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Last Updated on June 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 413

When the poem begins, the speaker (that is, Sappho herself) prays to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, in an effort to compel the goddess to intercede on the speaker's behalf with the woman for whom she cares but who does not return her feelings. The speaker directly...

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When the poem begins, the speaker (that is, Sappho herself) prays to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, in an effort to compel the goddess to intercede on the speaker's behalf with the woman for whom she cares but who does not return her feelings. The speaker directly addresses the goddess herself, saying,

Iridescent-throned Aphrodite, deathless
Child of Zeus, wile-weaver, I now implore you,
Don't—I beg you, Lady—with pains and torments
Crush down my spirit . . .

She flatters the goddess, acknowledging Aphrodite's immortality, changeability, and powers of manipulation. She begs the goddess not to cause her any more pain or torment than she already feels. Sappho acknowledges that Aphrodite has helped her in the past, that she has alleviated the "sting" of passion and the "cruel[ty]" of this feeling of love that seems like an abuse. Sappho prays that Aphrodite will once more guarantee that the heart of the woman she craves will "Burn," even if the woman had once been "unwilling."

In the end, Sappho disconcertingly characterizes unrequited feeling as a kind of war, a play for power. She says to Aphrodite at the poem's end,

Come to me once more, and abate my torment;
Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me
All I long for; Lady, in all my battles
Fight as my comrade.

Such a request likens romantic relationships to battles, and the speaker hopes that this goddess will fight alongside her as her comrade in arms. This hardly sounds like love, though, does it? Further, the speaker has evidently begged for Aphrodite's help in the past and plans to continue to need it in the future, as she asks the goddess to fight by her side in "all [her] battles." Thus, this hardly sounds like love that the speaker pursues, and it begins to sound more like she simply desires to overpower the woman for whom she claims to have some feeling.

Perhaps Sappho wants only a physical relationship. Battles are often fought in order to acquire something or to keep someone else from acquiring something one does not want to lose, and so it seems that the speaker may be more interested in preserving her power and prowess than in actually earning the loving feelings of a partner who would be her equal. In battle, there is a winner and a loser; the speaker wants to be the winner, of course, and this would make make her beloved the loser: a woman "unwilling" and overpowered.

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