The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists

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It is another to use those characteristics to diagnose the gender of the author of an anonymous text.

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We have all too long assumed a male poet for the Hymn , despite much contradictory evidence. Then I turn to the Hymn and summarize arguments in my book showing that the Hymn is a reworking of traditional materials and identifying a core story where Persephone and Demeter are the agents of the narrative.

Then I consider what kind of audience and performance context would be appropriate for such a poem. The essay concludes with an assessment of the Hymn which reverses the usual assumptions; I assume that a woman composed it for a female audience. Sappho did the former. Korinna did the latter, although it is unclear if she entered dactylic hexameter poetry in competitions. Gentili distinguishes the type of performance Demodokos gives at Od. Storytelling, public verbal activity, impromptu poetic performances were not carried on only in formalized, occasional, or elite contexts, but as daily activity in many situations and for a variety of audiences.

The same materials could be performed in different ways, and depending on the immediate audience, they could be epic, hymnic, blaming, praising, all in the daily competition of self-presentation. It is not easy to believe that the women of archaic Greece did not participate in these activities, as their peers did in other societies and times. It shows that it was technically possible for a woman to have composed poetry such as the HDem.

If the Hymn was composed by a woman, all the separate elements outlined above would have had to come together: familiarity with mythological themes, skill with dactylic verse, a working knowledge of traditional diction, 20 an interested audience, and an appropriate performance occasion. The first three we have already seen combined in several ancient women poets. It is the last two elements which constitute the chief challenge to the possibility of female authorship for the Hymn. To determine an appropriate and likely audience and performance occasion, it is necessary first to examine the poem; its subject matter and atmosphere, attitudes and perspective will help to suggest where, under what circumstances, and for whom the Hymn would command attention and respect.

This scholarship has pointed out the patriarchal model of marriage in the presumed exchange of women between Zeus and Hades. All these have seen Persephone as a victim, the helpless pawn of the patriarchy, and Demeter, at best, as fighting a rear-guard action against male control. My, slightly different, feminist perspective sees Persephone as an active participant in the events of the Hymn. I make a separate argument considering data which may indicate a female author for the whole Hymn. The distinction indicates that the Hymn we have is a reinterpretation of the myth, and of the power relationships among the deities whose activities it records.

It is time for her to grow up; she is ready; she reaches out on an impulse of her own nature. He capitulates, and sends Hermes to fetch Persephone back — forever, so he thinks. It is a story where women are dominant, are the active agents, and are the ones who undergo change and growth.

A Poem by Sappho

She accepts the male, and mature sexuality, but does not wish to give up her relationship to her mother. What was first a relationship of power the mother and weakness the daughter when a child becomes one of equals. In this story, the specifics of how Persephone acquires her sexual maturity are secondary.

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The abduction was sudden and frightening 33 certainly, even though she was ready, but the situation was not altogether out of her control, as we saw above. Demeter, for her part, relinquishes her position of power; at the end of the poem, the mother and daughter are equals.

Poems of Sappho

This is the development of the relationship of the two chief characters in the Hymn , as I read it. This fact, however, will perhaps give us a clue later to the gender of the poet. These characteristics include subject matter, themes, perspectives, stylistic preferences. They were developed by careful analysis of the texts available to us, using feminist theoretical vocabulary, and comparing the treatment of similar subjects by male poets. According to these criteria, the HDem. Winkler 35 analyses Sappho 16 in a similar fashion, pointing out how she retells the story of Helen going to Troy with Helen as the powerful determiner of her own action.

It is unclear whether the core story is repossessing the myth from its male Hesiodic version, or whether Hesiod was putting a male slant on an originally female myth. The important point is that we have different, and gender-related, treatments in the two poems. For Demeter, however, it functions as an urgent stimulus to her efforts to retrieve Persephone.

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IX, ; in poem 8 Anth. Persephone struggles against her mother, and also within herself.

The struggle over her autonomy culminates in the reunion scene: the goddesses run to embrace one another, but immediately Demeter is suspicious and questions Persephone about eating, knowing what may have happened. Here the poet makes use of the hymnic convention which introduces the divinity to whom the hymn is dedicated in the accusative case, and after a few lines switches to the nominative.

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Persephone is kept in the accusative case until 15, far longer than most, and her first action as subject is the more noteworthy for the unusual delay. She is thereafter in a subject position also, doing her share of making things happen. Noone denies her the right to her anger, 41 which manifests itself in the drought and famine on earth and threatens life itself, and the honours of the gods. The behaviour of Zeus and the other gods on Olympos in the core story is always in reaction to her actions.

Her value system the mother-daughter bond prevails over theirs the supremacy of the father. Nor does Demeter doubt her own right to interrogate Persephone when she returns. But then we see that this power relationship has been challenged after all, by Persephone herself when she ate the pomegranate seed; she and her mother must renegotiate their relationship. They do: no longer hierarchical, it is now balanced, non-competitive. This phrase is unique in traditional hexameter diction. But psychologists remark on the narcissistic impulse in mothers and daughters who see and love themselves in each other.

The exact opposite is true in the HDem. An ethic of hierarchy underlies the other Hymns, in contrast to that of cooperation and sharing in the HDem. They come to an arrangement which both Demeter and Hades accept, and which Persephone implicitly desires since it is her coming of age story and it was she who reached for the narcissus and set the narrative in motion. Zeus was not involved in this arrangement; his instructions to Hermes were simply to bring Persephone back , with no mention of any time-sharing with Hades.

It is now possible to turn to the question of audience and performance occasion. Who would make a likely audience for a poem like the core story? What kind of audience — by their presence, their interest, their approving reception — would give the singer of this song the authority to sing it? It is difficult to believe that an all-male group could have been the intended audience for the story of such intensely and specifically female experiences as those which Persephone and Demeter undergo. Even a mixed group of worshippers seems less likely for the core story than an all-female one, although possible for the whole Hymn , with its Olympianizing parts.

We have records of such rites for different areas of Greece, especially Athens and Sparta, but none of these was sacred to Demeter or Persephone. We have none for Eleusis, 53 although it is scarcely credible that young Eleusinian women did not manage their transition to adulthood without some form of ritual.

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However, we have in the HDem. If, as is probable, it was celebrated in a fashion similar to the one in Athens, it was for women only, and concerned not only the fertility of the earth, but that of the human female as well. It is unlikely that the performance of the core story was part of the actual rites. The performance of this poem would have reflected and resonated with their reunion.

What about one for the whole Hymn , with its efforts to introduce Zeus as the eminence behind it all, and the aition for the Eleusinian Mysteries at the end? A mixed-sex audience is possible here, at the Mysteries themselves, perhaps, or in the musical competitions of the Eleusinia, a harvest festival sacred to among other deities Demeter and Persephone and celebrated at Eleusis at least as early as the 6 th century. The story was reenacted during the celebration of the Mysteries, although probably only parts of it. It is likelier that it would simply have been entertainment at the Mysteries in the same way the core story may have been at the Thesmophoria.

The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists
The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists The Poems of Sappho and the Other Greek Lyricists

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