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WikiProject iconSappho has been listed as a level-4 vital article in People. If you can improve it, please do.
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Good articleSappho has been listed as one of the Language and literature good articles under the good article criteria. If you can improve it further, please do so. If it no longer meets these criteria, you can reassess it.
Did You KnowIn the news Article milestones
January 21, 2007Good article nomineeNot listed
August 23, 2017Good article nomineeListed
Did You Know A fact from this article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page in the "Did you know?" column on September 19, 2017.
The text of the entry was: Did you know ... that the song cycles by Wilhelm Killmayer, written across five decades, set poems by authors from Sappho to Peter Härtling, with a focus on the late poems by Hölderlin?
In the news A news item involving this article was featured on Wikipedia's Main Page in the "In the news" column on February 4, 2014.
Current status: Good article

Images redux[edit]

Given that identification of ancient images of Sappho is a perennial subject of sturm und drang on this talkpage, I've put together some notes on what I can find out about all of the supposed ancient depictions available on Commons (plus a couple of well-known ones that we don't have illustrated!) here. In general, it's nothing we haven't discussed before: all identifications of ancient sculpture as depicting Sappho are tenuous at best.

Hopefully this is a useful resource. If anyone has any further sources on the identification of any of these works (in particular some of the sculptures) do add them – all contributions greatly appreciated. Caeciliusinhorto-public (talk) 16:53, 5 November 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]


"Whilst her importance as a poet is confirmed from the earliest times, all interpretations of her work have been coloured and influenced by discussions of her sexuality."

This seems extremely subjective and of the opinion of the author of the content and not the reality. Sappho has long been know for her poetry. Not everything is about sexuality. Spiel (talk) 03:03, 2 June 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Hmm, this was introduced by someone who has not otherwise edited this article with the summary "small changes for clarity". As this is a very strong claim that isn't supported by the body of the article, I have removed it from the lead. (Though I note that it does not at all contradict the claim that Sappho is known for her poetry!) Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 04:30, 2 June 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


No reliable portrait of Sappho has survived; all extant representations, ancient and modern, are artists' conceptions. In the Tithonus poem she describes her hair as now white but formerly black. A literary papyrus of the second century AD describes her as very small. Alcaeus possibly describes Sappho as "violet-haired", which was a common Greek poetic way of describing dark hair. Some scholars dismiss this tradition as unreliable.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with this. The first sentence is true, though it's not exactly what the cited source is saying; Richter says that no ancient sculpture has been reliably identified as depicting Sappho, not that none of the ancient sculptures of Sappho are reliable likenesses. The second is true but I am incredibly uncomfortable with our article inferring details of Sappho's personal appearance from her poetry: aside from the fact that the speaker does not name herself as Sappho in fr.58, there's no reason to think that the poet would necessarily faithfully record her hair colour rather than e.g. use the contrast of black and white for poetic effect. Unless we can find reliable sources making this connection I think we should steer well clear. As for the literary papyrus, there are several sources rather better than Smyth's comments from 1900 which discuss in rather more depth why we shouldn't take that as a useful description: e.g. Marguerite Johnson, Sappho (2007); Mary Lefkowitz, The Lives of Greek Poets (2012); Jane McIntosh Snyder, "Sappho in Attic Vase-Painting" (1997).

Finally, the Alcaeus fragment is an enormous can of worms. Whether it mentions Sappho at all is disputed: it doesn't in Voigt's edition, nor in Liberman, Alcée (1999); Neri (2021) discusses the controversy in some depth and concludes that "μελλιχόμειδε Σάπφοι" is wrong. Even if it is right, citing the LSJ dictionary entry to support "a common poetic way" seems to be stretching the source way beyond the limits of what it actually says, and e.g. Snyder 1997 argues that it should be interpreted as meaning "O weaver of violets" rather than "violet-haired Sappho". And I can't lay my hands on a source at the moment, but I've definitely also seen it translated as "Sappho with violets in her hair". (Meanwhile, Yatromanolakis, Sappho in the Making (2008), goes so far as to say that the ascription of the fragment to Alcaeus is uncertain and it may have been authored by Sappho!)

