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Legends about Sappho abound, many having been repeated for centuries. She is said, for example, to have been married to Cercylas, a wealthy man from the island of Andros. But many scholars challenge this claim, finding evidence in the Greek words of the bawdry of later Comic poets. Most modern critics also consider it legend that Sappho leaped from the Leucadian rock to certain death in the sea because of her unrequited love of Phaon, a younger man and a sailor.

She had at least two brothers, Larichus and Charaxus, and may have had a third. A fragment from Sappho that is dedicated to Charaxus has survived. The tradition that she fled the island or was banished and went to Sicily may be true, but she lived most of her life in her hometown of Mytilene on Lesbos. Her work contains only a few apparent allusions to the political disturbances of the time, which are so frequently reflected in the verse of her contemporary Alcaeus.

Sappho herself attacks in her poems other thiasoi directed by other women. The goal of the Sapphic thiasos is the education of young women, especially for marriage. Sappho is the intimate and servant of the goddess and her intermediary with the girls. In the ode to Aphrodite, the poet invokes the goddess to appear, as she has in the past, and to be her ally in persuading a girl she desires to love her. In the thiasos the girls were educated and initiated into grace and elegance for seduction and love. Singing, dancing, and poetry played a central role in this educational process and other cultural occasions.

As was true for other female communities , including the Spartan, and for the corresponding masculine institutions, the practice of homoeroticism within the thiasos played a role in the context of initiation and education.

There is a personal poetic dimension, which is also collective because all the girls of the group recognize themselves in it. It is not known how her poems were published and circulated in her own lifetime and for the following three or four centuries. In the era of Alexandrian scholarship 3rd and 2nd centuries bce , what survived of her work was collected and published in a standard edition of nine books of lyrical verse, divided according to metre. This edition did not endure beyond the early Middle Ages.

By the 8th or 9th century ce Sappho was represented only by quotations in other authors. Only the ode to Aphrodite, 28 lines long, is complete. The next longest fragment is 16 lines long. Since these fragments have been greatly increased by papyrus finds, though, in the opinion of some scholars, nothing equal in quality to the two longer poems. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind. Your contribution may be further edited by our staff, and its publication is subject to our final approval.

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Learn More in these related Britannica articles: No poet of this period displays the personal element more than Sappho.

Sappho: Poetic Fragments I

Despite the highly personal tone of her poetry, Sappho gives very few details of her life. She was born either in the town of Eresus or in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos in the northern Aegean Sea and lived her life in Mytilene. She is said to have married a wealthy man named Cercylas, and she herself mentions a daughter, Cleis.

Apparently Sappho came from one of the leading noble families in Mytilene, and, although she herself never mentions politics, tradition has it that her family was briefly exiled to Sicily shortly after B. Sappho had three brothers: Larichus, who served as a wine bearer in the town hall of Mytilene an honor reserved for youths of good family ; Charaxus, a merchant, whom Sappho scolds in her poetry for loving a prostitute in Egypt; and Eurygyus.

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There is some evidence that she lived to a fairly old age. Tradition relates that she was not beautiful but "small and dark. We can only estimate how much Sappho actually wrote, but her output must have been large because her works were collected in nine books arranged according to meter in the 3d century B. Although she enjoyed great popularity in antiquity, changes in literary fashion, the general decline of knowledge in the early Middle Ages , and Christian distaste for a poet who was considered vile resulted in the loss of most of her poetry.

Book 1 alone contained 1, lines; yet a total of fewer than 1, lines survive, many of them preserved by ancient grammarians citing peculiarities of the Aeolian dialect. Since the late 19th century many new fragments have been recovered from papyrus finds in Egypt. Except for a few wedding songs and some narrative poems, most of what remains of Sappho's poetry may be termed "occasional pieces," addressed to some person or to herself, very personal in content and manner.

The subject is nearly always love and the attendant emotions—affection, passion, hatred, and jealousy—which Sappho felt toward the young girls who made up her "circle" or her rivals in love. Much scholarly controversy rages over the relationship between Sappho and the women about whom she wrote. On the one hand, it has been maintained that she was a corrupter of girls and instructed them in homosexual practices; on the other hand, it is said that she headed a kind of polite "finishing school" which prepared young ladies for marriage or that she was the leader of a thiasos religious association , sacred to Aphrodite, in which girls were taught singing and other fine arts, with no hint of sexual irregularity.

The precise nature of this circle of young women remains unclear. From the poems themselves it is clear that Sappho associated with girls, some of whom came from long distances, to whom and about whom she wrote poems detailing her frankly erotic feelings toward them. Sappho's poetry is characterized by its depth of feeling and delicacy and grace of style. She wrote in her native Aeolian dialect, using ordinary vocabulary; her thoughts are expressed simply and unrhetorically but with exquisite care.

Her grace and charm together with her technical skill in handling language and meter are most fully realized in the several longer fragments which have survived. One poem, "He appears to me like a god," a masterpiece of erotic lyric poetry, was closely imitated by the Roman poet Catullus over years later and suggests the esteem in which the ancients held Sappho. Plato called her "the tenth Muse. An excellent modern translation of Sappho with Greek text and notes is Willis Barnstone, Sappho A more detailed analysis of Sappho's works is Denys L.

Page, Sappho and Alcaeus: Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. Retrieved September 18, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia. BC, greatest of the early Greek lyric poets Plato calls her "the tenth Muse" , b.

Facts about her life are scant. She was an aristocrat, who wrote poetry for her circle of friends, mostly but not exclusively women, and like other poets of her era, she was most likely a musician and a performer. She may have had a daughter. The term lesbian see homosexuality , her presumed sexual orientation, is derived from the name of her island home, Lesbos. The ancients had seven or nine books of her poetry the first book originally consisted of Sapphic stanzas; named for her, it consists of three long lines followed by one short line.

