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Sappho, the Poetess of Ancient Greece

 

Her name: Attic Greek Σαπφώ IPA: [sapːʰɔː], Aeolic Greek Ψάπφω [psapːʰɔː]) — Sappho — ‘perceptive brightness’ from Indo-European ‘sap-‘, ‘To taste, perceive’ and ‘bheigw-‘, ‘To shine’.

Sappho was a woman poet who was born on and lived on the island
of Lesbos about 600 BCE. The story of her love for Phaon and her suicide are probably not true. She was believed to be from a wealthy and noble family including 3 sons and one daughter, Sappho. She was married and had one daughter, Cleis. She was exiled to Syracuse for political reasons, but she returned to Lesbos in 581 BCE. She may have been the head of a girl’s school and some of the poems may have been written as songs for the girls to sing at weddings and festivals. It is also possible that she was the leader of a poetry circle.

Only a small bit of Sappho’s poetry remains; most of it very fragmentary. Of her Algernon Charles Swinburne said:
“Judging even from the mutilated fragments fallen within our reach from the broken altar of her sacrifice of song, I for one have always agreed with all Grecian tradition in thinking Sappho to be beyond all question and comparison the veRY greatest poet that ever lived.” You can decide for yourself as the following, translated by William Ellery Leonard, is her ODE TO APHRODITE

Deathless Aphrodite, throned in flowers,
Daughter of Zeus, O terrible enchantress,
With this sorrow, with this anguish, break my spirit,
Lady, not longer!

Hear anew the voice! O hear and listen!
Come, as in that island dawn thou camest,
Billowing in thy yoked car to Sappho
Forth from thy father's

Golden house in pity! . . . I remember:
Fleet and fair thy sparrows drew thee, beating
Fast their wings above the dusky harvests,
Down the pale heavens,

Lighting anon! And thou, O blest and brightest,
Smiling with immortal eyelids, asked me:
"Maiden, what betideth thee? Or wherefore
Callest upon me?

"What is here the longing more than other,
Here in this mad heart? And who the lovely
One beloved thou woudst lure to loving?
Sappho, who wrongs thee?

"See, if now she flies, she must soon follow;
Yes, if spurning gifts, she soon must offer;
Yes, if loving not, she soon must love thee,
Howso unwilling. . . "

Come again to me! O now! Release me!
End the great pang! And all my heart desireth
Now of fulfillment, fulfill! O Aphrodite,
   Fight by my shoulder!

“Ode to Anactoria”

Peer of the golden gods is he to Sappho,
He, the happy man who sits beside thee,
Heark'ning so divinely lose thy lovely
    Speech and dear laughter.

This it was that mad to flutter wildly
Heartof mine in bosom panting wildly! ...
Oh! I need to see thee but a little,
    When as at lightening,

Voice within me stumbles, tongue is broken,
Tingles all my flesh with subtle fire,
Ring my ears with waterfalls and thunders,
    Eyes are in midnight,

And a sweat bedews me like a shower,
Tremor hunts my body down and seizes,
Till, as one about to die, I linger
    Paler than grass is....

There is a drawing of Sappho at:

Click here

And another at:
Athens 1260

Recent pictures of Sappho:

Resources:

  • “Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches”, Greene, Ellen, ISBN10: 0520206010, ISBN13: 9780520206014, Paperback, 8/1/1999, Univ of California Pr
  • “Sappho; The Tenth Muse”, Freedman, Nancy, ISBN10: 0312186606, ISBN13: 9780312186609, Format: Trade Book, Pub. Date: 6/15/1998, Publisher(s): St. Martin’s Press

Please enter any question about Sappho in the space provided. If the question is suitable, both the question and its answer will be posted at the end of this web page.


Sappho

Questions and Answers

Question: Where can I find information about the poet, Erinna? (she wrote The Distaff)

Answer: Judy Chicago writes that Erinna lived in the 6th century BCE. She was Sappho’s most gifted student. Erinna composed the 300 verse poem “The Distaff” before her nineteenth year, the year of her death. Her verses were considered as good as Homer’s. Unfortunately, only fragments of her work are extent. To this I can add that she was a native of Rhodes or the adjacent island of Telos. Only 4 lines of her major poem still exit.

