Gender-Based Notions of Homoerotic Love: Sappho and Plato’s Symposium

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Gender-Based Notions of Homoerotic Love: Sappho and Plato’s Symposium

The poetry of Sappho, and the speeches in Plato’s Symposium both deal primarily with homoerotic love, although Sappho, one of the only female poets in Ancient Greece, speaks from the female perspective, while Plato’s work focuses on the nature of this love between men. There are several fundamental elements that are common to both perspectives, including similar ideals of youth and beauty, and the idea of desire as integral to both views on love. Despite these similarities, however, there is an important distinction, which can be understood in terms of Pausanias’ concepts of Common versus Celestial Love, where Sappho’s view represents
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Pausanias thus makes it clear that the relationship is also largely teacher/student; the convention stresses that an integral part of the arrangement is to increase goodness, in the lover, and knowledge, in the boyfriend.

In Sappho’s poetry we see elements of this “pursuer/pursued” relationship as well, however Sappho names no convention stipulating who must chase and who must be chased. The roles are apparently interchangeable, [“For if she runs, she’ll soon be chasing” (1(L-P) l. 21)], which suggests an overall sense of equality between female lovers, an equality which is absent in descriptions of male homoerotic love. Sappho describes the objects of pursuit (the subjects of her poetry) in purely physical terms, indicating this through language, as she describes their physical aspects [“your supple neck” (94 (L-P) l.17), and “the shining luster of her face” (16 (L-P) l. 18)], as well as the physical effect they (the pursued) have on her (the pursuer). For example, in fragment 31 (L-P) she addresses her subject: “For when I see you even a moment/ I cant speak any longer…/my eyes go dark, my ears/ are roaring…a trembling/ seizes all my body”(ll. 7-14). In contrast to Pausanias’ speech where the goal of male homoerotic love is moral satisfaction and the acquisition of knowledge, the goal, according to Sappho’ appears to be the
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