Sappho’s prayer to Aphrodite (Fragment 1, pp. 202-203) is widely acknowledged as one of the great works of Western literature. It would be easy to romanticize her unique skills as a poet, but it’s worthwhile to remember that ancient poets worked from templates or formulas. For this week’s paper, read through the list of standard topics for prayer by William Race (1988). Your assignment is to choose any other god and compose a two-page hymn. You will be graded according to how many topics you can use and how “well” (gracefully, skillfully) you can use them. After each use of “topic,” please include it in square brackets immediately after. For example, “o Apollo [invocation], who lives in Delphi and Delos [sedes], son of Zeus and Leto [genealogy] …”

To help you understand how prayers work and some advice on how you might make your own, turn to Sappho’s prayer to Aphrodite on p. 202 and listen to my audio file.

To help you use that list in Race 1988, let me define some of the terms that might be ambiguous:

sedes: Latin word for the “seat” where a god likes to live. Athens, for example, is a sedes of Athena.

deeds: tell about great things the god has achieved (e.g., inventing a lyre, saving a city, fathering 50 sons by 50 women over 50 nights!)

hypomnesis: a “reminder” to the god that the person praying deserves to get what s/he wants because the god has been inclined to give it in the past or because the person praying has given pleasing gifts to the god in the past.

ekphrasis: a description of anything in a highly visual, pictorial way

Sappho’s Prayer to Aphrodite