The beautiful island of Mitylene, known also as Lesvos or Lesbos, serves only as a footnote in the biblical account of the journeys of the Apostle Paul, but its fine museums and splendid scenery make it well worth including in visits to the Greek islands. Noted since antiquity as a place of unusual warmth and sunshine, even in winter, this third largest of the Greek islands produces the finest olive oil in all of Greece. The interior of the island is mountainous and forested, and the northern side of the island, around picturesque Methymna, provides excellent beaches. Mitylene (also the name of the capital city) lies less than 10 miles off the Turkish coast. It can be reached by flights from Athens and Thessaloniki (approximately one hour); ferries also run from these ports, but the crossing time is 9–12 hours. There is a ferry that connects the island to Ayvalik, Turkey; Pergamum is only 35 miles inland. Until the 6th century B.C.E., when Pitticus, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, served as sole ruler of the island (r. 589–579 B.C.E.), the towns of Mitylene and Methymna struggled for dominance of the island. During this time Mitylene developed a strong maritime fleet, extended its commerce as far as Egypt, and achieved fame for its notable poets, Alcaeus and Sappho (6th century B.C.E.). The poetry of Sappho was greatly admired by both Solon and Plato, who called her the tenth Muse. An aristocrat who established a school for women at Mitylene, Sappho became world-famous, or infamous, because of her love poetry concerning women. Much of the ridicule directed toward her came from the Athenian comic poets, who lampooned the greater freedom given to women on Mitylene. In the 4th century B.C.E., the famous philosophers Aristotle and Epicurus both taught on Mitylene. Julius Caesar first won distinction as a military commander when the Romans invaded the island in the 1st century B.C.E. Over the following centuries the island suffered repeated invasions by one world power after another until 1462, when it was taken by the Turks, who retained possession of it until 1912.
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