Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment

  Brockliss, William. 2019. Homeric Imagery and the Natural Environment. Hellenic Studies Series 82. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BrocklissW.Homeric_Imagery_and_the_Natural_Environment.2019.

1. Flowers, Subjectivity, and the Gaze: The Erotic Imagery of Greek Lyric

I would like to start by considering the works of some male lyric poets, which given the gender dynamics in play offer the clearest parallels for the analysis of film in Mulvey’s article and thereby give us the clearest indication of the relevance of her ideas to the depiction of the gaze in archaic Greek lyric. Poets such as Ibycus and Anacreon cast erotic bodies adorned with flowers—whether those of girls or boys—as the objects of the evaluative gaze of the speaker, which, in the absence of indications to the contrary, we would understand to be a male persona adopted by the male poet. Therefore, although the gender of the objectified beloved varies, the gaze in each case is gendered masculine, as with the filmic gaze described by Mulvey. For instance, the speaker in Ibycus fr. 282C(i) Campbell describes a boy (παιδ]ίσκον) who is reared, decked in flowers, and blessed with beauty by the goddess Grace: [3]

                                                        ὦ Χά-
          ρις, ῥόδων ἔ]θρεψας αὐτὸν ἐν κάλυξιν
          Ἀφροδίτας] ἀμφὶ ναόν·
          στέφαν]ο̣ν εὐώδη με δεῖ
10      λέγην, ὅσω]ν ἔχρ[ι]σε θωπά-
          ζοισα παιδ]ίσκον· τέρεν δὲ
          κάλλος ὠ]πάσαν θεαί.

Ibycus fr. 282C(i) Campbell Vol. III, lines 6–12

                                                  O Grace,
          You [r]aised him in [rose]-cups
          Around the temple [of Aphrodite];
          I must [speak] of his fragrant
10      Garla]nd, [from how man]y things
          In fla[ttery] she ano[i]nted the boy; goddesses
          [En]dowed him with tender [beauty].

If David Campbell’s reconstruction is correct, the speaker imagines an erotic space—a grove holy to Aphrodite—and places the boy within it. Both the boy and the grove, then, are perceived through the mind’s eye—the imaginative gaze—of the speaker. Allusions to flowers, moreover, associate the different objects of the speaker’s gaze with one another: flower-cups surround the temple and the child, and the boy himself wears a garland, presumably made up of flowers. [
4] Indeed, the floral elements of the scene appear to complement the beauty (κάλλος) of the boy, which, if we follow Campbell’s reconstruction, is the focus of line 12.

The speaker’s gaze and judgement establish clear subject and object roles in his relation with the child. And the speaker’s perspective on the boy is emphasized by the inclusion of the adjective τέρεν, “tender,” which conveys his assessment of the boy’s beauty. In addition, the speaker describes the boy’s garland as “fragrant” (εὐώδη). And given the close associations between the boy and the flowers in this scene, the speaker’s evaluation of the garland suggests at the same time an evaluation of the boy—he is associated with the fine fragrance of the garland. In this way the boy, the garland, and the flowers mentioned in lines 7–8 are all subordinated to the judgement of the speaker. The speaker objectifies the beloved, as one might objectify flowers that one views. By contrast, no mention is made of the boy’s perspective on the scene. The speaker, then, claims the sole right to view and to evaluate what he sees, and to that extent dominates the beloved.

The speaker in Anacreon fr. 1 Leo establishes a similar dominance over the figure that he describes. He depicts a child of beautiful complexion (καλλιπρό[σ]ωπε) who is somehow associated with fields of hyacinth (ὑακιν[θίνας ἀρ]ούρας) haunted by Aphrodite. [6] As with Ibycus’ boy, this child is set in a space of the speaker’s own imagining. And again, it is likely that early audiences would have understood the speaker to be male. Without further indications we would assume this is a male persona adopted by the male poet Anacreon:

