Sapphus. As Sappho made a considerable figure in the poetical world, and as her remaining fragments are still in the highest esteem, the render will probably expect a particular account of her. She was of Lesbos; and as she grew up, discovered a great genius for lyric poetry. She seems to have had no great reputation for chastity, even in her youngest years: and is even taxed with an impure and guilty love towards the Lesbian ladies her contemporaries. But at last an unhappy passion for Phaon engrossed her whole soul, and proved the occasion of great calamities to her. He at first returned her passion, but afterwards neglected her. Love, however, had taken too deep root in her heart to be extinguished by this slight. She resolved to find him at all hazards, and made a voyage into Sicily for that purpose. In that island, and on this occasion, she is supposed to have written her hymn to Venus, so justly celebrated and admired. It did not procure her the happiness for which she prayed. Phaon still continued obdurate; and Sappho, raving with passion, resolved to seek the Acarnanian promontory, on the summit of which was a temple sacred to Apollo. In this temple it was usual for despairing lovers to make their vows, and beg the favor and protection of the God. This done, they threw themselves from the precipice into the sea, where they were sometimes taken up alive. Whether the fright they had been in, or the resolution that could push them to so dreadful a remedy, or the bruises which they often received in their fall, banished all the tender sentiments of love, and gave their spirits another turn, it was observed, that those who had taken this leap, never relapsed into that passion. Sappho tried the cure, but perished in the experiment. Besides the hymn to Venus, there is also preserved to us the fragment of another Ode, in no less reputation among the poets and critics. It seems to have been written in the person of a lover sitting by his mistress, and is generally allowed to be the truest picture of one in that situation, that imagination can frame. Plutarch tells us in the famous story of Antiochus, that, being enamored of Stratonice his mother-in-law, and not daring to discover his passion, he pretended to be confined to his bed by sickness. Stratonice was in the room with the amorous prince when the physicianErasistratus came to visit him; and it is probable that his symptoms were the same with those which Sappho describes of a lover sitting by his mistress in the above Ode; for it is said the physician found out the nature of his distemper by those symptoms of love which he had learned from Sappho's writings. Hence we may conclude that she had a soul made up of love and poetry. As she was one who had felt that passion in all its warmth, so she has described it in all its workings and turns. She is called by ancient authors the Tenth Muse, and, by Plutarch, is compared to Cacus the son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. From the character that is given of her works, it may be made a question, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are lost. They were filled with such bewitching ten-derness and rapture, that a perusal of them might have been dangerous. This note may perhaps appear too long; but Sappho's character required a particular illustration.
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