The Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Sappho Chose Love Not War, What Will You Choose?

This was originally posted on November 12, 2012

We have been taught to speak of war and the heroes of war in hushed tones. We have been told that evil Helen’s choice was the cause of the Trojan war.  2600 years ago Sappho, known as the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece, spoke truth to power and unmasked the lies told at the beginning of western tradition.


In a poem addressed to Anactoria, Sappho writes:

            Some say a cavalry corps
            some say infantry, some, again,
            will maintain that the swift oars
            of our fleet are the finest
            sight on dark earth …

Here, Sappho invokes the heroic tradition celebrated in the epic poems of Homer that shaped the values of ancient Greek culture and all the cultures that followed it, including our own.  This tradition tells us that to serve in a war and to be remembered as a hero is the highest goal to which a man can aspire.  Sappho does not agree:

             …but I say
             that whatever one loves, is.

Continue reading “The Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Sappho Chose Love Not War, What Will You Choose?”

Sappho in a Locrian Mode by Carolyn Lee Boyd


The world Sappho envisions in her poetry is one with many lessons for us in the 21st century about how to live. While ancient Greek society, especially in later eras, was deeply misogynistic and women had few rights, Sappho’s words evoke a perspective in which goddesses, especially Aphrodite, are revered and the connection of worshippers to goddesses is intimate, art created by women is celebrated, women’s relationships are central to one’s well being, and love and sensuality are enjoyed.

But words only tell part of the story. Sappho’s poetry was meant to be sung, and while we can’t hear the songs she wrote, I think it is interesting to note that Anne Carson, in her 2003 translation “If Not, Winter” says that Sappho is credited with inventing the Locrian musical mode.  A mode is a scale in which the progression of notes follows a set pattern of whole and half notes. We are all familiar with the major mode that makes music sound happy (Happy Birthday song) and the natural minor mode that we use for sad music (House of the Rising Sun). But there are many other modes, and the Locrian mode is one of them. (just a note: the Locrian mode is the same as the Greek Mixolydian mode and completely different from the modern Mixolydian mode, just to be confusing.)

Continue reading “Sappho in a Locrian Mode by Carolyn Lee Boyd”

Visions of the Goddess: A White Horse by Carol P. Christ

Imagine my surprise when, a few days ago, I looked out my window to see a dappled horse munching on flowers in the field across the street from my house. In the next days I got used to her being there. I would look for her in the mornings and at odd times during the day. Sometimes she was visible and sometimes she was not. When I could see her, I would open the window and call out, “Hello, white horse, you are very beautiful.” Once or twice she turned her head to look at me and seemed to respond, “Thank you for noticing.”

Many hundreds of years ago, Sappho must have had a similar vision in a field near a grove of trees where she and her students waited for the Goddess to appear, for she wrote: “In meadows where horses have grown sleek among spring flowers, dill scents the air.“ These lines are part of a longer poem addressed to Aphrodite that begins: “Leave Crete and come to us.” In this place, “incense smokes on the altar,” there is a stream, there are apple trees and rose bushes and horses in a field of flowers. Continue reading “Visions of the Goddess: A White Horse by Carol P. Christ”

Sappho’s Poems as an Ethos for Women’s Ritual by Jill Hammer

Photo by: Zac Jaffe

For by my side you put on

many wreaths of roses

and garlands of flowers

around your soft neck


and with precious and royal perfume

you anointed yourself.


On soft beds you satisfied your passion.


And there was no dance

no holy place

from which we were absent.


–Sappho (trans. Julia Dubnoff)


Sappho, the poet from Lesbos (630-570 BCE), was considered one of the greatest poets of her time—one of her epithets was “the tenth Muse.” I discovered the poems of Sappho in my thirties and was utterly captivated.  I had newly embarked on a relationship with a woman and Sappho’s love poetry (though by no means exclusively lesbian) supported the expression of eros between women.  Yet even more than that, Sappho’s poems supported an erotic relationship between self and world—a relationship that included ritual as a form of intimacy.  I’m not a Greek scholar—I experience Sappho’s poems in translation. Yet the translations I read back then were a revelation: a world in which women lived in circle with one another.

