Printable zine version:

Everyone knows one fact about Sappho: that she desired other women ... “For [twentieth-century] culture, Sappho is first of all the emblem of female homosexuality ... and secondarily the author of a small number of surviving poems and fragments”

Prettejohn, 2008, p.103.

For the little known of the Poet Sappho, the ripples of her art, her work and life have echoed through out time. She was born to a wealthy family around 615 B.C. on the Greek isle of Lesbos. Later she lead a community of un-wed women devoted in worship to the deities of love, Eros and Aphrodite. She has still led a long and illustrious afterlife, leaving an indelible mark on artist and queer communities. Above centuries of censure, misinterpretation and infamy, Sappho has persisted.

It is from her that we owe the terms Lesbian & Sapphic

Of the thousands of lines she wrote, very little of her work survives, fragmented into 650 lines and the quotations of others.

Despite all outward influences trying to bury her work, her poetry, her work, her life, have all stubbornly resisted complete erasure.

Her poetry was thought to have been collected into 8-9 volumes at the Library of Alexandria, but lost to the deterioration of both the library and the papyrus it was inscribed upon.

‘the monks of the Middle Ages may have conspired to destroy Sappho's writings since her brand of pagan sensuality was not compatible with Christianity’

Obbink, 2015.

Whilst it is said that Pope Gregory publicly burnt her work in 1073, at the same time the fragility of archiving materials and a decline in demand for her work, might have lead to the obliteration of the majority of surviving work. Fragments of her poems were found recycled into the papier-mâché cartonnage that was used to make mummy masks. It was in 1898, that Grenfell and Hunt found previously unknown fragments of Sappho’s work in an ancient rubbish dump.

But it is not only the physicality of her work that was punished by time, but Sappho herself. She has been characterised as licentiousness, hyper-sexual, homosexual and promiscuous (is that a wrong thing to begin with?). As such a splintering occurred, of the master poet and the ‘wayward’ woman.

‘A time when scholars who devoted themselves to “rescuing” Sappho’s reputation from same-sex depravity pointed to the Suda, an ancient encyclopedia that asserted that the poetess had had a husband: a man name Kerkylos from the island Andros. Later scholars noted that her husband’s name was curiously similar to the Greek word kerkos, or “tail” — Greek slang for penis. And Andros means ‘man,’ more or less. That is to say, Sappho was married to someone named Rod Johnson from Dudesville.

Hasselswerdt, 2016.

In 1711 a translation of her work altered the love interest from a woman to a man. It is only in the last few centuries that deeply the woven homophobia and misogyny millenniums of society has begun to unravel.

‘Sappho became the “emblem of female homosexuality” very late in the history of her reception—2.5 millennia after her death’ 

Prettejohn, 2008, p.103.

There is something about Sappho that acts as a siren song. Maybe the mystery of her identity, the brazenness of her desire or the palpable longing that calls out from just a few fragmented words. The ladies of Llangollen named all their dogs Sappho. Natalie Clifford Barney dressed as a "page of love" sent by Sappho to woo Liane de Pougy.

When you begin to look, you can see the threads of Sappho throughout the tapestry of queer history. Like calls to like, through nods and veils, we find each other, and perhaps Sappho’s name was an invocation of this; a historic ‘friend of Dorothy’.

‘The Sappho of Solomon and Swinburne marks a crucial moment in the emergence of the modern image of Sappho as lesbian, as well as in the history of modern artistic and literary constructions of homosexuality.’

Prettejohn, 2008, P103.

Solomon, S. 1864. 'Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene.’ [Oil on canvas]

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) was a British artist belonging to the pre-Raphaelite movement. Born to a wealthy Jewish family in London, he was considered an artistic prodigy. Among his contemporaries were poet Algernon Charles Swinburne as well as artists John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Rossetti. His intense, rebelliously androgynous style built him a reputation and portfolio of remarkable artworks.

Through his friend (and possible lover) Swinburne, Solomon was introduced to Sappho’s poetry and life:

‘In this context, too, there is nothing surprising about the fascination with Sappho in the work of the young painter Simeon Solomon or in that of his friend, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, in the 1860s, when both men were exploring their own unconventional sexual identities.’

Prettejohn, 2008, p.103.

In Swinburne’s ‘Sapphics’ Sappho is restored:  

Thus, Swinburne’s admiration for Sappho as a poet can further be seen as a strategic choice that enabled him to explore publically proscribed themes without calling upon the wrath of the censor. Whilst he broke the rules of translation, he also used translation as a cover.

Creasy 2019.

In February 1873, Solomon was arrested and fined for cottaging and again in 1874 in France and sentenced to 3 months imprisonment. He was shunned by society, barred from the Royal Academy, falling in inflicted upon him by the cruel homophobia.

