Monday, December 13, 2004

Self-Evaluation Entry of My Weblog

By and large, I feel that this web log project throughout the course of this semester was a success. While at first I struggled with the idea of regular posts and keeping a constant eye out for material to publish on my web log, I soon adapted to the challenge and began to post with (at least some) regularity. I was actually surprised by how much I actively sought material to post and comment on. Of particular accomplishment is my postings about material related to the literature we have studied, but also posts that aren’t strictly academic. For instance, I posted various pictures of Cleopatra, Sappho, etc…, a listing of Shakespeare festivals all around the country and found links to magazines or news articles that was related in some way or another to the academic material at hand. I think that if I were to continue updating this web log in the future, I would definitely have more strict analysis of what we are studying, in addition to comments on what other students have posted in their own web logs. In addition, I would like to explore the possibilities that sound and movie clips and other media forms hold in relation to this project. These are all valuable tools that can enhance the learning experience and develop the academic writing frontier away from the traditional academic essay.
This type of project is a wonderful deviation from the traditional essay and furthermore offers a place for an individual to post questions, comments or just say how the feel about the literature that we are studying. Also, it offers a wonderful resource for staying in contact with other students outside of the classroom and obtaining further analysis of difficult information. I feel like this project is really a collaborative and cooperative effort. Each student contributes their blog, and from there the work of every student constructs a grand and (near) all-encompassing final project. I like the idea of literature having a communal aspect to it that bridges all students and readers, and not just a personal (or exclusive?) bond strictly between the author and the reader. I think that if web log users actively read each other’s entries and commented on the postings of others, a thriving and functional online literary community could enhance or possibly even replace the classroom setting with respect to discussions and examinations of literature.
I am not really certain about the direction that an analysis of literature will take in the future beyond the web log, since much of this direction is heavily dependent upon technology and the resources that are available. It would be impossible to have the web log without the advancement of the internet frontier and the development of adequate technology to sustain this sort of system. However, I am predicting that literature will take on a more personalized form. Maybe a new technology will be developed that is capable of enabling a sort of “thought sharing bank,” in which each person’s ideas and reactions to literature are thrown into a collective forum. From there, every person can look into how other people feel about the same piece of work. But perhaps an analysis of literature will wean itself off of technology and revert back beyond the traditional academic essay to a time when literature was oral and when stories were discussed in a group setting (much like a book club). Whatever this direction may take, I’m sure it will be a valuable supplement to traditional forms of writing about literature.

An Analysis of Poem #143

Poem #143 only contains one single line and arouses the question of what poetry truly is. Can you capture poetry with a single word? A single phrase? Sappho was not constrained by the traditional bounds of poetry as it was in the Ancient Greek World. To her, everything could be poetry if you called it that. All you needed to do was place a frame around it and call it your own work. With that in mind, poem #143 in its entirety reads: “and gold chickpeas were growing on the banks.” It is unclear whether this is just a fragment of a poem or the whole poem in its entirety. However, this simple, single line is just as poetic as any of her other work. But much like art, what matters is not so much what the final product looks like as how it was formulated and constructed. Sappho may have spent several days or even months reworking and rewriting this simple line to get it just perfect in her mind. Despite the simple and perhaps even frugal nature of this poem, it is perhaps one of the most difficult to analyze since the reader is left with so little to work with in analyzing her poetry. All that the literary community has, after 2600 years, is this single phrase. The significance of poem #143 is clearly not floating on the surface, just waiting for the reader to pluck it off from the page. Instead, its true significance is more difficult to tease out and perhaps the true intent of this poem will never be captured as Sappho had when she wrote it.
For me, it strikes an association with rolling coastal hills shimmering over dappling, azure blue waters at dusk, all while the sun sets over the Agean Sea and settles into night. I think that many people, when they think of Greece, envision a deep blue coastline and bleached white houses overlooking the ocean on a bluff on the sea. Poem #143 captures this imagery for me and even extrapolates my conventional image of Greece. The “gold chickpeas” brought to mind an image of the sun as a burning ball of light that shimmers like a fireball over the sea. This image is also evocative of the incredible power that the ancient Greek gods had, and the ball of fire over the ocean is like Zeus ruling over all of Ancient Greek divinity and the common people below the heavens. This is imagery that speaks to me as a reader and captures my attention even within the short span of eight simple words.

