead body of the person who presumably owned these precious objects. So, what is the connection between these expensive works of art, produced in Athens, and the presumably wealthy Etruscan in North Italy who owned them and was eventually buried with them?

19§8. I can ask the same kind of question about less prestigious precious objects, such as the vases produced locally in South Italy many years later, mostly in the fourth and the third centuries BCE—and we would expect that these vases too had been buried with their owners. I have shown an example in Essay 17: it is a vase graced with a painting that pictures a profile of Aphrodite paired with a magnified wryneck and with a miniaturized rose, that is, with a rosette. I show the picture again here:

South Italy (Paestum), fourth century BCE. Attributed to Asteas. “Unprovenanced”: details from Turner 2005:75. Drawing by Jill Robbins.19§9. Keeping in mind this example of South Italian art, I now return to the so-called Pagenstecher Lekythoi of South Italy, as I referred to them in Essay 18. In the context of that reference, I quoted a relevant formulation from Michael Turner (2005:66, with extensive bibliography) about these lekythoi: “they were containers for rose oil” (p. 66, following Rolf Hurschmann 1997:7). And now I quote what Turner also says (again, p. 66) about such oil vessels: “they were […] made and decorated for the grave.” Yes, I agree. But I would add that these same lekythoi were originally made and decorated for the living. As you were living out your life in your own lifetime, you would surely take delight in the fragrance of the rose-scented oil whenever you poured some of it from those pretty lekythoi and rubbed it into the skin. I am thinking here of those happy times when you were, yes, still very much alive, before you ever went to the grave. If you were, say, an elegant lady, old or young, who loved luxury, you would be scenting yourself on festive occasions with rose perfume that you would pour on your skin from your very own Pagenstecher Lekythos. And you would want to take this beloved Lekythos of yours with you to the grave, when the time comes. After all, who knows? Maybe the rose-scented oil inside the Pagenstecher Lekythos that is buried with you in your tomb could somehow help you come back to life again someday? And there would be the model of Adonis himself. After all, he came back to life after death. Or, to say it another way, Adonis comes back to life every year.

19§10. The reverie that I have fancifully reconstructed here depends on a well-known myth about the death and resurrection of Adonis as the boy-love of two rival goddesses, Persephone and Aphrodite. As we read in such sources as the Library of “Apollodorus” (3.14.4 ed. Frazer 1921), Adonis dies every year and then, afterwards, he comes back to life every year—but he is allowed to rejoin in life his loving mistress, Aphrodite, only after spending an allotted span of time in death with his other loving mistress, Persephone, goddess of the dead.

19§11. So, what does this well-known myth about the yearly death and resurrection of Adonis have to do with the Pagenstecher Lekythoi? For an answer, we must consider again the flower that gives its overpowering scent to the oil contained in these lekythoi. That flower is the rose. And the rose is the answer to our question, since it is so intimately connected with Adonis. As we read in the poem Lament for Adonis, by Bion of Smyrna (second / first century BCE), the very first rose that ever blossomed in this world had originated from the blood of Adonis—after a mighty boar that he was hunting gored him in the thigh with his tusk, so that the boy bled to death. We read about it at lines 64–66 of the Lament.

19§12. But there is more to it. The blood of Adonis is connected to the love of Aphrodite. I focus here on a detail in the Lament of Bion, at lines 6–14. We read here that blood was pumping out of the gash in the thigh of Adonis before the moment of his death, but it stopped flowing when that moment finally arrived, and now the blood was drained even from his rosy lips when, at the very moment of death, Aphrodite kissed those lips of his for the last time—or, as we are about to see, maybe not at all for the last time ever. Here are the lines from the Lament of Bion, 6–14, followed by my working translation:

αἰάζω τὸν Ἄδωνιν· ἐπαιάζουσιν Ἔρωτες.
κεῖται καλὸς Ἄδωνις ἐν ὤρεσι μηρὸν ὀδόντι,
λευκῷ λευκὸν ὀδόντι τυπείς, καὶ Κύπριν ἀνιῇ
λεπτὸν ἀποψύχων· τὸ δέ οἱ μέλαν εἴβεται αἷμα
{10} χιονέας κατὰ σαρκός, ὑπ’ ὀφρύσι δ’ ὄμματα ναρκῇ,
καὶ τὸ ῥόδον φεύγει τῶ χείλεος· ἀμφὶ δὲ τήνῳ
θνᾴσκει καὶ τὸ φίλημα, τὸ μήποτε Κύπρις ἀποίσει.
Κύπριδι μὲν τὸ φίλημα καὶ οὐ ζώοντος ἀρέσκει,
ἀλλ’ οὐκ οἶδεν Ἄδωνις ὅ νιν θνᾴσκοντ’ ἐφίλησεν.

I cry aiai—I make this lamenting cry for Adonis. And lamenting in response are the Cupids [Erōtes].
[He lies there, dead,] the beautiful Adonis is lying there. In the mountains—his thigh, the [boar’s] tusk
—the gleaming-white tusk had struck his gleaming-white thigh, and, for Aphrodite, he [now] makes-passionate-pain [aniân] for her [to feel],
as he oh-so-delicately [leptón] breathes-out-his-breath-of-life, and, with his dark blood running down
{10} his snowy flesh, his eyes, as they look up from under his brow, are-glazing-over [narkân].
Now the rose [rhodon] escapes from his lip, and on that lip
dies also the kiss that Aphrodite will maybe-never [mē-pote] carry-off-as-a-prize.
For Aphrodite the kiss—even though he is now not alive—gives delight,
but he does not know, Adonis does not, that she, as he dies, has just kissed him.

(At the last line, I prefer the manuscript reading θνᾴσκοντ’ ἐφίλησεν, not the emendation θνᾴσκοντα φίλησεν, since the augmented form conveys, in imitation of Homeric diction, I think, a perfective side-meaning for the aorist: ‘has just kissed’ not simply ‘kissed’.)

19§13. These lines from the Lament for Adonis by Bion are quoted by Michael Turner (2005:68, where he uses the edition and the accompanying translation of Bion by J. D. Reed 1997). According to Turner (p. 68n67, following Reed p. 201), the blood of Adonis at line 11 of the Lament by Bion is a rhodon ‘rose’ simply because the lips of Adonis once had a rosy color—before the blood was drained out of them by death. While I agree that the poetry of Bion has metaphorized here the mythological idea that the blood of Adonis was transformed into the very first rose that ever blossomed in our world, I still prefer to interpret the rose at line 11 of Bion as mythologically the same “real” blood that was “really” circulating in the body of Adonis until it got drained out, even from his lips, through the open wound of the gash inflicted by the boar’s tusk. My interpretation is supported, I think, by the existence of variant myths about the death of Adonis, where the blood that flows from the open wound of this boy-love of Aphrodite is transformed not into a rose, which is what we read at line 66 of the Lament by Bion, but into other flowers, such as the anemone, that is, the anemṓnē or ‘wind-flower’ (as we read in Scholion 831 for line 26 of Lycophron, Alexandra; also in the Scholia for line 92 of Idyll 5 of Theocritus; the story is most memorably narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 10.731–739; extensive documentation of the primary sources by Reed 1997:233).

19§14. And there also existed, I think, a variant myth where the blood of Adonis was transformed into the flower of a myrtle-tree. In this case, although we have no direct evidence, the indirect evidence is of great antiquity. I start with a report by Pausanias (6.24.6-7), analyzed in Essay 18, about the connections of Aphrodite and Adonis, as a pair, with myrtles as well as roses. As Pausanias says, the statues of the Kharites or ‘Graces’ that he sees in the agora of the people of Elis are linked with roses and myrtles, since one of the three ‘Graces’ is represented as holding a rose while another of the three is holding a spray of myrtle. In the case of the mursínē or ‘myrtle’, as Pausanias calls it, I find it significant that the word kharis itself, which applies generically in this context to each one of the three ‘Graces’, can apply in other contexts specifically to the flower of the myrtle-tree. I quote from Scholia D (via Scholia A) for Iliad 17.51: Μακεδόνες δὲ καὶ Κύπριοι χάριτας λέγουσι τὰς συνεστραμμένας καὶ οὔλας μυρσίνας, ἃς φαμὲν στεφανίτιδας ‘Macedonians and Cypriotes use the word kharites [= plural of kharis] with reference to myrtle blossoms that are compacted and curled [around a garland]. We call them garland-blossoms [stephanitides]’ (from my MoM 4§§144–146; further comments in HPC 2010|2009:295–296 = II§424). Such a specific use of plural kharites in referring to myrtle blossoms is attested already in the Homeric Iliad (as I argued in HPC, already cited). In Iliad 17.51–52, where the death of the hero Euphorbos is described, we see droplets of blood that grace the disheveled hair of the dead hero, lying in the dust, and these droplets are actually compared by way of simile to kharites, which in this context seem to be referring to red blossoms of myrtles: αἵματί οἱ δεύοντο κόμαι χαρίτεσσιν ὁμοῖαι | πλοχμοί θ’. Here is my translation: ‘with blood bedewed were his locks of hair, looking like kharites, | with the curls and all’. I draw attention here (HPC 2010|2009:296n80 | II§425) to a modulation from red to white coloring in the complex simile of Iliad 17.51–59, where the graphic description extends from lines 51–52, focusing on the red color of myrtle blossoms, to lines 53–59, focusing on the white color of olive blossoms.

19§15. Coming back to the death of Adonis that the poetry of Bion describes at lines 6–14 in the Lament, I must add now a further comment—about the actual loss of blood experienced by the dying boy. His blood is flowing freely out of the open wound in his thigh, and, by the time the boy finally dies, all the blood has been drained out of his body. So, the circulation of blood in the boy’s lips has already stopped cold by the time that Aphrodite presses her own lips against them. The boy’s lips kissed by the lips of the goddess are by now dead white, having lost the vibrant redness of roses. The circulation of blood in the boy’s lips has already been sucked out of him when Aphrodite presses her own rosy lips against his. His lips, now white with the coldness of death, have been made ready for kisses from that other mistress of his, Persephone. But the realism of the poet’s colorful imagination here has a happy as well as a sad side to it, since Adonis will have his life restored when he is kissed again by Aphrodite, come springtime. By then, the circulation of his life-blood will be fully restored. And, if you are reading Bion, you can anticipate such a renewal of life and love simply by reading his poetry, without even having to wait for spring to come.

19§16. In the Lament by Bion, the story about the death and resurrection of Adonis is on hold at the point where the boy-love of Aphrodite dies while being passionately kissed on the lips by the goddess, but the myth lives on, since the ritualized yearly death of Adonis will be followed by a correspondingly ritualized yearly resurrection, which in turn will make the kiss of Aphrodite on the lips of Adonis come alive, just as Adonis himself will come alive. And those lips, kissed by Aphrodite at the moment of his death, will now exude not blood but the primal essence of roses—the kinds of roses that become the ingredients of the perfume to be rubbed into your skin after you pour over your body the precious scented oil that you store inside such delicately decorated little vases as the Pagenstecher Lekythoi.

19§17. In the so-called Varia Historia of Aelian (12.18-19), who lived in the second / third century CE, we find a synopsis of a myth that contains a most relevant piece of comparative evidence, and I quote here the text of that myth, followed by my working translation:

{12.18} Τὸν Φάωνα κάλλιστον ὄντα ἀνθρώπων ἡ Ἀφροδίτη ἐν θριδακίναις ἔκρυψε. λόγος δὲ ἕτερος ὅτι ἦν πορθμεὺς καὶ εἶχε τοῦτο τὸ ἐπιτήδευμα. ἀφικνεῖται δέ ποτε ἡ Ἀφροδίτη διαπλεῦσαι βουλομένη, ὃ δὲ ἀσμένως ἐδέξατο, οὐκ εἰδὼς ὅστις ἦν, καὶ σὺν πολλῇ τῇ φροντίδι ἤγαγεν ὅποι ποτὲ ἐβούλετο. ἀνθ’ ὧν ἡ θεὸς ἔδωκεν ἀλάβαστρον αὐτῷ, καὶ εἶχεν αὕτη μύρον, ᾧ χριόμενος ὁ Φάων ἐγένετο ἀνθρώπων κάλλιστος· καὶ ἤρων γε αἱ γυναῖκες αὐτοῦ αἱ Μυτιληναίων. τά γε μὴν τελευταῖα ἀπεσφάγη μοιχεύων ἁλούς. {12.19} Τὴν ποιήτριαν Σαπφώ, τὴν Σκαμανδρωνύμου θυγατέρα, ταύτην καὶ Πλάτων ὁ Ἀρίστωνος σοφὴν  ἀναγράφει. πυνθάνομαι δὲ ὅτι καὶ ἑτέρα ἐν τῇ Λέσβῳ ἐγένετο Σαπφώ, ἑταίρα, οὐ ποιήτρια.

{12.18} Phaon, the most beautiful of all humans, was hidden away by Aphrodite in a patch of lettuce. And there is another tale that is told about him… That he was a ferryman, and this was his vocation. And, once upon a time, Aphrodite [in disguise] comes to him and says that she wants to make a crossing by way of the ferry. He gladly [asménōs] received [the request], without knowing who she was. With the greatest care, he transported her to wherever it was she wanted to go, and, in return for this, the goddess gave him a vase-made-of-alabaster [feminine noun alábastros], and it contained scented-oil [múron]. Phaon anointed himself with the oil and became the most beautiful of all humans. So, all the wives of the men in Mytilene [in Lesbos] were lusting [erân] after him, and, in the end, he was caught in the act of adultery and slaughtered. {12.19} About the poetess Sappho, daughter of Skamandronymos… even Plato, son of Ariston, ascribes to her the title sophē ‘wise’ [paraphrase here from Plato’s Phaedrus, 135bc], though I am told there was also another Sappho in Lesbos, a courtesan [hetaírā], who was not the same person as the poetess.

The mention here of Aphrodite’s gift to Phaon, an expensive alábastros ‘alabaster-vase’ containing múron ‘scented oil’ for rubbing into the skin, is for me reminiscent not only of the Pagenstecher Lekythoi. If we go further back in time to the era of Classical Athens, we find another alabaster-vase mentioned—in the context of an ongoing seduction scene. It happens in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, where we read (at line 947) the word alábastos (a variant reading alábastros is also attested in the textual transmission). Here too, the alabaster-vase is a container of scented oil—here too, as in the text of Aelian, the word for this oil is múron (at lines 942, 944)—and its perfume is to be released into the air during a seduction arranged by a would-be seductress named Murrhínē, whose name is a personification not only of the myrtle-flower but also, most comically in this erotic context, of female genitalia, as I pointed out in Essay 18§14.2.

19§18. The eroticism of this context in the comedy of Aristophanes can help us appreciate why Aelian makes such a guarded remark about Sappho, who is surely the source of the story he tells about Phaon. This pretty-boy, as we have seen in Classical Athenian vase paintings, rivals Adonis himself as the love-object of Aphrodite. So, surely the Sappho who tells suggestive stories about the scented oil that is rubbed into the skin of Phaon cannot be the same Sappho as that oh-so-respectable lady who is oh-so-admired by Plato: surely, instead, this other Sappho must be a hetaírā, a courtesan. So much for the guardedness. But what are we to think, today, about the affinities of such a world of hetairai with the provocative eroticism of mythological figures such as Phaon or Adonis in the songs of Sappho and in the later reception of such songs? My answer is that the world of hetairai, as I hope to show in an essay still to come, can converge with the world of oh-so-respectable wives and mothers and daughters and sisters—in the perfumed atmosphere of myths about the likes of Phaon or Adonis.

19§19. For now, in any case, I could content myself with asking just one more question before I finish considering here such a perfumed atmosphere: in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, what was the scent of the scented oil contained in the alabaster-vase that ‘Little Myrtle’, the would-be seductress named Murrhínē, had brought on-stage as the perfume that would lead to seduction? There is one point in the comedy, at line 944, where ‘Little Myrtle’ cries out in mock-innocence, and I paraphrase: “oh, so you don’t like the smell of the múron ‘scented oil’ that is rhódion?—in that case I’ll run back off-stage and bring back for you from there some other scent that you would maybe like better?” She then runs off, off-stage, and of course she never comes back on-stage, so that the seduction never happens. But the question remains, what was the scent of that scented oil that ‘Little Myrtle’ describes as rhódion? I propose an emendation here. We may read here rhódinon (ῥόδινον), meaning ‘made from roses’, instead of the reading that we find attested in the textual transmission, Rhódion (῾Ρόδιον) meaning ‘from [the island of] Rhodes’. I am hardly the first to conjecture rhódinon instead of Rhódion, as readers of the received text of Aristophanes can see for themselves in the apparatus criticus of older editions: Theodor Bergk, in an early two-volume Teubner edition of Aristophanes (published and republished multiple times, starting in the mid-nineteenth century) had already conjectured the possible reading: “fort[asse] ῥόδινον.” In any case, the opportunity for seduction, I would surmise, could have been most favorable in this comic scene if the scent of the oil in this context was really perfume extracted from roses, but such an opportunity now vanishes most comically into thin air—along with the lady named ‘Little Myrtle’, who is the embodiment of the scent emanating from her. This fictive lady’s own scent could have translated into the fragrance of roses, if she had ever applied the content of the alabaster-vase that she had brought on-stage. But her real scent, to start with, would have been the fragrance of real myrtle-scented oil. Things would be different, of course, if ‘Little Myrtle’ had been a real woman and not a comic fiction. After all, there are many attestations, especially in Attica, of real women whose name happened to be really Murrhínē (IG II² 5492IG II² 6335, and the list goes on). In “real life,” then, this name Murrhínē, which really does mean ‘myrtle’, would be simply a metaphor: to name a girl ‘Myrtle’ at birth would be to give her, simply, a beautiful name. A real woman could of course smell like a myrtle if she chose to perfume herself with myrtle-scented oil, but she could just as easily smell like a rose if she chose a rose-scented oil, or, much more simply, she could forgo perfume and just smell like her natural self. By contrast, the fictionalized ‘Little Myrtle’ of Aristophanes could actually personify real perfume, that is, real myrtle-scented oil. It almost goes without saying, but some commentators have insisted on saying it, that the scented oil offered by the seductress for pouring on the skin could thus be useful as a lubricant for her as also for her would-be sexual partner. Or, if we keep thinking of this woman named Murrhínē as a personification of the flower, then the scented oil of such a personified Myrtle could represent the natural scent of a real myrtle that has become personified as an earthy natural woman.

19§20. All this talk about scent, both artificial and natural, brings me back full circle to the theo-eroticism, as I have been calling it, of Aphrodite herself. In the previous essay, I already argued that this goddess identifies with the widest variety of flowers, and of scents of flowers, just as she identifies with the widest variety of birds, ranging from earthy sparrows to celestial swans. And now, back to flowers… It only follows, at this point, that I should concentrate on the theo-eroticism of Aphrodite in her identifying with the fragrances linked with her flowers. Instead of looking further, however, at all the varieties of flowers—which naturally connect with all the varieties of all the fragrances exhaled by these flowers—I now concentrate only on the simple reality of variation in fragrance. And, in attempting to express such a reality, I can already say that the theo-eroticism of Aphrodite is perhaps most easily grasped by way of sensing, simply, that she smells good.

