Friday, 30 December 2011 23:53

Why is Sappho Called the Tenth Muse?

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Muse lyre Louvre sappho

Dear Sappho,

Why is Sappho called the Tenth Muse? What qualities, attributes or gifts has she bestowed on humanity that would make her worthy of such a title?


Dear Curious,
The Muses were venerated as the Greek Goddesses of Arts and Sciences. They inspired artists, especially poets, philosophers, and musicians. They were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. From Muse words such as music, museum, and mosaic are derived. The Muses sat near the throne of Zeus and sang of the origin of the world and the glorious deeds of great heroes.

Sappho is a Greek poet who lived on the island of Lesbos and is considered the most famous female poet of antiquity. Most of Sappho's love poems were addressed to women. She is the ancient feminine voice of love that still calls to us across the ages. However only fragments of her work remain, leaving us to imagine the amusing possibilities.

According to Pausanias there were three original Muses: Aoide: song, or voice, Melete: practice, or occasion, and Mneme, or memory. Sappho embodied all of these attributes. She sang in a clear poetic voice, of the occasions and practices of love in order to celebrate them and to remember them. Plato called Sappho the 10th Muse and her image was on coins. Her poems were accompanied by a lyre, which gives us the origin of lyric poetry.

The subjects Sappho addressed in her poems included salutations to both the hymen and the bridegroom, prayers to Aphrodite, praises and complaints of lovers. She is not only the feminine voice of the Classical Age; she is the matron saint of lesbians worldwide.

It is unclear whether she created or perfected the meter of her day, now known as the "Sapphic" meter. Few poems of hers have survived intact, and she was known principally through quotations found in the works of other authors until the nineteenth century. In 1898 scholars unearthed papyri that contained fragments of her poems. In 1914 in Egypt, archeologists discovered papier-mâché coffins made from scraps of paper that contained the following verses. 

"Some say horsemen, some say warriors,
Some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
Vision in this dark world, but I say it’s
What you love best.

It’s easy to make this clear to everyone,
Since Helen, she who outshone
All others in beauty, left 
A fine husband,

And headed for Troy
Without a thought for 
Her daughter, her dear parents…
Led astray….

But that reminds me of Anactória,

She's not here, and I'd rather see her lovely 
Step, her sparkling glance and her face than gaze on
All the troops in Lydia in their chariots and
Glittering armor"

Her Evocations and Invocations of love and desire called to both the muses and the Gods and Goddesses of the pre Christian world. Human poets and lovers heard the call and were inspired. That is why Plato called her the Tenth Muse, she inspires poets and lovers through out the ages.





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