Ode to Aphrodite
The Ode to Aphrodite (or Sappho fragment 1[a]) is a lyric poem by the archaic Greek poet Sappho, in which the speaker calls on the help of Aphrodite in the pursuit of a beloved. Unusually for Sappho's poetry, the poem – composed in Sapphic stanzas – is complete, with only two places of uncertainty in the text. The seriousness with which Sappho intended the poem is disputed, though at least parts of the work appear to be intentionally humorous. The poem makes use of Homeric language, and alludes to episodes from the Iliad.
Until the publication of the Tithonus poem in 2005, the Ode to Aphrodite was Sappho's only poem known to be complete which had survived from antiquity. It was preserved in Dionysius of Halicarnassus' On Composition, where that writer quoted its full text as an example of "smooth" or "polished" writing. The poem is also partially preserved on a second-century papyrus discovered at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt.[b]
Though the poem is conventionally considered to be completely preserved, there are two places where the reading is uncertain. The first is the first word of the poem: some manuscripts of Dionysios render the word as "Ποικιλόφρον’"; others, along with the Oxyrhynchus papyrus of the poem, have "Ποικιλόθρον’". This latter reading is standard, and both the Lobel/Page and Voigt editions of Sappho print it. Hutchinson argues that it is more likely that "–θρον" was corrupted to "–φρον" than vice versa. However, Anne Carson's edition of Sappho argues for Ποικιλόφρον’, and more recently Rayor and Lardinois, while following Voigt's text, note that "it is hard to decide between these two readings". The second problem in the poem's preservation is at line 19, where the manuscripts of the poem are "garbled", and the papyrus is broken at the beginning of the line.
The poem is written in Aeolic Greek and set in Sapphic stanzas, a meter named after Sappho, in which three identical longer lines are followed by a fourth, shorter one. In Hellenistic editions of Sappho's works, it was the first poem of Book I of her poetry.[c] As the poem begins with the word "Ποικιλόθρον'", this is outside of the sequence followed through the rest of Book I, where the poems are ordered alphabetically by initial letter. At seven stanzas long, the poem is the longest-surviving fragment from Book I of Sappho.
The ode is written in the form of a prayer to Aphrodite, goddess of love, from a speaker who longs for the attentions of an unnamed woman. The speaker is identified in the poem as Sappho, in one of only four surviving works where Sappho names herself. The sex of Sappho's beloved is established from only a single word, the feminine εθελοισα in line 24. This reading, now accepted as standard, was first proposed in 1835 by Theodor Bergk, but not fully accepted until the 1960s. As late as 1955 Edgar Lobel and Denys Page's edition of Sappho noted that the authors accepted this reading "without the least confidence in it".
Sappho asks the goddess to ease the pains of her unrequited love for this girl; after being thus invoked, Aphrodite appears to Sappho, telling her that the girl who has rejected her advances will in time pursue her in turn. The poem concludes with another call for the goddess to assist the speaker in all her amorous struggles. With its reference to a female beloved, the "Ode to Aphrodite" is (along with Sappho 31) one of the few extant works of Sappho that provides evidence that she loved other women.[d] The poem contains few clues to the performance context, though Stefano Caciagli suggests that it may have been written for an audience of Sappho's female friends.
The Ode to Aphrodite is strongly influenced by Homeric epic. Ruby Blondell argues that the whole poem is a parody and reworking of the scene in book five of the Iliad between Aphrodite, Athena, and Diomedes. Sappho's Homeric influence is especially clear in the third stanza of the poem, where Aphrodite's descent to the mortal world is marked by "a virtual invasion of Homeric words and phrases".
Classicists disagree about whether the poem was intended as a serious piece. Arguing for a serious interpretation of the poem, for instance, C. M. Bowra suggests that it discusses a genuine religious experience. On the other hand, A. P. Burnett sees the piece as "not a prayer at all", but a lighthearted one aiming to amuse. Some elements of the poem which are otherwise difficult to account for can be explained as humorous. For instance, at the beginning of the third stanza of the poem, Sappho calls upon Aphrodite in a chariot "yoked with lovely sparrows", a phrase which Harold Zellner argues is most easily explicable as a form of humorous wordplay. Aphrodite's speech in the fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem has also been interpreted as lighthearted. Keith Stanley argues that these lines portray Aphrodite "humorous[ly] chiding" Sappho, with the threefold repetition of δηυτε followed by the hyperbolic and lightly mocking τίς σ', ὦ Ψάπφ', ἀδικήει; [e]
- Though there are a number of different systems for numbering the surviving fragments of Sappho's poetry, the Ode to Aphrodite is fragment 1 in all major editions. In this article, the numbering used throughout is from Voigt's 1971 edition of Sappho and Alcaeus.
- Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2288, which preserves parts of lines 1–21 of the Ode to Aphrodite.