A catalog of books about women in the Greek world is availabe at:
Click Here.

Erinna wrote the following poem titled “Baucis”:

My funeral-shaft, and marble shapes that dwell
Beside it, and sad urn, receptacle
Of all I am, salute who seek the tomb,
If from my own, or other cities come;
And say to them, a bride I hither came,
Tenos my country, Baucis was my name.
Say also, this inscription for her friend
Erinna, handmaid of the Muses, penned.

translated by Richard Garnett

Question: Where can I get some info about the greek lyric poetess, Corinna of Tanagra?

Answer: Corinna of Tanagro flourished about 490 BCE. Judy Chicago says:
“Corinna, called the Lyric muse, left five books of poems and was the friend and critic of the great lyric poet Pindar. (It is a mystery why her work – which was greatly esteemed – has not survived, while Pindar’s has.) Corinna was thought to be second only to Sappho in poetic ability.” A bibliography is available at:

Click here
.
A directory of references is available at

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Question: Women of Athens were segregated from men. What are examples of mental segregation?

Answer: In the classical period all literature was produced by men. It
is impossible to know the thoughts of women through the minds of men. In the Archaic period there are a number of women who flourished. Sappho is a good case in point. Many poets think she is the greatest, but she was rediculed by the classical Greeks. Later medieval monks refused to copy her poems, or simply destroyed them.

Question: What island did Sappho live on?

Answer: Lesbos. This was a wine producing island off the coast of Asia Minor. It is also called Mytilene.

Question: Where Can I find info on Pythia or Sulpicia?

Answer: About Sulpicia Judy Chicago writes: “1st c. AD; Rome. Sulpicia, the author of thousands of poems, was the first Roman woman to encourage other women to write poetry of as high a quality as that of the greatest Greek poets. Upset by the expulsion of Stoic philosophers from Rome, she wrote a satirical poem which chastised Roman men for not protesting this act. She also wrote a poular poem on conjugal affection.”

Python was the name of a dragon that guarded the sacred place at Delphi. This deity was a personification of the underworld’s dark forces. Legend has it that Apollo killed the dragon and established his oracle at Delphi. There Apollo is called Pythian Apollo and his priestess was called Pythia. The fact that the Python is obviously a snake and that the oracles are always spoken by a priestess suggests that Apollo has taken over an ancient cult site of the snake goddess. The original goddess may have been called Python, but she was later represented by a female snake. After Apollo took ove the cult the priestess who gave the oracle was called Pythia.

Question: I read that women of Lesbos had more freedom and higher eductations than most Greek women. Is this true? What was the life of a Lesbian woman like at the time of Sappho?

Answer: These facts are suggested about what we know of Sappho. But her time was in the Archaic period and what we have is second hand.

Question: Is it true that Sappho is a lesbian?

Answer: It is possible, but not certain. It is more likely that she was
bisexual, but it is also possible that she was defamed and called these things. No one really knows.

Question: Explain the poem “To me he seems like a god”

Answer: This poem deals with the emotions and feelings of a lover in the presence of the beloved. Because it seems that a women poet is speaking about a woman, this could be interpreted as a Lesbian affair, but I prefer to think of the sex as ambiguous and so would apply to any two lovers.

Question: Greece was noted for homosexuality what contributed to this?

Answer: The Greeks accepted the reality of homosexuality and dealt with it in those terms. They did not promote homosexuality, but it may seem that way in the context of Christian morality which condemns it. They did feel that men should wait to be married and they felt that homosexuality may have helped with this process. Greek men first married at about 30 years of age.

Question: what did they eat

Answer: Click on the Menu Directory below and click on Daily Life.

Question: funeral songs

Answer:

To die must needs be sad, the gods do know it;
For were deadth sweet, they'd die, and straightaway show it.

Question: wedding songs

Answer:

Artists, raise the rafters high!
Hymaneaus!
Ample scope and stately plan --
Hymaneaus!
Mars-like comes the dridegroom nigh,
Hymaneaus!
Loftier than a lofty man.
Hymaneaus!