Solomon, S. 1862. ‘Study of Sappho.

‘Though I have been consistently amazed by how LGBT artists have developed new creative forms to deal with the repression of the expression of their sexuality or gender identity, I have also been saddened to contemplate just how many artists’ lives and careers have been prematurely cut short as a result of prejudice.’

Janes, 2010.

How do you define a the sexuality of someone millennia old? Especially when that person’s name has become an identity whole onto itself? Should you even try?

“The difficulty we face is not necessarily the lack of erotically desiring women, but our inability to crack the code organizing the conceptual categories of an earlier culture.”

(Traub, 1992, p.152)

"Few would deny the existence of any erotic behavior between women, but was it represented? What shapes did it take? Is there a code that we must crack in order to begin to read?"

(Auanger and Rabinowitz, 2002, p.111)

What is sexuality in the past?

“When we call an image of ancient women homoerotic, we are doubtless “reading in,” filling in the gaps between women occupying the same vase or in some cases imagining an absent woman. On what basis or with what methodology do we perform these operations? In what follows, I call homoerotic those looks and touches that seem to point to intimacy”

(Auanger and Rabinowitz, 2002, p.112)


“In what follows I have tried to be as inductive as possible and to work by looking at the representations, without imposing a definition on them, but of course, we do have preconceptions that may lead us to recognize only what fits our own categories. These preconceptions may also cause us to misrecognize a great deal. For instance, in modern society, “masculine” women are often read as lesbians, whereas “feminine” women who desire other women may be visible only when accompanied by another woman who fulfils the stereotype.”

(Auanger and Rabinowitz, 2002, p.112)

If you asked Sappho if she was a lesbian - well she’d probably say yes, but a yes to being a resident of Lesbos. Was she exclusively attracted to women? We cannot definitely say either way, there are records that she married and took male lovers, one of whom she ended her life in despair for. So the name sake for lesbians, is bisexual? Pansexual? Queer? Again we can’t say yes or no, but that doesn’t matter. What does is that Sappho loved, with an aching ferocity that spanned eons. What matters is that love has echoed through so many many people. Her work has given sapphics a life line with which to bind ourselves together, a life raft, a drifting memoriam to say that our kind of love is old, passionate and enduring.  

But Sappho is not a woman whose life is about to be terminated. She is a woman to be continued. More than that, she is the girl who comes back full circle. This girl will not be interrupted.”

(Nagy. 2020)


Auanger, L. and Rabinowitz, N., 2002. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World.. 1st ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, p.111.

Brooten, B., 1996. Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (The Chicago series on sexuality, history, and society). University of Chicago Press.

Creasy, M. 2019. Sappho and Decadent Translation 2: Swinburne’s ‘Sapphics’. [online] Decadence and Translation Network. Available at: https://dandtnetwork.glasgow.ac.uk/sappho-and-decadent-translation-2-swinburnes-sapphics/

What Does It Mean to Be Sapphic?, Them. Available at: https://www.them.us/story/what-does-sapphic-mean (Accessed: November 3, 2022).

Hasselswerdt, E., 2016. Re-Queering Sappho. [online] Medium. Available at: https://eidolon.pub/re-queering-sappho-c6c05b6b9f0b. (Accessed: October 22, 2022).

Janes, D (2010) Seeing and tasting the divine: Simeon Solomons homoerotic sacrament. In: di Bello, Patrizia and Koureas, Gabriel (eds.) Art, History and the Senses: 1830 to the Present. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, pp. 35-50.

Medhurst, E. (2021) Depicting Sappho: The Creation of the Original Lesbian Look, Dressing Dykes. Available at: https://dressingdykes.com/2021/03/19/depicting-sappho-the-creation-of-the-original-lesbian-look/ (Accessed: October 22, 2022).

Nagy, G. 2020. The 'New Sappho' Reconsidered in the Light of the Athenian Reception of Sappho - The Center for Hellenic Studies. [online] The Center for Hellenic Studies. Available at: <https://chs.harvard.edu/curated-article/gregory-nagy-the-new-sappho-reconsidered-in-the-light-of-the-athenian-reception-of-sappho/>

Obbink, D. 2015. ‘Sappho's New Poems: The Tangled Tale of Their Discovery.’ Written by Megan Gannon. Live Science. 23 January.

Traub, V. (1992) 'The(In)significance of ‘Lesbian Desire’ in Early Modern England' in Zimmerman, S, 1st ed, Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman, New York, Routledge, pp. 152.

