'Anactoria' by Sappho

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Yes, Atthis, you may be sure

Even in Sardis
Anactoria will think often of us

of the life we shared here, when you seemed
the Goddess incarnate
to her and your singing pleased her best

Now among Lydian women she in her
turn stands first as the red-
fingered moon rising at sunset takes

precedence over stars around her;
her light spreads equally
on the salt sea and fields thick with bloom

Delicious dew pours down to freshen
roses, delicate thyme
and blossoming sweet clover; she wanders

aimlessly, thinking of gentle
Atthis, her heart hanging
heavy with longing in her little breast

She shouts aloud, Come! we know it;
thousand-eared night repeats that cry
across the sea shining between us

tr. Barnard

Editor 1 Interpretation

Anactoria: A Deep Dive into Sappho's Poetry

When it comes to ancient Greek poetry, one name that inevitably comes up is Sappho. And when it comes to Sappho's poetry, one poem that stands out is "Anactoria." If you're not familiar with it, don't worry. By the end of this literary criticism and interpretation, you'll have a deep understanding of this classic poem and what makes it so special.

Who Was Sappho?

Before we dive into "Anactoria," let's take a moment to talk about Sappho herself. Sappho was a Greek poet who lived on the island of Lesbos around 600 BC. She was known for her lyric poetry, which was often sung or performed with a musical accompaniment, and for her association with a group of women known as the "Lesbian circle."

Despite her fame during her lifetime, much of Sappho's work has been lost or destroyed over the centuries. Only fragments of her poetry have survived, and many of those are incomplete or damaged. However, even these fragments are enough to give us a glimpse into the world of ancient Greece and the mind of one of its most famous poets.

Anactoria: A Brief Summary

With that in mind, let's turn our attention to "Anactoria." This poem is one of Sappho's most famous fragments, and it's easy to see why. In just a few lines, Sappho manages to evoke a powerful sense of longing and desire.

Here's the poem in its entirety:

Some say an army of horsemen, some of footsoldiers, some of ships, is the fairest thing on the black earth, but I say it is whatever one loves.

It's easy to make this clear to everyone. For Helen, by far surpassing mortals in beauty, left the best of all husbands and sailed to Troy, mindful of neither her child nor her dear parents, but with one glimpse she was seduced by Aphrodite. For easily bent... and nimbly...[1]

At first glance, this poem seems simple enough. Sappho begins by acknowledging that different people find different things beautiful – some prefer horses, others prefer ships, and so on. But then she makes a bold statement: the fairest thing on earth is "whatever one loves."

From there, Sappho goes on to illustrate her point with an example. She mentions Helen of Troy, who famously left her husband and child behind to be with Paris. Sappho suggests that Helen was seduced by Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and that this seduction was so powerful that she was willing to abandon everything she held dear.

The poem ends abruptly, with several lines missing. But even in its incomplete state, "Anactoria" manages to convey a sense of intense longing and desire.

A Deeper Dive into "Anactoria"

So what exactly is it about "Anactoria" that makes it so powerful? Let's take a closer look.

First of all, it's worth noting that "Anactoria" is a love poem. Sappho is writing about desire, about the things that make one's heart race and one's breath catch in one's throat. And she's doing it in a way that's both universal and deeply personal.

When Sappho says that the fairest thing on earth is "whatever one loves," she's acknowledging that beauty is subjective. We all have different tastes and preferences when it comes to what we find attractive or desirable. But at the same time, she's suggesting that there's something universal about the experience of falling in love.

We've all felt that rush of excitement when we first set eyes on someone we're attracted to. We've all felt our hearts skip a beat when we're near them. And we've all felt that sense of longing and desire that Sappho captures so well in "Anactoria."

But Sappho isn't content to just talk about love in the abstract. She gives us a concrete example in the form of Helen of Troy. By mentioning Helen, Sappho is tapping into a well-known story from Greek mythology. And by suggesting that Helen was seduced by Aphrodite, she's adding a layer of complexity to the story.

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite was often associated with love and desire, but she was also a goddess of war and strife. By suggesting that Helen was seduced by Aphrodite, Sappho is implying that love can be a powerful and dangerous force. It can lead us to make choices that are not in our best interests, and it can even lead to conflict and war.

