Sappho the first lesbian was embraced by the feminist movement

Carol RoachStarred Page By Carol Roach, 22nd Jun 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

One o the first known homosexual poets of all time was an ancient Greek female poet named Sappho.

Sappho a feminist icon

Since many feminists are lesbians though not the entire feminist community, it would be quite natural to hold accomplished lesbians from ancient times to present day as female icons. As we know there are many celebrated female poets throughout time.

We will now look at the most celebrated lesbian icon of all time who was also Grecian poet from the classical era.

Sappho a feminist icon

Sappho was a Greek lyric poet who was born around 630 - 612 BC and died in 570 BC. She lived on the island of Lesbos in the Northeastern part of the Aegean Sea. Lesbos is the third largest Greek island. Sappho's poetry was well respected in the times in which she lived though her beautiful lyrics have all been lost in time.

Sappho's father was said to be Scamandronymus and she also had three brothers. Sappho is believed to come from an aristocratic family. It is said that Sappho was exiled to Sicily (probably over some political discretion) and then returned to live out the remainder of her life in Lesbos.

The Phaon legend

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 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.

Translation of Sappho's poetry

Translation of Sappho's poetry

Mary Barnard's translations from the 1960's are still widely used today. The poet and professor of McGill University, Montreal, Anne Carson, has also translated and reproduced the fragments of Sappho writings including parts that have been broken off from the ancient parchments.


Sappho is hailed as the greatest female lyrical poet of the classical Lyric age of Greece. Her poetry about female love has secured her place as a feminist icon. Sappho is also appreciated in women's studies courses across the globe. The fragments of Sappho's poems are so sharp and powerful that she is considered one of the greatest poets of all time.

Her homosexually placed her in the position of the first feminist long before such a concept every existed. She is also accredited with having schooled many young women in their social and marital duties of the time.

Whether she lived to a ripe old age or killed herself for love of Phaon, we do not really know. What we do know is her poetry has withstood the sands of time. Plato called her the tenth muse, Horace imitated her, and she inspired Ezra Pound.

The question of Sappho's lesbianism clouded her poetry for centuries and now the tide has swung back to poetry and not the lifestyle of the poet. Judith Hallett, the chair of the Department of Classics, at the University of Maryland, maintains that Sappho may not have been writing about her own sexual adventures; but, was addressing her theisos (school) of young women to embrace heterosexuality. This opinion has not been universally accepted.

The importance of Sappho's work demonstrated that she carved a female place in a male dominated culture; a place for women to express their individuality; a place where they could have a voice.

Eva Stehle Stigers maintains that Sappho's use of poetry through a speaking persona expanded women's identity. The legacy that Sappho handed down to us has inspired women and has given us a platform to speak through poetry.

All photos taken from the public domain

Do you have a passion to write? Do you want to share your words with the world while getting royalties on your work for years to come? Follow me here on Wikinut


Ancient Female Poets, Ancient Poets, Famous Lesbians, Female Poets, Feminism, Feminist Icons, Homsexual Poets, Lesbian Poetshomosexuality, Lesbians, Sappho

Meet the author

author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Kingwell
22nd Jun 2015 (#)

Interesting! Blessings.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Shamarie
23rd Jun 2015 (#)

Very informative, Carol! Thanks!!!

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?