The ancient Greek poet Sappho and the first case report of the fight-or-flight response

Abstract

Sappho has always been regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets of ancient Greece. Her famous poem Fragment 31 V., also known as the “Ode to Jealousy”, accurately describes the profound emotional reaction triggered by the sight of her beloved. The poet’s precise description of each sign and symptom triggered by this arousal makes Sappho 31 V., to the best of our knowledge, the first analytical description of the acute stress response, the so-called “fight-or-flight” response, in human history. Here, Fragment 31 V. is re-read from a medical point of view, correlating the ancient Greek lyric text, the corresponding medical terms, and the underlying catecholamine mechanism of action.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Data Availability

Not applicable

Code availability

Not applicable

References

  1. 1.

    Sappho A, Lyric G, Volume I: Sappho and Alcaeus. Edited and translated by David A. Campbell, (1982) Loeb Classical Library 142. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Voigt EM (1971) Sappho et Alcaeus. Fragmenta. Pp. ix + 507. Amsterdam: Polak & van Gennep.

  3. 3.

    Neri C (2017) Saffo. Poesie, frammenti e testimonianze, Introduzione e nuova traduzione e commento a cura di C. Neri e F. Cinti, Santarcangelo di Romagna, Rusconi libri.

  4. 4.

    von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff U (1913) Sappho und Simonides. Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Snell B (1931) Sapphos Gedicht ΦΑΙΝΕΤΑΙ ΜΟΙ ΚΗΝΟΣ. Hermes 66(2):71–90

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Jensen A, Nguyen X, Karpitsky V, Mettenleiter M (1995) Central command neurons of the sympathetic nervous system: basis of the fight-or flight response. Sci Mag 5236(270):644–666

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Fisher H, Aron A, Mashek D, Li H, Strong G, Brown LL (2002) The neural mechanisms of mate choice: a hypothesis. Neuro Endocrinol Lett 23(Suppl 4):92–97

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Young LJ (2009) Being human: love: neuroscience reveals all. Nature 457:148

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Marazziti D, Canale D (2004) Hormonal changes when falling in love. Psychoneuroendocrinology 29:931–936

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Griffin MG, Taylor GT (1995) Norepinephrine modulation of social memory: evidence for a time-dependent functional recovery of behavior. Behav Neurosci 109:466–473

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Fisher HE (1998) Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Hum Nat 9:23–52

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Seshadri KG (2016) The neuroendocrinology of love. Indian J Endocrinol Metab 20(4):558–563

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Devereux G (1970) The nature of Sappho’s seizure in fr. 31 LP as evidence of her inversion. Class Q 20:17–31

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) (2013) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.

  15. 15.

    Most GW (1996) Reflecting Sappho. In: Greene E (ed) Re-reading Sappho. Berkley, Los Angeles, London, University of California Press, Reception and Transmission, pp 11–35

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Goldstein DS (2010) Adrenal response to stress. Cell Mol Neurobiol 30(8):1433–1340

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Di Benedetto V (1985) Intorno al linguaggio erotico di Saffo. Hermes 113:145–156

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Tank AW, Lee Wong D (2015) Peripheral and central effects of circulating catecholamines. Compr Physiol 5(1):1–15

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Badelow B, Baldwin D, Abellli M, et al (2017) Biological markers for anxiety disorders, OCD and PTSD: a consensus statement. Part II: Neurochemistry, neurophysiology and neurocognition. World J Biol Psychiatry 18(3):162–214.

  20. 20.

    Joyner MJ (2016) Preclinical and clinical evaluation of autonomic function in humans. J Physiol 594(14):4009–4013

  21. 21.

    Plutarch. Lives, Volume IX: Demetrius and Antony. Pyrrhus and Gaius Marius (1920) translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Loeb Classical Library 101. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Sarah Jane Christopher for her linguistic revision of the text.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Giampaolo Papi.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval

Not applicable

Consent to participate

Not applicable

Consent for publication

Not applicable

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Papi, G., Cuomo, V., Tedeschini, E. et al. The ancient Greek poet Sappho and the first case report of the fight-or-flight response. Hormones (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42000-021-00290-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Sappho
  • Panic attack
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Catecholamines