“Another view” is an occasional series of posts presenting the sites and areas we see on our travels through the eyes of writers. From the great ancient sources via travellers of recent centuries to contemporary literature, it aims to reveal different perspectives across space and time.

rome, capitoline sappho mytilini

A fictional Roman portrait of Sappho, found on Lesbos, her home island, and now on display in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

This series of posts is normally about travel and places, exploring how ancient or recent travellers saw places we see today on our tours. Today, I make it more elementary: if life is a voyage, so is emotion, as it arises from what we experience in life. Much of what we do and think is culturally determined and thus influenced by millennia of history, and maybe much is not. Emotions are not just cultural expressions – they also arise from human nature.

Perhaps the best example of this is Sappho, the legendary 7th century BC Greek poet. Sappho is distinguished by being highly respected by the ancient Greeks, by being female, and by discussions about the exact nature of her erotic leanings. Her work mostly survives in fragments quoted by others. This might be material for a future post: there is a vast amount of discussion of her life, of which we know next to nothing, but which appears to have been lived on the island or Lesbos, in Greek also known as Mytilini (Mytilene). Much has been written about her actual work, regarding linguistics, content, character, implications and so on. To the ancients and to us, Sappho is one of the most mysterious and most fascinating individuals of the ancient Greek world – and mostly so on the strength of her work or rather what remains of it. Her lines are scarce and often incomplete, but they are strong!

Future posts apart, as of now, I opt for a famous example of her work that demonstrates her subtle way of expressing emotion:

sappho pleaides quote

The Moon has set

and the Pleiades, it is mid-

night, time is passing,

and I sleep alone

Can anyone not identify with that 2,600-year-old lament? Have you never slept alone longing for not doing so? We’ll return to Sappho more analytically here at some point, but for now, consider her yearning, and to allay any of your longing, consider our expert-led tours in Greece, Italy and Turkey, which will put you in touch with much of ancient thought and achievement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *