Sappho Fragment 31

Sappho Fragment 31 Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of the man at the beginning of the poem?

    The man is the gateway into the poem because he is the first way that the speaker describes her way of seeing: "He seems to me equal to gods that man." Her description of him is outsized and exaggerated, but pales in comparison to the way she talks about the woman opposite to him; Sappho uses the speaker's outsize description of the man as a building block for the passionate desire that ends up being more central to the poem. The speaker never references the man again after the first two lines, and dismisses him as "whoever he is," which establishes that the central conflict of the poem is not one of jealousy, between the speaker and the man. Instead, she is willing to watch the man and the woman together, and to spend time in that status quo, and in her own transcendental experience of passion. Finally, the parallel between the first line of the poem, "He seems to me," and the climax, "I seem to me," suggests that the shift in the poem is not in social dynamics but in what the speaker chooses to see, and how she sees it.

  2. 2

    How does the speaker's relationship to her body change from the third to the fourth stanza?

    In the third stanza, the speaker's body begins to revolt, and she becomes unable to interact with the world as the various parts of her body stop working normally. They also become fragmented from one another, and exist as independent subjects. In "tongue breaks" or "in eyes no sight," tongue and eyes—rather than the speaker—are the grammatical subjects of the phrase. In fact, her first-person voice disappears completely from the stanza, suggesting that her body's fragmentation has left no room for herself. The fourth stanza parallels many of these dynamics, as the unruly parts of her body continue to control the speaker, and to exist as independent subjects. Yet in "cold sweat holds me and shaking grips me," the speaker is present in the first person as a grammatical object, and the body, as "cold sweat" and "shaking," interacts with her. It is possible for the speaker to be fragmented, but still exist.