the voice of the woman
Sappho was born on Lesbos, possibly at Eressos, at the end of the 7th century BC, but spent the bigger part of her life at Mytilene. She was a scion of an aristocratic family and took an active part in public affairs, and was sent into exile on Sicily for a time by Pittakos. Sappho was married and had a daughter:
golden flowers: my darling Kleis, for whom
I would not take all Lydia'.
Sappho saw herself as 'mousopolos', dedicated to the service of the Muses, and seems to have been aware of the value of her poetry, which would keep her fame alive even after her death.
Sappho wrote monodies (solo songs), that were sung to the accompaniment of the Iyre, and also epithalamia, or wedding songs, which were highly popular in antiquity, epigrams and iambics. In the Hellenistic period her works were collected in nine books, of which only one complete ode and a few hundred fragments now survive, fully vindicating the admiration of the ancients, who gave her the title of 'the tenth Muse'.
In a simple, very direct language, devoid of rhetorical flourish, Sappho speaks of the emotions that shook her heart:
You cooled my heart, which was burning with desire.'
The strong emotions and sensuous atmosphere exuded by her poetry, provided fuel for the myth woven around Sappho and her personal life ever since antiquity, and still give rise to lively debate and strong disagreement. What is certain is that at the centre of the world of the poetess is to be found love, the motive force behind all things and the invincible monster that paralyses the limbs:
the bitter-sweet, irresistible creature.'
From Medea to Sappho - Radical Women in Ancient Greece
Athens, National Archaeological Museum - 20 March - 30 June 1995