Death of Sappho by Miguel Carbonell Selva (1881). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sappho was a female musician and poet. Her beautiful poetry was lyric and accompanied by the melodic lyre instrument. She loved playing the lyre, as she addressed it in one her meliflous poems, frequently mentioning music, songs, and singing. However, all of Sappho’s music has been lost in obscurity.

Her poetry, as depicted in a fifth-century hydria in the National Museum of Athens, shows her reading from an ancient papyrus—an exceptional image. Additionally, only one of her poems has survived in its entirety—the rest are mere fragments.

Sappho lived in the city of Mytilene, one the island of Lesbos, circa 630 B.C. and was later exiled to Sicily between 604 and 594 B.C. No clear reason is given of why she was exiled. She devoted most of her life to composing songs. “Sappho [is] an amazing thing. For we know in all recorded history not one woman who can even come close to rivaling her in the grace of her poetry” (13.2.3).

The Death of Sappho (1896). Charles Amable Lenoir, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
La Morte de Sappho (1842). Charles Dugasseau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.