In Zine Figures:
1. Belli, V (c. 16th century) 'Bust of Sappho medal (obverse side).’ [Cast silver medal] At: British Museum. 1976,0315.1

2.Belli, V (c. 16th century) 'Bust of Sappho medal (reverse side) draped figure, holding a lyre.’ [Cast silver medal] At: British Museum. 1976,0315.1

3. The Sappho Painter (c.510 B.C.)’Sappho holding a barbitos, from a Six technique kalpis.’ At National Museum of Warsaw.

4. Pale brown sard gem engraved with a seated woman, perhaps Sappho. (c. 4thC BC) [Engraved sard gem cameo] At: British Museum. 1886,1001.1

5. Head of Sappho intaglio. (c. 17th century) [Carved onyx intaglio] At: British Museum, London. 1890,0901.76

6. Delatre, C., Lefebvre, J., Monnin, M, A, C. (c.1860-1875) 'Untitled (possibly Sappho)’ [Etching] At: British Museum, UK. 1875,1113.24

7. Spintria R.4483 (c. 1stC) [Copper alloy coin] At: British Museum, UK. R.4483

8. Goujon, J. (c. 1859) 'Sappho sur le Rocher de Leucade.' [Marble]

9. Terracotta fragment of a kylix (drinking cup) (c.second quarter of the 5th century B.C.) At The Met, New York. 2011.604.1.4537

10. Terracotta lamp. (c. 1-99) At British Museumm 2005,0921.1

11. 'Statue portrait of Sappho.’ (c. 1-500 A.D.) [Marble sculpture] At: The Met, New York. 42.201.12

12. 'Theatrical Mask.’ (c. A.D. 2nd century) [Faience mask] At: Met Museum, New York. 26.7.1021

13. Siana cup. (c. 575BC-550BC) [Shard of terracotta pottery] At: British Museum, UK. 1886,0401.1222

14. Obbink, D. (c. 3rd century B.C., found in 2014) 'Fragment of Papyrus preserving parts of Sappho's "Brothers Poem" and "Kypris Poem”. [Multispectral image of papyrus fragment]

15. Terracotta fragment of a lekanis lid (covered dish) (c.460–450 B.C.) The Met New York, 2011.604.2.1134

16. Terracotta fragments of pots; unglazed on the inside. (second quarter of the 5th century B.C.) [Terracotta] At The Met, New York. 2011.604.2.2260c

17. The Danaë Painter (ca. 460 B.C.) 'Terracotta bell-krater (obverse)’. [Red figure terracotta vase] At: The Met, New York. 23.160.80

18. Marble terminal bust of Sappho. Front view. (c. AD 1 - 160) [Carved marble bust] At: British Museum. 1805,0703.68

19. Scharf, G., Williams, S. (1849) 'The Works of Quintus Horatius Flaccus. Illustrated Chiefly from the Remains of Ancient Art’. [Wood engraving] At: British Museum, UK. 1867,0713.268

20. “LESBIANS ARE BEAUTIFUL” – “A DAY WITHOUT LESBIANS IS LIKE A DAY WITHOUT SUNSHINE,” Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco. (1979) [Photograph] In care of: Chicago Tribune.

21. Beauvallet, P.N. 1813. ‘Sappho (Seated Woman Holding a Lyre). [Terracotta statue] The Walters Art Museum, 27.372

22. Goujon, J. (1859) 'Sappho statue on Aile Est wing.' [Marble]

23. Count Prosper d'Epinay. (c. 1895) ‘Sappho’. [Statue]


25. Pride button found in the lesbian connection vol. 23 no. 1, july 2000

26. Jodie Foster.

27. Lily Tomlin.

28. Arrowsmith, C. 1976. Joan Armatrading. [Photograph]

29. Solomon, S. 1864. 'Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene.’ [Oil on canvas]

30. Solomon, S. 1862. ‘Study of Sappho.’

31. Harper, J. (1990) “Towards A Lesbian Aesthetic,” Hot Wire. Available at: <http://www.hotwirejournal.com/hwmag.html>

Statuettes on back cover:

Seated woman playing a kithera (c. 2nd–1st century B.C.) [Terracotta statuette] At The Met, New York. 74.51.1673

Musician (c. 600–480 B.C.) [Terracotta statuette] At The Met, New York. 74.51.1670

Standing female kithara player (c. 4th century B.C.) [Terracotta statuette] At The Met, New York. 74.51.1671_

Standing female lyre player (c. 600–480 B.C.) [Terracotta statuette] At The Met, New York. 74.51.1672

Fragmentary terracotta statuette of a woman with a kithara (c. 3rd century B.C.) [Terracotta statue] At The Met, New York. 12.232.15

Standing female kithara player (c. 4th century B.C.) [Terracotta statuette] At The Met, New York. 74.51.1695

37. Marble terminal bust of Sappho. Right side view. (c. AD 1 - 160) [Carved marble bust] At: British Museum. 1805,0703.68