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Sappho of Lesbos

Woman Poet of Ancient Greece

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Image of Sappho and Erinne, Solomon, about 1880

Image of Sappho and Erinne, Solomon, about 1880

From a public domain image. Modifications © 2006 Jone Johnson Lewis
Image of Sappho from Pompeii, about 60 C.E.

Image of Sappho from Pompeii, about 60 C.E.

From a public domain image. Modifications © 2006 Jone Johnson Lewis
Bust from ancient Greece

Sappho - Bust from Ancient Greece

Public domain image. Modifications © 2006 Jone Johnson Lewis.

wrote about 610-580 B.C.E.

Occupation: poet

Known for: early poetry written by a woman poet, including some poems about love of women for women. "Lesbian" comes from the island, Lesbos, where Sappho lived.

About Sappho of Lesbos

Sappho, a poet of ancient Greece, is known through her work: ten books of verse published by the third and second centuries B.C.E. By the Middle Ages, all copies were lost. Today what we know of the poetry of Sappho is only through quotations in the writings of others. Only one poem from Sappho survives in complete form, and the longest fragment of Sappho poetry is only 16 lines long.

The poems of Sappho are more personal and emotional than political or civic or religious, especially compared to her contemporary, the poet Alcaeus.

Sappho lived in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, where women often congregated and, among other social activities, shared poetry they'd written. Sappho's poems usually focus on the relationships among women.

This focus has given rise to speculation that Sappho's interest in women was what today would be called homosexual or lesbian. (The word "lesbian" comes from the island of Lesbos and the communities of women there.) This may be an accurate description of Sappho's feelings towards women, but it may also be accurate that it was more acceptable in the past -- pre-Freud -- for women to express strong passions towards one another, whether the attractions were sexual or not.

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Also on This Site

Bibliography

  • The Love Songs of Sappho (Literary Classics)
    by Sappho, et al. 1999.
    Compare Prices
  • Sappho: A New Translation
    by Mary Barnard (Translator), Dudley Fitts. Reissue 1999.
    Compare Prices
  • The Sappho Companion
    by Margaret Reynolds (Editor). 2001.
    Compare Prices
  • The Laughter of Aphrodite: A Novel About Sappho of Lesbos
    by Peter Green
    Compare Prices

Sappho Elsewhere on About

  • A Yokepair of Opposites
    N. S. Gill, About's Ancient and Classical History Expert, on contemporary lyric poets Sappho and Alcaeus. Includes an overview of Sappho's work.
  • Sappho
    Esther Lombardi, About.com Expert on Classic Literature, on Sappho
  • The Laughter of Aphrodite
    N. S. Gill, About's Expert on Ancient and Classical History, reviews a novel about the "historical mystery" of Sappho's life.

Sappho Elsewhere on the Web

  • Sacred Texts
    Etext of the 1925 translation of The Poems of Sappho by Edwin Marion Cox, with a translation (2000) by J. B. Hare. Introduction by J. B. Hare.
  • Mythography
    From the "Mythography" site, a brief introduction of Sappho emphasizing her references to Aphrodite, goddess of love.
  • Exploring the History of Art
    Image and information on the 1872 painting "Sappho on the Cliff"by Gustave Moreau.
  • Isle of Lesbos
    On a website devoted to lesbian women poets and named for Sappho, this page outlines her known life, works, and suggests further readings.
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