Lesbos: Isle of Lesbians

There is no official story about Sappho. Her life was so long ago there is no sure record of her life. Only her poetry remains and this is how I interpret her existence.

Arriving in Lesbos, after taking a night-long ferry, our next mode of transportation was a small tour bus, reserved for only us. We were taught some history about the island and informed about important figures who once lived there. One of the first people mentioned, as well as my favourite, was a woman named Sappho.

Growing up, Sappho had the opportunity to be one of the first girls in Greece to get an education; an education that no one other than her family members knew about. As she became older her father could tell how clever she was and wanted her to have the same learning advantages in life that young boys in Greece had. He decided to hire private teachers to give her lessons at home, regular schooling, as well as dance classes and different art lessons.

Later on in life, she realised that not all girls had access to an education like she did, so she then decided that she wanted to give other young girls the same opportunities as she once had. Sappho organised a small unofficial school for girls, although most people interpreted it as a strange gathering of girls who explored different types of sexual things.

The reason they interpreted it this way was because of how open Sappho was with her own sexuality. She was the first openly gay person in Greece, and people would not stand for it. Even today most people do not accept who she was attracted to and they say that her poetry described her friendships with women and not her love for them.

I was told that she was eventually exiled from Lesbos, and committed suicide. There are other theories that she did not kill herself but lived a long life and had a daughter named Cleis, but Sappho’s life is surrounded in so much mystery that it’s hard to discern.



A statue of Sappho in a square in Lesbos



Come back to me, Gongyla, here tonight,
You, my rose, with your Lydian lyre.
There hovers forever around you delight:
A beauty desired.

Even your garment plunders my eyes.
I am enchanted: I who once
Complained to the Cyprus-born goddess,
Whom I now beseech

Never to let this lose me grace
But rather bring you back to me:
Amongst all mortal women the one
I most wish to see.

– Sappho, circa 630 BC

Written by Alia Le Baube

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