Regarded as history’s greatest lyric and erotica poet, Sappho, was a woman of perspective. Around 2,500 years ago, her writing might not please overly orthodox society yet today her works are considered a masterpiece in contemporary literature. Sappo was an Archaic Greek who lived on the island of Lesbos. Most of her poetry today is lost and survived only in fragments. Her writing suggests that she also wrote elegiac and iambic poetry. But why this poet of the bygone era stood in the middle of discussions of sexuality?
Colored in sexuality, Sappho’s works challenge norms and traditions in her poetry that symbolized love, passion, and romance.
Only a handful of her works remains today and there is no detailed information on the life of Sappho. She was born a Greek Aristocrat in 630 BCE. Assumptions about her family suggest that she had multiple brothers, married a man, and had a daughter named Cleis. Yet none of her surviving poetries ever mentioned anything about her married life or her husband, yet her other family members are mentioned. Thus it is difficult to predict whether she was married or not.
The Parian Chronicle records that Sappho and her family may have gone to exile somewhere in between 604 and 591. The reason could be her family’s involvement in political conflict in Lesbos during that time, however, the sources are not accurate.
Her initial writings involved 10,000 lines of poetries but today only 650 had survived. She majorly wrote erotic poems describing the beauty of one’s sexuality, romance, and passion. Plato referred to her as “Tenth Muse” and “the poetess”. Her works were cited to be lost entirely for centuries and were first collected in nine volumes in the third century B.C, but due to natural pressure, they too were scattered. In the year 1898 scholars unearthed papyri that contained fragments of her poetry and later in 1914 during an archeological survey in Egypt, archeologists found coffins made from scraps of papers on which her works were mentioned.
According to one legend, an Athenian heard his nephew singing one of their songs and loved it so much that he asked his nephew to teach him. The nephew was Sappho and she used to sang playing the lyre like many singers of the era. But it was her lyrics that made her entirely different from the rest of the artists. Her lyrics were full of intimate phrases and passionate perspectives on love. researchers suggest that it was Sappho who first combined and used the word ‘bitter’ and ‘sweet’- a reference to ardent love.
Sappho Was A Queer Woman
Sappho is best recognized for her thoughts on homosexual desires in women. Most of her poetry is written on homoerotic love where she mentions her love for her female companion. Thus it is believed that Sappho was a queer woman in ancient Greece. In fact, her works are a mirror depicting the female LGBTQ history of ancient Greece. Her verse-
Her verse- “Weeping many tears, she left me and said, “Alas, how terribly we suffer, Sappho. I really leave you against my will.” And I answered: “Farewell, go and remember me. You know how we cared for you.” This refers to her desire and love for her woman companion who is leaving her against her will.
Even for modern readers, one thing about her has always been controversial- that she was a lesbian. Even the word Lesbian is derived from her home island named Lesbos, where she used to live. But as a matter of how gay she was, is not yet accurately described. A majority of writers wrote about things that are completely artifacts and do not have reference to real life.
Ovid insisted that Sappho fell in love with ferrymen and threw herself off the cliff when she was left heartbroken by the young man. While other historians believe that she died of old age in 550 B.C. Another rumor says that Sappho ran a girls school and people mentioned in her poetry were merely her students about whom she wrote her platonic affection. However, none of the tales is cited as true by the current consensus.
Her initial works were mostly lost and destroyed. priests intentionally neglected and destroyed her works because her writings were against their own perspectives. Later, a pope and archbishop ordered her writings to be burned and termed her as a ‘whore’ who wrote about her own erotic desires. Due to this, her masterpieces were destroyed and only fragments of her works remained. All of her poems are either completely lost or discovered in traces and only one of her poems survived completely.
Sappho’s works have been strengthening views of many women of 21st century as her writings are taught in schools to educate young students about the beauty of life. Many people wont know but her poetries shape opinions, and empower women of having control over their own sexualities. Despite numerous rumors, her poems are, for all dazzling, praised, spontaneous, direct, and honest.