The brilliant poetess Sappho, glorified throughout Hellas, returns to his house from the Olympic competitions crowned with a laurel wreath. The people, servants and slaves with delight and glee, flowers and music meet their mistress. With a gold lyre in her hands, in festive clothes, she descends from a chariot drawn by white horses. Next to her is a well-known, simply dressed young man with modest manners. Sappho presents it to his fellow citizens as a beloved by her, a worthy person, a noble family, with whom she wants to first experience the pleasures of earthly life. From now on, the sounds of her lyre, which give people pleasure, will become clearer and closer to them. A rich feast continues a happy meeting.
Left alone, Sappho and Faon reveal their feelings to each other. They have so much to say about themselves. The Great Sappho suffered many years of treachery in friendship and love, she learned to endure grievances and losses alone. Now Sappho gives his heart, full of sizzling passion, an unknown young man. She is tormented by fear, which can not be found in response to the same all-consuming love and tenderness. In the enthusiastic confessions of Faon, the perceptive Sappho, the incomparable beauty Sappho with pain recognizes the familiar notes of flattery, reverence, deification, but not love in her earthly sense. Faon also feels completely happy. After all, the one whom the entire ancient world admires, whose poems have been reverently read from scrolls in the family of Faon and among his friends, has stopped her gracious gaze on him. He was sent by his father to a contest of chariots to Olympia, but, possessed by the desire to see the divine Sappho as soon as possible, drove horses, did not participate in games and received no reward. The best reward for him was the sight of the most beautiful woman. Worried about her victory, Sappho dropped the golden lira, and Faon rushed to her. Their eyes met, the fire in the eyes of the young man carried away the celebrated poetess, she called the confused and silent Faon behind him, and he followed her.
Sappho understands that he is with his chosen one, as if in different dimensions: she is on the cold tops of art, where she was rewarded for the sacrifices she made, for “the difficult work of the song”; he, endowed with a beautiful appearance, high spirit, courage and ability to be happy, stands firmly on the ground. And this land and the house of Sappho on the beach, surrounded
by colonnades, grottoes and flowering roses are so beautiful that it is worth trying to combine their different destinies and enjoy a generous life:
“Let art drink from the cup of life, and life – from the cup of light art!” Sappho suggests that Faone own her house and slaves, become their lord and master.
In the house of Sappho her beloved slave, a young Melitta, who was kidnapped from her country and her family, grew up. She is raised by Sappho, grateful and devoted to her, understands the complex nature, proud and easily wounded soul of her kind lady, surrounded by universal worship, but so misunderstood and lonely. Sappho, in her own way, loves Melitta, is considered with her opinion. She wants to know what this girl thinks about Faione, so that together, as sisters, admire his virtues, dream about living together, when he will love them both, though in different ways. Sappho does not know that Melitta also fell in love with Faon from the first glance, hiding it from everyone and herself. Sappho shares with Melitta his fears about how true and solid is the love of her Faona, she suffers from a difference in age and in life experience, in their situation. She needs Melitta’s support. This is the permanent state of Sappho, hopes and joy alternate with doubts and fears. At first, Sappho notices only the passivity of Melitta, the apparent lack of any interest in the “master” and a complete lack of understanding of the feelings of the lady. It even calms her, she spares the soul of a young inexperienced girl.
After leaving a noisy feast, Fahon is in deep thought, in indecision. He feels remorse for his relatives, who did not report anything about himself. Perhaps, the Condemning rumor already informed them about the stay of Sappho’s son in the light most unfavorable for the poet. Mentally Phaon is ready to protect his goddess from all reproaches.
He yearns for his home and Melitta. She dreams of coming back and weeping on the bosom of her loved ones the longing and pain of the slave, aggravated by the meeting with Faon, who must belong to the mistress.
Young people happen to be by chance, alone. Faon noticed a beautiful girl during the feast. Melitta tells him the sad story of his life. As a sign of sympathy and friendship, the young man gives her a rose. Melitta wants to answer him the same, tries to tear the rose from the high bush, falls and falls into the embrace of Faon, who quickly kisses her. At that moment, Sappho appears. Frustrated, she sends Melitta and remains with Fahon alone. The proud woman pretends to take the whole scene as a joke, and the embarrassed Faon agrees with her. Now Sappho expects words of love from him, but, not hearing them, he is looking for solitude.
After some time, exhausted by the cruel doubts, Sappho sees Faon, who fell asleep on a bench under a rose bush. This sight touches her, she again is ready to believe in his love, drives away the thought of treason. Sappho kisses Faon on the forehead, he wakes up and with half-closed eyes pronounces the name of the slave. This opens the inexorable truth that Sappho comprehends before Phaon himself.
So, the one with which all Hellas is proud, “is disgraced by a slave.” No, she did not need to descend from her heights to mere mortals, who can deceive, “the destiny of the gods” can not be confused with “the lot of mortals.”
The goddess arranges interrogation of the slave, believing that she deliberately deceives her. She tries to take from Melitta a rose donated by Faon, threatening with a dagger. Phaon resorts to the cries of Melitta. He accuses Sappho of cruelty and arrogance, calls “the cunning Circe.” Sappho cries, shocked. Melitta pities her mistress, rushes to her, embraces her knees, proposes to give both a rose and her life. But Faon, having understood her feelings, becomes decisive. He leaves, taking Melitta with him.
Left alone, Sappho asks for help from the gods and curses the most terrible of human vices – ingratitude. She orders the slave Ramnesu to send Melitta for the sea, to Chios, to part with Fahon.
This plan is broken by Faon, who, along with Melitta, goes on a boat to the sea. The girl can not resist the beloved, but does not feel the joy of escape, she feels sorry for the mistress.
Sappho sends the servants in pursuit of the fugitives. She wants to look into Fahon’s eyes and ask what she did wrong, she still hopes to return his love. Lovers return by force. Confident of his rights as a free man, Faon also wants to look into Sappho’s eyes and understand her, to believe that she is sorry and ready to forgive. But she hides her eyes from Faon. Melitta rushes to Sappho with a plea for forgiveness, as to a loving mother. But she turns away abruptly and leaves.
Faon angrily expresses his disdain for Sappho, but receives a rebuke from Ramnes, who believes that a mere mortal does not dare to judge “the treasure of Hellas”, that love of the Fauna. became the “only shadow” in the high and beautiful life of the poetess. And Melitta, in her sacrifice, is ready to become her slave again. Appears Sappho, in rich clothes, with a purple robe on his shoulders, with a laurel wreath on his head, with a golden lyre in his hands – as when returning from the Olympics. Majestic and solemn, strong and wise – quite different Sappho, who found herself, knows what to do. She appeals to the gods to let her “finish life worthy.” Then he blesses the lovers as a mother and a friend and in front of them with an exclamation: “Immortals are honored, but only mortals are loved!” – rushes from the cliff into the sea. Great grief of those present. “She’s now returned to heaven,” Ramnes says.