I understand you operated a finishing school for women on Lesbos in the 5th century BCE. I am interested in what topics you covered and the finished product of your program. Many young women could use a mentor that could introduce them to achieving a charming life. What did you teach?
Dear Ms Manners,
The entire idea of Sappho as a Head Mistress running a charm school was fostered in Victorian England to make the idea of women on Lesbos understandable and more appealing to the general public at a time when Sappho’s works were being made widely available. In fact there is no reference to academics, tutoring or teaching in Sappho’s works
We were more like a loose gathering of women mentored and encouraged in music, art, poetry and the graces. Like many finishing schools of modern times I suppose you could say that ours was also classist, attended by girls of wealthy parents who wanted their daughters to be able to embrace their future with poise and confidence.
We concentrated more on poetry and music than we did wardrobe, or looks. Each woman was taught to love and honor herself and by extension her companions. Many of the finishing schools today, including women’s colleges on the East Coast focus on preparing their female students for marriage. We focused on mentoring the whole woman to achieving a lifetime of health, loveliness, poise and self-esteem. Outcomes of the social graces are sincerity, poise, good will, effortless beauty, charm and fitness. Grace is the quality of being these things. It includes health as important to beauty, a good disposition as a form of goodwill, and charm as the outcome of mercy, wisdom and compassion.
We were women who came from all parts of the Mediterranean and spent much of our time pondering the mysteries and potential of life and love. Classical poems were memorized and recited and provided evidence of our wit, intention and rhetoric. In Greece during my time on Lesbos we taught spiritual truth and wisdom as evidenced by the Gods and Goddesses we honored and sought to be like.
This was before Christianity and we had a pantheon of divine beings to honor and worship. We wanted to be like them and we modeled our behavior on theirs. Aphrodite, Venus, Astarte all represent the divine feminine principle. Just as Eros, Adonis, Zeus represents the divine masculine principle. We wanted our young women to act, think, reason, and feel wisdom, love, peace and health. This in turn would create and foster these same qualities into our lives and our community.
Emulating the Goddesses and asking the Graces to assist us was standard operating procedure. To seek the blessings of the Graces was normal to us. Imitation of their ways was encouraged. Examples include looking at each other when speaking, paying attention to what others are saying and doing. Being happy for the good fortune of others, giving support and encouragement to friends and colleagues, answering your email promptly. Abstaining from critical judgments. We helped them to identify with and possess the attributes of consciousness, integrity, virtue and effective communication along with the social graces.
No education was considered complete without the social graces or virtues, which incorporate and integrate all the other subjects by giving them measures of expression, elegance, motion, and beauty of form. Striving to be like the Graces was the highest standard of behavior we could think of, can you come up with one better?