Sappho: The Poet From Lesbos

Sappho lived on the island of Lesbos. Her poetry was lost around the Middle Ages, but experts estimate she published about 10 pieces. Today, her work is remembered through short quotations and one 16-line poem. Rather than those of her time who wrote to the gods (i.e, Homer), she wrote about her feelings towards other women. Her poems were some of the most passionate and emotional of that time.

Sappho was born around 620 BCE, on the island of Lesbos. Sappho was born to her mother, Cleis, and her father, Scamandronymous. Evidence through her poetry says they died when she was very young. She would later have a daughter, who was named after her mother. Sappho was exiled from Lesbos to Sicily between 604 and 594 BCE, on the grounds of political conditions. It is now assumed that she returned to Lesbos, and spent the rest of her life there.

Sappho’s poems are called deeply lyrical and passionate. She herself was called “the tenth muse” by Plato. The theme of most of Sappho’s poems was about love between herself and other women. Although they did not have a name for it yet in the “pre-Freud” time, she was a lesbian. I have yet to read a poem by Sappho, but I find it hard to believe someone can conclude a person’s sexual orientation through a few pieces of writing. In fact, because of her, or with help from her, the terms “lesbian” and “sapphic” became to mean the same sex desire of and between women. Those who opposed her lesbianism began the rumor that she committed suicide by jumping off a cliff, for a man name Phaon. This is untrue, and experts estimate she died around 550 BCE. Although she was disliked by her prejudiced enemies, Sappho wrote with the same intensity about men as she did about women. People hundreds of years later would parody her, explaining her as overly-promiscuous and lesbian, such as the “New Comedy”, by the Greeks

In Lesbos, Sappho ran an academy for unmarried women, focusing mainly on “the cult of Aphrodite and Eros,” earning her credit as a devoted teacher and poet.

Although Sappho remains one of the lesser-known poets, with little known about her, she has been named one of the greatest female poets, and one of the most modern of her time.

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