The Sapphic Aphrodite: A Multifaceted (ποικιλόθρονος) Divinity

  Karakirisidis, Ioannis. "The Sapphic Aphrodite: A Multifaceted (ποικιλόθρονος) Divinity." CHS Research Bulletin 12 (2024). .

CHS Pre-doctoral Fellow in Hellenic Studies 2023–24


The personae of the ancient Greek divinities were poetically shaped. [1] Modern theoretical approaches towards the importance of literary theological discourse come to confirm the claim that poetry must be considered as a source of knowledge about Greek religion and polytheism. [2] Aphrodite’s presence in epic poetry is a well-known case of poetic differentiation, though. Hesiod differs patently from Homer; the goddess is a motherless deity, born of Uranus’ severed genitals and the foam formed around them on the surface of the sea in the Theogonia (vv. 183-206), whereas in the Iliad (Book 5, vv. 311-430) she is Zeus and Dione’s daughter. [3]
But which is the poetic persona of Aphrodite, drawn by Sappho in the field of the lyric tradition of the late 7th century B.C.? Should we take into account Sappho’s contribution to the articulation of Aphrodite’s figure, in general? To begin with, archaic lyric poetry does not represent an individual innovation over the collective epic tradition, but both the recitative poetry and the variant song types derived from a lost song tradition (even the dactylic hexameter originated from lyric meters, aeolic and dactylo-epitrite), whilst the panhellenic poetic tradition of Homer and Hesiod survived over the Panhellenization of song because of the diversity of the latter, as Nagy designates. [4] Moreover, the Lesbian poetess interacts and is intimately acquainted with this deity in her mainly erotic poetry, to the extent that she was characterized by some scholars as Aphrodite’s “priestess”. [5] Therefore, the Sapphic Aphrodite should be considered as fundamental as the Homeric and the Hesiodic versions of this divinity. [6]
Nonetheless, Aphrodite in Sappho’s poetry does not serve a single purpose; within the context of a polytheistic nexus, the diverse aspects of a deity contribute to the Ancient Greek religious amalgam, characterized by its inherent fluidity, and help shape the broader worldview. In this approach, unity (or perhaps, many unities) is attained through embracing diversity and plurality, which can be indicated by the variety of cult-epithets used for the Greek gods. [7] Aphrodite in Sappho’s poetry is highlighted by a palette of different nuances, and the dynamic, multifaceted nature of hers could be marked by the initial epithet attributed to her (1 V, 1: ποικιλόθρονος). [8] Thus, the central objectives of this paper are the exploration of the Sapphic discourse on Aphrodite, with a focus on collecting and examining the various and multidimensional aspects of the goddess, and the association of the epithet ποικιλόθρονος with Aphrodite’s variegatedness.

The various personae of the Sapphic Aphrodite

Sappho and Aphrodite’s particular relationship is well-accepted. [9] This intimacy between the poetess and the goddess comprises the cornerstone of Sappho’s contribution to the articulation of Aphrodite’s figure in her poetry. [10] .
Etienne Barilier examines “La figure d’Aphrodite dans quelques fragments de Sappho” (1 V, 2 V, 31 V) and points out :

“Car l’Aphrodite de ce poème (i.e., 1 LP=1 V) n’est pas seulement ce que peut devenir la déesse conventionnelle, cultuelle, objective, dans une sensibilité archaïque particulière, mais encore et surtout ce qu’une telle figure peut devenir chez un poète archaïque. Comme je l’ai esquissé dans l’introduction de ce travail, il serait parfaitement illogique d’identifier Sappho à une femme quelconque, adorant la même Aphrodite qu’elle, mais sans écrire de poèmes.’’ [11]

Barilier comprehends Aphrodite’s figure in Sappho’s poetry as a potential poetic persona, sealed by the stamp of Sappho within the framework of the poetry-composing process. The personal touch that Sappho brings to her own version of her favorite goddess emphasizes her role in shaping and defining the artistic content. This persona, though, is not entirely single-dimensional, since the Sapphic Aphrodite unfolds herself from different angles.

Barilier also concludes that:

“On comprend maintenant pourquoi Aphrodite, dans la poésie de Sappho, est à la fois présente et absente, à la fois douleur et plénitude : parce qu’un poème de la déréliction peut être plénitude en tant que poème. […] Aphrodite, même lointaine dans l’existence, est ressentie comme proche par la vertu du chant.” [12]
Martyn, from his end, comes to the conclusion that the four longer poems of Sappho (1 V, 2 V, 31 V, 16 V) composed in Sapphic meter, designate the main characteristics of Aphrodite, i.e., “the changeability of love, her repeated affairs involving some unlikely matches, then the sweetness of love in an idyllic, sensuous setting, then its bitterness in her intense jealousy, and finally her obsession with Anactoria, that her blind to other obligations”. [13]
In Sappho’s fr. 33 V the golden-crowned Aphrodite can offer the petitioner a certain lot amongst others, apparently. The first thing coming to mind is Aphrodite’s benevolence of a person regarding the personal or collective issues that arise.

