Contemporary feminist literature differs somewhat from classic feminine literature. In today’s world, women are handled equally to men, notwithstanding the reality that certain countries do perceive women differently. Regardless, the quality of their literature differs in terms of the complexity of the literature and the power offered to female protagonists. Various ancient female readings were spectacular since they were written by women in an era where women were virtually forbidden from doing or engaging in something. The main objective of this reading would be a detailed comparison of female ancient literature to contemporary literature.
Feminist views about sexuality and gender roles vary greatly, depending on both geography and age. For instance, most feminists believe that sex and gender are two separate fields that need to be explained and handled in a different manner. Mostly, this is due to the recurrent aspects of prescribed gender stereotypes that limit women to certain fields while giving the men freedom to pursue whatever field they want. This as a result has led a majority of feminists into declining their maternal roles, as most gender roles all revolve around maternity, as argued by Judith Butler (1988). Most feminists are not parents in the contemporary and the ancient society.
According to Sedgwick (1990) in the contemporary society, most feminists are homosexual, with the fact that men find them challenging, or as a result of their dying need to feel as the equals of men, which eventually turns them into lesbians by choice. Others might argue that feminism does not result in homosexuality, but rather that homosexuality leads to feminism. Each of these theories holds certain levels of ground, but all ancient feminist readings primarily focus on one key role, which is heterosexuality and the need for equity. The fact that women reproduce, does not make them inferior, but as most ancient feminists might argue, it actually makes them stronger.
Feminism is a major issue that has affected several societies and led to increased opportunities for women and girls all over the world. But most people might ask what the contribution of feminist literature is to the society. Arguably, feminist literature was the means and way through which the feminists would preach or reach their fellow women and empower them into searching for endless opportunities, equal rights and freedom awarded to the men in the society as well. Ancient feminist literature carries deep passion in it, and a great spite to the readers, thus not only empowering them, but also encouraging them to take action. Empowerment is highly theoretical, but these pieces of literature cultivated a rebellious and a stronger spite in the readers, who eventually fought for freedom, which has eventually been achieved.
Some feminists also argue different pertaining their main source of power. Some feminists believe that being sexual beings is the source of ultimate power over men, whereas others believe that being seen as sexual beings is primarily being objectified, which thus has led to the conclusion that the latter constitutes a majority of feminists. However, ancient feminism was mainly based on sexual power, and the aspect of beauty, which all men befall. For example in Sappho’s poem, the woman is characterized as the child of Zeus, who twists lures and whom the poet begs to break his heart. This is a source of power exhibited amongst ancient feminists, which is contrary to contemporary feminism.
Sappho is one of the greatest female authors. She was not only a writer but also equally a poet, whose poetry mainly nurtured feminism ever since ancient times, when Sappho was probably the only female poet in the industry. In the contemporary society, another difference between the nature of feminism in poetry and in literature also differs from ancient poetry since, in this case, feminism is a mere expression of freedom, whereas back then, feminism was met with severe consequences which included death. As such, feminists in the ancient society dealt and survived in much harsher conditions than those in the contemporary society. For instance, it is evidenced, that in Sappho’s piece, the knowledge she gave to other women might have had them killed, but she tells her readers, “I simply want to die, Weeping she left me, with many tears saying; Oh how bad things have turned between us, I swear against my will, I will leave you.” However, she empowers them telling them “Rejoice, Go and remember me. For you know we cherished you,” which is really empowering for readers who had already loved the character used in the poem.
Sappho, unlike most assumed feminists, was not outspoken as a feminist but rather as an empowering woman, who believed in equal rights for both men and women. In most of her pieces, she either related to the women individually, where women would assist other women in her lyrics and in cases where men and women would dwell and dine together, hence showing how equal they all are in times of happiness and insinuating, that this should be the case at all times. “And all the elder women shouted aloud, and all the men cried out a lovely song.” In this piece, she shows that men can take female roles, such as singing in a lovely voice, whereas the women can also assume and take over male roles, such as crying out in a loud voice.
The Greek poet, used fusion to unite all genders, but mostly concentrated on the women who were not well placed in the society. Additionally, the key consideration in this case was the argument that in most cases women have or display a certain level of brilliance that has not been acknowledged by men. Most of her works were women centered, with none of the works actually being based on men exclusively. Her approach was mild, so as not to shake up the social pillars back then, which were largely based on religion, which purposely placed the woman as the man’s subordinate, a fact that has not been that pleasant to most women, especially in today’s society.
Sappho is also respected as one of the few ancient sexuality literature authors. Her issues do not only revolve around sex, nor sexual roles, but also encompass the feelings that people from one sex feel. She also explained a number of things about sexuality in her works. Lyric is one of the most exceptional pieces that covers sexuality. Some authors, such as DuBois, refer to the lyric as the overall religion of sexuality in the contemporary world. Sappho’s features on sexuality are respected by not only European literature enthusiasts, but also by any individual that actually believes or reading ancient literature (DuBois, 1995, p. 132).
Regardless, Sappho’s poetry and literature not only revolves around the ordinary social contexts where the readers are all female, but rather covers a variety of spheres of lives. J. J. Winker (1990) argues that her poetry does not only shed light on an ancient Greek’s private sphere, but also covers the public sphere of people living in this age, hence titling it as the “double consciousness” of literature. Sappho’s pieces are thus regarded as exceptional for a variety of reasons, despite promoting early feminism, teaching of ancient sexuality and the Greek way of life, most of her works are relatable to the contemporary world. This thus shows that numerous strategies adopted by this author that show shat there is a great connection between the ancient life and the contemporary life, in both private and public spheres.
