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Simonides of Ceos

Simonides of Ceos

Overview

Simonides of Ceos (c. 556 BC-468 BC) was a Greek lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, born at Ioulis
Ioulis
Ioulis or Ioulida , locally called Khora like the main towns of most Greek islands and sometimes known by the island name of Kea or Keos , is the capital of the island of Kea in the Cyclades.-Modern town:...

 on Kea
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets
Nine lyric poets
The nine lyric poets were a canon of archaic Greek composers esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria as worthy of critical study.They were:*Alcman of Sparta...

, along with Bacchylides
Bacchylides
Bacchylides was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets which included his uncle Simonides. The elegance and polished style of his lyrics have been a commonplace of Bacchylidean scholarship since at least Longinus...

 (his nephew) and Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

 (reputedly a bitter rival). Both Bacchylides and Pindar benefited from his innovative approach to lyric poetry and he was more involved than either of them in the major events and personalities of their times.
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Quotations

ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Here lies Megistias, who diedWhen the Mede passed Sephulchros' tide;A Prophet, though he would not saveHimself, sharing the Spartan grave.

Epitaph of the Spartan Diviner, Megistias, at Thermopylae

We did not flinch but gave our lives to save Greece when her fate hung on a razor's edge.

From the Cenotaph at the Isthmos
Encyclopedia

Simonides of Ceos (c. 556 BC-468 BC) was a Greek lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, born at Ioulis
Ioulis
Ioulis or Ioulida , locally called Khora like the main towns of most Greek islands and sometimes known by the island name of Kea or Keos , is the capital of the island of Kea in the Cyclades.-Modern town:...

 on Kea
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets
Nine lyric poets
The nine lyric poets were a canon of archaic Greek composers esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria as worthy of critical study.They were:*Alcman of Sparta...

, along with Bacchylides
Bacchylides
Bacchylides was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets which included his uncle Simonides. The elegance and polished style of his lyrics have been a commonplace of Bacchylidean scholarship since at least Longinus...

 (his nephew) and Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

 (reputedly a bitter rival). Both Bacchylides and Pindar benefited from his innovative approach to lyric poetry and he was more involved than either of them in the major events and personalities of their times. His fame owes much to traditional accounts of his colourful life, as one of the wisest of men, as a greedy miser, as an inventor of a system of mnemonics
Mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

 and also of some letters of the Greek alphabet
History of the Greek alphabet
The history of the Greek alphabet starts with the adoption of Phoenician letter forms and continues to the present day. This article concentrates on the early period, before the codification of the now-standard Greek alphabet....

 . Such accounts include fanciful elements yet he had a real influence on the sophistic enlightenment of the classical era
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

. His fame as a poet rests largely on his ability to present basic human situations with affecting simplicity. In the words of the Roman rhetorician Quintilian
Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

:
"Simonides has a simple style, but he can be commended for the aptness of his language and for a certain charm; his chief merit, however, lies in the power to excite pity, so much so that some prefer him in this respect to all other writers of the genre."

He is popularly associated with epitaphs commemorating fallen warriors, as for example the Lacedaemonians
Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

 at The Battle of Thermopylae:
.

Translated in the original form of an elegiac couplet
Elegiac couplet
The elegiac couplet is a poetic form used by Greek lyric poets for a variety of themes usually of smaller scale than the epic. Roman poets, particularly Ovid, adopted the same form in Latin many years later...

:
"O Stranger, send the news home to the Lacedaemonians that here
We lie at rest: the commands they gave us have been obeyed."

Today only glimpses of his poetry remain, either in the form of papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 fragments or quotations by ancient literary figures, yet new fragments continue to be unearthed by archeologists at Oxyrhynchus
Oxyrhynchus
Oxyrhynchus is a city in Upper Egypt, located about 160 km south-southwest of Cairo, in the governorate of Al Minya. It is also an archaeological site, considered one of the most important ever discovered...

. His general fame as a wise and colourful personality has led to his inclusion in narratives as diverse as Mary Renault
Mary Renault
Mary Renault born Eileen Mary Challans, was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece...

's historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

 The Praise Singer (where he is depicted as the narrator and main character), Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's Protagoras
Protagoras (dialogue)
Protagoras is a dialogue of Plato. The traditional subtitle is "or the Sophists, probative". The main argument is between the elderly Protagoras, a celebrated sophist, and Socrates...

(where he is a topic of conversation), and some verses in Callimachus
Callimachus
Callimachus was a native of the Greek colony of Cyrene, Libya. He was a noted poet, critic and scholar at the Library of Alexandria and enjoyed the patronage of the Egyptian–Greek Pharaohs Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Ptolemy III Euergetes...

' Aetia (where he is amusingly represented as a ghost complaining about the desecration of his own tomb in Acragas
Acragas
Acragas may refer to:* Agrigento, aka Acragas, an ancient Greek city on the site of modern Agrigento, Sicily* Acragas, son of Zeus and the Oceanid Asterope in Greek mythology...

).

Biography


Few clear facts about Simonides' life have come down to modern times in spite of his fame and influence. Ancient sources are uncertain even about the date of his birth. According to the Byzantine encyclopaedia, Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

: "He was born in the 56th Olympiad (556/552 BC) or according to some writers in the 62nd (532/528) and he survived until the 78th (468/464), having lived eighty-nine years." Modern scholars generally accept 556-468 BC for his life in spite of some awkward consequences—for example it would make him about fifty years older than his nephew Bacchylides and still very active internationally at about 80 years of age. Other ancient sources also have awkward consequences. For example, according to an entry in the Parian Marble
Parian marble
Parian marble is a fine-grained semitranslucent pure-white and entirely flawless marble quarried during the classical era on the Greek island of Paros in the Aegean Sea.It was highly prized by ancient Greeks for making sculptures...

, Simonides died in 468/7 BC at the age of ninety yet, in another entry, it lists a victory by his grandfather in a poetry competition in Athens in 489/8 BC—this grandfather must have been over a hundred years old at that time if the birth dates for Simonides are correct. The grandfather's name, as recorded by the Parian Marble, was also Simonides, and it has been argued by some scholars that the earliest references to Simonides in ancient sources might in fact be references to this grandfather. However, the Parian Marble is known to be unreliable and possibly it was not even the grandfather but a grandson that won the aforementioned victory in Athens. According to the Suda, this grandson was yet another Simonides and he was the author of books on genealogy.

Early years: Ceos and Athens



Simonides is identified in the Suda as the son of a Leoprepes. He was born in Ioulis
Ioulis
Ioulis or Ioulida , locally called Khora like the main towns of most Greek islands and sometimes known by the island name of Kea or Keos , is the capital of the island of Kea in the Cyclades.-Modern town:...

 on Ceos
Kea (island)
Kea , also known as Gia or Tzia , Zea, and, in Antiquity, Keos , is an island of the Cyclades archipelago, in the Aegean Sea, in Greece. Kea is part of the Kea-Kythnos peripheral unit. Its capital, Ioulis, is inland at a high altitude and is considered quite picturesque...

 (Ἰουλίς, Κέως), the outermost island of the Cyclades
Cyclades
The Cyclades is a Greek island group in the Aegean Sea, south-east of the mainland of Greece; and a former administrative prefecture of Greece. They are one of the island groups which constitute the Aegean archipelago. The name refers to the islands around the sacred island of Delos...

. The innermost island, Delos
Delos
The island of Delos , isolated in the centre of the roughly circular ring of islands called the Cyclades, near Mykonos, is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece...

, was the reputed birthplace of Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

, where the people of Ceos regularly sent choirs to perform hymns in the god's honour. Carthaea, another Cean town, included a choregeion or school where choirs were trained and possibly Simonides worked there as a teacher in his early years. In addition to its musical culture, Ceos had a rich tradition of athletic competition, especially in running and boxing (the names of Ceans victorious at Panhellenic competitions were recorded at Ioulis on slabs of stone) making it fertile territory for a genre of choral lyric that Simonides pioneered—the victory ode
Epinikion
The epinikion or epinicion is a genre of occasional poetry also known in English as a victory ode...

