Monday, December 13, 2004

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.

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