Lady of Lesbos | Books | The Guardian
Sappho of Lesbos was a Greek poet who wrote from about to about B.C.E. "Lesbian" comes from the island, Lesbos, where Sappho lived. or religious, especially compared to her contemporary, the poet Alcaeus. As I write this, the very idea that the songs of Sappho and Alcaeus were sung in space, shared by a confederation of cities located on the island of Lesbos. Sappho was an archaic Greek poet from the island of Lesbos. Sappho is known for her lyric Alcaeus possibly describes Sappho as "violet-haired", which was a common Greek poetic way of describing dark hair. . over a literary coterie", but that "evidence for a formal appointment as priestess or teacher is hard to find".
In one of his odes 2. Horace borrows first lines from Alcaeus, turns of phrase, subjects for poems. I do not comprehend the lay of the winds: His descendants are many and unwitting — not consciously imitators of a style or subject so much as the inheritors of a posture.
It may be objected that a poet can write personal political verse without direct influence from a predecessor of whom she knows nothing. But Alcaeus is the ancestor nevertheless, just as Sappho is an ancestor of even those poets who write about love and desire knowing nothing about her. The soil of common life was, at that time, Too hot to tread upon.
It comes out most in his momentary apostrophe to a hypothetical audience — the sense that this very public poetry is nevertheless written with a private audience in mind, a kind of hetaireia: And thought before I had done Of a mocking tale or a gibe To please a companion Around the fire at the club, Being certain that they and I But lived where motley is worn: All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.
Auden might be the most Alcaic English-language poet of the 20th century in his ability to mix the light and the grave, his ranging over both politics and love, his experience of leaving his home country and subsequent feelings of displacement. Nor is this just a matter of modern classics. Wit can make a charge stick. The Alcaic invective tradition can illuminate — and help us evaluate — similar impulses in the poetry of our own times.
The junior senator from Texas, Mr. Cruz, Smiling his ghastly Joe McCarthy smarm, With a broken-open shotgun Draped over the crook of his arm — Out with friends shooting pheasant and moderate Republicans. Why should we consider this the stuff of poetry rather than the op-ed page? Each time you enter them they spit you out.
The dead find you are not food. There is a brief reference to his love poetry in a passage by Cicero. It is possible that Alcaeus wrote amorously about Sappho, as indicated in an earlier quote. Alcaeus wrote on such a wide variety of subjects and themes that contradictions in his character emerge.
The grammarian Athenaeus quoted some verses about perfumed ointments to prove just how unwarlike Alcaeus could be  and he quoted his description of the armour adorning the walls of his house  as proof that he could be unusually warlike for a lyric poet.
Miserarum est neque amori dare ludum neque dulci. Why are we waiting for the lamps? Only an inch of daylight left. Lift down the large cups, my friends, the painted ones; for wine was given to men by the son of Semele and Zeus to help them forget their troubles. Mix one part of water to two of wine, pour it in up to the brim, and let one cup push the other along The language of the poem is typically direct and concise and comprises short sentences — the first line is in fact a model of condensed meaning, comprising an exhortation "Let's drink!
Like many of his poems e. The following fragment of a hymn to Castor and Polydeuces the Dioscuri is possibly another example of this though some scholars interpret it instead as a prayer for a safe voyage.
Travelling abroad on swift-footed horses, Over the wide earth, over all the ocean, How easily you bring deliverance from Death's gelid rigor, Landing on tall ships with a sudden, great bound, A far-away light up the forestays running, Bringing radiance to a ship in trouble, Sailed in the darkness!
The poem was written in Sapphic stanzasa verse form popularly associated with his compatriot, Sappho, but in which he too excelled, here paraphrased in English to suggest the same rhythms.
I seem to me".
Sappho's Leap by Erica Jong
The lover disintegrates as she contemplates the beloved object, until she can no longer speak or see or hear. But the controlling perceptions of the poet the "me" to whom it all "seems" shape the narrative of the poem. The tension between the self who desires and the self who notices, often fudged in translation, has been an essential element in the influence of Sappho's poem on later writers of lyric. For Carson, what matters is Sappho's poetry, not her gender or her sexual orientation.
But Sappho's words themselves are not gender-neutral. Carson's translation of Fragment 31 does not make clear what is clear in the Greek: Sappho is the first surviving female author in the Western tradition, and most of the critical and imaginative responses to her life and work have treated her gender and sexuality as the most important facts about her.
The Sappho History by Margaret Reynolds is the most recent of several books devoted to the reception of Sappho which have been published in English in the last 15 years.
The Other Poet from Lesbos
Reynolds herself has edited The Sappho Companionan anthology of stories, essays and translations. Her new book is an enjoyable introduction to what has become an essential topic for classicists interested in reception, for scholars interested in Hellenism or classicism in European vernacular literature, and especially for feminist historians and queer theorists. In classical Athens, the island of Lesbos was associated with sexual activity in general, but primarily with blowjobs.
The Greek verb lesbiazein means "to fellate". The island was known for other things as well, such as sweet wine and sweet music, but not for girl on girl action. Until the end of the 19th century, the usual English terms for lesbian practices did not draw on classical literature.
Women could be "lovers of their own sex" or, in the more frank Greek loan word, "tribades" literally "rubbers"; the words "rubster" and "fricatrice" were also used in the 17th century. The OED cites no usage of "lesbianism" in the modern sense beforewhen it was used to argue that Swinburne's obsessive interest in Sapphic love was just as "loathsome" as sodomy. It was through Sappho that female homosexuality came to be understood as a distinct sexual orientation, and as a distinctly sexual set of practices.
Sex between women was often not seen as sex, but as harmless touching and kissing. Sappho's poetry was a reminder that desire between women could be as intense as heterosexual desire. Certainly, preth century versions of Sappho did not always keep her locked in the closet.
- Lady of Lesbos
- Alcaeus of Mytilene
- Poet Sappho, the Isle of Lesbos, and sex tourism in the ancient world
Donne's wonderful verse epistle "Sapho to Philaenis" is the first English poem to describe what Sappho did with her girlfriend. The term "lesbian loves" was used inin a satirical attack on a group of learned ladies.
Yet before the 19th century, Sappho's sexuality was far from clearly defined. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Baudelaire, through Sappho, invented modern lesbianism, and Swinburne brought it to England.
Classicists in the late 19th century, protective of Hellenic purity, tried to repress Sappho's sexual orientation: Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff fantasised that she ran a girls' school, which helped dispel the whiff of impropriety.
For the ancients, the problem with Sappho was her licentiousness, not her sexual orientation. As an example of one of the pointless questions that people love to debate, Seneca includes "whether Sappho was a prostitute". Those who admired her poetry but disliked the idea of promiscuity found a simple solution: According to ancient legend, Sappho was bisexual. After various affairs with girls, she supposedly fell in love with a ferryman called Phaon, and threw herself off the Leucadian Rock in order to rid herself of her passion.
This influential story, which goes back at least as far as Menander, was probably inspired by allusions in Sappho's poetry to an Adonis-like myth about the ageing Aphrodite and a young sun deity called Phaon perhaps identifiable with Phaethon.
The legend was widely known in post-classical times through an Ovidian or pseudo-Ovidian epistle, "Sappho to Phaon", and assumed a central position in almost all later responses to the poet. Later writers often use the story of the Leucadian leap as a misogynistic fable, an emblem of the comeuppance awaiting any woman who is too intellectual and too highly sexed. Erica Jong's latest novel, Sappho's Leap, corrects the legend by describing a Sappho who is unharmed by her various sexual adventures, which include a zipless fuck with a toy-boy called Phaon.