. Indeed, the grandfather of Simonides' nephew, Bacchylides, was one of the island's notable athletes. Ceos lies only some fifteen miles south-east of Attica
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

, whither Simonides was drawn, about the age of thirty, by the lure of opportunities opening up at the court of the tyrant Hipparchus
Hipparchus (son of Pisistratus)
Hipparchus or Hipparch was a member of the ruling class of Athens. He was one of the sons of Peisistratos.Although he was said among Greeks to have been the tyrant of Athens along with his brother Hippias when Peisistratos died, about 528 BC...

, a patron of the arts. His rivalry there with another chorus-trainer and poet, Lasus of Hermione, became something of a joke to Athenians of a later generation—it is mentioned briefly by the comic playwright Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

 who earmarked Simonides as a miserly type of the professional poet (see The Miser below)

Middle Career: Thessaly


After the assassination of Hipparchus (514 BC), Simonides withdrew to Thessaly
Thessaly
Thessaly is a traditional geographical region and an administrative region of Greece, comprising most of the ancient region of the same name. Before the Greek Dark Ages, Thessaly was known as Aeolia, and appears thus in Homer's Odyssey....

, where he enjoyed the protection and patronage of the Scopadae and Aleuadae. These were two of the most powerful families in the Thessalian feudal aristocracy yet they seemed notable to later Greeks such as Theocritus
Theocritus
Theocritus , the creator of ancient Greek bucolic poetry, flourished in the 3rd century BC.-Life:Little is known of Theocritus beyond what can be inferred from his writings. We must, however, handle these with some caution, since some of the poems commonly attributed to him have little claim to...

 only for their association with Simonides. Thessaly at that time was a cultural backwater, remaining in the 'Dark Ages' until the close of the 5th century. According to an account by Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, the Ionian poet once dismissed the Thessalians as "too ignorant" to be beguiled by poetry. Among the most colourful of his "ignorant" patrons was the head of the Scopadae clan, named Scopas. Fond of drinking, convivial company and vain displays of wealth, this aristocrat's proud and capricious dealings with Simonides are demonstrated in a traditional account related by Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 and Quintilian
Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

, according to which the poet was commissioned to write a victory ode for a boxer. Simonides embellished his ode with so many references to the twins Castor
Castor
Castor derives from the , meaning "beaver", or "he who excels". It originally referred to Castor, one of the Dioscuri/Gemini twins of Graeco-Roman mythology.Castor or CASTOR may also refer to:-Science and technology:...

 and Pollux
Pollux
Pollux may refer to:Astronomy*Pollux , *Pollux, a crater on the Saturnian moon EpimetheusFictional characters*Pollux Black, a pureblood wizard, grandfather of Sirius Black in the Harry Potter universeGames...

 (heroic archetypes of the boxer) that Scopas told him to collect half the commissioned fee from them—he would only pay the other half. Simonides however ended up getting much more from the mythical twins than just a fee: he owed them his very life (see Miraculous escapes).

Career Highlight: Persian Wars


The Thessalian period in Simonides' career is followed in most biographies by his return to Athens during the Persian Wars and it is certain that he became a prominent international figure at that time, particularly as the author of commemorative verses. According to an anonymous biographer of Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

, the Athenians chose Simonides ahead of Aeschylus to be the author of an epigram honouring their war-dead at Marathon
Battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. It was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate...

, which led the tragedian (who had fought at the battle and whose brother had died there) to withdraw sulking to the court of Hieron of Syracuse—the story is probably based on the inventions of comic dramatists but it is likely that Simonides did in fact write some kind of commemorative verses for the Athenian victory at Marathon. His ability to compose tastefully and poignantly on military themes put him in great demand among Greek states after their defeat of the second Persian invasion, when he is known to have composed epitaphs for Athenians, Spartans and Corinthians, a commemorative song for Leonidas and his men, a dedicatory epigram for Pausanias, and poems on the battles of Artemisium
Battle of Artemisium
The Battle of Artemisium was a series of naval engagements over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The battle took place simultaneously with the more famous land battle at Thermopylae, in August or September 480 BC, off the coast of Euboea and was fought between an alliance of...

, Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

, and Plataea
Battle of Plataea
The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes...