αἴθ’ ἔγω, χρυσοστέφαν’ Ἀφρόδιτα,
τόνδε τὸν πάλον < . . . . . . > λαχοίην

Sappho 33 V
“I wish, golden-crowned Aphrodite, I could obtain this lot”

Aphrodite combines the contradictory aspects of love pain and plenitude, exactly like Eros is a γλυκύπικρον […] ὄρπετον (130 V), a bittersweet serpent. In this framework, we are able to contemplate a variety of manifestations of the goddess, and perceive the coherence of her constructed by Sappho personality. Sappho’s song-making mastery puts Aphrodite in various conditions, by revealing the many faces of hers. The goddess appears in different contexts and occasions in Sappho’s poetic corpus, despite it being fragmentary, though providing clear evidence of her multifacetedness. In this manner, Aphrodite undertakes a wider role in her sphere of activities in comparison with the Hesiodic Theogonia (vv. 205-6) or Zeus’ exhortation towards her to stay aloof from warfare in the Iliad (5, vv. 428-30). [14] It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Sapphic Aphrodite becomes, indeed, a versatile deity in Sappho’s erotic poetry, with it being her main area of expertise.

Sappho’s 1 V and her Ode to Aphrodite projects the poetic persona who is once again suffering because of unrequited love effects and requesting for the goddess’ assistance and alliance. In this poem, Sappho calls Aphrodite, who appears rather as a martial deity in her drawn-by-sparrows chariot, in order to alleviate her pain, which is manifested as disease symptom (v. 3: μή μ’⸥ ἄσαισι ⸤μηδ’ ὀνίαισι), [15] and fulfill her love desire of a girl. [16] In the recently found Kypris Song, an invocation of Aphrodite and a reference to the sickness, the love vertigo (v.1: ἄσαιτ̣ο) the lyric ‘I’ manifests, are to be mentioned. [17] 86 V could also stand as a similar case, since Aphrodite is again summoned in a familiar to us context (v. 4: θῦμο̣[ν, v. 8: χα̣λέπαι.). To put it differently, Aphrodite appears as the cause and the solution to the love-sickness, since the exhilaration of the goddess within the framework of a prayer is the right manner in order for the victim to overcome the symptoms. [18] Aphrodite’s negative, or even aggressive, aspect is again sketched by the Lesbian poetess; she can be judgmental towards Sappho herself (22 V, v. 15: ἐμεμφ[). Sappho invokes Aphrodite as a sea-goddess, along with the Nereids, in her προπεμπτικόν poem (5 V), in order for her brother Charaxos to travel safely from Egypt to Mytilene, though in fr. 15 V she wishes that the slave-prostitute Doricha, whom her brother allegedly had an affair with, found the goddess at her cruelest (v. 9: πικροτέρα). [19]
Contrarily, in fr. 2 V, in terms of a different kind of prayer, an idyllic image arises, since Aphrodite comes across as the wine-bearer in Sappho’s apple-orchard and her grazed-by-the-horses meadow, i.e., her locus amoenus. [20] In the same poem she is called to leave Crete (perhaps), where the cult of Aphrodite Antheia was existent, [21] to arrive at the meadow and take part in the festivities, while in fr. 35 V the goddess, most likely, is connected either to Cyprus, in general, or Paphos or Panormos (?), which means that different locations, thus cults, are mentioned which she may be associated with. [22]
Kurke, based upon an epigram of Dioscorides (Greek Anthology 7. 407) dedicated to the poetess, indicates a tripartite division of Sappho’s oeuvre, divided into the poetry of ‘loves’, wedding songs and mourning songs to help Aphrodite lament for dead Adonis. [23] Aphrodite is present in all three categories: fr. 73a V, vv. 3-4 (]αν Ἀφροδι[τα / ἀ]δύλογοι δ’ ἐρ[) could stand as a less known example of the ἔρωτες poetry. Aphrodite and Peitho, her attendant (Incertis Auctoris 23 V) and / or her daughter (90 V & 200 V), show up in fr. 96 V, by vaguely intervening in the Sardian Arignota’s story. [24] Accordingly, song 44, whether taken as an epithalamium or not, [25] describes Hector and Andromache’s wedding ceremony and bears a hint with regard to Aphrodite’s presence in the ceremonial occasion, starting with the incomplete Κύπρο̣, whereas in fr. 112 V the goddess is mentioned by name, because she is the one who has favored the groom (v. 5: τετίμακ’ ἔξοχά σ’ Ἀφροδίτα). [26]
However, in fr. 140 V the goddess commands the maidens to start lamenting for dead Adonis, and seems like she is the one who coordinates the lamentation. [27]

⊗ Κατθνάσκει, Κυθέρη’, ἄβρος Ἄδωνις τί κε θεῖμεν;
    καττύπτεσθε, κόραι, καὶ κατερείκεσθε χίτωνας.

