Monday, May 18, 2020

Damn, Girl--Huda Shaarawi, Mother of Egyptian Feminism

Born in British-occupied Egypt, Huda Shaarawi was an activist, philanthropist, and trailblazing feminist. She was both an integral member of the Wafd party and the founder of the first women's organizations in Egypt. Her contributions to the struggle for Egyptian independence won her the highest award given by the Egyptian government, but she was never allowed to vote or participate in the government she fought for.

Huda SHaarawi-1900
Nur al-Huda Sultan was born on the family estate of Al-Minya near Cairo on June 23, 1879. Her father, Muhammed Sultan Pasha, was an important official in the colonial government, and at the time of Huda's birth he was serving as the inspector general of Upper Egypt. A wealthy man, he had both a wife, Hasiba, and several concubines. Huda's mother, Iqbal Hanim, was one of these concubines.

Iqbal was much younger than her not-quite-husband. She was Circassian, and had been raised in Istanbul after her family fled expansionist Russians in the Caucasus. She was sent to Egypt to live with her uncle after one of her sisters was abducted while resettling in the Ottoman capital. She ended up as a concubine to Muhammed, who was several years her senior, and she had Huda when she was just 19 years old.

In her memoir, The Harem Years, Huda described her mother as being difficult to know but her father as being warm and loving, though he was frequently away on government business. She described him as being a kind and attentive father, who always had a sweet and a moment for his children.

Though he may have been a good father, Muhammed wasn't very good at his job, and fought frequently with Khedive Ismail, to the point where he was briefly exiled to Sudan. He was accused by many of having abetted Khedive Tewfik Pasha and of helping the British Empire reduce Egypt to a suzerainty, an accusation that Huda bitterly resented, saying in her memoirs:
"My father has been maligned by certain so-called patriots, distorters of history"
Huda used her memoir, The Harem Years, to make the case for her father's fidelity to his homeland. She credited the accusations, along with the loss of her half brother, for shortening her father's life.

Another important figure in Huda's childhood was her father's wife, Hasiba. Huda referred to her as Umm Kabira, or "big mother," and enjoyed a closer relationship with Hasiba than she did with her own mother. Huda always felt that she was playing second fiddle to her brother, and Hasiba listened when Huda vented her jealousy and frustration over the preferential treatment her brother received. Huda would often spend days with Hasiba, and it was Hasiba who first explained to Huda that boys were far more valued in Egyptian society.

Huda Sharawi: A Remarkable Egyptian Feminist Pioneer
In 1884, Huda's father died of a kidney disease while abroad in Graz, Austria. He had gone to Switzerland to seek medical help and had been on his way home to Egypt when he died unexpectedly on August 14 at The Elephant Hotel. His death devastated the family, throwing Huda's mother and Hasiba into a deep depression. Both women would lie in bed for days, sending Huda and her younger brother, Umar, away.

Huda had a complicated relationship with her brother because while she loved him dearly, she was also jealous of the attention he received. Umar was sickly and absorbed the lion's share of Iqbal's attention, even when well. In her memoirs, Huda recalled wanting to be sick herself so she would receive similar love and care. She fell sick with a fever and spent a day receiving all the love and care she could possibly wish for. However, when her brother fell sick the next day, her mother and the doctors more or less forgot about her, despite her worsening condition. Huda recovered, but she was never close to her mother again. Though she was never close to her mother, Huda enjoyed a very close relationship with her brother, sharing the same lessons and games with him throughout their childhood. Huda assumed a motherly role with her brother, and when Umar's nursemaid and the eunuchs who watched over him encouraged him to neglect his schooling, Huda ensured that he studied.

Education and learning was a lifelong passion of Huda's. She received the typical education for a young woman of her class, but Huda was eager to learn more beyond that, however, specifically wanting to learn to read Arabic so she could study the Koran herself. Early attempts to learn Arabic grammar were foiled by the eunuchs of her family's harem who forbade her from learning it because she wouldn't be a judge. This made Huda keenly aware of the difference in education available to girls and boys, a difference that she would spend her life struggling to correct for herself and others.

At age nine, Huda finished memorizing the Koran, a remarkable and unusual achievement. However, she was unable to read, so she began to study Turkish, learning to read, write, and speak. She studied Turkish and Persian poetry, as well as calligraphy in both of the Ottoman scripts. She learned French and piano and began buying books from the peddlers who came to her door. Huda was not encouraged to read, and she was forbidden to buy books, but she did so nonetheless and began to sneak books out of her father's library. She loved poetry and wanted desperately to learn to write poetry herself but was held back by her lack of knowledge.

One of the largest figures of inspiration in Huda's early years was the poet Sayyida Khadija. Sayyida would often come and stay with Huda and her family, and Huda was impressed with how Sayyida could converse freely with men, and meet them on the same level intellectually. Sayyida's example made Huda even more adamant that education was necessary for women to be equal to men.

Mashrabiya windows Cairo, Egypt 1865 | Egypt, Old egypt, Modern egypt
A Cairo mashrabiya. Mashrabiya were a
frequent architectural feature of harems,
as they allowed women to look out onto
the street, but not be observed.
When she hit puberty, Huda was consigned to the harem to while away the time until she was married off. Huda was less than pleased. She was even less pleased about having to veil when she left home. Veiling as well as keeping women in a harem was a standard practice of the upper classes and more affluent middle classes in Egypt at that time. Forcing women to veil and keeping them in seclusion was a sign of status and wealth--not, as many historians, journalists, and casual racists like to suggest, a draconian tenant of Islam. Egyptian veiling and seclusion was considered odd and impractical by the other Arab countries at the time.

Huda certainly agreed that it was impractical, and she resented being separated at age eleven from all of her childhood friends, many of whom were the same little boys that her brother played with as well.

When Huda was twelve, she was betrothed to her much older cousin Ali Shaarawi, the man who had been appointed legal guardian over her and her brother after her father's death. Neither Huda nor her mother were very pleased about this match. Iqbal was leery of marrying Huda off to a man significantly her senior. The fact that Ali, who was in his 40s, had illegitimate children who were much older than Huda didn't do anything to ease their minds.

However, Huda's mother was evidently unable to do anything to prevent the match and instead negotiated an extremely strict marriage contract. The contract stipulated complete monogamy; Ali would have to give up his concubines and live only with Huda. The entire marriage was negotiated in utmost secrecy, and Huda herself was not aware of her impending nuptials until it came time to sign the marriage contract.

Huda was distraught. She had always regarded Ali as a father or an older brother, and she had no desire to marry him. She had been put off by his cold demeanor and open favoritism of her brother. However, she was unable to prevent the marriage, and in 1891, she wed Ali Shaarawi.

