These thiasoi were communities of women.. They were not simply ‘finishing-schools for young ladies’, where purely spiritual loves flourished between the girls. The thiasoi were something different and more complex. They were groups with their own divinities and ceremonies, where girls, before marriage, went through a global experience of life which was in some way analogous to the experience of life that men had in corresponding masculine groups. And the girls received an education within this community life. What did Sappho teach her pupils? First of all music, singing and dancing: the instruments which transformed them from uncultivated little girls, which is what they were when they came to her, into women whose memory might live.
But Sappho was not only a mistress of the intellect: her girls also learned from her the weapons of beauty, seduction and fascination: they learned the grace (charis) which made them into desirable women. From this point of view, the definition of Sappho’s circle as ‘a finishing-school for young ladies’ is not mistaken. But the description is certainly inadequate: in these ‘ladies’ clubs’ the girls of Lesbos went through an experience which, in our eyes, was quite unsuitable for ‘respectable young ladies’ – they loved other women.
Greek culture in the seventh and sixth centuries BC not only accepted as normal the existence of love relationships between women in the life of the thiasoi, but formalised these, through the celebration of an initiation-type ceremony, which brought two girls together in an exclusive paired bonding of a marital type.