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33 - How did Sappho’s Songs get into the Male Sympotic Repertoire? (2016)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2021

Ewen Bowie
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
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Summary

It is as a performer on the βάρβιτος (barbitos, a sort of lyre) – presumably accompanying the singing of her own songs – that Sappho is imagined by late sixth- and early fifth-century Attic vase painters, and was doubtless recognised by many Athenian sympotic users of these vases.1 The βάρβιτος (as was shown by Yatromanolakis) is closely associated with comastic activity, and painters and their patrons seem to imagine Sappho in a context where she can chase (or be chased by, or perhaps both) an attractive young woman,2 or can find herself propositioned by an Alcaeus whose bashful down-turned gaze is in some tension with his clearly displayed penis.3 It must be conceded that the most common female musical performer in Attic representations of symposia and κῶμοι, ‘revels’, is not a barbitos-player but an αὐλητρίς, ‘female piper’, playing the αὐλός, ‘pipe’, to accompany a male symposiast’s singing.4 Likewise male are most of the figures who are shown holding a stringed instrument, whether a barbitos or a lyre, and singing to their own accompaniment.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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