Sappho: Poems and Fragments Background

Sappho: Poems and Fragments Background

Sappho was thought to be born around 615 B.C. on the Greek island of Lesbos to a wealthy, aristocratic family. In her adult life, Sappho ran an academy for unmarried young women, dedicating the school to the cult of Aphrodite and Eros, Greek gods traditionally associated with love. Over time, she gained prominence and became known as both a great teacher and poet. Her time and manner of death is often debated by everyone from Ovid to modern historians.

Sappho’s poems were first collated into eight volumes around the third century B.C., but all were lost for centuries after for various reasons. Until 2004, “Ode to Aphrodite” was the only surviving full work of Sappho’s. Otherwise, Sappho was known primarily through other authors’ quotes of her works. In 1898 and 1914, fragments of her poems were unearthed by scholars and archaeologists. Fragments continue to be discovered, including nine found in 2014.

Sappho’s most significant works are lyrical, meaning they were meant to be performed with music. The tone and meanings of each of her poems and fragments vary from author to author, as is the nature of translated works. One thing most authors agree on, though, is that Sappho primarily wrote about love, and loving and living in the aristocratic class. Most importantly, though, this love was a romantic love and affection toward other women. In the last century, Sappho has become so closely associated with romantic love between women that modern terms for female homosexuality have derived from her name (Sappho; sapphic) and her home island (Lesbos; lesbian).

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