. According to Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, the Cean had a statue of himself made about this time, which inspired the Athenian politician Themistocles
Themistocles
Themistocles ; c. 524–459 BC, was an Athenian politician and a general. He was one of a new breed of politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy, along with his great rival Aristides...

 to comment on his ugliness. In the same account, Themistocles is said to have rejected an attempt by the poet to bribe him, then likened himself as an honest magistrate to a good poet, since an honest magistrate keeps the laws and a good poet keeps in tune.

Final years: Sicily


The last year's of the poet's life were spent in Sicily where he became a friend and confidante of Hieron of Syracuse. According to a scholiast on Pindar, he once acted as peace-maker between Hieron and another Sicilian tyrant, Theron of Acragas
Theron of Acragas
Theron , son of Aenesidamus, was a Greek tyrant of the town of Acragas in Sicily from 488 BC. He soon became an ally of Gelo, who at that time controlled Gela, and from 485 BC Syracuse. Gelo later became Theron's son-in-law....

, thus ending a war between them. Scholiasts are the only authority for stories about rivalry between Simonides and Pindar at the court of Hieron, traditionally used to explain some of the meanings in Pindar's victory odes (see the articles on Bacchylides
Bacchylides
Bacchylides was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets which included his uncle Simonides. The elegance and polished style of his lyrics have been a commonplace of Bacchylidean scholarship since at least Longinus...

 and Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

). If the stories of rivalry are true, it may be surmised that Simonides's experiences at the courts of the tyrants, Hipparchus and Scopas, gave him a competitive edge over the proud Pindar and enabled him to promote the career of his nephew, Bacchylides, at Pindar's expense. However, Pindar scholiasts are generally considered unreliable and there is no reason to accept their account. The Hellenistic poet Callimachus
Callimachus
Callimachus was a native of the Greek colony of Cyrene, Libya. He was a noted poet, critic and scholar at the Library of Alexandria and enjoyed the patronage of the Egyptian–Greek Pharaohs Ptolemy II Philadelphus and Ptolemy III Euergetes...

 revealed in one of his poems that Simonides was buried outside Acragas
Acragas
Acragas may refer to:* Agrigento, aka Acragas, an ancient Greek city on the site of modern Agrigento, Sicily* Acragas, son of Zeus and the Oceanid Asterope in Greek mythology...

 and that his tombstone was later mis-used in the construction of a tower.

Miraculous escapes



As mentioned above, both Cicero and Quintilian are sources for the story that Scopas, the Thassalian nobleman, refused to pay Simonides in full for a victory ode that featured too many decorative references to the mythical twins, Castor and Pollux. According to the rest of the story, Simonides was celebrating the same victory with Scopas and his relatives at a banquet when he received word that two young men were waiting outside to see him. When he got outside, however, he discovered firstly that the two young men were nowhere to be found and, secondly, that the dining hall was collapsing behind him. Scopas and a number of his relatives were killed. Apparently the two young men were the twins and they had rewarded the poet's interest in them by thus saving his life. Simonides later benefited from the tragedy by deriving a system of mnemonics from it (see The inventor). Quintilian dismisses the story as a fiction because "the poet nowhere mentions the affair, although he was not in the least likely to keep silent on a matter which brought him such glory..". This however was not the only miraculous escape that his piety afforded him. There are two epigrams in the Palatine Anthology
Palatine Anthology
The Palatine Anthology is the collection of Greek poems and epigrams discovered in 1606 in the Palating Library in Heidelberg. It is based on the lost collection of Constantine Cephalas of the 10th century, which has been composed using older anthologies. It contains material from the 7th century...

, both attributed to Simonides and both dedicated to a drowned man whose corpse the poet and some companions are said to have found and buried on an island. The first is an epitaph in which the dead man is imagined to invoke blessings on those who had buried the body, and the second records the poet's gratitude to the drowned man for having saved his own life—Simonides had been warned by his ghost not to set sail from the island with his companions, who all subsequently drowned.