19§21. How to express such a sense, that the essence of theo-eroticism is most easily grasped in its fragrance? Here I come back to a detail from my previous study of theo-eroticism, where I noted a rather telling observation, however superficial, about the male divinity who was singled out by Homer as an ultimate model of theo-eroticism. In that study, Masterpieces of Metonymy (2015, which I continue to abbreviate as MoM), I quoted what Homer actually said about such a model. But this Homer was not the Homer of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey. He was Homer Simpson. This other Homer was talking about an epiphany he experienced at a moment when he thought he was about to die or was in fact already dead, and the divinity who miraculously appeared to him at this moment was “God.” Our latter-day Homer describes his latter-day experience of divinity in a most revealing way, and I quote here the exact words spoken by Homer Simpson himself in describing his near-death vision of God (MoM 1§153): “Perfect teeth. Nice smell. A class act, all the way.” (The quotation is from an early episode in the series The Simpsons, “Homer the Heretic,” season 4, episode 3; originally aired 1992.10.08; written by George Meyer, directed by Jim Reardon.)

19§22. The playful quotation of Homer’s words in my study had been situated within the framework of a serious argument, however: I was comparing the divine “class act” of an epiphany experienced by Homer with another divine epiphany. In this case, the epiphany was reportedly experienced by the Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus, head of the reconstituted Academy in Athens as it existed in the fifth century CE. In the case of Proclus, as we read in a narrative about his life and times, written by his successor at the Academy, a Neoplatonist named Marinus (Life of Proclus section 30), the epiphany that our philosopher experienced happened within a dream in which he saw a sublime vision of ‘an Athenian lady’—the expression used here is κυρία ᾿Αθηναΐς, which connotes in late antique phases of the Greek language a most elevated aura of aristocracy—and this aristocratic lady turned out to be none other than Our Lady of Athens, the goddess Athena herself, in her role as patroness of philosophy. In the philosopher’s dream, Our Lady was telling him that she wanted to live with him forever. End of dream. Now Proclus wakes up, and he is informed that, while he was sleeping and dreaming, the statue of Athena Parthenos up on the acropolis had been carted off by Christian fanatics who tore her away from her sublime residence in the Parthenon. She was never to be seen again. But at least our philosopher could now console himself, having just experienced an epiphany of Athena, that this goddess will stay alive in his heart forever.

19§23. In my earlier work on theo-eroticism, then, the only female example I highlighted was the goddess of intellect, Athena. My choice in that work, dictated as it was by a Neoplatonist, was a beautiful choice, yes, but the theo-eroticism of this sublimely beautiful aristocratic lady was, shall we say, sublimated. By contrast, however, I can now make up for such a sublimation of sexuality in that context but focusing, in the present context, on another sublimely beautiful aristocratic lady, another ancient resident in the city of Athens, who is the goddess Aphrodite herself. And the captivating sensuality of this divine female beauty is fully sensed if we recall Homer’s words: “Perfect teeth. Nice smell. A class act, all the way.” The “nice smell” of Aphrodite can be sensed, in all its fragrance, at the exact moment when the words of Sappho in her Song 1 evoke the goddess: at that moment, the Lady is seen wearing a dress interwoven with a riotous variety of flowers that are surely as fragrant as her own body must be fragrant. But what about the teeth of Aphrodite? Are they perfect? I can only guess, but it gives me delight to hear, in Song 1 again, that Sappho is right now looking at the smiling face of Aphrodite. That is a good sign. As the goddess looks back, I hope that her perfect teeth will be visible with the parting of the smiling lips that are always ready to kiss, like rose petals, the ready lips of Adonis.


 

Essay 20: How the first word in Song 1 of Sappho is relevant to her reception in the ancient world—and to various different ways of thinking about the Greek word hetairā

rewritten from 2021.01.15

20§0. In this essay, extracting what I have learned about the meaning of the first word in Song 1 of Sappho in the overall context of studying, in previous essays, the ancient reception of Sappho, I will concentrate on the erotic power of floral perfumes—a power that is driven by Aphrodite and that is poeticized in Sappho’s songs with reference to two boy-loves of the goddess herself, Adonis and Phaon. The second of these two lovers of Aphrodite, Phaon, is featured in my main illustration, to which I will return at a later point in my essay here. But I will start the essay below with the first of the two lovers, Adonis, focusing on two pictures that refer directly to the myth about this pretty boy’s love affair with Aphrodite—a myth that will help us understand the role of perfume in a comedy by Aristophanes known to us as the Lysistrata but apparently known to the ancient world also as the Adōniazousai, ‘Women celebrating the Festival of Adonis’. Then, after Adonis, I will follow up with Phaon, the story about whose own love affair with the goddess was retold, as was the love affair of Adonis and Aphrodite, in the songs of Sappho. In the story about Phaon, as we will see, the perfume that Aphrodite gave him had transformed him from a decrepit old man into a most beautiful boy, making him so attractive to women that that they all desired to seduce him. The ensuing seductions led to the boy’s death at the hands of the women’s threatened husbands. Similarly, when it comes to the ancient reception of Sappho, the retelling of this myth in her songs could I think make men who heard such songs feel threatened enough to suspect ‘the poetess’ of being something other than a poetess—someone they would call a hetairā. This Greek word hetairā is conventionally understood by classicists today as referring to a ‘girl-friend’ who is sexually available to men. Such an understanding, as we will see, invites further distinctions, especially along the lines of three alternative English words: ‘courtesan’ or ‘prostitute’ or even ‘whore’. A playful observer might be tempted to remark that an aristocratic Aphrodite would probably not approve of any of these three words— except perhaps for the first one, ‘courtesan’.

On our left: Red-figure lekythos, fifth century BCE. Paris, Musée du Louvre, MNB 2109. Photo by Jastrow, via Wikimedia Commons. Line drawing by Jill Robbins. Pictured is Adonis, approached by Aphrodite from his right side. Not shown in this line-drawing is an Eros, approaching Adonis from his left side. Also attending, on the other side of the vase (not shown here), is a female beauty by the name of Paidia (as indicated by adjacent lettering). For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive. Vase number: 215563. Link:
https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/record/E9A80041-70C6-45B5-A947-72903DF092E4.
On our right:Red-figure hydria, painting by the Meidias Painter, 5th century BCE. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Line drawing by Jill Robbins. Featured in this close-up is Adonis, attended by Aphrodite and by a winged Eros. Pictured is Adonis, cradled from behind by Aphrodite. Not shown in this line-drawing is an Eros hovering over Adonis and spinning a magic wheel aimed at the boy. Also attending (not shown here) is a female beauty by the name of Paidia (as indicated by adjacent lettering). For the overall painting, I cite again the Beazley Archive.

20§1. In previous essays where I have been analyzing the first word in Song 1 of Sappho, poikilothronos (ποικιλόθρον’), I figured out an overall interpretation for this compound adjective, used in Sappho’s song as an epithet that invokes, from the start, the goddess Aphrodite. Here is how I interpreted the first word of Sappho: ‘[I invoke] you [O goddess wearing your dress that is decorated] with varied-pattern-woven magical flowers’. In terms of this interpretation, it would be too simplistic to think of Aphrodite simply as a primal force of nature—as the goddess of sex, of sexuality. She is infinitely more complicated, because she is also a primal force of culture—as the goddess of love driven by sex. This other side of Aphrodite, this complicated side of her primal force, is what I see being conveyed by both the first and the second parts of the compound adjective poikilothronos describing the goddess. The first part, poikilo-, which I have translated as ‘varied’, refers to variety or variability as the essence of Aphrodite: this goddess loves variety. I highlight, for my first example, the love of the goddess for different kinds of flowers in different situations. Her favorites are roses or myrtles or anemones—to name only those variants that I have tracked so far in my essays. And the second part of the compound poikilothronos, which survives independently as the noun throna, is linked with the same kind of love for flowers, since this noun can refer to flowers used as love-charms deployed to attract lovers. Patterns of flowers could be woven into your dress, so that the pattern-weavings could attract visually your would-be lover. Or, the attraction could be olfactory, since different fragrances exhaled by different flowers could become acculturated as the ingredients of different scented oils that you could deploy as perfume not only for your body but even for that special dress you would want to wear at some specially festive occasion.

20§2. My mentioning of scented oil brings me to Phaon. I focus here on a detail in the myth retold in the songs of Sappho about the love affair of Phaon and Aphrodite—and as further retold by Aelian in his so-called Varia Historia (12.18-19); the retelling is quoted and translated in Essay 19§17. We learn from the retelling by Aelian that Aphrodite had given to Phaon, then an old man, an alabaster-vase containing scented oil to be poured on the skin. The fragrance of the perfume that then pervaded the atmosphere after being rubbed into the skin is what magically transformed the old man, according to the myth, into the most beautiful of young boys. I show a picture of a general scene where we see what happened to Phaon after he was transformed, by the power of Aphrodite, from a decrepit old man into a beautiful young boy. We see the beautiful Phaon enjoying the company of an amorous female beauty. We have seen this picture before, in Essay 9. In that same essay, I should add, I also showed a second picture of Phaon in the company of another female beauty. But now I focus only on the first of the two pictures:

Close-up of Phaon.
Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81947. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81947. Line drawing by Jill Robbins.

I note the amorous attention that Phaon is receiving from a female beauty—evidently the result of his transformation through the agency of Aphrodite, who is seen overhead as she triumphantly drives off in her chariot pulled by cupids. Earlier, Aphrodite had disguised herself as an old woman and had asked Phaon, then still an old man, to ferry her across a strait. As we read in the version of this story as transmitted by Aelian (again, Varia Historia, 12.18-19), the goddess rewarded the old ferryman by transforming him into a most beautiful boy. I leave aside here other details of the myth, which I collected in an early project (N 1973), including a detail about the jealousy felt by Aphrodite at a later point after she eventually realized that all the married women of the city of Mytilene in Lesbos, homeland of Sappho, were lusting after Phaon, and I concentrate here instead on the jealousy felt by the husbands of the women. These jealous men ultimately took revenge and killed the beautiful boy for having affairs with their amorous women.

20§3. The scented oil to be poured from an alabaster-vase given by Aphrodite to Phaon is analogous, I think, to a scene in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, analyzed in Essay 18, where the female beauty named Myrrhine / Murrhínē offers to pour scented oil from an alabaster-vase that she brings on-stage, seemingly ready to have sex with her husband Kinesias in return for a suspension of war. But the wife is teasing her husband, withholding sex, because she now interrupts the would-be lovemaking and goes back offstage, up to the acropolis, to rejoin there the women of Athens, who are celebrating the festival of Adonis. Like the women of Mytilene in Lesbos who prefer the boy Phaon to their own men, it seems that Myrrhine prefers Adonis to her husband—at least, at the moment of the festival that celebrates Adonis. What is comical here, however, is that this festival of women—which would customarily take place in different kinds of private settings where different assortments of wives or hetairai could participate—has no place on the acropolis of Athens, which is a public setting. The festival of Adonis does not belong in this most obviously public setting. And we can see something else here that is perhaps even more comical: the role of Myrrhine in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes mimics the role of a hetairā, not the role of a wife. Just to say this much, however, could lead to misunderstandings about the sexuality of wives. In stories about Adonis—and about Phaon—a generic boy-love of Aphrodite would be made all too aware of such misunderstandings. Or, to say it more accurately, the songs of Sappho about the love of Aphrodite for such pretty boys must have shown a keen poetic awareness of such misunderstandings.


Essay 21: Imagining a courtesan in the songs of Sappho

rewritten from 2021.01.22

21§0. This essay, about imagining the existence of a courtesan in the songs of Sappho, refers not to various modern theories about references being supposedly made to courtesans by the “I” who speaks in her songs. It is, rather, about the imagined identity of Sappho herself in the ancient world. There existed, already then, various theories about the life and times of Sappho. I say theories, not facts, since I am convinced that the reception of Sappho’s songs can be reconstructed only as far back as the Classical period of the fifth century BCE—or, at best, toward the end of the archaic period, around the last few decades of the sixth century. By that time, no historical information is likely to have survived about this persona who calls herself Sappho in her songs, and anything that was thought about her would have been based exclusively on what she says in her songs about herself and about her world, which classicists date as far back as the last few decades of the seventh century BCE—so, about a century earlier, or, to say it the way I have been saying it so far in this volume, around 600 BCE. And what about the ancient theories? Well, some of the things that this woman said in her songs could lead to a suspicion—if not a full-fledged theory—that Sappho herself was a courtesan. I use the word ‘courtesan’ here as a translation of ancient Greek hetairā, but I will have to fine-tune what I mean in what follows. And, for my fine-tuning, I will find it useful to engage in a cross-cultural comparison with a fictional courtesan dating from the Romantic period in modern times. I have in mind a French courtisane who goes by two different names: she is Marguerite Gautier, “The Lady of the Camellias,” featured in a play (La Dame aux Camélias, première 1852) by Alexandre Dumas fils—who was himself the son of a courtesan—but she is also Violetta Valéry, the musical double of Marguerite, featured in an opera inspired by the play. The opera is La Traviata (première 1853), with music by Giuseppe Verdi and with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

Poster by Alphonse Mucha (1860–1939): Sarah Bernhardt in La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils (Paris, Théâtre de la Renaissance, 1896). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt as Marguerite Gautier in La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils (Paris, Théâtre de la Gaîté, 1882). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration by George Barbier (1882–1932): Madame Ida Rubinstein in La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, wearing a gown by Worth and draped in garlands of camellias. Originally published in Gazette du Bon Ton 5 (1923), Pl. 19. Image from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; edited and enhanced by Rawpixel Ltd., shared via Flickr under the CC BY 2.0 license.

21§1. In Essay 19,  I have already referred to one example of the suspicion, as voiced in the ancient world, that Sappho may have been a hetairā—and, for the moment, I will continue to interpret this word hetairā as ‘courtesan’, though I intend to fine-tune my interpretation as I proceed. The example comes from Aelian, in his so-called Varia Historia (12.18-19), where we find an abridged retelling of a myth about the love of the immortal Aphrodite for a mortal male beauty named Phaon. After his retelling, Aelian speculates that there may have existed a second Sappho—a woman who was not the decorous female poet once praised by Plato but, instead, a hetairā or ‘courtesan’. By implication, Aelian imagines that the decorous Sappho would not have composed a song about the erotic adventures of Phaon. These adventures, as Aelian himself narrates, were the boy’s adulterous affairs with married women in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos—women who had fallen madly in love with the beautiful young moikheúōn ‘adulterer’, as Aelian describes the boy.

21§2. But Aelian here in the Varia Historia (12.18-19) reads too much into Plato’s wording in Phaedrus 235bc, where the reference to Sappho and Anacreon (235c) simply continues an earlier reference to women as well as men who are described as sophoi (235b). In this context, I would interpret such a description of Sappho and Anacreon to mean simply ‘skilled in poetry’, without any implication of decorum as a sign of ‘wise’ self-restraint. So, Plato’s wording may indicate simply that Sappho and Anacreon were paragons of erotic poetry. I will have more to say in an essay still to come about the eroticism of poetry attributed to Anacreon, whose songs reveal the earliest phases of poetic reception for the songs of Sappho. For now, however, I focus only on the songs of Sappho.

21§3. The  eroticism we find in the songs of Sappho is not tied to marital status. To put it another way, there are some tricky extramarital as well as marital and premarital dimensions to be found in the poetics of Sappho, and, in terms of my ongoing argument, even the extramarital dimensions are exemplified by the goddess Aphrodite herself, described in Song 1 of Sappho as doloplokos, an epithet that I interpret as ‘weaver of tricks’ (line 2: δολόπλοκε).

21§4. The neck-deep involvement of Aphrodite not only with Phaon but also with Adonis exemplifies such ‘tricks’—as I already suggested in Essay 20, where I analyzed the story told by Aelian about Phaon and his amorous adventures with the married women of Lesbos. Just as the merry wives of Lesbos find it impossible to resist the sexual attractiveness of Phaon and proceed to have affairs with him, thus tricking their husbands, so also the merry wives in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes run off to the festival of Adonis, staged on top of the acropolis in Athens, tricking their frustrated menfolk—at least, for the moment.

21§5. The festive merriment of the wives who have occupied the acropolis of Athens in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes is matched by the merry festivities we see being depicted by the Meidias Painter in an elaborate scene marking the moment when Adonis has been brought back to life by the love of an amorous Aphrodite. As we saw already in Essay 9§5—that was the very first time we saw it—the climactic centerpiece of this scene pictures a revived Adonis being cradled in the lap of his loving Aphrodite, and I show the scene once again here:

Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. Featured in this close-up: Aphrodite with Adonis, who gazes, dazed, at Eros and his magic wheel (now mostly lost). Line drawing by Jill Robbins.

21§6. But now I draw attention to something else that is happening at this moment of merriment as painted by the Meidias Painter. Off to the side, to our right, beyond the centerpiece that shows the amorous pairing of Adonis with Aphrodite, we see in this painting another female beauty, and the adjacent lettering names her as Pannychis [Pannukhis], who is pictured in the act of beating out on a tambourine the rhythm of a song while festively holding a garland and gazing amorously at a cupid or Eros, whom the adjacent lettering names as Himeros or ‘Desire’ personified, and the pretty boy responds by dancing to the beat of the tambourine (commentary by Burn 1987:40). I show again a close-up here, repeating what I had first shown in Essay 9§8:

Close-up of the female beauty Pannychis. Line drawing by Jill Robbins. Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. For the original image, I cite again the Beazley Archive.

21§7. The picturing of this female beauty named Pannychis as she beats out on a tambourine the rhythm of a song unheard and, sadly, now forgotten, recalls for me my own fond memories of that unforgettable song “Beat out dat rhythm on a drum” as sung by Pearl Bailey in the film Carmen Jones (1954: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88rRu4F1WK0). For the “original,” from the Carmen of Georges Bizet (première 1875), with libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, I recommend a rendition by Maria Callas, https://www.letras.com/maria-callas/1803367/.

21§8.But who, again, is this female beauty named Pannychis, beating out on her tambourine the rhythm for the dance of Eros? As I argued in that same essay where I started engaging for the very first time with the Meidias Painter, in Essay 9, this beautiful lady by the name of Pannychis is the personification of all-night merriment at festive moments that are actually pictured in songs of Sappho, where the verb pannukhizein, which I now translate as ‘have a merry time all night long’, is actually attested (παννυχισδο.[.]α̣.[…] in Fragment 30.3 and [παν]νυχίσ[δ]ην in Fragment 23.13).

21§9. We find a close parallel, I think, in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, at line 3, at the very beginning of the play, where the merriment of the women who are occupying the acropolis in Athens is accompanied by the beat of the tumpana ‘tambourines’. I think that a festival of Adonis is clearly signaled in this opening scene of the Lysistrata, as also in the central scene, painted by the Meidias Painter, showing the revival of Adonis by Aphrodite.

