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Sappho & Feminism in Her Writing


Sappho is considered as one of the greatest female poet of the classical period and also the most successful of an influential lyric poets group who were very active the ancient Greek between the periods of 650 B.C. and 450 B.C., by many critics; a period usually designated by the Greece lyric Age. Although many of her writings only survives in fragments, we find that the phrasing and imagery of the quotes have been incredible and striking enough to be in a position of inspiring the readers during her own period to the present day to consider her as one of the most celebrated and all time poets. Most of her poems talk about the feelings of a female speaker for another; this makes her a significant figure in the history of the homosexual literary. The modern term 'lesbian' used to describe ladies who are in love was coined from her homeland known as Lesbos. In addition, Sappho has is one of the first female writers of the West, and has been accepted by many later writers as an icon or even representation of the feminine poetic voice.

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Biographical Information

There are very few details of her biography that are known and very few of then can be reliable. Details of her life have actually become comprehensively interwoven with myth, rumor and legend. However, the only standard, though untrustworthy information source concerning the life of Sappho is the 'Suidas.' This is a Greek term that was compiled towards the end of the 10th century. Nevertheless, based on the earlier scholarly commentaries together with excerpts from the grammarians, historians and biographers' works, and lexicons, we find that the 'Suidas' states that Sappho was a Lesbos native, which is an Aegean island, and also that she was most likely born in either Mytilene or Eresus. The name of her father is listed as Scamandronymus, and that of her mother is given as Cleis. We are also told that she had three brother and she cam from a family considered to be of the upper class. Tradition says that she lived in Sicily at around 600 B.C. for a short period, when the Lesbos political conflict and tension forced her to flee or escape.

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After he return, sources say that she got married to a rich man called Cercylas. Out of the marriage, they got a daughter called Cleis, and probably spent the remaining part of her life in Mytilene City. During her time, organization and running of a 'thiasos' or even a school or conservatory for the young women who still had not been married, was the major activity. As was the tradition of the period, the affluent families from Lesbos and also from the surrounding nations would send their female children to live for some time in the educational institutions popularly known as academies so that they could be taught in the appropriate social graces, and in the poetry recitation, singing and composition (Greene, 1996).   

Deliberated as a transition between the homes of their parents and those of their future husbands, her 'thiasos,' appeared among the best and also the most impressive in that region of the country, and as its spiritual leader and committed instructor, she was celebrated for having taught generations of young ladies for accomplishing their marital and social responsibilities. Some of her life's legends show that she probably lived to old age, although others say that she desperately fell in love with Phaon, a young boatman. After their love had failed, she was very disappointed and out of anger, she decided to jump from a high cliff, which eventually led to her death; this story was made legendary Ovid, the Roman poet, in his 'Heroides,' though one which has been extensively questioned by the present day scholars.

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Major works

The poetry of Sappho's textual ability is just as imprecise as her biography. Her extensive body of work was gathered into an edition of standard nine-volume during the 3rd century B.C.; however, the volumes' arrangement was done on the basis of kind of meter that she used such as Alcaic, choriambic and Sapphic, with an entire volume dedicated to marriage songs or epithalamia. There is nothing known regarding the way her poetry was recorded or even transmitted from her time until the uniform edition's printing during the 3rd century B.C. Nonetheless, until the 19th century, her only known poetry texts were various fragments that were quoted in the works of a number of the Alexandrian grammarians to show the Lesbian-Aeolic dialect, and one poem known as the 'Hymn to Aphrodite' redone by Halicarnassus' Dionysius in his piece on style, as an example of refined style (Liffey, 2007).  

Looking at her poem called 'Hymn to Aphrodite,' which is also at times called 'Fragment 1,' we find that it is the only of her ancient Greek lyric poem to remain or survive in its entirety. Even though she is recorded in the distant past as producing several poetry books, her very little writings has remained intact, and perhaps the only reason why this complete poem can be obtained is because Dionysus, a Roman speaker quoted it fully in one of his own writings. The poem stars with the anonymous speaker who calls on the perpetual goddess Aphrodite, who is the mighty Zeus' daughter, to use her exclusive skills in enmeshing a hesitant lover. He then pleads with the goddess not to close the eyes to or disregard her appeals, thus breaking a heart which is already hit by sorrow.