The inventor


During the excavation of the rubble of Scopas' dining hall, Simonides was called upon to identify each guest killed. Their bodies had been crushed beyond recognition but he completed the gruesome task by correlating their identities to their positions (loci in Latin) at the table before his departure. He later drew on this experience to develop the 'memory theatre' or 'memory palace', a system for mnemonics
Mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

 widely used in oral
Orality
Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition...

 societies until the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

. According to Cicero, Themistocles wasn't much impressed with the poet's invention: "I would rather a technique of forgetting, for I remember what I would rather not remember and cannot forget what I would rather forget." The Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

 credits him also with inventing "the third note of the lyre" (which is known to be wrong since the lyre had seven strings from the 7th century), and four letters of the Greek alphabet. Whatever the validity of such claims, a creative and original turn of mind is demonstrated in his poetry - he probably invented the genre of the victory ode and he gave persuasive expression to a new set of ethical standards (see Ethics).

The miser


In his play Peace
Peace (play)
Peace is an Athenian Old Comedy written and produced by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It won second prize at the City Dionysia where it was staged just a few days before the ratification of the Peace of Nicias , which promised to end the ten year old Peloponnesian War...

, Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

 imagined that the tragic poet Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 had turned into Simonides: "He may be old and decayed, but these days, if you paid him enough, he'd go to sea in a sieve." A scholiast, commenting on the passage, wrote: "Simonides seems to have been the first to introduce money-grabbing into his songs and to write a song for pay" and, as proof of it, quoted a passage from one of Pindar's odes ("For then the Muse was not yet fond of profit nor mercenary"), which he interpreted as covert criticism of Simonides. The same scholiast related a popular story that the poet kept two boxes, one empty and the other full - the empty one being where he kept favours, the full one being where he kept his money. According to Athenaeus
Athenaeus
Athenaeus , of Naucratis in Egypt, Greek rhetorician and grammarian, flourished about the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century AD...

, when Simonides was at Hieron's court in Syracuse, he used to sell most of the daily provisions that he received from the tyrant, justifying himself thus: "So that all may see Hieron's magnificence and my moderation." Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 reported that the wife of Hieron once asked Simonides whether it was better to be wealthy or wise, to which he apparently replied: "Wealthy; for I see the wise spending their days at the doors of the wealthy." According to an anecdote recorded on a papyrus, dating to around 250 BC, Hieron once asked the poet if everything grows old: "Yes," Simonides answered, "all except money-making; and kind deeds age most quickly of all." He once rejected a small fee to compose a victory ode for the winner of a mule race (it was not a prestigious event) but, according to Aristotle, changed his mind when the fee was increased, resulting in this magniloquent opening: "Greetings, daughters of storm-footed horses!" In a quote recorded by Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, he once complained that old age had robbed him of every pleasure but making money. All these amusing anecdotes might simply reflect the fact that he was the first poet to charge fees for his services—generosity is glimpsed in his payment for an inscription on a friend's epitaph, as recorded by Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

.

The sage and wit



Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

, in The Republic, numbered Simonides with Bias
Bias of Priene
Bias , the son of Teutamus and a citizen of Priene was a Greek philosopher. Satyrus puts him as the wisest of all the Seven Sages of Greece. He was renowned for his goodness....

 and Pittacus
Pittacus of Mytilene
Pittacus was the son of Hyrradius and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. He was a native of Mytilene and the Mytilenaean general who, with his army, was victorious in the battle against the Athenians and their commander Phrynon. In consequence of this victory the Mytilenaeans held Pittacus in the...

 among the wise and blessed
Seven Sages of Greece
The Seven Sages or Seven Wise Men was the title given by ancient Greek tradition to seven early 6th century BC philosophers, statesmen and law-givers who were renowned in the following centuries for their wisdom.-The Seven Sages:Traditionally, each of the seven sages represents an aspect of worldly...

, even putting into the mouth of Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 the words "it is not easy to disbelieve Simonides, for he is a wise man and divinely inspired," but in his dialogue Protagoras
Protagoras (dialogue)
Protagoras is a dialogue of Plato. The traditional subtitle is "or the Sophists, probative". The main argument is between the elderly Protagoras, a celebrated sophist, and Socrates...

