Where and When Did the Term Lesbianism Originate?

Where and When Did the Term Lesbianism Originate?

Sappho of Mytilene, also known as Sappho of Lesbos, was a Greek poetess. The first occidental one sang to the muses, the divine, and women.

Sappho of Mytilene, also known as Sappho of Lesbos, was a Greek poetess. The first occidental one sang to the muses, the divine, and women.

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This beloved poetess was born in the century VI b.C, on the Lesbos Island. It has been told that her name gave origin to the term “sapphic” and that the place where she was born, Lesbos, is the origin of the word lesbianism. That is the term used nowadays to refer to someone with a specific sexual orientation, but at that time, the original meaning was “someone from Lesbos.”

Sappho’s reputation has been shrouded in myth and legend for a long time to reflect society’s different attitudes regarding gender and sexuality. Nevertheless, nowadays, her name is synonymous with lesbian desire. But when Sappho was writing on the Island of Lesbos, 2600 years ago, that was no reason to cause a scandal. However, women were expected to marry men, and vice versa; homosexual feelings and relationships were seen as normal.

However, in the Middle Ages, maybe that was why most of her texts disappeared. All the books that could be found were just nine, and most were incomplete. Pope Gregory VII ordered to burn the books because they were considered immoral and sinful. Religion was now the order, so it was something to be expected to happen.

On the other hand, Sappho’s poems which could be known as glimpsed the expression of a subjectivity that is recreated in subtle oscillations of mood to give form to an abstract figure: The passion. Sappho presented loving passion as an irrational force between good and evil. It takes over the human being and manifests itself in various ways, like jealousy, desire, an intangible sadness, or even producing physical reactions. The purpose of her poems consists of the search for beauty. This does not dwell in power, but the intimate charm of the loved one.

Despite the current times, there is very little information about her. Her poetry already had great success in ancient times; it was a source of inspiration for also beloved poets of that time, like Plutarch, Aristotle, and Catullus, who cited fragments of her poetry. From that, it can be seen that the Alexandrian times was already revealed their interest in keeping her work and trying to discover new fragments of her poems.


In conclusion, it can be said that Sappho represented an important artistic and political figure of ancient Greek times. Despite being destroyed due to beliefs and probably prejudices, her work was recognized by other influential figures; and has reached an important place in the present times.

Despite the few translations and her reputation, well, it is to recognize and never forget that she was the first Greek poetess. She was also called by Plato “The tenth Muse,” giving to women already a historical inheritance of strength regarding gender, sexuality, desire, and, of course, lesbianism.

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