SapphoΣαπφώ, (or, in her own Aeolic dialect, Ψάπφα), one of the two great leaders of the Aeolian school of lyric poetry (Alcaeus being the other), was a native of Mytilene, or, as some said, of Eresos, in Lesbos. Different authorities gave several different names as that of her father, Simon, Eunomius, Erigyius, Ecrytus, Semus, Scamon, Etarchus, and Scamandronymus (Suid. s. v.). The last is probably the correct form of the name (Hdt. 2.135; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.19; Schol. ad Plat. Phaedr. p. 312, Bekker). If we may believe Ovid, she lost her father when she was only six years old. (Ovid. Heroid. 15.61: this celebrated epistle on the supposed love of Sappho for Phaon, contains allusions to most of the few known events of Sappho's life.) Cleis (Κλεῖς) is mentioned as her mother's name, but only by late writers (Suid. s.v. Eudoc. p. 382). She herself addresses her mother as living (Fr. 32 1). She had a daughter named Cleis, whom she herself mentions with the greatest affection (Fr. 76, comp. 28). Her husband's name was Cercolas or Cercylas (Κερκώλας, Κερκν́λας), of Andros (Suid.). She had three brothers, Charaxus, Larichus, and Eurigius, according to Suidas, but only the two former are mentioned by writers of authority. Of Larichus we only know that in his youth he held a distinguished place among the Mytilenaeans, for Sappho praised the grace with which he acted as cup-bearer in the prytaneium, an honourable office, which was assigned to beautiful youths of noble birth [LARICHUS]. Charaxus is mentioned in his sister's poetry in a different manner. Having arrived at Naucratis in Egypt, in pursuit of his occupation as a merchant, he became so enamoured of the courtesan Rhodopis, that he ransomed her from slavery at an immense price; but on his return to Mytilene he was violently upbraided by Sappho in a poem (Hdt. 2.135; Strab. xvii. p.808; Ath. xiii. p. 596b.). According to Suidas (s. vv. Αἴσωπος, Ἰάδμων), Charaxus married Rhodopis and had children by her; but Herodotus says that she remained in Egypt. Athenaeus charges Herodotus with a mistake, for that the courtezan's name was Doricha (comp. Strab., Suid. ll. cc. and Phot. s. v. Ῥωδώπιδος ἀνάθημα). Both may be right, the true name being Doricha, and Rhodopis an appellation of endearment. (See Neue, p. 2.) The period at which Sappho flourished is determined by the concurrent statements of various writers, and by allusions in the fragments of her own works. Athenaeus (xiii. p. 599c.) places her in the time of the Lydian king Alyattes, who reigned from Ol. 38. 1 to Ol. 52. 2, B. C. 628-570 ; Eusebius (Chron.) mentions her at Ol. 44, B. C. 604; and Suidas (s. v.) makes her contemporary with Alcaeus, Stesichorus, and Pittacus in Ol. 42, B. C. 611 (comp. Strab. xiii. p.617). That she was not only contemporary, but lived in friendly intercourse, with Alcaeus, is shown by existing fragments of the poetry of both. Alcaeus addresses her " Violet-crowned, pure, sweetly-smiling Sappho, I wish to tell thee something, but shame prevents me" (Fr. 54, Bergk; 41, 42, Matthiae) ; and Sappho in reply, with modest indignation, taking up his words, upbraids him for the want of honourable directness (Fr. 61). Passages may also be quoted from the works of the Athenian comic poets, in which Sappho appears to be contemporary with Anacreon and other lyric poets, but, as will presently be seen, such passages have nothing to do with her date. It is not known how long she lived. The story about her brother Charaxus and Rhodopis would bring her down to at least Ol. 52. 1, B. C. 572, the year of the accession of Amasis, king of Egypt, for, according to Herodotus, it was under this king that Rhodopis flourished. It is always, however, unsafe to draw very strict inferences from such combinations. Aelian (Ael. VH 13.33) assigns the adventures of Rhodopis to the reign of Psammitichus ; and perhaps the only safe conclusion as to the date of those events is that so much of them as may be true happened soon after the establishment of commercial intercourse between Greece and Egypt. That Sappho did not die young, is pretty clear from the general tenor of the statements respecting her, and from her application to herself of the epithet γεραιτέρα. (Fr. 20.) Of the events of her life we have no other information than an obscure allusion in the Parian Marble (Ep. 36) and in Ovid (Ov. Ep. 15.51), to her flight from Mytilene to Sicily, to escape some unknown danger, between Ol. 44. 1 and 47. 2, B. C. 604 and 592; but it is not difficult to come to a conclusion respecting the position she occupied and the life she led at Mytilene; a subject interesting in itself, and on account of the gross perversions of the truth respecting it which have been current both in ancient and modern times.