, Plato numbered Simonides with Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

 as precursors of the sophist. A number of apocryphal sayings were attributed to him. Michael Psellos
Michael Psellos
Michael Psellos or Psellus was a Byzantine monk, writer, philosopher, politician and historian...

 accredited him with "the word is the image of the thing." Plutarch commended "the saying of Simonides, that he had often felt sorry after speaking but never after keeping silent" and observed that "Simonides calls painting silent poetry and poetry painting that speaks" (later paraphrased by the Latin poet Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

 as ut pictura poesis
Ut pictura poesis
Ut pictura poesis is Latin, literally "As is painting so is poetry." The statement occurs most famously in Horace's Ars Poetica, near the end, immediately after the "other" most famous quotation from Horace's treatise on poetics, "bonus dormitat Homerus", or "even Homer nods" :Horace meant that...

). Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

, after quoting a famous epigram by Cleobulus (one of ancient Greece's 'seven sages') in which a maiden sculptured on a tomb is imagined to proclaim her eternal vigilance, quotes Simonides commenting on it in a poem of his own: Stone is broken even by mortal hands. That was the judgement of a fool." His rationalist view of the cosmos is evinced also in Plutarch's letter of consolation to Apollonius:"according to Simonides a thousand or ten thousand years are an undeterminable point, or rather the tiniest part of a point." Cicero related how, when Heiron of Syracuse asked him to define god, Simonides continually postponed his reply, "because the longer I think about it, the fainter become my hopes of an answer." Stobaeus
Stobaeus
Joannes Stobaeus , from Stobi in Macedonia, was the compiler of a valuable series of extracts from Greek authors. The work was originally divided into two volumes containing two books each...

 recorded this reply to a man who had confided in Simonides some unflattering things he had heard said about him: "Please stop slandering me with your ears!".

Poetry


Simonides composed verses almost entirely for public performances and inscriptions, unlike previous lyric poets such as Sappho
Sappho
Sappho was an Ancient Greek poet, born on the island of Lesbos. Later Greeks included her in the list of nine lyric poets. Her birth was sometime between 630 and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC, but little is known for certain about her life...

 and Alcaeus
Alcaeus
Alcaeus may refer to:*Alcaeus , a writer of ten plays of the Old Comedy.*Alcaeus , one of several figures of this name in Greek mythology*12607 Alcaeus - a main belt asteroid...

, who composed more intimate verses to entertain friends—"With Simonides the age of individualism in lyric poetry has passed." Or so it seemed to modern scholars until the recent discovery of papyrus P.Oxy.3965 in which Simonides is glimpsed in a sympotic context
Symposium
In ancient Greece, the symposium was a drinking party. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara...

, speaking for example as an old man rejuvenated in the company of his homo-erotic lover, couched on a bed of flowers. Very little of his poetry survives today but enough is recorded on papyrus fragments and in quotes by ancient commentators for many conclusions to be drawn at least tentatively (nobody knows if and when the sands of Egypt will reveal further discoveries).

Simonides wrote a wide range of choral lyrics with an Ionian
Ionic Greek
Ionic Greek was a subdialect of the Attic–Ionic dialect group of Ancient Greek .-History:Ionic dialect appears to have spread originally from the Greek mainland across the Aegean at the time of the Dorian invasions, around the 11th Century B.C.By the end of the Greek Dark Ages in the 5th Century...

 flavour and elegiac verses in Doric
Doric Greek
Doric or Dorian was a dialect of ancient Greek. Its variants were spoken in the southern and eastern Peloponnese, Crete, Rhodes, some islands in the southern Aegean Sea, some cities on the coasts of Asia Minor, Southern Italy, Sicily, Epirus and Macedon. Together with Northwest Greek, it forms the...

 idioms. He is generally credited with inventing a new type of choral lyric, the encomium
Encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

, in particular popularizing a form of it, the victory ode
Epinikion
The epinikion or epinicion is a genre of occasional poetry also known in English as a victory ode...

. These were extensions of the hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

, which previous generations of poets had dedicated only to gods and heroes:

In one victory ode, celebrating Glaucus of Carystus, a famous boxer, Simonides declares that not even Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 or Polydeuces
Polydeuces
Polydeuces may refer to:*Polydeuces , a moon of Saturn*An alternative name for the Greek mythological hero Pollux...

 could have stood against him—a statement whose impiety seemed notable even to Lucian
Lucian
Lucian of Samosata was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature.His ethnicity is disputed and is attributed as Assyrian according to Frye and Parpola, and Syrian according to Joseph....

 many generations later.