Sappho for instance not only covers issues that people deal with but rather concentrates on the key aspects of relationships between most people and their respective partners. One of the poems that has received a global acclamation to date is the Corpus, which is part of Sappho’s collection, which is a dialogue between the poet and another feminine character. In this piece, the power of lustful women has been highlighted showing that there are different sources of female power, in accordance with the argument presented by the esteemed author and poet, Sappho.
Her expression not only covers the various issues that are affecting the women but rather also concentrates on the key issues that affect men who are in love as well. However, Sappho is not a romantic as most people might assume, but she is rather a believer in love, but focuses most of her efforts on reality and the harsh outcomes of love. Her poems mostly refer to the desires of the inner being as compared to assessing the desires of the heart, which yearn for love. She focuses on pleasure, such as poems about dancing and happiness, as opposed to most romantic poets, whose main themes are the never-ending love stories and fantasies.
Her poems also navigate the family setting in which women are highlighted and the male roles are outlined. For instance, in most of her tales, she focuses on the man as the self-reliant governing head of the family, who despite how wrong he could be still makes decisions that must be followed by the rest of the household. The wife has been presented as a submissive being in most of Sappho’s pieces, who suffers in the domination of the man. Regardless, she does not express them in these exact words, but rather insinuates such, using her characters. Her feminist approach is rather less revealed as compared to the pieces of other feminist poets and literature authors.
As a person as well, her works reflect a social rebel, which was she was. Sappho defied most of the social settings and rules made by the society. Her feminist ways were expressive of her life, where she lived without a husband. Equally, she was not submissive to masculine authority, and neither does she not fall in the trick most women fall into, which is submission from love and lust. Unlike most women, her perspectives were relatively different. Her questioning of the society and her obsessive nature in trying to fit in a man’s world were her sure ways (DuBois, 1995, p. 145). Regardless, Sappho was not only expressing herself through literature alone, but through her personality as well.
Another feminism expressive means indicated in Sappho’s piece was the fictitious symbolic poetry whose key focus was not on the gods but rather on goddesses, and daughter of these goddesses. For instance, in Catillicus 63, Sappho explores the various goddesses in the society, paying more attention and detail to Pathisea and Attis, who were all feminine. In this accord, her focus was on showing women that if there existed strong goddesses in Greek mythology, what then limits the women to the male domination if some of the goddesses were stronger than some of the gods. According to Sappho’s insinuations, some of the gods and the goddesses were born by goddesses.
Sappho’s feminism was not a desirable aspect, but rather a trait that made her a social misfit. Her confession in Catillicus 63, shows that her cause was not taken by everyone as positively as she would have expected. She says “Shall I be a Meanad, a mere part of myself, a sexless man? Shall I haunt the cold, snow-clad regions, of greed Ida, Shall I pass my life under long columns of Phrygia?… Now I suffer for what I have done, now I regret it” (Skinner, 1990, p. 126). In this quote, it is evident that she has suffered from leading a life as different as per what everyone expects At times she sees herself as a sexless man, since her roles as a woman are not part of her anymore, and at other times, she sees herself getting question, passing her life under the columns of Phrygia, where judgment is passed.
As such, comparing her piece to current feminist literature works proves a great difference, in that her pursuing of feminism and fighting for equal rights for both men and women, was not a mere cause that made her different from everyone else but rather a major burden that she had to live with, as expressed in her poetry. Sappho’s piece for instance has not only shed light on how feminism was hard back then, but also shows the emotional torment that she suffered for trying to be different, and fighting for what she believed in. This is the key aspects that make ancient literature so interesting. It is not based on mere thoughtful experiences, but also encompasses passion and pain felt by the writers at the time.
Sappho was not the sole ancient author nor poet at the time, but she is remembered as the most famous of them all. Her works were extraordinary, and even appreciated by the greatest chauvinist men who appreciated good literature. Her poetry was equally not a mere passion as is the case for most literature poets and authors in the contemporary society, but similar to a journal of her expressive feelings and emotions inscribed in poetry, and in consequence, making it spectacular. Her emotions are felt by the reader, and her motives understood and even supported by whomever they reach. Her creativity is a craft, driven by passion, enthusiasm and a need for empowerment, and not a mere way to make money or follow as a career.
Ancient feminist pieces are relatively few, but those that existed were spectacular and moving to all readers. Most pieces of literature based in 20th century in feminism inspire women through the cultivation of a mild form of hatred towards men, whereas ancient literature is relatively different, moving women to empowerment through the narration of personal thoughts and experiences about the strength of women. Sappho was a spectacular poet and author, and her works will be cherished forever, just as she cherished lost women who did not know what to believe in. Her role was to inspire them to fight for what they believed, to choose the people they loved and wanted to spend their lives with, and to be treated as equals in all facets of society.
List of References
- Butler, J. 1988. Performative acts and gender constitution. Retrieved on December 5, 2013 from http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/PoMoSeminar/Readings/BtlrPerfActs.pdf
- Dubois, P., 2005, Sappho Is Burning. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago press.
- Sedgwick, E. K., 1990, Epistemology of the Closet. California: University of California Press.
- Skinner, M.B. 1990, ‘Ego mulier: The construction of male sexuality in Catullus 63’, Helios 20. 107-30.
- Winkler, John J, 1990, Double Consciousness in Sappho’s Lyrics. The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. London: Routledge, 216-36.