WorksLike all the early lyric poets, Sappho sang the praises of Eros and of Hymen. She sang them with primitive simplicity, with virtuous directness, and with a fervour in which poetic inspiration was blended with the warmth of the Aeolic temperament. Not only is there in her fragments no line which, rightly understood, can cast a cloud upon her fair fame, but they contain passages in which, as in the one already referred to concerning Alcaeus, she repels with dignity the least transgression of those bounds of social intercourse, which, among the Aeolian Greeks, were much wider than in the states of Ionian origin. And this last point is just that to which we are doubtless to look for the main source of the calumnies against the poetess. In the Dorian and Aeolian states of Greece, Asia Minor, and Magna Graecia, women were not, as among the Ionians, kept in rigid seclusion, as the property and toys of their lords and masters. They had their place not only in society, but in philosophy and literature; and they were at full liberty to express their feelings as well as their opinions. This state of things the Attic comic poets coula not understand, any more than they could understand the simplicity with which emotions were recorded at a period when, as Müller well observes, "that complete separation between sensual and sentimental love had not yet taken place, which we find in the writings of later times." Nor indeed could it well be expected, considering the history of Greek morals in the intervening period, and the social state of Athens at the end of the fifth century, that those writers should be able to distinguish between the fervour of Sappho and the voluptuousness of Anacreon, or even that they should refrain from bringing down all poets who ever wrote on love to one level, and from estimating them by their own debased standard. Accordingly we find that Sappho became, in the hands of the Attic comic poets, a sort of stock character in their licentious dramas, in short a mere courtesan. Her name appears as the title of plays by Ameipsias, Amphis, Antiphanes, Diphilus, Ephippus, and Timocles, in which, as well as in the Phaon of Plato, and other works of other comedians, not only was the fable of her passion for Phaon dramatised, but love passages were freely introduced between her and the distinguished poets, not only of her own, but of other periods and countries; such, for example, as Archilochus, Hipponax, and Anacreon (respecting these comedies, see Meineke, Frag. Com. Graec.). The writers of later times found the calumny so congenial to their moral tastes, or its refutation so much above their critical skill, that they readily adopted it; except that one or two of the grammarians resort to their vulgar critical expedient of multiplying persons of the same name, and distingmish between Sappho, the poetess of Mytilene, and Sappho, a courtesan of Eresos, the latter being evidently a creature of their own imagination (Ath. xiii. p. 596e.; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.19; Suid. s. v. Φάων; Phot. s. v. Λευκάτης and Φάων; Apostol. Proverb. 20.15). It is not surprising that the early Christian writers against heathenism should have accepted a misrepresentation which the Greeks themselves had invented (Tatian. ad v. Graec. 52, 53, pp. 113, 114, ed. Worth). It was reserved for a distinguished living scholar to give a final and complete refutation to the calumny (Welcker, Sappho von einem herrschenden Vorartheil befreyt, Göttingen, 1816, in his Kleine Schriften, vol. ii. p. 80; comp. Müller, Lit. of Anc. Greece, pp. 172, &c.). The well-known fable of Sappho's love for Phaon, and her despairing leap from the Leucadian rock, vanishes at the first approach of criticism. The name of Phaon does not occur in one of Sappho's fragments, and there is no evidence that it was once mentioned in her poems. It first appears in the Attic comedies, and is probably derived from the story of the love of Aphrodite for Adonis, who in the Greek version of the myth was called Phaethon or Phaon. How this name came to be connected with that of Sappho, it is now impossible to trace. There are passages in her poems referring to her love for a beautiful youth, whom she endeavoured to conciliate by her poetry ; and these passages may perhaps be the foundation of the legend. As for the leap from the Leucadian rock, it is a mere metaphor, which is taken from an expiatory rite connected with the worship of Apollo, which seems to have been a frequent poetical image: it occurs in Stesichorus and Anacreon, and may have been used by Sappho, though it is not to be found in any of her extant fragments. A remarkable confirmation of the unreal nature of the whole legend is the fact that none of the writers who tell it go so far as positively to assert that Sappho died in consequence of her frantic leap. (See Welcker. Müller, Neue, Ulrici, Bode, and other writers on Greek literature.) Another matter of great interest is concerning the relations of Sappho to those of her own sex. She appears to have been the centre of a female literary society, most of the members of which were her pupils in the technical portion of her art. For the Greeks were never guilty of the enormous error of confounding genius with