Luckily for Huda, Ali was unable to keep his sausage in his trousers, and a little over a year after they married, he had sired another child with the same slave-concubine who had borne his previous children, in violation of the marriage contract. Delighted, Huda returned to her mother's house and took up the threads of her old life. Despite Ali's attempts to reconcile with her, Huda would spend the next seven years on her own.

Huda spent those seven years furthering her education, learning drawing and painting, perfecting her French and teaching herself Arabic grammar. She loved music, frequently went to the opera and, on returning home, would play the pieces sung on stage on the piano from memory. Huda formed close friendships with several women, both Egyptian and foreign, and it was one of these women, Eugenie Le Brun, who ignited the fire of Huda's activism.

Eugenie le Brun
Eugenie Le Brun had been born in France, but emigrated to Egypt after meeting and marrying her husband, Hussein Roshdy Pasha, who would later be the prime minister of Egypt. Eugenie had traveled with Hussein to Cairo and converted to Islam. She was a popular hostess and introduced Huda into Cairo society. Eugenie would help Huda with her French, and frequently suggested books for Huda to read. She also convinced Huda to join her women-only salon.

Turn-of-the-century Egypt didn't encourage much social mixing between men and women. Many of the salons started by European women of the era were co-ed and therefore attracted few to no native Egyptian women. Eugenie's salon was the first female-only salon and the only one Huda would attend. They discussed social issues, like veiling and the status of women in Egyptian society, as well as more pedestrian topics such as children and immorality.

Eugenie was a writer and wrote multiple books to educate Europeans about the status and position of women in Egypt. She shared her writing with Huda, and Huda credited her as being an inspiration and guide throughout her life, even after Eugenie's death in 1908.

There were several attempts to reconcile Huda with her husband. Numerous family friends and relatives, along with Ali himself, would frequently confront Huda to try and convince her to return to life with Ali. However, it wasn't until Umar confided in Huda that he wouldn't marry until she was reconciled with her husband that Huda relented.

Though Huda gave few details about how their reconciliation went, it seems to have not gone terribly because she and Ali had two children--Bathna and Muhammad--together in 1903 and 1905. At about 10 months, Bathna contracted an unknown illness, nearly dying multiple times. Bathna didn't recover, and doctors suggested that she be taken abroad to Europe for better air. Ali was reluctant to let his daughter leave Egypt, but Huda threatened to leave him if he didn't allow her to take Bathna abroad. Ali relented, and Huda took Bathna to Turkey. They spent three months in Istanbul, but Bathna did not recover. Huda withdrew from everyone, much to the consternation of her friends and husband. It wasn't until Bathna was diagnosed with malnutrition in 1908 that she got better, and Huda returned to society.

In 1909 Huda met Marguerite Clement, a Luxembourgish feminist and public speaker. She was on a lecture tour of Eastern countries, and after a night at the opera, she and Huda decided that she should give a lecture to Egyptian women.

RTL Today (@rtltoday) Instagram Profile with Posts |
Marguerite Clements
A public lecture just for women was unprecedented in Egypt. While women socialized, they did not do so in public spaces, and they certainly didn't gather in large numbers. Holding a public meeting for women was met with some skepticism, but after Princess Ayn al-Hayat promised to sponsor the lecture, there wasn't much any skeptic could do to stop it. On Ali's advice, Huda booked the lecture hall for Friday at the local university. The lecture was a smashing success, and on Prince, later King, Ahmed Fuad, ordered that the hall be booked for every Friday into perpetuity.

These lectures were the beginning of a movement for education for women in Egypt. As more and more lectures were held, and as more Egyptian women were giving lectures Huda decided it was necessary to make that thing official. In April of 1914, she founded the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women, a group of upper-class women dedicated to providing intellectual activities for Egyptian women.

Fast forward to 1919. The dust of the first world war was starting to settle, and things were restive in Egypt. The fledgling League of Nations was redrawing international boundaries, and Egypt was starting to wonder if it was maybe going to finally become free of the British.

However, the British were reluctant to part with their colonial possessions, and since Britain had been on the winning side of WWI, no one was forcing them to give up Egypt. Native Egyptians, however, weren't having it, and after their representatives to negotiate with the British were exiled to the Seychelles (a favorite move on the part of the British), they formed the Wafd party to fight the British for real.

Meanwhile, Huda's marriage to Ali was on the rocks. Ali had requested the hand of Huda's 14-year-old niece for his natural son Hasan, and Huda didn't like the idea. Hasan hadn't finished his education and was in no position to be supporting a wife and family. Huda's disapproval caused a rift between Huda and Ali that, according to Huda, would have ended in separation if not for the nationalist movement.

The Wafd party was founded in November of 1918 with Saad Zaghloul as president and Ali as treasurer. Their first goal was to speak with the British Home Office in London, and to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. They were initially denied permission for either.  They did eventually make it to the peace conference, but it was only to hear the US President, Woodrow Wilson, endorse the British occupation of Egypt, an endorsement that put paid to any hope the Egyptians had of foreign intervention.

Throughout this, Huda was working behind the scenes, playing a diplomat between her husband, other members of the Wafd, and British officials. When Wafd leaders started being imprisoned and deported, Ali became de facto leader. He took Huda into his confidence, telling her all the Wafd secrets and plans so that, should he be arrested, she could lead the Wafd.

In order to further Wafd aims, Huda formed the Wafdist Women's Central Committee, (WWCC) an organization made up of Egyptian women of all classes working towards Egyptian independence. Public gatherings were banned by the British, so the Wafd women held large "social gatherings" in the harem of Huda's home, where they composed formal letters to the British, voted to end the protectorate, and, most importantly, organized the March 16, 1919 protests and the boycott of British goods.

After the arrest and deportation of Saad Zaghoul in March of 1919, mass strikes and protests spread through Cairo. Law students, shouting nationalist slogans and calling for Saad's return marched through the streets. In support, the Wafd organized a general strike of government employees. In order to enforce the strike, Huda and other women would stand in the doorways of the homes of government workers, and refuse to move. They would pay them off with jewelry so they could feed their families.

Women protesting in Cairo
However, fighting scabs wasn't Huda's main goal. On March 16, 1919, the women of Cairo, riding in carts and carriages, organized a mass protest. They were shot at and physically assaulted as they marched through the streets until they were surrounded by British soldiers and Egyptian police outside the parliament building. For hours they stood in the sun, withstanding cruel invectives and attempts to remove them. They were widely applauded by the students who had protested just a few days prior, and though they were unable to complete their planned march, they sent a clear sign to the British that Egyptian women weren't going to back down.