Question: i was wondering 1-where could i find more info and 2-where would sappho comapre or contrast to todays woman?

Answer: 1. Go to the shopping guide above, go to one of the booksellers (#16) and search for Sappho. You can also ask a more specific question.
2. Sappho was a very unusual woman. She might be compared with Emily Dickenson, Virginia Wolf, or Gertrude Stein, but even these might not live up to her standard.

Question: wHERE CAN i FIND MONUMENTAL RESEARCH ON SAPPHO?

Answer: See above.

Question: What were the names of the two women Sappho was
supposedly involved in a “unusual” relationship with?

Answer: Sappho wrote a poem titled “To Anactoria in Lydia” where she also mentions Atthis. She wrote a poem “To Gongyla” where she refers to “my rosebud Gongyla”. She also wrote a poem “To Atthis”.

Question: what is sapphic meter

Answer:Click here

Question: WHAT IS A WOMEN

Answer: From Sappho:

                I

Like the sweet apple which reddens upon
    the topmost bough,
A-top on the topmost twig,--which the
    pluckers forgot, somehow,--
Forget it not, nay, but got it not, for none
    could get it now.

                II

Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the
    hills is found,
Which the passing fee of the shephards
    forever tear and wound,
Until the purple blossom is trodden in the
    ground.

(One Girl translated by D. G. Rossetti)

Question: do you know of any sites where a good proportion of sappho’s poetry is avaiiable to read

Answer: All that is left of Sappho’s poetry is one Poem and 200 fragments so what you ask is already on this site. More information is available at:
Click here
More is available at:
Click here

Question: Sappho’s values towards females

Answer: Sappho valued both men and women.

Question: compare and contrast Sappho to Homer

Answer: Homer was an epic poet about which very little is known. Sappho was a lyric poetess who lived on the island of Lesbos. Homer’s work has been carefully preserved while Sappho’s has been systematically destroyed.

Question: What was the relationship between Plato and Sappho

Answer: Sappho died about one hundred years before Plato was born, so all Plato had was her poetry. Plato thought she was the tenth muse because he had a high regard for her.

Question: The poem written by greek poet sappho about her daughter Cleis

Answer: Click here

Question: why didn’t Erinna get married?

Answer: Information avout Erinna can be found at:

Question: how was sappho an impact on greek literature

Answer: The work of Sappho has been widely admired and imitated. Jealous authors also have lampooned her work.

Question: was sappho involved in a female homosexual group?

Answer: Maybe, but it cannot be proved either way. In those days homosexual sex and heterosexual sex were not well distinguished. Furthermore women were isolated from the males. They may have wanted pleasue to compensate for their isolation. Or they may have wanted practice so they could get along with the males. After all use of their sex was one of the few ways they could control the males in their life.

Question: dates of birth and death of Sappho

Answer: She was born about 630 BCE and she died after 581 BCE.

Question: How did her poetry reflect thesocial conditions of the period?

Answer: You can answer this best by reading her poetry.

Question: what was she goddess of

Answer: She was not a goddess. She was an historical mortal woman.
But she is like a goddess because of her fame and accomplishments. She is often compared to a muse of poetry.

Question: literary criticisms on the works of Sappho

Answer: The best I can give you is the following: The Songs of Sappho
Peter Pauper Press, 1942. Also try Wilson, Lyn Hatherly. Sappho’s
Sweetbitter Songs: Configurations of Female and Male in Ancient Greek Lyric. Routledge, 1996. DeJean, Joan. “Fictions of Sappho.” CI 13 (1987): 787-805.
DeJean argues that Lipking’s article, “A Poetics of Abandonment,” repeats a centuries-old gesture exemplified by male poets’ treatment of Sappho, in which women’s desire and artistic creativity are recast as a response to an abandonment by men, thus rendering “a feminocentric world” and female poetic genius non-threatening to the male writers.
Marks, Elaine. “Lesbian Intertextuality.” HOMOSEXUALITIES AND
FRENCH LITERATURE. Eds. George Stambolian and Elaine Marks.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979. 353-377. Marks uses “the Sappho model” to trace a lesbian intertextuality from Sappho’s own poetry to Wittig’s LE CORPS LESBIEN. She argues that Wittig’s texts extend this intertextuality into a new mode of representing female bodies and desire that defies appropriation and creates a
new female mythology outside of the “domestication” of
female sexuality that structures Judeo-Christian culture.