Sappho 140a V
“He is dying, Cytheréa, Adonis the delicate. What shall we do?
‘Beat your breasts, girls, and tear your clothes.’”

(trans. J. Powell)
Fr. 168 V and the exclamation ὦ τὸν Ἄδωνιν may also confirm a kind of grief. In fr. 65 V a death connotation (v. 10: Ἀχέρ[οντ) is again apparent along with the Cyprian queen (v. 6: Κύπρωι̣ β̣[α]σίλ[). Fr. 134 V finds Aphrodite being in the narrator’s dream and having a talk with her, or the narrator confessing in the goddess the dream she dreamed, if the title Κυπρογένηα considered as a vocative. [28]
To sum up, Aphrodite’s personae in Sappho’s poetry are inwoven in order to be connected with various aspects of human life, such as love and war, sexual desire, tenderness, passion, dream, sickness and destructiveness, marriage, lamentation and death. The goddess arises in different poetic contexts and adjusts to the different environments Sappho makes her to. Schlesier (2016) 395 argues that we should think Aphrodite as the alter ego of the poetess in her work. In other terms, Aphrodite’s figure in Sappho’s oeuvre mirrors the narrator’s emotions and experiences and she offers her divine touch. Having said that, it is Sappho’s poetic ingenuity that makes it happen. Let us now focus on the quintessential epithet addressed to Aphrodite (1 V, 1: ποικιλόθρονος) and make an attempt to connect it with Aphrodite’s multifacetedness in Sappho’s lyrics.

Sappho’s ποικιλόθρονος Aphrodite

⊗ Ποι⸥κιλόθρο⸤ν’ ἀθανάτ’Αφρόδιτα,
    παῖ⸥ Δ⸤ί⸥ος δολ⸤όπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε,
    μή μ’⸥ ἄσαισι ⸤μηδ’ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
    πότν⸥ια, θῦ⸤μον,

Sappho 1 V, 1-4
“Dapple-throned / Blossom-woven, immortal, Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter, weaver of wiles, I pray to you, do not master my heart with vexations and sorrows, mistress,”

The first epithet attributed to the goddess by Sappho is the much controversial and little understandable hapax ποικιλόθρονος (or ποικιλόφρων). It is surely not a coincidence that this prominent appellation is chosen by Sappho to stand first in her Ode to Aphrodite, with it being the vantage point of the prayer. Nonetheless, there is an issue that arises regarding the second part of the compound adjective; Aphrodite is most likely characterized as ποικιλόθρονος, because of the following δολόπλοκος (v. 2), which, in fact, has a similar meaning to ποικιλόφρων as “weaver of wiles”, though the “dapple-throned / -patterned” nuance, with the second part and the stem θρον- meaning either “throne” or “flowers embroidered on cloth” (θρόνα), is still vague. Therefore, ποικιλόθρονος can refer either to an artfully designed and splendid throne or to a flower pattern on a cloth, concerning Sappho’s 1 V case and her invocation of the goddess.

The ποικίλ- stem is again attested in the Sapphic corpus and in every single case (ornaments, sandals, headband) denotes the artfulness and elaboration these objects are made, or more specifically (in some cases at least) woven / embroidered, with: [29]

                              πόδα<ς> δὲ
ποίκιλος μάσλης ἐκάλυπτε, Λύδι-
ον κάλον ἔργον.

Sappho 39 V
“but intricate sandals covered up her feet, a delightful piece of Lydian work.”
(trans. J. Powell)
[…]          πόλλα δ’ [ἐλί]γματα χρύσια κἄμματα
πορφύρ[α] καταΰτ[με]να, πoί̣κ̣ι̣λ’ ἀθύρματα,
ἀργύρα̣ τ̣’ ἀνά̣ρ⸤ι⸥θ̣μα ⸤ποτή⸥ρ⸤ια⸥ κἀλέφαις.

Sappho 44 V, 8-10
“Many golden bracelets and purple robes…, intricately-worked ornaments, countless silver cups and ivory.”
(trans. G. Nagy)
μ]ι̣τράναν δ’ ἀρτίως κλ[
π̣οικίλαν ἀπὺ Σαρδίω[ν
. . . ] . αονιας πόλ{ε}ις [

Sappho 98a V, 10-2
“and more recently there were headbands decorated in Sardis, elaborately embroidered [”
(trans. J. Powell)
—σοὶ δ’ ἔγω Κλέι ποικίλαν [
—οὐκ ἔχω πόθεν ἔσσεται ; – [
—μιτράν<αν>· ἀλλὰ τὼι Μυτιληνάωι [
* * *
] . [
παι.α.ειον ἔχην πο.[
αἰκε̣. η̣ ποικιλασκ . . . ( . ) [

Sappho 98b V, 1-3 & 5-6
“But for you, dearest Kleïs, I have no intricate headband and nowhere that I can get one; the Mytilénean”
(trans. J. Powell)

In the cases quoted above, the ποικίλος encompasses indisputably the dimensions of artistic elaboration and intricate craftmanship.