its instruments, or of supposing that, because they cannot of themselves produce its fruit, therefore it can perform its work equally well without them. The female companions and pupils of Sappho, her ἑταῖραι and Μαθήτριαι, are mentioned by various ancient writers (Suid. s.v. and especially Max. Tyr. Diss. xxiv.); and she herself refers to her household as devoted to the service of the Muses (μουσοπόλω οἰκίαν, Fr. 28). This subject cannot be pursued further here, but much interesting information about similar female societies will be found in Müller's Dorians (b. 4.4.8, 5.2). She had also, however, rivals of her own sex, the heads, probably, of other associations of the same kind. Among these Gorgo and Andromeda, especially, were often mentioned in her poems (Max. Tyr. l.c.). She is found indulging in personal sarcasm against the latter (Fr. 23), and upbraiding a pupil for resorting to her (Fr. 37). In some instances she reproached her companions for faults of conduct or of temper (Fr. 42), and satirized those who preferred the enjoyment of worldly fortune to the service of the Muses (Fr. 19). Among the women mentioned as her companions, are Anactoria of Miletus, Gongyla of Colophon, Eunica of Salamis, Gyrinna, Atthis, and Mnasidica. Those of them who obtained the highest celebrity for their own poetical works were, DAMOPHILA the Pamphylian, and ERINNA of Telos. It is almost superfluous to refer to the numerous passages in which the ancient writers have expressed their unbounded admiration of the poetry of Sappho. In true poetical genius, unfettered by the conventionalities and littlenesses of later times, she appears to have been equal to Alcaeus; and superior to him in grace and sweetness. Of course we are not to look in her productions for the fierce strains of patriotism which her great countryman poured forth; for they would have been little becoming in a woman; but they find their counterpart in those addresses to Aphrodite, in which the contest of passion in the female heart is most vividly portrayed. Certainly to no one but Alcaeus, not even to Pindar himself, can we assign the honour of disputing the lyric throne with Sappho. Already in her own age, if we may believe an interesting tradition, the recitation of one of her poems so affected Solon, that he expressed an earnest desire to learn it before he died (ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω, Aelian. apud Stob. Serm. 29.58). Strabo speaks of her as Θαυμαστόν τι χρῆμα (xiii. p. 617), and the praises and imitations of her by Horace and Catullus are too well known to require mention. It may safely be affirmed that the loss of Sappho's poems is the greatest over which we have to mourn in the whole range of Greek literature, at least of the imaginative species. The fragments that survive, though some of them are exquisite, barely furnish a sample of the surpassing beauty of the whole. They are chiefly of an erotic character; and at the head of this class must be placed that splendid ode to Aphrodite, of which we perhaps possess the whole (Fr. 1), and which, as well as the shorter ode which follows it (Fr. 2), should be read with the remarks of Muller (Lit. of Anc. Greece, pp. 175, 178). She appears also to have composed a large number of hymeneals, from which we possess some fragments of great beauty, and of one of which the celebrated Epithalamium of Catullus, O Hesperus, thou bringest all things,
” not only sounds tame, but fails to express the latter, and perhaps the better, portion of the image. Those of her poems, which are addressed to her female friends are so fervid, that they ought almost to be classed with her erotic poems. Her hymns invoking the gods (οἱ κλητικοὶ ὕμνοι) are mentioned by the rhetorician Menander (Encom. 1.2), who tells us that among them were many to Artemis, and to Aphrodite, in which the various localities of their worship were referred to. A hymn of hers to Artemis was imitated by Damophila (Philostr. Vit. Soph. 1.30). According to Suidas, her lyric poems formed nine books, which were probably arranged merely according to the metres of the poems. (See Neue, p. 11, fol.) The same compiler ascribes to her epigrams, elegies, iambs, and monodies. The last of these ,terms designates poems which were intended to be sung, not by a chorus, but by a single voice, a distinction which is simply a characteristic of the greater portion of the lyric poetry of the Aeolians; that of the Dorians, on the contrary, was chiefly choral. As to the iambs mentioned by Suidas, it is true that iambic lines are introduced into her strophes, but the species of poetry called iambic, such as that of Archilochus, is altogether alien to her genius. With respect to the elegies and epigrams, she had a place in the Meleager's Garland, which contained, he tells us, " few flowers of Sappho, but those roses" (5.6) ; but it does not follow that these pieces were in elegiac verse. The Greek Anthology contains three epigrams under her name, the genuineness of which is doubtful. Jacobs accepts them, as " priscam simplicitatem redolentia." (Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 55; Jacobs, Anth. Graec. vol. i. p. 49, vol. xiii. p. 949). Her poems were all in her native Aeolic dialect, and form with those of