21§10. There are big questions that remain. Many of these questions are addressed in books and essays published by a wide variety of classicists offering a wide variety of different answers. In what follows, I cite only some studies that seem most relevant to the questions raised in my essay here, and I start with what I think is the biggest question. It has to do with those merry wives in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes who resemble the merry wives of Lesbos in the myth about Phaon as retold in the songs of Sappho. Given the parallelism of Phaon with Adonis in the poetics of Sappho, I ask myself: why should I be thinking of merry “wives”? Why not also merry “courtesans” or merry “prostitutes” or even merry “whores”? In the poetics of Sappho, I think that this question would simply not matter. At least, it would not matter for Sappho’s Aphrodite, in terms of the theo-eroticism that I think is characteristic of that goddess—I have already attempted a sketch of Aphrodite’s theo-eroticism in Essay 19. Relevant here is a study by Sarah Stroup (2004) about the “hetairization” of the Greek wife in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes: I think she is on to something big here, something very big. On the topic of hetairai and wives in general, however, I should add that my own views align most closely with what I read in a sub-chapter of a book by Gloria Ferrari Pinney (2002:12–17), “The Hetaira and the Housewife”; the analysis there by Ferrari-Pinney explains what she goes on to say about the Lysistrata at a later point in her book (pp. 19-20).

21§11. Going beyond the Lysistrata, I think that a study by Leslie Kurke (1997) about “inventing the hetairã” is most relevant to my model of Aphrodite’s theo-eroticism as something that is luxuriant, glamorous. The “class act” of Aphrodite’s divine sexuality may override, in terms of Kurke’s model, the evil eye of women-hating men who aim to degrade all extramarital or premarital sexuality as an exercise in the monetizing of sex. I cannot defend, of course, the make-believe pre-monetary ideologies, in whatever culture, of favors received and granted by “courtesans” as distinct from “prostitutes,” but I can defend the transcendent ideologies of sensuality that we see being embraced in the poetics of Sappho. In this light, I return to an observation I made in Essay 6§§1–4 about the empathy that I think is expressed in the songs of Sappho in her referring to the passionate love experienced by her brother Kharaxos, who fell in love with the first courtesan ever mentioned in extant Greek literature. We read this mention in Herodotus (2.134–135), where he refers to the brother of Sappho and to his love for a hetairā or ‘courtesan’ named Rhodōpis—the woman with ‘the looks of a rose’. I find it most relevant, as I pointed out in Essay 4§38, that the sorrows of love experienced by this errant brother and lamented by Sappho in her Song 5 are parallel to the sorrows of love experienced by Sappho herself, especially as lamented at lines 1–6 of her “Kypris” Song, quoted and translated at 4§40.

20§12. Though I take the point made by Renate Schlesier (2013) that the first-ever attested use of the actual word hetairā is in fact not in the text of Herodotus but in the text of Sappho herself, I insist that this word, as used in the songmaking of Sappho, does not refer to courtesans. The female persona of Sappho refers to other female personae as her own hetairai in the unmarked sense of ‘female companions’.  A case in point is Sappho Fragment 160, via Athenaeus 13.571d: τάδε νῦν ἐταίραις | ταὶς ἔμαισι τέρπνα κάλως ἀείσω ‘these things now to my hetairai, these pleasurable things, I will beautifully sing’. While I do not accept the idea that such hetairai, female ‘companions’ or even ‘friends’, are also ‘courtesans’, I do accept a related point made by Schlesier: when Sappho is left behind and thus separated from her female companions, which seems to happen often, we cannot simply assume that such separations are motivated by marriages to men. References, by name, to cosmopolitan hetairai who relocate to exotic places far away from home may possibly involve high-class courtesans, as we might think of them, in the poetic world of Sappho. I could imagine such a possibility. But I should add, playfully, that Sappho’s Aphrodite would not care whether these female personae were being married off or merely circulating, as it were, in elite circles. Even in the wedding songs of Sappho, as I noted in Essay 7, the bride and the bridegroom can be compared respectively to Aphrodite and to another one of her adulterous lovers, the dashing god of war, Arēs. And, I should also add, I cannot imagine that any bride in concert with her bridegroom would ever want to be compared to Aphrodite in concert with Hephaistos, her tricked husband in Odyssey 8.

 

Essay 22: Weaving while singing Sappho’s songs in Epigram 55 of Posidippus

rewritten from 2016.01.07

Gardner-Philomena_and_Procne
Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau (1837–1922), “Philomela and Procne.” Oil on canvas, 80 x 62.2 cm. Private collection. Photo, Art Renewal Center Museum via Wikimedia Commons.

A prelude… once again this time, Epigram 55 of Posidippus

rewritten from 2016.01.07

22§0. This essay picks up from where I left off in Essay 3. where I was analyzing Epigram 55 of Posidippus.

22§1. Already in Essay 3, I had rethought in some ways what I used  to think about this epigram, partly in light of comments I received from various experts, who also happen to be dear friends. Some of those comments—but only some—have helped me readjust my thinking. What follows here in the present essay, rewritten from 2016.01.07, is such a readjusted version.

22§2. I proceed by quoting once again, repeating from the beginning of Essay 3, my working translation of Epigram 55 of Posidippus:

|1 πάντα τὰ Νικομάχηϲ καὶ ἀθύρματα καὶ πρὸϲ ἑώιαν |2 κερκίδα Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ |3 ὤιχετο Μοῖρα φέρουϲα προώρια· τὴν δὲ τάλαιναν |4 παρθένον Ἀργείων ἀμφεβόηϲε πόλιϲ, |5 Ἥρηϲ τὸ τραφὲν ἔρνοϲ ὑπ’ ὠλένοϲ· ἆ τότε γαμβρῶν |6 τῶν μνηϲτευομένων ψύχρ’ ἔμενον λέχεα.

|1 Everything about Nikomakhe, all her pretty things and, come dawn, |2 as the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis] is heard, all of Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next, |3 are all gone, carried away by fate, all too soon [pro-hōria], and the poor |4 girl [parthenos] is lamented by the city of the Argives. |5 She had been raised by the goddess Hera, who cradled her in her arms like a tender seedling. But then, ah, there came the time when all her would-be husbands, |6 pursuing her, got left behind, with cold beds for them to sleep in.

Posidippus Epigram 55[1]

22§3. This epigram, as I already noted in Essay 3, is about a girl named Nikomakhe whose happy young life was sadly interrupted by a premature death. Nostalgically, the words of the epigram recall the happy times when this girl together with her girlfriends were singing the love songs of Sappho, sung one after another. That is what I already argued in Essay 3. Here in Essay 22, I will argue further that the poet pictures the singing of Sappho’s songs by these girls as a recurrent event that is accompanied, as it were, by their weaving at the loom.

The instrument that is used for the weaving

22§4. The wording of my translation of Epigram 55 of Posidippus differs in one significant detail from the way I used to translate this poem. I now render the word kerkis at line 2 not as ‘weaving shuttle’ but as ‘weaving pin’. I owe this readjustment to my friend Marie-Louise Bech Nosch, who tells me in an e-communication (2015.12.02): “in my team we have chosen to translate kerkis as weft-beater or weaving pin. The shuttle with integrated spool for yarn is a medieval invention and carries connotations from the early industrial societies.”[2]

22§5. I supplement this valuable formulation about the kerkis by citing further observations to be found in a detailed essay by my friend Susan Edmunds (2012), which is available online at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:EdmundsS.Picturing_Homeric_Weaving.2012.

22§6. Edmunds (2012 §40) likewise argues that the word ‘shuttle’ is an inaccurate translation of kerkis, and she goes on to say (§42): “A more accurate (though less poetic) translation of kerkis is ‘pin beater’. A pin beater is a tool used on looms that do not have the reed typical of [the more modern] horizontal treadle-operated looms.” (In her bibliography at n70 of her essay: she cites relevant comments by Elizabeth Barber 1991:273–274.)

22§7. Persuaded as I am by the reasoning of Nosch and Edmunds, I now translate kerkis not as ‘shuttle’ but as ‘weaving pin’—which sounds to me slightly more poetic than ‘pin beater’.

22§8. Although neither wording—whether we choose pin beater or weaving pin—may sound all that poetic, the actual function of this instrument for weaving lends itself to metaphors for poetry and for songmaking in general. An example in English is the expression strumming the warp, referring to a procedure involving the interaction of the pin beater or weaving pin with the vertical or warp threads of the loom. Edmunds (2012 §48) describes the procedure this way:

When the shed is changed and the warp threads cross past each other, they often tend to stick together, particularly if they are wool. Strumming causes them to separate and release themselves back in place. It is for this strumming action that the pin beater (or, by extension, the loom) is called “ ‘tuneful.’ ”

22§9. Parallel to the metaphor of a “tuneful” use of the pin beater or weaving pin in the process of strumming the warp threads of the loom is a metaphor used in ancient Greek songmaking for referring to a comparable process. In terms of the Greek metaphor, the kerkis or ‘weaving pin’ is pictured as a ‘singer’ who makes the warp threads of the histos or loom ‘respond in song’ to the strumming. In Aristophanes Frogs 1316, we see one side of this two-sided metaphor: κερκίδος ἀοιδοῦ ‘the weaving pin [kerkis], which is a singer [aoidos]’.[3] And in Euripides Iphigeneia in Tauris 222–224, we see the other side: ἱστοῖς ἐν καλλιφθόγγοις | κερκίδι . . . | . . . ποικίλλουσ(α) ‘[I am] pattern-weaving [poikillein], with my weaving pin [kerkis], on looms that have beautiful voices of their own’.[4]

22§10. Here I find it relevant to note the etymology of the noun kerkis: it corresponds to the verb krekein, to be defined as ‘hit the strings noisily with a sharp instrument’—a meaning that corresponds to the process of ‘strumming the warp’. More specifically, the verb krekein can be interpreted to mean ‘hit the web home with a twang’ or ‘run the tip of the pin beater across the taut warp threads to free them from each other’. These formulations are based on the analysis of Elizabeth Barber (1991:275), who also addresses the fact that there are sporadic attestations of krekein where the verb refers to the twanging of a stringed instrument. I cite a clear summary of such contexts in the Suda, kappa 2367.2: κυρίως δὲ κρέκειν τὸ τὴν κιθάραν κρούειν ‘in its proper sense, krekein means to strike [krouein] the kithara’. Barber goes on to say (again, 1991:275): “From looking at the Greek [attestations of the verb krekein], one has trouble telling whether the meaning began with weaving or playing a stringed instrument, but since all the [Indo-European] cognates outside of Greek [such as Old Norse hræll, meaning ‘pin beater’] have to do with weaving, we can assume weaving as the semantic base for Greek too.”

22§11. Going back to the basic meaning of krekein as ‘hit the strings noisily with a sharp instrument’, I must now readjust my translation at §1 in an earlier essay (N 2015.12.03), where I rendered this verb as ‘work the shuttle’ in the context of quoting a fragment of Sappho. I now retranslate this way:

γλύκηα μᾶτερ, οὔτοι δύναμαι κρέκην τὸν ἴστον | πόθωι δάμεισα παῖδος βραδίναν δι’ Ἀφροδίταν

My dear sweet mother! I just can’t work the weaving pin [krekein] on my loom [histos], since I’m overcome by desire for a young one—and it’s all because of delicate Aphrodite.

Sappho Fragment 102

22§12. With these contexts of the words kerkis as ‘weaving pin’ and krekein as ‘work the weaving pin’ in mind, I return to the first three lines of Epigram 55 of Posidippus, where we see the same word kerkis in a comparable context. At the beginning of my essay here, I already translated the relevant wording this way:

|1 Everything about Nikomakhe, all her pretty things and, come dawn, |2 as the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis] is heard, all of Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next, |3 are all gone, carried away by fate, all too soon [pro-hōria].

22§13. Now I focus on the wording πρὸϲ ἑώιαν |2κερκίδα, which I have translated ‘come dawn, |2as the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis] is heard’. At §4 of an earlier essay I already cited (N 2015.12.03), I indicated my original understanding of what this wording really meant. To say it more literally, I understood the meaning to be temporal: ‘. . . and, on the occasion of the at-dawn |2 weaving-pin . . .’. As I argued, the preposition pros (πρόϲ), translated here as ‘on the occasion of’, can be used with the accusative case in a temporal sense to mark either (1) a stretch of time that extends up to a given point or, more simply, (2) a point in time. In terms of this understanding, as I argued, the singing of Sappho’s songs can be heard at dawn, that is, ‘toward dawn’. Accordingly, I gave this title to the paragraphs that start at §4 in that essay: The dawn that links the night before and the day after.

22§14. But now, in the light of a correspondence with Bernd Seidensticker (2015.12.03), I can see another dimension that is more circumstantial than temporal. In contexts having to do with the singing of songs, the preposition pros (πρόϲ) together with the accusative of nouns referring to a musical instrument can mean ‘to the accompaniment of’ the given musical instrument’. I choose here just one example from among many others I could have chosen: we read in Plutarch’s Life of Aratus 53.6 μέλη δ’ ᾔδετο πρὸς κιθάραν ‘songs were sung to the accompaniment of [pros] the kithara’. Accordingly, the songs of Sappho in Epigram 55 of Posidippus are being sung by the girls ‘to the accompaniment of the weaving pin [kerkis]’, and this weaving pin is being figured here metaphorically as a musical instrument.

22§15. Even in terms of this further interpretation, however, my original translation of πρὸϲ ἑώιαν |2κερκίδα can stand: ‘come dawn, |2 as the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis] is heard’. Whether the singing of the girls is being pictured temporally as being synchronized with the weaving pin as it makes its sound at dawn or circumstantially as being accompanied by the sound made by the weaving pin at dawn—or both temporally and circumstantially—the point of the wording is in any case the same: the girls are weaving at dawn, as signaled by ‘the weaving pin at dawn’, while they are singing the songs of Sappho.

Once again this time the dawn that links the night before and the day after

22§16. Τhe question remains: has the singing and the weaving of the girls started at dawn or, alternatively, has it been ongoing all night, extending into the dawn?  In the earlier essay already cited (N 2015.12.03), I treated this question as if there were two mutually exclusive alternatives: either the girls were singing and weaving all night till dawn or they started their singing and weaving at dawn. In what follows, however, I will argue that we do not need to choose between such alternatives—if we keep in mind the traditional poetics of references to singing while weaving, weaving while singing. In terms of such poetics, as we will now see, the realities of singing while weaving and weaving while singing can be transformed into a metaphorical world of singing as weaving and weaving as singing. In such a metaphorical world, the singing and the weaving can be ongoing night and day. It is an eternal cycle, and the recycling from night to day back to night back to day back to night and so on is signaled by the dawn, which eternally links the night before to the day after.

22§17. Such a picturing of dawn is elegantly symbolized in a set of three complementary passages that we find in the Greek Anthology. The first of these three is a stylized epigram commemorating a kerkis or ‘weaving pin’ that has been dedicated to the goddess Athena, patroness of women weavers:

κερκίδα τὰν ὀρθρινὰ χελιδονίδων ἅμα φωνᾷ | μελπομέναν

[Telesilla daughter of Diokles has dedicated this] weaving pin [kerkis], which would be singing [melpesthai] at the same time as the sound of the swallows [khelidones] is heard at dawn.

Antipater of Sidon Greek Anthology 6.160.1–2

The second of these three passages, which is another stylized epigram, actually compares the sound made by the kerkis or ‘weaving pin’ and the sound made by swallows as they start singing at dawn:

Κερκίδας ὀρθρολάλοισι χελιδόσιν εἰκελοφώνους

[The old woman Aisione has dedicated these] weaving pins [kerkides] which make a sound that is just like the sound made by swallows [khelidones], who go la la la at dawn.

Philippos Greek Anthology 6.247.1

And the third of these three passages, which is yet another stylized epigram, compares the sound made by the kerkis or ‘weaving pin’ and the sound made by the nightingale:

κερκίδα δ’ εὐποίητον, ἀηδόνα τὰν ἐν ἐρίθοις, | Βακχυλίς, εὐκρέκτους ᾇ διέκρινε μίτους.

[The girl Bakkhylis has dedicated this] weaving pin [kerkis], well-made, which is the nightingale [aēdōn] of women who work on wool. With this [weaving pin] she kept the warp threads uncrossed, and they were beautifully strummed [krekein].

Antipater of Sidon Greek Anthology 174.5–6

So, the nightingale too is a weaver.[5]

22§18. Both these two kinds of bird, the khelidōn ‘swallow’ and the aēdōn ‘nightingale’, are represented as making sounds that are comparable to the sound made by the kerkis ‘weaving-pin’. And the comparison is complementary. We have already seen that swallows sing in the daytime, starting at dawn.[6] But now we will see that the singing of nightingales, which happens at nighttime, is traditionally represented as complementary to the singing of swallows in the daytime. Here is an example I have found in a rhetorical handbook:

ὅτι ἀηδόνες καὶ χελιδόνες ὑμᾶς καταμουσίζουσαι καὶ κατακηλοῦσαι νῦν μὲν εἰς ὕπνον καθέλκουσι, νῦν δὲ πάλιν ὑπὸ τὴν αὐγὴν τερετίζουσαι ἀναστήσουσι μεμυημένους

[Say] that (1) nightingales [aēdones] and (2) swallows [khelidones] put you into a songmaking frame of mind and enchant you. At one point they (1) lull you to sleep, and then, at another point, just before daybreak, they (2) bring you back to consciousness with their twittering, and now you are fully initiated.

Menander the Rhetorician 408

Since nightingales naturally sing at night, these are the birds who will lull you into a mystical trance with their song when you fall asleep, but the swallows who naturally sing in the morning are the birds that will wake you up from your trance. In the rhetoric of this complementarity, the fact that the sounds of both these kinds of birdsong can be compared to the sound of the weaving pin shows that weaving as singing is ongoing around the clock, as it were. Or, to say it another way, singing while weaving can be imagined poetically as ever ongoing, both night and day. The songmaking of the nightingale and of the swallow becomes in this way an eternal cycle.

Procne and Philomela, Nightingale and Swallow

22§19. The eternal recycling of such birdsong is encoded in a traditional myth about two sisters who are named Procne and Philomela in some variants of the tradition (I will spell the names in their latinized forms), while in other variants their names are more overt: Aēdōn and Khelidōn, that is, Nightingale and Swallow.[7] These two mythical characters are women who become transformed respectively into the prototypical Nightingale and the prototypical Swallow in the course of their tragic interaction with a third mythical character, a man whose name in some versions is Tereus. This man in turn becomes transformed into a bird known by the name Upopa epops in the Linnaean taxonomy—or, to say it in plain English, the hoopoe. Today the best-known rendition of the whole myth can be found in Ovid Metamorphoses 6.401–674, where we read why Procne and Philomela and Tereus were transformed into birds.[8] It is a story about an Eternal Triangle. Tereus marries Procne and then violates her sister Philomela, only to be punished for his crime when Procne takes revenge on her husband by killing their own son and then serving up the child’s cooked body to an unsuspecting Tereus, who thinks he is eating the meat of an animal. Once he discovers that his own stomach has become the tomb of his own son, Tereus experiences a grief that matches the grief of the two sisters. The combined grief becomes too much for all three to bear, and the gods take pity by transforming them all into birds.