          οὐδε̣ ̣ ̣ ̣[ ̣ ] ϲ̣ ̣ φ ̣ ̣α ̣ ̣[ ̣ ̣ ̣] ̣ ̣ [
          φοβερὰϲ δ’ ἔχειϲ πρὸϲ ἄλλωι
          φρ̣έ̣ναϲ, ὦ καλλιπρό[ϲ]ωπε παίδ[ων.
          καί σε δοκέει μὲν ἐ[ν δόμ̣ο̣ι̣ϲ̣ι̣
5        πυκινῶϲ ἔχου̣ϲ̣α̣ [μήτηρ
          ἀτιτάλλειν· ϲ[ὺ δέ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ] ̣ ̣ ̣ [ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣
          τὰς ὑακιν[θίναϲ ἀρ]ούραϲ,
          ἵ]να Κύπριϲ ἐκ λ̣ε̣πάδνων
          ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ]´[      ̣ ]α[   ̣κ]α̣τ̣έδηϲεν ἵππουϲ·
          __ ]
10       ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ ] δ’ ἐν̣ μέϲωι κατῆξας
          ὁμάδ]ωι, δι’ ἅσσα πολλοί
          πολ]ιητέων φρέναϲ ἐπτοέαται
          __ ]
          λεωφ]όρε, λεωρόρ’ Ἡρο[τ]ίμη

Anacreon fr. 1 Leo

          And not …
          You have a timorous mind in the presence
          Of another, o fair-fa[c]ed of gir[ls;
          And [your mother] seems
5        To nurture you, holding you close
          A[t home; b[ut] y[ou…
          The hyacin[thine fi]elds
          Whe]re Cypris… from their yoke-straps
          . . . . . . . b]ound her horses.
          __ ]
10      . . . . . . ] coming down into the middle
          Of the cro]wd, because the minds
          Of many [ci]tizens are aflutter
          __ ]
          Public thoroughf]are, public thoroughfare, Hero[t]ima

We are lacking portions of the poem; accordingly, we cannot be certain of the exact implications of each of the surviving details—and I indicate as much with the alternatives that I offer below. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the child associated with flowers in lines 1–8 is subject to the judgement of the speaker. That the addressee is subordinate to the speaker is firstly suggested in the opening lines by her inclusion amongst girls or children (παίδων). Moreover, as in Ibycus fr. 282C(i) Campbell, there are indications in this poem of the speaker’s assessment of the child. The phrase φοβερὰς … φρένας (“timorous mind,” lines 2–3) suggests either that she appears coy or that she is genuinely fearful. The speaker goes on to mention how things seem to him (δοκέει, 4): namely, that the girl is subject to the solicitous attentions of a second female, probably her mother (4–6). [7] Lines 6–9 appear to locate the girl in the meadows of Aphrodite, goddess of love and eroticism, and thus to associate her with the sphere of the erotic. Such associations carry two possible implications, both of which give a sense of the girl’s subordination to the judgement of the speaker. Perhaps he judges her to be attractive despite her bashfulness (her “timorous mind”): she is the object of his erotic desire. Alternatively, he may suggest the girl’s active involvement in erotic encounters: on this second reading, the bashfulness of the opening lines was only for show. [8]

We should now see if similar dynamics of the gaze are identifiable also in other lyric poems that associate erotic bodies with flowers. But before we can make such a move there is an important question that we need to address. A large number of the other instances of floral images of the erotic in extant archaic lyric are to be found in the poems of Sappho. But it has been a point of contention among critics to what extent we can treat Sappho’s poems no less than those of her male contemporaries as representative of the genre of lyric, particularly when it comes to her explorations of eroticism, gender, and subjectivity.

Several scholars have argued for the uniqueness of Sappho’s depiction of eroticism. Lyn Wilson, for instance, regards Sappho as an unparalleled voice of female erotic subjectivity, whose verse could not have been composed by a male poet, while Jane Snyder identifies a specifically lesbian eroticism in Sappho’s poetry, which differs from the masculine homoeroticism of her poetic contemporaries. [12] Jack Winkler for his part argues that Sappho’s poetry occupies a private register that focuses on women’s erotic experience; according to him, her poetry rejects masculine obsessions with domination and submission in favor of a shared subjectivity. [13] Similarly, Eva Stehle in Performance and Gender identifies a phenomenon of “intersubjectivity” in Sappho’s poems: her poetry for female addressees encourages different readers to take on different roles, including that of the poet herself, and thereby to imagine themselves as both “desirer and desired.” According to Stehle, such depictions of eroticism distinguish Sappho from her male contemporaries in the genre of lyric. [14] In “Sappho’s Gaze” Stehle associates a shared subjectivity more specifically with the operations of the gaze—and hence with one of the key themes of my own discussion. Stehle suggests that Sappho’s poetry disrupts the sort of normative masculinity of the gaze that is identified by Mulvey, thus encouraging her female listeners to fantasize heterosexual relationships where they enjoy an equality of subjectivity with a male partner. [15]

