Poets, Philosophers, and a Bad Reputation: Biographies of Sappho

Suda Σ 107 (iv 322s. Adler)

“Sappho: some claim she is the daughter of Simon, others, Eumenus, while others name  Eeriguios, Semos, Kamon, Etarkhos, or Skamandronumos. Her mother was Kleis. She was a Lesbian from Eressos and a lyric poet who peaked around the 42nd Olympiad [c. 612-608 BCE] at the same time that Alcaeus, Stesichorus, and Pittakos where still alive. She had three brothers: Larikhos, Kharaksos, and Eurugios. She was married to a super rich guy named Kerkulas. He was a merchant from Andros. She had a daughter with him who was named Kleis. She had three girlfriends: Atthis, Telesippa, and Margara. Her friendship with them earned her a bad reputation. Her students included Anagora the Milesian, Gongula of Colophon, and Eunika of Salamis. She composed nine books of lyric poems and was the first to use the pletctrum. She also wrote epigrams, elegies, iambs, and monodies.”

Σαπφώ, Σίμωνος, οἱ δὲ Εὐμήνου, οἱ δὲ Ἠεριγυίου, οἱ δὲ Ἐκρύτου, οἱ δὲ Σήμου, οἱ δὲ Κάμωνος, οἱ δὲ Ἐτάρχου, οἱ δὲ Σκαμανδρωνύμου· μητρὸς δὲ Κλειδός· Λεσβία ἐξ Ἐρεσσοῦ, λυρική, γεγονυῖα κατὰ τὴν μβ΄ Ὀλυμπιάδα, ὅτε καὶ Ἀλκαῖος ἦν καὶ Στησίχορος καὶ Πιττακός. ἦσαν δὲ αὐτῇ καὶ ἀδελφοὶ τρεῖς, Λάριχος, Χάραξος, Εὐρύγιος. ἐγαμήθη δὲ ἀνδρὶ Κερκύλᾳ πλουσιωτάτῳ, ὁρμωμένῳ ἀπὸ Ἄνδρου, καὶ θυγατέρα ἐποιήσατο ἐξ αὐτοῦ, ἣ Κλεῒς ὠνομάσθη· ἑταῖραι δὲ αὐτῆς καὶ φίλαι γεγόνασι τρεῖς, Ἀτθίς, Τελεσίππα, Μεγάρα· πρὸς ἃς καὶ διαβολὴν ἔσχεν αἰσχρᾶς φιλίας. μαθήτριαι δὲ αὐτῆς Ἀναγόρα Μιλησία, Γογγύλα Κολοφωνία, Εὐνείκα Σαλαμινία. ἔγραψε δὲ μελῶν λυρικῶν βιβλία θ΄. καὶ πρώτη πλῆκτρον εὗρεν. ἔγραψε δὲ καὶ ἐπιγράμματα καὶ ἐλεγεῖα καὶ ἰάμβους καὶ μονῳδίας.

Sappho reading, detail of the Vari vase. National Archaeological Museum in Athens 1260

P. Oxy. 1800 fr. 1 [περὶ Σαπφ]οῦς

“Sappho was a Lesbian by birth, fromt he city of Mytilene. Her father was Skamandros, or Skamandronumos, according to some. She had three brothers: Eriguios, Larikhos, and the oldest Kharaksos. He sailed to Egypt because of his obsession with Dorikha on whom he spared no expense. But Sappho took more joy in Larikohs. She had a daughter named Kleis after her own mother. She has been accused by some of being strange in her manner and a lover of women. It appears that her looks were worthy of contempt and that she was very ugly, dusky in appearance and extremely short.”

[Σαπφὼ τὸ μὲν γένος] ἦν Λε[σβία, πόλεως δὲ Μιτ]υλήνης, [πατρὸς δὲ Σκαμ]άνδρου, κα[τὰ δέ τινας Σκα]μανδρωνύ[μου· ἀδελφοὺς δ᾿] ἔσχε τρεῖς, [Ἐρ][γυιον καὶ Λά]ριχον, πρεσβύ[τατον δὲ Χάρ]αξον, ὃς πλεύσας ε[ἰς Αἴγυπτον] Δωρίχαι τινι προσ[νεχθε]ς κατεδαπάνησεν εἰς ταύτην πλεῖστα. τὸν δὲ Λάριχον <νέον> ὄντα μᾶλλον ἠγάπησεν. θυγατέρα δ᾿ ἔσχε Κλεῒν ὁμώνυμον τῆι ἑαυτῆς μί. κ[α]τηγόρηται δ᾿ ὑπ᾿ ἐν[ί]ω[ν] ὡς ἄτακτος οὖ[σα] τὸν τρόπον καὶ γυναικε[ράσ]τρια. τὴν δὲ μορφὴν [εὐ]καταφρόνητος δοκεῖ γε[γον]α[ι κα] δυσειδεστάτη[[ν]], [τ]ὴν μὲν γὰρ ὄψιν φαιώδης [ὑ]πῆρχεν, τὸ δὲ μέγεθος μικρὰ παντελῶς. 

Soma Samuel Orlay Petrich, Sappho, 1880 [Hungarian National gallery
Maximus of Tyre, Orations 18.9 

“What could the love of Sappho be other than that Socratic erotic art? For they seem to me to have loved in their own ways, she loved women and he loved men. For they both used to say that they loved many and were caught up by beautiful things. What Alkibiades, Kharmides, and Phaidros were to him is exactly what Gurrina, Atthis and Anaktoria were to her! What the rivals Prodikos, Gorgias, Thrasymakhos and Protagoras were to Socrates is exactly what Gorgo and Andromeda were to Sappho. Sometimes she refutes them, other times she is ironic just like Socrates.”

ὁ δὲ τῆς Λεσβίας (sc. ἔρως) . . . τί ἂν εἴη ἄλλο ἢ αὐτό, ἡ Σωκράτους τέχνη ἐρωτική; δοκοῦσι γάρ μοι τὴν καθ᾿ αὑτὸν ἑκάτερος φιλίαν, ἡ μὲν γυναικῶν ὁ δὲ ἀρρένων, ἐπιτηδεῦσαι. καὶ γὰρ πολλῶν ἐρᾶν ἔλεγον καὶ ὑπὸ πάντων ἁλίσκεσθαι τῶν καλῶν· ὅ τι γὰρ ἐκείνῳ Ἀλκιβιάδης καὶ Χαρμίδης καὶ Φαῖδρος, τοῦτο τῇ Λεσβίᾳ Γυρίννα καὶ Ἀτθὶς καὶ1 Ἀνακτορία· καὶ ὅ τι περ Σωκράτει οἱ ἀντίτεχνοι Πρόδικος καὶ Γοργίας καὶ Θρασύμαχος καὶ Πρωταγόρας, τοῦτο τῇ Σαπφοῖ Γοργὼ καὶ Ἀνδρομέδα· νῦν μὲν ἐπιτιμᾷ ταύταις, νῦν δὲ ἐλέγχει καὶ εἰρωνεύεται αὐτὰ ἐκεῖνα τὰ Σωκράτους.

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