This poem is an example of lyrical poetry like the others written by Sappho. The poet is Sappho and the poem was composed around the second century. Lyrical poetry is restrictive in its defining characteristics in terms of the use of clear language and thoughts which are deemed simple coupled with sharply drawn images ((Sappho & Barnstone, P. 11). The word play involved in the poem is also an outstanding characteristic of lyrical poetry. In the second stanza, she writes, “…for she who surpasses all human kind in beauty, Helen, abandoned her husband – that best of.” finally, Sappho’s poem (lyrical poetry) points out to the love of self and subjectivity of the world and individual goals.
Sappho uses a straightforwardly descriptive language in her poem to capture her audience. It is clear from the poem Fragment 16, that she likens beauty with that which a person loves. In her analogy, Hellen of Troy was the most beautiful a goddess in the Greek mythology, yet Hellen left her children and husband for Paris. To Hellen, Paris was her love and she chose to be with him regardless of the war that emerged thereof between Sparta and Troy. Sappho uses a somber tone, she expresses the loss of her love Anactoria. Sappho would rather see the lovely steps of Anactoria coupled with the sparkling glance as opposed to chariots and the troops in Lydia. In the last stanza, she says;
She’s not here, and I’d rather see her lovely
Step, her sparkling glance and her face than
All troops in Lydia in their chariots and
Fragment 16 by Sappho brings out the subjectivity of human nature and love itself. Simply put, Sappho considers beauty to be pegged on that which a person loves. Neither thronging cavalry nor, foot soldiers are the most beautiful but what a person loves the most. In her time, Sappho was considered gay because of her open confession for her admiration of women. The admiration in a way reflected intimacy which was considered a taboo at her time. Her objectivity and justification for her point of view in regard to love in this poem is brought out by two points: Hellen of Troy with all her beauty leaving her child and loving parents for Paris and her admiration and love for Anactoria which surpasses chariots and Lydian troops. Sappho is passionate about her confession of her love for Anactoria. She says: “I’d rather seeher lovely Step, her sparkling glance and her face (stanza 5).”
The main theme of the poem is the theme of love. This is because Sappho openly states that love is beautiful and anything that is loved by anyone is considered beautiful, therefore, beauty is subjective because of love. The two forms of archaic expression were pottery and sculpture. The Archaic period market the period which brought massive changes in Greece including politics, war, colonization and economics. Most clear in the poem is the war that erupted between Sparta and Troy because of the beautiful Hellen. The war brought about the end of Troy mostly remembered by the phrase Trojan horse. That marked the transformation in leadership. Most politicians in Greece had their images sculptured.
I like the poem because it gives an objective reason behind considering something as being beautiful. Therefore, this simply means that before something or someone is regarded as beautiful, there must be some admiration or a degree of love. I however, do not admire Sappho’s homosexuality, though it is individual freedom but I hold the thoughts of the ancient Greece regarding such a condition as a taboo (Sappho & Barnstone, P. 33).
Sappho, and Willis Barnstone. The Complete Poems of Sappho. Boston: Shambhala, 2009. Internet resource.