We should, however, firstly acknowledge examples of floral imagery from Sappho’s verse that appear to cast doubt on arguments for her objectification of the desirable girls associated with such images. Critics have, for instance, found evidence of reciprocal relationships in Sappho fr. 2 Voigt. Winkler and Stehle both adduce this poem as evidence for their view that Sappho’s poetry expresses a uniquely feminine eroticism, which eschews the masculine rhetoric of domination and submission. In the opening lines, the speaker—presumably representing Sappho’s own persona in this poem—invites Aphrodite to a sacred place (ναῦον / ἄγνον, fr. 2.1–2 Voigt) and goes on to describe a grove of roses and apple-trees sacred to that goddess:

5        ἐν δ’ ὔδωρ ψῦχρον⎟ κελάδει δι’ ὔϲδων
          μαλίνων, ⎟ βρόδοιϲι δὲ παῖϲ ὀ χῶροϲ
          ἐϲκί⎟αϲτ’, αἰθυϲϲομένων δὲ φύλλων⎟
          κῶμα †καταιριον·
          ἐν δὲ λείμων⎟ ἰπ̣π̣όβοτοϲ τέθαλε
10      †τω̣τ…(.)ι̣ριν⎟νοιϲ† ἄνθεϲιν…

Sappho fr. 2.5–10 Voigt

5       In it cool water resounds through the apple
          Boughs, and the whole place is shaded
          With roses, and there is deep … sleep
          As leaves quiver;
          In it a horse-trodden meadow blooms
10      … with spring(?) flowers…

Stehle offers fr. 2 as an example of how “description” in Sappho’s poetry “is often very sensuous and very unspecific,” and believes that the emphasis on senses other than sight in the poem helps to break down the distinction between viewing subject and viewed object. [
20] According to Winkler, the fragment depicts a feminine eroticism that is explored in the worship of the goddess: “Virtually every word suggests a sensuous esctasy in the service of Kyprian Aphrodite (apples, roses, quivering followed by repose, meadow for grazing, spring flowers, honey, nectar, flowing).” Sappho is guiding her audience towards an experience that is at once sacred and sexual: she “is providing a way to experience [cultic] ceremonies, to infuse the celebrants’ participation with memories of lesbian sexuality.” [21] Wilson distinguishes the poem from a fragment of lyric by a male poet, Ibycus fr. 286 Campbell. That fragment describes an untouched garden (κῆπος ἀκήρατος) of the Maidens, only to contrast it with the violent assaults of love, which are likened to stormwinds and lightning. Wilson reads this image as an evocation of a masculine eroticism of “violence and disorder,” creating “binary oppositions” that are absent from Sappho’s poem, which focuses instead on feminine experiences of the erotic and the divine. [22] On these readings, then, images of roses and other flowers in Sappho fr. 2 evoke a shared, feminine eroticism, through which all might experience subjectivity.

We could also consider fr. 96 Voigt, which has been cited by Snyder and Stehle as a depiction of a reciprocal relationship. Atthis’ girlfriend stands out among the women of Lydia as the rosy-fingered moon outshines the stars; its light spreads over fields of roses, chervil, and melilot in flower. We might imagine that Atthis’ beloved causes less attractive girls around her to bloom in borrowed radiance, just as the flowers in the fields bloom under the moonlight. In this way, the poem suggests the beauty shared by the moon and the girl, or perhaps their common hue and delicacy: [24]

