Arts & Culture

Sappho: One of the First Published Female Writers

The Life of Sappho

Sappho or Psappha in her native Aeolic dialect, was a Greek lyric poet from the island of Lesbos. She was born sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, and it is said that she died around 570 BCE, but little is known for certain about her life.

The Legacy of Sappho

Sappho's poetry was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, and she was considered one of the canon of nine lyric poets. However, most of her poetry is now lost, and survives only in fragmentary form. Sappho probably wrote around 10,000 lines of poetry; today, 650 survive.

She is best known for her lyric poetry, designed to be accompanied by music. The Suda also attributes to Sappho epigrams, elegiacs, and iambics, but the only epigrams attributed to Sappho to survive are in fact later works, and this is probably also the case with her supposed iambic and elegiac output. Ancient authors claim that Sappho primarily wrote love poetry, and the indirect transmission of Sappho's work supports this notion. The papyrus tradition suggests that this may not have been the case: a series of papyri published in 2014 contain fragments of ten consecutive poems from Book I of the Alexandrian edition of Sappho, of which only two are certainly love poems, while at least three and possibly four are primarily concerned with family.

Why we are grateful4her

One of the first published female writers. Much of her poetry has been lost but her immense reputation has remained. Plato referred to Sappho as one of the great 10 poets.