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Differences Between Meanings Of Love And Desire Between Sappho And The Iliad

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If there were a thousand and one pages to write on Sappho, it still would not be enough. So I choose to only write five. Throughout this research assignment there were many ways found to express the meaning of Sappho, Poem 16. I have decided to focus my essay on the differences between meanings of love and desire. The differentiation of love between Sappho and The Iliad helps to voice Helen’s agency.

The Iliad focuses on the love for war and prizes. Within the Iliad the only voices were of the men. The entire story focused on war. War was their love language. The voice of any woman was silenced within this Epic Poem. Sappho gave voice and agency to women within her writing. She was the voice for the women. While being the voice, she also found a way to mock and poke fun at Homer. “ ...some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing” (Sappho, ll. 2).

The context from that one line shows sarcasm. Simply because she repeats “some men”. By that phrase, Sappho is referring to Homer, the author of The Iliad. She also states her own opinion on what the most beautiful thing on the Earth is. She states that is what you love. This brings the entire theme of Poem 16. The theme is love. Throughout Sappho’s Poem 16, there are many ways to describe Helen. In the Iliad there is only one way to describe Helen; she was the wife of King Menelaus. Sappho gives us more insight on Helen’s life.

Sappho’s Poem 16 gives us Helen’s side of the story. Sappho describes Helen as a woman who did exactly what she wanted. She left everything behind for the love of another man. It seems selfish, but rational. It states, “not for her children nor her dear parents” (Sappho, ll. 10). This means that she did it for herself, and no one else. She left to fulfil her own desires.

This is also a contradiction within itself. While being the voice of Helen, she also gave Helen props for doing as she pleases. In the beginning of the poem she states the most beautiful thing is what you love (Sappho, ll. 3-4). You can see this poem from the different perceptions that she intentionally wrote it in.

From my perspective I see that she did it for love. I agree with Sappho that she was pretty selfish for leaving family for another man. In the same sense, what is a life worth living if you are not happy? There are different emotions to this side of the story. Sappho intentionally leaves some parts within this poem blank to let the readers put their own intel. Their intel will show in their eyes if she was selfish or selfless.

While putting in their own words, this gives them access to Helen’s voice as well. This could help shape and mold her story into whatever the reader chooses it to be. This allows the reader to decide what kind of person Helen was. Sappho intentionally inserted these inserts within the middle of the poem. This will show if there were regrets or second thoughts. She gives the reader the power to actually show remorse for Helen.

She wanted Helen to glow and not be gloomy over “ranks over foot soldiers” (Sappho, ll. 20-21). She describes the way a “glowing” woman would walk and look. The way the sun would reflect on her skin as she is glowing. Sappho states that she would rather Helen be happy than overpowered by war and men. To some extent she was glad that she chose to be happy over it all.

The commentary piece from Page duBois is stating that Helen of Troy is the evidence from the phrase of doing what you love. She is saying that Sappho used Helen to show that the most beautiful thing is what you love (Sappho, ll. 3-4). She believes that there was no inbetween with the first stanza. She states that it is either “Little fanciful or little dul” (Pages duBois 79). She also describes the “Black Earth” (Sappho ll. 3) as warriors, warships, and Homeric poems. duBois says the reader would compare Helen to the beginning of the poetry itself; when that is not the case at all. She believes that at the start of the poem, even her meer name was masked as feminen and masculine. She believes that because of her beauty she was getting respect from mankind. She believes that the power that Sappho gives Helen is clarified and stressed.

Page duBois says that that Helen leaving is a static force. She leaves any and everyone that she holds close to her heart. The ones she left should have been the ones who should have satisfied her. Page states that she forgets all about them, which is “suggesting madness” (Page duBois 81). She gives the imaginary of motion when she mentions the leaving of Helen. She also mentions the blanks within that particular stanza. She states that the reasoning that lead Helen astray is something or someone.