22§20. If we consider all the traditional retellings of this myth in all their variations, we find that the two sisters Procne and Philomela are both expert weavers. As I will now argue, this detail about the sisterhood of two mythical women who become the prototypical Nightingale and Swallow highlights the complementarity of their birdsong.

22§21. In most versions of the myth, only Philomela is shown explicitly in the act of weaving a web, and the corresponding expertise of Procne as weaver is only implicit. For example, in the version that is best known to us today, that is, at lines 576–578 of Ovid Metamorphoses 6, we read that Philomela the would-be Swallow weaves into a web the story of her violation by Tereus. She cannot express the story in words, since Tereus had cut out her tongue and now keeps her imprisoned in a fortress, hidden away from her sister. But even in this version, at lines 581–582, we see an implication that the sister Procne, the would-be Nightingale, is also an expert weaver: after the woven web, neatly folded, is secretly sent to her by Philomela, Procne unfolds it (581) and literally legit ‘reads’ the carmen miserabile ‘pitiful song’ about her sister’s grief (582). By implication, you have to be an expert weaver to be able to ‘read’ the full meaning of a song made by another expert weaver. Aristotle in his Poetics 1456b tells us that Sophocles, in a tragedy entitled Tereus (F 595 ed. Radt), makes reference to ‘the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis]’ (ἡ τῆς κερκίδος φωνή) as the decisive signal for the recognition of Philomela by her sister Procne.[9] For Philomela, the act of weaving a web substitutes for the act of singing a lament in expressing her grief, since her tongue has been cut out. Likewise for Procne, after she ‘reads’ the wordless lament that her sister has woven into the web, her own tongue simply cannot find the words to sing her own lament. Ovid says it most perceptively in his own words as he describes how Procne cannot find the words for her own tongue:

verbaque quaerenti satis indignantia linguaedefuerunt

In her search for words to say fully enough how she was aggrieved, such words failed to come to her tongue [lingua].

Ovid Metamorphoses 6.584–585

So, not only Philomela the would-be Swallow but also Procne the would-be Nightingale fail to sing any further as humans: the art of weaving is now the only language in which they communicate, since the art of singing has failed them. But these sisters can sing again wordlessly after they are transformed forever into the Swallow and the Nightingale, since the weaving pin that they had used for their expert weaving at the loom can now once again accompany their wordless singing, day and night. And the sisters sing in relay as they weave: the Swallow starts singing at daybreak while the Nightingale starts her song at nightfall.

22§22. We have seen, then, in the retelling by Ovid—and we can see it also in most other versions of the myth—that only one of the two sister birds-to-be is shown explicitly in the act of weaving, though it is clear in all versions that Procne the would-be Nightingale is implicitly just as much an expert weaver as is Philomela the would-be Swallow. Before I go any further, however, I highlight a version of the myth where the would-be Nightingale herself is caught, as it were, in the act of weaving in her own right.

22§23. This version of the myth is transmitted by Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 11.1–11, and the author reports that his narrative originates from the city of Ephesus (11.1).[10] I paraphrase here the relevant parts of the story, section by section:

(11.1) The father of the two sisters is named Pandareōs, and he lives in a region of Asia Minor belonging to the city of Ephesus.

(11.2) One of his two daughters is named Aēdōn or ‘Nightingale’, who gets married off to a tektōn ‘carpenter’ by the name of Polutekhnos, which means ‘the one who has many crafts [tekhnai]’.[11] This Polutekhnos lives in the neighboring city of Colophon. The couple produces a son named Itus.

(11.3) As a married couple, Aēdōn and Polutekhnos are at first so happy that they boast of a mutual love surpassing even the marital bliss experienced by that ultimate married couple, Hera and Zeus. Hera punishes Aēdōn and Polutekhnos for this boast by making them mutually envious of each other’s crafts. Aēdōn and Polutekhnos must now compete with each other in a contest that challenges each one of the two to work on a personal masterpiece and to bring this work to completion before the rival work of the competitor is completed. The masterpiece to be crafted by Aēdōn is the weaving of a web, while the rival masterpiece to be crafted by the carpenter Polutekhnos is the building of a chariot. It is agreed that the loser of the contest will forfeit to the winner the prize of a servant girl.

(11.4) Aēdōn wins the contest by being the first to complete her work, since she weaves her web with the help of the goddess Hera herself.[12] Now Polutekhnos, as the loser, must bring to his victorious wife a servant girl. But he contrives a malicious plan to humiliate Aēdōn by bringing to her as a servant girl her own sister, named Khelidōn or ‘Swallow’. To make the plan work, Polutekhnos goes off to ask for permission from Pandareōs as the father of Khelidōn to allow him to escort the girl to Aēdōn, supposedly for a sisterly visit.

(11.5) The father unsuspectingly gives his permission for Polutekhnos to get temporary custody of Khelidōn for the false purpose of a sisterly visit to Aēdōn. But now, instead of escorting Khelidōn, Polutekhnos secretly takes the girl aside and violates her, even disfiguring her beyond recognition before bringing her to Aēdōn as her servant girl. This way, both sisters have been utterly humiliated.

(11.6) Khelidōn, at first unrecognized by her sister Aēdōn, is worked nearly to death as a servant girl. But finally, when Aēdōn once overhears Khelidōn singing a lament about her grief, she recognizes her sister, and now the two women plan their revenge for being so utterly humiliated by Polutekhnos.

(11.7) As in the other versions, the child of Aēdōn and Polutekhnos is now killed by the mother and served up as cooked meat to the unsuspecting father. Polutekhnos feels unspeakable grief upon discovering that he has unwittingly eaten his own child. Then he experiences further grief as further punishment for his wrongdoings.

(11.8) The story of the further grief experienced by Polutekhnos continues here.

(11.9–10) Seeing the combined grief experienced by all the members of this dysfunctional family, Zeus takes pity and transforms them all into birds.

(11.11) Predictably, Aēdōn is transformed into a nightingale and Khelidōn, into a swallow.

Back to Epigram 55 of Posidippus

22§24. I return to the expression . . . καὶ πρὸϲ ἑώιαν |2κερκίδα . . . at lines 1–2, which I have translated this way: ‘. . . and, come dawn, |2as the sound of the weaving pin is heard . . .’. That sound, we can now see, can be made by the weaving pin of either one of the two primordial Sisters, the Nightingale or the Swallow, who sing night and day, in relay. Before dawn, it is the nightingales that sing their song. After dawn, it is time for the swallows to take over as they now sing their own song. And, we can now also see, these birds are weaving as they sing. That is why the sound of their song is the sound of the weaving pin. The Nightingale and the Swallow weave in relay, night and day, just as they sing in relay.

22§25. In earlier versions of my essays about Epigram 55 of Posidippus (N 2015.11.19 and 2015.12.03), I argued that the expression Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ ‘Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next’ at line 2 of Epigram 55 indicates that these songs too are sung in relay, from one song to the next. Each singer is followed by the next singer in singing her song. I went on to say that such relay singing, as I have argued in other projects, is typical of performances at private symposia arranged by and for male participants, as also at public concerts where kitharōdoi ‘kithara-singers’ or aulōidoi ‘aulos-singers’ compete with each other for prizes as they take turns in singing citharodic or aulodic songs respectively.[13] Similarly in Epigram 55, as I further went on to say in my earlier essays (again N 2015.11.19 and 2015.12.03), we see a reference to the taking of turns in singing citharodic songs of Sappho at a symposium—but the difference here is that the singers are represented as girls, not as boys or men. Essentially, we see here a female symposium. In terms of this argument, then, as I first said at §3 in one of my earlier essays (N 2015.11.19) “Epigram 55 pictures those happy times long ago when a girl named Nikomakhe would be partying all night with her girl-friends while singing and listening to the love songs of Sappho.”

22§26. We can imagine Nikomakhe and her girlfriends as singing love-songs of Sappho while they are weaving at their looms, but I don’t worry any more whether the wording of Posidippus indicates that the singing and weaving ends at dawn or starts at dawn. In mythological and poetic traditions about nightingales and swallows, as we have seen, the dawn signals a continuum of singing and weaving in relay. You can party all night as you sing while you weave and, come dawn, you can work all day as you weave while you sing.

22§27.  As I think further about all-night partying by girls singing love songs in relay, I return to what I noted in another earlier essay (N 2015.12.03), referring to a correspondence with my friend Claudia Filos, dated 2015.11.27, where she reminds me of two passages in Pindar’s Pythian 3 that refer to such partying. In the first of these two passages, the merry sounds of wedding songs sung for a bride are described this way::

|17 . . . ἅλικες |18 οἷα παρθένοι φιλέοισιν ἑταίρᾳ |19 ἑσπερίαις ὑποκουρίζεσθ᾽ ἀοιδαῖς

. . . just as girls [parthenoi] who are age-mates [of the bride] love to do sweet-talk [hupo-kor-izesthai] in their songs sung for their companion [hetaira = the bride], come evening.

Pindar Pythian 3.17–19[14]

At a later point in the same song, a mother goddess is described this way:

|78 . . . τὰν κοῦραι παρ᾽ ἐμὸν πρόθυρον σὺν Πανὶ μέλπονται θαμὰ |79 σεμνὰν θεὸν ἐννύχιαι . . .

. . . that venerable goddess, whom the girls [kourai] at my portal, with the help of Pan, celebrate by singing and dancing [melpesthai] again and again [thama] all night long [ennukhiai] . . .

Pindar Pythian 3.78–79

A brief look at typological parallels

22§28. If we look beyond ancient Greece and consider evidence from other song cultures of the world, we can find typological parallels for what I am positing here, namely, that women could engage in the practice of weaving and singing—and partying—all night long. I am engaging here in typological comparison, by which I mean a kind of comparative method that has to do with the study of parallelisms between structures as structures pure and simple, without any presuppositions of any historical connectedness.[15]

22§29. The working definition of typological comparison that I have just formulated here is taken from another work of mine where I happened to be comparing ancient Greek song culture with the historically unconnected song culture of my own people, the Hungarians. In that context, I was typologically comparing ancient Greek lament and Hungarian lament.[16] Now, once again this time, I delve into a Hungarian typological parallel. This time, I am comparing what I just posited for ancient Greek song culture, which is the practice of all-night singing by girls while they are working on the production of cloth, with a practice that is well documented in ethnographic studies of Hungarian song culture. I cite a particularly lively summary by Elizabeth Barber:

In Europe, too, unlike the Near East, looms were and are set up indoors and worked during the long periods of stormy weather and winter darkness, when little else can be done around the farm. A typical Hungarian evening in the villages consisted of a group of women getting together and spinning or embroidering all evening, while the men entertained them with stories, music, songs, and dances. Some of the men might be plying small craft also, and invariably some of the girls would drop their work for a bit to add to the entertainment with dancing and games. Singing, talking, and flirting, of course, didn’t stop the handwork, and singing makes the work easier.[17]

Barber adds:

I am aware of such customs in several other areas of central Europe and Scandinavia. “Quilting bees” in rural America were also very similar in both economic and social function.[18]

In a related context, Barber also compares the custom of singing waulking songs in rural Scotland, and she explains that this kind of song is not for “walking” but for “trampling the newly woven tartan cloth, soaking wet, on a corrugated board so as to make it waterproof and windproof.”[19]

22§30. For another typological example, I turn to a pathfinding study by my friend Vassiliki Koutsobina on a five-voice chanson composed by Josquin des Prez (died 1521) and entitled Je me complains de mon amy ‘I make laments about my man friend’.[20] In the final two lines of this chanson, as Koutsobina shows, the composer makes an explicit reference, both musically and verbally, to a popular song and tune that stems from a medieval songmaking tradition known as the chanson de toile or ‘cloth-making song’. Here is the text of Josquin:

|1 Je me complains de mon amy |2 qui me souloit venir veoir |3 la fresche matinée. |4 Or est il prime’et s’est midi |5 et si n’oy nouvelle de lui. |6 S’approche la vesprée. |7 La tricoton, la tricoton, |8 la belle tricotée.

|1 I make lament about my man friend |2 who used to come visit me |3 at morningtime, when all is fresh. |4 But now it’s prime time. And now it’s noontime, |5 and I have no news of him. |6 And now it’s vesper time. |7 The cloth [tricoton], the cloth [tricoton], |8 the pretty cloth-girl [tricotée].

The words show a switch in speakers. First the girl speaks at lines 1–6, and then at lines 7–8 a commentator speaks of the girl’s insincerity, referring to her as the belle tricotée, which I translate as a ‘pretty cloth girl’. Here I am following the analysis of Koutsobina, who shows that the verb tricoter in such contexts can mean not only ‘work on cloth’ but also ‘have sex’.[21] As Koutsobina also shows, the superius in the melodic transcription of the final two lines corresponds to a tune attached to various different wordings in texts dating from the 15th century.[22] I quote the wording of one of these texts:

|1 La tricotée est par matin levée, |2 sa pris sa harpe, au bois s’en est allée. |3 La tricoton, la tricoton, |4 la belle tricotée.

|1 The cloth-girl [tricotée] got out of bed in the morning. |2 She grabbed her harp and went off to the woods. |3 The cloth [tricoton], the cloth [tricoton], |4 the pretty cloth-girl [tricotée].

As Koutsobina observes about such imagery in these songs, “the garden or the forest was the locus of erotic endeavors, where the maid meets her lover or the knight encounters the lonely bergère.”[23] In this context, Koutsobina evokes the pathfinding work of E. Jane Burns on women’s working songs dating from the 13th century.[24] These medieval songs, known as chansons de toile ‘cloth-songs’, dramatize the singing of women while they are working on their cloth-work. As Burns notes, “the women who sew in the chanson de toile sing of love that works, like needles through cloth, pulling desirous partners into mutual embrace.”[25] And such medieval ‘cloth-songs’ are evidently the original inspiration for the imagery that lives on in the later chansons. Koutsobina concludes about the incorporation of the “tricotée melody” into the chanson of Josquin: “while the female subject complains about her lover, the beautiful tricotée gets what she desires by turning her knitting/singing enterprise into love work.”[26] So also, I suggest, we can imagine “love work” going on as we read in Posidippus, at line 2 of his Epigram 55: . . . πρὸϲ ἑώιαν |2 κερκίδα Ϲαπφώιουϲ ἐξ ὀάρων ὀάρουϲ ‘. . . come dawn, |2 as the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis] is heard, all of Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next . . .’.

Notes

[1] For an apparatus criticus, see Angiò, Cuypers, Acosta-Hughes, and Kosmetatou 2011.

[2] I share some essential information about the organization that is headed by this noted expert on fabric work: Marie-Louise B. Nosch, Ph.D., Research Professor, Director, The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (CTR). Post address: Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, Karen Blixensvej 4 DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark Phone + 45 2382 8021. Visit address: Amager fælledvej 56, 2nd floor, Copenhagen S. Web: http://ctr.hum.ku.dk/. CTR on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Centre-for-Textile-Research/192938927390718

[3] Commentary in PP=1996a: 65n25.

[4] Commentary in MoM=2015 4§167n162.

[5] Again PP=1996a:65n25. On the general topic of metaphorical connections between the nightingale and the process of weaving: Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:155–156.

[6] Also Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:143n26.

[7] For a survey that cites the major attested variants, I refer to the useful list of Levaniouk 2011:215n6.

[8] For a parallel version, in briefer form, I recommend especially “Apollodorus” Bibliotheca 3.193–195.

[9] Also Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:143n24.

[10] I agree with Levaniouk 2011:298 when she argues, on the basis of comparative evidence to be found in the Odyssey and elsewhere, that this version of the myth as transmitted by Antoninus Liberalis is “independent” of other attested versions.

[11] On this name: Papadopoulou-Belmehdi 1994:145.

[12] For more on the role of Aēdōn as an outstanding weaver: Levaniouk 2011:297–298.

[13] N 2007, 2010.

[14] Alternatively, if we read ἑταῖραι instead of ἑταίρᾳ, we can translate: ‘. . . just as girls [parthenoi], companions [hetairai] who the same age [as the bride], love to do sweet-talk [hupo-kor-izesthai] in their songs’.

[15] H24H 3§11.

[16] H24H 3§12.

[17] Barber 1991:294, with further documentation.

[18] Barber 1991:294n4.

[19] Barber 1991:216.

[20] Koutsobina 2008.

[21] Koutsobina 2008:67–68.

[22] Koutsobina 2008:68.

[23] Koutsobina 2008:73.

[24] Burns 2002.

[25] Burns 2002:115.

[26] Koutsobina 2008:73.

 

Essay 23: Imagining a sensually self-assertive singing bride—while reading the songs of Sappho

rewritten from 2021.01.29

23§0. This brief essay considers a situation where girls and women are having an all-night party in celebration of a bride who is getting married tomorrow, let us imagine. In previous essays, I have analyzed references, in a wide variety of ancient Greek texts, to such all-night partying, and I tried not to lose track, in these essays, of the facts of life. I am fully aware that such merriment, to be enjoyed by girls and women, can lead to suspicions of a kind of sexuality that may be deemed to be improper by, say, judgmental elders. But what if we consider the self-expression of the bride herself on the occasion of an all-night party where she celebrates, with other girls and with older women—including, presumably, not only her own female friends and relatives but also her future female in-laws—the upcoming “happy” event of her wedding? It would be wrong-headed, I think, to assume that only ‘courtesans’, say, as suggested by the ancient Greek word hetairai, could find it possible to express their own sense of sexuality—or, we could call it sensuality—at all-night parties. I argue that a bride, through such media as we see surviving in Sappho’s songs, for example, could be imagined as a diva who sings her own sexuality—not just singing about it but even singing it—on the occasion of her very own “all-girl” wedding party lasting all night long. The songs of Sappho reflect here and there, as I have argued in previous essays, such self-expressions of sexuality, sensuality. And there are further reflections, as I have also argued, both in later pieces of verbal art that are reminiscent of Sappho and even in later pieces of visual art, as in pictures painted by the so-called Meidias Painter in the Classical era of Athens. A case in point is the female beauty Pannychis, whose very name personifies such all-night partying and whom the Meidias Painter pictures in the act of beating out on her tambourine the rhythm of her song, aiming her sensual beat at an ecstatically dancing cupid or Eros. Only such diminutive male Erotes, as also pretty-boys like Adonis or Phaon, are admitted to such a mythologized “all-girl all-nighter.” And another case in point is a modern typological parallel, shown here in two consecutive freeze-frames extracted from a short commercial film about a bride who takes charge of her own singing at her own wedding party. Singing her song, she inspires her girl-friends or would-be girl-friends—such girl-friends would be described as hetairai in the poetics of Sappho—to “beat the drums with full vigor and sing with me.

