Who was Sappho?
Sappho (c. 630 BCE - 570 BCE) was a Greek poet known for her lyric poetry, written to be sung while accompanied with music. She was also given names such as the “Tenth Muse” and “The Poetess”. Little is known about her life except that she was from a wealthy family on the island of Lesbos.
Sappho was a prolific poet, estimated to have written around 10,000 lines. In antiquity her poetry was well-known and admired. She was among the canon of Nine Lyric Poets, a group of Ancient Greek poets esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria as worthy of critical study.
Her one complete lyric poem that has survived today is “Ode to Aphrodite”. In addition to her lyric poetry, ancient commentators claimed that Sappho wrote elegiac (mourning or expressing sorrow) and iambic (metrical) poetry.
No reliable portrait of Sappho’s physical appearance has survived; all extant representations, ancient and modern, are artists’ conceptions.
Beyond her poetry, she is well known as a symbol of love and desire between women, with the English words ‘sapphic’ and ‘lesbian’ being derived from her own name and the name of her home island, respectively.
According to legend, she killed herself by leaping from the Leucadian cliffs (island on the west coast of Greece) due to her love for the young and beautiful ferryman Phaon.