Sappho in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
（Σαπφώ; Aeolic, Ψάπφα). One of the two great leaders of the Aeolian school of lyric poetry, Alcaeus being the other. She was a native of MitylenÚ, or, as some said, of Eresos in Lesbos, and flourished towards the end of the seventh century B.C. Her father's name was Scamandronymus, who died when she was only six years old. She had three brothers, Charaxus, Larichus, and Eurigius. Charaxus was violently upbraided by his sister in a poem, because he became so enamoured of the courtesan Rhodopis at Naucratis in Egypt as to ransom her from slavery at an immense price. Sappho was contemporary with Alcaeus, Stesichorus, and Pittacus. That she was not only contemporary, but lived in friendly intercourse, with Alcaeus is shown by existing fragments of the poetry of both. Of the events of her life we have no other information than an obscure allusion in the Parian Marble and in Ovid ( Her. xv. 51) to her flight from MitylenÚ to Sicily to escape some unknown danger, between B.C. 604 and 592; and the common story that being in love with Phaon, and finding her love unrequited, she leaped down from the Leucadian Rock. This story, however, seems to have been an invention of later times. The name of Phaon does not occur in one of Sappho's fragments, and there is no evidence that he was mentioned in her poems. As for the leap from the Leucadian Rock, it is a mere metaphor, taken from an expiatory rite connected with the worship of Apollo, which seems to have been a frequent poetical image. At MitylenÚ Sappho appears to have been the leader of a feminine literary set, most of the members of which were her pupils in poetry, fashion, and gallantry, so that from this association later writers have attempted to prove that the moral character of Sappho was not free from all reproach; and it is difficult to read the fragments which remain of her verse without being forced to come to the conclusion that a woman who could write such poetry could not be the pure woman that her modern apologists would have her. (See the defence of Sappho by Welcker  and the various papers in the Rheinisches Museum for 1857-58.) Of her poetical genius, however, there cannot be a question. The ancient writers agree in expressing the most unbounded admiration for the passion, sincerity, and grace of her poetry. Already in her own age the recitation of one of her poems so affected Solon that he expressed an earnest desire to learn it before he died. Her lyric poems formed nine books, but of these only fragments have come down to us. The most important is a splendid ode to AphroditÚ, of which we perhaps possess the whole. The best editions of the fragments is by Neue (Berlin, 1827), and that in Bergk's Poet. Lyrici Graeci, vol. iii. (4th ed. 1882). The fragments are all collected and translated into English by Wharton with a full bibliography in his Sappho (Chicago, 1895). See Arnold, Sappho (Berlin, 1871); Sch÷ne, Untersuchungen Řber das Leben der Sappho (Leipzig, 1867); and Poestion, Griechische Dichterinnen (Vienna, 1876). There is a metrical translation of the fragments by Gasby-Smith (Washington, 1891).
Sappho in Wikipedia
Sappho (pronounced /ˈsŠfoʊ/ in English; Attic Greek Σαπφώ [sapːʰɔː], Aeolic Greek Ψάπφω [psapːʰɔː]) was an Ancient Greek poet, born on the island of Lesbos. Later Greeks included her in the list of nine lyric poets. Her birth was sometime between 630 and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC, but little is known for certain about her life. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired throughout antiquity, has been lost, but her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.
The only contemporary source which refers to Sappho's life is her own body of poetry, and scholars are sceptical of biographical readings of it. Later biographical traditions, from which all more detailed accounts derive, have also been cast into doubt.
Strabo says that Sappho was the contemporary of Alcaeus of Mytilene (born ca. 620 BC) and Pittacus (ca. 645 - 570 BC) and according to Athenaeus she was the contemporary of Alyattes of Lydia (ca. 610 - 560 BC). The Suda, a 10th century Byzantine encyclopŠdia, dates her to the 42nd Olympiad (612/608 BC), meaning either that she was born then or that this was her floruit. The versions of Eusebius state that she was famous by the first or second year of the 45th or 46th Olympiad (between 600 and 594 BC). Taken together, these references make it likely that she was born ca. 620 BC, or a little earlier.
Judging from the Parian Marble she was exiled from Lesbos to Sicily sometime between 604 and 594 BC. If fragment 98 of her poetry is accepted as biographical evidence and as a reference to her daughter (see below), it may indicate that she had already had a daughter by the time she was exiled. If fragment 58 is accepted as autobiographical it indicates that she lived into old age. If her connection to Rhodopis (see below) is accepted as historical it indicates that she lived into the mid-6th century BC.
An Oxyrhynchus papyrus from around AD 200 and the Suda agree that Sappho had a mother called Cle´s and a daughter by the same name. The papyrus line reads "She [Sappho] had a daughter Cleis named after her mother." (Duban 1983, 121) Two preserved fragments of Sappho's poetry refer to a Cle´s. In fragment 98, Sappho addresses Cle´s, saying that she has no way of obtaining a decorated headband for her. Fragment 132 reads in full: "I have a beautiful child [pais] who looks like golden flowers, my darling Cleis, for whom I would not (take) all Lydia or lovely..." These fragments have often been interpreted as referring to Sappho's daughter or as confirming that Sappho had a daughter with this name. But even if a biographic reading of the verses is accepted, this is not certain. Cle´s is referred to in fragment 132 with the Greek word pais, which can as easily indicate a slave or any young person as an offspring. It is possible that these verses or others like them were misunderstood by ancient writers, leading to the biographical tradition which has come down to us.
