In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sappho

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Texts and Papyrological Studies
  • Commentaries
  • Texts with Facing Translations
  • Studies of Language
  • Grammars
  • Lexicons
  • English Translations
  • Lesbos: Sociocultural History
  • The (So-Called) Sapphic Question or Sapphofrage
  • New Fragments and Ancient Transmission
  • Archaeological Material: Vase Inscriptions and Vase Paintings
  • Text-Critical and Philological Approaches
  • Approaches Focusing on Ancient Reception
  • Modern Critical Approaches
  • Women’s Studies and Gender Studies
  • Early Modern and Modern Reception

Classics Sappho
Dimitrios Yatromanolakis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0074


This bibliographical article focuses on studies on Sappho in the 20th and 21st centuries. Sappho, on whom modern research has been voluminous and labyrinthine, is the only ancient woman poet whose work and polyvalent figure have exerted lasting and deep influence on medieval, early modern, and modern European intellectual and sociocultural history. Her figure has further influenced modern Canadian, American (especially Latin American), African, and Australian gender ideologies; her influence goes as far as China and Japan. A Greek melic poet who, in Antiquity, was sometimes known simply as “the poetess,” just as Homer was known as “the poet” (Galen 4.771)—Sappho was born on Lesbos (probably) in the late 7th century BCE. On the basis of later sources (the Parian Marble, Strabo, Athenaeus, Eusebius, the medieval Greek lexicon/encyclopedia entitled Suda), broad scholarly consensus holds that she composed many of her poems between c. 600 and 580 BCE. Naturally, uncertainty remains as to the exact dates of her floruit, as there is uncertainty about the exact dates of the work and life of any Archaic poet (except for Pindar, whose life spans the Late Archaic and the Early Classical periods). Apart from numerous other poems, she composed epithalamia (wedding songs). Her compositions about her companions or her family might be viewed as song cycles. Extremely little is known about her activities in Mytilene, probably the most important city of Lesbos. A late-2nd- or early-3rd-century Oxyrhynchus papyrus (P.Oxy. 1800 fr. 1) and the 10th-century Greek lexicon Suda (Σ 107 Adler) provide accounts of her life (cf. P.Köln 5860, dated to the 2nd century CE): most of this late information belongs to what some scholars conventionally call “biographical tradition.” Mainly, but not exclusively, on the basis of ancient testimonia and specific aspects of her preserved fragments, scholars have often attempted to reconstruct hypothetically the original context within which she performed her compositions: such reconstructions are discussed in The (So-Called) Sapphic Question or Sapphofrage. It has recently been assumed that her compositions were transmitted by citharodes in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, that is, performed by them in the context of public competitions at the festival of the Panathenaea in Athens, but no ancient evidence exists for such a hypothesis. Sappho was granted an unparalleled status as a poet and sociocultural figure in Greek and Roman Antiquity. There is no complete compilation of all the ancient (and medieval Greek) testimonia. New fragmentary compositions of Sappho preserved on papyrus were discovered and published in 2004 and in 2014. Their importance is discussed in New Fragments and Ancient Transmission.

General Overviews

Bowra 1961 (his chapter on Sappho) is one of the older, influential scholarly overviews, taking a mainly biographical approach. Despite its specialized title, Snyder 1997 is a good introduction to Sappho, with discussion of some of the most substantial fragments. In contrast to other general introductory books, which sometimes include no scholarly notes with references to earlier research, Snyder 1997 provides bibliographical discussion and documentation in her notes and includes a brief section on aspects of the 20th-century reception of Sappho. A similarly well-written introduction is found in duBois 2015. See also MacLachlan 1997 and the thematic overview in Tsomis 2001. Ferrari 2010 is a philological overview, with extensive discussion of the fragments.

  • Bowra, Cecil Maurice. 1961. Greek lyric poetry: From Alcman to Simonides. 2d rev. ed. Oxford: Clarendon.

    With its largely biographical and historicist approach, still a useful and perceptive survey by one of the leading scholars of that time.

  • duBois, Page. 2015. Sappho. London: I. B. Tauris.

    Very well-written survey, with discussion of major fragments.

  • Ferrari, Franco. 2010. Sappho’s gift: The poet and her community. Translated by B. Acosta-Hughes and L. Prauscello. Ann Arbor: Michigan Classical Press.

    Specialized overview, with detailed hypothetical reconstructions of the context within which the fragments might be viewed. Originally published as Una mitra per Kleis: Saffo e il suo pubblico (Pisa, Italy: Giardini, 2007).

  • MacLachlan, Bonnie C. 1997. Personal poetry: Alcaeus, Sappho, Ibycus, Anacreon, Corinna. In A companion to the Greek lyric poets. Edited by Douglas E. Gerber, 133–220. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004217614_005

    Succinct discussion.

  • Snyder, Jane McIntosh. 1997. Lesbian desire in the lyrics of Sappho. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Interesting general overview.

  • Tsomis, Georgios. 2001. Zusammenschau der frühgriechischen monodischen Melik (Alkaios, Sappho, Anakreon). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

    Detailed thematic overview.

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