In this way, "Anactoria" is more than just a love poem. It's a meditation on the power of desire, on the ways in which it can shape our lives and our world. And it's a reminder that even the most beautiful things in life can have a dark side.


In conclusion, "Anactoria" is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of desire in just a few short lines. By acknowledging the subjective nature of beauty while also suggesting its universality, Sappho manages to tap into something that's both deeply personal and widely relatable.

And by using the story of Helen of Troy to illustrate her point, Sappho adds a layer of complexity and nuance to the poem. She reminds us that desire can be a powerful and dangerous force, capable of shaping our lives and even leading to conflict and war.

All in all, "Anactoria" is a masterpiece of ancient Greek poetry, and a testament to Sappho's skill as a lyric poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Anactoria: A Masterpiece of Love and Longing

Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess, is renowned for her lyrical poetry that captures the essence of love, desire, and longing. Among her many works, Poetry Anactoria stands out as a masterpiece of emotional depth and poetic beauty. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of Poetry Anactoria and uncover the reasons why it has endured as a timeless classic of world literature.

The Poem's Themes

At its core, Poetry Anactoria is a love poem that expresses the speaker's intense desire for her beloved Anactoria. The poem is imbued with a sense of longing, passion, and vulnerability that speaks to the universal human experience of love and desire. The speaker's emotions are raw and unfiltered, as she lays bare her heart and soul in her quest for love.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its depiction of female desire. Sappho's poetry is notable for its celebration of female sexuality and agency, and Poetry Anactoria is no exception. The speaker's desire for Anactoria is not passive or submissive but active and assertive. She is not content to simply admire Anactoria from afar but longs to be with her, to touch her, to feel her presence. This portrayal of female desire is revolutionary for its time and remains a powerful statement of female empowerment and liberation.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the transience of love and beauty. The speaker is acutely aware that her time with Anactoria is limited and that their love may not last forever. She laments the fleeting nature of beauty and the inevitability of loss, yet she also embraces the present moment and revels in the joy of being with her beloved. This bittersweet sense of impermanence gives the poem a poignant and melancholic tone that resonates with readers across the ages.

The Poem's Structure

Poetry Anactoria is a lyric poem that consists of three stanzas, each with a distinct structure and tone. The first stanza is a passionate declaration of love, as the speaker describes her desire for Anactoria in vivid and sensual language. The second stanza shifts to a more reflective tone, as the speaker contemplates the fleeting nature of love and beauty. The third stanza returns to the theme of desire, as the speaker expresses her longing for Anactoria and her fear of losing her.

The poem's structure is notable for its use of repetition and variation. The first and third stanzas both begin with the same phrase, "He seems to me equal to gods," which emphasizes the speaker's awe and reverence for Anactoria. The second stanza, by contrast, breaks this pattern and introduces a new theme, creating a sense of contrast and tension. The repetition of certain words and phrases, such as "longing" and "softly smiling," also creates a sense of musicality and rhythm that enhances the poem's emotional impact.

The Poem's Language

Sappho's poetry is renowned for its musicality and beauty, and Poetry Anactoria is no exception. The poem is filled with vivid and sensual imagery that captures the speaker's emotions and desires. The use of metaphor and simile is particularly striking, as the speaker compares Anactoria to a goddess, a star, and a flower. These comparisons elevate Anactoria to a divine status and emphasize the speaker's reverence and admiration for her.

The poem's language is also notable for its use of repetition and variation. The repetition of certain words and phrases, such as "longing" and "softly smiling," creates a sense of musicality and rhythm that enhances the poem's emotional impact. The variation of certain words, such as "equal" and "like," also creates a sense of contrast and tension that adds depth and complexity to the poem.


In conclusion, Poetry Anactoria is a masterpiece of love and longing that speaks to the universal human experience of desire and loss. The poem's themes of female desire, the transience of love and beauty, and the power of the present moment are as relevant today as they were in ancient Greece. The poem's structure and language are also notable for their musicality, beauty, and emotional impact. Poetry Anactoria is a timeless classic of world literature that continues to inspire and move readers across the ages.

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