Through the Looking Glass: The Different Perceptions of Love and Companionship Companionship and love, although both present in Sappho and the Epic of Gilgamesh, had differing views encased in opposite ends of the spectrum demonstrations of love. The materialism and emotions revealed within the texts, illuminates the view of rationality and irrationality of love. If we consider how the gods attributed to this view, the problems of accuracy in the portrayal of love can be resolved. The Epic of Gilgamesh illuminates how cold and rigid of an incorrect view Ishtar has on love in contrast to Sappho’s more accurate view.
This can be seen through how love was received and demonstrated within the text itself. Within this paper, in order to make the argument that Sappho had a more accurate portrayal of love, there will be four parts excluding the standard introduction and conclusion. These parts will consist of three main points and a counterargument. Each main point has a body paragraph that will argue the point with sufficient evidence. The counterargument will be made up of two paragraphs where one will address a counterargument, and the second will prove why the objection is incorrect.
In the conclusion, all three points will be tied together to show why Sappho’s perception and portrayal of love is most accurate. Considering that in Sappho, marriage was portrayed as a gift blessed by Aphrodite, one can come to the conclusion that Sappho’s emotional view gives marriage a certain dynamic that depicts what love and companionship should entail. In comparison to Sappho’s view, Ishtar represents companionship as an expendable business deal that she owns. The negative connotation given by Ishtar’s association with love proves that Sappho’s positive connotation with love is therefore correct.
When looking at Fragment 30 in Sappho, the wedding is described as a gift and the bride, an honor. “Now the wedding you asked for is over and your wife is the girl you asked for… ” (Bernard30). This quote directly demonstrates th monstrates that the groom desired this marriage with not only the ceremony but with the woman he was matched with. By adding a blessing by a goddess, “Aphrodite has surely outdone herself in doing honor to you! “, the marriage itself can be viewed as pious. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ishtar immediately tries to show ownership of Gilgamesh by calling him her “… bridegroom… (10). This immediately sets up the relationship with having an unequal power balance, which is not how marriage should be. After Ishtar has finished her sales pitch on love, Gilgamesh automatically brings up her past lovers, implying that the same could happen to him as well as proving that she sees her companions as expendable.
The main point that Gilgamesh brings up is that this form of expendability is not okay, and this is not the proper way to show love. After she was through with her lover who was a shepherd, she “… turned him into a wolf… “(10). Another one of her lovers was turned into “… blind mole deep in the earth… “(10). With Ishtar’s lovers ending in demise after interacting with her, it is clear that she is not showing love correctly. Given these examples, one can see how different love is treated within each text, with Ishtar’s love containing deceit and punishment, where as Sappho’s love contained honor and blessings. On the basis of moral standing, Sappho’s love was associated with pureness and genuine honesty, where as Ishtar’s love included deceit and abandonment.
This contrast of moral standing allows the reader to see the negativity associated with Ishtar and her erception of love. In Fragment 6 of Sappho, she compares love’s embrace to that of the sun. This comparison reveals her love as soft, warm, and bright, as well as virtuous. “I believe Love has his share in the Sun’s brilliance and virtue”(Bernard6). Here, Sappho is not only firmly stating that this is her belief(shaped by her experience with love), but also explaining how good and pious love can be. Also, this goodness and piousness can be felt, which is something that Ishtar is lacking in when attempting to bargain with Gilgamesh.
Initially, in Fragment 6, Sappho uses the word “caress” when referring to love. The word itself has a soft and meaningful connotation, which heavily contrasts with Ishtar’s punishment towards her lovers that was previously mentioned. In another one of Sappho’s descriptions of her experiences with love, she explains that although lovely, love is incredibly powerful: “… soft as she is she has almost killed me with love for that boy”(Bernard12). Sappho’s description is not only personal, but holds real, accurate emotion.
One of the main questions that Gilgamesh asks of Ishtar is “‘Which of your lovers did you ever love forever? ”(10). This question brings to light how odd Ishtar’s love life is. The word lover implies love, which Ishtar so easily abandons and crushes. When speaking of one of her lovers, Gilgamesh describes what she did as loving him, “… but still you[she] struck and broke his wing… “(10). This demonstrates that although Ishtar can love, her version of love includes betrayal and abandonment. Lastly, he asks, “… should not be served in the same fashion as all these others whom you loved once? “(10).
