This only complete Sappho poem, “Hymn to Aphrodite,” expresses the very human plea for help with a broken heart. The speaker, who is identified in stanza 5 as the poet Sappho, calls upon the goddess of love, Aphrodite, to come to her aid. The goddess has helped the speaker in the past and will leave her golden palace to come to Earth to help her faithful believer. The center of the poem recalls past visits in which the goddess has brought a reluctant lover back. The goddess promises that the lover will soon know love as intense as that suffered by the poet, and so the poem ends on a more hopeful recognition of the goddess’s power to resolve the pain of love.
In the first stanza, the speaker calls upon the goddess Aphrodite to come to her aid. The speaker begins by acknowledging the power of the goddess, whom she calls “immortal,” the daughter of the mighty Zeus, the greatest of all the Greek gods. After recognizing Aphrodite’s power and lineage, the speaker mentions the goddess’s skills at deception, using a Greek work that different translators have interpreted to mean guile-weaver, enchantress, one who twists lures, snare-knitter, cunning, wily, or love-perplexing. All of these translations suggest that the speaker is calling upon specific skills that Aphrodite employs to ensnare a reluctant lover. In the final line of the stanza, the speaker entreats the goddess not to ignore her pleadings and thereby break a heart already stricken with grief.
The second stanza continues the plea of the first stanza, again asking the goddess to come to the speaker’s aid. She reminds the goddess of her devotion in the past, of the songs that have been sung to the goddess, and of how the goddess has heard the speaker’s pleas in the past. The speaker asks the goddess to come again, reminding the goddess that she has heard her requests before and that she has responded to these earlier petitions. The speaker offers flattery and acknowledges that the goddess will once again need to leave the glory of Zeus’s palace of gold.
In the third stanza, the writer recalls past visits from the goddess when she was needed. The speakerpoet provides a vision of how Aphrodite has previously made the trip from her father’s palace to this mortal’s more humble home. The goddess arrived in a chariot, a Greek word occasionally translated as a car drawn not by winged horses, as one might expect, but by a flock of sparrows, which represent fertility. The image of the sparrows is one of wings beating furiously as they bring the goddess down from heaven and through the air until she arrives on the darkened earth. The stanza helps to reinforce the idea that the speaker and the goddess have a close relationship. This part also suggests that the poet can expect assistance this time, as well.
In this next stanza, the goddess arrives. She is variously described, depending on the translation, as sacred, blessed, heavenly, or immortal, and so once again the goddess’s power is acknowledged, in this instance within a description of her features. In this fourth stanza, the goddess speaks,...
(The entire section is 1313 words.)