Continue reading “Sappho’s Poems as an Ethos for Women’s Ritual by Jill Hammer”

A Matter of Life and Death: The Military or the Green New Deal? by Carol P. Christ

“I have set before you life and death . . .  Choose life.” (Deut. 30:19)

Scientists tell us that an environmental catastrophe which has already begun threatens every aspect of life as we know it on planet earth. The choice could not be clearer. Will we choose life? Or will we choose death?

On March 6, 2019, William Barber and Phyllis Bennis published an opinion piece titled: “If America can find $716 bn for the military, it can fund the Green New Deal.” In it, they note that politicians in both parties are rushing to dismiss the Green New Deal as an unrealistic pipe dream, stating that there simply is no money to fund it. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s response is characteristic of the Democratic Party’s so-called moderate and pro-military wing. As Barber and Bennis report:

When young organizers from the Sunrise Movement recently challenged Senator Dianne Feinstein to support a Green New Deal, she told them “there’s no money to pay for it”. She probably didn’t expect those eight- and 10- and 11-year-old kids to respond immediately: “Yes, there is, there’s tons of money going to the military.”

Feinstein responded condescendingly that the military does “important things” with that money.

Continue reading “A Matter of Life and Death: The Military or the Green New Deal? by Carol P. Christ”

Three Herstorical Divas to Die For by Mary Sharratt

The Urban Dictionary defines a diva as a woman who exudes great style and confidence and expresses her unique personality without letting others define who she should be. In my mind, a diva is a woman who stands in her sovereignty and blazes a trail for other women. We all need to claim our inner diva to truly dance in our power. And if you’re looking for inspiration, I present three herstorical divas to die for.



  1. Sappho ca. 630 – 580 BCE


Sappho of Lesbos wrote the book on love. Literally. Her searing love poetry addressed to other women gave us the word lesbian. She was the first—and the best!—to describe passion as a visceral experience, in which we are seized and transfixed by Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Though much of her work was destroyed by the patriarchal fun police, the fragments of her poetry that survive are timeless, haunting, and utterly true.

What we must remember is that Sappho’s poetry wasn’t just romantic or erotic–it was sacred, each poem a holy offering to Goddess Aphrodite.

Continue reading “Three Herstorical Divas to Die For by Mary Sharratt”

“It Came Upon a Solstice Morn” by Carol P. Christ

It came upon a Solstice morn,

that glorious song of old,

with angels bending near the earth,

to touch their harps of gold.

“Peace on the earth.

good will to all,”

from heaven’s all glorious realm.

The world in silent stillness waits,

to hear the angels sing.


I wake in the dark of Solstice morn.

Mountains shrouded in clouds,

cold wind blowing,

light dawns.


My mother heard

the angels sing,

on Solstice eve,

calling me to life,

her Christmas Carol.


Blessed Mother Always With Us.


Longing for my beloved,

on Solstice morn,

I heard Sappho sing:

Thank you, my dear

You came and you did

well to come: I needed

you. You have made

love blaze up in

my breast–bless you!

Bless you as often

as the hours have

been endless to me

when you were gone.


Cold tiles,

bare feet,

coffee brewing,

elderly dog stirring,

I open the garden door.


And there it is.

Solstice miracle.

Three purple irises.

blooming in the cold.

Life triumphing over death,

every time.

New words to the traditional carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Carol P. Christ.

Sappho translated by Mary Barnard.

Thanks to Miriam Robbins Dexter for the digging iris bulbs from her garden for me to plant in mine.

My mother promised my father to name me Susan or Peter but when she heard carolers in the hospital, she changed her mind.


* * *

a-serpentine-path-amazon-coverGoddess and God in the World final cover designCarol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

FAR Press recently released A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess.

Join Carol  on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. It could change your life! Spring tour filled, sign up now for Fall 2018.

Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger


Plato’s Diotima as a Symptom of Psychosis by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoAs I mentioned in my January 30, 2016 post, Grace Jantzen in Foundations of Violence makes a compelling case that Diotima is a fictional figure.  She does not, however, adequately distinguish her from the poetizing female figures Parmenides and Boethius portray as instructing them in their respective works.  If nothing else, the quality of the poetry of Parmenides and Boethius betrays the influence of a very real woman: Sappho.

