The Most Sapphic Article You’ll Ever Read

Ella Smith

This is the most sapphic article you’ll ever read, literally.

         Hi! Self-proclaimed Sappho scholar, Ella Smith here. Today I’m going to tell you about the gal everyone knows (but doesn’t actually), Sappho!

         She’s my girl. We’re tight. For lifers, honestly.

         Sappho, tenth muse, disgrace to the church, Lesbian™, and lyric poetess.

         Unfortunately (seriously, I’ve cried over this fact) little is known for SURE about Sappho. This is thanks to a multitude of reasons—the time she was from, the loss of translation because the dialect she spoke in is dead, as well as the fact that many of her works and records of her were burned by the church. But I’ve scrounged the internet and gathered what I think is a good cornerstone to base our understanding of her off of. 

It is believed that she was born into an aristocratic family around 615 BC on the Isle of Lesbos. She also had at least two brothers, having written about them in her pieces—Charaxos and Larichos. It’s suspected there was a third brother, but really, are we here to talk about them? Absolutely not.


“Once again love drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.”


         It was “recorded” that she was married to a man named Kerkylas of Andros, but (and wait ‘till you hear about this) it has since been debunked as a made up name, translating to Dick Allcock from the Isle of Man. Sappho essentially said, “Hi, this is my husband Penis Penisman from the Isle of Man, a totally real person.”

         She ran an academy of unmarried women, called a thiasos because they worshipped the goddess Aphrodite. Thiasos comes from a term relating to Dionysus, which is a group of people and performers who are dedicated to one specific deity. The women of her thiasos performed musical as well as religious celebrations to Aphrodite, as well as Eros. Surrounded by women all day and worshipping the gods of love? What a way to live.

         Sappho is most known for her lyric poetry, meant to be accompanied by a lyre. Sappho essentially wrote lyrics to be sung at weddings, however, despite having written an estimated 10,000 lines of poetry, only about 650 remain thanks to Pope Gregory VII, who had her works burned.


“Beauty endures only for as long as it can be seen; goodness, beautiful for today, will remain tomorrow.”


         In case this wasn’t obvious, the word lesbian is derived from Sappho. Her work is one of the first to be called “homoerotic,” so good for her. There’s a long history of the term for women-loving-women, and originally, women-loving-women were called Sapphist. The term lesbian first came into existence around 1980, but wasn’t popularly used. This is also due to the rough history of female sexuality, but that’s another can of worms. If you think too hard about it, the term lesbian is a little weird because resident of Lesbos are also called lesbians—actually in 2008 they tried to start a movement to get the word removed from the LGBT community. Obviously it didn’t work. Sucks for them, I guess. Nowadays, the term Sapphic is growing in popularity, however, has been coined to mean a more general term—while the widely accepted term for female homosexuality is lesbian, the general term for any woman who loves women (bisexual, etc) is Sapphic. It really comes down to what label you’re most comfortable with.

         I did a lot of digging on sexuality and the ancient times, and as much as I’d like to get into it here, you’ll find it as my next article. In short, female sexuality has been heavily tabooed whereas male sexuality has always been more widely accepted. I’m not just saying this to say it—this issue still contributes to society today. Historians, if you know the running joke, have often contemplated Sappho’s true lesbianism. (Isn’t that a statement—contemplating Sappho’s  true lesbianism.) Her sexuality has been the cause of great debate, and I’ve read articles claiming her and her female partners were friends, were practicing for their husbands, or—this is my favorite one—her poetry was exploring the male perspective. I don’t know about you, but something about her poetry seems very explicitly feminine, written for girls by a girl. Tell me it’s not just me.

         In conclusion, there are little known facts about Sappho, and the variation in translations of her texts make it difficult to come to a conclusive statement about her origin, or any finer details of her life. Although Sappho left behind a lot of questions, she also left behind 650 beautiful lines of poetry. 


Aphrodite, subtle of soul and deathless,

Daughter of God, weaver of wiles, I pray thee

Neither with care, dread Mistress, nor with anguish,

            Slay thou my spirit!

But in pity hasten, come now if ever

From afar of old when my voice implored thee,

Thou hast deigned to listen, leaving the golden

            House of thy father

With thy chariot yoked; and with doves that drew thee,

Fair and fleet around the dark earth from heaven,

Dipping vibrant wings down he azure distance,

            Through the mid-ether;

Very swift they came; and thou, gracious Vision,

Leaned with face that smiled in immortal beauty,

Leaned to me and asked, “What misfortune threatened?

            Why I had called thee?”

“What my frenzied heart craved in utter yearning,

Whom its wild desire would persuade to passion?

What disdainful charms, madly worshipped, slight thee?

            Who wrongs thee, Sappho?”

“She that fain would fly, she shall quickly follow,

She that now rejects, yet with gifts shall woo thee,

She that heeds thee not, soon shall love to madness,

            Love thee, the loth one!”

Come to me now thus, Goddess, and release me

From distress and pain; and all my distracted

Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling,

            Still be my ally!

  If you’re interested in reading more of Sappho’s poetry, click here.