Magic in The Descent of Innana and Sappho
In the ancient text The Descent of Innana and the lyric poetry of Sappho, language is viewed as magic. Not only are the words themselves acting as magic, as in an invocation, but other things manifest themselves as magic throughout the works. The most common throughout the works of Sappho is that of love. Sappho also shows us the magic of everyday life in many of her poems. Finally, the writing down of the works performs a magic all of its own; the magic of continuation. Through the writing of their works the story of Innana and the poetry of Sappho will live on forever.
The most obvious use of language as magic is in The Descent of Innana. This text is actually all about language as magic. It originated as a ritual that was reenacted along with group participation as part of a religion. Innana is the earth goddess and in this ritual the story of the past is invoked to reproduce the happenings in it and guarantee the passing of one season to the next. The words also held the power to unite people in the cause. At certain times, the priestess would say a line such as “my lady abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, to the nether world she descended. Innana abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, to the nether world she descended. Abandoned lordship, abandoned ladyship, to the nether world she descended (Descent 790)”, the audience would have chimed in on the repetitive parts of the lines. It is also possible that, due to the repetitive nature of the ritual, people memorized the ritual and would recite along with the priestess. This shows how the ancient people bound themselves together through language, they had a common ritual, which they took part in and knew the language of, to really connect them.
Language is also treated as ritualistic magic in Sappho’s lyric poetry. In the poem “You know the place: then”, Sappho invokes the Goddess Aphrodite. She does this by calling out to the goddess and naming the place she wishes for Aphrodite to appear. “Leave Crete and come to us / waiting where the grove is / pleasantest, by precincts / sacred to you; incense / smokes on the altar…”( lines 2-6). This shows how words were believed to hold the power to persuade a god or goddess. The hope was that, if the offering of poetry was beautiful enough, then the god would grant the request of the poet. This is not the only form of magic that words held for the ancient Greeks.
In another poem that Sappho wrote, “ A Prayer to Aphrodite”, Sappho describes anguished love. Sappho desires nothing more then to have this unrequited love returned to her arms. In this poem the magic of language calls Aphrodite forth and inspires her to do Sappho a favor. It inspires the goddess to give Sappho the power to bring this person back to the “glittering net” of her arms (19). This shows Sappho’s true desire to harness the power of love through the magic of language. If she can...