The crowning glory of Huda's nationalist action was the 1922 boycott against British goods and banks. Under Islamic law, women had access to their own money and inheritance, and as the main purchasers of the house, women held significant economic power. The sudden withdrawal of money from British banks and the mass departures of customers from British merchants hit the British hard, making Egypt a much less satisfying economic possession. Meanwhile, the new Egyptian bank received significant business, and Egyptian vendors were suddenly very prosperous. The boycott was lauded by the male Wafdists as  an integral part of their movement.

During the boycott, Ali died. Huda however, carried on, saying that
"Neither illness, grief, nor fear of censure can prevent me from shouldering my duty with you in the continuing fight for our national rights. I have vowed to you and to myself to struggle until the end of my life to rescue our beloved country from occupation and oppression...Neither repeated hardships, nor the heavy handedness of our present government will lessen my will nor deter me from fighting for the full independence of my country."
Unfortunately, those same men who applauded Huda and her sisters as being essential to Egyptian independence failed to include them in negotiations with the British. Huda and the other members of the WWCC expected that they would be equal to the men when it came to negotiations with the British, and in the Egyptian republic to come. They sent some sharply worded letters to their male counter parts, and the men sheepishly relented. While equality between the male and female Wafdists seemed to have been restored, this was a dark foreshadowing of what was to come.

Egyptians were granted nominal independence by the end of 1922, and were allowed to form their own government, with a lot of help from the British. In April of 1923, the new government drafted a constitution. At first blush, it seemed promising, emphasizing that all Egyptians were equal before the law, regardless of race, religion, or language. However, when the constitution passed, it became clear that women were not equal before the law. The status of women in Egypt hadn't changed, and only men were allowed the vote.

Huda was furious. After protesting, being shot at, and heading an instrumental boycott, she and the other women who had been an integral part of the movement were barred from participating in government.

Is Feminism Compatible with Egyptian Culture? | Egyptian Streets
Huda (center) at the International Feminist Meeting
in Rome, 1923
In April of 1923, Huda founded the Egyptian Feminist Union. The union was founded on the idea that in Ancient Egypt ,men and women had been equal, with equal rights to education and property. This equality had been lost through imperialism and misinterpretations of the Koran. The Egyptian Feminist Union aimed to restore that equality.

Unlike many Western feminist unions of the time, the Egyptian Feminist Union focused mainly on social issues, not just on suffrage. The goal of the Egyptian Feminist Union was to put in place better protections of women and girls under the law, namely:
  • A reformation of personal status laws
  • Raising the minimum age of marriage
  • The end of polygamy
  • The end of easy access for men to divorce their wives
  • Women to have equal rights of inheritance as their brothers
  • Women to have custody of their children in the event of a divorce
  • Equal access to education for women.

At its height, the Egyptian Feminist Union had 250 members from the upper and middle classes. During Huda's time they were successful in raising the minimum age of marriage and in establishing the first secondary school for girls. They put out two journals, and provided clinics and dispensaries to poor women. They provided vocational training for women and girls. They continue fighting for the equality of women and girls in Egypt to this day.

It was while returning from an international women's conference in Rome that one of the most lauded and mythologized incidents of Huda's life occurred. In May of 1923, after returning from a conference in Rome, Huda boldly removed her face veil in a train station, signaling that she would no longer adhere to the repressive rules of men.

The Wafd took control of parliament at the end of 1923. At the inauguration of parliament, the only women allowed to attend were the wives of ministers. It became clear that women would be barred from participating in the Wafd government, just as they had been barred from participating in the previous government, so Huda arranged a protest for the day of the opening of Parliament. Members of the Women's Wafdist Central Committee and the Egyptian Feminist Union picketed the parliament building. They sent a list of demands to the new government, but their demands fell on deaf ears.

Wafdist men continued to ignore Wafdist women, and this eventually led to Huda stepping down from the WWCC after, contrary to WWC wishes, the Wafdist men capitulated to British demands over Sudan. Huda called for Prime Minister Zaghloul's resignation in an open letter in the newspaper after she found herself being pushed out of the party because she and the WWCC refused to tow the party line.

Huda Sha'rawi and the Egyptian Feminist Union -
Huda and the Egyptian Feminist Union
While that was the end of Huda's association with the Wafd, it was, by no means, the end of Huda's nationalist activism. However, her further nationalist activism was usually done within a feminist framework.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Huda started to turn her feminist work outwards, as she began framing feminism as not just an Egyptian issue but also a pan-Arab issue. In 1944, she helped found the Arab Feminist Union, but even before that, she worked to help feminist movements throughout the Middle East. When Palestinian feminists requested her help in 1943 she raised funds, and ended up starting the conference that would lead to the formation of the Arab Feminist Union.

Part of the reason Huda was so invested in framing feminism within a pan-Arab framework was because it was becoming rapidly clear that no real help was going to come from feminists in Europe, the United States, and Canada. While Western feminists meant well, and many certainly thought they were doing good, they looked down on Arab women, and failed to understand the differences between Arab and Western culture. White feminists viewed themselves as superior to Middle Eastern feminists because they were white, and colonial attitudes were still a prevalent feature at international feminist conferences. European feminists couldn't understand the struggle that Huda and other Middle Eastern feminists faced and therefore weren't reliable allies. Because she couldn't rely on the existing feminist organization's, Huda created her own.

Huda spent the latter years of her life lobbying and organizing. In the 1930s, her work started to focus on the rights of women workers and on ensuring that women were treated equally in the workplace. There were many instances when women workers came to Huda seeking help, and she dealt directly with the Egyptian Labor Board to resolve the issue.

In 1945, she was awarded the Nishan al-Karmal award, Egypt's feminine equivalent of a knighthood. She was, however, still unable to vote. She died two years later on August 12th.

Huda started the feminist movement in Egypt, and through her dogged work and determination, she was able to drastically improve the situation for women in Egypt. Though change was sometimes slow and incremental (the harem system would not be fully dismantled until after her death), she was able to put in place the infrastructure that would ensure that the next generation of Egyptian feminists was able to continue the fight after she was gone.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.

The Harem Years by Huda al-Shaarawi
"Early Twentieth-Century Middle Eastern Feminisms, Nationalisms, and Transnationalisms" by Mary Ann Fay
"Challenging Imperialism in International Women's Organizations, 1888-1945" by Leila J. Rupp
"Between Nationalism and Feminism: The Eastern Women's Congresses of 1930 and 1932" by Charlotte Webber
Huda Sharawi-Britannica
Huda Shaarawi-Encyclopedia
Shaarawi, Huda-Melissa Spatz

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Morris Dance

Morris Dance is a type of English folk dance of mysterious origins. It was (and is) most frequently practiced through the midlands and in the counties along the Welsh border, but it has connections to folk dances throughout Western Europe. Morris dance is characterized by energetic stepping and skipping, as well as the use of bells, handkerchiefs, sticks, swords, and the occasional beast.

