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Sappho: famous Greek poetess of lyric poetry. Only a few fragments survive.


To a certain extent, the beauty of Sappho's poetry is caused by the fact that it is fragmentary. Her poetry is quoted by later authors, but most of their quotations are short and offer us a tantalizing glimpse of what once must have been a poem of great quality.

Unlike Homer and Hesiod, Sappho and the other lyric poets tried to express private sentiments. Because almost none of her poems is complete, it is hard to understand them, and many interpretations tell us more about the classicist than about the author, who lived c.600 in Mytilene on the Greek isle of Lesbos. Most scholars agree, however, that Sappho had a school where young aristocratic women received education before marriage.

Because Sappho sometimes expresses passionate sentiments for young girls, she is often called "lesbian" (in our sense of the word). This is in fact an oversimplification, because the Greeks had other ideas about homosexuality than we have. Besides, these attitudes changed. Later generations were often hostile to woman-girl relationships, but it is very likely that in sixth-century Mytilene, this type of love was not frowned upon.

Because Sappho's poems were not written in Attic Greek, which later became the main Greek dialect, they were no longer copied and were lost. Because of this, her works, which once were written down on no less than nine scrolls, are now known only from fragments, and it was quite a sensation when in 2005 the discovery of a new and pretty long fragment, dealing with old age, was announced (more...). In 2014, it was announced that two new fragments were discovered, and although the circumstances of the discovery were unclear, the discoverer claims they are authentic.

This page was created in 2005; last modified on 16 August 2015.