Returning to ποικιλόθρονος, the epithet is reminiscent of this category of Homeric epithets ending in -θρόνος, such as χρυσόθρονος, εὔθρονος, ἀγλαόθρονος, though it is certain that ποικιλόθρονος itself cannot fit in a dactylic hexameter, being a lyric innovation. On the other hand, the famous simile in the Iliad with Andromache, being unaware of Hector’s loss and weaving at her loom some θρόνα ποικίλα remains the main argument for the “flower-patterned” interpretation of the Sapphic epithet. [30]

ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ ἱστὸν ὕφαινε μυχῷ δόμου ὑψηλοῖο
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, ἐν δὲ θρόνα ποικίλ’ ἔπασσε.

Il. 22, 440-1
“but she was weaving a web in the inner part of the towering house, a double-folded purple web, on which she was embroidering floral patterns.”
I reckon that the most significant element of the compound adjective we need to focus on, is the ποικίλος term, meaning 1. many-colored, spotted, pied, dappled; and 2. wrought in various colors, of woven or embroidered stuffs (see LSJ s.v. ποικίλος), as an adjective connected metaphorically to the processes of weaving and embroidering. The parallelism between the weaving and poetry-composing aspects may be the key to the better understanding of this epithet. [31]
Aphrodite is often associated with some ποικίλα (either floral or, in general, woven) ornaments and garments. In Cypria fr. 4 Bernabé she is dressed with some clothes with various flowers on them, made by the Graces and the Hours and in Cypria fr. 5 the goddess herself and her handmaidens weave the flower wreaths and put them upon their heads, along with the Nymphs and the Graces, and they sing as a whole on Mount Ida. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite V, 84-89, in order to seduce Anchises, she wears a splendid robe, curved brooches, earrings shaped like flower cups and golden necklaces παμποικίλοι. Above all, the Homeric epics always provide the general framework; Aphrodite’s ποικίλος κεστὸς ἱμὰς (Il. 14, 214-221), her girdle, on which are fashioned all kinds of love charms, is also woven / embroidered, and this girdle is what Hera needs in order to deceive Zeus in Iliad 14, Dios apate. [32] A different case with the ποικίλος denoting the “dappled” meaning, though still connected to the goddess’ magic, is encountered in Pindar’s poetry, where Cypris sends to Jason the ποικίλαν ἴϋγγα, the maddened bird (Pind. Pyth. 4, 213-222), in order to teach him the incantations and prayers he needs to beguile Medea. Aphrodite’s beauty, charm and love magic is accentuated in all the above literary evidence.
Weaving and flowers often comprise motifs in Sappho’s verses; Aphrodite is connected with a kind of garment, a head-cloth, in fr. 101 V, in which the χερρόμακτρα is mentioned (in fr. 98 V a plaited purple ornament for the hair is brought up). Moreover, Aphrodite’s deities are equally associated with flowers or clothes: the Graces are called βροδοπάχεες (rosy-armed; similarly, the Dawn in 58 V) in fr. 53 V and turn away from the ungarlanded (81 V) and Eros wears a purple mantle in fr. 54 V. In fr. 92 V garlands and certain clothes co-exist: πέπλον (vv. 5 & 8), χλαιναι (v. 9), στέφανοι (v. 10), in fr. 94 plaiting blossoms together to make a wreath is one of the memories Sappho has with the girl who is leaving her and in fr. 125 V the pivotal compound verb ἐστεφαναπλόκην (to weave garlands) has love and young-age connotations according to Aristophanes’ Scholiast. [33] Since the weaving of a garland is an allusion of a woman being in love, what about the weaving of the verses in Sappho’s female erotic poetry?
West, in his chapter “Poesy as weaving”, stresses: “… these two fifth-century exponents of the Dorian tradition of choral song (i.e., Pindar and Bacchylides) were heirs to a repertory of Indo-European or at least Graeco-Aryan imagery that is hardly visible in the Ionian epic and Lesbian lyric traditions. However, in the present case we can cite Sappho’s reference (fr. 188) to Eros as a plaiter of tales, μυθόπλοκος.” [34] Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi examines the epithet μυθόπλοκος, derived from the term μῦθος and the stem πλέκω and attributed to the god Eros by Sappho (188 V), and she argues that it can imply the ability of an artful poetic composition. [35] Needless to mention that Aphrodite herself is named δολόπλοκος, with the usage of the same suffix -πλόκος (see above), by undertaking the weaving-spinning duty, since she is the one who “weaves the wiles” with regard to the love affairs for the mortal and the immortal beings. [36] Nonetheless, since Eros embraces such an identity, it is logical that his master, according to Sappho (159a V: σύ τε κἄμος θεράπων Ἔρος), with her being the principal deity in her poetry, also takes on an analogous task. In other words, the ποικιλόθρονος term may be considered as a programmatic statement of the mythopoetic-religious discourse on the goddess by Sappho.
Sappho herself denotes that she is unable to weave at the loom because of Aphrodite, whilst she is, apparently, capable of “sewing” the words together and composing her poetry.

