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Tel-Aviv University

Faculty of Humanities
Department of English and American Studies

Love themes in Sappho and Antigone

Yiftach Gurel
ID: 300530599
Foundations of Western Culture

Dr. Alberto Gabriele
Date: 19.11.2012

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Love, as read in both Sappho's poems and in Sophocles' theatre play Antigone is
presented as an epic divine entity that interferes within people lives in a powerful
way. Both Sappho and Sophocles as representatives of the Greek lyrical tradition
from two different time periods, 200 years apart from each other, emphasize the love
as a theme through the praising of the Greek love goddess Aphrodite. The sections
which emphasize on love I choose to relate are taken from the poems written by
Sappho and the chorus discussion of love in Sophocles' Antigone which occurs after
the dialogue between King Creon and his son Haemon. This essay deals with the
notion of love as read in both texts in order to determine the similarities and
differences between them.
To this day, Sappho of the island Lesbos remains one of the great lyrical poets and
considered as a large part of the rise of ancient Antiquity's lyrical tradition. To this
day specific information regarding Sappho's life lacks documentation, her mark in
history reflects through the remaining fragments of her poems.
My impression through reading Prayer to My Lady of Paphos (38) and He is more
than a Hero (39) is that the notion of love consist a dominant part. Prayer to My Lady
of Paphos presents a strong connection between love and the divine within its content.
In the title there is the word "Prayer" and what follows is a request from Sappho to
Aphrodite in plea for this mighty goddess to come down from the heavens to help
save her from "grief" and madness of "intolerable pain!" (38) through making her
desired by the woman she desires. It appears that the love in this poem is a desperate
love of a woman driven by desire for what her "heart most hopes will happen" (38)
Vis--vis win the heart of another who does not feel the same towards her ["let her
runshe won't accept gifts. Soon will love, although unwillingly"] (38), leaving
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Aphrodite as her last hope. Mighty Aphrodite as she appears in this text is a
supernatural who controls the elements of love, desire and attraction.
In another poem by Sappho, He is more than a Hero love is a paralyzing force
described in a detailed perspective, in which jealousy increases the desire to have
what belongs someone else, "If I meet you suddenly, I can't/ speak -- my tongue is
broken;/ a thin flame runs under/ my skin; seeing nothing" (39) the paralysis of
love. Sappho describes herself as passionate, driven by her uncontrollable feelings to
have this companion that innovate her with sensations: "Death isn't far from me"(39)
as if she might die from this paralyzed feeling of being in love. In both He is more
than a Hero and Prayer to My Lady of Paphos the notion of love is an unattainable
and unfulfilled that leads to yearning and despair.
In Sophocles' play Antigone, love gets a dedication from the chorus who advises and
protest in front of Creon during the play. After denying his son Haermon from
marrying Antigone by arresting her, the chorus relates the matter by praising love
through singing. Love is presented as a power "unconquered in the fight" (Sophocles)
that can drive people and life-beings all over "thou roamest over the sea, and among
the homes of dwellers in the wilds" (Sophocles) to a variety of actions. From love "no
immortal can escape thee, nor any among men whose life is for a day" (Sophocles) -
description of the captivating possession generating madness that leads to
wrongdoings. Aphrodite is mentioned as the eternal and dominant force that controls
the power of love over people through her "unconquerable will" (Sophocles). This
suggests the power of love as described by the chorus as the cause for Haemon's
tragic ending. His inability to save and marry with his beloved Antigone has driven
him desperately mad in a way that leads him to kill himself.
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The similarity of the love themes in both texts is the mental state of the written
characters. Sappho prays to the sky in despair, Antigone breaks the law because of her
brotherly love, sacrificing herself; Haemon takes his own life and is followed by his
loving mother Eurydice. Another commonality is in Aphrodite as the universal all
seeing goddess that in both cases is in charge and controls love as an element. We are
presented with worlds of people that depend on love and are not able to complete a
full circle, thus conveying this burden of incompletion. Sappho writes about love that
is far from her reach, constantly stimulating her desire. The chorus warns from the
vast range and destructive power contained by divine love over forms of life.
Differences between how love is described in the texts are the universal generality
of love over all by the chorus's plural generalizations, whilst in Sappho's words we
receive a more intimate feeling of her forming her own personal definition of love by
sharing her private thoughts. She gives us an erotic point of view by mentioning body
parts and body sensations like "sweet murmur of your voice" (39).
To conclude, the value of love in antiquity is assessed in these texts in an
overwhelming way. Love as a theme in Sappho and Antigone plays a major part in
people's lives, complicate relations, surrounding one's mind and affecting judgment.
Love can be the answer and goal in life for some and the wrecking devastation of
others. This kind of love is manipulated under the control of mighty Aphrodite, who is
always on the watch as a determining factor whether as a tangible being in Sappho or
as the celestial all-seeing symbol in Antigone.

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Works Cited
Sappho, Mary Barnard. Sappho: A New Translation. Berkeley: University of
California, 1966. Print.
Sophocles. Antigone (442 B.C.E). The Internet Classics Archive. Trans.
Richard Claverhouse Jebb. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.