Sappho - the poet who defined much of what it means to be a queer woman

An LGBTQ icon.

Sappho - the poet who defined much of what it means to be a queer woman

As we continue our celebration of LGBTQ people throughout history, let’s take a look at the life and legacy of the Greek poet, Sappho – an iconic figure who has helped define much of what it means to be a queer woman.

Early Life

Most of the precise facts regarding Sappho’s life have been lost to time, so what we do know of her has been gleaned from interpretations of the past and may not be particularly accurate.

It is thought that Sappho was born around the year 630 BC, and that she was from the village of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Her work indicates that she was born into an aristocratic family.

Sappho and her family were exiled from Lesbos to Syracuse, Sicily around the year 600 BC. This may have been as a result of her family’s involvement with the conflicts between political elites on Lesbos in this period. Later the exiles were allowed to return.

Career

Sappho probably wrote around 10,000 lines of poetry. Today, only about 650 survive. She is best known for her lyric poetry, written to be accompanied by music. Ancient authors claim that Sappho primarily wrote love poetry, although subsequent research indicates that her scope was much broader than that.

The women

Today, Sappho – for many – is a symbol of love between women. The term lesbian is an allusion to Sappho, derived from the island of Lesbos where she was born.

While there was some conjecture at the time, and some academic debate since, it’s generally accepted that Sappho’s poems were about the love between women.

Legacy

It’s thought that Sappho died around the year 570 BC.

During her lifetime, Sappho’s reputation as a poet of the highest standing was undisputed, and her influence has extended throughout the centuries. Her style and lyricism continue to influence poets today.