Sappho of Lesbos

A woman oF mystery

Sappho is a Greek poet who is believed to have lived from around 600 BCE. It is almost impossible to be certain of most of what is known about Sappho as most of what we know about her was written after her death and most wasn't written until up to a century and a half later.

The tentH muse

Even though most of her poems were lost, Sappho is still know as the greatest female poet of Antiquity. She was most likely one of very few, if any, female poets of the time however. But to say this diminishes her title would be jumping to the wrong conclusion. Plato praised Sappho's work, even referring to her as "The Tenth Muse". Solon -an Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet- was so enamoured with one of her songs that he asked to be taught it and when asked why he allegedly replied "So that I may learn it, then die."

Antiquity poet to queer icon

Many of Sappho's poems were romantic poems about other women, leading many to believe Sappho was homosexual. Sappho and her birthplace have lent two names to queer women: Lesbian, which originally indicated that one was from the isle of Lesbos like Sappho was, and Sapphic derived from Sappho's name. And whilst some argue that Sappho's poetry is not autobiographical or that having a lover, especially a homosexual lover, in Ancient Greece was more about politics than romance, it does not detract from the legacy Sappho has given to queer women.

A lover's leap?

Much like her life, nothing is certain about Sappho's death. An Athenian playwright named Menander created the story that Sappho had killed herself by jumping off the Leucadian cliffs after suffering heartbreak due to her unrequited love of a Ferryman named Phaon. However scholars are highly doubtful that this story is true. She most likely died of natural causes in her old age, however this cannot be confirmed.

Credits:

Created with images by tonynetone - "Sappho" • dalbera - "Sapho (Musée Bourdelle, Paris)" • leoncillo sabino - "Sappho. Marble. 1895. Comte Prosper D´Epinay. 1836-1914."

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