Question: What year did Sappho start the school for girls?

Answer: Click here,

Question: what is the theme of her works

Answer: The Greeks knew Sappho as the originator of lyric poetry, the first poet to make human emotions–and love in particular–her theme.

Question: Text of The Distaff,by ERinna

Answer: Fragments of the Distaff

Question: What is the poem “Dawn” about

Answer: In this poem fragment Sappho says:

“The gold slippered dawn had just come upon me when…”

Sappho is alluding to the arrival of the dawn as the arrival of the goddess Eos announcing the beginning of a new day with her rosy fingers and golden slippers. She is invoking the mysterious and mystical quality of the dawn as a delicate and evanescent quality. She must be one of the most beautiful and graceful of the goddesses.

Question: Religious rites on Lesbos

Answer: In a review of Claude Calame, “Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece: Their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Functions” the following is said: “In Chapter 4, “The Function of the Lyric Chorus,” Calame further explains the way in which the young women’s choruses contributed to the coming of age of the girls. First, Calame examines the institutional organization of the young women’s chorus, which leads to a first discussion of Sappho’s so-called circle (4.1.2). Calame argues that “[the evidence] shows structures in the Lesbos circle analogous to those characteristic of the female lyric chorus: young girls, bound to the one who leads them by ties expressed in the term hetaira, perform dances and songs together” (p. 212). Moreover, Sappho’s fragments suggest that other women on Lesbos possessed similar circles of young girls. Following A. Rivier and others, Calame argues for the institutional formality of these circles by pointing to the words adikein (“to commit an injustice”) and philotes (“friendship based on mutual confidence”) in Sappho fr. 1.19. Next, he compares the choruses of young women to the Spartan agele (4.1.3), the groups in which young Spartan boys were organized between the ages of seven and nineteen. The same word, agela, is actually used for a chorus of young Spartan women in a fragment of Pindar (fr. 112 M.). Like the lyric chorus, the Spartan agelai were under the charge of an older youth, who acted as its leader, and their internal relationships were marked by contemporality and companionship.” reference

Question: cultural changes introduced by sappho

Sappho set a standard for poetry that has never been exceeded.

Question: Why in the misogynistic society of 7-5th centuries BC in ancient Greece was Sappho considered a classic poet of as much renown and importance as her male contemporaries?

Answer: The claim that the society is misogynistic is based on the content of surviving literature. It is possible that there was something about writing that made the writers misogynists. But it is unlikely that the society could have achieved as high a level of culture in that case. The fact is that the society was separated sharply by sex. We have little from the women and a lot from
the men. Because the women stayed home and together there is the grass is greener on the other side of the fence syndrome. Then there was the desperate need for babies to support a growth economy. If women are not treated pretty well they do not produce healthy and productive babies. The wives got what they wanted, but other women may have suffered because of a reaction to the demands of the wives.

There is also the matter of the preservers of the Greek literature who were men who often picked literature to preserve what supported their view.

Finally, there is the inescapable fact that Sappho may have been the
greatest poet who ever lived.

Question: Is there a poem/fragment by Sappho called “To Eros” about love being the most precious of all heaven and earth’ offspring? If there is, who has translated it?

Answer: My edition of the Songs of Sappo contains poem XX To Love and was translated by Edmonds and Wharton. But all that
remains is a single fragment which you have paraphrased.

“Dearest offspring of Earth and Heaven.” Edmonds

“Love the child of Aphrodite and Heaven” Wharton

Question: why was the island that sappho lived on named lesbos?

Answer: In mythology, the island was first populated by grandchildren of Helios, Mytilene, Methymna, Issa, Antissa, Arisve, Eressos, Kydrolaos, Neandros and Leukippos. From these children the main settlements derived their names. One of the granddaughters was married to Lesvos, son of the Thessalian hero Lapithos and it was from him the island derived its name. A second theory is the word Lesvos means island with lush vegetation.