Drawing after a still taken from “Dua-e-Reem“, released in celebration of International Women’s Day, directed by Shoaib Mansoor in partnership with Reem Rice Mills (Pvt.) Limited. Drawing by Jill Robbins.
Drawing after a consecutive still from “Dua-e-Reem“, released in celebration of International Women’s Day, directed by Shoaib Mansoor in partnership with Reem Rice Mills (Pvt.) Limited. Drawing by Jill Robbins.
Close-up of a female beauty named Pannychis, who is a personification of all-night merriment. Line drawing by Jill Robbins. Red-figure hydria. Florence, Museo Archeologico 81948. I refer to the Beazley Archive, which also provides a commentary, noted at Essay 7 in the caption for the image as shown there.

23§1.  If we look for ancient Greek texts that refer to all-night partying by girls (accompanied or not by older women) in celebration of a girl-friend who is about to become a bride, a good place to start reading, I think, is a set of two passages, quoted already in Essay 22, that we find in Pythian Ode 3 of Pindar.

23§1a. In the first of these two passages, the merry wedding songs sung for a bride by her girl-friends are described this way:

|17 . . . ἅλικες |18 οἷα παρθένοι φιλέοισιν ἑταίρᾳ |19 ἑσπερίαις ὑποκουρίζεσθ᾽ ἀοιδαῖς

. . . just as girls [parthenoi] who are age-mates [of the bride] love to do sweet-talk [hupo-kor-izesthai] in their songs sung for their companion [hetairā = the bride], come evening.

Pindar Pythian 3.17–19

Alternatively, if we read ἑταῖραι instead of ἑταίρᾳ in the original Greek text, we can translate:

. . . just as girls [parthenoi], companions [hetairai] who are the same age [as the bride], love to do sweet-talk [hupo-kor-izesthai] in their songs sung, come evening.

23§1b. At a later point in the same song, Pythian Ode 3 of Pindar, a mother goddess is described this way:

|78 . . . τὰν κοῦραι παρ᾽ ἐμὸν πρόθυρον σὺν Πανὶ μέλπονται θαμὰ |79 σεμνὰν θεὸν ἐννύχιαι . . .

. . . that venerable goddess, whom the girls [kourai] at my portal, with the help of Pan, celebrate by singing and dancing [melpesthai] again and again [thama] all night long [ennukhiai]. . . .

Pindar Pythian 3.78–79

23§2. But what about the bride? Will we get to see her sing for herself? The closest thing, perhaps, to such a festive scene would be a situation where the songs of Sappho herself are being sung by girls at an all-night wedding party. In Epigram 55 of Posidippus, we almost get to see such a scene of a singing bride. But, sadly, the bride is no longer there, since this would-be diva of the all-night-partying has died prematurely, as we saw in Essays 3 and 22. I quote again here my working translation):

|1 Everything about Nikomakhe, all her pretty things and, come dawn, |2 as the sound of the weaving pin [kerkis] is heard, all of Sappho’s love songs [oaroi], songs [oaroi] sung one after the next, |3 are all gone, carried away by fate, all too soon [pro-hōria], and the poor |4 girl [parthenos] is lamented by the city of the Argives. |5 She had been raised by the goddess Hera, who cradled her in her arms like a tender seedling. But then, ah, there came the time when all her would-be husbands, |6 pursuing her, got left behind, with cold beds for them to sleep in.

Posidippus Epigram 55

23§3. This epigram, as we have already seen, is about a girl whose happy young life was sadly interrupted by a premature death. Nostalgically, the words of the epigram recall all the merriment—all the happy times when this girl and her girlfriends were singing the love songs of Sappho, sung one after another. That is what I argued in Essay 3 and Essay 22. But now I argue further that such love songs could have been sung also on premarital occasions like the parties where the bride can sing, without inhibition, to girl-friends or would-be girl-friends: “beat the drums with full vigor and sing with me.”

23§4. Epilogue. I am grateful to Seton Augusta Uhlhorn for introducing me to the “clip” that is linked (“Dua-e-Reem”) in the captions written under the first two pictures shown in this essay. I write down again here the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcON6vmP9no&list=RDQcON6vmP9no&index=1.

 

Essay 24: Starting with Anacreon in reconstructing the earliest phases of Sappho’s reception

rewritten from 2021.02.06

24§0. This essay enters into questions about sexual preferences or attractions that are expressed or at least implied by female beauties on happy occasions featuring the love songs of Sappho. But such questions about love songs are linked with more complicated questions about the actual occasions where these songs would be performed. In my book here, ever since Essay 9, I have been concentrating on Classical Athens as the primary venue for continuities in the performing of Sappho’s love songs. Such continuities add up to what we can learn about the Classical and Postclassical reception of such songs in Athens—as these songs come alive in performance, both at public concerts and at private symposia. But everything since Essay 9 has been centered in Classical Athens, not in Preclassical Lesbos, homeland of Sappho. Where, then, is the historical background for a pre-Athenian reception of Sappho’s love songs? Here I must retrace my steps in this book, going all the way back to Essay 2, where I already argued that the historical background for such pre-Athenian reception—but also for the beginnings of Athenian reception—can be found in the songmaking traditions of Anacreon. Why do I say that Anacreon is key to both pre-Athenian and Athenian historical phases in the reception of Sappho’s love songs? The answer can be straightforward: we know enough about the historical background of Anacreon to appreciate how his songmaking traditions underwent a radical transformation in the late sixth century BCE. Though Anacreon had started off as the court poet of an imperial power centered in the island-state of Samos, which then dominated the Greek-speaking populations of Asia Minor and its outlying islands, including Lesbos, we know all too well that this poet ended up, only a few years later, on the European side of the Aegean Sea, in Athens, after the imperial power of Samos had imploded on the Asiatic side. And, in Athens, the court poetry of Anacreon, protégé of tyrants, was rapidly transformed—just as the political landscape of Athens was rapidly transformed after the former tyrants of Athens, the Peisistratidai, who had originally relocated Anacreon from Samos to Athens, were overthrown, giving way to a new régime that eventually redefined itself as a democracy. Though nominally a democracy, however, this new régime in Athens, much like the tyrannical ancien régime of the Peisistratidai, held on to imperial projects. What I just said has already been foregrounded in Essay 2, but my intent now is to highlight one basic relevant fact about the reception of Anacreon himself in the historical context of imperial democratic Athens in the Classical period: the fact is, Anacreon’s songmaking became an integral part of the song culture in imperial Athens just as it had once been a comparably integral part of an imperial song culture on the Asiatic side of the Aegean Sea.

Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), Anacreon and a Young Woman. Paris, Musée National Eugène Delacroix. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

24§1. Just as the love poetry of Anacreon had formerly conveyed the glamour of an Asiatic empire centered in Samos, the same poetry, once it got transplanted in Athens, could now convey the rival allure of a democratic European empire-in-the-making. I see here a cultural connectedness of empire and love poetry, best known in world literature from the palindromic equation of Roma and Amor in the poetic world of the Roman Empire in the era of Augustus, and I have just used words like glamour and allure in trying to convey the attractiveness of imperial power in promoting itself by way of art. In terms of my argument, a prime example of such imperial self-promotion is the verbal art of love poetry. And we see such self-promotion at work in the poetics of Anacreon—not only in his Asiatic pre-Athenian phases but also in his later post-Asiatic Athenian phases. In this essay, I highlight a shining example, where a song of Anacreon conjures a girl from Lesbos whose sexuality seems to defy the love poetry of this poet. But the defiance, as I will argue, is a mocking gesture, since the song demonstrates the poet’s control of his own love poetry, which is about unrequited love. And such control assumes mastery of the poetics of Sappho herself. You have to love Sappho to understand her poetics, but Sappho does not have to love you back. In the poetics of Anacreon, accordingly, the poet may fall in love with Sappho simply because he loves the songs of Sappho—and simply because his listeners love to love the songs of Sappho.

24§2. So, I start by focusing on a song of Anacreon in the role of an old male poet who is supposedly in love with Sappho—according to at least some ancient traditions about the lives of Sappho and Anacreon. I will have more to say presently about such traditions, but first I must quote the song of Anacreon, along with my working translation:

σφαίρῃ δηὖτέ με πορφυρέῃ
βάλλων χρυσοκόμης Ἔρως
νήνι ποικιλοσαμβάλῳ
συμπαίζειν προκαλεῖται.
ἣ δ’ (ἐστὶν γὰρ ἀπ’ εὐκτίτου
Λέσβου) τὴν μὲν ἐμὴν κόμην
(λευκὴ γάρ) καταμέμφεται,
πρὸς δ’ ἄλλην τινὰ χάσκει.

Once again [dēutethis time with a purple ball I am hit
—it was thrown by the one with the golden head of hair, Eros,
and—with a young girl wearing pattern-woven sandals
—to play-with [sun-paizein] her does he [= Eros] call on me.
But, you see, she is from that place so well settled by settlers,
Lesbos it is. And my head of hair,
you see, it’s white, she finds fault with it.
And she gapes at something else—some girl.

Anacreon F 358 in PMG (ed. Page)

24§3. This song is quoted in a context that has much to tell us about the reception of not only Sappho but also Anacreon himself. The context is provided in a source dated to the second/third century CE, Athenaeus (13.598b-c), who stages a learned discussion about the poet Hermesianax of Colophon, who lived in the early third century BCE. This poet refers to the love professed for Sappho by Anacreon. The poem of Hermesianax describes Sappho as an aēdōn ‘nightingale’ (F 7 49 ed. Powell), the most beautiful of all the women of Lesbos, and it goes on to tell how a lovelorn Anacreon often journeyed from the island of Samos to the island of Lesbos in seemingly vain attempts to succeed in winning her love (F 7 50–57 via Athenaeus 13.598c). After the quotation of the poem by Hermesianax comes to an end in the text of Athenaeus (13.599b), the learned discussion turns to a questioning of what the poet says about Anacreon. It is claimed that Hermesianax made a big mistake by ‘synchronizing’ Anacreon with Sappho:

ἐν τούτοις ὁ Ἑρμησιάναξ σφάλλεται συγχρονεῖν οἰόμενος Σαπφὼ καὶ Ἀνακρέοντα, τὸν μὲν κατὰ Κῦρον καὶ Πολυκράτην γενόμενον, τὴν δὲ κατ’ Ἀλυάττην τὸν Κροίσου πατέρα. Χαμαιλέων δ’ ἐν τῷ περὶ Σαπφοῦς καὶ λέγειν τινάς φησιν εἰς αὐτὴν πεποιῆσθαι ὑπὸ Ἀνακρέοντος τάδε·

In these lines Hermesianax is making a mistake in thinking that Sappho and Anacreon are contemporaries. For he [= Anacreon] lived in the time of Cyrus and Polycrates while she [= Sappho] lived in the time of Alyattes the father of Croesus. But Chamaeleon in his work On Sappho [F 26 ed. Wehrli] even says that the following verses were composed by Anacreon and addressed to her [= Sappho].

Athenaeus 13.598c

And it is in this context that Athenaeus quotes the song of Anacreon that we have read just a minute ago.

24§4. But now things get more complicated. In the text of Athenaeus, we now read further about the source just mentioned, Chamaeleon of Heraclea Pontica, who is dated to the fourth/third centuries BCE. In his work On Sappho (F 26 ed. Wehrli), as we have just seen from Athenaeus, Chamaeleon interpreted what we know as Song 358 of Anacreon to be the words of the poet’s declaration of love for Sappho. After quoting the words supposedly spoken by Anacreon in professing his love, Chamaeleon then quotes the words supposedly spoken by Sappho in talking back to Anacreon (Adespota 35 = F 953 in PMG ed. Page):

καὶ τὴν Σαπφὼ δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ταῦτά φησιν εἰπεῖν·

κεῖνον, ὦ χρυσόθρονε Μοῦσ’, ἔνισπες
ὕμνον, ἐκ τᾶς καλλιγύναικος ἐσθλᾶς
Τήιος χώρας ὃν ἄειδε τερπνῶς
πρέσβυς ἀγαυός.

He [= Chamaeleon] says that Sappho says back to him [= Anacreon]:

It was that particular song, I tell you, you Muse wearing the golden pattern-weave. Yes, you spoke
that particular humnos. It came from the noble place of beautiful women,
and the-man-from-Teos [= Anacreon] sang it. It came from that space. And, as he sang, he did it so delightfully,
that splendid old man.

Adespota F 35 in PMG (ed. Page)

The discussion about Anacreon and Sappho in Athenaeus now concludes:

ὅτι δὲ οὔκ ἐστι Σαπφοῦς τοῦτο τὸ ᾆσμα παντί που δῆλον. ἐγὼ δὲ ἡγοῦμαι παίζειν τὸν Ἑρμησιάνακτα περὶ τούτου τοῦ ἔρωτος. καὶ γὰρ Δίφιλος ὁ κωμῳδιοποιὸς πεποίηκεν ἐν Σαπφοῖ δράματι Σαπφοῦς ἐραστὰς Ἀρχίλοχον καὶ Ἱππώνακτα.

That this song does not belong to Sappho is clear to everyone. And I think that Hermesianax was simply being witty in talking about this passionate love. Diphilus, the poet of comedy, composed a play called Sappho [Poetae Comici Graeci V F 70 ed. Kassel–Austin], in which he made Archilochus and Hipponax lovers of Sappho.

Athenaeus 13.599c

24§5. In my earlier work on this staged musical “duet” between Anacreon and Sappho, I compared another tradition about another such “duet”—this one, between Alcaeus and Sappho (N 2007|2009:219–221, rewritten as Essay 4 in Sappho 0). I epitomize here my argument. I start with a fragment of poetry quoted by Aristotle (Rhetoric 1.1367a) and generally attributed to Sappho (F 137). The fragment reveals a dialogue in song—a duet, as it were. This musical dialogue features, on one side, Alcaeus in the act of making sly sexual advances on Sappho and, on the other side, Sappho in the act of trying to protect her honor by cleverly fending off the predatory words of Alcaeus. I argue that the notional composer of this dialogue in song was Alcaeus, and that the song is representing Sappho in the act of responding to him. Here is the dialogue as quoted by Aristotle:

τὰ γὰρ αἰσχρὰ αἰσχύνονται καὶ λέγοντες καὶ ποιοῦντες καὶ μέλλοντες, ὥσπερ καὶ Σαπφὼ πεποίηκεν, εἰπόντος τοῦ Ἀλκαίου
θέλω τι εἰπῆν, ἀλλά με κωλύει αἰδώς,

αἰ δ’ ἦχες ἐσθλῶν ἵμερον ἢ καλῶν
καὶ μή τι εἰπῆν γλῶσσ’ ἐκύκα κακόν
αἰδώς κέν σε οὐκ εἶχεν ὄμματ’,
ἀλλ’ ἔλεγες περὶ τῶ δικαίω.

Men are ashamed to say, to do, or to intend to do shameful things. That is exactly the way Sappho composed her words when Alcaeus said:

{He:} I want to say something to you, but I am prevented by shame [aidōs] …
{She:} But if you had a desire for good and beautiful things
and if your tongue were not stirring up something bad to say,
then shame [aidōs] would not seize your eyes
and you would be speaking about the just and honorable thing to do.

“Sappho” F 137 via the quotation of Aristotle Rhetoric 1.1367a

In terms of my argument, we are dealing here not with competing songs composed by competing composers but with competing traditions in the actual performance of these songs. I omit in this epitome my typological comparisons with other “boy-meets-girl” songs of courtship or pseudo-courtship.

24§6. Having epitomized my interpretation of the passage where Aristotle quotes Alcaeus in the act of speaking to Sappho, who then speaks back to Alcaeus, I now return to Hermesianax of Colophon (early third century BCE), who actually compares the sexualized pairing of Anacreon and Sappho with another such pairing, of Alcaeus and Sappho (N 2007|2009:229–230, rewritten in Essay Four of Sappho 0):

Λέσβιος Ἀλκαῖος δὲ πόσους ἀνεδέξατο κώμους,
Σαπφοῦς φορμίζων ἱμερόεντα πόθον
γινώσκεις

How many ensembles-of-comastic-singers [kōmoi] did Alcaeus of Lesbos greet
as he played out on his lyre a yearning [pothos]—lovely [himeroeis] it was—for Sappho
—you know how many (such ensembles) there were.

Hermesianax F 7 47–49 (ed. Powell) via Athenaeus 13.598b

This testimony, by way of Hermesianax of Colophon, indicates that Alcaeus was well known for singing not one but many love songs that were directed at Sappho—and that they were performed in the Dionysiac context of the kōmos, which refers to ‘a singing and dancing ensemble of revelers’, as I would define the word programmatically.

24§7. The case of the musical dialogue between Anacreon and Sappho differs in one most crucial way, however, from the corresponding case of the musical dialogue between Alcaeus and Sappho. I epitomize what I argued at length in the essay I have already cited (N 2007|2009:232–233, rewritten as Essay Four in Sappho 0): in the case of Anacreon and Sappho, it is clear from the dating of these two figures that they cannot be contemporaries. That is why modern editors assign to the category of “Adespota” the words reportedly spoken by Sappho in response to Anacreon. So, these words attributed to Sappho are officially declared to be inauthentic. And this modern judgment is in agreement with the ancient judgment expressed in the learned discussion staged by Athenaeus (13.599c). Modern editors have not dared to go so far, however, when they pass judgment on the words reportedly spoken by Sappho in response to Alcaeus, since in this case the ancient world considered these two particular figures to be contemporaries. That is why the words attributed to Alcaeus and Sappho cannot be so easily dismissed. Or, at least, they cannot be dismissed on the basis of chronological considerations. Accordingly, editors are willing to allow for the possibility that Sappho herself composed such a dialogue, even though they are generally unwilling to identify the speakers of the dialogue as Alcaeus and Sappho.

24§8. So, for modern editors of Sappho, a “responding song” supposedly addressed by the persona of Sappho to Anacreon is even more problematic than the same kind of song involving Alcaeus instead of Anacreon. And yet, for purposes of tracing the ancient reception of Sappho, the role of Anacreon is even more important than the role of Alcaeus, since, as I started to say already at 24§1, the songmaking of Anacreon was a bridge for the reception of Sappho’s songs in Athens. Or, to say it better, perhaps: his songmaking was the point of entry for the songs of Sappho—and even of Alcaeus—into a new historical context, which is, Athenian reception. That is what I have argued at length in earlier work: that Anacreon was in fact a pivotal figure when it comes to the reception of Sappho and Alcaeus in Athens. Such reception got started in earnest when Anacreon was relocated from Samos to Athens in 522 BCE, after the collapse of the maritime empire of Polycrates in Samos (again, N 2007|2009:226, rewritten in Essay 4 of Sappho 0).

24§9. Here I stop to make a point about my methodology in analyzing the received texts of figures like Anacreon, Alcaeus, and Sappho. The traditions of “responding songs,” as where “he” sings to “her” and “she” sings back to “him,” can be analyzed as historical evidence not about the actual lives of poetic figures such as Anacreon or even Sappho and Alcaeus but, rather, about the reception of songs attributed to these figures. The aetiologizing or even mythologizing of poetic figures such as Anacreon, Sappho, and Alcaeus can be viewed as an aspect of their reception by listeners who heard their songs being performed and re-performed through the ages. For more on my methodologies in analyzing “Lives of Poets” traditions, especially with regard to Homer, I cite, as an introduction, my essay in Classical Inquiries (N 2015.12.18).