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Page duBois says that the last stanza, they went from a legend world, back to the same world as line 3 of this poetry. Line 3 is recognized to be the singer’s time. This part of the poem is understanding and feedback of the lines 3 and 4. She states that the memory of Anaktoria brings her to the absent loved one. Even through her absence, Sappho made her presence imaginable as well. She also states that the last stanza is sort of like a memory for Sappho. She believes that the last stanza brings the listener and readers back to a wider world. Page also says that the line 17 reflects back to line 4. She believes that these two lines echo one another.

According to Hanna M. Roisman, Achilles and Agamemnon had many issues between each other. Helen’s role within the abduction that caused the war is unknown and unheard of. Helen has many perceptions, but little to no voice in the Iliad. Hanna states that Helen only appears six times within the Iliad. She states that Helen realizes that from her abduction alone, there have been many deaths and sufferings on her behalf. She states that Helen had no choice in the Iliad. She was viewed as only a possession.

This also shows that Helen has a regret of being where she was. Hanna states that her mistakes and blames are within her beauty. Hanna states that Helen is still longing for her first husband, Menegalus. Hanna states that Helen says she regrets leaving her homeland. Where she left her husband and daughter behind to come for love. Helen is full of regret for deciding to chase behind Priam’s son. She blames herself for all of the deaths and sufferings, due to her leaving her husband.

Hanna states that Helen is taking responsibility for her actions. She also states that as she watches the duel between her husbands, she is filled with sadness. She is longing for her first husband. This goes to show that Helen did have feelings within this entire process. She realizes that she has started a war that quickly became a blood bath. She is feeling sorry that she was the cause of a war. She felt guilty for having a hand in creating Priam into the man that he is now.

Hanna states that Helen sees straight through the disguise Aphrodite has. She was representing blind lust. She was called to Paris’s bed after the duel. The duel was between Paris and Menelaus. Hanna states the irritation and aggravation between Aphrodite and her ways of living her life. Hanna even says that Helen believes that Aphrodite wants Paris to herself. Hanna also states that Helen has been married to Paris for nine years.

While depicting and understanding all three excerpts, I have decided that my thesis is true. I stand by my thesis, because each gives evidence that Helen did not have a choice at all. The only choice that she did have was when she ran away from her family and homeland. This goes to show that she did not have any voice within the Iliad.

In Sappho’s Poem 16, she gave Helen all of the voice that she needed. Helen had free will to do as she pleases, and she did just that. Sappho even gave the readers the opportunity to shape and mold who they thought Helen would or could be. Sappho also shared her perception of Helen through the text. She also shared her open of Homer’s Iliad. She used sarcasm and different literary devices.

In Reading Sappho: Commentary Approaches, Page DuBois shares her thoughts of Sappho as well. She believes that Sappho worded and made the poem in a certain way to portray Helen doing what she loved. She gave commentary to each part of the poem. She even agreed that war was the love for Iliad. As to where the love for Paris that Helen had was the definition of love for Sappho. Page DuBois commentary agrees with my thesis because she acknowledges that Helen left her family for love. She sees that Helen sailing to Paris caused a static force. This means that there was a feeling of leaving home for love; which is considered Helen’s voice.

Hanna M. Roisman gives plenty of examples that Helen had no voice in the Iliad. She only had feelings. Her feelings were not vocally spoken by her. Homer only wrote them down so the readers could feel with Helen. He never gave her the chance to choose who she wanted to stay with. Even though he states that she regrets everything, but still she stayed with Paris because Menelaus lost the duel.

In conclusion, all of these sources show that my thesis was correct. In the Iliad, Helen has no voice nor a choice to choose who she wants to be with. The only voice she has was in the Sappho Poem 16, where she is captivated as a woman who made her own choice. The difference between The Iliad and Sappho Poem 16 is that, Helen has a voice and choice to do as she pleases. Which now shows and gives Helen her voice and agency.

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Differences Between Meanings Of Love And Desire Between Sappho And The Iliad. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Differences Between Meanings Of Love And Desire Between Sappho And The Iliad.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
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Differences Between Meanings Of Love And Desire Between Sappho And The Iliad [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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