Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sappho! Lesbian Poet of Ancient Fame

I saved Sappho and her work for this, the final entry of our month-long GLBTQ Poetry party to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Sappho pictured reading, 440-430 BC

Sappho lived in the early sixth century B.C. on the island of Lesbos, where she was the leader of a group of women who gathered to compose and recite poetry. She was considered the greatest of the early Greek lyric poets.

Plato called her the "tenth muse."

She wrote about her love for other women, and her name (Sappho) and the island she lived on (Lesbos) have both become synonyms in various forms (sapphic, lesbian) with womyn who love womyn.

Only fragments of Sappho's poetry survive to this day - here are two that are amazing, translations from the Isle of Lesbos website:

I have not had one word from her

Frankly I wish I were dead
When she left, she wept

a great deal; she said to me, "This parting must be
endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly."

I said, "Go, and be happy
but remember (you know
well) whom you leave shackled by love

"If you forget me, think
of our gifts to Aphrodite
and all the loveliness that we shared

"all the violet tiaras,
braided rosebuds, dill and
crocus twined around your young neck

"myrrh poured on your head
and on soft mats girls with
all that they most wished for beside them

"while no voices chanted
choruses without ours,
no woodlot bloomed in spring without song..."

--Translated by Mary Barnard


Come back to me, Gongyla, here tonight,
You, my rose, with your Lydian lyre.
There hovers forever around you delight:
A beauty desired.

Even your garment plunders my eyes.
I am enchanted: I who once
Complained to the Cyprus-born goddess,
Whom I now beseech

Never to let this lose me grace
But rather bring you back to me:
Amongst all mortal women the one
I most wish to see.

--Translated by Paul Roche

There's a very scholarly analysis of her poems that you can download here (scroll down, the link is at the bottom of the page) by William Harris, Professor Em. Classics, Middlebury College

And for more general info on Sappho, check out this entry on her at

I hope you all enjoyed this month's celebration of the Queer in Poetry! Thanks for sharing and exploring it with me.

Tomorrow we'll be back to books!



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