Further thoughts on the singing of songs of Sappho, inspired by the collegial conversations and shared research that led to the earlier posts by Gregory Nagy and Andromache Karanika and to the more recent post by Ioanna Papadopoulou.
In the absence of Odysseus Penelope’s fate becomes unstable. Her weaving and unweaving the famous web is emblematic of this instability. Being at the same time a married woman and a numphē (young girl at the age of mariage), and refusing to solve this aporia, she invests weaving with its full metaphorical potential: Penelope rules over the destiny of Ithaca by “analysing” her web each night (alluesken histon). Thus the history of our own word for unraveling complexity—analysis—starts here, in the nocturnal textile activity of the “most powerful feminine mind among Greek women,” to use the Odyssean way of singling out Penelope’s outstanding intelligence.
Epigram 55 of Posidippus, a poet who flourished in the third century BCE, refers to the songs of Sappho. That is what I argued already in my postings for 2015.11.19 and 2015.12.03. This epigram, as we can see from those postings, is about a girl named Nikomakhe whose happy young life was sadly interrupted by a premature death. Nostalgically, the words of the epigram recall the happy times when this girl together with her girlfriends were singing the love songs of Sappho, sung one after another. In the present posting for 2016.01.07, I will argue that the poet pictures the singing of Sappho’s songs by these girls as a recurrent event that is simultaneous with their weaving at the loom.
Greg Nagy poses an exciting question about the time of female weaving, and, what is more, about song that accompanies the weaving—song that alleviates the monotony of labor but also transforms the sense of time. Is girls’ weaving something that begins with the light of dawn? In Sappho 102, weaving done by girls seems to be a setting for oaroi as ‘love songs’, and the interruption of such weaving is linked with falling in love and getting married. In Epigram 55 of Posidippus, this kind of setting is re-woven to portray the interruption of female work as signifying not only love and marriage but also death. Epigram 49 of Posidippus, like his Epigram 55 about Nikomakhe, presents the interrupted weaving of another girl, called Hegedike.