Sappho and Socrates: The Nature of Rhetoric

Rachel Parish
Illinois State University

The following short graphic novel details two very different rhetoricians co-existing simultaneously in Ancient Greece, Sappho and Socrates, as well as their varying views on the definition and performance of rhetoric. While both share certain styles and techniques, a noticeable difference in the ways they create rhetorical prose and oration can be clearly seen. Moreover, this graphic short story offers that Sappho was indeed a rhetor of multiple layers, an equal to Socrates, although they employ varying methods of rhetoric.

Kairos Disputatio text: "Nature of Rhetoric" by Rachel Parish

This graphic novel follows a narrative which, much like Sappho's poetry, is fragmented while weaving multiple threads of ideas and scholarship together. Sappho, born on the Isle of Lesbos, was known and has been described separately as a poet, schoolmistress, rhetorician, and a leader of women in Ancient Greece. However, certain scholars seem unable to umbrella Sappho under all of these terms, instead designating one specific title to encompass her life's work. Some scholars even doubt the legitimacy of her actual existence. My purpose with this short graphic novel is to show a comparison between Sappho and her Ancient Greek counterpart, Socrates; examining how, despite varying techniques and mediums, both were equally capable of using rhetoric effectively.

The words of Socrates and Phaedrus are stripped from Phaedrus in fragments and inserted here, much like Sappho's poetry is. They translate a desire to read more from the original source. Sadly, with Sappho, this is not currently possible, as all we have of her work are fragments of poetry and hints of her influence from other rhetoricians. I draw strands of discussion from current scholarship and critique scholars' assumptions about Sappho.


Dubnoff, Julia. (Trans.). (n.d.) Poems of Sappho. Retrieved November 6, 2011, from

Howes, Franny. (2010). Fragmentation, translation, preservation: Forwarding Sappho. Unpublished paper.

Parker, Holt N. (1993). Sappho schoolmistress. Transactions of the American Philological Association, 123, 309-51.

Plato. (2003). Phaedrus (Trans. Stephen Scully). Newburyport, MA: Focus Philosophical Library. (Pages used: 6, 17, 44, 45, 53, 59, 60, & 66).

Spraggs, Gillian. (Trans.). (2006). Sappho. Gillian Spraggs: Translations. Retrieved November 11, 2011, from

Tsakiridou, Cornelia. (2003). Her voiceless voice: Reviewing Sappho's poetics. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 9(3), 95-107.


I'd like to give special thanks to Dr. Gerald Savage for teaching Survey of Classical Rhetoric, which inspired and allowed me to create this project; Franny Howes for allowing me to draw from her seminar paper on Sappho (from a class at Virginia Tech); Emily Johnston for her knowledge on Sappho; my parents for letting me work over Fall Break to finish this instead of working on the farm outside; and my grandmother, Dora Parish, who has always been a fan of my silly doodles. And a special thanks to YOU, for wanting to read this text. I'm so grateful.