Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sappho: the Divine Hetaira

Name of Birth:                                 Sappho, in greek Σαπφώ
Place of Birth:                                  Lesbos, Greece

Date of Birth:                                   625 BC

Place of Death:                                Unknown

Date of Death:                                 510 BC (?)

                Sappho, the greatest lyric poet of antiquity is probably also the first woman to do poetry in the history of Western culture.
                Little is known for certain about this remarkable woman. Some have imagined a beautiful woman of sculptural beauty. Others, not very pretty. But all agree that she possessed a formidable and attractive persona who, with her ​​beautiful black eyes, could even tame beasts! This is, however, the reason for her fame. Daughter of a wealthy family, she left her small hometown Eresso early, and moved to the capital of Lesbos, Mytilene, where she studied dance, rhetoric and poetry, which was then allowed only to aristocratic women. Although of noble birth, very little a woman could aspire at this time out of housework. But Sappho ... was Sappho! A woman with fire! Very young already had more notoriety due to her personal charms than her art.
At that time, Lesbos was ruled by the dictator Pitaco (the same as would be later included in the list of the Seven Sages of Greece). Sappho, accused of participating in a conspiracy against the dictator, was eventually exiled in the city of Pyrrha. The accusation was probably due more to the morality of Pitaco (very common characteristic among dictators) than politics, because, in fact, Sappho never devoted herself to politics. The dictator Pitaco, fearing her writing, sentenced her to a distant exile, off the island of Lesbos.
About this exile: Pitaco was the dictator of Mytilene, the largest of the five cities of Lesbos. Traders and less wealthy citizens overthrew the aristocracy, making Pitaco the dictator in the mold of his contemporary and friend Solon. Trying to return to power, the aristocrats conspired, and were defeated, their leaders were exiled, among them the poet Alcaeus and Sappho. Alceu would have been a poet who merges his art with politics in a style all its own that says alcaico and would clearly have been better known if it wasn’t for the greatness of Sappho ... In the first exile in Pyrrha, Alceu sent a loving invitation to Sappho: "Oh pure Sappho, crowned with violets and soft smile, I wanted to tell you something, but shame prevents me."

It is unknown if this affair had consequences, but that Sappho answered him, then: "If your intentions, Alcaeus, were pure and noble, and thy speech is able to express them, modesty would not be enough to repress them".

When she returned to Pyrrha, Sappho was soon exiled again, this time in Sicily. There she met a rich industrial and, as the current divas marry millionaires, Sappho married him. This powerful industrial doubly fulfilled his duties as a husband with Sappho, giving her a daughter, and soon after, leaving Safo as a widow and rich.

After five years in exile, she returns to Lesbos, where she soon becomes the leader of the local society, intellectually. Seductive, not gifted with the beauty in the Greek conception of the time (though Socrates had called her "Beauty"), Sappho was low and lean, black eyes and hair, and refined elegance, widowed and living in a society that had no moral rules as are conceived today.

On her return to Lesbos, Sappho would say, "I need the luxury like I need the sun." But she didn’t remain a long time in idleness and founded a school for girls of Mytilene’s high society. There, her students were instructed in music, poetry and dance, and called heteras or better hetairas, which in Greek mean friends or sisters.

Apparently, Sappho was an unparalleled and an inspired teacher. But also she loved to inspire her hetairas; Sappho was a great teacher. Then began the rumors in town about acts and practices adopted in the large school. Her favorite hetaira called Attis, was the first to be taken, angrily, by their parents. Everything fell apart quickly and the school ended. To Sappho, this was a terrible blow. Especially the loss of Attis, to whom she had an unstoppable passion. What a disgrace to Sappho was the initial spark that sublimated her poetry. She composed the "Farewell to Attis", considered today as one of the finest lyric of all time, which through the centuries has been the model of simplicity and sobriety style of writing.

So many millennia have passed after the life of this exceptional female figure, that mankind lived moments of glory and contempt about her art and personality. In 1073 her works, along with those of Alcaeus, were burned in Constantinople and Rome. But her poems were rediscovered in 1897.

Sappho was called a "courtesan" (prostitute), by Suidas. Some tell that she had committed suicide by jumping off a cliff on the island of Leucas, because of her unrequited love for the sailor Faonte - a fact that is also described in Menander, Strabo and Ovid. But there is consensus that this is truly mythic. Surviving manuscripts say that Sappho reached old age, and the fact is that no one knows how or when she died, being considered by some the greatest of all poets.

Among the Greeks which were her contemporaries and posterity, Sappho was considered a so-called "Nine Lyric Poets" (the others were: Álcman, Alcaeus, Estesícoro, Ibico, Anacreon, Simonides, Pindar and Baquílides). Strabo wrote that "Sappho was wonderful because of all the times we have knowledge about, I do not know of another woman that could be compared to her, albeit slightly, in terms of poetic talent."

As Homer was known as "the Poet," Sappho was known as "the Poetess."

In an immortal line that survived the fire of the Church and to undermine everything centuries, Safo said: "Hopelessly, like the starry night follows the rosy dawn, death follows every living being until finally catches up ..." And then came the silence, but neither fire, nor the centuries managed to erase her voice, nor forget her name: Sappho, the divine hetaira!


Some say they are nine muses. What a mistake!
Because they do not see that Sappho of Lesbos is the tenth?
- Plato


What creature is it that is
female in nature and hides
in its womb unborn children
who, although they are voiceless,
speak to people far away?

The female creature is a letter.
The unborn children are the letters
(of the alphabet) it carries. And the
letters, although they have no voices,
speak to people far away.”

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