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of the island of Lesbos, though the exact place of her birth is uncertain? for, according to some, she was born in Eresus-, but according to others in Mytilene. The time of her birth is also unknown, and there are few events of her life which can be exactly ascertained. Her own fragments, as well as those of Alcseus, show that these two greatest poets of the ^Eolic school were contemporaries, though Sappho must hare been younger than Aleeeus, for she was still alive in 568 B.C., as may be inferred from the ode which she addressed to her brother Charaxus, in which she reproached him for having purchased Rhodopis, the courtesan, from her master, and having been induced, by his love for her, to emancipate her.1 Now Charaxus bought Rhodopis at Naucratis, in Egypt, and in all probability not before the reign of Amasis, who ascended the throne in 569 B.C. Before this time, and while she was still in the prime of life, Sappho is said to have left her country for Sicily, but the cause of this flight is unknown.
It was formerly a common belief that Sappho destroyed herself by leaping into the sea from the Leucadian promontory, in despair at her love being unrequited by a youth named Phaon. This story, however? vanishes at the first approach of criticism. The name of Phaon does not occur in one of Sappho's fragments, and there is no evidence that it was once mentioned in her poems. It first appears in the Attic comedies, and is probably derived from the legend of the love of Venus for Adonis, who, in the Greek version of the myth, was called Phaethon or Phaon, "the bright or shining one." How this name came to be connected with that of Sappho it is now impossible to trace. There are passages in her poems referring to her love for a beautiful youth, whom she endeavored to conciliate by her poetry; and these passages may perhaps be the foundation for the story. As for the leap from the Leucadian rock, it is a mere metaphor, which is taken from an expiatory rite connected with the worship of Apollo, and which seems to have been a frequent poetical image ; it occurs in Stesichorus and Anacreon, and may have been used by Sappho, though it is not to be found in any of her extant fragments. A remarkable confirmation of the unreal nature of the whole legend is the fact that none of the writers who relate it go so far as positively to assert that Sappho died in consequence of her frantic leap.2
At Mytilene, Sappho appears to have been the centre of a female literary society, most of the members of which were her pupils, and her character for purity, in connection with this association, appears, if we credit the ancient accounts, to have been seriously marred. Advocates have, indeed, been found in more modern days who strive to vindicate the personal character of the poetess ; and one of their principal arguments in her favor is as follows : that Sappho belonged to the yEolic race, which, at the time when the state of society in Attica had assumed a totally different aspect from that of the Heroic Age, still retained much of the simplicity of early Greek manners: that at Athens, on the contrary, women
1 Herod., ii., 135; Strab., xvii., p. 808; Athen., xiii., p. 596, B.
2 Smith, Diet. Biogr., s. v.