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Sappho in the History of Same-Sex Sexuality

The true biography of Sappho is largely unknown, but certain facts about her have been found either from historical accounts of her life or her own work. She was born around 615 B.C. in an aristocratic family on the island of Lesbos in Greece (Mark, 2021). There has been evidence that suggested that Sappho had at least two brothers, a husband named Cercylas and a daughter named Cleis. The notion of her being married has been part of a number of disputes, and certain historians find that she was unmarried. Her death is similarly discussed, where certain groups believe she jumped off a cliff at a young age while others think she died of old age near 550 B.C. The most certain and revisited aspects of her life were when she rose to prominence as a teacher of young, unmarried women and a poet.

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Because of how long ago Sappho taught and wrote poetry, her influence on the history of same-sex sexuality can appear distant but should not be understated. It can be hypothesized that the roots of her relationship with same-sex sexuality were based on the polytheistic beliefs of the time, especially cults of Aphrodite and Eros in Sappho’s case. The current society during Sappho’s life was also not adverse to homosexual experiences and relations within both feminine and masculine institutions. However, the current historical accounts, artifacts, and other documentation were primarily focused on male same-sex sexuality, with Sappho being a rare insight into female homosexuality.

Female sexuality, as presented by male authors or artists, was largely contradictory and ignorant of the female perspective. Much of the work produced by Sappho’s contemporaries did not survive or even circulate at the time of its creation, while Sappho broke through the barrier and managed to expose her poetry to readers. As such, her influence on the history of same-sex sexuality can be traced in her efforts and ability to allow for a unique insight into not only homosexuality but general information on the lives of women at the time.

Though the label ‘lesbian’ can be attributed to the island of Sappho’s origin, Lesbos, it was also a consequence of New Comedy pieces that came to light three centuries after Sappho’s death. Many of these works parodied Sappho as overly promiscuous and a lesbian. This caricature of her was consistent during history and resulted in Pope Gregory burning much of her work in 1073. Though some historians have referred to her as completely homosexual or a lesbian beyond that, this assumption contradicts much of her work. Her poems about Eros speak with equal intent to both men and women. As her history is largely unknown, to the extent that it is uncertain whether she married or had children, many labels have been given to her, which may have reflected her identity and work incorrectly.

Even in the current day, debates and discussions over Sappho’s sexuality are much more prevalent than those concerning her work. Many writers, both in academics and other areas, continue to refer to her as explicitly homosexual or queer. However, it is essential to understand that her work is reflective of her identity, and with large missing bodies of work or other documentation, the certain identification of Sappho’s sexuality is impossible Additionally, there is enough evidence to observe her effects on the history of same-sex sexuality to attribute her work to discussions concerning homosexuality or queerness. Meanwhile, her influence and prowess as a poet should not go ignored.

Reference

Mark, J. J. (2021). Sappho of Lesbos. World History Encyclopedia. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Sappho in the History of Same-Sex Sexuality." October 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/sappho-in-the-history-of-same-sex-sexuality/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Sappho in the History of Same-Sex Sexuality." October 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/sappho-in-the-history-of-same-sex-sexuality/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Sappho in the History of Same-Sex Sexuality'. 30 October.

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