In the ancient times, history was written by the males who were considered to be more victorious than the females. However, females like Sappho and Sulpicia, broke this by expressing their feelings in a way that had not been accepted in the society, lyrical poetry. There are some similarities and differences between the two. They went against what was expected of them and expressed their feelings through poetry.
They were both courageous and determined to venture into the male dominated society where females were considered as an inferior gender. At the same time, there are several differences in their works. Sappho’s poetry was a bit deeper in context than that of Sulpicia. Sulpicia was somehow shallow in her work, but this could be attributed to her tender age. Women in their communities were meant to be seen other than being heard. They were regarded more as wives and less of equals (Holzberg 185). The two women were more outspoken than the rest and, therefore, influenced the themes of authors in the centuries that followed. Sappho, one of the most outspoken Greek female, influenced lyric poets in Rome in her poems about love and pain. Sappho was a bit vulnerable in her display about love and affection in which she broke the masculinity that dominated every genre. The Roman male authors took up this vulnerability and incorporated it in their writing. Sulpicia writing was a bit more feminine in which she was able to push boundaries. The influence these authors had, had more to do with their work than in the societies they were in. Sappho was a bit more influential because of her depth in writing about affection and loss than Sulpicia whose writing was more about her relationship with Cerinthus.
Most of Sulpicia’s work depicted love and pain with Cerinthus. She claimed that Cerinthus was not loyal and was not concerned when she was ailing (Sulpicia 5.1). She said that Cerinthus made a fool of her with a prostitute. She was again sticking with the theme of unfaithful love in which Cerinthus was ready to waste the love which was accorded to him by Sulpicia for a whore. Prostitution was illegal during Augustus time, and the very idea that Cerinthus was ready to compromise that and go to a whore rather than concentrate on the love that Sulpicia was according him, showed the nature of lyric poetry in contrast to the Roman culture. Lyrical poetry as it is, was in a way based with the then perception on what was illegal in Rome.
Sappho was a great influence in lyrical poetry. In contrast, Sulpicia was not as influential as Sappho. Sulpicia was a rich girl from Rome who started to write her poems from the prime age of fourteen. Her voice was feminine and this could be attributed to her age. It was passionate and dramatic in a way. Other than writing on a theme that had a deeper meaning, she is more contented with writing on how she hated her birthday away from Rome (Sulpicia 2.1). She also expressed joy now that she could spend her birthday in Rome than she was during her relationship (Sulpicia, 3.2). She had emotions written all over her poems as they were written in a stereotype teenage way.
Sappho was living in a society in which she was oppressed, a society which was highly dominated by the males. In her poems, she has stated that she had a husband and a daughter, yet she wrote poetry of love to a certain unknown lover. This shows how the women were oppressed. The lover may as well be female because Sappho regards her as a ‘she’. This in the modern world could mean she was a lesbian. Sappho’s family was in power; an implication that she had more privileges than most Greek females such as the right to write these poems freely. Women in Rome were allowed to own property, to divorce and have a little control over their lives. Sulpicia was also from a wealthy family and she had more privileges than an average Roman woman in those times. Her poems have a more traditional approach as a woman than Sappho’s poetry. Due to their high social status, both of them were not restricted by their female gender in the society.
Sappho gained fame from the intensity in which she wrote her poems other than from her gender. She changed the concept of the masculinity in politics and religion. She tied her poems deeply with the passion she had towards love. Additionally, she wrote from an intense feminine depth in which she made her desires known by making her poems vulnerable and feminine as love should be, not in the Roman masculine way (Hubbard 177-194). On the other hand, Sulpicia wrote poems that were in a way shallow and were not as influential in the ancient times. She was able to express her teenage thinking through the poems while taking the love emotion to its topmost peak. Both of Sappho’s themes of pain and love are used vastly. Sulpicia’s themes do not provide a great deal besides her emotional teenage hood. This made it simpler for her to be ignored both in the past and present times.
Sappho and Sulpicia changed lyrical poetry in different ways. There were both from different ancient eras but Sappho was from an earlier ancient time. This made Sappho to explore freely the theme of love and pain which men were afraid to write about. She made it her duty to delve into love in a more passionate way and she was not afraid to even use vivid description to express her feelings. The rawness that she used in her poems about being dead and alive at the same time, communicated to the authors that came later on how love was more of a theme that needed to be explored. The theme of being love-struck was used throughout her poems. This made the lyric Roman writers to incorporate her styles into their writing especially the themes. They abandoned the male approach and incorporated Sappho’s feminine tactic. They used this to describe how they loved and lost. Sulpicia on the other hand was more feminine. She just wrote about her love and betrayal by Cerinthus and his unfaithfulness. This made Sulpicia to be passed over as an author because her material was not as inspirational and did not have depth as in the case of Sappho. Women were greatly oppressed in the ancient times but the fact that these women wrote poems in depth to express their feelings shows that rules of gender could be broken.
Hubbard, T. K. “The invention of Sulpicia”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 100, No. 2 100 (2): (2004) 177-194.
Holzberg. N. “Four Poets and a Poetess or a Portrait of the Poet as a young man? Thoughts on Book 3 of the Corpus Tibullanium” The Classical Journal, Vol. 94. No. 2 94 (2): 169-191.
Sulpicia poem 2.1-5.1
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