What we know today of Sappho's reputation in the Greek world after her time eclipses by far what we actually still have of her poetic output. Sappho was revered on coins and in murals; at the same time, she was ridiculed for her erotic love poems addressed to women (as was very evident due to the gendered nature of the Ancient Greek language). Addressed as "The Poetess" just as Homer was "The Poet," Sappho had huge poetic significance, but what remains of her poetry seems to differ distinctly from epic and other poems of the same time.
Perhaps the key reason for this is that Sappho's themes of love and longing are direct and individual in a way that seems more modern than ancient in its style. Sappho wrote a great deal of poems, which now survive only in fragments, about the pain of loving someone who did not love her in return; about watching her beloved seemingly flirting with others; and about the physical pain of unrequited love. Sappho's eroticism also led to suppression of her works throughout the centuries that followed: she wrote about, seemingly, her own personal experiences of love, with little emphasis upon the influence of the gods on the lives of mortals or the impact of fate upon her life. Rather than adhering to accepted forms and constructs of love, Sappho diverged both from heteronormative traditions and from the male homoromantic expressions more commonly seen in poetry and equally bound to social expectations. Sappho's poetry is largely about the life of Sappho, which very much sets it apart.
Sappho was an ancient Greek poet writing during the archaic period. She wrote lyric poems that would likely have been sung to music, primarily dealing with the subject of love. Today, only fragments of her works remain.
Unlike Homer, whose epic poems told stories of gods and heroes, Sappho's poetry dealt with more intimate themes, likely drawing from her own personal life as opposed to legend. When Sappho's poems do make reference to the ancient Greek gods, the gods generally exist not as characters or actors, but as personifications of emotions of love, as in the lines, “Once again Eros drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.” Here "Eros," or Cupid, could just as easily be translated as "love" without the line losing its meaning.
The themes of love and desire in Sappho's poetry have led to speculation about her sexuality. In many of the fragments we have of her poetry, the gender of the object of her desire is either ambiguous or, in some cases, explicitly female. Today it is these themes of female desire and lesbianism that are most closely associated with Sappho's work, so much so that the word "lesbian" derives from the island Lesbos, where Sappho lived and worked, and an adjective, "sapphic," has been derived from the poet's name to mean "relating to lesbians or lesbianism."
The themes and topics of the poems penned by the ancient Greek poetess Sappho mainly focused on her personal issues, women, and love. She shied away from writing about gods or contemporary politics, which were the usual topics of the era.
Sappho ran a thiasos, which was a type of school for young women. Many of her poems revolved around the workings of the group as they learned how to be ardent women. Her poetry spoke of passionate love and was filled with thoughts on how young women should prepare to be wives. Another prominent theme was how women relate to each other. Although she wrote many pieces of poetry, most of them were lost or destroyed. The "Hymn of Aphrodite," which emphasizes the virtues of womanhood, is the only complete poem that exists in its entirety.
Frequent images in Sappho’s poetry include flowers, bright garlands, naturalistic outdoor scenes, altars smoking with incense, perfumed unguents to sprinkle on the body and bathe the hair—that is, all the elements of Aphrodite’s rituals.
Some believe that her topics included lesbianism. The word is derived from the name of the island on which she lived.