Sappho the first lesbian and feminist icon continued
It is unfortunate that much of the life of Sappho remains a mystery. It is equally unfortunate that much of her brilliant work has been lost through time.
The Phaon Legend
The Phaon legend suggests that Sappho killed herself by jumping off the Leucadian cliffs because she loved a ferryman by the name of Phaon who perhaps had spurned her love. There is no historical credence to this story. It was written by the Roman poet Ovid in his work entitled, Heroides. The Wikipedia article suggests that this might have been a joke recorded in history or an attempt for authors to cover up Sappho’s homosexuality.
There are parts of poems preserved, giving us a glimpse of the woman she was. It is believed from the fragments of poems that she had a mother named Cleis and possibility a daughter of the same name. Though the translations of the poems are up for debate, certain parts that talk about what on the surface would sound like a daughter such as “I have a beautiful child [pais] who looks like golden flowers, my darling Cleis, for whom I would not (take) all Lydia or lovely.” The word pais in this poem may also have meant slave, or young person, not necessarily her daughter.
Although Sappho’s poetry is all about love and passion of both genders she is known for being “the original poet of female desire,” What is left of her writings speaks of infatuations and love for females. The works of Sappho are difficult to replicate into English. The ancient Greek poetic style she used relied on meter untranslatable into English therefore much of it had been translated into rhyme.
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