By contrast, Plato essentially portrays Diotima as the personification of his philosophy–his metaphysics–and it is hard to believe there was such an ancient Greek woman.  Although the term ‘metaphysics’ derives from a neologism coined in Greek centuries after Plato and Aristotle lived, its meaning (‘beyond’ (meta) the ‘natural,’ or ‘embodied’ world (physics)) appropriately characterizes what Diotima and hence Plato’s philosophy is all about.  A key passage is where she characterizes the most intense love as “gazing at and being with” the beloved, without even the need to “eat or drink.”  That leads her to ask rhetorically whether it would not be best to gaze at what is not “infected” by flesh and blood (Symposium (211 d-e)).

Philosophy, Albrecht Dürer (1502)(Die Bayerische Staatsbiliothek)
Philosophy, Albrecht Dürer (1502)(Die Bayerische Staatsbiliothek)

Continue reading “Plato’s Diotima as a Symptom of Psychosis by Stuart Dean”

Caroline Schelling on Birth & Death by Stuart Dean

Caroline Schelling

Of the many letters Caroline wrote to her lifelong friend Luise, one of the most intense  (the 57th Letter) dates from seven years after the 4th Letter discussed in my last post.  By then both were married; only a few months earlier Caroline had given birth to her first child (Auguste); though Luise already had children, Caroline knew that one of them was terminally ill.  In the first paragraph Caroline describes how difficult Auguste’s birth was for her; in the second she consoles Luise over the impending death of her child.  She thus subtly parallels birth with death and hence the labor for one with mourning over the other.

Fifteen years later, only a few months after the death of Auguste–the last of her four children to die–Caroline’s generally positive disposition evidenced in the 4th Letter and her experience in grappling with birth and death evidenced in the 57th Letter were being put to the test.  Though she was holding up well, Friedrich Schelling (Friedrich), the man who was to be her third husband, seems to have been suicidal from feeling guilty (rightly or wrongly) for having failed to do enough to cure whatever illness killed Auguste.  Caroline wrote frequently and urgently to him, offering advice and comfort.  In one of those letters (274d) she characterizes the challenge of overcoming grief as a formula to be solved: “(death/pain) x (love/bliss) = (life/peace).”  She terms this one of her ‘primal axioms’ (the “Ursatz”), although she seems playfully to concede to Friedrich that he or perhaps someone else shares responsibility for it. Continue reading “Caroline Schelling on Birth & Death by Stuart Dean”

Caroline Schelling’s 4th Letter by Stuart Dean

Caroline Schelling

Caroline Schelling (‘Caroline’) wrote the fourth letter of hers that survives (the ‘4th Letter’) on October 7, 1778, shortly after she had turned 15, to a girl she met at boarding school who was to become her lifelong friend (Luise).  The intensity of her friendship with Luise is evident already in the 4th Letter, for she tells Luise that in writing to her she “portrays her entire soul.”  What prompted such depth of feeling for this letter relates not just to a significant moment in Caroline’s life but in every person’s life.  In the second paragraph she refers to what was most likely her first sexual relationship.  Given that context, Caroline demonstrates remarkable emotional maturity and intellectual sophistication in how she expresses herself.

She begins by referring to the “sensations of my heart,” telling Luise how she struggles to find “adequate words” to express them.  She is not, she proudly insists, an “enthusiast” who simply gives into feelings, insisting instead on the importance of “going over” (Überlegung) them herself.  Though Caroline was not taught Latin, it seems as if she had been taught the relevance to German of a Latin treatise from the 4th century CE on the method for defining words.  Caroline’s ‘going over’ her feelings before writing Luise is consistent with its methodology: first, to confront the question of whether something even exists (an sit, Existenz) and then determining, to the extent possible, what it is (quid sit, Wesen) and what its qualities are (quale sit, Eigenschaften)–i.e., its relationship to other words (grammar) and hence how it can be communicated.  