Fragment 102 has its speaker address a "sweet mother", sometimes taken as an indication that Sappho began to write poetry while her mother was still alive. The name of Sappho's father is widely given as Scamandronymus, he is not referred to in any of the surviving fragments. In his Heroides, Ovid has Sappho lament that, "Six birthdays of mine had passed when the bones of my parent, gathered from the pyre, drank before their time my tears." Ovid may have based this on a poem by Sappho no longer extant.
Sappho was reported to have three brothers; Erigyius (or Eurygius), Larichus and Charaxus. The Oxyrhynchus papyrus says that Charaxus was the eldest but that Sappho was more fond of the young Larichus. According to Athenaeus, Sappho often praised Larichus for pouring wine in the town hall of Mytilene, an office held by boys of the best families. This indication that Sappho was born into an aristocratic family is consistent with the sometimes rarefied environments which her verses record.
A story given by Herodotus and later by Strabo, Athenaeus, Ovid and the Suda, tells of a relation between Charaxus and the Egyptian courtesan Rhodopis. Herodotus, the oldest source of the story, reports that Charaxus ransomed Rhodopis for a large sum and that after he returned to Mitylene, Sappho scolded him in verse. Strabo, writing some 400 years later, adds that Charaxus was trading with Lesbian wine and that Sappho called Rhodopis Doricha. Athenaeus, another 200 years later, calls the courtesan Doricha and maintains that Herodotus had her confused with Rhodopis, another woman altogether. He also cites an epigram by Posidippus (3rd c. BC) which refers to Doricha and Sappho. Based on this story, scholars have speculated that references to a Doricha may have been found in Sappho's poems. None of the extant fragments have this name in full but fragments 7 and 15 are often restored to include it. Joel Lidov has criticized this restoration, arguing that the Doricha story is not helpful in restoring any fragment by Sappho and that its origins lie in the work of Cratinus or another of Herodotus' comic contemporaries.
The Suda is alone in claiming that Sappho was married to a "very wealthy man called Cercylas, who traded from Andros" and that he was Cle´s' father. This tradition may have been invented by the comic poets as a witticism, as the name of the purported husband means "prick from the Isle of Man."
Sappho's lifetime was a period of political turbulence on Lesbos and saw the rise of Pittacus. According to the Parian Marble, Sappho was exiled to Sicily sometime between 604 and 594 and Cicero records that a statue of her stood in the town-hall of Syracuse. Unlike the works of her fellow poet, Alcaeus, Sappho's surviving poetry has very few allusions to political conditions. The principal exception is fragment 98 which mentions exile and indicates that Sappho was lacking some of her customary luxuries. Her political sympathies may have lain with the party of Alcaeus. Though there is no explicit record of this it is usually assumed that Sappho returned from exile at some point and that she spent most of her life in Lesbos.
A tradition going back at least to Menander (fr. 258 K) suggested that Sappho killed herself by jumping off the Leucadian cliffs for love of Phaon, a ferryman. This is regarded as unhistorical by modern scholars, perhaps invented by the comic poets or originating from a misreading of a first-person reference in a non-biographical poem. The legend may have resulted in part from a desire to assert Sappho as heterosexual.
Sexuality and community
Sappho's poetry centers on passion and love for various personages and both genders. The word lesbian derives from the name of the island of her birth, Lesbos, while her name is also the origin of the word sapphic; both words were only applied to female homosexuality beginning in the 19th century. The narrators of many of her poems speak of infatuations and love (sometimes requited, sometimes not) for various females, but descriptions of physical acts between women are few and subject to debate. Whether these poems are meant to be autobiographical is not known, although elements of other parts of Sappho's life do make appearances in her work, and it would be compatible with her style to have these intimate encounters expressed poetically, as well. Her homoerotica should be placed in the seventh century (BC) context. The poems of Alcaeus and later Pindar record similar romantic bonds between the members of a given circle.
Sappho's contemporary Alcaeus described her thus: "Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho" (ἰόπλοκ᾽ ἄγνα μελλιχόμειδε Σάπφοι, fr. 384). The 3rd century philosopher Maximus of Tyre wrote that Sappho was "small and dark" and that her relationships to her female friends were similar to those of Socrates:
What else could one call the love of the Lesbian woman than the Socratic art of love? For they seem to me to have practised love after their own fashion, she the love of women, he of men. For they said they loved many, and were captivated by all things beautiful. What Alcibiades and Charmides and Phaedrus were to him, Gyrinna and Atthis and Anactoria were to her ...
During the Victorian era, it became the fashion to describe Sappho as the headmistress of a girls' finishing school. As Page DuBois (among many other experts) points out, this attempt at making Sappho understandable and palatable to the genteel classes of Great Britain was based more on conservative sensibilities than evidence. There are no references to teaching, students, academies, or tutors in any of Sappho's scant collection of surviving works. Burnett follows others, like C.M. Bowra, in suggesting that Sappho's circle was somewhat akin to the Spartan agelai or the religious sacred band, the thiasos, but Burnett nuances her argument by noting that Sappho's circle was distinct from these contemporary examples because "membership in the circle seems to have been voluntary, irregular and to some degree international." The notion that Sappho was in charge of some sort of academy persists nonetheless.