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Sappho (1877) - Charles-August Mengin
Pierre Lissac illustration for Pierre Lou˙s' Bilitis
image sourced here. [Aug 2005]
Sappho was an Ancient Greek poet, from the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, which was a cultural centre in the 7th century BC. She was born sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC. It was said that she was small and dark.
Sappho wrote mainly love poems, of which only fragments survive, save a single complete poem, Fragment 1, "Hymn to Aphrodite". Given her reputation in the ancient world, since only fragments of her work remain, the world lost a valuable treasure in her work.
Some of her love poems were addressed to women, from which she developed a reputation for lesbianism. The word lesbian itself is derived from the name of the island of Lesbos from which she came. (She is also the origin of its much rarer synonym sapphic, derived from her name.)
Due to its homosexual content—and because of its explicit eroticism—her work was disapproved of by the Christian church, which is arguably the main reason why most of it has not survived, due to a combination of neglecting to copy it and undoubtedly in some cases purposeful destruction.
While in the modern period this content is well known, in ancient and medieval times she was more famous for (according to legend) throwing herself off a cliff due to unrequited love for a male sailor named Phaon. However, this legend has no substantiation in Greek history, and it is generally believed that either the legend was a fiction created by the Christian church to misdirect attention away from the overtones of her writing, or was actually referring to another Lesbian woman named Sappho. (Of particular note is that a purported consort of hers was named Cercglas of Andros, literally "Penis, from the town of Man"). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sappho [Sept 2004]
The Songs of Bilitis (1894) - Pierre Lou˙s
The Songs of Bilitis, Les Chansons de Bilitis in French, was a forgery published in 1894 by Pierre Lou˙s in Paris. The collection of poems in ancient Greek was ascribed to a courtesan and contemporary of Sappho, Bilitis, to whose 'life' Lou˙s dedicated a small section of his book. He claimed the 143 prose poems, excluding 3 epitaphs, were entirely the work of this ancient poetess - a place where she poured both her most intimate thoughts and most public actions, from childhood innocence in Pamphylia to the loneliness and chagrin of her later years. Although for the most part The Songs of Bilitis is original work, many of the poems in the collection were reworked epigrams from the Palatine Anthology, and Lou˙s even borrowed some verses from Sappho herself. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songs_of_Bilitis [Aug 2005]
See also: lesbian - 1894 - Pierre Lou˙s
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