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Sappho's 2,600-year-old love poem is published

June 25, 2005|From Reuters

LONDON — A love poem written 2,600 years ago by Sappho, the greatest female poet of ancient Greece, was published Friday for the first time since it was rediscovered last year.

Sappho's verses expressing love for her female companions on the Greek island of Lesbos have either shocked or delighted generations of readers since they were first composed.

Her works once filled nine volumes and the ancients called her the "10th muse," but little has survived to modern times.

The 12-line poem, only the fourth to have been recovered, was found on papyrus wrapped around an Egyptian mummy. It was published with an English translation in the London Times Literary Supplement.

"She obviously had emotional relationships with women of her circle, quite possibly sexual," said the poem's translator, Oxford University academic Martin West.

"They seem to have had some sort of society in which they could be in each other's company quite a lot, rather cut off from men," he said. "But they were clearly able to have plenty of fun."

The poem was rediscovered last year after researchers at Germany's Cologne University identified a papyrus once wrapped around a mummy as part of a 3rd century BC roll containing poems by Sappho.

They noticed that some of the verse fragments on the crumbling Cologne material matched parts of lines already identified as Sappho's on a papyrus discovered in 1922.

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