          νῦν δὲ Λύδαιϲιν ἐμπρέπεται γυναί-
              κεϲϲιν ὢϲ ποτ’ ἀελίω
                  δύντος ἀ βροδοδάκτυλοϲ <ϲελάννα>
          πάντα περ<ρ>έχοιϲ’ ἄϲτρα· φάοϲ δ’ ἐπί-
10           ϲχει θάλαϲϲαν ἐπ’ ἀλμύραν
                  ἴϲωϲ καὶ πολυανθέμοιϲ ἀρούραιϲ·
          ἀ δ’ <ἐ>έρϲα κάλα κέχυται, τεθά-
              λαιϲι δὲ βρόδα κἄπαλ’ ἄν-
                  θρυϲκα καὶ μελίλωτοϲ ἀνθεμώδηϲ·

Sappho fr. 96.6–14 Voigt

          Now she stands out among the Lydian women
              As the rosy-fingered <moon>,
                  When once the sun has set,
          Out<s>hining all the stars; it sends its light
10           Equally over the salt sea
                  And to the many-flowered fields;
          The lovely <d>ew is poured out, and roses flourish
              And tender chervil
                  And blooming melilot.

These lines evoke not only the beauty of Atthis’ girlfriend, but also the erotic bond shared by the two girls. According to Snyder the allusions to roses, the moon, tenderness (κἄπαλ’, 13), and dew (<ἐ>έρϲα, 12) combine to suggest a “female sexuality.” [
25] On this sort of reading, the two girls would express that sexuality in their attraction for one another. Moreover, the focus on the moon may suggest a reciprocity of longing, experienced by Atthis and the absent girl: one can imagine both girls gazing up at it as they yearn for each other, lying alone at night. [26]

In fr. 94, for instance, Sappho’s persona recalls how a girl, standing next to her, wreathed her tender neck with garlands of violets and roses:

          πό̣[λλοιϲ γὰρ ϲτεφάν]οιϲ ἴων
          καὶ βρ[όδων … ]κίων τ’ ὔμοι
          κα.. [ – 7 – ]πὰρ’ ἔμοι π<ε>ρεθήκα<ο>
15      καὶ πό̣λλαιϲ ὐπαθύμιδαϲ
          πλέκταιϲ ἀμφ’ ἀπάλαι δέραι
          ἀνθέων ἐ̣[ – 6 – ] πεποημέναιϲ …

Sappho fr. 94.12–17 Voigt

          Fo[r with many wrea]ths of violets
          And of r[oses], and equally of …
          … you g<a>rlande<d> yourself by me
15      And with many plaits of a nosegay
          Made … of flowers
          Around your tender neck …

The poem opens with expressions of anguish: in the first line, the first-person speaker, or perhaps the girl with whom she is speaking, recalls the pain of their parting and expresses the wish to die (τεθνάκην δ’ ἀδόλωϲ θέλω); the girl then stresses how terribly they have both suffered, and explains that she leaves “Sappho” against her will (4–5; the girl addresses Sappho by name in line 5). In the lines quoted above, evocations of garlands, ointments, and a soft bed suggest a relationship of physical eroticism between these two speakers. With such evidence in mind, Winkler argues that these lines depict “a loving progression of intimacy, moving in space—down along the body—and in time—to increasing sexual closeness: from flowers wreathed on the head to flowers wound around the neck to stroking the body with oil to soft bedclothes and the full satisfaction of desire.” [

However, these suggestions of a shared eroticism exist in tension with the dynamics of the gaze in the poem. The scene is focalized through the eyes of the first-person speaker: these lines present the scene as it appeared to “Sappho”—that is, to the persona of the poet in this poem. The relationship of seeing subject and seen object, then, resembles that found in the poems of Ibycus and Anacreon studied above. What is more, as in Ibycus fr. 282C(i) the first-person speaker’s evaluation of the object of desire is suggested through the use of an adjective: from her perspective the girl’s neck is tender, ἀπάλαι, much as Ibycus’ speaker admired the “tender [beauty]” (τέρεν … [κάλλοϲ]) of the boy. The gaze in this poem is, then, uni-directional like the filmic gaze explored by Mulvey.

