Sappho, a Greek poetess, born at Mytilene or Eresus in the island of Lesbos, flourished about 600 B. C. She lived in friendly intercourse with her countryman Alcaeus, and was married to Cercolas of Andros, by whom she had a daughter, Cleis. From Mytilene, where she lived, she was compelled by persecution to flee to Sicily, but whether she remained there until her death is not known. The common story that, being in love with a youth named Phaon, she leaped in despair from the Leucadian rock, probably originated in the myth of the love of Aphrodite for Adonis, who is called Phaon by the Greeks, while the leap from the rock is a metaphor used by many poets besides Sappho. Her poems are principally erotic compositions for the single voice, but she also wrote on a variety of other subjects, serious as well as satirical, and is said to have first employed the Mixolydian mode in music. The Attic comic poets delighted in introducing her into their dramas as a courtesan; but Welcker, K. O. Müller, Neue, and other commentators have attempted to vindicate her character. The poems of Sappho were arranged by the later literary Greeks in nine books according to their metres; but only one complete ode, that to Aphrodite, and a number of short fragments, remain.
She wrote in the AEolic dialect, and is said to have invented the metre which bears her name. It was formerly the custom to print her literary remains in editions of the pseudo-Anacreon, and it was not till 1733 that a separate edition of any portion of them appeared. Numerous collections and critical editions have since been published, the best being by Volgei (1810), Neue (1827), Schneidewin (1838), and Bergk (1843). There are numerous translations.