Image result for morris dance
Morris dancer and musician.
The first reference to Morris style dance comes from the wedding of Raymond Berengar, Duke of Barcelona, and Petronilla of Aragon in 1149. There are further references to continental Morris dances being adopted into church ceremonies and being performed at court events throughout the Middle Ages. It is very likely that these dances were being performed in England at the same time as well, as Morris dance was considered ancient by the Elizabethans.

The earliest mention of Morris dance in England dates from 1448, when a tapestry depicting Morris dancers was recorded in an inventory of Caister Castle. That same year, a troupe of Morris dancers were paid seven shillings by the Goldsmiths Guild for a St. Dunstan Day performance.  There are several other records of Morris dancers appearing on objects, and being paid for performances throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.¹

The name "Morris" is generally seen to be as a corruption of the Spanish word "Morisco," referring to the Arabs who occupied Southern Europe throughout much of the Middle Ages. This has led many historians to assume that Morris dancing has its roots in the traditional dance of the Moriscos. However, as Morris dance bears minimal resemblance to Moorish traditional dance this theory has been discarded by modern historians.

Additionally, the name "Moorish" was a fashionable appendage to any art considered even a little bit foreign. New music, dances, and clothing styles were labeled as "Moorish," relationship to Middle Eastern culture or not. It seems most likely to this historian that the name "Morris" was given to the dance at a later date, perhaps as a way to further distance the dance from its pagan origins.

This brings us to the probably pagan origins of Morris dance. It is likely that Morris dance existed long before the Arabs made it to Europe, and instead evolved from pagan traditions. Many dances tell the stories of a battle against nature, and dances were performed on days that were culturally significant to pagans, such as the beginning of summer and the middle of winter. In addition, the appearances of hobbyhorses and the occasional dragon or unicorn also hint at a pagan past, as these animals could be seen as a focus of worship. Outside of England in Brittany some small churches had a festival specially dedicated to the hobbyhorse, where the horse was adorned with flowers and paraded around the town. Though this was a supposedly Christian festival, it certainly seems more pagan to outside observers.
Image result for morris dance hobby horse
Hobby Horses at the 2018 Banbury Folk and Hobby Horse
The Morris dance of the Middle Ages can be split into two styles--Court Morris and Folk Morris. Morris dancing was very popular in the Tudor courts, with records of it having been performed in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Court Morris was an elaborate affair with expensive costumes and elaborate sets. The line between Morris and mumming is a thin one at best, but it was especially thin in these court dances with their elaborate costuming and pageantry.² Court Morris flourished until Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans took power in 1649.

Opposed to dancing, drinking, and anything resembling a good time, Cromwell suppressed Morris dance into near extinction. However, the tradition survived. Morris dance resurfaced in the countryside after the restoration of the English monarchy. Morris dancing had fallen out of favor with the nobility, but it was adopted by the commoners. The common people couldn't afford the same elaborate costuming as the nobility, but they used ribbons, bells, flowers and colorful rags to add to their appearance. The modern Morris costume evolved from their imitations.

However, as Britain industrialized the dance began to fall out of style. Many young men moved to the factory towns, and were disinclined to continue Morris dancing. Early twentieth-century Morris dancers lamented that the younger generation was too proud to continue the  tradition, because it was too much like begging. These young men might have changed their minds as time wore on, but unfortunately, many of those young men lost their lives in World War I.

Morris dance may have been lost to time had it not been carefully documented by the ethnochoreologist and ethnomusicologist Cecil Sharp. Sharp traveled England collecting folk dances and published several works on the subject. Sharp's books revived interest in Morris dance, and Morris began to be taught (and tested) in some English schools.

Image result for morris dance map

A group of Morris dancers is called a side. Historically, Morris sides were exclusively male, but that is no longer the case. While a side can, hypothetically, consist of an infinite number of dancers, most have less than twenty, including the band. Most dances have only six to eight dancers on the floor at a time.

Traditional sides are led by a Squire who arranges performances and is generally the man in charge. Under him is the Foreman or Captain who teaches the dances. Last on the leadership hierarchy is the Bagman, who serves as a secretary. Under them are the dancers, and the occasional Fool or Beast.

Beasts are Morris characters that add to the story of the dance. Common beasts are hobbyhorses, dragons, and unicorns. It can be difficult for Beasts to dance with the same nimbleness as the other dancers due to their cumbersome costume, but that doesn't stop many from trying. Hobbyhorses are the most common type of Beasts in modern practice.

There are six main styles of Morris dance still practiced in England today: Cotswold, Molly, Border, Northwest Clog, Longsword, and Rapper. While all are related, each style has a unique flavor and tradition.


Quite possibly the oldest Morris tradition, Border Morris originated in the counties near the Welsh border, and, while simpler than Cotswold style, it is much more lively. It must be noted that, while it is sometimes called "Welsh Border Morris," Border Morris is an English dance and has little to do with Welsh folk dance traditions. Many border style dances have "fight sequences" choreographed into them. Historically these might have been done with actual swords, but they have been done with sticks or wooden swords since at least the 1800s.

Border Morris traditionally made an appearance in the winter, where men would dance for extra money when they couldn't farm or fish. This was considered a form of begging and was thus illegal, so dancers darkened their faces to avoid arrest. Dancers wore a rag coat, a tailcoat, women's clothing, or any other bits and bobs lying around. The main purpose of Border costume is to look eccentric. Border sides generally have a bigger band than other styles and are accompanied by a vigorous percussion section.


The most commonly performed style, Cotswold Morris originated in the South Midlands, particularly the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire. Cotswold style survived the most intact after the Cromwell persecutions because of its location in the heart of royalist territory, and it was documented extensively by Cecil Sharp.

Cotswold dances are usually performed with six or eight dancers, and dancers generally wear white shirts with black or white pants. In addition to the dancers, there may also be a Fool, a Beast, or a cake impaled on a sword. Cotswold is notable for it's use of bells, or ruggles, attached beneath the knee of each dancer. Cotswold dancers may also wave handkerchiefs, bang sticks, or clap hands. Cotswold is traditionally performed around Whitsunday.


Also called "hilt and point," Longsword Morris comes from Yorkshire, and is, as expected, danced with swords.³ Longsword dances are performed with six to eight dancers, with each dancer holding on to their own sword, as well as the end of their neighbor's sword to make a circle. Swords are, thankfully, blunt and around a meter long. During a Longsword dance, dancers weave between the swords, and end the dance by creating a star. Longsword, as well as the closely related Rapper, is most commonly performed during Christmas and New Year's.


