A sculpture portraying a woman which has been on display in the Antalya Archeological Museum for nearly 50 years has recently been discovered to belong to Sappho, the first and most important female poet of ancient Greece.
Professor Havva İşkan Işık of Turkey’s Akdeniz University, who is heading up the excavation project of the ancient city of Patara, also gives lectures at the world-renowned museum in Antalya. It was during one of these lectures that the sculpture caught her eye.
“As a result of my extensive research I found that the portrait belonged to Sappho, known as the first and most important female poet of antiquity,” Işık explained. “I confirmed my work on the portrait with an academic review at universities abroad where I was a guest. I will soon publish the scientific paper I have prepared about my work so that the whole world can learn that this work is in the Antalya Museum.”
The sculpture was donated to the museum by the police in Yenikapı, Turkey after it was confiscated from smugglers. The museum maintains that the bust was discovered in the ancient city of Perge, but Işık contests this account.
“The Yenikapı Police Station was located in the then-historic area of Kaleiçi. During those years, some basic excavations were carried out in Kaleiçi. So, it may have been found during excavations at Kaleiçi,” she explained.
Initially believed to be a sculpture of a man, Işık chose to announce her discovery to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020.
“I considered it appropriate to announce my academic work on the portrait of Sappho, created in the fourth century BC, on March 8, International Women’s Day. Let the portrait of the most important female poet of the ancient period be my gift to Antalya on Women’s Day” she told reporters with obvious pride.
Sappho was born in 630 B.C. and died around 570 B.C. She was widely regarded in ancient times as one of the greatest lyric poets and was given epithets such as “The Tenth Muse” and “The Poetess,” Işık added.
“Unfortunately, we only have 7-8% of her poems left currently, while the rest have been lost. She lived on Lesbos Island. At that time, Lesbos was an island influenced by Anatolian culture. These islands have never developed outside of Anatolian culture.
“Sappho is known for leading an extremely modern and noncompliant life. She often wrote love poems,” the researcher added.
Işık has officially named the sculpture “The Sappho of Antalya,” and it will be known by this name in literature and art history moving forward. Another sculpture of the great poet, which is in Munich, Germany, is titled, “The Sappho of Munich.”
Işık’s discovery is clearly of great importance and she has called for it to be treated as such.
“The portrait must now be placed in a very distinct place in the Antalya Museum. There is no other example of it in Turkey. The Istanbul Museum has a Sappho’s head, but it is of another type. This is the only specimen of the fourth century B.C. in Turkey, and very few museums around the world have such work.
“The Antalya Museum, as a world-renowned sculpture museum, has augmented its importance once again with this work.” she declared.