someone will remember us
even in another time
Reconstructed and extended image from red-figure hydria by the Group of Polygnotos, 440-430 BC. A seated woman, reading. The reader's name is on her right: SAPPWS, with space for one letter before, but no letter is visible. Significant words on the rolled part of the scroll: EPEA PTEROETA and on the open sheet: THEOI HERIWN EPEWN ARKHOMAI.
Sappho (c. 630/612 – c. 570 BC) was the child of an aristocratic family from the island of Lesbos (in Eressos). We know that she was productive during the 42th Olympiad period. Her father Skamandronymos, a merchant, died when Sappho was a child. She had three brothers: Charaxos, Eurygus and Larichos (Ἐρίγυιον καὶ Λάριχον, πρεσβύτατον δὲ Χάραξον, ὃς πλεύσας εἰς Αἴγυπτον ). Most of her poems (Aeolic dialect), which were always set to music, describe erotic passion and its consequences. She was a lyric poet who developed her own particular meter, known as sapphic meter, and she was credited for leading an aesthetic movement away from classical themes of gods, to the themes of individual human experience. Sappho speaks in the first person and describes her own experiences. She was considered by the Greeks to be on an equal footing with Homer. Plato referred to her as the "tenth Muse". Her poetry was collected three hundred years after her death at the Library of Alexandria in nine books. Some of her poems were known to be hundreds of lines long. Only Fragments of her poems survived. Sappho's books were burned by Christians in the year 380 AD at the instigation of Pope Gregory Nazianzen and again in 1073 AD by Pope Gregory VII who ordered the destruction of the remaining traces of her work. Was this because she was assumed to be a “lesbian” as Cicero for example said because in her poems she expresses her feelings for other women? It is interesting that we know more in the last 1-2 centuries of her poems from discoveries of Papyrus fragments in Egypt. Some scholars consider the case of Sappho like an enigma especially since she was a woman and poetry in her period was not written down. Poems were presented to the public in various occasions many times and thus somehow memorized (surprisingly even works as large as the entire Iliad and Odyssey!, see Faraday 457) and preserved for many centuries until one day some of these poems written on Papyrus or Parchment. In 2004 Michael Gronewald and Robert Daniel announced the discovery of a fourth poem from a Papyrus from the University of Cologne (Köln) in Germany. Except the previous 3 poems around 264 fragments of her poems survived from which 63 are complete lines.
Sappho in Raphael's Parnassus
Some consider that Sappho's poems show that the the society of Mytilene was different than in other Greek cities, especially the role of women in the Aristocratic society.
The epithalamium ((pl. epithalamia), a Greek word for “upon the bridal chamber,” a kind of poem originally performed at weddings in honor of the bride and groom) is identified as a literary form with Sappho.
Sappho and Alkaios each with a Barbitos (a kind of lyre instrument) , Kalathos, Brygos Painter, c. 470 B.C. (Munich, Germany) Munich, Antikensammlungen Munich 2416
Ἔρος δ΄ ἐτίναξέ μοι φρένας͵ ὠς ἄνεμος κὰτ ὄρος δρύσιν ἐμπέτων
Love shook my soul, like on the mountain the wind upon the oaks falls
στᾶθι κἄντα φίλος καὶ τὰν ἐπ΄ ὄσσοισ΄ ὀμπέτασον χάρι
Because you love me
Stand with me face to face
And unveil the softness in your eyes...
ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον οἰ δὲ πέσδων
δὲ νάων φαῖσ΄ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν
λλος [ἀνθ]ρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]νἄνδρα
ν [ ]στον
λλ[ίποι]σ΄ ἔβα ΄ς Τροΐαν πλέοι[σα
ὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων το[κ]ήων
]αμπτον γὰρ [
]κούφως τ[ ]οην
]με νῦν Ἀνακτορί[ας ὀ]νέμναι
]ς κε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
μάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοισι
Translations by Julia Dubnoff
Some say an army of horsemen,
some of footsoldiers, some of ships,
is the fairest thing on the black earth,
but I say it is what one loves.
It’s very easy to make this clear
to everyone, for Helen,
by far surpassing mortals in beauty,
left the best of all husbands
and sailed to Troy,
mindful of neither her child
nor her dear parents, but
with one glimpse she was seduced by
Aphrodite. For easily bent...
and nimbly...[missing text]...
has reminded me now
of Anactoria who is not here;
I would much prefer to see the lovely
way she walks and the radiant glance of her face
than the war-chariots of the Lydians or
their footsoldiers in arms.
Sappho – around 600 BC
Sappho by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema 1881, probably showing her school (thiassos) for girls before they get married where Sappho was a teacher of poetry, music and dance. The poet Alkaios (or Alcaeus) is shown, a lover of Sappho. Some say that Sappho had a daughter Kleis and was married with Cercylas from Andros who died when Sappho was young (around 35 years). Alma-Tadema knew that Sappho is described as a short dark-haired woman “τὴν δὲ μορφὴν εὐκαταφρόνητος δοκεῖ γεγονέναι καὶ δυσειδεστάτην, τὴν μὲν γὰρ ὄψιν φαιώδης ὑπῆρχεν, τὸ δὲ μέγεθος μικρὰ παντελῶς” . More informations hidden in this work: The Temple of Sappho, as re-imagined by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)
Sappho , (Le coucher de Sappho), Charles Gleyre, 1867
Sappho, World Noted Women. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1883.