Molly dance is unique in that it was less choreographed and organized than other types of Morris dance. Molly was traditionally performed as a part of the Plough Monday celebrations. Plough Monday, which takes place on the first Monday of January, was a day when ploughboys would drag a plough to the more affluent homes in the village and demand payment in money or food from the homeowners. If the ploughboys weren't satisfied with their payment, they would cut a long furrow through the homeowner's front lawn or doorstep.

Needless to say, Plough Monday was raucous at the best of times. Dancing accompanied the ceremonial shake-downs, and often random passersby would join in. Some male dancers would don women's clothing for the celebration, which gives the dance style its name ("Molly" being the contemporary pejorative for a man who wore women's clothing and male homosexuals). If not wearing petticoats, dancers wore whatever was closest to hand, and used black face paint to hide their identities--a necessity when committing property damage. Like most Morris dances, the origins of Molly are unclear, and there are no references to Molly dancing until the 1800s. Molly hasn't enjoyed the same revival as Border and Cotswold style, and traditional Plough Monday celebrations definitely aren't allowed anymore, but Molly dancing does accompany the "Straw Bear Festival" of Whittlesea, which occurs the weekend after Plough Monday.

Northwest Clog 

Not to be confused with its Appalachian counterpart, Northwest Clog originated in the industrial towns of Cheshire, Lancashire, and West Yorkshire and came of age during the industrial revolution. As people from rural communities moved to manufacturing centers, they brought their Morris traditions with them, and a new dance tradition that imitated the machinery they worked with was formed.

Northwest Clog dances are danced in multiples of four, and traditionally the dancers wore colorful clothing, along with the heavy clogs they used in their factory work. Modern dancers wear clogs with iron taps on the toe and heel. Dancers also sometimes use sticks or slings and are led by a conductor, who uses a whistle to signal changes in the dance figure. Northwest Clog is traditionally performed during the annual rushbearing, which happens in the summertime.⁴


By far the most athletic of the Morris styles, Rapper dance hails from Durham and Northumberland. There are five dancers who are occasionally joined by the characters of Tom and Betty, who lead the dance. Dancers make use of "rappers," which are basically bendy swords with wooden handles on each end. This is the fastest of the Morris dances and, like Longsword, features dancers weaving between rappers and using their swords to create pictures. Rapper style also occasionally features backflips. Dancers wear hard-sole shoes and white shirts with black pants. Rapper dancers are traditionally performed during Christmas and New Year's.

It would be remiss of this historian to write about Morris dance but not talk about the live music that often accompanies the dancers. Morris bands utilize traditional instruments (concertina, fiddle, melodian, accordion, pipes, tabor) and are percussion driven. Bands can range in size from a single musician to tens of people, depending on the style of dance and the preference of the side. Musicians often dress to match the dancers and are an integral part of the performance.

Morris dancing, particularly Border Style and Molly Dance Morris, have met with controversy in recent years due to the fact that many Morris sides include black face paint as a part of their costume. The tradition of dancers blackening their faces has dozens of explanations dating from different eras, but some of the most common are:

Image result for morris dance band
Morris Men dressed in traditional Cotswold
style costume.
  • Morris dancers in the Early Middle Ages blackened their faces because they were performing an ancient rite and needed to be disguised for this.
  • Faces were blackened to imitate Moors during dances, which often told the tale of a Moorish vs. Christian battle.
  • Dancers blackened their faces to hide their identities from the police because it was illegal to dance on public holidays.
  • Morris dancing was often accompanied by a certain amount of criminal mischief, and dancers didn't want to be arrested.
  • Morris dancers were shy. (No, seriously.)
  • During the Industrial Revolution, many factory men had to supplement their income through dancing. They would wear face paint so their bosses didn't know about their side hustle.
  • It's tradition, and face blackening helps the dancer get more into the dancing mood and feel less inhibited.
  • It's a way of remembering the oppressive policies of the 1700s that disenfranchised the working class.
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Morris dance is also occasionally accompanied by a brass
band or wind ensemble, but a traditional band is more
It seems likely that the reason for using face paint during Morris dances has changed throughout the ages, and there is no definitive reason for it. It must be mentioned, however, that wearing blackface in Morris dance predates the practice of wearing blackface in American minstrel shows. All the same, many Morris sides have abandoned the practice and either leave their faces bare or paint them a different color.

During its long history, Morris dance has transitioned from being an important pagan ritual, to being a way of making money, into a lighthearted celebration of English culture. Morris has evolved over the years, and undoubtedly will continue to do so, proving that culture and tradition are mutable.

¹One of the more colorful stories about Morris Dance from this era is that of the actor Will Kemp, who bet a friend that he could Morris dance from London to Norwich before the end of Lent. In a feat that would come to be known as his "Nine Day Wonder," Kemp danced the more than 100 miles between the two cities. While the entire journey took more than nine days, he did win his bet. While not the inspiration for, it is definitely reminiscent of Tony Hawks who, in the 1990s hitchhiked around the circumference of Ireland with a mini-fridge, also on a bet.
² The line was even thinner outside of England in Spain, where Morris dances often portrayed a battle between Christians and Muslims with the Christians emerging triumphant.
³Longsword Morris dance shouldn't be confused with Scottish Longsword dance, where the swords are placed on the ground.
⁴Unlike other Morris dances, Northwest Clog has always been a co-ed affair. Traditionally only men were allowed to Morris dance, but by the time Northwest Clog developed, this was no longer the case. While many Morris sides are mixed today, Northwest is the only style of Morris in which men and women dancing together has always been the norm.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


"Morris and Morisca" by Violet Alford
"Some Other Hobby Horses" by Violet Alford
"Early Record of the Morris in England" by Lucile Armstrong and Barbara Lowe
"The Origins of the Morris Dance" by Rodney Gallop
"The Abram Morris Dance" by Maud Karpeles
"Some Notes on the Morris Dance" by Cecil J. Sharp
"The Earliest Reference to the Morris Dance?" by Michael Heaney

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Damn, Girl-Sappho, and her Immortal Daughters

The mysterious Sappho of Lesbos is one of the most influential poets in history. Her poems--what she called her "Immortal Daughters-- not only influenced the poets of her day but inspired the Romantic and Victorian writers of the nineteenth century. Plato so respected her that he called her "the Tenth Muse," putting her on par with the nine daughters of Zeus.