A Rendition of Sappho's Poem #103

Oh please,] yes tell
My beloved,] the bride with beautiful feet
who bears my] child of Kronos with violets in her lap
Like Aphrodite] setting aside anger the one with violets in her lap
Sweet and flowing music] pure Graces and Pierian Muses
And when she sings] whenever songs, the mind
dutifully] listening to a clear song
And the goddess] bridegroom
with locks of gold] her hair placing the lyre
Then she rises, bringing] Dawn with gold sandals

Sappho-- An Ancient Greek "Material Girl"

One of the most profound elements to the ancient poems of Sappho is the powerful role that other women play in her work. While she had a male lover(s?), Sappho was also infatuated with various women of the ancient Greek world. What we know of Sappho is that she was a very wealthy woman of upper nobility, and that she possessed many slaves. It is uncertain whether or not these slaves were utilized for sexual purposes, or whether they served the mere purpose of conducting housekeeping tasks. Paleographers and the classical community as a whole also know that Sappho had female lovers, with whom she often had sexual encounters with. However, these lovers of hers were no ordinary women—they were of high status and wealth just like Sappho. The ancient Greek poet was apparently a very picky woman when it came to her female lovers, and she often pokes fun at and humiliates the poorer, “country”-type girls that live outside of the city. Sappho was clearly a sort of urban, contemporary, sleek and classy kind of woman who would not settle for an unrefined and boorish “country girl.” In poem #94, Sappho discusses one of her female lovers and all of the material things that surround her: “for many crowns of violets and roses ] at my side you put on / and many woven garlands made of flowers around your soft throat / and with sweet oil costly you anointed yourself / and on a soft bed delicate you would let loose your longing.” The flower garlands were probably very expensive and hard to come by, and Sappho even informs us that the “sweet oil” her lover anointed herself with was “costly.” Furthermore, a “soft bed” in the ancient Greek world probably meant some sort of feathers or fur, which was also very costly. Even still, Sappho mentions “crowns of violets and roses,” flowers of two colors that were very strong symbols of royalty and nobility. The violet color is of particular significance to wealth and power, for this shade of dye was created by crushing sea snails, a long and difficult process to obtain even a small amount of dye.

Sappho's Poem #16

Sappho is a very romantic poet, and Poem #16 from If Not, Winter is a powerful illustration of her amorous nature. To Sappho, there is nothing more beautiful than your loved one, which she makes clear in the first stanza of this poem: “Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is what you love.” In writing “what you love,” Sappho says in a subtle manner that this is the person for whom you have feelings. Sappho then describes Helen of Troy, and how she left everything to follow her heart: “For she who overcame everyone in beauty (Helen) left her fine husband behind and went sailing to Troy. Not for her children nor her dear parents had she a thought, no—.” The rest of the poem is fragmented, but while reading this I received the impression that the rest of this piece discusses the one she loves as her motive for leaving everything she had. The last two lines of the poem mention Anaktoria, a woman who was thought to be one of Sappho’s greatest lovers and quite possibly even the subject of this poem: “] reminded me now of Anaktoria who is gone.” Sappho is an incredible romantic, and many of her poems look like #16 of If Not, Winter—they discuss what it is like to be in love.

Sappho's "Poetic Universe"

Sappho repeatedly mentions certain locations or names in her poetry. Some of these recurrent locations/names include Aphrodite, Krete, Kypris, Zeus, Hera, Abanthis, Lesbos, etc… The ancient Greek poet frequently alludes to the gods/goddesses/historical figures of Greek mythology—Zeus, Helen of Troy, and especially Aphrodite. Sappho was infatuated with the ancient Greek godess, who resided over fertility, wine, happiness and love. Sappho discusses themes of love in many of her ancient poems, and also discusses feminine/womanly qualities. Sometimes, she will discuss children or youthfulness. Sappho crafts her poetic universe out of several of these elements: a description of the gods, her home in ancient Greece, her feelings of affection for both men and women, the joys of being young, the difficulties of aging, etc… Her poems are simple, largely due to the fact that many of the manuscripts of her poems are illegible to paleographers, which thereby cuts out substantial portions of her work. Many of her poems are one single word: “honeyvoiced,” “holder,” “crossable,” etc... But even her complete poems are simple in nature. Much of this simplicity may come from the fact that her poetry is often fragmented and forms little pieces of poetry within the structure of one larger poem—each sentence/stanza is almost a miniature poem of its own. That is the beauty of Sappho—detail and incredible expression of what it is to be a human being in the Ancient Greek world; but this detail and incredible expression comes in subtle forms and in bite-size explanations.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Ancient painting of sappho and Alcaeus Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Some Notes on Sappho's Poems

