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Sappho: the mother of poetry

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

It’s not a new idea that history is told by a select few, but important to keep in mind. Remembering that the stories we are built on are only a fraction of the building blocks that make up our world. It allows us to be free, knowing that most of us will not be remembered as well as comforted by a similar soul who walked the earth but we just haven’t heard about- an estranged soul mate.

One of our goals at Unheard is to allow those who are not listened to be heard.There are many people, alive and dead, that never have their voices celebrated. So, this is our attempt at paying tribute to all those that have been marginalised by the gate keepers of history. And we are so excited to start it with Sappho.

I personally had never heard of Sappho, but some that I mentioned her name to did know her. She was from the island of Lesbos in Ancient Greece and born to a wealthy family. Her work was praised in her lifetime. Little is known of her personal life and there are no known portraits of her, all that have been created are modern artists interpretations.

Read by: Emma Jane Weeks, Ryan Eels, Manisha Kersey, Summer Inside Poetry, and Emily Behague.

Video by Nick Laws

Sappho probably wrote over 10,000 lines of poetry; today, only about 650 survive- she is best known for her contribution to lyric poetry which is written to be accompanied by music. Around the 9th century her work seems to have disappeared, and by the 12th century it was thought that both her work and her memory had been destroyed. It is thought that her work was destroyed around 1550 because the church disapproved of her morals. In reality it is thought that because of language barriers her work was not translated and therefore lost. The only whole poem that remains is ‘Ode to Aphrodite’.

Now she is a seen as symbol of female homosexuality, however she was described as promiscuously heterosexual in some writing. When her testimonial in the Hellenistic period was discovered her homosexuality was explicitly discussed. Her sexuality is still discussed by scholars today with the cultural preferences of each era affecting the translating of her work.

Sappho’s work massively influenced the Romantic poets and the forms she created are still used today. Most excitingly her work is still being discovered with new works being uncovered in 2004 and 2014, showing us that although Sappho’s life is long over she still has lots to teach us.

By Dora Furnival

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