This methodology, which is applicable to a wide range of disciplines (e.g., legal argumentation, psychiatric diagnosis), is also analogous to a language theory Charles Segal argued is implicit in what remains of the writings of the 5th century BCE Sicilian Gorgias, a theory Segal related to Sappho’s poetry.  That is relevant, because given the failed sexual relationship about which Caroline writes to Luise, the 4th Letter bears comparison to two poems by Sappho (S. 31 and S. 1) that Caroline surely then knew in translation.  Caroline’s “sensations of my heart” is directly comparable to the palpitations of the heart Sappho refers to in the second stanza of S. 31.  The immediate effects are comparable; Sappho cannot speak and Caroline cannot find “adequate words.”  Though S. 31 appears to break off, S. 1 can be read as a continuation of it.  There Sappho prays for divine intervention (Aphrodite) to deal with a failed sexual relationship; the closing prayer of its final stanza is analogous to the last sentence of the 4th Letter’s first paragraph: “Lord, you who know my heart . . . fulfill no wishes that are not pleasing to you, I am depending on you!” 

In each case it would seem the answer is anticipated to be one that is not heard or read but rather felt in the heart, intuitively understood as the center point of all bodily feelings.  That would be not an abstraction from the senses but an inward intensification of them.  Such intensification becomes the basis for its outward expression not just in words, but in all forms of art.  

Caroline grew up during a time of renewed interest in ancient Greek art and particularly nude sculpture, which rightly can be taken to symbolize the belief in the sacredness of the entire human body (a belief that correlates with heart centeredness).  It is notable that the floruit of such sculpture predates Plato by almost a century and quite literally embodies principles utterly antithetical to his philosophy.  It is also analogous to another art form that predates him and that he disparaged: reciting poetry (whether or not incorporated into a theatrical production).  Poetic recitation requires fully identifying with the poet and poem to such a degree that it can be thought of as internalized sculpting.

The principles underlying sculpture and recitation are thus similar and of general applicability.  Caroline, who enjoyed (and was appreciated for) reciting poetry, makes the point in a review she wrote of a book of essays on artistic appreciation (the “Review”).  To judge art, she says, it is necessary to penetrate “deeply into the meaning and sensibility of both it and its initiator . . . surrendering oneself in quiet reflection to a disposition of loving, receptive observation . . . [to be] transpose[d] . . . into the world of the poet or artist.”  She defends the book’s use of a fictional friar to voice religious reverence for art, effectively equating artistic appreciation with religious devotion, since it is only from feeling the divine within (i.e., internalizing god as the artist) that the divine outside is to be understood.   

This was not something new for Caroline, as is evident from the 4th Letter that was written nearly twenty years before the Review.  Not only does she seem to have internalized Sappho, but the opening line of S. 31 (a man, “equal to the gods”) and the closing line of S. 1 (“my comrade,” the goddess) arguably encouraged her transition in the 4th Letter’s first paragraph from describing her feelings to Luise (psychology) to praying to God (theology).  That transition anticipates the identification of psychology with theology Caroline articulates in the Review.  

The remote antiquity of this identification and its association with goddess worship to which Sappho attests, as well as the recognition of it by Caroline at such a young age deserve attention, for it has quite a history, especially in German culture.  Goethe quoted two lines of a 1st century CE Latin poem on astrology that essentially echo it in the guestbook atop Mount Brocken on September 4, 1784: who is able to know heaven except by a gift from heaven, who finds god unless a part of the gods is within them.  It is not known when Caroline met Goethe; it has been speculated that he was the father of her first daughter, Auguste, born April 28, 1785.  In August 1784 Caroline was living in a mining town not far from Brocken.

The opening paragraph of an essay published by Caroline’s third husband in 1809, only months before her death, contains a reference to the principle of knowing the god outside from the god within, correctly noting that its connection with Empedocles proves it predates Plato.  In 1936 Heidegger characterized that essay as “one of the most profound works” of Western philosophy.  In my next post(s) I hope to show that its profundity relates to a critique of Plato (and other philosophers) that derives from Caroline and her appreciation of ancient Greek female spirituality, and not to glorifying supermen.

