Sappho

Sappho (săfˈō) [key], fl. early 6th cent. B.C., 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 Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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