Paradoxically one of the most controversial and accepted of female poets it’s not quite PC to label Sappho as lesbian. Interesting, given that the word itself stems from Lesbos, the island on which she lived. The only indications of Sappho’s life are those which she relates through her own poetry, and which have therefore been fiercely contested and reinterpreted throughout history.
Her poems suggest love requited and unfulfilled for both genders but it is unknown whether the depictions were autobiographical or fantastical. Early interpretations sought to conventionalise her lyrics with heterosexual pairings but the end of the 19th century saw a (re?)clamation of same-sex desires from poets such as Algernon Charles Swinburne and Michael Field. Comtemporary reworkings can be found from authors such as Anne Carson, Jim Powell and Mario Petrucci.
Contributed by Claudia Rowe