Alcaeus the standard of the Aeolic dialect of Lesbos. (Ahrens, de Graecae Linguae Dialectis, vol. i.). Dionysius (5.23) selects her diction as the best example of polished and flowery composition (γλαφυρᾶς καὶ ἀνθηρᾶς συνθέσεως). Among the grammarians who wrote upon Sappho and her works were Chamaeleon (Ath. xiii. p. 599c.) and Callias, who was also a commentator on Alcaeus. (Strab. xiii. p.618). Draco of Stratonica wrote on her metres (Suid. s. v. Δράκων); and Alexander the Sophist lectured on her poetry (Aristid. Epitaph. p. 85). There were also some anonymous ὑπομνήματα. Portions of her eighth book were transferred by a certain Sopater into his Eclogae. (Phot. Bibl. Cod. 161.) It remains to speak of the musical and rhythmical forms, in which the poetry of Sappho was embodied. Herodotus (l.c.) calls her generically μουσοποιός : Suidas uses the specific terms λυρική and ψάλτρια. Her instrument was the harp, which she seems to have used both in the form of the Aeolian barbiton and the Lydian pectis. The invention of the latter was ascribed to her by some of the ancients (Ath. xiv. p. 635b. c.) ; and it is probably by a confusion of terms that Suidas assigns to her the invention of the plectrum, which instrument was only used for striking the old lyre (φόρμιγξ), and not for the pectis, which was played with the fingers only. (See Neue, p. 11). Her chief mode of music was the Mixolydian, the tender and plaintive character of which was admirably adapted to her amatory poems, and the invention of which was ascribed to her by Aristoxenus, although others assigned it to Pythocleides, and others to Terpander. (Plut. de Mus. 16, 28, pp. 1136, e. 1140, f.) Of the metres of Sappho, the most important is that which bears her name, and which only differs from the Alcaic by the position of a short syllable, which ends the Sapphic and begins the Alcaic verse, for example From the resemblance between the two forms, and from the frequent occurrence of each of them in the fragments of Sappho and Alcaeus, and in the Odes of Horace and Catullus, we may fairly conclude that in these two verses we have the most characteristic rhythm of the Aeolian lyric poetry. A thorough discussion of this Sapphic verse would involve the examination of the whole subject of the early Greek metres. Some investigation of it is, however, necessary, both on account of the importance of the metre in itself, and of the prevailing errors with regard to its structure and rhythm. The gross and absurd blunder of what we believe is still the ordinary mode of reading the Sapphic verses in Horace, has been of late exposed and corrected more than once, especially by Professor Key (Journal of Education, vol. iv. p. 356; Penny Cyclopaedia, art. Arsis). The true accentuation 2 is: -- as is clearly seen even in Latin Alcaic verse, and without the possibility of a doubt in the genuine Greek Sapphic and Alcaic. There is, however, we think, still some doubt which of the accented syllables ought to have the stronger accent and which the weaker. With regard to the division of the feet, we assume (not having the space here to prove) that the fundamental element of the greater part of the earlier Greek metrical systems, epic as well as lyric, was the Choriambus used either alone or doubled (as in the so-called Pentameter), and either with or without an unaccented introductory or terminal syllable, or both , or, when doubled, . Associated with the choriambus, as its equivalents in time, we have the double iamb and the double trochee, either complete, or catalectic; and in the latter case the time is made up either by a rest, or by reckoning the beginning and the ending of the verse together. Thus, in the Sapphic line, we have the time of three of the elementary parts, or metres, the choriambus occupying the middle place, with a double trochee for an introduction (or base) and a double iamb for a termination, but this last metre wants one syllable, the time of which is made up by the pause at the end of the line Or the line might be divided so as to make the middle and principal part a choriambus with its catalexis (identical, in fact, with the short final verse), and the termination a single trochee In the Alcaic, we have precisely the same time ; only the line, instead of beginning with an accented syllable and ending with an unaccented one, begins with an unaccented syllable and ends with an accented one, the difference being effected by prefixing an unaccented syllable to the base and taking it away from the termination; and then the base and termination taken together, allowance being made for the rest at the end of the line, fill up the time of two metres, The difference is precisely analogous to that between the trochaic and iambic metres. The Sapphic strophe or stanza is composed of three Sapphic verses, of which the third is prolonged by the addition of another metre, which must be a pure choriambus, to which is appended a final unaccented syllable . This is commonly treated as a separate line, and is called by the grammarians the Versus Adonius, but how essentially it is a prolongation of the third line is evident from the fact that a word often runs over from the one into the other, for example, Labitur ripa Jove non probante uxorius amnis.