This validates that how Ishtar is showing love is incorrect, because even Gilgamesh can see the flaws within it, considering that he knows his fate will be the same as her previous lover, even though she makes these grand promises. The respect given towards each goddess differs greatly between texts. When Sappho speaks with Aphrodite, she is very respectful and uses flattery. Where as when Gilgamesh is interacting with Ishtar, he is incredibly disrespectful. The differing levels of respect are determined upon the actions that the goddesses have made and how they treated “love”.
With Ishtar being incredibly flippant and overtly rational, this destructive outlook allows the reader to see her attitude as incorrect when juxtaposed to Sappho’s outlook. In Fragment 38, when summoning Aphrodite, Sappho flatters her by calling her a “snare-knitter”, which is essentially commending her at her work. Further down in the fragment, Sappho tells her to “come now! “. These two instances prove at least two things, that Sappho respects Aphrodite and also that she needs her help. This respect is due to how well Aphrodite has helped and taught Sappho in the past, and therefore justified.
She has helped Sappho, and many others (such as the previously mentioned honored groom) and is consequently capable of showing love properly. Sappho’s respect for Aphrodite is the polar opposite of how Gilgamesh speaks with Ishtar. This is due to Ishtar’s experiences with her lovers and her mistreatment of love. An insult that Gilgamesh uses to describe Ishtar is “… a castle which crushes the garrison”. This insult can be seen as Gilgamesh telling her that not only is she destructive around those she should protect (who will in turn protect her).
I also see it as a metaphor relating to the fact that although she is the goddess of love, she cannot show love properly, therefore injuring those she should love. This lack of respect, while warranted, is due to the fact that Ishtar goes against what love should be. It is possible that one may object to evidence used in point three, a point that includes the evaluation of the respect given towards these goddesses. The rejected evidence can come from Fragment 38 where Aphrodite is called a “snare-knitter”.
The quote can be interpreted as Sappho insulting Aphrodite and calling her a deceitful, entrapping woman. Invalidating this piece of evidence could allow for both Ishtar and Aphrodite to be seen as deceiving, therefore eliminating the initial contrast given. The initial contrast given was due to the lack of respect and insults Ishtar received, and the constant respect and admiration Aphrodite received. The reason that this objection is invalid is due to looking at the evidence within context of the text. When Sappho called Aphrodite a snare-knitter, she was praising her for her work.
Part of Aphrodite’s job as a goddess of love is to trick people at times and be somewhat deceitful. This can be considered similar to what Ishtar does, but in fact it isn’t even close. Although Aphrodite can capture people and emotions, she is known for love, where as Ishtar is known for her many lovers that all meet undesirable fates. When Sappho is commending Aphrodite’s work, it is an incredibly objective and honest claim, which is once again still different than how Ishtar behaves. Lastly, Sappho nor Aphrodite make no attempt to hide her traits that would not be considering completely moral.
Where as if you look at page ten in the Epic of Gilgamesh, when Ishtar is called out for her moral failings she becomes full of rage and has the desire for revenge. “My father, Gilgamesh has heaped insults on me… give me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh”. Ishtar’s anger towards Gilgamesh for speaking about her wrongdoings, explains how Ishtar wishes to deceive those of her true behavior while Aphrodite does not make any efforts to conceal. Ultimately, it is apparent that Ishtar’s portrayal of love is inaccurate, thus illuminating the accuracy of Sappho’s portrayal of love within the texts Sappho and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
This is due to the representation of marriage, the morality of the love and actions associated with it that took place, and the reverence placed on each goddess. While it has been proven that Sappho had a more accurate depiction of love in comparison to Ishtar and Gilgamesh’s perception of love, it is clear that as Sappho goes through life she becomes jaded, lonely, and unhappy, to the point of wishing for her death and speaking of harsh emotional pain (Fragment 61, 64 and 97). On the basis of this assumption, what can be said about love or lack thereof and its ability to drain you emotionality and shift your mentality towards life?