Sappho

Sappho (Greek Σαπφω, Sapphô) was an Ancient Greek poet, from the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, which was a cultural centre in the 7th century BC. She was born sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC. It was said that she was small and dark.

Sappho was married to a wealthy merchant, and they had a daughter named Cleis. She became very famous in her day for her poetry -- so much so that the city of Syracuse built a statue to honor her when she visited. Her family was politically active, which caused Sappho to travel a great deal. She was also noted during her life as the headmistress of a sort of Greek finishing school for girls. Most likely the objects of her poetry were her students.

She was a lyric poet who developed her own particular meter, known as sapphic meter, and she was credited for leading an aesthetic movement away from classical themes of gods, to the themes of individual human experience. Plato was so enamoured of her poetry that he referred to her as the "tenth Muse".

Sappho wrote mainly love poems, of which only fragments survive, save a single complete poem, Fragment 1, Hymn to Aphrodite. Given her reputation in the ancient world, since only fragments of her work remain, the world lost a valuable treasure in her work.

Some of her love poems were addressed to women, from which she developed a reputation for lesbianism. The word lesbian itself is derived from the name of the island of Lesbos from which she came. (She is also the origin of its much rarer synonym sapphic, derived from her name.)

Due to its homosexual content--and because of its explicit eroticism--her work was disapproved of by the Christian church, which is arguably the main reason why most of it has not survived, due to a combination of neglecting to copy it and undoubtedly in some cases purposeful destruction.

While in the modern period this content is well known, in ancient and medieval times she was more famous for (according to legend) throwing herself off a cliff due to unrequited love for a male sailor named Phaon. However, this legend has no substantiation in Greek history, and it is generally believed that the legend was a fiction created by the Christian church to misdirect attention away from the overtones of her writing. (Of particular note is that a purported consort of hers was named Cercglas of Andros, literally "Penis, from the town of Man").

See also: list of bisexuals

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