As we will see in due course, Sappho is being pictured here as the lead singer of a choral performance. She leads off by praying to Aphrodite to be present, that is, to manifest herself in an epiphany. The goddess is invoked from far away in the sky, which is separated from the earth by the immeasurably vast space of ‘aether’. Despite this overwhelming sense of separation, Aphrodite makes her presence felt immediately, once she is invoked. The goddess appears, that is, she is now present in the sacred space of performance, and her presence becomes an epiphany for all those who are present. Then, once Aphrodite is present, she exchanges roles with the prima donna who figures as the leader of choral performance. 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 shared 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 ‘here’, that is, in this sacred space (PP 97–103).
It is said that the bridegroom phainetai ‘appears’ to be isos theoisin ‘equal to the gods’. Appearances become realities, however, since phainetai means not only ‘he appears’ but also ‘he is manifested in an epiphany’, and this epiphany is felt as real (PH 7§2n10). In the internal logic of this song, seeing the bridegroom as a god for a moment is just as real as seeing Sappho as a goddess for a moment in the logic of Song 1 of Sappho.
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 would not seize your eyes
and you would be speaking about the just and honorable thing to do.
Such symmetry between Alcaeus and Sappho was perpetuated in the poetic traditions of the symposium well beyond the old historical setting of festive celebrations at Messon in Lesbos. A newer historical setting was Athens during the sixth and the fifth centuries BCE. Here the songs of Alcaeus and Sappho continued to be performed in two coexisting formats of monodic performance: one of these was the relatively small-scale and restricted format of the symposium, while the other was the spectacularly large-scale and public format of citharodic concerts at the musical competitions of the festival of the Panathenaia (Nagy 2004a).
We see here the authority of Pindar as a master of kleos. In this passage, which comes from one of his epinikia ‘epinicians, victory songs’, the poet refers to himself in an authoritative setting, which is, the choral lyric celebration of an athletic victory.
The myths that Pindar’s song marks as falsehoods have to do with things heard about the hero Pelops during a time when he was not to be seen (Olympian 1.46–48). The myths that Pindar’s song marks as falsehoods here are falsehoods not because they are myths but only because they are myths that differ from the master myth privileged as the truth by Pindar. In this case, the ‘false’ myths represent rejected versions of the story of the hero Pelops, while the ‘true’ myth represents the official version as integrated into the complex of rituals known as the Olympic Games (PH 4§24). While the myths that are ‘falsehoods’ can merely be heard, the myth that is ‘true’ can actually be seen: the visibility of the myth is captured in the moment when Pelops emerges from the purifying caldron, resplendent with his ivory shoulder (Olympian 1.26–27).