Ode to Aphrodite

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Probably the only complete surviving composition of Sappho, this poem of seven quatrains is written in a Greek lyric meter called the Sapphic stanza. The poem illustrates the three traditional parts of a prayer: the invocation, the sanction, and the entreaty.

In the invocation, Sappho calls on Aphrodite in a colorful, descriptive address to the goddess. Referring to Aphrodite respectfully as mistress, Sappho acknowledges with anguish and emotion Aphrodite’s control of the human souls that she subdues with distress and grief.

The central part of the poem moves from the poetic present to the past. This section represents the sanction of a prayer, a recognition of a god’s earlier relationship with a mortal. Here Sappho focuses on divine epiphany, on her own previous relationship with Aphrodite. The goddess omnisciently guesses the motive for Sappho’s prayer: Sappho’s passion for another woman, whom Aphrodite promises will soon love Sappho “even unwillingly.” (Much of Sappho’s poetry reveals a similar lesbian orientation.)

In the last four lines, Sappho returns to the poetic present and ends her prayer with an entreaty, a request. Sappho here begs more calmly for a second epiphany, for release from the pains of love. Aphrodite is described as Sappho’s “companion-in-arms,” her ally. This military metaphor emphasizes the strength of Aphrodite and of the emotion she oversees: Humans are powerless before this goddess...

(The entire section is 531 words.)