Only fragments of her verse survive; the longest seven stanzas is an invocation to Aphrodite asking her to help the poet in her relation with a beloved woman. The most recently discovered, the five-stanza "Brothers Poem," was found in She wrote in Aeolic dialect in a great many meters. Her verse is a classic example of the love lyric, and is characterized by her passionate love of women, a love of nature, a direct simplicity, and perfect control of meter.

Sappho Biography

She influenced many later poets, e. See translations by M. Barnard , W. Barnstone , G. Davenport , , , S.

Groden , P. Roche , A. Carson , S. Lombardo , and D. Raynor ; studies by D. Sappho early 7th century bc , Greek lyric poet who lived on Lesbos. The centre of a circle of women on her native island of Lesbos, she mainly wrote love poems in her local dialect the term sapphics is used for verse in a metre associated with her. Many of her poems express her affection and love for women, and have given rise to her association with female homosexuality, from which the words lesbian and sapphic in this sense derive. Sappho Greek poet who was writing during the early 6th century bc.

Regarded by ancient commentators as the equal of Homer, the ancient Greek poet Sappho expressed human emotions with honesty, courage, and skill. Sappho has been the subject of controversy, and most of her work has been lost over the centuries or deliberately destroyed. It is clear from the existing verses, however, that she deserved her reputation, and her work warrants continued study and appreciation.

Native of Lesbos Very few details of Sappho's life survive, and many classicists note that these accounts have. The only standard—but unreliable—source of information about Sappho is the Suidas , a Greek lexicon compiled at around the end of the tenth century. Based on earlier lexicons, scholarly commentaries, and excerpts from the works of historians, grammarians, and biographers, the Suidas records that Sappho was a native of Lesbos, an island northeast of Athens in the Aegean Sea , and that she was probably born in either the city of Eresus or Mytilene.

Her father's name is given as Scamandronymus and her mother's as Cleis.


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Evidence also suggests that Sappho had three brothers and that her family belonged to the upper class. According to traditional accounts, she lived briefly in Sicily around bce, having been forced into exile by political strife on Lesbos. After returning to her homeland, Sappho married a wealthy man named Cercylas, had a daughter named Cleis, and spent the rest of her life in Mytilene. There she organized and ran a thiasos , or academy for unmarried young women. The school was devoted to the cult of Aphrodite and Eros, where beauty and grace were held as the highest values.

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Ancient commentary attests that this thiasos ranked as one of the best, and Sappho enjoyed great renown as its dedicated teacher and spiritual leader. Some legends of Sappho's life indicate that she lived to old age, but others relate that she fell hopelessly in love with Phaon, a young sailor, and, disappointed by their failed love affair, leaped to her death from a high cliff—a story that has been largely discredited by modern scholars. Her principal work consisted of nine books, which the grammarians of Alexandria arranged according to meter.

The earliest surviving texts date from the third century bce Because the first book contained 1, lines, it can be surmised that Sappho left approximately 12, lines, of which have survived, pieced together from several sources. Only one complete poem remains, quoted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the rest ranging in completeness from several full lines to one word.

Many of the lines lack beginning, middle, or end because they have survived on mummy wrapping in Egyptian tombs, the papyrus having been ripped crosswise of the roll, lengthwise of the poem. The long rolls of papyrus, made from the stalks of a water plant, also survived in battered condition in the dry Egyptian climate in garbage dumps and as stuffing in the mouths of mummified crocodiles. In knowledge of Sappho's works increased dramatically when scholars discovered third-century bce papyri containing additional verse fragments.

In archaeologists excavating cemeteries in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, unearthed papier-mache coffins composed of scraps of paper containing fragments of literary writings, including some by Sappho. These findings sparked renewed interest in Sappho and inspired new critical studies of her texts. Scandalous Love Poet Sappho's works have been admired for their stylistic merit from her own time onward, and while her literary merit remains secure, Sappho's personal reputation has been controversial even to the point of sometimes overshadowing her status as a poet.

Her passionate verses and attitudes toward love have attracted a great deal of attention and garnered rumors about her sexual preference. In fact, the opinion that Sappho's sexual orientation was lesbian is so entrenched that the term itself is derived from the name of her homeland. Lyric Poetry Sappho wrote poetry at a time when Greek literature was dominated by the influence of Homer and the epic narrative.

Yet the tradition of lyric poetry was even older and had played an important part in Greek history. During Sappho's time, lyric poetry enjoyed a successful revival.

Sappho - Classics - Oxford Bibliographies

Sappho seems to have been not only familiar with Homer but also with the poets Terpander and Alcaeus, both from Mytilene, and Archilochus, a poet from the nearby island of Paros. As was typical of Greek lyric poetry in general, Sappho's verses were highly personal, conveying deeply felt emotion in a simple, translucent style. Her emphasis was on emotion, on subjective experience, and on the individual.

Sappho's Love Songs Music, too, as in all early Greek lyric poetry, served an important function in her works: Most of Sappho's poems are monodies, songs composed for solo singers and intended to be sung to the accompaniment of the lyre. Much of Sappho's poetry commemorated a certain event taking place in her thiasos , but she also composed narrative poetry, hymns, and epithalamia, or marriage songs.

Sources from antiquity have recorded that Sappho was especially famous for the latter and that she was a frequent guest at weddings where she would sing a song composed especially for the couple. Scholars contend that Sappho's epithalamia raised this ancient folk tradition to a new level of artistic excellence.