Sappho's vs. Petrarch on the Body
The Divine Body Humans are wired for sex. Physical interaction is possibly the most intuitive emotion we have as a species. Sex and body image are absurdly prominent in today’s culture, and have been since the beginning of written history. Sexuality is only a surface desire though. What lies beneath the surface is where a person’s true beauty rests. The poets Sappho and Petrarch are two very early writers that often focused on the human body, sexuality, and desire but in different ways. Sappho’s body of work is a reaction and praise to the exterior beauty of many individuals. Petrarch’s sonnets are a repeated effort to unearth the root of divine beauty. Sappho’s poems were more direct and in a relatable way.
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Her beauty is so amazing that Petrarch is subdued and begins to cry. Her image shocks him to the point his body too is affected by it. In another passage, “The way she walked was not the way of mortals but of angelic forms, and when she spoke more than an earthly voice was that it sang” (Petrarch 90, 9-11). Petrarch puts the woman into a sacred light, comparing her to an immortal. Petrarch’s generous praise of this woman, though unrealistic, is an attempt to explain to the reader the divinity of his beloved Laura’s unparalleled beauty. This woman is supposedly the epitome of beauty, or so Petrarch thinks, but what the numerous sonnets written about her are attempt to reveal is that beneath the beauty is only more beauty. Beauty on a level that cannot simply be written into words. Petrarch is suggesting that contrary to the popular belief at the time, a woman or any person’s value does not lie in their physical beauty but the beauty of their essence and the purity of their soul. He was truly and deeply in love with this Laura woman and has made history in doing so. “Under the lovely peace of her tranquil brows / those two faithful stars of mine so sparkle, / that no other light can inflame and guide / him who consigns himself to love nobly“ (Petrarch 160 5-8). In this verse, Petrarch begins to talk about the peace he sees in Laura’s eyes, but then refers to those eyes as his own. Is he claiming ownership, or is he