Related image
Fresco of a woman generally believed to be Sappho.
This may not be an accurate likeness, as it was
painted about a century after her death.
Sappho was described in her lifetime as being
"small, dark and ugly" and "violet haired, pure,
honey smiling."
Before we begin, it must be noted that very little is known about Sappho's life, and what is known is often contradictory. Given that so much of her work is lost, it's difficult to be certain of anything about her. New poems and sources on her are quite literally being dug up every day (well, every so often), so some facts presented here may be proved incorrect in the near future.

Sappho was born sometime between 610 and 620 BCE on the island of Lesbos. She was from the town of Mytilene, or the town of Eresus, where her parents were well-established and respected aristocrats. There is evidence that her father was from Anatolia, which would have made Sappho not entirely Greek.

The theory of Sappho's family being migrants comes from the name of her father, and the spelling of Sappho's name. Her father was named Scamandronymus¹, a name familiar to readers of the Iliad. In the Iliad, the hero Achilles fights the Scamander, the god of the river that surrounded Troy. The name Scamandronymus comes from that minor god. Greeks were not in the habit of naming their children after the gods of rival, defeated kingdoms. And while every generation and nationality has parents who enjoy giving their children "unique" names, it is reasonable to assume that Sappho's father may have come from farther afield. To further support this theory, the spelling of Sappho's name varies, also appearing as Psappha, which has Anatolian origins.

Sappho had three brothers: Larichus, Erigyius, and Kharaxos. Not much is known about Erigyiu--not even his name is certain. Larichus was a handsome and successful young man who served as a cupbearer to a noble family. Kharaxos was, by far, the most colorful of the three. Sappho disapproved of him, as he had fallen in love with Rhodips,² an Egyptian courtesan. They were deeply in love, and if that wasn't disreputable enough, Kharaxos had to turn to piracy to support his passion for the beautiful Rhodips.

Now, it must be noted that the Kharaxos story comes from Ovid, a Roman writer who lived hundreds of years after Sappho. Ovid wrote quite a bit about Sappho, but he was, to put it delicately, full of crap. Any story about Sappho put forward by Ovid should be taken with a large grain of salt. However, in the "Brothers Poem" discovered in 2014, Sappho wrote:

"...But you're always chattering that Kharaxos / comes, his ship with fully stuffed hold. As to that, / Zeus and the gods only know, but these thoughts should / not be in your head.
Instead let me go, having been commanded / to offer many prayers to Hera the Queen, / that his undamaged ship should deliver up / Kharaxos to us
here, finding us safe and serene. And as for / the rest of it, to higher spirits leave it / now, for calm seas often follow after the squalling of a storm..."
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Sapphic fragment
Now, it must be remembered that Greek lyric poetry, the genre in which Sappho wrote, was highly personal and often autobiographical. It was a significant departure from the epic poetry of the previous centuries. Much like the later shift from the medieval art style to the Renaissance style, poetry went from epics, which were only concerned with the doings of gods and heroes, to lyrical poetry, which were interested in the individual. Sappho doesn't explicitly spell out that her brother was a pirate with a taste for Egyptian prostitutes; she tells us that he was a seafaring man of trade. The scurrilous details (true or not) come from Ovid.

In 604 BCE, Sappho and her family were exiled to the island of Sicily for non-specific political reasons. Sappho's parents were aristocrats with some political clout, and it is speculated that they may have made enemies with the wrong people. They settled in the city of Syracuse. There's no real record of what happened in Syracuse, but the city was later so proud of being the temporary home of Sappho that they later erected a statue of her and minted coins with her face on them.

While Sappho's remaining poetry isn't explicitly political, that Sappho may have written about politics isn't out of the question because so much of Sappho's poetry is lost. In her later life Sappho was a well-respected political figure; when she started talking politics isn't known, but it isn't out of the question that it was pre-exile. It's difficult to say because Sappho was somewhere between six and sixteen at the time of her family's exile.

Sappho's family returned to Lesbos some time in the 590s, and it was then when Sappho married Cercylas of Andros and had one daughter, Cleis, named after Sappho's mother.

Now, Sappho is synonymous with female homosexuality. The term "lesbian" takes its name from Sappho's home island of Lesbos, and the world "sapphic," a word used to describe female homosexuals of all stripes, takes its name from Sappho herself. While many historians and writers have tried to dismiss Sappho's more homoerotic poetry as "just gals being pals," only people reading Sappho in a state of willful ignorance would agree. In her poem "Gongyla," Sappho writes:
"Gongyla, thou golden / Maid of Colophon / Like the breath of morning / Or a breeze from the sea, / Fresh thy beauty smote me, / Virile of the north. / Startled by thy vision, / Transports half divine / Flooded hearts and bosom, / Shook me with desire."
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The location of Lesbos (also called Lesvos.) Note the
proximity to Anatolia.
In Mnasidica, Sappho writes:
"Dica, Mnasidica, thou art shapely / With the flowing curves of Aphrodite; / ...All thy rays of loveliness concentered / Sun me till I swoon with swift desire."
And then, of course, the iconic and completely heterosexual:
"Sweet mother I cannot weave / Slender Aphrodite has overcome me with longing for a girl." 

While the above more than demonstrates Sappho's love for women, her sexuality is not definite. While she has become the poster girl for lesbianism, it is just as likely that Sappho was what we now classify as bi or pansexual. There are many men mentioned in the long list of Sappho's lovers, and she did have a daughter. And, don't forget, there was her husband, Cercylas of Andros.

However, "Cercylas of Andros" may be some ancient writer's idea of a joke, as the name of Sappho's husband roughly translates to "Prick of the Isle of Man." It is possible that Cercylas was fictional, an addition from later writers to sanitize Sappho, or, as was popular with later Greek writers, to make fun of her. It is certain that Cleis existed, as Sappho wrote of her:
"Sleep, darling/I have a small/daughter called / Cleis, who is
 like a golden / flower / I wouldn't take all Croesus' / kingdom with love / thrown in, for her"
Whether Cleis was Sappho's biological daughter, adopted daughter, or a particularly adored niece, it is evident from this fragment that Sappho adored her. This view of Sappho as a mother figure is unsurprising, given the large circle of women Sappho befriended and purportedly mentored.

Sappho had a lot of friends, that much is certain. However, her relationship with them is just as murky and uncertain as the woman herself. Were they friends? Were they students? The true answer is lost to history. Tradition holds that Sappho ran a thiasos, a sort of finishing school for young ladies. Modern theories posit that she was more the hostess of an Ancient Greek salon, or a hetairia.
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Aphrodite. Of her, Sappho wrote:
"Aphrodite of the foam/Who hast
given all good gifts/And made Sappho
at thy will/Love so greatly and so much"

The idea that Sappho held a thaisos comes from the multiple young women she wrote poetry to as her students. Legend holds that her thiasos started out as a type of finishing school, where nobles would send their young daughters to be taught the womanly accomplishments they would need for marriage. However, over time Sappho's school evolved into a cult of Aphrodite and Eros, with Sappho as high priestess.