Stuart WordPress photoStuart Dean has a B.A. (Tulane, 1976) and J.D. (Cornell, 1995) and is currently an independent researcher and writer living in New York City.  He has studied, practiced and taught Tai Chi, Yoga and related disciplines for over forty years.  Stuart has a blog on Sappho and the implications of her poetry for understanding the past, present and future:

Artemis As Artemisia: Ancient Female Spirituality & Modern Medicine by Stuart Dean

Detail of Artemis from a 5th century BCE Attic Vase
Detail of Artemis from a 5th century BCE Attic Vase  (Museum of Fine Arts (Boston))

The 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded in part to a Chinese woman (Tu) for her identification and isolation to treat malaria of a chemical known as Artemisinin.  The name of that chemical derives from the fact that it is found in varying amounts in the ‘family’ (technically, genus) of plants known as Artemisia.  The name of that family derives from its association with the goddess Artemis.

Because Tu’s work began in China in the 1960s it is understandable that even if she knew this about Artemisia (a term I use to refer to any one plant or all of the plants of that family) it would not have been a ‘careerbuilder’ for her to point it out to those for whom she was working.  It was bad enough that she was a woman.  At that place and time, however, if she had said or done something that could be associated with Western culture her name might not even be known today.   

Nevertheless, because those awarding the Nobel Prize are free from discrimination or intimidation, it is startling that in the explanation provided for the award no mention is made of the Western legacy of Artemisia.  To begin with, the very fact that the Prize was being awarded to a woman for a plant named after a goddess should have elicited at a sense of uncanniness that arguably deserved mention.  Be that as it may, the failure to mention that Artemisia has a long history of being used medicinally in the West not only as an insect repellent but also to treat fever–a common symptom of malaria–is simply inexcusable. Continue reading “Artemis As Artemisia: Ancient Female Spirituality & Modern Medicine by Stuart Dean”

Sappho, Frankincense, and Female Spirituality by Stuart Dean


White Howjary Frankincense (photo: Trygve Harris (

Sappho is the first Greek author to attest to the usage of frankincense.  The word she uses to refer to it (libanos) is what comparative linguists call a ‘loan word,’ in this case from ancient South Arabic (the root meaning of which is ‘white’), the language spoken in the only region in the world still now, as then, where the trees grow that produce the resin that is frankincense (the finest being White Howjary from near Salalah Oman).

This was long before Amazon Same-Day Prime: that frankincense even made it to where Sappho was is astonishing given the thousands of miles of desert terrain that had to be covered.  That fact plus the fact that Sappho chose to use the Arabic word for frankincense suggests it must have been of special importance to her.  How important can be seen in the power she attributes to it.  In one prayer poem (S.2, composite translation and very brief notes here) she completes a stanza by referring to frankincense burning from Aphrodite’s altars; she completes the very next stanza with a reference to ‘sleep falling.’  The parallelism implies a reciprocity: the smoke goes up, the sleep comes down and a stanza later, there is Aphrodite. Continue reading “Sappho, Frankincense, and Female Spirituality by Stuart Dean”

Sappho’s Prescription For A Healthy Heart & the Taoist/Buddhist Concept of Forget (忘)

Stuart WordPress photoA two line fragment of Sappho’s poetry (S.120) reads:

But I am not one to keep venting my anger:
Rather I let some things in my heart go unspoken

Sappho’s word choices here make this as difficult as any of her fragments to appreciate in translation.  Yet, not only do those choices make attribution of this fragment to Sappho secure, they also manifest her importance in an area for which she rarely receives attention: early Greek medical thinking.  One reason her importance in that regard is largely unnoticed is that Western medicine in general has abandoned its own tradition, retaining only the nomenclature and some of the symbolism of early Greek medicine. Continue reading “Sappho’s Prescription For A Healthy Heart & the Taoist/Buddhist Concept of Forget (忘)”

The Sphere: A Symbol of Ancient Greek Female Spirituality by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoOriginally, in ancient Greek, ‘sphere’ simply meant ‘ball.’  Though its grammatical gender varied, it was primarily a feminine noun.  It is in that sense and with that gender that it bounces into Western literature in the episode of the Odyssey where Nausicaa and her companions are playing catch on a beach (Odyssey 6.100 ff).