⊗ Γλύκηα μᾶτερ, οὔ τοι δύναμαι κρέκην τὸν ἴστον
    πόθωι δάμεισα παῖδος βραδίναν δι’ Ἀφροδίταν

Sappho 102 V
“Sweet mother, I am indeed unable to weave at the loom, overpowered by the desire for the boy, because of slender Aphrodite.”

Furthermore, Aphrodite’s exhortation to the maidens to tear their garments may confirm a kind of an inversed practice; a need to destroy the textiles created as a designation of the grief during the lament (see above p. 6 and fr. 140 V).

Another factor that is important to be taken into consideration, without overemphasizing, is the sex / gender case. Sappho is a woman, writing her mainly erotic poetry, and the textile production is also primarily connected with women, being considered as a female activity par excellence. [37] The example of the Athenian women who took part in the weaving process for the sacred peplos meant to be attributed to the goddess Athena during the Great Panathenaia and the religious role they played is well-known. [38] Moreover, as mentioned above, Eros is called μυθόπλοκος “mythos-plaiter” and encompasses this speech-plaiting identity into his sphere of activity. Aphrodite, being the female deity and dominant divine figure in Sappho’s poetry, shall assert an equivalent, or even superior, trademark from scratch through the first epithet in the first verse of the first poem of the corpus. Ultimately, it could not be any other way!
A similar term to μυθόπλοκος found in the Sapphic verses is the incomplete word v. 4: μυθολογη̣[ (most probably derived from LSJ s.v. μυθολογέω, tell mythic tales) along with two more verbal indications (v.2: <ἐ>ννέπην[, v.3: γλῶσσα in fr. 18 V (now augmented in The Newest Sappho). Peponi’s definition of the “lyric mythopoetics” phenomenon is quite elucidating; narratives oscillating between reality and fiction, may spotlight different figures, especially those of Sappho’s family in her poetry, within the framework of the lyric hic et nunc, by allowing a double-reception-register of her own mythopoetic practices. [39] In spite of the lack of a complete corpus, the story-telling dimension and the common presence of Aphrodite in the different kinds of narratives construct a ubiquitous and quintessential lyric character, who shows many and variant traits in the diverse contexts in which she is encountered. [40]
Sappho’s fragment quoted below, also shows some certain interest:

                                        ποικίλλεται μὲν
γαῖα πολυστέφανος

Sappho, 168 C V
“The many garlanded land is embroidered”
The history of this fragment in order to be integrated into Sappho’s corpus is quite long; Page stresses that γαῖα is a non-Lesbian form and cannot be ascribed to Sappho. [41] Bergk was the one who combined the fragments δολοπλόκου γὰρ Κυπρογενοῦς (ex Arist. Nicomachean Ethics, 1149b) and Hesychius (4654) Κυπρογενέος προπόλον· προαγωγόν. [42] Willamovitz attributed the first one to the Lesbian poetess, based on Demetrius De Εlocutione 164, who regularly cites Sappho for the χαρίεν and attached all three fragments because of the Sapphic adjective δολόπλοκος and the Iambelegos meter. [43] Voigt wonders whether the term γαῖα could stand as a forma epica, because of Alcaeus frr. 45,3 and 355, but excludes the other two verses from the corpus.
Nonetheless, Aphrodite’s association with Earth’s, in general, reproductive power is again attested in two tragic fragments, Aeschylus Danaids fr. 44 Radt and Euripides fr. 898 Kannicht. Furthermore, instead of the adjective ποικιλόθρονος, the verb of the same family is used to describe the ornamented-with-many-wreaths Earth, by adding to the flower-plaiting motifs. As for the epithet πολυστέφανος, in Agrigento there is an inscription on a small altar (IG XIV 262) dedicated to an unknown Πολυστεφάνῳ Σωτείρᾳ, but also a vase with the same epithet and a figure related to Aphrodite (SEG 34 959). [44] Empedocles, also, utilizes the same epithet for the deity Μεγιστώ in fr. 123 Diels & Kranz, whom Picot identifies with Aphrodite. [45] Perhaps, Willamovitz was right to weave together the ποικιλόθρονος Aphrodite and the many-wreathed, embroidered land.


Sappho, in her mainly erotic poetry, creates the dominant figure (or figures) of her intimate goddess, by attributing various traits to her and placing her in different kinds of narrative. As a result, Sappho has the opportunity to poetically construct her own version of Aphrodite, as Homer and Hesiod do, and depict her characteristics. The poetess may declare her own contribution to the formation of this lyrical character from the very beginning. Aphrodite is referred to as ποικιλόθρονος (1 V), because Sappho has the chance to artfully shape her multifaceted personality and “plait” the goddess’ blossoms through her artistry. This epithet could underscore the idea that Aphrodite, as portrayed in Sappho’s poetry, is not a static or one-dimensional goddess, but a dynamic, complex and liminal figure, who encompasses a wide range of experiences and emotions. In the end, Demetrius De Εlocutione 166 marks concerning Sappho and her poetry that καὶ ἅπαν καλὸν ὄνομα ἐνύφανται αὐτῆς τῇ ποιήσει (every beautiful word of hers is inwoven through her poetry). Apparently, so is her Aphrodite.