24§10. So, where do we go from here? To start—or, better, to re-start—I note simply that Athens became, historically, a point of no return for the ongoing reception of Sappho’s songs and of Sappho herself as a poetic persona who kept getting mythologized and re-mythologized on the basis of what her re-performed songs were thought to be saying about her. As we saw already at 24§4, where I quoted the learned discussion in Athenaeus (13.599c), Sappho as a female poet became a love-object, as it were, in mythologized traditions about the lives of male poets who were imagined as her contemporaries and whose songs were likewise performed and re-performed in public, not only in such private contexts as we see in a multitude of ancient references to partying at symposia. To highlight a most telling example of a public context, Athenian comedy, I quote again here my translation of the relevant wording in Athenaeus (again, 13.599c): ‘Diphilus, the poet of comedy, composed a play called Sappho [Poetae Comici Graeci V F 70 ed. Kassel–Austin], in which he made Archilochus and Hipponax lovers of Sappho’. It is in this kind of historical context that we need to rethink the content of a song like the one I quoted at 24§2, the song of Anacreon about a girl from Lesbos (PMG  F 358 ed. Page). An admirable example of such rethinking is an essay by Kate Gilhuly (2015), who focuses on this particular song of Anacreon. In her essay, she highlights femininity itself as the essential element of Sappho’s poetics, and such highlighting is I think a most sensible perspective for analyzing the sensuality and, yes, sexuality that keeps on radiating in Sappho’s songs.

24§11. In my own previous work on the song of Anacreon that I quoted at 24§2 (again, PMG  F 358), I noted the significance of the word dēute ‘once again this time’ at the beginning of the song, since this word resonates with the use of the same word three times in Song 1 of Sappho (N 2015.12.31 §13; relevant remarks by Claude Calame 2016.01.18, with reference to N 2015.11.05). In Essay 1 of my book here, I already argued that this word signals a poetics of re-experiencing unique moments of one’s own past personal experiences of erotic love—by way of hearing would-be unique re-performances of the song—or, in later phases of reception, by way of would-be unique re-readings. Another signal of such erotic moments in this song of Anacreon is the reference to the delicate leather ‘sandals’ that are ‘pattern-woven’—as signaled by the noun sambalo– and by the adjective poikilo– (ποικιλοσαμβάλῳ). These sandals are gracefully worn by the girl from Lesbos—who can be pictured as dancing with the purple ball that now gets re-directed at the old man targeted by the adolescent cupid, Eros. It is Eros who redirects the action, tossing the girl’s purple ball at the old man—as if the girl didn’t toss it herself—tempting the poet to feel wistfully playful as he gazes at the female beauty. That the girl is pictured as dancing can be inferred by looking at a comparable picturing, in a song of Sappho (F 39), of a girl wearing sandals held together by beautiful leatherwork, of luxuriant Lydian manufacture, which is likewise described as poikilo-, ‘pattern-woven’: πόδας δὲ ποίκιλος μάσλης ἐκάλυπτε, Λύδιον κάλον ἔργον ‘her feet were hiding under pattern-woven [poikilo-] footwear [maslēs], beautiful handiwork, made in Lydia’. In the poetics of Sappho, the eroticism of a girl’s feet in motion, as she dances, is made explicit in Song 16, where the female speaker yearns to see once again this time the gracefully dancing feet of Anaktoria, with her ‘lovely step’ (ἔρατόν … βᾶμα, line 17): she is now gone, no longer to be seen, but the fond vision of her gracefully dancing feet can be revisited again and again in song. On the eroticism of a girl’s feet as partially hidden or unhidden by beautiful sandals, I compare a Hellenized Egyptian “Cinderella story” retold by Strabo (17.1.33 C808; the story is also attested in the so-called Varia Historia of Aelian, 13.33), about the famed courtesan named Rhodōpis: I highlight a detail about the sandal of Rhodōpis, which is the “glass slipper,” as it were, of this “Cinderella.” In the version of the story as retold by Strabo (which I analyzed in N 2018:121–122; also already in N 2015.07.01 §22), the sandal of Rhodōpis is swooped up by a flying eagle while she is bathing naked, and the eagle flies off to Memphis and drops the sandal into the lap of the pharaoh, who falls in love with the unknown girl who wore it, since he so admires the shape of the sandal, which shows a rhuthmos, as Strabo calls it, conveying the beauty of the girl’s dance-steps. In this Hellenized Egyptian version of the story of Rhodōpis, ‘the one with the rosy face’, the king finds the girl, marries her, and makes her his queen (further analysis in N 2018:121–122).

24§12. Having considered the reception of Sappho in the poetics of Anacreon, which signals a transition of this reception—from Lesbos via Samos to Athens—I can from here on rely in earnest on the Athenian phase of Sappho’s reception. I have in mind especially the pictures painted in Athens by the so-called Meidias Painter, that master of visual art who lived around the same time as such masters of verbal art as Aristophanes. I find that the pictures of this particular artist, which I have been tracking since Essay 7, have been most revealing in helping me appreciate the esthetics of femininity conveyed in the poetics of Sappho. Also most helpful in this regard are the picturings of femininity in masterpieces of verbal art such as the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, and the Bibliography for my book here tracks some but hardly all of the relevant research on topics of femininity and sexuality in the historical context of Classical Athens. For the moment, I highlight the work of Sarah Stroup (2004), Sue Blundell and Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz (2008), and Laura McClure (2015). Each one of these authors has something relevant to say about questions that I raise in my essay here. And these authors raise their own relevant questions. For example, why is it that the Lysistrata of Aristophanes does not ridicule hetairai as hetairai in the sense of ‘courtesans’ (Stroup 2004:42, McClure 2015:54–55)? And here is a related question: was there, in Classical Athenian verbal or visual art, really a distinction between homoeroticism and heteroeroticism in viewing the attractions of female beauty (Blundell and Rabinowitz 2008)? Such questions are relevant to my own question: how can such considerations help us better understand the Athenian reception of Sappho’s songs? In terms of the essay that I have presented here, my own answer, still tentative, is that these songs signaled an eroticism that was enticingly unpredictable for would-be male lovers—and, I suspect, for would-be female lovers as well.

Photo via Flickr.

 


 

Essay 25: How a girl dances in an Aeolic way, whether she is wearing sandals or not

rewritten from 2021.02.13

25§0. In this essay, I consider again the beautiful sandals worn by the girl from Lesbos who is described in a song of Anacreon that I analyzed in Essay 24. Even though the poetic dialect of Anacreon is Ionic, the sandals worn by the girl are described in this song with a word that is shaped in the Aeolic dialect of Sappho. I argue that we see here a Sapphic “signature” for these sandals, signaling that the girl is pictured as dancing in a way that girls are imagined as dancing in the songs of Sappho—whether or not they are wearing sandals.

Pottery: red-figured hydria: Girls dancing, attended by an “instructress” and a youth. British Museum #373912001. Image via British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
Horae Serenae (1896), Edward Poynter (1836-1919). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Terracotta scent bottles in the form of a sandalled foot. British Museum #263382001. Image via British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

25§1. The Sapphic “signature,” as I call it here, can best be visualized when we view the many surviving varieties of ancient perfume-bottles, aryballoi, that are shaped like a human foot wearing a pretty sandal. I cannot help but admire the handicraft of the leatherwork that is represented by the potters who manufactured these bottles made of terra cotta. I highlighted in Essay 24 the wording that describes such luxuriant leatherwork in a song of Sappho (F 39), where we see a girl pictured as wearing sandals held together by beautiful leatherwork, of luxuriant Lydian manufacture, which is described as poikílo-, ‘pattern-woven’: πόδας δὲ ποίκιλος μάσλης ἐκάλυπτε, Λύδιον κάλον ἔργον ‘her feet were hiding under pattern-woven [Aeolic poíkilo-] footwear [maslēs], beautiful handiwork, made in Lydia’. As I argued, the adjective poikílos (Aeolic poíkilos/ποίκιλος), as we see here in the wording of Sappho, signals the eroticism of a girl’s pretty feet in motion, as she dances. As I also already noted, I see such eroticism made explicit in Song 16 of Sappho, where the female speaker yearns to see, once again this time, the ‘lovely step’ (ἔρατόν … βᾶμα, line 17) of a missing girl, Anaktoria: she is now gone, no longer to be seen, but the fond vision of her gracefully dancing feet can be revisited again and again in song.

25§2. My colleague Natasha Bershadsky points me to a most relevant essay that had escaped my notice till now. Coincidentally, it was written by an old friend and colleague of mine, Daniel Levine (2005). In Levine’s essay, he too highlights the eroticism of the girl’s pretty feet in Song 16 of Sappho, and his highlighting connects the loveliness of this detail with a wide variety of comparable mentions, in all their dazzling variety, of pretty feet that are aestheticized and occasionally even fetishized in the ancient world. My contribution to Levine’s admirable survey of all these mentions is simply this: in such cases as Song 16 of Sappho, the pretty feet of Anaktoria are pretty not only because the girl is naturally beautiful. Her feet are pretty also because her beauty, which is a thing of nature, is fused with a thing of culture, which is the beauty to be seen in the art of dancing. I am speaking here in anthropological terms, where I focus for just a fleeting moment on the well-trodden dichotomy of “nature” and “culture.” In terms of my argument, the girl is envisioned as dancing inside the mental space of a memory conjured by the song, and the graceful steps of her dancing feet are beautiful to see. The beauty here is to be found not only in the human body, as when you look at a girl’s beautiful feet and view the beautiful way she walks: it is to be found also in the beautiful way her body is activated in the act of dancing—while she is presumably singing as well, since her eraton bāma or ‘lovely step’, the radiant sight of which has been sadly lost and longingly missed in Song 16 of Sappho, is a vital aspect of choral performance, which in ancient Greek terms is an organic fusion of dancing with song. Such a fusion of song and dance is actually embodied, I think, in the singing of Sappho.

25§3. As for the dancing of a girl like Anaktoria, as I argued in Essay 21, it is signaled in the song of Anacreon about a pretty girl from Lesbos. The word describing this girl is a compound adjective, ποικιλοσαμβάλῳ at line 3 of Anacreon’s song (F 358 in PMG ed. Page), which can be translated as ‘wearing sandals [sámbala] that are pattern-woven [poikíla]’. In the Ionic dialect, the noun that we translate as ‘sandal’ is either sándalon, plural sándala (as in Homeric Hymn to Hermes 79, 83, 139), or sandálion, plural sandália (as in Herodotus 2.91). What I formulate here for Ionic applies also to the Doric dialect, as we see in Idyll 24 of Theocritus (line 36), σάνδαλα ‘sandals’ and in the Lament for Adonis by Bion (line 21), ἀσάνδαλος ‘not wearing sandals’. Similarly in a choral ode of the Iphigeneia in Aulis by Euripides, we read χρυσεοσάνδαλον ἴχνος ‘footprint of a golden sandal’. In the Aeolic dialect of Sappho, by contrast, Ionic and Doric sándala are sámbala, as in Sappho Fragment 110a (line 2), where we read σάμβαλα. What I find most remarkable, then, about the sandals worn by the dancing girl in the song of Anacreon is that her footwear is Aeolic footwear linked with dancing. Thus her sandals are linked with the Aeolic songs of Sappho. We see here, I think, a trace of imperial luxuriance dating back to the glory days when the love songs of Sappho, appropriated by Anacreon, promoted the glamour of the Asiatic Greek empire ruled by Anacreon’s patron, Polycrates. Even after Anacreon had been extracted from his Asiatic setting and implanted into the European setting of Athens, the allure of Asiatic exoticism could linger. Even if you could take the Asiatic poet Anacreon out of his Asiatic imperial setting, you could not take the Asiatic poetics of Anacreon out of Anacreon.

25§4. As for the exotic sandals… I must now add  that you don’t have to wear sandals just because you feel like dancing Aeolic-style. When you feel like dancing with abandon, as when you become a maenad, you dance barefoot. But the bare feet could still signal the option of sandaled feet, if the word for sandal is pronounced in a distinctively Aeolic way, as we will now see. In Ionic and Doric, the appropriate word would be ἀσάνδαλος/asándalos, ‘not wearing sandals’, as we see in the Lament for Adonis by Bion (line 21). And if you do dance barefoot, you can still dance Aeolic-style. In the Aeolic dialect, the appropriate word would be ἀσάμβαλος/asámbalos. Such a style, I argue, must have been signaled in the songs of Sappho, though I can find no direct attestations. But I can find a wealth of indirect attestations in poetry that reflects an ongoing reception of Sappho’s songs. A shining example is a lengthy poem about Dionysus, the Dionysiaka, composed by Nonnus of Panopolis, who lived in the fifth century CE. In his poetry, Nonnus pictures a typical maenad, uninhibited devotee of Dionysus that she is, as a girl gone wild, as it were, since she has let down her flowing hair, having undone her headdress, and has slipped out of her sandals as she dances barefoot in the wilderness with sensual abandon:

ἦν δὲ νοῆσαι | παρθένον ἀκρήδεμνον ἀσάμβαλον ὑψόθι πέτρης | τρηχαλέῳ πρηῶνι περισκαίρουσαν ἐρίπνης·

[And, as you view the maenads], you could spot | some girl, who is not-wearing-her-headdress [akrḗdemnos] and not-wearing-her-[Aeolic]-sandals [asámbalos], [and there she is,] high up there on the rocky heights looming above, | dancing-around at the jagged edge of a steep rock face.

Nonnus Dionysiaka 14.381–383

A maenad, dancing ecstatically, with a Bacchic wand (or thyrsus) in hand.  Museo del Prado, early second century CE. Image via Flickr.
Chalice vessel of the Berlin Dancers Painter. 5th century BCE. Altes Museum. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Image via Flickr.
Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), Three Female Figures Dancing and Playing. Private collection; photo: public domain.
Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), The Golden Stairs. Tate Britain, N04005. Photo © Tate, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0.

 

 


 

Essay 26: Can Sappho be freed from receivership?

26§0. In this essay, I make a distinction between, on the one hand, what I describe as a receivership of Sappho in the world of Classics today and, on the other hand, the variegated reception of Sappho in the world of ancient Greek song culture. In making such a distinction, I repeat a term I introduced in Essay 5 with reference both to Song 1 of Sappho and to Ode 4.1 of Horace. That term was “a poetics of repetition,” which I redeploy here as a way of conceptualizing the ancient reception of Sappho, to be contrasted with today’s receivership of her songs. I will say more about my use of the term “receivership” as my argumentation proceeds, but for now I concentrate on the contrasted term “reception,” which I use in the context of describing situations in the ancient world where the songs of Sappho could be reperformed.

Part I

rewritten from 2021.07.19.

26.I§1. One such situation, where the songs of Sappho could be reperformed, is actually exemplified in Song 1 of Sappho, as I have argued in Essay 1. In the case of Song 1, the poetics of repetition is signaled in two ways by the song itself. First, there is the adverb dēute (δηὖτε), meaning ‘once again this time’, which is used three times in this song with reference to the onset, ‘once again this time’, of passionate love. And, second, there is the adjective poikiló-thronos, which is the first word of the song and which, as I interpret this adjective, describes the goddess Aphrodite herself as ‘[you] who wear [your] pattern-woven dress’ or, more literally, ‘wearing [a dress decorated with] woven patterns’, where the primary forms of patterns tend to be floral. For those who experience love, the love itself as personified by the goddess of love is limitlessly varied, each time love happens, just as the wording of Sappho pictures a limitless variety of patterns that are woven into the exterior of Aphrodite’s dress. This exteriorization of such patterns—in most cases representing flowers—is matched by the interiorization of love felt inside the heart of the one in love. A comparable scheme of exteriorization is visible in the work of art that I have chosen as the featured image for Part I of this essay. We see pictured here the goddess Aphrodite, accompanied by the boy Himeros, who is sexual desire personified, and she is shown wrapped in a himation that is decorated with floral patterns.

 

Silver kantharos with gilded decoration: Aphrodite (shown with Himeros), wrapped in a himation decorated with floral patterns. Late 5th century BCE, Vassil Bojkov collection, Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

26.I§2. My view of Sappho’s reception, which I trace forward in time by starting from the ancient world—starting, that is, from as far back as possible, even as far back as the era generally posited by classicists as a historical setting for the life and times of this figure named Sappho—differs from an alternative view espoused by those who use the word “reception” only in terms of post-ancient responses to the verbal arts of the ancient world. It is in the context of this difference in views that I can explain my use of the word “receivership.” I contrast this word with “reception” because those who use this other word in a restricted way, excluding the past, tend to disregard the idea that Sappho’s songs were traditionally reperformed in the ancient world, and that such traditions of reperformance need to be reconciled with the textual transmission of these songs in the Classical period of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.

26.I§3. I start by noting that I sympathize with the motives of those who think that some kind of receivership is needed for the study of Sappho’s songs. These motives can be understood, I think, as a reaction—whether it is conscious or unconscious—to a sense of loss, enormous loss. I too sense that loss, which I will now try to describe in my own way.

26.I§4. One of the all-time worst disasters, to my way of thinking, that has ever befallen the world of what is now called world literature has been the fact—a freakish case of historical contingencies—that the textual transmission of the songs of Sappho, curated at the Library of Alexandria in the era that followed the founding of that library at some point in the early third century BCE, did not survive into the Renaissance, by contrast with other Greek classics like, say, the victory odes of Pindar. No corpus of texts stemming from the scrolls or ‘books’ of Sappho as edited by the Alexandrians has survived. Instead, all we have left are (1) sparse quotations from her songs in ancient sources and (2) fragments of her songs written on papyri dug up in Egypt over many years since the nineteenth century of our era—and, to make things even worse, some of the papyrological finds have involved ethically questionable modes of acquisition.

26.I§5. So, the poetic body of Sappho, transmitted in the textual corpus of her songs, is broken and cannot, it seems, ever be brought back to life—unless some future generation is destined to reap the harvest of some miraculous new find that will revive the corpus in its entirety or at least near-entirety.

26.I§6. For the moment, however, the body cannot be reintegrated, so that the countless number of classicists who have over so many years curated the bits and pieces of a once-integral corpus could merely make their attempts at reconstructing a body that still awaits resurrection. I admit that I am one of those classicists who have made such attempts—my first attempt was published more than half a century ago (N 1973).

26.I§7. But all such attempts run the risk of embarking on an exercise in receivership—to use the word I used in the title of this essay—and the problem is that such receivership is hotly contested. In the field of Classics as it exists in my time, “nobody owns Sappho.” The expression I just used is borrowed from a friend of mine, Neel Smith, who once said, in the context of a sizeable public gathering, that “nobody owns Plato.” He said it in a moment of exasperation while debating with philosophers of today. I remember thinking to myself at the time: here we have a complete or near-complete corpus of an ancient author, Plato, and yet I so agree with Neel, as I thought further, that there is no single authorized gatekeeper for understanding Plato today. Nor should we expect ever to authorize such a philosopher king. But then why, so I thought even further, should we expect to achieve some unified understanding of Sappho, whose poor beautiful poetic body is so fragmented?

