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Sappho, the Lesbian Priestess
By Ghia Vitale
Let’s do the time warp back to ancient Greece. But first, we’ll make a pitstop in Greenport, New York, where I first heard the term “lesbian.” It was the 90’s, I believe, and Lilith Fair was broadcasting live. I was very young and visiting loved ones (Pollocks, to be precise). Adults were the ones watching Lilith Fair, although MTV was my favorite as a kid because it didn’t suck back then. As two women sung on the screen, some dropped the “L”-bomb. If I remember correctly, I asked what a lesbian was and after eventually, someone told me that lesbians were “really good friends.”
Now, let’s do the timewarp again back to Greece in between 630 and 612 BC and visit our lady Sappho, the poetess whose life and words inspired the etymology of “lesbianism” as we know it today. Sappho’s affluence allowed her to be a full-time hedonist She spent her days on the isle of Lesbos, showcasing her renowned Lyre skills and sensational lyric poetry. Apparently, Lesbos was a hip place to be back then, as Sappho.com describes the island as “a cultural leader” and accredits thine Lesbian queen with “[innovating] lyric poetry both in technique and style, becoming part of a new wave of Greek lyrists who moved from writing poetry from the point of view of gods and muses to the personal vantage point of the individual.” Power to the people! Praise the gods! The very first of her manuscripts that excavative efforts unearthed were wrapped in strips of papyrus, the same ones that Egyptians used for mummification and stuffing sacrificial animals. Other excerpts came to light once researchers discovered them in papier-mâché tombs.
There’s actually a good chance that Sappho might have been a priestess of Aphrodite in a circle of fellow Aphrodisian priestesses. Her extensive art studies helped her amass a reputation as a noteworthy and celebrated artist. Known for her skills, younger women took to Lesbos to learn from her at a school that was blessed in the name of Aphrodite as well as Eros. Scholars suspect that Lesbos had multiple female-exclusive circles. When I first heard about Lesbos, I pictured a lesbian utopia on an ancient Greek island that was probably where Aphrodite partied before she emerged from the ocean’s foam of Cypress. With that said, it give further context the homoerotic content which has long been celebrated by Sappho’s cult following, including the government back in the day. When she and her family were dispelled from Greece because of political proclivities, she sought refuge in Sicily where citizens rejoiced upon her arrival and even erected a statue in her honor
Although Sappho is lesbianism’s namesake, she wasn’t monosexual; she had a husband, an aristocratic merchant with whom she had a daughter named Cleis. He was known as Cercylas from the isle of Andros, although there’s a good chance that the whole Andros bit was just word-played from the Isle of Man. When he journeyed to Egypt with a wine shipment, he met a slave named Doricha and, much to the derision of the poetic priestess, bought her freedom. Sappho’s affections drifted to favor Larichus, a young man who “poured wine at council benefits.” He is often described as a trader of Lesbian wine. You can tell that she really had the hots for him by how she admires “Thy slender limbs have all a Satyr's grace,/Hylas, the Wood-God, dimples in thy face” while also noting that “These maids of [hers], beloved and loving me,/My dreams have made thy Nymphs to sport with thee” (Sappho 5-8). Make of that what you will.
She was a hit with the ladies and often romanced her students like so many Greek teachers did back in the day. Much like the sapphic stanza named in her honor, her love life was kind of like u-x-u-u-u. In other letters, the noble poetess is known for her poems about love and yearning. She is immortalized by her verse and artistic genius. Last year, 2 more poems were discovered on papyrus. One is called “The Kypris Poem”, a devotional hymn to Aphrodite or “Kypris” as she is referred to in the poem that touches on unrequited love, a recurrent and signature theme in her body of work. “The Brothers Poem” is about exactly whom the title specifies: her brothers. Apparently, Oxford University still has the goods. Despite Sappho’s prolific career and mass critical acclaim, only 1 of her poems made it out in 1 whole piece, as out of the 9 volumes of poetry that she published in her lifetime. The rest are fragmented excerpts of what remains of her recorded versecraft.
Celebrate the lady whom Plato called “the tenth Muse”; pour a glass of Lesbian wine and say cheers to Sappho!
#Real #Sappho #Lesbos #Greece #Poetry #TheTenthMuse #Historic #Aphrodite #LesbianWine
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