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On this page: Sapiens – Sapor – Sappho


(Dion Cass. Ixxii. 12; Lamprid. Commod. 3, where the name Auterus is probably, as Salmasius has pointed out, a corruption of Saoterus.) [W. R.J

SAPOR. [sassanidae.]

SAPIENS, LAE'LIUS. [lablius.]

SAPPHO (5a7r<£cy, or, in her own Aeolic dia­lect, ^azr^a), one of the two great leaders of the Aeolian school of lyric poetry (Alcaeus being the other), was a native of Mytilene, or, as some said, of Eresos, in Lesbos. Different authorities gave several different names as that of her father, Simon, Eunomius, Erigyius, Ecrytus, Semus, Scamon, Etarchus, and Scamandronymus (Suid. s. t\). The last is probably the correct form of the name (Herod, ii. 135 ; Aelian, F. H. xii. 19 ; Schol. ad Plat. Pliaedr. p. 312, Bekker). If we may believe Ovid, she lost her father when she was only six years old. (Ovid, flerdid. xv. 61: this celebrated epistle on the supposed love of Sappho for Phaon, contains allusions to most of the few known events of Sappho's life.) Cleis (KAe?s) is mentioned as her mother's name, but only by late writers (Suid. s. v.; Eudoc. p. 382)0 She herself addresses her mother as living (Fr. 32 *). She had a daughter named Cleis, whom she herself mentions with the greatest affection (Fr. 76, comp. 28). Her hus­band's name was Cercolas or Cercylag (Kep/caAas, Kep/cvAas), of Andros (Suid.). She had three brothers, Charaxus, Larichus, and Eurigius, ac­cording to Suidas, but only the two former are mentioned by writers of authority. Of Larichus we only know that in his youth he held a dis­tinguished place among the Mytilenaeans, for Sappho praised the grace with which he acted as cup-bearer in the prytaneium, an honourable office, which was assigned to beautiful youths of noble birth [larichus]. Charaxus is mentioned in his sister's poetry in a different manner. Having arrived at Naucratis in Egypt, in pursuit of his occupation as a merchant, he became so enamoured of the courtezan Rhodopis, that he ransomed her from slavery at an immense price ; but on his return to Mytilene he was violently upbraided by Sappho in a poem (Herod, ii. 135 ; Strab. xvii. p. 808 ; Ath. xiii. p. 596, b.). According to Suidas (s.vv. AftrcoTros, 'IciS/xwy), Charaxus married Rho­dopis and had children by her ; but Herodotus says that she remained in Egypt. Athenaeus charges Herodotus with a mistake, for that the courtezan's name was Doricha (comp. Strab., Suid. //. w. and Phot. s. v. 'PwSwTnSos dvafli^ta). Both may be right, the true name being Doricha, and Rhodopis an appellation of endearment. (See Neue, p. 2.)

The period at which Sappho flourished is deter­mined by the concurrent statements of various writers, and by allusions in the fragments of her own works. Athenaeus (xiii. p. 599, c.) places her in the time of the Lydian king Alyattes, who reigned from 01. 38.1 to 01. 52.2, b. c. 628—570 ; Eusebius (Chron.} mentions her at 01. 44, b. c. 604 ; and Suidas (s. v,) makes her contemporary with Alcaeus, Stesichorus, and Pittacus in 01. 42, B. c. 611 (comp. Strab. xiii. p. 617). That she was not only contemporary, but lived in friendly intercourse, with Alcaeus, is shown by existing fragments of the poetry of both. Alcaeus ad-

* The numbers of the fragments referred to throughout this article are all, unless otherwise expressed, those of M cue's edition*



dresses her " Violet-crowned, pure, sweetly-smiling Sappho, I wish to tell thee something, but shame prevents me" (Fr. 54, Bergk ; 41, 42, Matthiae) ; and Sappho in reply, with modest indignation, taking up his words, upbraids him for the want of honourable directness (Fr. 61). Passages may also be quoted from the works of the Athenian comic poets, in which Sappho appears to be contemporary with Anacreon and other lyric poets, but, as will presently be seen, such passages have nothing to do with her date. It is not known how long she lived. The story about her brother Charaxus and Rhodo­pis would bring her down to at least 01. 52. 1, b. c. 572, the year of the accession of Amasis, king of Egypt, for, according to Herodotus, it was under this king that Rhodopis flourished. It is always, however, unsafe to draw very strict inferences from such combinations. Aelian ( V. H. xiii. 33) assigns the adventures of Rhodopis to the reign of Psam-mitichus ; and perhaps the only safe conclusion as to the date of those events is that so much of them as may be true happened soon after the establishment of commercial intercourse between Greece and Egypt. That Sappho did not die young, is pretty clear from the general tenor of the statements respecting her, and from her application to herself of the epithet y^pairepa. (Fr. 20.)

Of the events of her life we have no other in­formation than an obscure allusion in the Parian Marble (Ep. 36) and in Ovid (Her. xv. 51), to her flight from Mytilene to Sicily, to escape some unknown danger, between 01. 44. 1 and 47. 2, b. c. 604 and 592 ; but it is not difficult to come to a conclusion respecting the position she occupied and the life she led at Mytilene ; a subject in­teresting in itself, and on account of the gross per­versions of the truth respecting it which have been current both in ancient and modern times.


Like all the early lyric poets, Sappho sang the praises of Eros and of Hymen. She sang them with primitive simplicity, with virtuous directness, and with a fervour in which poetic inspiration was blended with the warmth of the Aeolic tempera­ment. Not only is there in her fragments no line which, rightly understood, can cast a cloud upon her fair fame, but they contain passages in which, as in the one already referred to concerning Alcaeus, she repels with dignity the least transgression of those bounds of social intercourse, which, among the Aeolian Greeks, were much wider than in the states of Ionian origin. And this last point is just that to which we are doubtless to look for the main source of the calumnies against the poetess* In the Dorian and Aeolian states of Greece, Asia Minor, and Magna Graecia, women were not, as among the lonians, kept in rigid seclusion, as the property and toys of their lords and masters. They had their place not only in society, but in philo­sophy and literature ; and they were at full liberty to express their feelings as well as their opinions. This state of things the Attic comic poets could not understand, any more than they could under­stand the simplicity with which emotions were recorded at a period when, as Miiller well observes, " that complete separation between sensual and sentimental love had not yet taken place, which we find in the writings of later times.'* Nor indeed could it well be expected, considering the history of Greek morals in the intervening period, and the social state of Athens at the end of the fifth cen­tury, that those writers should be able to distiu-

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