” This remark, however, applies only to the genuine original structure, for in Horace sometimes the short verse is separated from its own stanza, either by an hiatus in the prosody or by a full stop in the sense, and is read as continuous with the next stanza, as (Carm. 1.2. 47):-- Neve te nostris vitiis iniquum
Tollat. (Comp. 1.12. 7, 31, 22. 15.) But this is never found in Sappho, nor even in Catullus. The whole system of the Sapphic stanza then runs thus:-- where we have not indicated the division of the feet in the latter part of the third line, for the following reason: the completion of the double iamb (which is not here catalectic, because the line does not really end here like the first two) and the commencement of the additional metre overlap one another, or, in other words, the long syllable is common to both. It still remains to notice the caesura, an element of metrical poetry quite as important as time and accent. By caesura we mean, not precisely what the grammarians define it, namely, the division of a foot between two words, because, among other objections to this definition, it requires the previous settlement of the question, what the feet of the verse really are; but what we call caesura is a pause in a verse, dividing the verse into parts, just as the stronger pause at the end of the verse, divides a poem or strophe into verses. Nothing is more common in lyric poetry than for the principal caesura in a verse to fall at the end of a foot, as in or Now, in the Sapphic line, there are no less than six modes of introducing the caesural pause :-- (1.) In the middle of the choriambus, as κάλοι δέ ς᾿ ἆγον”. (2.) After its first syllable, as ἀι?οισα πήλυι”, (3.) After the ditrochaic base, as ἀθάνατ᾽ Ἀφρόδιτα” : (4.) After the third syllable of the base, as δολόπλοκε”, “λίσσομαί σε”. (5.) Before the diiambic termination, as πάτρος δέ δόμον” || “λίποισα”. (6.) Before the last syllable of the choriambus, as αἴ ποτα” || “κἀτέρωτα”. Now, it will be seen, by a glance at these examples, that several of the verses have two, or even more, of these caesural pauses. In fact, in the last four of the six, this is almost demanded by the first principles of rhythm, on account of the inequality which the division would otherwise give. We must, therefore, regard, not only the caesurae, but their combinations; and it will then be seen that the Sapphic verse is divided by its caesural pauses sometimes into two members, and sometimes into three; and since the verse contains six accented syllables (counting as one of them the pause at the end, which, if filled up, as it was in the music, would be accented), these two chief modes of division give respectively two members, each containing three accented syllables, and three members, each containing two. In the first case, there are two subdivisions (Nos. 1 and 2, above), the difference being merely that between the feminine and masculine caesura, and its effect simply the use of a single or a double unaccented syllable as an introduction to the second half of the verse. In the second mode of division, we get various subdivisions, resulting from the various combinations of the caesurae in the examples (3), (4), (5), and (6). When (3) and (5) are combined,the result is a line divided into three parts perfectly equal in time, and which are in fact the three primary elements of the verse, as, ἀθανάτῳ” || “προσώπῳ”. When (4) and (5) are combined, the line only differs from the above by having the last syllable of the base converted into an introductory syllable for the centre, as in the example in No. 5. Verses of this form generally have also the principal central caesura, which must be regarded as overpowering the others; as in the example. When (3) and (6) are combined, the effect is that the line consists, rhythmically, of a ditrochaic base and a ditrochaic termination, the central member being imperfect; as in both the examples (3) and (6). The combination of (4) and (6) produces a verse evidently almost the same as the last; as in the example (4). The several effects produced by the caesurae in the third prolonged line of the stanza, are too varied to be discussed further: the reader who has entered into what has been already said, can easily deduce them for himself. Enough has been said to show the true structure of the verse, and the immense variety of rhythm of which it is susceptible. How skilfully Sappho avails herself of these varieties is evident from the mere fact, that all the above examples are taken from her first fragment, which only contains seven stanzas. The subject of Latin Sapphics cannot be entered upon here: it must suffice to lay down the principle, that their laws must be deduced from those of the Greek metre; and to state the fact, that Horace confines himself almost entirely to the forms (1) and (2), as in using the former very sparingly indeed in his earlier odes, but more frequently in his later ones; his taste, it may be presumed, having been improved by practice. The other metres used by Sappho are fully discussed by Neue, pp. 12, &c.