Sappho (610-580 BCE) was a Greek lyric poetess, born of a noble family on the island of Lesbos. She wrote within the context of the cult of Aphrodite and the veneration of the Muses. Because it was unusual for women to write, she is one of the few known women poets of the Greek archaic period.
Only 8th and 9th century copies and fragments or her work and one complete address to Aphrodite remain, along with more fragments obtained from papyrus discoveries since 1898 and as recent as 2004.¹
Sappho was married and wrote verse and songs for weddings, usually performed by young girls. She also arranged poetic gatherings where she and other women composed and read poetry, as was the custom of women of good standing in Lesbos. From this she developed several close relationships.
Her extant work reveals no clear evidence of physical intimacy with these women. She was exalted in antiquity, appearing on a list of the 9 best lyric poets and often called “the 10th Muse.”
But politics changed, as they always do, and other ancient figures caricaturized her and the entire island of Lesbos as a center for lesbianism. As such, she went into temporary exile in Sicily, later returning to Mytilene, the place of her family home on Lesbos.
She is often cited today as an inspiration for lesbian love. Speaking about herself and her associates, she once wrote:
I think that someone will remember us in another time.
¹ See A Brief History of Ancient Greece, Oxford 2009, pp. 93-95.
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On the Web:
- “Sappho (Σαπφώ) was born in the seventh century BC, in the island of Lesbos. Her love of women reflects a deeper love for civilization.”