That man to me seems equal to the gods,
the man who sits opposite you
and close by listens
to your sweet voice
and your enticing laughter—
that indeed has stirred up the heart in my breast.
For whenever I look at you even briefly
I can no longer say a single thing,
but my tongue is frozen in silence;
instantly a delicate flame runs beneath my skin;
with my eyes I see nothing;
my ears make a whirring noise.
A cold sweat covers me,
trembling seizes my body,
and I am greener than grass.
Lacking but little of death do I seem.
Immortal Aphrodite, on your intricately brocaded throne,
child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, this I pray:
Dear Lady, don’t crush my heart
with pains and sorrows.
But come here, if ever before,
when you heard my far-off cry,
you listened. And you came,
leaving your father’s house,
yoking your chariot of gold.
Then beautiful swift sparrows led you over the black earth
from the sky through the middle air,
whirling their wings into a blur.
Rapidly they came. And you, O Blessed Goddess,
a smile on your immortal face,
asked what had happened this time,
why did I call again,
and what did I especially desire
for myself in my frenzied heart:
“Who this time am I to persuade
to your love? Sappho, who is doing you wrong?
For even if she flees, soon she shall pursue.
And if she refuses gifts, soon she shall give them.
If she doesn’t love you, soon she shall love
even if she’s unwilling.”
Come to me now once again and release me
from grueling anxiety.
All that my heart longs for,
fulfill. And be yourself my ally in love’s battle.
Sappho in the Apotheosis of Homer of Ingres
The other 9 muses
Calliope (Beautiful Voice) epic poetry. (Mother of Orpheus) (Orpheus Illustrations)
Clio (kleos(glory) / kleiein (to celebrate) / Celebration/Fame) – history.
Erato (eros (love) Lovely One) love poetry. (Roman Sculpture)
Euterpe (Delight) music.
Melpomene (melpein (to sing) the Singing goddess) tragedy. (Roman Sculpture)
Polyhymnia (poly (many) and hymnos (hymn) or mnasthai (to remember) Many Songed/Hymned) sacred poetry. (considered also as inventor of the lyre) (Roman Sculpture)
Terpsichore (Delight of dancing/choruses) dance. (Roman Sculpture)
Thalia (thallein (to bloom), Festivity) comedy. (Copy of Greek Sculpture)
Urania (ouranos (sky) Heavenly One) astronomy. (Roman Sculpture) (Another sculpture )
Sappho was the title of comedies by Ameipsias, Amphis, Antiphanes, Dïphilus, Ephippus, and Timocles
Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946) Sappho and Sapphic Poem
Giovanni Pacini (1795-1867), Saffo, Opera
Sappho De Mytilene , Angelique Ionatos
One of many images inspired probably by Sappho
The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece! Where burning Sappho loved and sung. Where grew the arts of war and peace,-- Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung! Eternal summer gilds them yet, But all, except their sun, is set. Lord Byron The Isles of Greece, (George Gordon Noel Byron) in Don Juan (canto III, st. 86)
Every one honours the wise’. Thus the Parians have honoured Archilochus, in spite of his bitter tongue; the Chians Homer, though he was not their countryman; the Mytilenaeans Sappho, though she was a woman; the Lacedaemonians actually made Chilon a member of their senate, though they are the least literary of men; Alcidamas, Aristotle Rhetoric Book 2
Helen of Troy had a wandering glance;
Sappho's restriction was only the sky;
Ninon was ever the chatter of France;
But oh, what a good girl am I!
Dorothy Parker . Words of Comfort to Be Scratched on a Mirror
Sappho and the Songs of Bilitis ( a "lesbian" poetess invented by Pierre Louÿs)
Female Intellect in Antiquity:Poets of Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations
Images of Sappho through the ages
Eresos Website (English and Greek)
The Laughter of Aphrodite: A Novel about Sappho of Lesbos Peter Green, University of California Press; Reprint edition (October 1995)
Catullan Voices in Heroides 15 : How Sappho Became a Man (PDF)
PaintingsSappho et Phaon Chantant Leurs Amours Dans Une Grotte, Martin Drolling (1752-1817) , Drawings
Sappho and Alcaeus, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Sappho on the Leucadian Cliff, Pierre-Narcisse Guérin
Sappho, Gustav Klimt
Sappho, Arnold Böcklin
Sappho On The Cliffs Of Leucas, Edmund Friedrich Kanoldt
Sappho Leaping into the Sea from the Leucadian Promontory, Théodore Chassériau
Sappho, Charles Gleyre
Sappho , Theofilos
Sappho, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Sappho , Mary Barnard (Translator), Dudley Fitts (Foreword)
Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works . Diane J. Rayor (Translator), André Lardinois (Introduction)
Women poets in ancient Greece and Rome, by Ellen Greene (Editor), University of Oklahoma Press ISBN: 0806136642
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire