Searching For Sappho

The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet

Publication date: February 15, 2016

An exploration of the fascinating poetry, life, and world of Sappho, including a complete translation of all her poems.

For more than twenty-five centuries, all that the world knew of the poems of Sappho—the first woman writer in literary history—were a few brief quotations preserved by ancient male authors. Yet those meager remains showed such power and genius that they captured the imagination of readers through the ages. But within the last century, dozens of new pieces of her poetry have been found written on crumbling papyrus or carved on broken pottery buried in the sands of Egypt. As recently as 2014, yet another discovery of a missing poem created a media stir around the world.

The poems of Sappho reveal a remarkable woman who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos during the vibrant age of the birth of western science, art, and philosophy. Sappho was the daughter of an aristocratic family, a wife, a devoted mother, a lover of women, and one of the greatest writers of her own or any age. Nonetheless, although most people have heard of Sappho, the story of her lost poems and the lives of the ancient women they celebrate has never been told for a general audience.

Searching for Sappho is the exciting tale of the rediscovery of Sappho’s poetry and of the woman and world they reveal


“Philip Freeman brings sexy back in Searching for Sappho.” —Vanity Fair

“[Freeman] draws on the whole range of evidence for women’s lives in the ancient Greek world….The result is an exquisitely detailed and well-judged account of the female life-cycle in classical antiquity….[The chapters] are masterpieces of compression and readability….Freeman’s book is full of light and life, and readers seeking an accessible introduction to this marvelous poet need look no further.” —Wall Street Journal

Kirkus Reviews:
An authoritative, insightful narrative that looks at childhood, marriage, motherhood, sexuality, religion, and death to speculate about the realities of Sappho’s life.

Philip Freeman’s Searching for Sappho provides students and general readers with readable translations and interpretations of all the surviving poems and fragments, including those most recently discovered. As it reconstructs Sappho’s life, it offers a lively picture of ancient Greek women’s daily experience within their families and communities. Finally, it conveys a sense of the excitement generated in the last two decades by the unexpected recovery of several new Sappho texts. Soundly researched yet wholly accessible, this volume is a complete and rewarding introduction to one of the world’s greatest poets.

—Marilyn B. Skinner, professor of classics emerita, University of Arizona

From Publishers Weekly:
Classics professor and novelist Freeman (Sacrifice: A Celtic Adventure) expertly reconstructs the remarkable background of Sappho, the first and greatest of the women poets in the ancient world, from slender and fragmentary evidence. With deep and careful consideration, Freeman pieces together the surviving information about Sappho’s life, using classical literature, myth, and visual art to chisel a peephole into the lives of ancient Greek women. Freeman ably maps the political, spiritual, and cultural territory of ancient Greece while deftly mining Sappho’s poetry for insights into the passages of childhood and aging, marriage and motherhood, and desire and exile as they might have been experienced by this woman who stands at the beginning of history. Freeman’s portrait of this legendary woman responsible for some of the greatest poetry the human heart has ever composed is vivid and immediate, though necessarily incomplete. His translations of the nearly 200 existing Sapphic poems and fragments reveal a haunting music that’s bound to enchant lovers of poetry, history, and the classical world.

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