Page:Sappho and the Vigil of Venus (1920).djvu/13

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The fame of Sappho, as the greatest poetess of all time, rests mainly on tradition, which for us moderns is confirmed by one complete poem, two incomplete ones, and over 170 fragments, one consisting of six lines, ten of four, seven of three, twenty-seven of two, and the rest of not more than one line, sometimes of only one word. No other poet inherits such great fame on so slight a foundation. Yet none is, by universal consent, more incontestably pre-eminent in his sphere.

It is remarkable that, were it not for quotations by writers on style, grammarians and lexicographers, not a line of hers would have survived to our times. Yet her poems were still extant till well on in the Christian Era. They seem, from accounts which have come down to us, to have been systematically hunted out and destroyed in an outburst of fanatical religious zeal kindled by medieval ecclesiastics. Scaliger even places their destruction as late as 1073 A.D., when bonfires were made at Rome and Constantinople of the poems of Sappho and other "heathen singers," under Pope Gregory VII. Hence the men of old who were so unanimous in praise of her were writing for readers who could perfectly