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The writer reminds Aphrodite about her commitment in the past and also of the songs that have been sung to honor her, as well as of the way the goddess has in the past heard and then answered the pleadings of the speaker and then made the trip from the golden place of her father to the more humble home of this mortal. Consequently, it is only when she replies in the fifth verse that is becomes apparent that it is the writer herself who is seeking the intervention of the goddess. In the stanza six, even though it is not known whether the reluctant lover is actually a woman or man, we find that Sappho is assured by Aphrodite that even though he or she might be presently unwilling, he or she would soon come around and then return the love of Sappho in equal measure.

Sappho's Feminist Influence/Ideas and acceptability

Sappho is a literal and cultural figure in the field of poetry hence making her to retain this position from the ancient periods to date. Her work is always a reference to some other poems written by different poets.  There are several issues surrounding the issue of gender equality, but Sappho has been clear in her work and presented the women above men. It has been suggested that the categories of identity that are usually presumed to be introductory to the politic of feminism, that is, considered to be essential in the mobilization of feminism as politics of identity work together in constraining as well as limiting the very traditional possibilities that is supposed to be opened up by feminism in advance (Butler, 2006).

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Sappho's work has never become obsolete as it is translated to various languages to make it favorable to all classes of people. Some of the research conducted in coming up with is highly appreciated by other poets who also dreams of producing a better poem as hers. It can be said that the work of Sappho broke the world record in relation to poetry as no poet has ever broken the record of Sappho. However, even though she appears to be feminist and argues in all her writings that there is no way a man can be superior to a woman; I believe this is where she gets it all wrong. Man was meant to command and the woman to follow, and that's all.

According to (Goldman, 1972), conceivably, the poor material's quality from where a woman originates is actually responsible for her powerlessness or inferiority. Furthermore, a woman does not have a soul at any chance and there is nothing to be known about her. In fact the less soul possessed by a woman, the higher her qualities of becoming a woman are. And it is this notion by the man that has made marriage strong and longer. Sappho herself was dead over two thousand years ago though the work of her hands still prevail in the today's generation.

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This can clearly show that Sappho was a real genius when it came to poetry. It is always very difficult for a legacy to remain for such a long duration. Her legacy is considered strong and this make any other poet to imitate some of the tricks used by Sappho in coming up with her poem. According to various perceptions of the poets, it is very difficult for one to break this record for it is from this poem or hand work that various poets gain experience. According to the prevailing suggestions and opinions based on this book, poetry must have gained its origin or roots from Sappho's work.

It is always believe that Sappho's work rebuilt a relationship between men and women. This is so because this poem placed women in a high level degree that balanced that of men. Helen, who is also a feminist, is used to exemplify the power of a woman. She is said to have picked a man whose potential and strength exceeded or surpassed that of other ordinary men but he managed to warp the will of this gentleman hence having the destruction of the nation at her hands. She destroyed the manhood world without any intervention. This clearly gives the real picture of feminism that Sappho tried to bring out in her poem. There are many books that are produced to interpret some of the motives Sappho had and the achievements she made. The books support feminism relating their experience from Sappho's work.

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Sappho's poem also brings out the issue of gender equality for all the sexes. This is supposed to be politically, socially and economically. This is the main reason for Sappho's work. During her writing, she aimed at informing people that women also had the potential of carrying out some responsibilities and should therefore be given some respect. Sappho's work is accepted by all women and for them this work was good and inspiring. Men on the other hand accept this work except for the few who are still caught in a decision dilemma due to misunderstanding of the poem concepts and context message. Sappho earned a lot of respect and this could only be seen in relation to the kind of nicknames she earned. She was lastly referred to as the poetess as she had exceptional poetic skills that guided her throughout her poetic work. Though the context of her poem talked about feminism and homosexuality, many people appreciate the styles and tools used in her poetic work.

Sappho earned some bits of respect and fame due to the book she wrote that was pegged on women affairs. She portrayed and made good use of the imagery that in turn made Plato to nickname her "THE TENTH MUSE". She was the only female poet who was recognized by any other person for the kind of book she wrote clear gave some hidden secrets behind women affairs.  Some of the English romantics such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Algernon Swinburne and Dante Gabriel also gave some little bits of appreciation hence making them to imitate Sappho. This imitation was due to the fact Sappho had became one of the important poets during the period of nationalism in Germany. She recognized by both the American and English as an imagist leading to her grading or classification to the group of Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle who also had a relationship with Sappho. The relationship between Hilda and Sappho has always been a subject for scholarly interest. Many scholars are up to knowing the cause of the relationship or the subject in which this relationship was pegged on (Greene, 1997). 

