pompei_-_sappho_-_man

Born in the early 600s BC, Sappho entered life on the isle of Lesbos, which was the cultural center of Greece at the time. Though not much is known about her early life (or any details of her personal life, for that matter) one of the most common myths about this legendary woman is that she was exiled to Sicily for her political beliefs or homosexuality. The truth is that there is only a vague reference to her being sent to Sicily by her family when she was a child because of political unrest in lesbos at the time.

We’re also not sure when she first began writing her poetry, or when she first picked up her lyre

tumblr_ndpdpsFfue1rltf5co1_400(this thing)

but once she did she was met with universal acclaim. Her writings were more introspective and personal than that of other writers of the time, and was one of the first poets to write in the first person. She was so highly regarded that Plato commented that she would be considered the ‘tenth’ muse, and the poet Solon was so moved by one of her songs, he requested his friend teach it to him “Because I want to learn it and die.”

Sappho also wrote homoerotic poetry, and if you haven’t guessed already, she’s responsible for the word ‘lesbian’, though lesbian was not used to refer to a female homosexual until the 19th century. There’s much debate over whether Sappho was a lesbian herself, with many scholars advising against reading her poetry as autobiographical, there’s no questioning that much of it was about women.

“Some celebrate the beauty
of knights, or infantry,
or billowing flotillas
at battle on the sea.
Warfare has its glory,
but I place far above
these military splendors
the one thing that you love.

For proof of this contention
examine history:
we all remember Helen,
who left her family,
her child, and royal husband,
to take a stranger’s hand:
her beauty had no equal,
but bowed to love’s command.

As love then is the power
that none can disobey,
so too my thoughts must follow
my darling far away:
the sparkle of her laughter
would give me greater joy
than all the bronze-clad heroes”

The Suda (a 10th centruy encyclopedia) makes the claim that Sappho was married to a “very wealthy man called Cercylas, who traded from Andros”, which is probably false, as ‘Ceracylas from Andros’ translates to ‘Penis, from Man Island’. There’s also a legend which has Sappho committing suicide by throwing herself off a cliff because of an unrequited heterosexual love. However, there’s no evidence of this actually happening and many have speculated that the legend was invented to give dear Sappho a heterosexual identity.

Whatever her sexuality was, the lady-loving Sappho will forever be remembered (or, actually, mostly forgotten) as one of the greatest poets of all time.