This theory is supported by the large volume of remaining poetry devoted to Aphrodite. And while there is no definitive proof of Sappho entering the priestesshood, she seems to have exercised an extreme level of devotion to the goddess of love and beauty. The only intact poem of Sappho's is her "Hymn to Aphrodite," and it ends with the provocative:
"All I long for; Lady, in all my battles / Fight as my comrade."
Now, while this sound like a completely normal thing for a religious person to say, it must be kept in mind that the Ancient Greeks didn't have the same sort of relationship with their gods as believers in Abrahamic religions. The Greek gods were capricious and cruel. Catching their attention ended in disaster 99% of the time.³ Enlisting the help of the gods was done with great caution and great reverence, normally in a temple with the appropriate sacrifices and offerings. This tender, personal entreaty to Aphrodite suggests that Sappho believed that she had a personal relationship with the goddess, priestess or no.

While Sappho may have thought herself to have a connection to Aphrodite, the amount of poetry dedicated to the goddess may exist because Sappho's bread and butter were wedding songs. (As a lyric poet, Sappho's poems were meant to be sung.) Ancient Greek weddings went on for several days, and singing was a major part of the celebrations. Songs comparing the groom to the great heroes of Greek lore, and the bride to the goddess Aphrodite or the infamous Helen were as much a staple of ancient weddings as Mendelssohn's Wedding March or Pachelbel's Canon are of modern weddings. In fragment 27, Sappho wrote:
"Raise high the roof beams, workers! / Hymenaeus! / Like Ares, here comes the bridegroom! / Hymenaeus! / Taller than the tallest men! / Hymenaeus!
In a different song, she wrote:
"Bride, of maidens all the fairest image / Mitylene treasures of the Goddess, / Rosy-ankled Graces / are thy playmates;"
Image result for sappho's school
Bust of the Poetess
It is possible that Aphrodite was just another love and beauty-centric subject for Sappho to write about and that Sappho held the goddess in no regard at all. It doesn't seem likely, but it's also possible that Sappho had purple hair and seven toes. With Sappho, most things are possible.

The idea that Sappho ran a hetairia comes from historians in the 20th and 21st centuries. Instead of running a school, it is believed that Sappho hosted a salon, exchanging artistic ideas with a diverse group of female poets and musicians. Even in this scenario, historical tradition portrays Sappho as being older than the rest of her gal pals and being in a mentoring position. While Sappho almost certainly did some instruction to the women performing her work, like any modern conductor would, there is no definitive proof that Sappho served as a teacher at all. In fact, Sappho's poetry suggests that she was more the member of an informal circle of friends. In a prelude, Sappho wrote:
"Deftly on my little / Seven-stringed Barbitos, / Now to please my girl friends / Songs I set to music"
In fragment eleven, she says:
"I will sing this skillfully to please my friends."
These lines make it clear that pleasing her friends, and having her friends' approval was important to Sappho, more important than the approval of a student generally is to a teacher. Furthermore, Sappho herself mentions her friends, writing in her poem "Damophyla":
"Sapphics thou has written, / Verses in my meter, / With a skill surpassing / In the melic art."
Sappho was clearly not the only poet in her social circle. Where then did this theory of Sappho being a school mistress or intellectual mentor come from? For hundreds of years, it has been an almost indisputable fact. This theory most likely comes from a misunderstanding of female friendships and Sappho's sexuality.

Since history has, until recently, been looked at from an exclusively masculine point of view (stay with me, gentlemen), historical women have been relegated to rigid roles, no matter the fact that women, just like men, are complex and cannot fit into a single defined category. It is easy to put Sappho in a teacher/mother category because of her poetry about her daughter. Her work, in certain lights--especially her work dedicated to her friends--might come off as instructional. However, looked at in a different light, her poems read more like a woman giving her best friend advice. For example, in fragment 75 she says:
"Oh Dica, set garlands upon your beautiful hair, / weaving plant strands with your delicate hands; for / those who wear attractive blossoms will surely / rank first, even among the Goddesses, who frown / upon those without garlands."
While more poetic, this has the same cant as a woman giving her friend fashion advice. Sappho goes beyond fashion advice, however. In fragment 66, she says:
"I believe the woman that has your wisdom will / never see the sunlight." 
This heartbreaking commiseration over the abominable treatment of women in Ancient Greece isn't the end of it. In Fragment 39, Sappho says:
 "But to you, Atthis, thinking of me is hateful, as you / flee to Andromeda"
This fragment has often been touted as definitive evidence that Sappho ran a school. Her student, Atthis, defected to a rival school run by Andromeda. However, if you scream this poem angrily, it becomes clear that it could also be interpreted as Sappho lashing out angrily at a friend who has betrayed her.

Then there's Fragment 33, which says:
"Foolish woman! Be not proud for a ring."
Here's Sappho reproaching a woman for vanity, poor money management, general bitchiness. Without more of the poem it's difficult to say. It is important to notice the subject is referred to as a woman instead of a girl.

Some of Sappho's poetry comes across as downright gossipy. Fragment 73 says:
"More pleasing is Mnasidika than tender Gyrinno"
And fragment 74:
"I never found someone more disdainful than you, O Anna." 
Sappho was clearly excellent at throwing shade.

Image result for pompe dressing for a dionysian festival
"Pompe Dressing for a Dionysian
Festival" shows the typical Greek
fancy dress (or undress) for women.
Note the garlands.
Looking no farther than her poetry, it is clear that Sappho had a much more intimate relationship with her friends than that of a typical teacher. Sappho felt comfortable advising her friends. She clearly viewed them as equals and had no problem calling them out on their bullshit.

Sappho was often likened to Socrates, a noted pederast. Because of Sappho's equation with Socrates, and because historically society has had difficulty wrapping its collective heads around women and copulation, her sexuality was understood not from a female perspective but from a masculine perspective, and Ancient Greek male sexual norms were ascribed to her for centuries. It is only in recent years that Sappho's sexuality has been looked at from a female perspective.

The assumption of female homosexuality being exactly like male homosexuality brings in the interesting question of pederasty. Among Ancient Greek men, homosexuality was normalized within a pederastic context. An older nobleman found a hot piece of ass he wanted to "mentor," and the pair struck up a relationship. It was assumed that the same would apply to women. However, in no context does Sappho demonstrate a romantic and sexual love for a younger person. In fact, she makes her feelings on the matter quite explicit in fragment 72, saying:
"For if you love me, choose another, younger / spouse, for I will not suffer to live with you, as an / old woman with a young man."
Though she is speaking to a man (remember, bi- or pansexual) these lines make Sappho's preferences clear. And while there are poems where Sappho describes her love for a "maiden", there were several different Greek words for love, and this should not be taken as sexual love.

