Sappho (fl. about 650-590 bc ), Greek poet

Sappho (fl. about 650-590 bc ), Greek poet, whose poetry was so renowned that Plato referred to her two centuries after her death as the tenth muse. She was born on the island of Lesvos, probably in Mitylene. Although the details of her life are lacking, it appears that she was of good family and was a contemporary of the lyric poets Alcaeus and Stesichorus (c. 632-556 bc ). According to tradition, Alcaeus was her lover.

Another legend holds that because of unrequited love for the young boatman Phaon she leaped to her death from a steep rock on the island of Levkas. She had a daughter named Cleis and two brothers. The fragmentary remains of Sappho's poems indicate that she taught her art to a group of maidens, to whom she was devotedly attached and whose bridal odes she composed when they left her to be married. Later writers of antiquity, commenting upon the group, accused Sappho of immorality and vice, from which arose the modern terms for female homosexuality, "lesbianism" and "sapphism." Sappho wrote nine books of odes, epithalamia or wedding songs, elegies, and hymns, but the extant fragments are few. They include the Ode to Aphrodite , quoted by the scholar Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the 1st century bc .

Sappho's poems are marked by exquisite beauty of diction, perfect simplicity of form, and intensity of emotion. She invented the verse form known as Sapphics, a four-line stanza in which the first three lines are each 11 syllables long and the fourth is 5 syllables long. Many later Greek poets were influenced by Sappho, particularly Theocritus.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple blossoms fill the air.


"Beauty is all very well at first sight,
but who ever looks at it
when it has been in the house three days?"


What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon also be beautiful.


Death is an evil; the gods have so judged; had it been good, they would die.

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