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, and like other poets of her era, she was most likely a musician and a performer. 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; named for her, it consists of three long lines followed by one short line). Only fragments of her verse survive; the longest (seven stanzas) is an invocation to Aphrodite asking her to help the poet in her relation with a beloved woman. The most recently discovered, the five-stanza "Brothers Poem," was found in 2012. She wrote in Aeolic dialect in a great many meters. 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), S. Lombardo (2002), and D. J. Raynor (2014); studies by D. L. Page (1965, repr. 1979) and A. P. Burnett (1955, repr. 1983).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Sappho: Selected full-text books and articles

Sappho and Her Influence By David M. Robinson Marshall Jones Company, 1924
Poems and Fragments By Sappho; Stanley Lombardo; Susan Warden Hackett, 2002
Women's History and Ancient History By 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 By 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 By Bella Vivante Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Women's Voices: Sappho and Other Female Poets" begins on p. 245
Greek Poetry for Everyman By F. L. Lucas Macmillan, 1951
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho of Mytilene" begins on p. 243
Lives in Education: A Narrative of People and Ideas By Joan K. Smith; L. Glenn Smith Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho (c. 630-c. 572 B.C.)" begins on p. 6
Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece: Their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Function By 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 By George Anastaplo Ohio University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Sappho: On the Poems"
Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality By Bruce S. Thornton Westview Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "Sappho's Aphrodite" begins on p. 60
Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality By 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 By 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 By C. M. Bowra Clarendon Press, 1936
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "Sappho"
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