Wednesday, March 21, 2012

School Days

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Cultural Foundations I/Reichert

Critical Response on “Sappho to Phaon” by Ovid


After reading this poetic epistle, it’s clear to me that Sappho was a very conflicted person. Her poetry tends to be very melodramatic. A lot of this, however, comes off that way due to the translation of the text. The reason I feel she is conflicted is because throughout the letter, she is running through all these different feelings. In the first column, the reader witnesses Sappho being very upset with the leaving of Phaon. She states that her romantic, lyrical style of music has been transformed to discordant elegies and that her lyre no longer plays the cherubic melodies it once did. It is in the second column of the first page that she goes on the attack and begins to call Phaon for herself; “...I am yours by right” (line 6). Earlier in that passage, she states how he is flirtatious with other women, and tells them lies-the same lies that he told her. Is this a sign of jealousy? This clearly shows that Sappho is insecure, and needs attention from Phaon. She needs some excuse to find something wrong with him. This makes me question whether she really loves Phaon, of if she is just going through another over-dramaticized episode. As a reader, I found myself being even more irritated when she instantaneously starts to pity herself in the next two lines of the same stanza. Her claiming that she is doomed with misfortune and later stating that she is easily susceptible to falling in love(lines 85-86) again shows a conflicted Sappho. Throughout the rest of the poem, as well, she shows no inner center. Her thoughts are not grounded.

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I can sympathize with Sappho, too, however. It was line 10 that really made me think outside of the box. The quote stating that his leaving her was like the death of a mother’s son really shows the strong attraction she had for Phaon. From this statement Sappho is seen as someone who saw Phaon as not just an outsider, but one of her own. Someone at the same level, and someone who she had a unyielding bond with. The poetic elements; the conceits, metaphors, and syntax are all strong in this translation. They do much to add bulk to the poetry and meaning to the epistle as a whole.

Lastly, the only shred of common sense demonstrated by Sappho is her questioning the oracle of naiad. She is hesitant at first, and agrees to pursue the oracle, but stops and asks, “Yet dare I trust my flimsy body to the air?” ( line 187). At the very end, as a reader, you begin to pity Sappho. She is begging for Phaon to return to her. The use of a conceit in the final two stanzas, comparing Phaon’s return to a boat swaying along the sea paints yet another vivid depiction. Again, ending with her helplessness and anticipation for Phaon’s return.

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