Sappho, inspired by Love, Composes an Ode to Venus
Gold pendant with pearl border
After Angelica Kauffman
On display in room 91M
Born on the island of Lesbos around 620BC, little is known for certain about Sappho’s life. In antiquity she was regularly counted among the greatest of poets and was often referred to as ‘The Poetess’. Plato hailed her as ‘the tenth Muse’.
Little of her work survives but the fragments that do express passions for a variety of people of all genders and include proclamations of love for women and girls. Often held as an icon of the erotic, her attitudes toward love have attracted a great deal of attention throughout history.
Sappho’s name is the origin of the word sapphic and the term lesbian derives from the name of her birthplace. However, both of these terms only came to be applied to developing concepts of female homosexuality in the late 19th century.
Today Sappho’s significance can be regarded as largely formed through the history of her reception; crucially the creation, adaption and appropriation of her reputation by moralists and others in relation to their own beliefs and cultural contexts.