The contradictions and mystery of Sappho #flashbackfriday
We’ve all heard about her. But who was Sappho of the Isle of Lesbos?
Trying to identify this female Greek poet can be quite hard. She had lived such a long time ago– in the 5th century BCE– that all we know of her comes from historical bits and pieces, and fragments of her work.
Unfortunately, whatever historical accounts there are don’t agree on her physical description, her alleged predilections, or even her character.
Second, while the island she lived in, Lesbos, was the basis for the term ‘lesbian’ (and her name associated with women loving women), her true sexuality was actually suspect.
What we do know about her for certain was that even Plato was taken by her, calling her the “Tenth Muse” despite being “vexed” by poetry.
Sappho, the naughty poet
This much is known about Sappho: born in 620 BCE, she came from a line of aristocratic blood. And while her name today overshadows her literary achievements, Sappho was considered one of the best lyrical poets of all time.
Her poems were written in a form that could be sung with a lyre (hence called lyric poems), but there was also a sauciness to her writing such that her poems were burned by the early Church.
To quote: “A sex-crazed whore who sings of her own wantonness,” as one theologian described her.
Though her poetry was too sexual for some, it described the murmurs of the heart and was too honest for comfort for most.
o your beguiling laughter: O it makes my
panicked heart go fluttering in my chest,
for the moment I catch sight of you there’s no
speech left in me,
But was Sappho even a lesbian?
One of the biggest contention was whether Sappho was even a lesbian.
Theories had it that she was married and had a child, while another legend had it that she jumped off a cliff after her love for a male sailor went unrequited.
Still, she had poems that were dedicated to women. For example: The sparkle of her laughter would give me greater joy than all the bronze-clad heroes.
Critics argue, though, that this was normal; that in Greece during those times, bisexuality was commonplace.
For all the mystery surrounding her, her voice–through her poetry– still shines through the centuries. And from her works, we know what she means when her poetry sings of women:
Come to me now again, release me from
this pain, everything my spirit longs
to have fulfilled, fulfill, and you
be my ally
Despite the mystery and contradictions, the compelling power of Sappho remains throughout centuries.