26.I§8. With these thoughts in mind, I propose to offer some counter-views to views on Sappho that I have been reading in a book bearing the title The Cambridge Companion to Sappho, edited by P. J. Finglass and Adrian Kelly (2021). My counter-views are intended not as criticisms of views expressed by individual authors of individual chapters in that book but rather as comments that can be weighed against other comments. My views, wherever I might disagree with contrasting views, may in the long run be worse and not better, and I need to assure my readers that I resolutely think that I do not “own” Sappho any more than anyone else does. So, my modus operandi, to ensure my avoidance of disagreeing in ways that may seem ad hominem, is therefore simply to cite any given page in any given chapter of the Companion to Sappho where I have a comment to offer. This way, by looking up the chapters as listed in my Bibliography, readers are free to consult the sources I cited and thus make their own comparisons of the views presented on given pages of that Companion with the different views that I present here.

26.I§8. Here in Part I, I confine myself to one such pairing of different views:

Companion to Sappho Chapter 20 p. 280: The epithet poikiló-thronos of Aphrodite in Song 1 line 1 of Sappho is translated there as ‘elaborately throned’. For my counter-view, I cite the interpretation I have offered in my book here, especially in Essay 16.

 


 

Part II

rewritten from 2021.07.26

26.II§1. Continuing the essay that started with Part I, I consider once again here in Part II the first word in Song 1 of Sappho, where the goddess Aphrodite is invoked as poikiló-thronos, and I return once again to my proposed interpretation of this word as ‘wearing [a dress decorated with] pattern-woven flowers’. In the illustration for Part I, I already showed a picturing of such a mode of dress in a work of art where Aphrodite is seen wearing a woolen himation or ‘shawl’ wrapped around her and covering her from the waist down. Observing the floral patterns that decorate her shawl, I now show, as the featured image for Part II, a comparable work of art. This time, we see pictured in a vase-painting a cult statue of Aphrodite, whose toes seemingly come to life as they curl over the edge of the pedestal on which she takes her stand, and, this time around, the goddess is wearing a full-body gown, which is decorated, once again, with floral patterns. I was alerted to this point of comparison by my colleague Natasha Bershadsky, whose generous ongoing advice about comparanda between representations in the visual and the verbal arts has been for me a most treasured resource. This picture of Aphrodite, as I will argue here in Part II, is relevant to the ancient reception of Sappho in the ancient world—which I continue to distinguish, as in Part I, from any would-be receivership of her songs in our own world.

26.II§2. In the world of ancient Greek visual arts, as I have noted in Essay 16, the actual weaving of floral patterns into a fabric—the Greek word for such ‘patterned flowers’ is thróna—would be described as poikíla, that is, ‘varied’ or ‘variegated’—thus never exactly the same. And, as I also noted in the same essay, the Greek adverb dēute (δηὖτε), meaning ‘once again this time’, which is used three times in Song 1 of Sappho with reference to the onset of passionate love, conveys a comparable idea in the world of ancient Greek verbal arts: that is to say, the onset of such love is never exactly the same, since it is always new. This idea, as I will elaborate further in Part II here, operates not only in Song 1 of Sappho but also in all her songs. And such a poetic operation can best be described, to repeat my proposal in Part One, as a poetics of repetition.

26.II§3. Here I repeat what I argued already in Essay 5§§10–11:

The re-enactment of Aphrodite as the archetype of love in Song 1 of Sappho is made manifest by the adverb dēute ‘again’ (lines 15, 16, 18), which refers to the onset of love in the speaker’s heart. It is reinforced by the repetition of this adverb denoting repetition—three times at that (to repeat, lines 15, 16, 18). And there is further reinforcement in the triple repetition of otti/k’ōtti ‘what’ (line 15 twice, line 17 once). Yet, in this paradox of repetition, the more you hear ‘again’ or ‘one more time’, the more changes you see. It is all an archetypal re-enactment for the archetypal goddess of love, but for the humans who re-enact love it becomes a vast variety of different experiences by different people in different situations. This paradox of repetition brings to mind the words of Kierkegaard (p. 149 of the translation: see the Bibliography): “The dialectic of repetition is easy, for that which is repeated has been—otherwise it could not be repeated—but the very fact that it has been makes the repetition into something new.”

26.II§4. Foregrounding this idea, that the poetics of Sappho can be viewed as a poetics of repetition, which is a matter of reperformances over time, potentially well beyond the posited life and times of this figure, I stand by the explanatory model that I developed in a lengthy essay titled  “Did Sappho and Alcaeus ever meet?” (Nagy 2007|2009—rewritten as Essay 4 in the book Sappho 0)—where I used the term mimesis in reconstructing the transmission of Sappho and other “classics” in Athens, especially in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. And I contrast my explanatory model with other views as I find them presented in The Cambridge Companion to Sappho, edited by P. J. Finglass and Adrian Kelly (2021). Here in Part II, as already in Part I, my modus operandi is simply to cite any given page in any given chapter of the Companion to Sappho where I have a comment to offer. This way, as I already noted in Part I, readers can look up the sources I cited and thus make their own comparisons of the views presented on given pages of the Companion with the different views that I present here.

26.II§5. Here in Part II, I concentrate on two such pairings of different views:

Companion to Sappho Chapter 5 p. 76: It is said here, with reference to my essay, already cited, about the transmission of songs attributed to Sappho and Alcaeus (Nagy 2007|2009—rewritten as Essay Four in the book Sappho 0)—that I argue for a “fictionalization of Sappho’s lyric” by way of mimesis. It is claimed that such “lyric” is not “mimetic,” and I quote: “The fact that Aristotle does not include lyric in his Poetics since he did not consider it to be mimetic, i.e. fictional poetry, is disregarded and does not seem to be considered as problematic.” I would counterargue, however, that the genres performed by citharodes and aulodes—genres that Aristotle in fact features prominently in his list of mimetic media (Poetics 1447a13–16)—included the “lyric” compositions attributed to Sappho and Alcaeus, whose songs became “classics” in the lyric canon of Athens (N 2018.12.06 and N 2019b / 2021.11.29).

Companion to Sappho Chapter 16 p. 220: “Some scholars [with reference to N 2004:39–40] have emphasized the role of Athens in the pre-Alexandrian transmission to the quasi-exclusion of other centres. Yet it is far more likely that by the second half of the fourth century BC local written copies of Sappho’s and Alcaeus’ poetry were preserved at Mytilene and that this copy was a primary source of the Alexandrian tradition.” I do not dispute such a possibility, though I would not go so far as to think of it as a likelihood. In any case, my point remains that the transmission of such songmaking was primarily localized already in Athens. Relevant is a piece of evidence I analyze in my book Poetry as Performance (1996a), and I epitomize here what I say there (pp. 192–193):

Since the researchers at the Library of Alexandria in the third century BCE and thereafter seem not to have taken an active interest in performance traditions linked with the compositions of canonical “lyric” poets, whereas the earlier Peripatetic researchers in Athens, already in the fourth century BCE, clearly did so, it seems to me most likely that the initial impetus for editing various non-Athenian songmaking traditions, including those of Alcman, Sappho, and Alcaeus, can be traced back to fourth-century Athens. I say this because the textual transmission of these songmaking traditions, mediated by the Alexandrian editors in later years, reveals a wealth of details on the levels of dialect, prosody, and even orthography that could not have been preserved except through performance traditions. And such traditions would be a most likely point of interest for researchers in fourth-century Athens.

I believe I have found an example of such a fourth-century researcher: in Isocrates’ Letter 8, To the Rulers of Mytilene(dated around 350), Isocrates is pleading for the restoration from exile of one Agenor of Mytilene in Lesbos, currently living in Athens and serving as the ‘music teacher’ of Isocrates’ grandsons (paideuthéntestà perì tḕn mousikḗn, section 1). The father of these boys is Aphareus, a poet of tragedy. Isocrates goes on to say about Agenor of Mytilene (section 4): αἰσχρὸν γὰρ τὴν μὲν πόλιν ὑμῶν ὑπὸ πάντων ὁμολογεῖσθαι μουσικωτάτην εἶναι καὶ τοὺς ὀνομαστοτάτους ἐν αὐτῇ παρ᾿ ὑμῖν τυγχάνειν γεγονότας, τὸν δὲ προέχοντα τῶν νῦν ὄντων περὶ τὴν ἱστορίαν τῆς παιδείας ταύτης φεύγειν ἐκ τῆς τοιαύτης πόλεως ‘it is a shame that, while your city [= Mytilene] is acknowledged by all to be the most “musical” and the most famed figures in that field [ἐν αὐτῇ] happen to have been born in your city, yet he who is preeminent among those who are currently engaged in the historíā of this paideíā [maybe the ἐν αὐτῇ refers proleptically to this paideíā] is an exile from such a city’.

26§15. This passage suggests to me that around the middle of the fourth century there was in Athens an ongoing tradition of research in Lesbian songmaking, and I think that Lesbian songs were at this time still represented primarily by Sappho and Alcaeus. We may note Isocrates’ use of the word historíā, which I interpret as referring to Agenor’s ‘research’—in Athens, not in this researcher’s native land of Lesbos. Whereas the word historiā  refers, in terms of my argument, to the ‘research’ of Agenor in establishing texts of these songs, the word paideíā ‘education’ refers surely to the practical activity of teaching youths—in Athens—how to perform these songs. Isocrates goes on to argue (section 9) that Agenor and his kin, if they were restored from exile and allowed to come back to Lesbos, would not be offensive to the older generation of Mytilene, whereas … τοῖς δὲ νεωτέροις διατριβὴν παρέχειν ἡδεῖαν καὶ χρησίμην καὶ πρέπουσαν τοῖς τηλικούτοις ‘to the younger generation, they provide an activity [diatribḗ] that is pleasant, useful, and appropriate’. Again we may note the ideology of paideíā ‘education’.

 

Essay 27: Sappho’s looks, and how Sappho looks at beauty

rewritten from 2021.07.12.

27§0. Reading the words of Sappho’s songs, we cannot picture her looks, that is, we cannot imagine what she looked like—I say it here in colloquial English. But we can readily imagine what she looked at—especially the beautiful things, the beautiful people. In this essay, I can show that Sappho’s looks in the ancient world—the way she looked—could be pictured as a mirroring of the way she looked at beauty. For examples, I will focus on two faces. The first example comes from visual art. It is the face of a beautiful young woman painted on an Athenian vase produced in the early fifth century BCE. For my introductory illustration, I show a close-up, at the end of this paragraph. We see here a beautiful woman who is identified, by lettering painted next to her, as Sappho. As for the second example, it comes from verbal art—from a song of Sappho. It is the face of another beautiful young woman, named Anaktoria, envisioned in Song 16 of Sappho. Relevant to my focusing on these two faces of two beautiful women is the Greek word prósōpon, which is actually used at line 18 of Song 16, and the face in this context belongs to Anaktoria, but the view of this face also belongs, indirectly, to the viewer of this face, who is the speaking “I” of Sappho. I say it this way because the Greek noun prósōpon, like the English verb look, can refer to a two-way stream of vision—you see what you look at through your own eyes and you can be seen as what you look like through the eyes of someone who looks back at you. In other words, the prósōpon both projects and reflects vision, and that is why this word means ‘mask’ as well as ‘face’, since ancient masks were conventionally viewed as projections of an identity other than yours, not concealments of your own identity.

Detail of Sappho.
Attic red-figure kalathos krater by the Brygos Painter, Side A, 480–470 BCE: Alcaeus and Sappho. Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2416. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

27§1. In Essay 4 of Sappho 0, I have commented at length on the vase that featured this picture of Sappho, taking into account not only the pair of figures on one side, featuring Alcaeus on our left and Sappho on our right, but also the pairing on the other side, featuring the god Dionysus on our left making eye-contact with a “maenad” featured on our right. Here is a picture of the other side:

Attic red-figure kalathos krater by the Brygos Painter, Side B, 480º470 BCE: Dionysus and “maenad.” Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2416. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

27§2. I focus for the moment on the fact that the face of Sappho on one side of the vase is seen at three-quarter view, as art historians would describe it—unlike the profiled face of the “maenad” painted on the other side of the vase, whose eyes are riveted on the eyes of Dionysus. The god’s eyes, with his profile facing the profile of the maenad, are compellingly attracting her gaze. In my previous essay, as just cited, I asked myself about the contrasting three-quarter view of Sappho’s face: is she about to turn into a full profile, turning toward the attractive man who is courting her—and who is identified by lettering situated next to him as Alcaeus, master of lyric songmaking—or is she about to turn away from him and look full-frontal toward the viewer, face-to-face?

§3. The indirectness of Sappho’s looks in this painting reminds me of a sculpture, now lost, by Auguste Rodin, which pictures Sappho looking away from her viewer, looking sadly downward into the shadow cast by her three-dimensional self. I show here a photograph that has survived, starting with a close-up of her sad face and then following up with a full view:

 

 

Auguste Rodin (1849–1917), Sappho. Now lost. This work of sculpture was looted by the Nazis from the collection of Hans Rudolf Fürstenberg. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

§4. As indicated in the caption for the full view of the old photograph of this piece of sculpture, the original work is now lost. The image shown here also graces the front cover of The Cambridge Companion to Sappho, edited by P. J. Finglass and Adrian Kelly (2021). The caption for it in that book of collected essays reads (p. xvi): “Location unknown: photo © Alamy Images.” That is all we are told. More could have been said. As indicated in the caption that I offer above, this work of art was looted from the collection of Hans Rudolf Fürstenberg (1890–1982) and is now presumed lost, perhaps forever. And the victim of this looting, it is no coincidence, was of Jewish ancestry. In a sad sort of way, the sadness of Sappho mirrors here a poetics of loss, perhaps permanent loss.

§5. I return to the painting, and to my question, which I now ask again, but this time in terms of “looking away,” as I just described the looks of Sappho in the sculpture by Rodin. So, to ask the question again: is Sappho about to look at the singer who is singing a love song to her, turning toward him, or is she looking away from him? I see in this painting a poetics of distancing, where the looks of Sappho are distanced from an immediate situation. And I see a comparable poetics of distancing in Song 16 of Sappho, where the beautiful prósōpon or ‘look on the face’ of Anaktoria, signaled at line 18, is pictured as radiating its beauty, suffusing the whole song with its beautiful radiance as she dances—even though the sight of her has gone away, gone far away from the here-and-now, perhaps forever. I quote here one last time my working translation:

|1 Some say a massing of chariots and their drivers, some say of footsoldiers, |2 some say of ships, if you think of everything that exists on the surface of this black earth, |3 is the most beautiful thing of them all. But I say it is that one thing |4 that anyone passionately loves [erātai]. |5 It’s really quite easy to make this understandable |6 to everyone, this thing. You see, that woman who was by far supreme |7 in beauty among all mortals, Helen, |8 she [. . .] left her best of all husbands, |9 him she left behind and sailed to Troy, |10 caring not about her daughter and her dear parents, |11 not caring at all. She was swept along [. .  ] |15 [All this] reminds me right now of Anaktoria. |16 She is [not] here. |17 Oh, how I would far rather wish to see her taking a dancing-step that-arouses-passionate-love [= eraton], |18 and to see the luminous radiance from the look-on-her-face [prósōpon] |19 than to see those chariots of the Lydians and the footsoldiers in their armor |20 as they fight in battle [. . .].

Sappho Song 16

 

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—. 2017. “Archives, Repertoires, Bodies, and Bones: Thoughts on Reperformance for Classicists.” In Imagining Reperformance in Ancient Culture: Studies in the Traditions of Drama and Lyric, ed. R. Hunter and A. Uhlig, 21–41. Cambridge.

Hanink, J., and A. S. Uhlig. 2016. “Aeschylus and His Afterlife in the Classical Period: ‘My Poetry Did Not Die with Me’.” In The Reception of Aeschylus’ Plays through Shifting Models and Frontiers, ed. S. E. Constantinidis, 51–79. Leiden and Boston.

Hunter, R. 2021. Chapter 20: “Sappho and Hellenistic Poetry.” In The Cambridge Companion to Sappho, ed. P. J. Finglass and A. Kelly, 277–289. Cambridge.

Hunter, R., and A. Uhlig, eds. 2017. Imagining Reperformance in Ancient Culture: Studies in the Traditions of Drama and Lyric. Cambridge.

Jakobson, R. 1960. “Linguistics and Poetics.” Style in Language, ed. T. Sebeok, 350-377. Cambridge MA.

—. 1990. On Language. Edited by L. R. Waugh and M. Monville-Burston. Cambridge MA.

Kaysen, S. 1993. Girl Interrupted. New York.

Kierkegaard, S. 1843. Gentagelsen. Copenhagen. = Repetition. Trans. H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong, together with Fear and Trembling (Frygt og Bæven, also 1843). Introduction and notes by H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong. Princeton, NJ, 1983.

Koutsobina, V. 2008. “Readings of Poetry, Readings of Music: Intertextuality in Josquin’s Je me complains de mon amy.” Early Music 36:67–78.

Kurke, L. 1997. “Inventing the ‘Hetaira’: Sex, Politics, and Discursive Conflict in Archaic Greece.” Classical Antiquity 16:106–150.

—. 2016. “Gendered Spheres and Mythic Models in Sappho’s Brothers Poem.” Ch. 11 in Newest Sappho.

Lardinois, A. 1994. “Subject and Circumstance in Sappho’s Poetry. Transactions of the American Philological Association 124:57-84.

—. 1996. “Who Sang Sappho’s Songs?” In Greene 1996b:150-172.

Levaniouk, O. 2012. “Sky-Blue Flower: Songs of the Bride in Modern Russia and Ancient Greece.” Donum Natalicium Digitaliter Confectum Gregorio Nagy Septuagenario a Discipulis Collegis Familiaribus Oblatum, ed. V. Bers, D. Elmer, D. Frame, and L. Muellner. https://chs.harvard.edu/olga-levaniouk-sky-blue-flower-songs-of-the-bride-in-modern-russia-and-ancient-greece/.

Lord, A. B. 1960. The Singer of Tales. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 24. Cambridge, MA. 2nd ed. 2000, with new Introduction, by S. A. Mitchell and G. Nagy. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_LordA.The_Singer_of_Tales.2000. 3rd ed. by D. F. Elmer, 2019. Hellenic Studies Series 77, Publications of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 4.

Mace, S. T. 1993. “Amour, Encore! The Development of δηὖτε in Archaic Lyric,” Greek , Roman and Byzantine Studies 34:335–364.

McClure, L. K. 2006. Introduction to Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World, ed. C. A. Faraone and L. K. McClure, 3–18. Madison, WI.