Nausicaa is said to be conducting her companions in ‘molpe,’ a curious term that seems to refer to dancing, music and poetry as a single form of performance art.  Authorship (including possibly female authorship) and dates of individual episodes of the Odyssey remain debatable, but both from this episode as well evidence from other sources there is no doubt that in general what Nausicaa and her companions are doing here relates to an actual custom among Greek women that dates back to well before writing was adopted. Furthermore, molpe was spiritually significant.  As the conductor of its performance Nausicaa is compared to Artemis.

The reference to Artemis as one of those who ‘holds heaven’ (Odyssey 6.150), suggests that the sphere with which Nausicaa and her companions are playing may have been intended (at least by the author of this episode) to be a symbol of the celestial sphere.  That suggestion is bolstered by an appeal to what is to be found in the fragments that survive of the poetry of Sappho, who it is readily apparent considered herself as much a musician and choreographer as a poet.  That is to say, whereas Nausicaa may be a fictional persona, with Sappho we have the only direct evidence of any substance directly from an actual woman of what constituted molpe.  From how she refers to a female performer of molpe as goddess-like (S. 96), followed immediately by a comparison of yet another woman’s beauty to that of the moon, as well as other fragments of poems where either the appearance or movement of women in connection with a molpe performance is related to celestial events such as the appearance of a full moon or the movement of the Pleiades, it is clear that for Sappho choreography was in effect applied cosmology (see S. 154 and S. 34 and how it is surely echoed in a much later Latin poem here). Continue reading “The Sphere: A Symbol of Ancient Greek Female Spirituality by Stuart Dean”

The Physician Luke, the Virgin Mary and the Poet Sappho by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoSince my last contribution to Feminism and Religion my interest in Sappho and her influence has led me to a detailed analysis of Luke 1:27-45 (hereafter, the “Conception Story”).  I want to share two observations from that analysis that I think will be of interest to readers of this blog.  Both relate to the generally agreed upon fact that Luke was a physician and in particular to knowledge he can be assumed to have had of female anatomy based on evidence from approximately contemporaneous sources.

My first observation relates to the fact that Luke lived during a time when the existence of ovaries in women had only recently been discovered and their function correctly understood.  While this had obvious implications for Greek medical theory, it would appear to have affected how Luke himself interpreted the source material he had for the Conception Story and hence how he told that story.  My second observation, based on what is known of Greek gynecology, is that Luke would have correctly understood that although as a medical term ‘virginity’ does refer to the physical fact that sexual intercourse has not occurred, it does not necessarily or even often have an anatomical meaning.  That observation leads directly to investigating whether ‘virgin’ as used by Luke may have a primarily metaphysical rather than physical meaning.

Though in general the ‘glory days’ of Classical Greece belonged to the centuries well before Luke’s time, that is not true of Greek medicine.  Notwithstanding promising origins in a sexual egalitarianism that was in principle consistent with modern medicine, Greek medicine regressed substantially with Aristotle, who introduced the notion that the male’s contribution to reproduction was the active one and the female’s merely the passive provision of the material for its success.  Not only did Aristotle not know of ovaries, even after their discovery it is far from clear when exactly their function was fully understood (the best evidence is about a half century after Luke).  Once that happened, however, Greek medicine moved back towards the sexual egalitarianism of its origins (the ‘two seed theory’ of reproduction), repudiating Aristotle’s theory (the ‘single seed theory’ of reproduction). Continue reading “The Physician Luke, the Virgin Mary and the Poet Sappho by Stuart Dean”

Painting Sappho by Angela Yarber


“Someone, I say, will remember us in the future,” she once wrote.  To my knowledge, she was never dubbed a prophet.  A muse, yes.  A romantic, perhaps.  But never a prophet, rarely holy, and nary an icon.  Until now.   Hailed as one of the best Greek lyric poets, many have tried to forget her, or at least the more provocative elements of her life.  The passionate poet Sappho was born on the island of Lesbos around 620 BCE (sometime between 630-612 BCE).  The word lesbian stems from the place of her birth and her name is the origin of the word sapphic, though most scholars assert that little is known of her actual life and that the majority of her poetry is not autobiographical.  Yet her lyric poetry speaks of love for both sexes and myriad people.

