Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Sappho and Alcaeus (above) portrays her staring rapturously at her contemporary Alcaeus; images of a lesbian Sappho, such as Simeon Solomon's painting of Sappho with Erinna (below), were much less common in the nineteenth century. In classical Athenian comedy (from the Old Comedy of the fifth century to Menander in the late fourth and early third centuries BC), Sappho was caricatured as a promiscuous heterosexual woman, and it is not until the Hellenistic period that the first testimonia which explicitly discuss Sappho's homoeroticism are preserved.
The earliest of these is a fragmentary biography written on papyrus in the late third or early second century BC, These ancient authors do not appear to have believed that Sappho did, in fact, have sexual relationships with other women, and as late as the tenth century the Suda records that Sappho was "slanderously accused" of having sexual relationships with her "female pupils".
This is regarded as unhistorical by modern scholars, perhaps invented by the comic poets or originating from a misreading of a first-person reference in a non-biographical poem.
Sappho's sexuality has long been the subject of debate.
Parker argues that Sappho should be considered as part of a group of female friends for whom she would have performed, just as her contemporary Alcaeus is.
The Suda also attributes to Sappho epigrams, elegiacs, and iambics, but the only epigrams attributed to Sappho to survive are in fact later works, and the iambic and elegiac poems attributed to her in antiquity were probably also actually later imitations.
no trace of Sappho the principal of an academy." and despite scholars' best attempts to find one, Yatromanolakis argues that there is no single performance context to which all of Sappho's poems can be attributed.
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For instance, the Cologne Papyrus on which the Tithonus poem is preserved was part of a Hellenistic anthology of poetry, which contained poetry arranged by theme, rather than by metre and incipit, as it was in the Alexandrian edition.
The latest surviving copies of Sappho’s poems transmitted directly from ancient times are written on parchment codex pages from the sixth and seventh centuries AD, and were surely reproduced from ancient papyri now lost.