Furthermore, when Sappho does describe a "maiden" in a sexual way, it's a maiden with another maiden, not with Sappho herself. In her poem "Telesippa," Sappho writes:
"Sleep thou in the bosom / of thy tender girl friend,/ Telesippa, gentle / Maiden from Miletus"
The poem goes on to become more sexually explicit, saying:
"Warm from her desireful / Heart the flush of passion / On your cheek unconscious, / With her sighs shall deepen. / All the long sweet night-time, / Sleepless while you slumber, / She shall lie and quiver / With her love's mad longing."
Telesippa is clearly engaging in an affair but with a person of her own age. Sappho doesn't project herself as Telesippa's lover, nor does she act the part of the voyeur. In fact, the poem could almost be seen as Sappho giving Telesippa a pep talk, assuring her of great things to come.

Whatever the dynamic of Sappho's friend group, Sappho garnered fame throughout the ancient world and not for her "school." She was referred to as "the poetess," an allusion to Homer, who was frequently called "the poet." This epitaph demonstrates that, in her own time, Sappho was though to be on par with Homer, who continues to remain the most influential male poet of antiquity.
Her fame was well deserved. Sappho was the vanguard of a new type of poetry, lyric poetry. Personal, introspective, and meant to be sung, lyric poetry was a big departure from epic poetry, which had been the zeitgeist for decades previously. In modern terms, Sappho was more of a singer-songwriter than a poet.

Much of Sappho's poetry was set in what we now call "Sapphic meter," which consists of four lines--three long, the last short. The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables⁴ gives Sappho's poetry a distinct character that has been copied over and over again since she conceived it.

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Woman playing the pectis
In addition to revolutionizing poetry, Sappho also made her mark on music. Sappho was a talented musician and vocalist herself and was noted for performing and leading performances of her own work. Based on her success, it is not unreasonable to assume that she must have been a good conductor as well. She was credited by her contemporaries with the invention of the pectis, a triangular harp, the plectrum, a type of proto-guitar pick, and the Mixolydian mode, a proto-scale that would survive into medieval music and make a comeback in modern popular music⁵.

There are two theories put out about the end of Sappho's life--the plausible and the dramatique. The plausible theory is that she died of old age in the 550s. The more theatrical story, put about by our old buddy Ovid⁶, is that, distraught over her unrequited love for a man named Phaon. This incident is referred to as the "Lucadian Leap," and appears multiple times in Greek mythology.

The connection of Sappho with the Lucadian Leap may have been an attempt at humor. It could be that this story of Sappho, a known homosexual, throwing herself from a cliff for love of a man could have been an attempt to satirize romantic love. Or an attempt to make fun of Sappho and her overblown love of love. Or, it's possible that when talking about the Lucadian leap, later writers weren't even talking about the Poetess Sappho of Lesbos, but instead another Sappho who was a courtesan working on Lesbos⁷.

Sappho was well respected during her lifetime. As mentioned, she was placed on the same level as Homer. Several of her turns of phrase entered Ancient Greek as common expressions. Phrases like "love, that sweet loosener of limbs," "I am of two minds," and "more golden than gold" entered the vernacular.

The philosophers Plato and Solon were big fans of hers. Solon, who wasn't known for his displays of emotions, reportedly:
"...heard his nephew sing a song of Sappho's over wine, and since he liked the song so much, he asked the boy to teach it to him. When someone asked him why, he said: so that I may learn it, then die."
Plato referred to her as "the tenth muse." Even Ovid gave her credit, saying, "What did Sappho of Lesbos teach girls but to love?"

The tale of the Lucadian Leap may have originated
from this myth about Aphrodite.
While Sappho's work was largely passed around orally, her complete works were also gathered into a nine-volume book by the scholars at the Library of Alexandria in the 200s. The books were most likely organized by meter, and each contained somewhere around 1,300 lines of poetry. Unfortunately, these books no longer exist in their original form.

A lot of the myths swirling around Sappho come from stories put around by New Comedy writers after her death. Her sexual habits were exaggerated and mocked. She was dismissed as a licentious deviant. This led to her work being banned by Roman censors and burned by Pope Gregory VII.

Much of Sappho's work is lost, not just because of censors and the tragic loss of the Library of Alexandria, but because Aeolic, the dialect of Greek Sappho wrote in, is incredibly difficult to translate. Even a few centuries after her death Sappho was a hard read, so her works weren't constantly transcribed like the works of other writers. However, archaeologists are still digging up new Sapphic fragments. Her poetry has been found in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies, and occasionally turns up in the collections of private individuals. With any luck, new Sappho poems will keep turning up, and our knowledge of this pioneering poetess will continue to grow.

In fragment 30, she predicted:
"I believe men will remember us in the future."
She certainly wasn't wrong.

Image result for sappho john william waterhouse
Sappho, by John William Godward

¹Or Scamander, Simon, Eunomius, Eumenus, Eerigyus, Erigyius, Ecrytus, Semus, Camon, or Etarchus. Sources disagree, but Scamandronymus is the most common.
²Rhodopis is also sometimes known as Doricha.
³Artistic license has been taken with the statistic, but, despite not being based in actual fact, 99% probably isn't too far off.
⁴For a much better, and painfully exact description of what Sapphic Meter is, click the hyperlink.
⁵For more information about modes, go here for a comprehensive explanation.
⁶This theory may have also originated from the Greek dramatist Menander, or the Roman writer Lucian.
⁷However, the existence of other Sappho is also disputed. She is often used to explain later stories of Sappho the Poetess being a prostitute. The tenuous existence of other Sappho is supported by the shaky claim that other Sappho was born in Eresus, instead of Mytileneans, where the Poetess was from. Other Sappho could have been a real person, but she may also have been a later invention meant to polish up the image of Sappho the Poetess, and absorb the malevolent stories put out about her.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.

Sappho: the Complete Works by Delphi Classics
Early Greek Poet's Lives: Shaping the Tradition by Maarit Kivilo (Chapter seven)
"Sappho, Schoolmistress" by Parker N. Holt
"Ancient Greek Wedding Songs: the Tradition of Praise" by Rebecca H. Hague
"Sappho's Company of Friends" by Anne L. Klinck
"Sappho's Prayer to Aphrodite" by A. Cameron
Sappho-Poetry Foundation
Sappho-Ancient History Encyclopedia
Sappho-Ancient Literature