Beauty in Bloom

Topics: Flowers

Not much is known of Sappho, the poetess, other than what is written in her poetry. If there was a way we could find out more about her from her writing, we would be able to decipher if she was mentioning herself in her work or using first-personal descriptions of other women throughout her period. We can conclude her state of society based on what she wrote. Throughout different themes that present themselves in her poems, it is easy to know that in a male-dominated Greek society, she chose to write about women.

In her work, which was to some was considered ‘erotic’ poetry, she brings to light women of ancient Greek society and their beauty. In particular, she uses flower imagery to symbolize females in her poems, she connects them to different goddesses to show positive female associations. Sappho illustrates highly valued qualities in young women throughout ancient Greece and paints a picture of their roles in Greek society as being beautiful and pure.

Sappho mentions young women that are mortal and divine throughout various times in her poetry. Sappho’s work was written in a lyrical style, meaning to be sung, so her examples are in favor of that. She used internal feelings (emotions) as she provided a glimpse into a contemporary way of life, which Greeks held to a high standard. Among her admiration for gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, it is clear that Sappho reverenced Aphrodite. The Temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, which is surrounded by “apple branches” shadowed with roses and covered in “deep flowers”, gives symbolism of Aphrodite’s purity to which flowers bloom around her shrine.

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(LP 2). Flowers are considered a symbol of purity which is sometimes linked to goddesses as signs of highly valued qualities. For example, Sappho mentions minor goddesses such as Graces as well as in several of her fragments, connecting their divine beauty with floral motifs. She describes Graces, caterers of Aphrodite, as “pure…with arms like roses,” linking the purity of graces to roses via their beautiful arms (LP 58). Sappho often mentions flowers in her description of young children. She mentions a daughter, Kleis, who she describes as “a beautiful little girl: the golden flowers are no match for her loveliness” (LP 132). By comparing her child to an image of golden flowers, Sappho emphasizes a daughter’s beauty over anything else. Flowers can signify not just the innocence of a child, but the beauty of marriage, which is the main theme in Sappho’s poetry.

Sappho also uses flowers as a metaphor for young women, which makes repeated connections between valued qualities and the imagery of flowers. Connections between flowers and positive attributes in immortals indicate values of ancient Greece society, as does Sappho’s description of mortal women in her poems. A direct connection between divine and mortal, are symbols of ‘violets’ which show up in her poems describing beautiful weddings. Sappho mentions violets countless times due to their connotations as a symbol connecting a bride to a goddess. For instance, Sappho tells an unknown man, “maidens…all night keeping vigil…make a song someday of your love and your violet lapped bride” (LP 30). Young girls picking flowers is an act of purity as Sappho writes, “a tender girl picking flowers” (LP 122). “Tender” is signifying a young girl gathering flowers. Sappho uses comparisons to ‘delicate’ flowers and a child to show the purity and innocence of being young.

While Sappho lived in a male-dominated society in ancient Greece, she focused her writing on the beauty of women, mortal and immortal. In her poems, Sappho would use metaphors and imagery to depict these women. Though her work has been described as ‘erotic’, Sappho paints a picture of her society in that period. Sappho’s poetry, which includes countless flower metaphors she links to women, allows her readers a window into the values of contemporary Greek culture in which she had lived. Although we can not make presumptions about Greek society based on her fragments of poems, we see a glimpse of what her culture was like through her work.

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Beauty in Bloom. (2022, Jun 22). Retrieved from

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