I've tried to rewrite this in a way that I'm happy with, but I haven't been able to come up with anything which doesn't end up as footnotes upon footnotes of hedging and clarifying. Ultimately, I think the reason is that this doesn't really belong in the section of Sappho's life; the stories about her appearance are only relevant insofar as it tells us something about her reception. So I've cut it out; I'm going to try to fit some discussion of how Sappho's appearance is described in the sources (the Oxyrhynchus biography is not the only relevant source here!) into the section on reception. Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 20:07, 25 July 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


This article could use a bit more information about the music associated with Sappho—at the moment the only substantial information on it is hidden away in a note! ("Other musical inventions...", note n) For example, in her Grove article, the two leading scholars on Greek music doubt that she invented the Mixolydian mode (among other things), which is to be fair, a bit nonsensical anyways. Certainly there isn't a lot known about the music associated with her, but there is certainly more known than what is in the article. Would be happy to add some myself, if there is agreement from others that I should do so? (asking since this is a GA). Best – Aza24 (talk) 23:12, 25 July 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Music isn't really my area – as far as I'm concerned you should just go ahead and write something if you think there's something to be said! Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 23:21, 25 July 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Happy to—as I said above, the only reason I came here first was to double check since its a GA. Will get to this in a few days. Aza24 (talk) 23:37, 25 July 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Haven't forgotten about this, just delayed for now. Best – Aza24 (talk) 01:21, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I think the new infobox recently added by Laharmo1 was a good addition to the article, and an improvement on the previous infobox which was removed by Caeciliusinhorto about a month ago.
So 3 editors want an infobox, and 1 is against. I'm posting this here to try and get a consensus. 𝕱𝖎𝖈𝖆𝖎𝖆 (talk) 17:38, 14 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