Poem 1- “Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind”—apparently Sappho was obsessed with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and wine, fertility, etc…
Poem 2- What is frankincence? Is it what smokes on an altar, like incense?
Poem 5- the poem begins and ends with a reference to Kyrpis, who was a Greek goddess and an epithet of the godess Aprohdite, who Sappho adored.
Poem 16- “she] remineded me now of Anaktoria who is gone”—Anaktoria was thought to be a woman that Sappho loves best.
Poem 22- mention of Gongyla and Abanthis- apparently they are two women, of whom nothing else is known but their mention in this poem. Gongyla is mentioned again in poem 95
Poem 94- “and neither any [sacred grove] nor any holy place nor was there from which we were absent no grove [no feeling] no dance ] no sound [no sight]
Poem 96- this is a very feminine poem, I believe it to be a detailed description of a goddess. It uses words like “flowerdeep fields,” “rosyfingered moon,” chervil and flowering sweetclover,” etc… which evokes the “girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice” type of classification of the female sex.
Poem 105a- “as the sweetapple reddens on a high branch high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot—no, not forgot: were unable to reach” -- this seems like a biblical allusion to the fall of humankind from Eden, even though it was way before biblical times. Because the apple is unattainable—“were unable to reach” – it evokes an allusion to the forbidden fruit.

Background on Sappho-- An Ancient Greek Feminist

Sappho was an ancient Greek poet who infused her works with intense emotions - especially love, desire, longing, and their companion, suffering. She crafted her poems primarily as a tribute to the private world of women, something from which we are generally excluded in Greek literature. Therefore the poems provide us with a valuable and remarkable glimpse into the lives and aspirations of Greek girls. In some respects, they could be termed "romantic", but Sappho transcends her subject with such a moving, insightful, and poignant power that the poems are still highly relevant even today. Simply stated, she created some of the most vibrant love poetry ever composed.
Naturally, someone as intimately concerned with love as Sappho would be drawn to the irresistible realm of the goddess of love. And indeed, Aphrodite plays a significant role in many of Sappho's poems. It is to this goddess that Sappho addresses several of her works. In some cases, it seems as if the poet were a supplicant, begging Aphrodite for mercy from the ravages of unrequited love; in others, Sappho sings joyfully of the beautiful deity, and the poems are like graceful gifts to this golden goddess:
"Leave Krete and come to this holy temple where the graceful grove of apple trees circles an altar smoking with frankincense. Here roses leave shadows on the ground and cold springs bubble through apple branches where shuddering leaves pour down profound sleep. In our meadow where horses graze and wild flowers of spring blossom, anise shoots fill the air with aroma. And here, Queen Aphrodite, pour heavenly nectar into gold cups and fill them gracefully with sudden joy." It is intriguing to see how deftly Sappho has woven elements related to Aphrodite into the poem, and with such subtlety - she refers to the apple not once but twice (a symbol of the goddess - think for example of the golden apple awarded to her by Paris); and roses, a flower dear to the lovely deity, are mentioned as well. The poet conjures up an image of serene and most of all natural beauty, which alludes to Aphrodite and her realm.
In honor of her contributions to Greek poetry and music, Sappho is sometimes referred to as the "tenth Muse".

http://www.loggia.com/myth/sappho.html

Khlebnikov's "Asia"

I think that the girl discussed in the first line of the poem by Khlebnikov is a sex slave, perhaps even an official government sex slave, for "her ear gleams with a government seal"-- a gesture alluding to the fact that she is government-owned property, like a street or a courthouse. Also, the first line also mentions her "breast bronze"-- this signifies that she is successful at what she does (a winner), but she is not the best (the color bronze symbolizes the fact that she comes into a ranking lower than first place).

There also appears to be a motif involving shimmering and shining: "your ear gleams," "human beings glitter," and so forth. However, these shining images, which should be representative of positive representation, are juxtaposed against contradictory images: "the ear gleams with A GOVERNMENT SEAL," "the "human beings glitter IN ITS DARK INK!" the uppercase portions express the contrast between the first part of each sentence. There is also another jutxaposition in Khlebnikov's "Asia," this one involving the female sex: "a girl with a sword" and "or an old woman." The "girl with a sword" connects female youth with power via a masculine property-- the sword, traditionally identified as a male object that is perhaps even suggestive of a phallus. Meanwhile, the young girl affiliated with male power is contrasted with "an old woman" who is connected to a very feminine and traditional role for women-- "MIDWIFE of insurgency." The old woman's affiliation with midwifery surfaces the point that she is visibly weaker than the young girl (and not just in physical condition, but clearly also in profession/affiliation).