Think Free

Leave a comment

Sappho of Lesbos

English: Marble bust of the ancient Greek poet...

Marble bust of the ancient Greek poet Sappho. From Smyrna (Izmir), Turkey. Roman copy of a Hellenistic original. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sappho (610-580 BCE) was a Greek lyric poetess, born of a noble family on the island of Lesbos. She wrote within the context of the cult of Aphrodite and the veneration of the Muses. Because it was unusual for women to write, she is one of the few known women poets of the Greek archaic period.

Only 8th and 9th century copies and fragments or her work and one complete address to Aphrodite remain, along with more fragments obtained from papyrus discoveries since 1898 and as recent as 2004.¹

Sappho was married and wrote verse and songs for weddings, usually performed by young girls. She also arranged poetic gatherings where she and other women composed and read poetry, as was the custom of women of good standing in Lesbos. From this she developed several close relationships.

Hermaic pillar with a female portrait, so-call...

Hermaic pillar with a female portrait, so-called “Sappho”; inscription “Sappho Eresia” ie. Sappho from Eresos. Roman copy of a Greek Classical original. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Her extant work reveals no clear evidence of physical intimacy with these women. She was exalted in antiquity, appearing on a list of the 9 best lyric poets and often called “the 10th Muse.”

But politics changed, as they always do, and other ancient figures caricaturized her and the entire island of Lesbos as a center for lesbianism. As such, she went into temporary exile in Sicily, later returning to Mytilene, the place of her family home on Lesbos.

She is often cited today as an inspiration for lesbian love. Speaking about herself and her associates, she once wrote:

I think that someone will remember us in another time.

¹ See A Brief History of Ancient Greece, Oxford 2009, pp. 93-95.

Related » Goddess vs. goddess

On the Web:

  • “Sappho (Σαπφώ) was born in the seventh century BC, in the island of Lesbos. Her love of women reflects a deeper love for civilization.”


William Shakespeare

Jimmie – shakespeare resources2

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English playwright and poet born in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare worked as an actor in London, where he began to compose sonnets.

With the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of players to become known as the King’s Men, Shakespeare leased the first Globe Theatre, erected in 1598. The first Globe burnt down in 1613 but Shakespeare and his troupe had already been performing at a new Globe Theatre.

The genius of his work, written mostly for the Globe, was recognized by Queen Elizabeth and her extensive court. So, unlike some ignored geniuses, Shakespeare enjoyed great success and considerable wealth in his lifetime.

Shakespeare's Globe, London (rebuilt 1997)

Shakespeare’s Globe, London (rebuilt 1997) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, many forget that his plays were written to be seen, not read.

If theatre going isn’t a practical choice, a good alternative is the BBC television series (VHS/DVD) of Shakespeare’s plays. This production boasts authentic costumes, on-location castles and the players’ ancestrally inherited accents to help bring the mystical bard’s works to life.

It has been suggested that Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever, not only in the English language, but in any language. Some feminists contend this idea, suggesting that writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson are equal if not superior to Shakespeare’s wit and wisdom. And others maintain that, if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had not written in German, he might have rivaled Shakespeare’s literary throne.

Sir John Gilbert's 1849 painting: The Plays of...

Sir John Gilbert’s 1849 painting: The Plays of William Shakespeare, containing scenes and characters from several of William Shakespeare’s plays. Since the artist died in 1897, this work is now in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I converted to Catholicism I visited an Anglican Church (the Church of my baptism). An Anglican minister preaching about the Biblical Book of Job said that it was “like Shakespeare.” The way he said it seemed to imply that Shakespeare was better literature than the Bible. Many might disagree, and popularity is not necessarily an indicator of absolute value, but from 1986 to 1993 Shakespeare ranked third in the Top 10 Authorities cited in academic journals of the Arts and Humanities, with the Bible at 5th place.¹

¹ Institute for Scientific Information as cited in The Globe and Mail, Toronto: Southam, February 11, 1993. I’m not sure if those stats include Religious Studies and Theology. And I would be willing to bet that worldwide readership of the Bible is far stronger than that of Shakespeare. So these stats might be a good indicator of how persuasive statistics can be, depending on the selection, interpretation and presentation of data.

Related » Arjuna, Atlantis, George Berkeley, Glamour, Hamlet, Homer, Iago, John Keats, Macbeth, Madness, Merchant of Venice, John Milton, Othello, Pericles, Psychosis, Radha, Reincarnation, Romeo and Juliet, Shylock, Unconscious


Leave a comment

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was a romantic poet, writer and man of letters best known for works such as Prometheus Unbound and Ozymandias.

Although Shelley bristled at the thought of organized religion, he nonetheless envisioned a transcendent reality implicit to nature. Oxford expelled him in 1811 for distributing his pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism.

His first wife drowned herself, after which time he married Mary Godwin, who went on to write the famous novel Frankenstein as Mary Shelley in 1818.

Friend to Lord Byron and John Keats, Percy was found dead, washed ashore after he and Edward Williams were caught in a storm while boating. Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt immolated the bodies at a solemn beach-side ceremony.

Most of us probably cannot recite Shelley as readily we might, say, Shakespeare – “To be or not to be.” But he leaves behind an important legacy. Not seeking fame for himself, his work nonetheless influenced many an important person. Recurring themes of social justice, concern for the poor, vegetarianism, and non-violence left their mark on figures like Mohandas Gandhi, C. S. Lewis, and Karl Marx.

