40 Facts About Sappho


Sappho was an Archaic Greek poet from Eresos or Mytilene on the island of Lesbos.

FactSnippet No. 425,946

Sappho is known for her lyric poetry, written to be sung while accompanied by music.

FactSnippet No. 425,947

Three epigrams attributed to Sappho are extant, but these are actually Hellenistic imitations of Sappho's style.

FactSnippet No. 425,948

Sappho's was from a wealthy family from Lesbos, though her parents' names are uncertain.

FactSnippet No. 425,949

Sappho was a prolific poet, probably composing around 10, 000 lines.

FactSnippet No. 425,950

Sappho's poetry is still considered extraordinary and her works continue to influence other writers.

FactSnippet No. 425,951

Sappho's is shown holding a barbitos and plectrum, and turning to listen to Alcaeus.

FactSnippet No. 425,952

Sappho's was from the island of Lesbos and was probably born around 630 BC.

FactSnippet No. 425,953

Sappho was said to have three brothers: Erigyius, Larichus, and Charaxus.

FactSnippet No. 425,954

The Parian Chronicle records Sappho going into exile in Sicily some time between 604 and 591.

FactSnippet No. 425,955

Sappho probably wrote around 10, 000 lines of poetry; today, only about 650 survive.

FactSnippet No. 425,956

Sappho's is best known for her lyric poetry, written to be accompanied by music.

FactSnippet No. 425,957

Ancient authors claim that Sappho primarily wrote love poetry, and the indirect transmission of Sappho's work supports this notion.

FactSnippet No. 425,958

Sappho's poetry was probably first written down on Lesbos, either in her lifetime or shortly afterwards, initially probably in the form of a score for performers of her work.

FactSnippet No. 425,959

Alexandrian edition of Sappho's poetry was based on the existing Athenian collections, and was divided into at least eight books, though the exact number is uncertain.

FactSnippet No. 425,960

Whatever its make-up, the Alexandrian edition of Sappho probably grouped her poems by their metre: ancient sources tell us that each of the first three books contained poems in a single specific metre.

FactSnippet No. 425,961

Ancient editions of Sappho, possibly starting with the Alexandrian edition, seem to have ordered the poems in at least the first book of Sappho's poetry – which contained works composed in Sapphic stanzas – alphabetically.

FactSnippet No. 425,962

The latest surviving copies of Sappho's poems transmitted directly from ancient times are written on parchment codex pages from the sixth and seventh centuries AD, and were surely reproduced from ancient papyri now lost.

FactSnippet No. 425,963

In reality, Sappho's work was probably lost as the demand for it was insufficiently great for it to be copied onto parchment when codices superseded papyrus scrolls as the predominant form of book.

FactSnippet No. 425,964

Many of the surviving fragments of Sappho contain only a single word – for example, fragment 169A is simply a word meaning "wedding gifts", and survives as part of a dictionary of rare words.

FactSnippet No. 425,965

The oldest surviving fragment of Sappho currently known is the Cologne papyrus which contains the Tithonus poem, dating to the third century BC.

FactSnippet No. 425,966

Sappho likely worked within a well-developed tradition of Lesbian poetry, which had evolved its own poetic diction, meters, and conventions.

FactSnippet No. 425,967

Sappho's poetry is known for its clear language and simple thoughts, sharply-drawn images, and use of direct quotation which brings a sense of immediacy.

FactSnippet No. 425,968

Thus in fragment 2 Sappho has Aphrodite "pour into golden cups nectar lavishly mingled with joys", while in the Tithonus poem she explicitly states that "I love the finer things [habrosyne]".

FactSnippet No. 425,969

Common term lesbian is an allusion to Sappho, originating from the name of the island of Lesbos, where she was born.

FactSnippet No. 425,970

In classical Athenian comedy, Sappho was caricatured as a promiscuous heterosexual woman, and it is not until the Hellenistic period that the first testimonia which explicitly discuss Sappho's homoeroticism are preserved.

FactSnippet No. 425,971

The earliest of these is a fragmentary biography written on papyrus in the late third or early second century BC, which states that Sappho was "accused by some of being irregular in her ways and a woman-lover".

FactSnippet No. 425,972

Today, it is generally accepted that Sappho's poetry portrays homoerotic feelings: as Sandra Boehringer puts it, her works "clearly celebrate eros between women".

FactSnippet No. 425,973

One of the major focuses of scholars studying Sappho has been to attempt to determine the cultural context in which Sappho's poems were composed and performed.

FactSnippet No. 425,974

Various cultural contexts and social roles played by Sappho have been suggested, including teacher, cult-leader, and poet performing for a circle of female friends.

FactSnippet No. 425,975

However, the performance contexts of many of Sappho's fragments are not easy to determine, and for many more than one possible context is conceivable.

FactSnippet No. 425,976

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the German classicist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff posited that Sappho was a sort of schoolteacher, to "explain away Sappho's passion for her 'girls" and defend her from accusations of homosexuality.

FactSnippet No. 425,977

Parker argues that Sappho should be considered as part of a group of female friends for whom she would have performed, just as her contemporary Alcaeus is.

FactSnippet No. 425,978

Sappho's was sometimes referred to as "The Poetess", just as Homer was "The Poet".

FactSnippet No. 425,979

Sappho's was a popular character in ancient Athenian comedy, and at least six separate comedies called Sappho are known.

FactSnippet No. 425,980

Sappho's was shown on coins from Mytilene and Lesbos from the first to third centuries AD, and reportedly depicted in a sculpture by Silanion at Syracuse, statues in Pergamon and Constantinople, and a painting by the Hellenistic artist Leon.

FactSnippet No. 425,981

For instance, a fragment of a play by Menander says that Sappho threw herself off of the cliff at Leucas out of her love for Phaon.

FactSnippet No. 425,982

Sappho's suicide was depicted in classical art, for instance on a first-century BC basilica in Rome near the Porta Maggiore.

FactSnippet No. 425,983

In 1652, the first English translation of a poem by Sappho was published, in John Hall's translation of On the Sublime.

FactSnippet No. 425,984

Sappho began to be regarded as a role model for campaigners for women's rights, beginning with works such as Caroline Norton's The Picture of Sappho.

FactSnippet No. 425,985