Lesbo and lesbians

Lesbos And Its Close Connection With Lesbians

Modern English, along with many other languages, incorporates a multitude of words from ancient Greek. One intriguing example is the word “lesbian,” which currently describes a woman who is romantically attracted to other women. Xxx lesbianas is often used in the porn industry to refer to videos depicting such relationships. However, the origin of this word is deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Greek island of Lesbos.

“Lesbian” is a demonym that originally referred to the inhabitants of Lesbos, also known as Lesvos. So, why has it come to be associated with female homosexuality? The answer lies in the island’s reputation and the literary contributions of an ancient Greek poet named Sappho.

The ancient Greeks would have found the modern use of the term confusing, as concepts of sexuality in Classical Greece were different and often more related to one’s social and romantic roles than strictly to gender. To understand how the term evolved, we need to explore the historical and linguistic transformations that have occurred over time.

Lesbians and Its Connection to Lesbos

Interestingly, the island of Lesbos did not historically have a higher proportion of women attracted to the same sex than other regions. Instead, the etymology of the word “lesbian” is linked to one of its most renowned residents.

Lesbos was home to the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who lived around the 6th century BC. Sappho was celebrated for her lyrical poetry, much of which has been interpreted as expressing affection and desire for other women.

Therefore, the word “lesbian” is commonly believed to derive from Sappho’s legacy. The term “Sapphic” is also used to describe romantic or sexual attraction between women, further cementing her influence on modern language.

Sappho Poet

Further Insights

Professor of Classical Studies Kate Gilhuly offers a more nuanced explanation of this linguistic evolution.

Gilhuly states, “Although Sappho’s poetry was well known throughout antiquity, her sexual orientation is not explicitly defined until centuries after her death. When Lesbos is directly associated with women who love other women in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans, Sappho is not explicitly named.”

This suggests that Sappho was not explicitly identified as a lesbian in ancient times, nor is it clear that the link between Lesbos and female same-sex attraction originated with her.

Gilhuly elaborates, noting that “there is a significant gap bridged by associating one person’s birthplace and her sexual orientation, and a still more significant gap between every single person from all the cities and villages on the island of Lesbos and a collective sexual orientation.”

Instead, she proposes that ancient Athenian perceptions of Lesbos as an island inhabited by beautiful but sexually liberated women may have also influenced the etymology of the word “lesbian.” These stereotypes were propagated through plays and writings by figures such as the ancient satirist Lucian.

Gilhuly argues that “a complex, centuries-long collocation of cultural conceptions about the culture of Lesbos, combined with Athenian comic practice, the representation of the courtesan, and the reception of Sappho, eventually paved the way for the strong association of Lesbos with an image of alternative feminine sexuality.”

Sappho’s Influence

Sappho’s poetry, known for its emotional intensity and directness, has been pivotal in shaping the modern understanding of female homosexuality. Her works often focus on the beauty and emotional depth of women, leading many scholars to interpret her verses as expressions of love and desire between women.

However, Sappho’s own sexual orientation remains a topic of scholarly debate. Ancient references to her work do not provide definitive evidence of her relationships, and much of what we understand today is derived from later interpretations and translations.

Lesbos in Ancient Perception

The island of Lesbos was regarded in antiquity as a cultural and intellectual hub. It was not only home to Sappho but also to other notable figures such as the poet Alcaeus and the statesman Pittacus.

Athenian comedic plays and satirical works often portrayed the women of Lesbos as liberated and promiscuous, contributing to the island’s sexualized reputation. These depictions likely played a role in shaping the modern interpretation of the term “lesbian.”

Evolution of the Term

The transition from “Lesbian” as a demonym to its current meaning took many centuries. In medieval and early modern periods, Sappho’s poetry was rediscovered and translated, often interpreted through the lens of contemporary views on sexuality.

By the 19th and 20th centuries, the term “lesbian” began to be more widely used to describe women who loved other women. This linguistic shift was influenced by both historical interpretations of Sappho’s work and evolving societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships.

Modern Implications

Today, the word “lesbian” is an important identity for many women around the world. It represents not only sexual orientation but also a sense of community and shared history. The legacy of Sappho and the island of Lesbos continues to influence discussions on sexuality, gender, and language.


The word “lesbian” has a rich and complex history that intertwines with the cultural and literary heritage of the Greek island of Lesbos. While the modern usage of the term may differ significantly from its ancient roots, the contributions of Sappho and the evolving perceptions of the island have left an indelible mark on our language and understanding of sexuality.

Through the centuries, the legacy of Lesbos and its famous poetess has transcended its origins, offering a profound example of how language and cultural perceptions can evolve over time.