Thursday, April 17, 2014

Was Sappho really a lesbian?

Because very little information is left of the legendary poetess speculation on the life of Sappho is sketchy at best. There's very little evidence from what's left of her poetry which hints at a 'Sapphic' sister. Just to make sure this is not a critique of lesbians. I'm pro Gay/Lesbian. This is just an observation.

From Wikipedia :

"These fragments have often been interpreted as referring to Sappho's daughter, or as confirming that Sappho had a daughter with this name. But even if a biographic reading of the verses is accepted, this is not certain."

If she had a daughter she wasn't 100% lesbian.

"Sappho's poetry centers on passion and love for various people and both sexes. The word lesbian derives from the name of the island of her birth, Lesbos, while her name is also the origin of the word sapphic; neither word was applied to female homosexuality until the 19th century. The narrators of many of her poems speak of infatuations and love (sometimes requited, sometimes not) for various females, but descriptions of physical acts between women are few and subject to debate.  Whether these poems are meant to be autobiographical is not known, although elements of other parts of Sappho's life do make appearances in her work, and it would be compatible with her style to have these intimate encounters expressed poetically, as well. Her homoerotica should be placed in the context of the 7th century (BC). The poems of Alcaeus and later Pindar record similar romantic bonds between the members of a given circle."

 The death of Adonis

Sappho, along with her circle of young girls, worshipped Adonis. A piece of Sappho's poetry shows this cult for Adonis, which includes his death (and the whole cycle of renewal). It's seems a bit odd for a lesbian to worship the god of beauty and desire in male form. But then again there are so many gods in Greek mythology that it probably wouldn't mean anything.

Sappho and Alcaeus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The poet Alcaeus was also reported to have been one of her lovers. He also lived on the island of Lesbos.



The first full feature film based on the Greek poetess was made in 1960 adventure film SAPPHO THE VENUS OF LESBOS directed by Pietro Francisci. Tina Louise played Sappho. In it she falls in love with a man, Phaon (played by Kerwin Mathews), who was based on the Legend of Phaon, a man Sappho purportedly fell in love with. In 1960, openly lesbian characters were rare in films so it's understandable they skirted the issue but the subtext is there, certainly with Sappho's close friendship with Actis, played by Susy Andersen.


So was Sappho a lesbian?

1 comment:

Midnightcyn said...

Lesbianism is about desire, but many gays throughout history have taken spouses of the opposite sex for social, familial, or religious reasons. Even taking an OS lover may not be a choice, given the position of women in those times; the alternative was often rape.

The worship of Adonis centers around love and desire, but is not necessarily heterosexual in nature.

We can't say if she was a lesbian or bisexual, because those concepts didn't exist then as identities.