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The poet is said to be of great importance as she acts as apace setter to the rest of the poets found within English and America. Though she is a feminist and speaks more concerning women affairs, she is still considered to be the best. The grading of her poem is not based on the content of the poem but how she made good use of certain poetic tools. Some of the tools that made her poem to be classified as the best are Imagery and emotional portrayal that falls under one of the styles in poetry. All the necessities of a poem have been brought up appropriately in this poem making it a classified lyric poem ever. Though Sappho was a classified poet, her work has always suffered some public dissertation. After the death of Sappho, many people started creating some nasty stories about her creating room for rumors to spread like a bush fire linked to her work or poem.

The rumor was brought out some of the allegations based on the Sappho's work claiming that she was a victim to immorality. This rumors or allegations are based on two different things that the poet did within her life span. The first claim that was considered to be one of the proofs was liked on the content and message she passed via her poem. There seemed to be a claim that Sappho herself was a lesbian due to the kind of messages she derived about womanhood and some of the feelings she had for women. Sappho in the poem is believed to have been of very funny and nasty character that made her a total lesbian. The second claimed was based on the relationship she had with the instructor of homosexual practices. This also gave a powerful proof as the two allegations were of the same nature. All these allegations continued for a long time up to the nineteenth century when a classicist from German published an essay that aimed at relieving Sappho from prejudice. Due to all the rumors that went around while she was still alive, she began shifting her poetry though her sexual orientation still informed modern scholarship. The German classicist wanted to defend and protect the image of Sappho in the face of all the readers who might have read and taken the message displayed by this poem negatively.











Because a poem is mainly based on performance and serves the purpose of performance and entertainment, Sappho as one of the poet faces many claims though she is part and parcel of the poet community and this makes her to enjoy the basic rights of a poet.  Several critics have brought out or pointed out some of the poet's motives behind her work and this therefore tries to disapprove all the allegations laid upon Sappho as being a lesbian. The critics further points out that the Sappho in the poem is totally different from Sappho the woman who happened to be the poet of this poem.

There are many contentions brought out by various people in relation to the poem. Judith is one of the persons who have a contention that the context of the poem is not based on homosexual desires but it reflects some of the characters of listeners hence encouraging them as she believes that the poem tends to give some bits of young women in Sappho's who might fall victims of heterosexual love. Though Judith tries to cover up or conceal the image of the poet, she still faces some bits of rejections as many people are not convinced by her notion. Many people still claims that voice in refers to and reflect the actual characters of Sappho as a woman (Brooten, 1996).

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All these argument are based on one thing that people think might be a fact or a reality. The critics that have been given by many people make this poem a feminine subjectivity or a place where women are to give their perceptions in relation to literal culture and traditions dictated by men and masculine perspectives. Eva Stehle who is one of the mid twentieth century scholar, made an advanced view of this poem and came out with a conclusion that the poem is based on the persona's voice, makes a great expansion on the possibilities of female identity.

Sappho has not only left a legacy in the writing work but has also helped a lot in effectuating female identity. This can be seen in the context of her writing that is mainly based on feminine. The hand work of Sappho has given women a platform in which they can speak out their views or perceptions. Many women have also ventured into the field of poetry as they believe that they have the potential. This mentality is based on the legacy that was left by Sappho. Sappho's homosexuality made enough accreditation on her stand as a feminist.

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She is also believed to have taught many women on how to handle and meet their duties and responsibilities in relation to their marital status. Many still fail to understand the cause of Sappho's death but the only are of interest to the people is her work that has left a great legacy in the field of poetry. Though there were many conceptions or a misunderstanding concerning Sappho's work, Judith Hallet who is the chair of the classics Department at Maryland University, still maintains her stand making various plans pegged on the disapproval of the allegations laid upon Sappho. He further claims that the poem is also based on individuality and facts that tend to bring out the spirit of being a feminine. As per her own perception, the poem is morally right as it is only a hand and brain work especially meant to inform people of certain aspect or parts of life.

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