IG = Inscriptiones Graecae. 1873-. 12 vols. Berlin.
LSJ = Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones. 1996. A Greek-English Lexicon. Rev. ed. Ed. P. G. W. Glare. Oxford.
PMGF = Davies, M. 1991. Poetarum Melicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Oxford.
SEG = Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum. 1923-. Amsterdam & Leiden.


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[ back ] 1. This research was supported by grant from the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies (Harvard CHS) in Greece. I would like to profoundly thank the academic committee for the fellowship I was awarded and especially prof. Anna Lamari, who served as my advisor on this project. I would also like to express my gratitude to my PhD supervisor, prof. Athena Kavoulaki for her overall guidance and support. For Sappho’s texts I choose Voigt, E.-M. (1971). Sappho et Alcaeus. Fragmenta. Amsterdam: Polak & van Gennep. The translations are of my own, unless otherwise stated.
[ back ] 2. See Herodotus’ pivotal theological statement regarding Homer and Hesiod (The Histories, 2.53.2). Easterling (1985) 34-49 on the Ancient Greek Poetry and Religion and their interrelation. Gagné (2015) 83-96 for the literary evidence—Poetry and the necessity to connect the ancient Greek religion with the nexus of the poetic texts, through the hermeneutic analysis. Eidinow et al. (2016) 30 “In the ancient Greek world, the religions of poetry and philosophy conversed with popular religious beliefs and practices”. Pironti and Bonnet (2017) 8 “la poésie épique représente un passage obligé pour quiconque s’interroge sur l’imaginaire religieux et, plus généralement, sur la culture de la Grèce antique”. Graf (2022) xiii-xviii (Preface) on Pirenne-Delforge et al., (2022) methodological approach of their book The Hera of Zeus with regard to Homer and Hesiod’s gods and their influence to the local systems.
[ back ] 3. See e.g., Romer (2020) 183-208.
[ back ] 4. Nagy (1990) 17-116. Nagy (1974) 49-149.
[ back ] 5. Gentili (1988) 216-222 considers Sappho as Aphrodite’s ministrant because of Alcaeus 384 V fragment and, in particular, the epithet ἄγνα (sacred). See Robbins (2013) 123-141 for the argumentation on Sappho’s Kreis (=Circle) regarding the cultic connection with Aphrodite and evaluations of prior scholarship. Power (2010) chapter 9.i. on Sappho’s familiarity with not only the Ionic, but also the older Aeolic-Lesbian epic tradition (also Nagy (1974) 118-139 and West (1973) 191).
[ back ] 6. To focus on Sappho’s cultic poetry with regard to Aphrodite and Sappho’s religious interrelation, is not the point, though. To clarify, an attempt to understand Sappho’s poetry through the lens of Aphrodite’s worship on ancient Lesbos may be vain, if Sappho’s contribution to the articulation of Aphrodite’s personage and qualities is not acknowledged.
[ back ] 7. Versnel (2011) 23-149 on dealing with the complications of polytheism. Eidinow et al. (2016) 1-11 about the Theologies and the multitude of the Ancient Greek Religion. The interesting case of Dionysus πολυώνυμος and his multifacetedness expressed through this epithet in Bierl (2018) 233-234. Regarding Aphrodite see Friedrich (1978) 146–148 who argues that the complexity of Aphrodite’s historic and prehistoric origins draws the cyber-net of her quantum of liminality, by establishing her as the most liminal divinity, who presides over the most liminal behaviors and emotions.
[ back ] 8. I will examine this epithet in a separate section.
[ back ] 9. On Aphrodite and Sappho see Page (1955) 126-128. Swift (2021) 203-216 on the gods in Sappho, and especially Aphrodite, whose protégée and favorite seems to be Sappho herself. She (Swift [2021] 203) also cites the fragments in which Aphrodite appears “Aphrodite is mentioned by name (or a known cult title) in fr. 1, 2, 5, 15, 22, 33, 65, 73(a), 86, 90, 96, 102, 112, 133, 134, 140(a), and the new ‘Cypris Poem’. It is almost certain that she is mentioned (though her name does not survive) in fr. 35, 44, 101, 159, and there is a good case for her presence in fr. 16, 40, 58, 103”.
[ back ] 10. This relationship does not necessarily imply an autobiographical or personal reading of Sappho’s verses, only her personal poetic approach. See Lardinois (2021) 163-174.
[ back ] 11. Barilier (1972) 38.
[ back ] 12. Barilier (1972) 51.
