Sappho’s Legacy

Even though only fragments of Sappho’s poetry exist today, her legacy is undeniable.

Sappho proves to be an enduring figure in the lesbian movement.

World History Encyclopedia

Sappho proves to be an enduring figure in the lesbian movement.

Sierra Perlmutter, Columnist

For decades, Sappho has been regarded as a key figure in queer history. Words like “sapphic” and “lesbian” are directly derived from her name and home island of Lesbos, Greece, respectively. Her poetry earned her extreme respect from other poets of her time, which gained her names such as the “tenth muse” and “the poetess.”

Around the early 20th century, there was a shift. Sappho started being looked up to more, not only by poets, but by queer women as well. According to Jessica Kellgren Fozard’s video, “The Original Lesbian // Sappho of Lesbos,” she served as a reminder to queer women that there had always been people like them, and that the way they felt wasn’t unnatural.

Like any widely known figure, there are many contradictory claims made about her life. There are stories ranging from running a school for girls to flinging herself off of a cliff after being rejected by a man. However, none of these stories were present in her original poetry, and are therefore mostly unreliable. Making Queer History states “There are not many primary sources in the discussions around Sappho’s life, which leaves even the most simple details in question.”

Another possible reason is that various legends and stories were passed around as a way to taunt her. According to Making Queer History, many of the stories about Sappho are taken from sources written centuries after her death, not to mention the fact she was a stock figure in Ancient Greek comedies at one point, which explains many of the stranger myths about her.

Even though we don’t know a lot about Sappho’s life, she isn’t just important as a poet. Even if she wasn’t writing from an autobiographical standpoint, her poetry would still be relevant as a piece of queer history because it is all about queer stories. She acts as not only a person, but as a figure. Making Queer History states, “Sappho has become as much a figurehead as she was a poet. Activist groups are named after her. Books are written about her. Queer people themselves identify with her. She is proof that homosexuality is not new but as old as legends themselves.”