In other fragments asymmetrical relationships are described without any suggestion of a shared eroticism. For instance, in fr. 132 the lovely Cleis is said to have a beauty like golden flowers:

Ἔϲτι μοι κάλα πάιϲ χρυϲίοιϲιν ἀνθέμοιϲιν
ἐμφέρη<ν> ἔχοιϲα μόρφαν Κλέιϲ < > ἀγαπάτα,
ἀντὶ τᾶς ἔγωὐδὲ Λυδίαν παῖσαν οὐδ’ ἐράνναν …

Sappho fr. 132.1–3 Voigt

I have a beautiful girl, with form lik<e>
Golden flowers, Cleis,
In return for whom I … not … all lovely Lydia …

The girl in this poem may well be Sappho’s own daughter. [
30] But even if this is the case, her relationship to the poet’s persona closely resembles that of the poet and beloved in other erotic lyric from archaic Greece. Firstly, as in such poetry, the description focuses on the visual and attributes the gaze to the first-person speaker. These lines emphasize Cleis’ beauty rather than, for instance, her laughter or her skill at dancing, and as in fr. 96 the poet has evoked visual features of the natural environment to give her audiences a sense of this beauty. [31] Much as flowers in the natural environment would at other times have been the passive objects of Sappho’s or her listeners’ vision, the girl is merely the object of the speaker’s gaze. Secondly, as in other archaic lyric the first-person speaker claims the license to evaluate such an object of the gaze. While the adjective ἀγαπάτα, “beloved” or “desirable,” [32] possesses positive connotations, it nonetheless reflects the speaker’s perspective and not that of the girl, who is thus the object both of Sappho’s gaze and of her evaluative comments. Thirdly, in addition to being objectified in this way, Cleis is described as a πάιϲ. This term is reserved for children and slaves in wider Greek culture, but is often used for the object of desire in lyric, as we have seen in both Ibycus’ and Anacreon’s poems. [33]


[ back ] 1. As stated in my Introduction, I treat archaic Greek lyric and Homeric poetry as contemporaneous performance traditions, however it is that the texts from those traditions came to be written down. See Nagy 1974 and 1990 on Greek lyric; 1996:29–63 and 2004 on Homeric poetry. As a further consequence of the great frequency of floral images of the erotic in Greek lyric, if we are to treat even a representative sample of such images we must consider evidence from that genre at somewhat greater length than in the case of the examples from Hesiodic and elegiac poetry that I consider in Parts II and III.

[ back ] 2. Mulvey 1989b. Calame (2016) points to later lyric poems that suggest something more like the Lacanian conception of the gaze. In Pindar fr. 123 Snell-Maehler, from the classical period, the beloved looks back at the speaker and the speaker describes the effect that the boy’s gaze has on him. An element of the speaker’s visual field, then, looks back at him and thus objectifies him; we might compare the sardine tin that returns Lacan’s gaze.

[ back ] 3. For similar themes, see Ibycus fr. 288 Campbell, where Euryalus is described as the stock of the Graces, reared by Aphrodite and Persuasion amid roses. In this poem, however, the involvement of the Olympian goddess Aphrodite in the boy’s rearing (as opposed to Grace, a personification of human quality, in Ibycus fr. 282C(i)) threatens to blur the distinction between the speaker as subject and the boy as object: listeners might have wondered whether this powerful deity fostered the boy’s beauty in order to manipulate the speaker’s desires. For a god’s dominance over the speaking subject in archaic Greek lyric see also Sappho 1.1–4 (“Sappho” pleads with Aphrodite not to “conquer [her] spirit”) and fr. 47 Voigt (Love shakes the speaker’s mind like a wind falling on mountain oaks).

[ back ] 4. Cf. Sappho fr. 94 Voigt, discussed below.

[ back ] 5. The term ὁρμαίνω might qualify the notion of the speaker’s dominance. The verb can suggest anxiety: see LSJ s.v. ὁρμαίνω I.1: “revolve anxiously in the mind.” Therefore, even though the speaker objectifies the beloved through his gaze and his evaluative comments, he might nonetheless be subject to the effects of ἔρως.

[ back ] 6. For discussion of the plants to which the term ὑάκινθος might refer, see Chapter 2 n42 below.