[ back ] 13. Martyn (1990) 201-212.
[ back ] 14. For example, Aphrodite’s martial persona is absent in the epic poetry of Homer, Hesiod or the Homeric Hymns. Budin (2003) 28 points out that Aphrodite is a non-martial persona in the Iliad. She (Budin [2010] 79-112) argues that the goddess’ martial identity is later in time (Hellenistic and mainly Roman), except for the Spartan Areia Aphrodite. However, see Pironti (2007) 209-277 chapter on “Aphrodite, Arès et le monde de la guerre”, and especially the first part of it, related to their interaction in the Iliad, in which chapter she stresses Aphrodite’s interaction with Ares and the realm of warfare, the eros & eris mixture. Apropos to this dimension, see also Avagiannou (2020) 107-135.
[ back ] 15. See e.g., Cyrino (1995) 133-164.
[ back ] 16. Stanley (1976) 311-312 on the warlike Aphrodite in her chariot. On Aphrodite armata as “dea bellicosa” see Loscalzo (2011) 65-69.
[ back ] 17. Obbink’s (2020) edition of the text and his own translation of the Kypris Song draw a close resemblance with 1 V. Despite the fact that the choices he makes project a result close to Sappho’s first Ode to Aphrodite, I will adhere to the certain points of this text, i.e., the love-sickness and the prayer to the goddess. See Boehringer and Calame (2016) 356 on the ‘love-vertigo’. See Schlesier (2016) 377-391 on the older Obbink, West and Ferrari’s versions of the Kypris Song.
[ back ] 18. On Sappho’s rhetorical prayer to Aphrodite see Thomas (1999) 3-9. In 133 V Sappho indicates that she expects a response from the goddess who is equally favorable, much like the situation Andromeda finds herself in.
[ back ] 19. See e.g., Page (1955) 45-51. Lidov (2002) 203-237 on the improbability of the Doricha-Rhodopis story reconstruction from Herodotus’ tale in Sappho’s poems. On Sappho’s iambos in the Brothers Song see Martin (2016) 118-125.
[ back ] 20. See e.g., McEvilley (1972) 323-333 and Ladianou (2016) 350-351 on the Florentine ostracon poem. Fr. 40 V may also describe a ritual act dedicated to the goddess.
[ back ] 21. See relatively Putnam (1960) 82-83 and note 3.
[ back ] 22. Sim. Alcman 55 PMGF, Aechylus fr. 402a Radt, and Catullus 64.96, Horace Carm. 1.30 explicitly referring to Aphrodite.
[ back ] 23. Kurke (2021) 96-97. Kurke (2021) 93 states that “Sappho participates in the genre system of archaic Greek poetry, but also stands aloof from it – hovering, as it were, on the threshold of genre”.
[ back ] 24. Tsantsanoglou (2020) 203-227.
[ back ] 25. Spelman (2017) 743 and note 6.
[ back ] 26. On Sappho’s epithalamia see Page (1955) 119-126 and Faraone (2020) 318-327. See also Himerius’ (9.4) description of the nuptial preparation of the chamber and Sappho’s singing of Aphrodite’s rites.
[ back ] 27. E.g., Margulies (2020) 485-498 about the grieving women in the Homeric epics and Aphrodite’s lament for Adonis and Reitzammer (2016) on the Athenian Adonia.
[ back ] 28. Tzamali (1996) 465-466. On Aphrodite and her titles in Sappho, see Schlesier (2016) 369-376.
[ back ] 29. In Alcaeus’ fragments we encounter the same adjective in fr. 35 V (indistinctly) and the compounds ποικ[ι]λόφρων in a prayer to Zeus (69 V, 7) and ποικιλόδειροι ὄρνιθες in 345 V.
[ back ] 30. See LSJ s.v. θρόνον and the second meaning of the noun as “herbs used as drugs and charms” in later texts. Wustmann (1868) 238 was the first one to propose a different meaning of the epithet “nicht die buntthrononde bedeutet sondern gernau dasselbe ist wie die Antheia”. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1913) 44 rejects the ποικίλα θρόνα case regarding Aphrodite and Sappho’s case. Page (1955) 4-5 on the throned goddess in heaven. Risch (1972). See also Burkert (trans. Raffan, 1985) 45 on the pre-historic use of the throne as an emblem, in “bearing the throne around” festival in Pylos). Lawler (1948) 80-85 argues that the θρόνα could be, to some extent, equivalent to the δαίδαλα, in terms of “figures on garments”. Aphrodite wears a sacred peplos in many contexts (see relatively Lawler [1948] 82). Bolling (1958) 275-82 supports Lawler’s conjecture. Putnam (1960) 79-83 suggests that the love charms in the forms of flowers are actually embroidered on Aphrodite’s robe, in Sappho’s effort to beguile the goddess. See also Privitera (1967) 11-15 on ποικίλος and δαιδάλεος θρόνος. Bonanno (1997) 53-55 on the interchangeable ποικίλος and δαιδάλεος adjectives for κλισμός in Homer. Scheid & Svenbro (trans. Volk, 1996) 53-82 on the Aphrodite’s floral garments. Chernysheva (2017) 231-233 on the embroidered flowers and further to Aphrodite’s charms. See Plato Rep. 8. 557c on a flower-woven garment and a dedicatory epigram to ποικιλομήχανον Eros in Athens (Epigr. Anthologia Palatina 31: Ποικιλομήχαν’ Ἔρως, σοὶ τόνδ’ ἱδρύσατο βωμὸν / Χάρμος ἐπὶ σκιεροῖς τέρμασι γυμνασίου).
