Sappho

, an eminent Greek poetess, was a native of Mitylene in the island of Lesbos. Who was her father is uncertain, there being no less than eight persons who have contended for that honour; but it is universally acknowledged that Cleis was her mother. She flourished, according to Suidas, in the 42d olympiad according to Eusebius, in the 44th olympiad, about 600 years B. C. Her love-affairs form the chief materials of her biography. Barnes has endeavoured to prove, from the testimonies of Chameleon and Hermesianax, that Anacreon was one of her lovers; but from the chronology of both, this has been generally considered as a poetical fiction. She married one Cercolas, a man of great wealth and power in the island of Andros, by whom she had a daughter named Cleis. He leaving her a widow very young, she renounced all thoughts of marriage, but not of love*; nor was she very scrupulous in her intrigues. Her chief favourite appears to have been the accomplished Phaon, a young man of Lesbos; who is said to have been a kind of ferry-man, and thence fabled to have carried Venus over the stream in his boat, and to have received from her, as a reward, the favour of becoming the most beautiful man in the world. Sappho fell desperately in love with him, and went into Sicily in pursuit of him, he having withdrawn himself thither on purpose to avoid her. It was in that island, and on this occasion, that she composed her hymn to Venus. This, however, was ineffectual. Phaon was still obdurate, and Sappho was so transported with the violence of her passion, that she had recourse to a promontory in Acarnania called Leucate, on the top of which was a temple dedicated to Apollo. In this temple it was usual for de­* “Sappho formed an academy of culpate her And might she not have females who excelled*!!) music j and it written the celebrated verses” Blest was doubtless this academy which drew as the immortal gods is he,“&c. for on her the hatred of the women of Mi- another Many of our poetical ladies tylene, who accused her of being too whom we could name, have written fond of her own sex; but will not her excellent impassioned songs of cornlove for Phaon, and the fatal termioa- plaint in a male character.” Dr. Bur* tioa of her existence, sufficiently ex- ney in Hist, of Music. | spairing lovers to make their vows in secret, and afterwards to fling themselves from the top of the precipice into the sea, it being an established opinion, that all those who were taken up alive, would immediately be cured of their former passion. Sappho perished in the experiment. The original of this unaccountable humour is not known. Her genius, however, made her be lamented. The Romans erected a noble statue of porphyry to her memory; and the Mitylenians, to express their sense of her worth, paid her sovereign honours after her death, and coined money with her head for the impress. She was likewise honoured with the title of the tenth Muse.

Vossius is of opinion that none of the Greek poets excelled Sappho in sweetness of verse; and that she made Archilochus the model of her style, but at the same time took great care to soften and temper the severity of his expression. Hoffman, in his Lexicon, says, “Some authors are of opinion, that the elegy which Ovid made under the name of Sappho, and which is infinitely superior to his other elegies, was all, or at least the most beautiful part of it, stolen from the poems of the elegant Sappho.” She was the inventress of that kind of verse which (from her name) is called the Sapphic. She wrote nine books of odes, besides elegies, epigrams, iambics, monodies, and other pieces; of which we have nothing remaining entire but an hymn to Venus, an ode preserved by Longinus (which, however, the learned acknowledge to be imperfect), two epigrams, and some other little fragments, which have been generally published in the editions of Anacreon. Addison has given an elegant character of this poetess in the Spectator (No. 223 and 229), with a translation of two of her fragments, and is supposed to have assisted Philips in his translation. 1

1

Gen. Dict. —Vossius de Pott. Grac. Fawkcs’s Translation.