[ back ] 7. Gentili 1958:44 and 181; Campbell 1982–1993 Vol. II, pp. 40–41. If Campbell is right in restoring the words ϲ[ὺ δέ in line 6, these words might have introduced a reference to the girl’s thoughts and intentions: e.g., “you yearn for … hyacinthine fields.” But a more neutral phrase such as “you wander [the fields]” is just as possible.

[ back ] 8. If we follow Rosenmeyer (2004:173–177), the descriptions of horses and a hyacinthine meadow reflect a masculine perspective on Herotima and on the question of her innocence. She argues that from a Greek male perspective such as that of the speaker the girl’s presence in hyacinthine fields and among horses would probably carry suggestions of sexual availability that would undercut the timidity ascribed to her in the opening lines. She distinguishes between the perspective of the male speaker, who sees such dalliance as unambiguous erotic display, and the perspective of the girl herself, for whom it represents the first explorations of a youthful, innocent eroticism. For suggestions of sexual availability here, see Gentili 1958:182–194, who associates the “hyacinthine fields” of Anacreon’s poem with Aphrodite and specifically (p. 184) with her portrayal in Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé, where, as we shall see (Chapter 2 below), the goddess dons clothes dipped in hyacinth, crocus, narcissus, and rose.

[ back ] 9. For the identification of Herotima with the child of line 3, see Gentili 1958:180–194, Serrao 1968, Kurke 1999:191–195, and Leo 2015:33–48. Not all critics have accepted this identification. Some scholars, taking into account the apparent contrast between the tone of the opening lines and that of the closing lines, have divided this poem into two separate compositions. Campbell (1982–1993 Vol. II p. 41), for instance, translates ὦ καλλιπρό[ϲ]ωπε παίδ[ων (line 3) as “you lovely-faced boy,” and suggests that the reference to Herotima in line 13 opens a new poem. Apart from the change in tone, however, there is no clear indication that we are dealing with two separate youths. And there are positive reasons for regarding the poem as a unity. For one thing, the different components of the poem can, in fact, be reconciled with one another if we suppose that it depicts different stages in a life story, or contrasts (bashful) appearance with (coy) reality: see above. For another thing, the minds of the populace, all aflutter in line 12, echo the (apparently?) timorous mind of the girl in line 2. The terms of the debate, with relevant bibliography, are set out by Gentili 1958:180–194 and Leo 2015:33–35.

[ back ] 10. For the semantics of the term λεωφόροϲ, see Leo 2015 ad loc., LSJ s.v. and Iliad 15.682: λαοφόρον καθ’ ὁδόν (“along the public-bearing way”). On the scornful tone of the poem, see Gentili 1958:189 and 191, and Serrao 1968:50.

[ back ] 11. See Kurke 1999:191–195. For the poem as an account of Herotima’s life story, see Serrao 1968. Leo (2015:34–35) objects to this interpretation on the grounds that δοκέει in line 4 is a present-tense verb and so is not likely to refer to Herotima’s past. For this reason he concludes that the poem contrasts appearance (Herotima’s innocence) with reality (her sexual availability).

[ back ] 12. Wilson 1996; Snyder 1997, esp. 79–95. For the unparalleled erotic subjectivities of Sappho’s poetry, see also Stehle (Stigers) 1981. In his response to Wilson’s book, Lardinois (1998) shows that many of the features of Sappho’s verse believed by Wilson to be unique are, in fact, paralleled in the work of male lyric poets.

[ back ] 13. Winkler 1990:162–187, 1996. For Winkler this aspect of Sappho’s verse represents, in particular, a subversion of the concerns of Homeric poetry: she is able to repurpose masculine, martial discourse of the Homeric poems in her own more egalitarian depictions of eroticism. On dialogues between Sappho’s poetry and Homeric poetry, see Rissman 1983 and Rosenmeyer 1997. For Sappho’s reuse of Homeric poetry in portrayals of a more egalitarian eroticism, see also duBois 1995. On Sappho’s subversion of masculine notions of dominance, cf. Skinner 1993, who focuses on the “bilateral and egalitarian” (p. 133) homosexual relationships enabled by challenges to patriarchal social dynamics, both on the part of Sappho and of other female authors. Bowman’s (2004) reply to Skinner, however, echoes arguments of critics such as Lardinois and Ferrari (for which see below): she asserts that “female-authored poetry” does not “display … subjective modes differing appreciably from those of male-authored poetry” (p. 8).