That infobox wasn't a good addition. Nearly all the content in it was speculative and contested. As the article says, there are ten conjectures for the name of Sappho's father, and he does not appear to have been notable for anything else. Nor does her mother, about whom there is less speculation and indded less said at all, which is normal for ancient Greece. The sources for the names and number of her brothers are inconsistent. It's uncertain whether Sappho's mention of a Cleis may refer to a child or a lover, but the infobox says it's the possible name of her daughter, a daughter that we don't even know existed at all and conversely, that if she existed she was Sappho's only child. Yet if we have an infobox, such parameters are inevitably filled in by someone, sooner or later, because they're there, because why would they be there if they're not to be used, because the infobox would look insubstantial or useless without even those scraps.
And what do they tell us about Sappho? That the key information about her is who her father and mother were, who her brothers were, that she was a mother. That is utterly misleading and does our readers a gross disservice. The article's lead has its priorities right. Let it be the readers' focus. NebY (talk) 18:33, 14 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
NebY perfectly explains my dislike for an infobox in this article. Virtually nothing about Sappho's life is certain, and infoboxes aren't set up to do nuance. Readers blindly looking for Facts™ in an infobox, without concern for the uncertainty surrounding them, is exactly what I would rather avoid. Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 22:21, 14 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
While it is true that not much is known for sure about Sappho's life, that dosent mean there shouldnt be an infobox. For example, Menes has an infobox despite knowing almost nothing for sure about them. To add on to that, they might not have even existed. The readers of the infobox would know the uncertainty of the information. The dates of when she was born and died and how old she was when she died have circas next to them. With regard to her realatives, I wouldnt mind if they were removed (even though I wrote possibly next to their names). Laharmo1 (talk) 01:36, 15 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Menes is a perfect example of why if I were benevelont dictator of Wikipedia, we'd do away with infoboxes on the grounds that editors can't be trusted with them. Of the "facts" included in that infobox, the dates are already included in the first sentence of the lead, and that his sucessor was Hor-Aha is apparently disputed – with a respectable minority opinion being that he was Hor-Aha! The only thing in that infobox which can usefully be digested as a simple fact and isn't already in the first sentence of the lead is the meaning of the name mnj – and that isn't visible on mobile! Caeciliusinhorto-public (talk) 12:01, 15 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I think the new infobox did a better job of making clear that most of this info was only 'possibly true'. Perhaps we could scrap the parents though, and add 3 of her famous poems. That would make the infobox more useful imo. 𝕱𝖎𝖈𝖆𝖎𝖆 (talk) 04:43, 15 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
black vase with an image of a woman playing the lyre
Kalpis painting of Sappho by the Sappho Painter (c. 510 BC), currently held in the National Museum, Warsaw
Bornc. 630 BC
Diedc. 570 BC
Known forPoetry
Notable workOde to Aphrodite, Sappho 31
ChildrenCleïs (possibly)
It did, though I generally think that infoboxes do a bad job of conveying nuances, and simply saying "Father: Scamondronymos (possibly)" isn't super useful. Why only "possibly"? And for that matter, why are we suggesting more certainty about who her brothers were? Cleis is at least mentioned in Sappho's poetry, possibly as her daughter; Eurygios isn't in any surviving poems, and the other "brothers" aren't explicitly called her brothers in the one poem where they are explicitly named. (And André Lardinois, at least, has suggested that they were entirely fictional and only existed in Sappho's poetry).
I agree that if we do have to have an infobox, it would be useful to include some of Sappho's major works – probably the Ode to Aphrodite and Sappho 31. A minimalist infobox which doesn't contain anything actively questionable or misleading might look like the example to the right, but at that point I don't see what information this adds over just reading the first paragraph of the lead. Caeciliusinhorto-public (talk) 12:01, 15 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I've added her brothers and possible daughter to the candidate infobox (right), because of the link to her poetry. Combined with the "Notable work" section, I think this makes the infobox a useful addition. 𝕱𝖎𝖈𝖆𝖎𝖆 (talk) 14:30, 16 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Do you mean that Cleis might have been Sappho's daughter? That Sappho had a daughter whose name might have been Cleis? Or that Sappho might have had a daughter? If the latter, do you wish to imply that she only had one daughter, or only had one child, or that she had more than one child (note that the infobox says children, not child)?
You haven't explained why you added those three names as brothers, even though it's just been explained to you immediately above how uncertain it is that they were her brothers at all.
Your eagerness to fill in infobox parameters is entirely normal and illustrates the problem well. However clearcut a consensus might emerge here on which parameters should not be filled, subsequent editors will in good faith see those parameters missing and fill them in. That will be extremely difficult to manage; in each case, reversions will be hard to accept, explanations will have to be repeated, feelings will be hurt and everyone will be wearied, of this article and of Wikipedia. But it will keep happening, to no good purpose. None of these names are key infomation about Sappho, nor are any of these people otherwise notable.
Infoboxes are optional. (The arbitration case Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Infoboxes that confirmed or established (depending on your POV) this ended a long and bruising conflict and it's to various editors credit that they are still active even after suffering severe sanctions.) An article without an infobox is not a vacuum waiting to be filled. NebY (talk) 17:47, 16 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It's also worth noting that [[Laharmo1 is a block-evader, therefore their opinion should be discounted. Graham87 03:15, 17 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thanks for letting us know, Graham87! Caeciliusinhorto-public (talk) 09:09, 17 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
An article doesn't need an infobox, but this article did have one for some time. I think Caeciliusinhorto was right in saying it was poor, and he removed it. So I've tried to work out with others what would make a good infobox here. Note the lead currently doesn't mention Sappho 31, so I think the infobox is now adding something. I've removed the brothers, and Cleis can go too if necessary. 𝕱𝖎𝖈𝖆𝖎𝖆 (talk) 03:54, 17 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The article had one for about 18 months, introduced in February 2021 by an editor with no other substantial contributions; for the previous twenty years it did just fine without one! The lack of infobox is also consistent with other similar articles: of the Nine lyric poets, only Pindar[a] has an infobox; of Antipater's canon of female poets, only two of the nine (Nossis and Telesilla) have infoboxes. Pindar may be the only ancient poet where an infobox is justifiable (though the current example I would consider pretty useless), but the Telesilla and Nossis examples are not ones to emulate, frankly. In a perfect encapsulation of the problem of people filling in infobox parameters for the sake of it whether or not they are useful, discussed by NebY above, the infobox on Nossis has the gem "Resting place: unknown". Caeciliusinhorto-public (talk) 09:08, 17 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
You illustrate the problem so well!. If someone who's trying to persuade us that an infobox would be a good idea writes, despite repeated explanations and objections, "Cleis can go too if necessary", imagine how much harder it would be to repeatedly persuade helpful parameter-filling editors to see the necessity, perceive the problem or even engage with the issue. NebY (talk) 18:05, 17 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


  1. ^ Technically Simonides did too when I started writing this comment ([1]), but that's just using {{infobox person}} to put a fancy wrapper around an image; it's not an infobox!

