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Saturday, 08 September 2012 18:02

Sappho’s Girlfriends

Written by 

sappho girlfriends

 

Dear Sappho,

We know that Sappho was the most famous woman writer of the ancient world and that many of her poems were addressed to women. Who were Sappho’s girlfriends and what did she write to them?

Want to Know

 

Dear Want,

Although ten books of her verse were published by the third and second centuries B.C.E., most of Sappho’s poetry has been lost or destroyed. Today we only have access to four parts of four poems, of which just one is complete. What we do know of her poetry comes from 63 complete single lines and 264 fragments.

Sappho’s poetry was personal, emotional, and focused on women. Her focus and feelings about women may have been more acceptable in the ancient world where women felt more free to express their passions toward one another, sexual or not. The words lesbian, and Sapphic have been used to define or describe homosexual relationships between women ever since.

The names of fourteen of her girlfriends and students are revealed in her fragments. The most celebrated was Erinna of Telos. Three of Sappho's best-known friends and companions were Atthis, Telesippa, and Megara; and her students were Anagora of the territory of Miletus, Gongyla of Colophon, and Euneica of Salamis. Many of her fragments are addressed to Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of love. Below are a few of the lines addressed specifically to Atthis, Gongyla, and Gorgo.

 

To Atthis

Yes Atthis

You may be sure

Even in Sardis

Anactoria will think often of us

Of the life we shared here

When you seemed the Goddess incarnate

To her, and your singing pleased her best

Now among Lydian women she in

Her turn stands first as the red

Fingered moon rising at sunset takes

Precedence over stars around her;

Her light spreads equally

On the salt sea and fields thick with bloom

Delicious dew pours down to freshen

Roses, delicate thyme

And blossoming sweet clover; she wanders

Aimlessly, thinking of gentle

Atthis, her heart hanging

Heavy with longing in her little breast

She shouts aloud, Come! We know it

Thousand-eared night repeats that cry

Across the sea shining between us

It was you, Atthis, who said

“Sappho, if you will not get

up and let us look at you

I shall never love you again”

“Get up, unleash your suppleness

Lift off your Chian nightdress

And like a Lily leaning into the spring

Bathe in the water”

I hear that Andromeda

That hayseed in her hayseed finery

Has put a torch to your heart

And she without even

The art of lifting her

Skirt over her ankles

 

Be Kind to Me

Gongyla I ask only

That you wear the cream

White dress when you come

Desire darts about your

Loveliness, drawn down in

Circling flight at sight of it

I am glad, although

Once, I too quarreled

With Aphrodite

To whom

I pray that you will

Come soon

 

Greetings to Gorgo

I salute Madam,

The descendent of many great kings

A great many times

 

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