[ back ] 14. Stehle 1997:262–318, with quotation from p. 302; see also Stehle 2009. This quotation is a comment specifically on fr. 96 Voigt, a poem that will be discussed below. Stehle and other critics have also pointed to Sappho 1.19–24 for evidence of the interchangeability of roles in Sappho. At first sight, Aphrodite appears to be depicting an asymmetrical eroticism: she seems to promise that the object of Sappho’s desire “will love” (φιλήϲει, 23), “even if she is not willing” (κωὐκ ἐθέλοιϲα, 24): for suggestions of an asymmetrical relationship in these lines, see duBois 1995:9 and Wilson 1996:25. Stehle (2009:298), Greene (2008:25–29), and Purves (2014:193–194), however, point out that the subject of lines 21–24 is left unspecified and that the verbs there have no grammatical object. These lines might, then, suggest the interchangeability of the two roles—neither partner is marked definitively as the object of pursuit. Ferrari (2017) argues that line 24 should read κωὐκ ἐθέλοιϲαν and that lines 21–24 refer to a later time, when a girl who is currently unwilling to accept Sappho’s advances will love another girl, who will herself be unwilling (ἐθέλοιϲαν). If that is the case, the verb φιλήϲει has an object, but lines 21–24 suggest an interchange of roles—of pursuer and pursued—over time.

[ back ] 15. Stehle 1996. Similar arguments for Sappho’s challenge to the masculine dominance of the gaze are offered by de Jean 1987 and Greene 2002. In an article from 2008, however, Greene nuances her arguments for the uniqueness of Sappho’s poetry, arguing that she “bring[s] the passions of women into dialogue with male literary tradition” (p. 43).

[ back ] 16. Ferrari 2010:13.

[ back ] 17. Lardinois 1989, with quotation from p. 18. Elsewhere, Lardinois acknowledges “important differences of tone and subject matter between Sappho and most male poets” (1996:171) and finds that some of Sappho’s poems draw on genres otherwise associated with women, such as laments or hymns to goddesses (2001). Nevertheless, he argues for similarities between the performance contexts of Sappho’ poems and those of the male lyric poet Alcman (1996).

[ back ] 18. Calame 1997:255–258, 1999:23–27, 2016. Calame argues that the beloved, who refuses her/his favors, dominates the lover, who is in the grip of passion: see also n2 above. But the asymmetries of the gaze operate in the opposite direction in the poems that we shall study. For arguments for the similarity of Sappho’s verse to that of male lyric poets, see also Boehringer and Chabod 2017; Bowman 2004, cited in n13 above; Parker 1993; Nagy 1990 (esp. p. 94, with n60). Nagy regards Sappho’s poetry as one instantiation among several of an archaic lyric song culture. Parker, for his part, argues that placing Sappho in her own peculiar category, even if intended as praise, in fact perpetuates the attribution of normativity and subjectivity to the masculine and subversion or perversity to the feminine—she is treated not as a poet but a female poet, as if that were necessarily a different kind of thing. In fact, Parker contends, Sappho’s poetry is fully representative of the typical concerns and performance contexts of the (predominantly male) genre of lyric.

[ back ] 19. Sutherland 2003, Greene 2010: see the Preamble to Part I.

[ back ] 20. Stehle 1996:220.

[ back ] 21. Winkler 1990:186 = 1996:108. Cf. Stehle (Stigers) 1977:92–93, who reads the grove as an image of the adolescent anticipation of sexual experience: it is “a haven of that threshold state of unconsummated erotic eagerness.”

[ back ] 22. Wilson 1996:39–42, with quotations from p. 39. On the unity of religious and erotic experience in this and other fragments of Sappho, see McEvilley 2008:50–64, esp. 63–64.