Music again[edit]

Caeciliusinhorto, as discussed above, I've now added a music section, which I hope is satisfiable. I have some thoughts regarding this new section:

  1. Should its last paragraph on later composers be in the reception section instead?
  2. Does it make sense as a sub-section of "Works" or should it be separate?
  3. Any other suggestions on the section would be most welcome, of course

Also, the now two-picture (and even when it had three) gallery in the Ancient sources section strikes me as very strange and out of place. Do we really need these at all? Aza24 (talk) 21:13, 16 October 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@Aza24: thanks! The content looks good to me, to the extent that I understand music – which, to be fair, is not very far! I think that the bulk of this makes sense where it is, as part of the discussion on works, though the last paragraph on composers influenced by Sappho should probably be integrated into the reception section.
As for the two heads in the "ancient sources" section, I have been dubious about those for quite some time. Especially as there's no particular reason to believe that either head was originally intended to represent Sappho - the Istanbul head is of a type commonly referred to as the Sappho/Olympias type, but which almost certainly was originally meant to be an Aphrodite; the inscription on the Vatican herm was a renaissance addition. I've removed them now. Caeciliusinhorto-public (talk) 09:31, 24 October 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I favor the picture of the bust over the much smaller picture on a vessel as the first photo@, even if the latter is older. What do others think ? Wuerzele (talk) 19:09, 1 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

So you favor a depiction which is: a) less close to Sappho's lifetime, b) not certain to be Sappho, c) more likely to be imaginative and d) not even the original version? Can't say I agree. Aza24 (talk) 19:12, 1 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Too bad.--Wuerzele (talk) 19:53, 1 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I think the vase painting is more appropriate on multiple axes: it's closer in time to Sappho than the bust, it is securely identifiable as Sappho on the basis of its inscription, and it's iconography is more distinctive, showing Sappho holding her lyre. The bust, to me, has nothing to recommend it as the lead image - it is both less confidently identified as Sappho, and less iconographically distinct - if not for the caption telling you it was Sappho, it could be any ancient Greek person. Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 19:31, 1 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I do not agree with you.
since you reverted my suggestion I would definitely change the language in the lede to make her gender visible in the first sentence.--Wuerzele (talk) 19:53, 1 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In your edit summary, you suggested that readers would assume from her name that Sappho was male. I find this surprising and fear you might be extrapolating from a very small sample. But If our reader has taken an interest in Sappho without having gathered she was female, the second sentence of the article uses a female pronoun, and the rest of the article does so repeatedly. This is similar to our sexing of other Greek poets of that period, eg Alcman, Terpander and Tyrtaeus, let alone Thaletas.
If we do need to provide a picture so readers will know a subject's female before reading an article, that bust's no help. Is it a boy or is it a girl? We don't even know that it was meant to represent Sappho. The figure on the kalpis was, and shows her in the garb of a woman too.
More broadly, Wikipedia doesn't have a policy that subjects will be assumed to be male unless otherwise stated, and therefore female subjects must be identified as such in the first sentence or image, otherwise readers will be startled when they reach the second one. NebY (talk) 21:28, 1 December 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Pre-FAC image fixing[edit]

In my attempts to bring this article up to featured, I've spent much of today trying to get my head around our image licensing rules; I still have a few outstanding queries so I'm summarising everything here in the hopes of getting to the bottom of things.

