who is sappho? a lyrist unparalleled, a great beauty, no great beauty, a rumour, a writer of cultist hymns, a scandal, a fame, a bitchy sister to a silly brother, a headmistress, a mystic, a mistress of the poet alkaios, a pervert, a suicide for the love of a ferryman, an androgyne, a bluestocking, a pretty mother of a prettier daughter, an avatar of yellow book neodiabolism; a greek. we can agree to ‘lyrist’ and ‘greek’, particularising the latter as sixth century and lesbian, and basing the former on the evidence of two nearly intact poems and a number of fragments. the rest is speculation, when it is not something less savoury, and neither the gossip of scandalmongers nor the scrupulous research of scholars should cause us to forget that it is nothing but speculation. we have heard a great deal about sappho, and we know almost nothing.
- dudley fitts, foreword to ‘sappho: a new translation' by mary barnard