Question: where can i found a review or analysis of the poem a girl in love by sappho

Answer: My book The Songs of Sappho contains the following poems:

  1. To Aphrodite, p9
  2. To Brochero, p15
  3. Moonlight, p18
  4. Orchard Song, p19
  5. To Aphrodite, p20
  6. To Aphrodite, p21
  7. To Aphrodite, p21
  8. To the Muses, p22
  9. To some Wealthy Women, p22
  10. To Her Companions, p22
  11. To Her Friends, p23
  12. To her Companions, p23
  13. Of Doves, p23
  14. Of Critics and Trouble, p24
  15. The Dawn, p24
  16. Lydian Work, p24
  17. Of Jason’s Mantle, p24
  18. To Hecate, p25
  19. Maidens, p25
  20. To Love, p25
  21. To Hesperus, p25
  22. To Persuasion, p25
  23. To Her Brother Charaxus, p26
  24. To The Nereids, p28
  25. To Charaxus, p29
  26. To Anactoria in Lydia, p30
  27. To Hera, p33
  28. When Tempests Rage, p35
  29. Love is in No Haste, p36
  30. Parting from Friends, p36
  31. To Her Beloved, p37
  32. To Gongyla, p38
  33. Talk with Me, p39
  34. To a Bridegroom, p40
  35. To Atthis, p40
  36. A Foolish woman, p41
  37. Undecided, p41
  38. The Sky, p42
  39. Love, p42
  40. On Soft Cushions, p43
  41. Goodness is Beauty, p43
  42. Far Sweeter, p44
  43. From a Wedding Song, p44
  44. The Wedding of Andromache, p45
  45. Garlands, p50
  46. To the Graces, p50
  47. The God of Love, p50
  48. To an Uneducated Woman, p51
  49. No Maiden, p53
  50. Hero of Gyara, p53
  51. No Revenge, p54
  52. My Servitor Love, p54
  53. Fame, p54
  54. To her Lute, p55
  55. To Atthis, p55
  56. To Atthis, p56
  57. To Atthis leaving, p58
  58. To a Virgin, p61
  59. A dream of Hermes, p62
  60. On Anactoria, p63
  61. To herself, p67
  62. To Aphrodite, p67
  63. To Atthis, p68
  64. Brilliance, p69
  65. Death, p69
  66. A public beauty, p70
  67. Stubbornness, p70
  68. Of the cricket, p70
  69. I have come back, p71
  70. Leda, p71
  71. The country girl, p71
  72. The young husband, p72
  73. Wealth and Worth, p73
  74. Come, Graces, p73

Since your title in not listed here it may be necessary for you to list one or more lines of the poem before a review can be found.

Question: i have a question about sappho, more in particular about plato. what are the exact, greek, words, which are said to be plato’s, in which he considers sappho as the tenth muse?

Answer: Some ancient references to Sappho:

I do not find references to this quote.

Question: Please provide a copy of Sappho’s “One Girl” poem. Thanks and More Power!

Answer: Sadly none of Sappho’s poems were titled and my complete word has no poem by that title. But her is one listed as “To her beloved”:

   ...For when I look on you,
Then methinks Hermione
Was never such as you to see,
And I can say with better grace
That Helen's likeness is in your face
Than any maiden's of mortal race;
   Nay, I'd set you higher,
And to your beauty's altar bring
All my mind's thoughts for offering
   And all my hearts desire.

Translated by J.M. Edmonds as #XXXI

Notice that a poem by that title is printed above as translated by
Rosetti, but consists of two fragments in my book.

Question: How do you spell Sappho in the original Greek?

Answer: Sigma, alpha, pi, phi, omicron.

Question: Does Sapphos poetry fall into any known poetic structure?

Answer: “Sappho was called a lyrist because, as was the custom of the time, she wrote her poems to be performed with the
accompaniment of a lyre. Sappho composed her own music and refined the prevailing lyric meter to a point that it is now known
as sapphic meter.” Reference.

Question: How did Sappho regard love as being imposed on the
individual from the outside world?

Answer: Sappho regarded love as a gift of the gods, mainly Aphrodite.