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Last Updated on August 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 342

Aphrodite

The first character in the poem is Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. The speaker invokes her in prayer, passionately pleading with Aphrodite to ease her pain and help her win the woman she loves and pines for. Aphrodite is depicted as a goddess who is willing...

(The entire section contains 659 words.)

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Aphrodite

The first character in the poem is Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. The speaker invokes her in prayer, passionately pleading with Aphrodite to ease her pain and help her win the woman she loves and pines for. Aphrodite is depicted as a goddess who is willing to intervene in the lives of humans. She is pictured descending from heaven in a chariot pulled by sparrows to help the lovelorn speaker.

The speaker recounts how, in the past, the queenly Aphrodite left her throne and came to earth smiling. She eased the pain of the speaker's unrequited love by assuring her that her lover would come around. Aphrodite is thus characterized as benevolent, compassionate, and a willing helper to humans who are suffering from love and desire.

The Speaker

The second character is the speaker, usually identified as Sappho herself. This speaker is in deep anguish over her desire for an unnamed woman who will not respond to her overtures. She is religiously faithful and calls on Aphrodite as a "comrade" or friend to help her yet again to win the battle of love. She is a sensitive person who feels acutely the pangs of desire.

The Beloved

The third character is the beloved. She is referred to as "she" in stanza 6, indicating that this is a poem about same-sex desire. She is depicted as elusive, running away from Sappho's love. But Aphrodite reassures Sappho that soon the beloved will be burning with love for her, "though unwilling." Thus, we are given the strong impression that the beloved rejects the idea of love and would like to remain free of its torments.

Zeus

A very minor character mentioned in passing in the poem is Aphrodite's father. Aphrodite is referred to as the "Child of Zeus." This is significant because it helps tie the poem to Homer's Iliad. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite is assigned more than one possible father and is often said to emerge from Neptune, god of the sea. However, Homer identifies Zeus as Aphrodite's father—and here, Sappho does the same.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317

Sappho

Sappho (SAF-oh), the most famous poetess of ancient Greece, a member of an aristocratic family in the city-state of Mytilene (miht-ih-LEE-nee) on the island of Lesbos, which is located in the Aegean Sea off the western coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). This poem of twenty-eight verses is in the form of a prayer addressed to the goddess Aphrodite. In it, Sappho pleads with the goddess not to overwhelm her with misery but to come to her, remove her anguish, fulfill her heart’s desire, and be her ally. The central portion of the poem reveals that the source of Sappho’s unhappiness is unrequited love: In particular, another woman has spurned her affection and erotic advances. As in the case of most personal poetry, the exact mixture of fact and fiction that Sappho compounded into this seemingly autobiographical description of her desires and experiences is impossible to determine.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite (af-ruh-DI-tee), the Greek goddess of beauty and sexual love, whom the Romans identified with Venus. Sappho addresses her directly in the second person as a “weaver of wiles” who is “throned in splendor,” and she reminds the goddess that in the past she has responded to Sappho’s prayers by leaving the golden halls of her father Zeus (the ruler of the gods) and coming quickly to the assistance of her mortal suppliant. On such occasions, Aphrodite is further reminded, she smiled at Sappho and promised to transform the woman who had rejected her into her eager suitress. The poem creates the impression that Aphrodite is Sappho’s special patron and that a close bond exists between the two.

The anonymous woman

The anonymous woman, Sappho’s beloved, whose rejection of Sappho furnishes the occasion of the poem. Nothing else can be said about her, for Sappho offers not a word about her age, appearance, or social class, or the circumstances that brought them together.

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