He was admired by C. S. Lewis,[47] Karl Marx, Robert Browning, Henry Stephens Salt, Gregory Corso, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan,[3] Upton Sinclair,[48] Gabriele d’Annunzio, Aleister Crowley and W. B. Yeats.[49] Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Roger Quilter, Howard Skempton, John Vanderslice and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed music based on his poems.¹


See also » Atheism, Romanticism, Mary Shelley

Leave a comment

Lord Byron

Lord Byron in Albanian dress

Lord Byron in Albanian dress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Gordon Noel Byron (Lord, 1788-1824) was the 6th baron of Rochdale, and a London-born poet of Scottish decent, said to embody the Romantic tradition.

While John Keats and Percy Shelley might be a bit more popular today and are usually regarded in the U.K. and North America as somewhat deeper, Byron is remembered for his effortless, effective rhyme.¹

His verse often deals with a particular type of melancholic hero, one lamenting some past sin or travesty, yet remaining steadfast and defiant toward the future.

But Byron also had his grandiose, archetypal moments, as evident in Prometheus (1816):

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;

Moreover, Byron, with unusual versatility, was quite capable of light, lyrical moments, as we see in She Walks in Beauty (1815), a poem said to be inspired by setting eyes upon a mourning widow:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Deutsch: Lord Byron, britischer Poet

Deutsch: Lord Byron, britischer Poet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Short, stout and limping with a club foot, he was, nonetheless, a ladies man. Married, permanently separated and involved in numerous romantic liaisons, after the destruction of his marriage he spoke of his honeymoon as a “treaclemoon.”

Following the death of his friend Shelley – he’d lived with the Shelleys in 1815 at Lake Geneva – Byron lived in Venice for two years. After that, he joined the Greek army in 1823 to fight for Greek independence and died of fever in Missolonghi in 1824. His body was shipped back to Newstead Abbey, England after he’d received full military honors in Greece.

¹ From Wikipedia: The six most well-known English authors are, in order of birth and with an example of their work:

Leave a comment

Leonard Cohen

English: Leonard Cohen

English: Leonard Cohen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leonard Cohen (1934- ) is a Montreal-born writer, poet and musician. Around the time of the release of his record, The Future (1992), Cohen was likened to an Old Testament prophet by a Canadian reviewer. And this might not be too far off. Cohen’s lyrics and retrospective asides seem to dance around the idea that he’s a mouthpiece for the Divine as well as a humble guy, just like anyone else.¹

Along these lines, Cohen seems content with his combination of Jewish and Buddhist beliefs.

Cohen lost his father when he was nine years old. But he was left with a modest trust fund so didn’t have to worry about money in his younger days.

He bought a house and spent his formative years in Greece, this influence discernible in much of his music. A former ladies man, he openly tells of forays into drink, religion and whatever else might have sustained him. He once held the unconventional notion that the Nazis were defeated by music. And he speaks of a creative spark that apparently those “who are there” know about and those “who are not there” do not.

The following lyrics from “Bird on the Wire” (1969) speak for themselves:

Like bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way
To be free.

And from Susanne (1967):

And Jesus was a sailor… Only drowning men could see him.

In “The Tower of Song” (1988) he sings:

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.

And in The Future (1992) he takes an even darker route:

I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

However, The Future also contains some humorous and hopeful elements.

Apparently bilked out of his fortune in 2005 by former manager, Kelley Lynch, Cohen filed a suit and was also sued. Still standing, his comeback tour, cds and verse have proved that he’s a survivor. His latest album, Old Ideas, has received 4 and 5 star reviews from critics and fans around the world. Not bad for a guy nearing 80 yrs.

¹ See for example, “Going Home” from his latest cd, Old Ideas »

1 Comment



Medea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Euripides (480-406 BCE) was a Greek dramatist, born in Athens. As a youth he was an athlete, winning prizes at Eleusinian and Thesean gymnastic events. After studying philosophy under Anaxagoras (along with his friend Socrates), rhetoric under Prodicus and dabbling in painting, Euripides realized that literature was his forté.

Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance. Yet he also became “the most tragic of poets”,[nb 1] focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown.¹

He wrote some 80 dramas, out of which 19 remain. Medea, Electra, and Trojan Women were performed during his lifetime but his work became increasingly popular after his death. The Bacchae, for instance, was performed in Athens only after he had died.

Euripides is also relevant to contemporary psychiatry and, in particular, depth psychology. His play Heracles (416 BCE) most effectively personifies Madness as the daughter of Heaven and Night, sent to drive Heracles insane:

Madness has mounted her chariot
Groans and tears accompany her
She plies the lash, hell-bent for murder
rage gleaming from her eyes
A Gorgon of the night, and around her
Bristle the hissing heads of a hundred snakes²

Fully versed in the myths and legends that permeated his culture, he was also aware of the Sophists and the early scientists and philosophers like Anaxagoras.³ So Euripides didn’t buy into but, rather, satirized the popular religion of his day. He did believe in the idea of divine providence but was skeptical of many of the religious beliefs and practices that dominated the ancient Greek world.

Put simply, he preferred to find his own answers to questions concerning ultimate truth. As such, he’s been called ‘the poet of the Greek enlightenment,’ among a variety of other things by his detractors and admirers.4


² Euripides, cited in Eric Flaum and David Pandy, The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes, and Legends of the Greeks and Romans, Philadelphia, Courage Books, 1993, p. 99.

³ Peter Burian ” Euripides ” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 25 May 2012

4 Op. cit. (

Related Posts » Madness

Leave a comment

Kerouac, Jack

Kerouac, Jack » Beatnik, Burroughs (William S.)