Some rose-colored visions of the dancing dawn goddess in the painterly art of Sappho and beyond
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CitationNagy, Gregory. 2020.12.11. "Some rose-colored visions of the dancing dawn goddess in the painterly art of Sappho and beyond." Classical Inquiries. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Classical_Inquiries.
AbstractIn the “Tithonos Song” of Sappho, the fragmented text of which has of late been supplemented with newly-found additional papyrus fragments (text here), we read how the amorous goddess of the dawn, Eos, abducted the beautiful hero Tithonos to be her youthful lover—but she was unable to prevent him from slowly turning into an old man, deprived of his youth and beauty. This sad story is retold in the Tithonos Song, where the female speaker who is retelling the story, now an old woman, has just now called out mournfully to young girls with whom she used to sing and dance, declaring to them that her poor old knees are not up to it anymore: she is no longer able to dance. In what follows, I will argue that the loss of an old woman’s power to dance is being contrasted in this song of Sappho with the ever-youthful and ever-beautiful dancing power of the dawn goddess Eos. And that power of dance, I will also argue, is divinely fueled by the rose-colored female energy of the dawn’s early light. The entire body of the dawn goddess is activated by that power, so that all parts of this divine organism become engaged in her dance. All parts are in motion: her feet, her hands, all the rest of her—even the tips of her fingers. In the introductory illustration for my essay here, I show an extreme-zoom close-up of a not-so-ancient (seventeenth-century) painter’s highlighting of the delicately dancing fingers of the dawn goddess Eos, known in Latin as Aurora. The ancient epithet of this goddess in Homeric poetry, rhododaktulos (rhododactylos), is most fitting: the divine Eos is ‘rosy-fingered’ Dawn.
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