[ back ] 23. Quite possibly, we should imagine a cultic setting for performances of the poem. As Ferrari (2010:151–154) notes, Aphrodite was often worshiped in groves and gardens; see also Elliger 1975:179. But if multiple worshipers attended such a performance, this does not imply that other women besides the speaker are present in the scene described in the poem: perhaps the speaker pictures herself as the only worshiper. Cf. Lardinois 1996: poems of Sappho focused on a single speaker’s emotions might be performed in public settings.

[ back ] 24. Cf. Irwin 1994, who sees βροδοδάκτυλοϲ in this poem as a reference to delicacy, and Waern 1999, who believes that it describes a rosy hue.

[ back ] 25. Snyder 1997:49–52; quotation from p. 51. For associations of dew with femininity, see θῆλυς ἐέρση (“the female dew”) at Odyssey 5.467.

[ back ] 26. For this interpretation, see Hague 1984:30 with bibliography (though this is a position from which Hague distances herself).

[ back ] 27. See Stehle’s own reading of the poem (1997:300–302).

[ back ] 28. We might infer that such a gendering of the gaze offers a challenge to the patriarchal gender structures of archaic Greek societies in which—as in the films discussed by Mulvey—men would normally claim the right to view and evaluate the objects of their vision: cf. Mulvey 1989a on the ability of female viewers to appropriate the male gaze when watching films. Nevertheless, it is also possible that archaic Greek poems emphasizing a woman’s gaze and hence her subjectivity would not have this kind of socially subversive effect in an archaic Greek context. As Lardinois (2001:80) points out, it may be that female self-expression was limited to particular contexts sanctioned by the patriarchal culture at large (such as laments or songs for goddesses), and Sappho’s poetry may reflect such contexts.

[ back ] 29. Winkler 1990:186 = 1996:107. Stehle 1996:220 cites fr. 94 among Sappho’s “description[s]” that are “both very sensuous and very unspecific.”

[ back ] 30. Two testimonia (1 and 2 Campbell) inform us that Sappho had a child by the name of Cleis.

[ back ] 31. The simile may have suggested to them landscapes with which they were familiar: as Waern points out (1999:174), Lesbos is bathed in golden flowers each spring.

[ back ] 32. LSJ s.v. II.1 and 2.

[ back ] 33. Ibycus fr. 282C(i).11 Campbell (παιδ[ίσκον); Anacreon fr. 1.3 Leo (ὦ καλλιπρό[ϲ]ωπε παίδ[ων). See also Ferrari 2010:33–37 on παῖδες in Sappho. For the connotations of the Greek term παῖς more generally, see LSJ s.v. I–II (children), III (slaves): the term refers to a subordinate with respect to descent, age, or social class.

[ back ] 34. Cf. Stehle (Stigers) 1977:93: she is “too inviting to be doing something as exposed as picking flowers.” Athenaeus adduces Sappho fr. 122 alongside the myth of Korē to show that flower-gathering is a natural activity for those who believe themselves to be attractive. We cannot be certain that Sappho shares Athenaeus’ assessment of the scene in fr. 122—that the girl was advertising her own attractiveness; we know only that the poet herself judges her to be attractive. Perhaps she is too attractive for an onlooker to resist, or perhaps her attractiveness threatens to expose her to the sort of dangers associated with flowery meadows in poems such as the Hymn to Demeter, which we shall discuss in the next chapter. Nevertheless, there is a contrast to be drawn between the handling of the association of flowers and erotic bodies in this fragment and in Homeric poems, such as the Hymn. As we shall see, Korē claims a kind of agency through the apparently autoerotic act of plucking a flower that is her own double; but we have no evidence of such agency on the part of Sappho’s girl.

[ back ] 35. The “new” (as opposed to “newest”) Sappho offers an interesting inversion of such tropes. The narrator’s own ageing body becomes the object of her imaginative gaze. It contrasts not only with the bodies of the “violet-bosomed Muses” (Μοίσαν ἰ]ο̣κ[ό]λ̣πων, line 1) but also, by implication, with the bodies of the young girls who are associated with the goddesses. Similarly, the ageing body of Tithonus in the last four lines contrasts with that of “rosy-armed Dawn” (βροδόπαχυν Αὔων, 9). On the gaze and on the dynamics of youth and age in this poem, see Bierl 2016. For a text of the “new” Sappho, West 2005:6.