Hymn to Aphrodite | Study Guide


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Hymn to Aphrodite | Themes


A key characteristic of Sappho's poetry is that it challenged the preconceived Grecian notions about women and the female role in society. She often utilized familiar works and bent them or created suggestions that confronted those roles. In "Hymn to Aphrodite" Sappho utilizes the Iliad by Homer and changes the image of Aphrodite.

Relationships with Greek Gods and Goddesses

It was common in ancient Greece to worship gods or goddesses. "Hymn to Aphrodite" indicates she is a follower of Aphrodite's and that the goddess has "hearkened to me— / To my voice calling to thee in the distance / And heeding, thou hast come." It is notable that Aphrodite as the goddess of love was also known for her loose morals and passion. Aphrodite stood for love as well as lust and did not distinguish between male or female. Certain translations of Sappho's "Hymn to Aphrodite" utilize the pronoun "she" instead of "he" which suggests loving someone of the same sex. In "Hymn to Aphrodite" Aphrodite seems almost exasperated with Sappho as she offers a smile and says indulgently that soon the unnamed lover will " ... love thee / Even though thou wouldst not." This discussion between Sappho and Aphrodite indicates a closeness and intimacy with the goddess. It suggests that Sappho has called upon Aphrodite for a similar situation in the past.


It is clear that Sappho has faith in Aphrodite's ability to assist her when in stanza 7 she says "grant me surcease from sorrow / Drive away care, I beseech thee, O goddess / Fulfil for me what I yearn to accomplish." This belief is set as early as stanza 2 in which Sappho reminds Aphrodite of her assistance "ever in the past." The goddess has helped her before, and Sappho hopes that she will again. It is inferred that Sappho has met with success with Aphrodite's intervention and seeks this type of help again. While the tone of the poem is desperate and frantic, by the conclusion of the poem it has turned toward hope. She has faith that if she can persuade Aphrodite to "be though my ally," the unnamed lover will turn again to her.


Sappho has purposely chosen to use words that depict a passionate desire for someone and heartbreak as a result of rejection. Words such as "Spare me, O queen, this agony and anguish" are indicative of the mindset of Sappho. Other words that occur later in the poem include "grief" and "demented heart" which indicate the desire Sappho feels for the unnamed lover. She reminds the goddess of the times when she has been aided for similar reasons. Since Sappho makes mention of past times of intervention by Aphrodite, it indicates that Sappho has been in a similar situation before. Many of Sappho's poems that have survived the ravages of time revolve around the pain of lost love or rejection by someone with whom she is in love.

Questions for Themes

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