SAPPHO: Woman and lyric personae.
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Sappho was a poet of the sixth century in the Aegean islands. She was born around the 630 B.C. in Eresus, but she lived most part of her life in Mytilene, the biggest city of the island of Lesbos. She belonged to one of the most important families of the island; we know one of her brothers worked as a wine-pourer in the Prytaneion ofMytilene, and other was involved in trade. Her family or her husband´s family must have been involved in politics, because she had to go into exile to Sicily, sometime between 604 and 596 B.C. It is hard to believe she was exiliated due to the content of her poems. Cercylas, a trader from Andros, seems to be her husband with whom she has a daughter. She also had one more brother. Eventhough it is truethat there are parts of Sappho's biography which are based in the content of her poems we also have to take into account that she began to be seen as an important figure a long time ago, that means, we are lucky enough to have ancient historiographers' material on her. One of the most important sources of information related to her life is a letter that Ovidio included in his Heroidas, supposedlywritten by Sappho to Phaon. In the leucadia Menandro tells the story about her death as if it was a novel, stating that she threw herself from the top of a hill as she could no longer stand the pain in her heart, caused by an unsatisfied passion she felt for this so called Phaon. In later documents, she was suspected to be homosexual, and even to maintain relations with her associates. In additionshe has always been represented as a profoundly emotional and sensitive person. The story of Sappho and Phaon is a legend that arisen likely from material in Sappho´s poetry. The belief of Sappho´s homosexuality is in the same way an inference arising from her poetry. The question whether it is correct or not, and the literary importance of this fact, still remains, and how important is for aliterary critic to know this details. It is undeniable that there are feelings in her poetry linked to her group of women, but it is more complicated to talk about physical relationship. It is a common mistake to interfere biographical data within the poem of these ancient poets, because as K.J. Dover says “it is true of songs in general, and particularly of songs in pre-literate societies, that thefirst person may refer to
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any personality the composer chooses”1.
So we can know that Sappho is the
speaker, but there is not certainty that she was not assuming a role, like: Sappho the teacher of women, or Sappho the mother. The problem emerges from the vividness of her writing, which makes us feel inclined to treat her poetry as autobiographical. The use of her dialect alsohelps to increase the power and
truth-value of the poems. Although the author and the narrator are formally identified in the poems, the closeness between them varies from one to another. Following the tradition Sappho wrote nine books of odes, epithalamians, elegies and hymns, but only a small part endures to our days. These nine books were
organized according to the meter in the standardAlexandrian edition. Book one contained poems entirely in Sapphic strophes, and had a total of 1320 lines of verse. Book two consisted of poems in a stichic or stanzaic aeolic meter. Books three and four were in asclepiadean and a related unit respectively. Book five
apparently had apparently several different verse forms, all marked off in threeverse units. Nothing is known of Book six. Of Bookseven one two-line fragment remains, in a basically iambic meter. There is no information about Book eight. Book nine perhaps was of epithalamians in a variety of meter2. Sappho´s poetry is pure, with an aristocratic taste. It is more personal than the vast majority of archaic lyric, in form and content. It is written in the local dialect of Lesbos, which helps to emphasize the sincerity and...
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