[ back ] 31. See Arist. Pol. 1253b34-1254a1 for the collocation of the weaving and the musical activity (οὕτως αἱ κερκίδες ἐκέρκιζον αὐταὶ καὶ τὰ πλῆκτρα ἐκιθάριζεν). In Pindar and Bacchylides we encounter many cases of speech-weaving, such as Pind. Ol. 1.29, Pind. Ol. 6.86-87, Pind. Nem. 4.14-16, 44 and 94, Pind. Pyth. 12.8, Pind. Pae. 3.12, Pind. fr. 179—with the ἄνδημα meaning metaphorically ὕμνος, according to the Scholiast (Schol. Pind. Nem. 7.116)— Pind. fr. 194.2-3; Bacch. 1, 4?, 19, 8. See relatively Svenbro (1976) 191-192. See Fanfani (2017) 421-436 and especially the second part of his chapter (pp. 430-434), in which he investigates the textile imagery in the poetry-making activity with the cases of the ποικιλ- and δαιδαλ- terms, though he argues that this motif is apparent “in a rather genre specific way,” meaning the Dorian choral lyric. LeVen (2013) 229-239 on the ποικίλος / ποικιλία terms, integrating multisensory and syn-aesthetical aspects in the archaic and early classical period. LeVen (2014) 101-105: “poikilia (variegatedness, complexity) is a second critical term provided for their critics by the New Musicians in the self-fashioning of their reception.” See also amongst his many references on this topic e.g., Nagy (2002) 92 “I draw attention to the metaphor of poikilia ‘pattern-weaving’, which establishes a parallelism between poetry and fabric-work as prime media of mythmaking.” See Detienne & Vernant (1974) 32-57 for ποικιλία connected to μῆτις; Harriott (1969) 92-104 on “Poetry as a Craft” and p. 97 for the terms ποικίλος and στρογγυλός, which are supposed to express “the perfection of the finished work;” Scheid & Svenbro (1996) 111-130 on language weaving and pre-history of the Latin textum; Snyder (1981) 193-196.
[ back ] 32. Brockliss (2019), who argues that the concepts of flowers, ποικίλον and deception are interconnected with each other.
[ back ] 33. Aristophanes Thesm. 400-401: ὥστ᾽ ἐάνπερ τις πλέκῃ / γυνὴ στέφανον, ἐρᾶν δοκεῖ and the scholia a & b: (πλέκῃ … στέφανον) νεωτέρων καὶ ἐρωτικῶν τὸ στεφανηπλοκεῖν & πρὸς τὸ ἔθος, ὅτι ἐστεφανηπλόκουν αἱ παλαιαί. Σαπφώ.
[ back ] 34. West (2007) 37.
[ back ] 35. Peponi (1997) 139-165.
[ back ] 36. In the Iliad (Book 3, 406) a similar epithet is attributed to the goddess, i.e., δολοφρονέουσα.
[ back ] 37. Bergren (2008) 15-20 and p. 16 “in Greek culture, where women lack citizenship, where men play all the parts in drama, and from which no poetry by women remains except for the lyrics of Sappho and fragments of a few others, the woman’s web would seem to be a “metaphorical speech,” a silent substitute for (her lack of) verbal art. But this is not a complete picture, for in Greek the utterance of poetry or prophecy is described as “weaving.”. Lee (2005) 62-63 (briefly) on the negative connotation of the feminine metis, but also the putting of women’s labor into the service of the community for religious purposes. On textile dedications to female deities see Neils (2009) 135-147. In an inscription from Egypt and Nubia of the 4th century AD (SEG 24. 1197) we encounter Aphrodite weaving a lovely peplos.
[ back ] 38. See significantly Larsson Lovén (2013) 135-151.
[ back ] 39. Peponi (2016) 225-237 emphasizes the mythopoetics of the domestic and Sappho’s discourses about her brothers Charaxus and Larichus in the Brothers Song.
[ back ] 40. Fanfani & Harlizius-Klück (2016) 90: as for the textile-like devices in poetry, “different patterns and narrative motifs throughout the rhapsodies performed by the competing singers” are developed.
[ back ] 41. Page (1955) 6.
[ back ] 42. Bergk (1882) 729 fr. 129.
[ back ] 43. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1913) 46 and note 2.
[ back ] 44. Pleket & Stroud (1987). I do not argue that the Πολυστέφανος is necessarily Aphrodite herself, only that she could be related to this kind of the “fertility” context.
[ back ] 45. Picot (2012) 49.