Sappho

Sappho (săf´ō), fl. early 6th cent. BC, greatest of the early Greek lyric poets (Plato calls her "the tenth Muse" ), b. Mytilene on Lesbos. Facts about her life are scant. She was an aristocrat, who wrote poetry for her circle of friends, mostly but not exclusively women. She may have had a daughter. The term lesbian (see homosexuality), her presumed sexual orientation, is derived from the name of her island home, Lesbos. The ancients had seven or nine books of her poetry (the first book originally consisted of 330 Sapphic stanzas). Only fragments survive; the longest (seven stanzas) is an invocation to Aphrodite asking her to help the poet in her relation with a beloved woman. She wrote in Aeolic dialect in a great many meters, one of which has been called, after her, the Sapphic. Her verse is a classic example of the love lyric, and is characterized by her passionate love of women, a love of nature, a direct simplicity, and perfect control of meter. She influenced many later poets, e.g., Catullus, Ovid, and Swinburne.

See translations by M. Barnard (1962), W. Barnstone (1965), G. Davenport (1965, 1980, 1995), S. Q. Groden (1967), P. Roche (1999), A. Carson (2002), and S. Lombardo (2002); studies by D. L. Page (1965, repr. 1979) and A. P. Burnett (1955, repr. 1983).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Sappho and Her Influence
David M. Robinson.
Marshall Jones Company, 1924
Poems and Fragments
Sappho; Stanley Lombardo; Susan Warden.
Hackett, 2002
Sappho's Sweetbitter Songs: Configurations of Female and Male in Ancient Greek Lyric
Lyn Hatherly Wilson.
Routledge, 1996
Women's History and Ancient History
Sarah B. Pomeroy.
University of North Carolina Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: "Public Occasion and Private Passion in the Lyrics of Sappho of Lesbos"
Greek Civilization
André Bonnard; A. Lytton Sells.
Allen and Unwin, 1957
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Five "Sappho of Lesbos, Tenth of the Muses"
Women's Roles in Ancient Civilizations: A Reference Guide
Bella Vivante.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Women's Voices: Sappho and Other Female Poets" begins on p. 245
Greek Poetry for Everyman
F. L. Lucas.
Macmillan, 1951
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho of Mytilene" begins on p. 243
Lives in Education: A Narrative of People and Ideas
L. Glenn Smith; Joan K. Smith.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho (c. 630-c. 572 B.C.)" begins on p. 6
New Chapters in the History of Greek Literature. Third Series: Some Recent Discoveries in Greek Poetry and Prose of the Classical and Later Periods
J. U. Powell.
Clarendon Press, 1933
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho" begins on p. 2
Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece: Their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Function
Claude Calame; Derek Collins; Janice Orion.
Rowman & Littlefield, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "The 'Circle' of Sappho" begins on p. 210
The Thinker as Artist: From Homer to Plato & Aristotle
George Anastaplo.
Ohio University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Sappho: On the Poems"
Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality
Bruce S. Thornton.
Westview Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho's Aphrodite" begins on p. 60
Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality
Anna Livia; Kira Hall.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Sappho, or the Importance of Culture in the Language Love"
Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity
Maria Wyke.
Oxford University, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "'The Mother of the Argument': Eros and the Body in Sappho and Plato's Phaedrus"
Greek Lyric Poetry from Alcman to Simonides
C. M. Bowra.
Clarendon Press, 1936
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "Sappho"
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