Sappho: Poems and Fragments

Sappho: Poems and Fragments Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

Sappho's fragments are written in the first person. The speaker is sometimes unidentified and sometimes named as Sappho herself. Occasionally, Sappho wrote in the first-person plural, perhaps in poems meant to be performed by a group.

Form and Meter

Sapphic stanzas composed of two hendecasyllabic lines and a third longer line with an additional five syllables. Occasionally Homeric epic verse.

Metaphors and Similes

"Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind"
In "Fragment 1," Sappho uses metaphor to compare Aphrodite's mind to an ornamented object to comment on the goddess's cunning nature.

"like to gods"
In "Fragment 44," Sappho repeatedly uses this phrase to compare first the people of Troy, and then Hektor and Andromache, to gods.

"]knees do not carry/ ]like fawns"
In "Fragment 58," Sappho compares her shaking knees to those of a newborn fawn to describe the weakness of old age.

"you like a goddess"
In "Fragment 96" Sappho compares her companion Atthis to a goddess.

"But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women/as sometimes at sunset/the rosyfingered moon/surpasses all the stars"
Much of "Fragment 96" is an extended simile between Atthis's lover and the moon. The simile is used to illustrate the way this beloved woman stands out from the women around her so that it is impossible to look anywhere but at her.

"The rosyfingered moon"
A metaphor within a simile, this phrase from "Fragment 96" compares the moon's light stretching over the earth to a hand reaching out.

Alliteration and Assonance

"and listening left your father's"
Repetition of "l" sounds in "Fragment 1"

"where is your graceful grove"
Repetition of "g" sounds in "Fragment 2"

"I would rather see her lovely step/and the motion of light on her face/than chariots of Lydians..."
Repetition of "l" sounds in "Fragment 16"

"delicate Andromache on ships over the salt/sea..."
Repetition of "s" sounds in "Fragment 44"

"the brilliance and beauty of the sun"
Repetition of "b" sounds in "Fragment 58"

"you would let loose your longing"
Repetition of "l" sounds in "Fragment 94"

"as sometimes at sunset/the rosyfingered moon/surpasses all the stars. And her light/stretches over salt sea"
Repetition of "s" sounds in "Fragment 96"


In "Fragment 1," Sappho begs for Aphrodite to come and ease the pain of her heart. She does this by recalling all the other times when Aphrodite helped give her what she wanted "most of all." This is ironic, because clearly back then giving Sappho her greatest desire wasn't enough to satisfy her; it seems hard to imagine that the same isn't true now.


archaic Greek lyric, love poetry


"Fragment 44" is set in Troy. "Fragment 2" is set in a grove dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. Much of "Fragment 96" is set in the kingdom of Lydia. Where not specified, one can assume that the poems are set in Sappho's home of Lesbos.


Many of Sappho's fragments are melancholy, yet hopeful. Some are celebratory and a few, like "Fragment 1," somewhat ironic.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Usually the speaker is the protagonist.

Major Conflict

Between militarism and romance in "Fragment 16"
Between the speaker and aging in "Fragment 58"
Between the hopeful speaker and her despairing lover in "Fragment 94"


In "Fragment 1," the climax occurs in the fifth stanza when Aphrodite enters the poem and comes to Sappho's aid.
In "Fragment 2," the climax occurs when Aphrodite finally comes to the grove.
In "Fragment 16," the climax occurs when the speaker shifts from Helen's story to her own and reveals her own desire for Anaktoria.
In "Fragment 22" the climax occurs in line 14, when the speaker shifts from the past to the present tense and announces her own rejoicing.
In "Fragment 44," the climax occurs when Hektor and Andromache arrive in Troy.
In "Fragment 58," the climax begins in line 19, when the poet alludes to the myth of Dawn and Tithonus to prove that defeating aging is impossible.
In "Fragment 94," the climax occurs in the second to last stanza, when the speaker most confidently asserts the presence of her and her lover.
In "Fragment 96," the climax occurs in the sixth stanza, when the beautiful imagery of Atthis's beloved gives way to her continued longing for Atthis.


The first two stanzas of "Fragment 96" foreshadow the movement of the rest of the poem by referencing Atthis's departed lover and referring to her longing, dynamics which are fleshed out in the rest of the poem.


In "Fragment 16," the brevity and lightness of "Not for her children nor her dear parents/had she a thought" belies the severity of her abandonment. This choice allows the poem's focus to remain with Helen and the reasoning behind her choices, rather than their impact.


In "Fragment 44," Sappho alludes heavily to Homer by borrowing characters from the Iliad as well as adopting his lyrical style. She also alludes to Homer in "Fragment 16," which mentions Helen, another character from the Iliad, and in "Fragment 96," which borrows his adjective "rosyfingered."

Metonymy and Synecdoche

In "Fragment 1," "Sappho"'s heart stands in for her person.


In "Fragment 96," Sappho personifies the moon by referring to it with the pronoun "her" and describing it as stretching its light out over the sea.


"For she who overcame everyone/ in beauty (Helen)" ("Fragment 16")
By exaggerating Helen's beauty, the poem helps draw a connection between its beauty-oriented framework and Helen. She becomes the definition of beauty, which the poem values not because her beauty provokes desire, but because it makes her an expert in desiring beauty for herself.

"And all the elder women shouted aloud/and all the men cried out a lovely song" ("Fragment 44")
It seems unlikely that every Trojan cried out, but the speaker nevertheless repeats that they "all" joined in the song. This exaggeration adds to the celebratory mood that the poem centers around.


In the original Greek, "Fragment 55" uses the word "ekpepotamena," which refers to an exhaling of breath. The plosive consonants and open ending of the word echo that meaning.