Sappho was born on the island of Lesbos in seventh century BC. She wrote nine books of odes along with a number of epithalamia (wedding songs), elegies, and hymns. She even invented the verse form known as Sapphics. It is a four-line stanza in which the first three lines contain eleven syllables and the last five.
Two centuries after her death, the Greek philosopher Plato referred to her as the tenth muse. However, not everyone was so appreciative of her divine work. Gregory of Nazianzus and other closed-minded leaders and religious figures ordered the burning of all of her poetry just because it spoke of the love between women. Only a single one of her poems remains in full. All the others are merely fragments.
Although her work was criticized, she still became a major influence in other poets such as Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper (the two used the pseudonym Michael Field), Pierre Louys, Renée Vivien, and Amy Lowell.
The love of her life is said to be Atthis. She also married a merchant and had a daughter named Cleis.
Below is some poetry translated from Greek to English. "No Word" and "Fragment 94" are the same poem but translated a bit differently. "To Aphrodite" and "Fragment 1", and "To an Army Wife" and "Fragment 16" are also the same poem. However, the fragments seem to be more modern and easier to understand.
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.
Yes, Atthis, you may be sure
Even in Sardis
Anactoria will think often of us
Of the life we shared here, when you seemed
The Goddess incarnate
To her and your singing pleased her best
Now among Lydian women she in her
Turn stands first as the red-
Fingered moon rising at sunset takes
Precedence over stars around her;
Her light spreads equally
On the salt sea and fields thick with bloom
Delicious dew purrs down to freshen
Roses, delicate thyme
And blossoming sweet clover; she wanders
Aimlessly, thinking of gentle
Atthis, her heart hanging
Heavy with longing in her little breast
She shouts aloud, Come! we know it;
Thousand-eared night repeats that cry
Across the sea shining between us
We know this much
Death is an evil;
We have the gods'
Word for it; they too
Would die if death
Were a good thing
I have had not 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..."
I can reveal to you that I wished to die -
For with much weeping she left me
Saying: "Sappho - what suffering is ours!
For it is against my will that I leave you."
In answer, I said: "Go, happily remembering me
For you know what we shared and pursued -
If not, I wish you to see again our (former joys) …
The many braids of rose and violet you (wreathed)
Around yourself at my side
And the many garlands of flowers
With which you adorned your soft neck:
With royal oils from (fresh flowers)
You anointed (yourself)
And on soft beds fulfilled your longing
(For me) …
Eternal daughter of God,
Snare-knitter! Don't, I beg you,
Cow my heart with grief! Come,
As once when you heard my far-
Off cry and, listening, stepped
From your father's house to your
Gold car, to yoke the pair whose
Beautiful thick-feathered wings
Oaring down midair from heaven
Carried you to light swiftly
On dark earth; then, blissful one,
Smiling your immortal smile
You asked, What ailed me now that
Me call you again? What
Was it that my distracted
Heart most wanted? "Whom has
Persuasion to bring round now
"To your love? Who, Sappho, is
Unfair to you? For, let her
Run, she will soon run after;
"If she won't accept gifts, she
Will one day give them; and if
She won't love you -- she soon will
"Love, although unwillingly..."
If ever -- come now! Relieve
This intolerable pain!
What my heart most hopes will
Happen, make happen; you your-
Self join forces on my side!
Deathless Aphrodite - Daughter of Zeus and maker of snares -
On your florid throne, hear me!
My lady, do not subdue my heart by anguish and pain
But come to me as when before
You heard my distant cry, and listened:
Leaving, with your golden chariot yoked, your father's house
To move beautiful sparrows swift with a whirling of wings
As from heaven you came to this dark earth through middle air
And so swiftly arrived.
Then you my goddess with your immortal lips smiling
Would ask what now afflicts me, why again
I am calling and what now I with my restive heart
Whom now shall I beguile
To bring you to her love?
Who now injures you, Sappho?
For if she flees, soon shall she chase
And, rejecting gifts, soon shall she give.
If she does not love you, she shall do so soon
Whatsoever is her will.
Come to me now to end this consuming pain
Bringing what my heart desires to be brought:
Be yourself my ally in this fight.
TO AN ARMY WIFE
To any army wife, in Sardis:
Some say a cavalry corps,
Some infantry, some again,
Will maintain that the swift oars
Of our fleet are the finest
Sight on dark earth; but I say
That whatever one loves, is.
This is easily proved: did
Not Helen -- she who had scanned
The flower of the world's manhood --
Choose as first among men one
Who laid Troy's honor in ruin?
Warped to his will, forgetting
Love due her own blood, her own
Child, she wandered far with him.
So Anactoria, although you
Being far away forget us,
The dear sound of your footstep
And light glancing in your eyes
Would move me more than glitter
Of Lydian horse or armored
Tread of mainland infantry
For some - it is horsemen; for others - it is infantry;
For some others - it is ships which are, on this black earth,
Visibly constant in their beauty. But for me,
It is that which you desire.
To all, it is easy to make this completely understood
For Helen - she who greatly surpassed other mortals in beauty -
Left her most noble man and sailed forth to Troy
Forgetting her beloved parents and her daughter
Because (the goddess) led her away…
Which makes me to see again Anactoria now far distant:
For I would rather behold her pleasing, graceful movement
And the radiant splendour of her face
Than your Lydian chariots and foot-soldiers in full armour…
TONIGHT I WATCHED
Tonight I've watched
The moon and then
The night is now
Goes; I am In bed alone
As a whirlwind
Swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart
Although they are
Only breath, words
Which I command
Gather your (lyre) and sing for me
As desire once again (enhances) your beauty:
Your dress excites, and I rejoice
For I once doubted Aphrodite
But now have asked that soon
You will be with me again…
Love shook my heart
Like the mountain wind
Falls upon tress of oak…
Katherine Fowler (1631-1664)
Aphra Behn (1640?-1689)
Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1698)
Anna Seward (1747-1809)
Wu Tsao (1800)
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Katherine Bradley (1848-1915) and Edith Cooper (1862-1913)
Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929)
Charlotte Mew (1869-1929)
Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
Renée Vivien (1877-1909)
Angelina Weld Grimké (1880)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
Elsa Gidlow (1898-1986)
The Fight for Equality
Famous Les/Bi/Gay People throughout History
Homophobia and Hate Crimes
Links for Parents Trying to Deal with Their Teen's Homosexuality
Links for Teens Trying to Deal with Their Own Homosexuality
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