—. 2015. “Courtesans Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.” EuGeStAJournal of Gender Studies in Antiquity 5:54–84. https://eugesta-revue.univ-lille.fr/en/issues/issue-5-2015/.

Meyer-Lübke, W. 1935. Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 3rd. ed. Heidelberg.

Murgia, C. E. 1985. “Imitation and Authenticity in Ovid: Metamorphoses 1.47 and Heroides 15.” American Journal of Philology 106:456–474.

Murphy, J. M. A. 2013. “The Scent of Status: Prestige and Perfume at the Bronze Age Palace at Pylos.” In Making Senses of the Past: Toward a Sensory Archaeology, ed. J. Day, 243–265. Center for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Papers 40. Carbondale IL.

Murray, O. 1983. “The Greek Symposion in History.” Tria Corda: Scritti in onore di Arnaldo Momigliano, ed. E. Gabba, 257-272. Como.

—. 1990. “The Affair of the Mysteries: Democracy and the Drinking Group.” Sympotica: A Symposium on the Symposium, ed. O. Murray, 149-161. Oxford.

—. ed. 1990. Sympotica: A Symposium on the Symposium. Oxford. Note especially the introduction by Murray, “Sympotic History,” pp. 3-13.

Nagy, G. 1973. “Phaethon, Sappho’s Phaon, and the White Rock of Leukas.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 77:137–177. Rewritten as Chapter 9 of Nagy 1990b.

—. 1974. Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 33. Cambridge, MA. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Comparative_Studies_in_Greek_and_Indic_Meter.1974.

—. 1979/1999. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore. Revised ed. with new introduction 1999. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Best_of_the_Achaeans.1999.

—. 1985. “Theognis and Megara: A Poet’s Vision of His City.” In Theognis of Megara: Poetry and the Polis, ed. T. J. Figueira and G. Nagy, 22–81. Baltimore. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.Theognis_and_Megara.1985.

— 1989. “The ‘Professional Muse’ and Models of Prestige in Ancient Greece.” Cultural Critique 12:133-143. Rewritten as part of Ch.6 in Nagy 1990a.

—. 1990a. Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Pindars_Homer.1990.

—. 1990b. Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY. Revised paperback edition 1992. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Greek_Mythology_and_Poetics.1990.

—. 1993. “Alcaeus in Sacred Space.” In Tradizione e innovazione nella cultura greca da Omero all’ età ellenistica: Scritti in onore di Bruno Gentili, ed. R. Pretagostini, vol. 1, 221–225. Rome. Online version, 2020.11.03, https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-alcaeus-in-sacred-space-2/.

—. 1994–1995a. “Genre and Occasion” ΜΗΤΙΣ: Revue d’Anthropologie du Monde Grec Ancien 9/10:11–25. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-genre-and-occasion/.

—. 1994–1995b. ““Transformations of Choral Lyric Traditions in the Context of Athenian State Theater.” Arion 3.2:41–55. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-transformations-of-choral-lyric-traditions-in-the-context-of-athenian-state-theater/

—. 1996a. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Poetry_as_Performance.1996.

—. 1996b. Homeric Questions. Austin. https://chs.harvard.edu/book/nagy-gregory-homeric-questions/.

—. 2002. Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens. Cambridge MA and Athens. https://chs.harvard.edu/book/nagy-gregory-platos-rhapsody-and-homers-music/. Replaced by 3rd ed., Nagy 2021.10.01. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/platos-rhapsody-and-homers-music-the-poetics-of-the-panathenaic-festival-in-classical-athens/.

—. 2003. Homeric Responses. Austin TX. https://chs.harvard.edu/book/nagy-gregory-homeric-responses/.

—. 2004. “Transmission of Archaic Greek Sympotic Songs: From Lesbos to Alexandria.” Critical Inquiry 31:26–48. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.Transmission_of_Archaic_Greek_Sympotic_Songs.2004.

—. 2007/2009. “Did Sappho and Alcaeus Ever Meet?” Literatur und Religion: Wege zu einer mythisch–rituellen Poetik bei den Griechen I, ed. A. Bierl, R. Lämmle, and K. Wesselmann, 211–269. MythosEikonPoiesis 1.1. Berlin and New York. Replaced by ed. 2., Nagy 2009. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-did-sappho-and-alcaeus-ever-meet-symmetries-of-myth-and-ritual-in-performing-the-songs-of-ancient-lesbos/.

—. 2007a. “Lyric and Greek Myth.” The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology, ed. R. D. Woodard, 19–51. Cambridge. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-lyric-and-greek-myth/.

—. 2007b. “Homer and Greek Myth.” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Classical Mythology (ed. R. D. Woodard) 52-82. Cambridge. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-homer-and-greek-myth/.

—. 2008a. Greek: An Updating of a Survey of Recent Work. Cambridge MA and Washington DC. https://chs.harvard.edu/book/nagy-gregory-greek-an-updating-of-a-survey-of-recent-work/.

—. 2008b. “Convergences and divergences between god and hero in the Mnesiepes Inscription of Paros.” Archilochus and his Age II, ed. D. Katsonopoulou, I. Petropoulos, S. Katsarou, 259–265. Athens. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-convergences-and-divergences-between-god-and-hero-in-the-mnesiepes-inscription-of-paros/.

—. 2009|2008. Homer the Classic. Printed|Online. Hellenic Studies 36. Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC. https://chs.harvard.edu/book/nagy-gregory-homer-the-classic/.

—. 2009. “Hesiod and the Ancient Biographical Traditions.” The Brill Companion to Hesiod, ed. F. Montanari, A. Rengakos, and Ch. Tsagalis, 271–311. Leiden.

— 2009b. “The Fragmentary Muse and the Poetics of Refraction in Sappho, Sophocles, Offenbach.” Theater des Fragments: Performative Strategien im Theater zwischen Antike und Postmoderne, ed. A. Bierl, G. Siegmund, Ch. Meneghetti, C. Schuster, 69–102. Bielefeld. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-the-fragmentary-muse/.

—. 2010|2009. Homer the Preclassic. Printed|Online. Berkeley and Los Angeles. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homer_the_Preclassic.2009.

—. 2010. “The ‘New Sappho’ Reconsidered in the Light of the Athenian Reception of Sappho.” The New Sappho on Old Age: Textual and Philosophical Issues, ed. E. Greene and M. Skinner, 176–199. Cambridge MA and Washington DC. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.The_New_Sappho_Reconsidered.2011.

—. 2011a. “Diachrony and the Case of Aesop.” Classics@. Issue 9: Defense Mechanisms in Interdisciplinary Approaches to Classical Studies and Beyond. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/classics9-gregory-nagy-diachrony-and-the-case-of-aesop/.

—. 2011b. “The Aeolic Component of Homeric Diction.” Proceedings of the 22nd Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, ed. S. W. Jamison, H. C. Melchert, and B. Vine, 133–179. Bremen. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-the-aeolic-component-of-homeric-diction/.

—. 2011c. “A Second Look at the Poetics of Reenactment in Ode 13 of Bacchylides.” In Archaic and Classical Choral Song: Performance, Politics and Dissemination, ed. L. Athanassaki and E. L. Bowie, 173–206. Berlin. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.A_Second_Look_at_the_Poetics_of_Re-Enactment.2011.

—. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Printed|Online. Cambridge MA. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_NagyG.The_Ancient_Greek_Hero_in_24_Hours.2013.

—. 2013b. “The Delian Maidens and their relevance to choral mimesis in classical drama.” Choral Mediations in Greek Tragedy, ed. R. Gagné and M. G. Hopman, 227–256. Cambridge. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-the-delian-maidens-and-their-relevance-to-choral-mimesis-in-classical-drama/.

—. 2015. Masterpieces of Metonymy: from ancient Greek times to now. Cambridge MA and Washington DC. https://chs.harvard.edu/book/nagy-gregory-masterpieces-of-metonymy-from-ancient-greek-times-to-now/.

—. 2015|2016. “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” Online|Printed.  http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:NagyG.A_Poetics_of_Sisterly_Affect.2015. A shorter printed version appeared in 2016 as Ch. 21 in The Newest Sappho (P. Obbink and P. GC Inv. 105, frs. 1–5), ed. A. Bierl and A. Lardinois, 449–492. Leiden.

—. 2015.07.01. “Herodotus and a courtesan from Naucratis.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/herodotus-and-a-courtesan-from-naucratis/.

—. 2015.07.15. “Classical variations on a story about an Egyptian queen in love.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/classical-variations-on-a-story-about-an-egyptian-queen-in-love/.

—. 2015.08.19. “About three fair-haired Egyptian queens.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/about-three-fair-haired-egyptian-queens/.

—. 2015.10.01. “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited, with Special Reference to the ‘Newest Sappho’.” Classical Inquiries. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-genre-occasion-and-choral-mimesis-revisited-with-special-reference-to-the-newest-sappho/. This is a pre-edited online version of Nagy 2019a.

—. 2015.10.15. “Homo ludens in the world of ancient Greek verbal art.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/homo-ludens-in-the-world-of-ancient-greek-verbal-art/.

—. 2015.10.22. “Diachronic Sappho: some prolegomena.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/diachronic-sappho-some-prolegomena-2/.

—. 2015.11.05. “Once again this time in Song 1 of Sappho.” Classical Inquirieshttps://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/once-again-this-time-in-song-1-of-sappho/.

—. 2015.11.12. “The Tithonos Song of Sappho.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/search/?s=2015.11.12/.

—. 2015.12.03. “Girl, interrupted: more about echoes of Sappho in Epigram 55 of Posidippus.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/girl-interrupted-more-about-echoes-of-sappho-in-epigram-55-of-posidippus/.

—. 2015.12.18. “Life of Homer myths as evidence for the reception of Homer.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/life-of-homer-myths-as-evidence-for-the-reception-of-homer/.

—. 2015.11.19. “Echoes of Sappho in two epigrams of Posidippus.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/echoes-of-sappho-in-two-epigrams-of-posidippus/.

—. 2015.12.31. “Some imitations of Pindar and Sappho by Horace.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/some-imitations-of-pindar-and-sappho-by-horace/.

—. 2016. “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” Ch. 21 in Newest Sappho. See Nagy 2015|2016.

—. 2017. “A Sampling of comments on the Iliad and Odyssey.” http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.A_Sampling_of_Comments_on_the_Iliad_and_Odyssey.2017. Replaced by Nagy 2022.12.01. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/a-sampling-of-comments-on-the-homeric-iliad-and-odyssey-restarted-2022/.

—. 2017.06.10.  “Diachronic Homer and a Cretan Odyssey.” http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.Diachronic_Homer_and_a_Cretan_Odyssey.2017.

—. 2018. “Herodotus on queens and courtesans of Egypt.” Herodotus: Narrator, Scientist, Historian, ed. E. Bowie, 109–122. Trends in Classics 59. Berlin 2018. Published online here with permission of de Gruyter. https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-herodotus-on-queens-and-courtesans-of-egypt/.

—. 2018.06.30. “Sacred Space as a frame for lyric occasions: The case of the Mnesiepes Inscription and other possible cases.” Classical Inquirieshttps://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/sacred-space-as-a-frame-for-lyric-occasions-the-case-of-the-mnesiepes-inscription-and-other-possible-cases/.

—. 2018.07.27. “Are Zeus and Hera a dysfunctional couple?” Classical Inquirieshttps://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/are-zeus-and-hera-a-dysfunctional-couple/.

—. 2018.12.06. “Previewing an essay on the shaping of the Lyric Canon in Athens.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/previewing-an-essay-on-the-shaping-of-the-lyric-canon-in-athens/.

—. 2019a. “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited, with Special Reference to the ‘Newest Sappho’.” Genre in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry, ed. M. Foster, L. Kurke, and N. Weiss, 31–54 = Part 1, “Keynote Address.” Mnemosyne Supplements 428. Vol. 4 of Studies in Archaic and Classical Greek Song.  Leiden and Boston. https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004412590/BP000003.xml. This is the edited version of Nagy 2015.10.01.

—. 2019b. “On the Shaping of the Lyric Canon in Athens.” The Reception of Greek Lyric Poetry in the Ancient World: Transmission, Canonization and Paratext, ed. B. Currie and I. Rutherford, 95–111. Vol. 5 of Studies in Archaic and Classical Greek Song. Mnemosyne Supplements 430. Leiden and Boston. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004414525_005. This is the edited version of Nagy 2021.11.29, which is the pre-edited version that I prefer to cite.

—. 2019.03.08. “A scenario for exchanges of comments on a planned monograph about the ancient reception of Sappho.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/a-scenario-for-exchanges-of-comments-on-a-planned-monograph-about-the-ancient-reception-of-sappho/.

—. 2020. Second edition of Nagy 2013.

—. 2020.12.31. “About Aphrodite’s birds and her magical flowers in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere. Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/about-aphrodites-birds-and-her-magical-flowers-in-song-1-of-sappho-and-elsewhere/.

—. 2021.01.15. “How the first word in Song 1 of Sappho is relevant to her reception in the ancient world—and to various different ways of thinking about the Greek word hetairā. Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/how-the-first-word-in-song-1-of-sappho-is-relevant-to-her-reception-in-the-ancient-world/.

—. 2021.02.06. “Starting with Anacreon while preparing a compendium of essays on Sappho and her ancient reception.” Classical Inquirieshttps://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/starting-with-anacreon-while-preparing-a-compendium-of-essays-on-sappho-and-her-ancient-reception/.

—. 2021.02.27. “Some variations on the theme of a recomposed performer in ancient Greek prose and poetry.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/some-variations-on-the-theme-of-a-recomposed-performer-in-ancient-greek-prose-and-poetry/.

—. 2021.03.20. “Pausanias tries to visualize the three ‘Graces’ of Orkhomenos in Boeotia.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/pausanias-tries-to-visualize-the-three-graces-of-orkhomenos-in-boeotia/.

—. 2021.04.17. “On the idea of dead poets as imagined by T. S. Eliot, compared with ideas about reperformance, Part I.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/on-the-idea-of-dead-poets-as-imagined-by-t-s-eliot/.

—. 2021.04.24. “On the idea of dead poets as imagined by T. S. Eliot, compared with ideas about reperformance, Part II.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/on-the-idea-of-dead-poets-as-imagined-by-t-s-eliot-compared-with-ideas-about-reperformance-part-ii/.

—. 2021.04.30. “On the idea of dead poets as imagined by T. S. Eliot, compared with ideas about reperformance, Part III.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/on-the-idea-of-dead-poets-as-imagined-by-t-s-eliot-compared-with-ideas-about-reperformance-part-iii/.

—. 2021.06.24. “Text and reperformance: do you really need a text for your reperformance?” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/text-and-reperformance-do-you-really-need-a-text-for-your-reperformance/.

—. 2021.07.12. “Sappho’s looks, and how Sappho looks at beauty.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/sapphos-looks-and-how-sappho-looks-at-beauty/.

—. 2021.10.01. Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/platos-rhapsody-and-homers-music-the-poetics-of-the-panathenaic-festival-in-classical-athens/

—. 2021.11.29. “On the Shaping of the Lyric Canon in Athens.” Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/on-the-shaping-of-the-lyric-canon-in-athens/. This is a pre-edited online version of Nagy 2019b.

—. 2022.12.01. “Comments on the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, restarted 2022.” https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/a-sampling-of-comments-on-the-homeric-iliad-and-odyssey-restarted-2022/.

—. 2023.12.19. “Homo ludens in the world of ancient Greek verbal art.” Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/homo-ludens-in-the-world-of-ancient-greek-verbal-art-2/. Rewritten from Classical Inquiries 2015.10.15.

—. 2024.01.11. “Two ancient Greek lyric poets and one tyrant.” Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/two-ancient-greek-lyric-poets-and-one-tyrant-anacreon-ibycus-and-polycrates/, Rewritten from Classical Inquiries 2017.09.07 and 2017.09.14.

Nehamas, A. 1982. “Plato on Imitation and Poetry in Republic 10.” Plato on Beauty, Wisdom, and the Arts, ed. J.M.C. Moravcsik and P. Temko, 47–78. Totowa N.J.

Neils, J. 1992a. “The Panathenaia: An Introduction.” In Neils 1992b:13–27, plus notes at pp. 194–195. References to Neils 1992 will indicate this chapter.

—, ed. 1992b. Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens. Princeton.

Newest Sappho = Bierl and Lardinois 2016.

Nilsson, M. P. 1906. Griechische Feste. Leipzig.

Obbink, D. 2014. “Two New Poems by Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 189:31–50.

—, ed. 2010. “Sappho Fragments 58–59: Text, Apparatus Criticus, and Translation.” The New Sappho on Old Age: Textual and Philosophical Issues (ed. E. Greene and M. Skinner) 176–99. Cambridge MA and Washington DC.

Page, D. L. 1955. Sappho and Alcaeus: An Introduction to the Study of Ancient Lesbian Poetry. Oxford.

Pagenstecher, R. 1912. “Schwarzfigurige Vasen des vierten und dritten Jahrhunderts.” Bulletin de la Société [royale] d’Archéologie d’Alexandrie 14:229–235.

Papadopoulou-Belmehdi, I. 1994. Le chant de Pénélope: Poétique du tissage féminin dans l’Odyssée. Paris.

Parca, M. G. 1982. “Sappho 1.18–19.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 46.47–50.

Peponi, A. E. 2009. “Choreia and Aesthetics in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo: The Performance of the Delian Maidens (lines 156–64).” Classical Antiquity 28:39–70.

—. 2018. “Against Aesthetic Distance: Ovid, Proust, and the Hedonic Impulse.” Life, Love, and Death in Latin Poetry, ed. S. Frangoulidis and S. Harrison, 167–187. Berlin.

Petropoulos, J. B. 1993. “Sappho the Sorceress—Another Look at fr. 1 (LP).” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 97:43–56.

PGM = Papyri Graecae Magicae. Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri I–II (ed. 2, A. Henrichs 1974; after ed. 1, K. Preisendanz 1928–1934). Stuttgart.

PH = Nagy 1990a.

Pinney. See Ferrari Pinney.

Power, T. 2000. “The Parthenoi of Bacchylides 13.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 100:67-81.

PP = Nagy 1996a.

Prauscello, L. 2021. Chapter 16: “The Alexandrian Edition of Sappho.” In The Cambridge Companion to Sappho, ed. P. J. Finglass and A. Kelly, 219–231. Cambridge.

Price, S. D. 1990. “Anacreontic Vases Reconsidered.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 31:133-75.

Pütz, B. 2003. The Symposium and Komos in Aristophanes (Drama: Beiträge zum antiken Drama und seiner Rezeption 22). Stuttgart/Weimar.

Reed, J. D., ed., with introduction and commentary. 1997. Bion of Smyrna: The Fragments and the Adonis. Cambridge.

Reitzammer, L. 2016. The Athenian Adonia in Context: The Adonis Festival as Cultural Practice. Madison WI.

Rissman, L. 1980. Homeric Allusion in the Poetry of Sappho. Dissertation, University of Michigan. Published 1983 as a book by the same title. Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie 157. Königstein/Ts.

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