What is more, the idea of homo and heterosexuality are not transhistorical essences, but instead are relatively recent socio-historical constructs. To say that there were strict sexual binaries in the ancient world in which Sappho lived would be an anachronism. Sexuality was much more fluid.  Not surprisingly, many scholars have tried to name and claim male lovers for Sappho, a heteronormative attempt to erase her fluid sexuality, her hope to be remembered in the future dashed, demeaned, forgotten.  In fact, during the Victorian Era, many asserted that Sappho was the headmistress of a girls’ school, another attempt to straighten out her memory, her poetry, her love. Continue reading “Painting Sappho by Angela Yarber”

Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean

 Stuart WordPress photoThe story in the Gospel of John of the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman (hereafter, ‘the Samaritan’) at Jacob’s well (4:7-29) has attracted considerable scholarly attention.  For an overview of some of the interpretive issues raised by it there is a video of a conversation about it between H. W. Attridge and D. L. Bartlett of Yale Divinity School available on Youtube here.  I intend to focus primarily on only four verses, John 4:16-19.

Here is my translation (the underlying Greek and links to interpretive resources can be found here):

16 [Jesus] said: “go tell your ‘man’ and come back here.”
17 The Samaritan answered, “I do not have a ‘man.”’ Jesus said to her “Beautifully you said ‘I do not have a man.’
18 You have had five ‘men,’ and the one whom you have now is not your ‘man.’  You spoke truthfully.”
19 The Samaritan said to him: “Sir, I see you are a wise listener.”

My translation is intended to bring out what I take to be a play on the meaning of the underlying Greek word for man.  Before I explain exactly what the play on meaning is about I want to justify the assumption that there is some sort of play in the first place. Some have argued that the reference to the bride and bridegroom at John 3:29 foreshadows the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan as a spiritual wedding.  The theme of a spiritual wedding is arguably also foreshadowed in how John starts the book itself, for ‘beginning’ is a feminine noun in Greek and ‘word’ is masculine, making ‘in the beginning was the word’ sexually symbolic; that, in turn, suggests that the well before which Jesus and the Samaritan stand, or the water in it, symbolizes God, or at least the spirit of God. Continue reading “Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean”

Sappho & Early Christianity by Stuart Dean

Stuart WordPress photoGiven modern perceptions of Sappho it is, I am sure, going to seem at a minimum counterintuitive that early Christians would have had an interest in Sappho.  The issue is not helped by the fact that a story about Saint Gregory of Nazianzus ordering the burning of Sappho’s poetry has been frequently repeated both in print and online.  There is no basis for it in any reliable historical source. Mention is first made of it in the Renaissance, possibly as the result of confusing attitudes and policies of later times with those of Gregory’s time.  Whatever the explanation, it is ironic any credence was given to such a story, for not only was Gregory very interested in Sappho in particular, but he was also a keen advocate for appreciating the relevance to Christianity of art and literature generally.  A prominent figure in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Gregory is not well known to ‘Western’ Christianity, especially among English speaking Christians.  An excellent place to familiarize yourself with him is a brief talk given by John McGuckin, who is a priest, poet and scholar at Columbia University, available on youtube here.

There are a variety of possible explanations for Gregory’s interest in Sappho that relate to both his personal circumstances as well as how Sappho had been received within the Judaeo-Christian tradition in ancient times.  It is worth noting that Gregory was from what is today a region of Turkey occupied by Hittites in very ancient times.  That happens to be an area that Sappho may have had some cultural connection with, for modern linguistic analysis suggests that her name, which does not mean anything in Greek, derives from Hittite or a related ancient Turkish language.  What did ‘Sappho’ mean in Hittite?  ‘Holy one.’  I am basing this on an article by Edwin Brown that is available online here for those who want more granularity. Continue reading “Sappho & Early Christianity by Stuart Dean”

What Is Love? by Jassy Watson

Jassy_Agora1-150x150I asked this question at the family dinner table, on facebook, and by e-mail.  Many heartfelt responses were offered, all insightful. Some spoke of romantic love, sexual love (eros), self-love, spiritual love, the love a parent has for a child, unconditional love (agape), primal love, authentic love, universal love, divine love, the source of love, friendship (philia), love of nature, and love of a pet, while others considered the destructive nature of love. What was demonstrated by these conversations was that not only are the possibilities of love’s expressions endless, but there can ultimately be no right or wrong answer when it comes to the meaning of love. Our cultural, familial, religious and spiritual backgrounds all play a part in the way we think and feel about love.