Extended content
image description artwork copyright photo copyright
Sappho painter's vase Ancient; definitely out of copyright Museum photo; listed as PD on website
Ancient marble head, possibly Sappho Ancient; definitely out of copyright Uploaded to commons by photographer; released into public domain
"Sapho" by Charles August Mengin Elizabeth Prettejohn says exhibited at the 1877 Paris Salon, so PD-US-expired due to pre-1928 publication. Artist died 1933, and French copyright is life+70, so PD-old Public domain in US due to PD-Art
Brothers poem papyrus Text is ancient; definitely out of copyright Public domain in US due to PD-scan
Tithonos poem papyrus Text ancient; definitely out of copyright Uploaded on commons by photographer as CC-BY-SA 2.5
Florence ostrakon Text ancient; definitely out of copyright Uploaded on commons by photographer as CC-BY 3.0
Grenfell & Hunt in Egypt N/A PD in the UK due to PD-Old-assumed. Claimed PD-expired in US. Source publication was 2011; earliest I have found so far is Pl.72 of Excavating in Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society 1882-1982 (1982). What was the pre-1928 publication?
Brygos painter vase Ancient; definitely out of copyright Uploaded to commons by photographer as CC-BY-SA 4.0
"Sappho and Alcaeus" by Lawrence Alma-Tadema PD-old in UK as artist died in 1912; certainly published by 1902 here so PD-US-expired
"Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene" by Simeon Solomon PD-old in UK as artist died in 1905. Asserts PD-US-expired for US copyright but no clues as to when it was published. Not acquired by a public collection until 1980, and I can find no evidence of earlier exhibition or other publication PD-US-expired as exhibited in 1896 ([2]) PD-art, which relies on US public domain status of artwork
Polygnotos group vase Ancient; out of copyright Uploaded to commons by photographer as CC-BY-SA 2.5
Mytilenean Sappho coin Ancient; out of copyright Uploaded to commons by photographer as CC-BY-SA 4.0
Woodcut from 1474 de mulieribus claris published 1474; PD-old-expired from flickr; licensed as CC-BY 2.0 and would anyway be acceptable as PD-Art
"Parnassus" by Raphael Published 1511; PD-old-expired PD-Art
Amanda Brewster Sewell's "Sappho"

There are really two images that I'm concerned about: the one of Grenfell & Hunt in Egypt and the one of Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene. Both are claimed as public domain in the US due to pre-1928 publication, but I can't find any evidence for either.

The Solomon painting can be swapped out if necessary for an image of Amanda Brewster Sewell's "Sappho" (exhibited Chicago 1893). There's nothing great on Commons for Grenfell and Hunt (there's a studio portrait of Grenfell which is much less relevant to the topic, and the only photo of AS Hunt itself needs its US public domain status establishing), or for the Oxyrhynchus excavations. There is a nice image in the Illustrated London News from 23 May 1914 showing the excavations at Oxyrhynchus; its photographer isn't listed but if it's by Grenfell or Hunt it's PD-old, and if we can't establish a photographer it's PD-UK-unknown. Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 18:10, 30 June 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Update: some searching has found the Solomon painting was exhibited in 1896, which makes life easier. Still not convinced about the G&H photo Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 21:04, 1 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I would say remove the Grenfell image entirely and instead add a quote box with an excerpt of her poetry beside the "Only approximately 650 lines of Sappho's poetry..." paragraph. Would seem beneficial to have some actual lines in the article! Quote boxes can be seen in George Bernard Shaw, for instance. Aza24 (talk) 09:13, 2 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Yes, you are right that it would be good to have some of Sappho's poetry in there! Unfortunately for me I have Opinions On Translations and we are limited by WP:NFC which means that we can't use any in-copyright translations where free ones exist or can be made. Fortunately for me I have found a translation that I am at least not unhappy with... Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 13:33, 2 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Great addition! You might consider changing the subject line from "— Ezra Pound, "Ἰμέρρω"" so something like "–Sappho, translated by Pound". At the moment, it appears (in isolation) as written by Pound. Aza24 (talk) 16:12, 2 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
"Translated" is a bit strong, even given Pound was working from Edmonds' famously optimistic restorations! But I've noted which fragment he is adapting – it's an interesting example, actually, which might get expanded on if I ever get around to writing Reception of Sappho... Caeciliusinhorto (talk) 19:31, 2 July 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]