- Hephaistion uses the Ode to Aphrodite to illustrate the Sapphic stanza in his Enchiridion de Metris; this is generally thought to be because it was the first poem in Book I of the Alexandrian edition of her poetry, which contained only poems in Sapphics.
- The only fragment of Sappho to explicitly refer to female homosexual activity is Sappho 94.
- Stanley translates Aphrodite's speech as "What ails you this time? ... Why have you summoned me this time? [...] Whom must I reconcile with you this time? ... Who, O Sappho, is doing you this dreadful injustice?" [emphasis original]
- Harris, William. "Sappho: New Poem No. 58 from the Köln papyrus".
- Castle, Warren (1958). "Observations on Sappho's To Aphrodite". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 89: 66–76. doi:10.2307/283665. JSTOR 283665.
- Schlesier, Renate (2016). "Loving, but not Loved: The New Kypris Song in the Context of Sappho's Poetry". In Bierl, Anton; Lardinois, André. The Newest Sappho: P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, frs.1–4. Leiden: Brill. p. 376. ISBN 978-90-04-31483-2.
- Rayor, Diane; Lardinois, André (2014). Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-107-02359-8.
- Yatromanolakis, Dimitrios (2004). "Review: Fragments, Brackets, Poetics: On Anne Carson's "If Not, Winter"". International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 11 (1): 271.
- Hutchinson, G. O. (2001). Greek Lyric Poetry: A Commentary on Selected Larger Pieces. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-19-924017-3.
- Carson, Anne (2003). If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. New York: Vintage Books. p. 357. ISBN 978-0-375-72451-0.
- Winkler, John J. (1990). The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge. p. 168. ISBN 978-0415901239.
- Stanley, Keith (1976). "The Role of Aphrodite in Sappho Fr. 1". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 17 (4): 313.
- Vandiver, Elizabeth. "Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite". Diotima.
- Winkler, John J. (1990). The Constraints of Desire. New York: Routledge. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-415-90122-2.
- Obbink, Dirk (2016). "Ten Poems of Sappho: Provenance, Authority, and Text of the New Sappho Papyri". In Bierl, Anton; Lardinois, André. The Newest Sappho: P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, frs.1–4. Leiden: Brill. p. 42. ISBN 978-90-04-31483-2.
- Obbink, Dirk (2016). "Ten Poems of Sappho: Provenance, Authority, and Text of the New Sappho Papyri". In Bierl, Anton; Lardinois, André. The Newest Sappho: P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, frs.1–4. Leiden: Brill. p. 34. ISBN 978-90-04-31483-2.
- Cameron, A. (1939). "Sappho's Prayer to Aphrodite". Harvard Theological Review. 32 (1): 1–17. JSTOR 1508069.
- Williamson, Margaret (1995). Sappho's Immortal Daughters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 56.
- Williamson, Margaret (1995). Sappho's Immortal Daughters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 51.
- DeJean, Joan (1989). Fictions of Sappho. p. 319.
- DeJean, Joan (1989). Fictions of Sappho. p. 320.
- Howatson, M. C.; Chilverrs, Ian, eds. (1993). Oxford Concise Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 479. ISBN 978-0-19-282708-1.
- Giacomelli, Anne (1980). "The Justice of Aphrodite in Sappho Fr. 1". Transactions of the American Philological Association. 110: 135–142. doi:10.2307/284214. JSTOR 284214.
- McEvilly, Thomas (1971). "Sappho, Fragment 94". Phoenix. 25 (1): 2–3.
- Ball, Robert J. (2005). "Erica Jong's Sappho and the Classical Tradition". International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 11 (4): 590–601. JSTOR 30222014.
- Caciagli, Stefano (2016). "Sappho Fragment 17: Wishing Charaxos a Safe Trip?". In Bierl, Anton; Lardinois, André. The Newest Sappho: P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, frs.1–4. Leiden: Brill. p. 34. ISBN 978-90-04-31483-2.
- Stanley, Keith (1976). "The Role of Aphrodite in Sappho Fr. 1". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 17 (4): 308.
- Blondell, Ruby (2010). "Refractions of Homer's Helen in Archaic Lyric". American Journal of Philology. 131 (3): 375.
- Stanley, Keith (1976). "The Role of Aphrodite in Sappho Fr. 1". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 17 (4): 317.
- Stanley, Keith (1976). "The Role of Aphrodite in Sappho Fr. 1". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 17 (4): 305.
- Burnett, A. P. (1983). Three Archaic Poets: Archilochus, Alcaeus, Sappho. London: Bloomsbury. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-4725-4044-7.
- Rayor, Diane; Lardinois, André (2014). Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-107-02359-8.
- Zellner, Harold (2008). "Sappho's Sparrows". The Classical World. 101 (4): 441.
- Stanley, Keith (1976). "The Role of Aphrodite in Sappho Fr. 1". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 17 (4): 315.