I was raised in a secular, middle-class, two parent, two children, cat, and sometimes a dog kind of family. Despite the usual ups and downs, our family life was full of love. I remember having feelings of love as a child that were so incredibly overwhelming I would be brought to tears. I loved everything and everybody. Mum still reminds me that if I could have, I would have brought every elderly person along with every stray animal home to look after. After reading about the process view in Carol Christ’s book She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine in the World, I see now that this love I felt was born out of feelings of deep sympathy.

Because we did not have a religious or spiritual background, I had no idea what divine love meant. My idea of the divine was the male, Christian, biblical God that our family rejected. It is said that Christian love is selfless and is best seen in actions such as compassion and kindness. This may be so. But selflessness, compassion and kindness are not limited to Christian values. They are human values. In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says that “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive”. All religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions speak of the values of love. They say that love encompass compassion, kindness, selflessness, acceptance, gratitude, sympathy, sharing, grace, justice, charity, and liberation. They also speak of tension, wrath, discomfort, unkindness, loss, and judgement. For me, love is all these things and more.

Ancient myths address these values of love through tales of passion and devotion. Diane Wolkstein celebrates some of these myths in her book The First Love Stories. Each story expresses a distinct aspect of love. For instance: the tale of Isis and Osiris represents love that is stronger than the forces of nature, Innana and Dumuzi expresses the cyclical quality of love; Shiva and Sati reveals the eruption of passion and the taming of the mind; the Song of Songs celebrates love’s yearning; the story of Psyche and Eros portrays the forging of the self. All of these stories emphasize the sacred nature of love.

For me, having children awakened a love so very deep within. When I gazed into the eyes of my first born son at the tender age of 18, I was so overwhelmed by love I thought my heart would burst. I now have four children a husband and a loving extended family and friends who all teach me much about the true nature of love. They teach me above all else that love is patient, non-judgmental, and unconditional. It is through the growing awareness of my spiritual being and my journey with the Goddess that love has become something deeper than I ever thought possible. Love, for me has become a union with something higher than my individual self. My love extends beyond the family to include every living being on this planet and beyond. It is not just all about giving and receiving, but rather it is a state of being. It is personal yet universal and comes from deep within my sub-conscious. Love for me, not unlike the tales woven in ancient myth, is profoundly sacred.

Embodied with love I set out to create my next painting. Out of this portal of love:

Portal of love, WHAT IS LOVE?  by Jassy Watson

Aphrodite, Goddess of love, pleasure and relationships, in all her glory was born. Continue reading “What Is Love? by Jassy Watson”

Sappho Chose Love Not War, What Will You Choose? by Carol P. Christ


We have been taught to speak of war and the heroes of war in hushed tones. We have been told that evil Helen’s choice was the cause of the Trojan war.  2600 years ago Sappho, known as the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece, spoke truth to power and unmasked the lies told at the beginning of western tradition.


In a poem addressed to Anactoria, Sappho writes:

            Some say a cavalry corps

            some say infantry, some, again,

            will maintain that the swift oars

            of our fleet are the finest

            sight on dark earth …

Here, Sappho invokes the heroic tradition celebrated in the epic poems of Homer that shaped the values of ancient Greek culture and all the cultures that followed it, including our own.  This tradition tells us that to serve in a war and to be remembered as a hero is the highest goal to which a man can aspire.  Sappho does not agree:

             …but I say

             that whatever one loves, is.

Continue reading “Sappho Chose Love Not War, What Will You Choose? by Carol P. Christ”

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