Simonides was the first to establish the choral dirge
Dirge
A dirge is a somber song expressing mourning or grief, such as would be appropriate for performance at a funeral. A lament. The English word "dirge" is derived from the Latin Dirige, Domine, Deus meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam , the first words of the first antiphon in the Matins of the Office...

 as a recognized form of lyric poetry, his aptitude for it being testified, for example, by Quintillian (see quote in the Introduction), Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

("Ceae...munera neniae"), Catullus
Catullus
Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.-Biography:...

 ("maestius lacrimis Simonideis") and Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.-Life:...

, where he says:
Simonides was adept too at lively compositions suited to dancing (hyporchema
Hyporchema
The hyporchema was a lively kind of mimic dance which accompanied the songs used in the worship of Apollo, especially among the Dorians. It was performed by men and women...

), for which he is commended by Plutarch. He was highly successful in dithyrambic competitions according to an anonymous epigram dating from the Hellenistic period, which credited him with 57 victories, possibly in Athens. The dithyramb
Dithyramb
The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility; the term was also used as an epithet of the god: Plato, in The Laws, while discussing various kinds of music mentions "the birth of Dionysos, called, I think, the dithyramb." Plato also...

, a genre of lyrics traditionally sung to Dionysus, was later developed into narratives illustrating heroic myths; Simonides is the earliest poet known to have composed in this enlarged form (the geographer Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 mentioned a dithyramb, Memnon, in which Simonides located the hero's tomb in Syria, indicating that he didn't compose only on legends of Dionysius.)

Simonides has long been known to have written epitaphs for those who died in the Persian Wars and this has resulted in many pithy verses being mis-attributed to him "...as wise saws to Confucius or musical anecdotes to Beecham
Beecham
- Surname :* Thomas Beecham , British chemist, grandfather of the conductor* Thomas Beecham , British conductor* Sir Joseph Beecham, 1st Baronet , eldest son of Thomas Beecham the chemist...

.
" Modern scholars generally consider only one of the attributed epigram
Epigram
An epigram is a brief, interesting, usually memorable and sometimes surprising statement. Derived from the epigramma "inscription" from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein "to write on inscribe", this literary device has been employed for over two millennia....

s to be unquestionably authentic (an inscription for the seer Megistius quoted by Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

), which places in doubt even some of the most famous examples, such as the one to the Spartans at Thermopylae, quoted in the introduction. He composed longer pieces on a Persian War theme, including Dirge for the Fallen at Thermopylae, Battle at Artemisium
Battle of Artemisium
The Battle of Artemisium was a series of naval engagements over three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece. The battle took place simultaneously with the more famous land battle at Thermopylae, in August or September 480 BC, off the coast of Euboea and was fought between an alliance of...

and Battle at Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

but their genres are not clear from the fragmentary remains - the first was labelled by Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

 as an encomium but it was probably a hymn and the second was characterized in the Suda as elegiac yet Priscian
Priscian
Priscianus Caesariensis , commonly known as Priscian, was a Latin grammarian. He wrote the Institutiones grammaticae on the subject...

, in a comment on prosody, indicated that it was composed in lyric meter. Substantial fragments of a recently discovered poem, describing the run-up to the Battle of Plataea
Battle of Plataea
The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes...

 and comparing Pausanias to Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

, show that he actually did compose narrative accounts in elegiac meter. Simonides also wrote Paeans and Prayers/Curses and possibly in some genres where no record of his work survives.

Poetic style


Like other lyric poets in late Archaic Greece, Simonides made notable use of compound adjectives and decorative epithets yet he is also remarkable for his restraint and balance. His expression was clear and simple, relying on straightforward statement. An example is found in a quote by Stobaeus
Stobaeus
Joannes Stobaeus , from Stobi in Macedonia, was the compiler of a valuable series of extracts from Greek authors. The work was originally divided into two volumes containing two books each...

 paraphrased here to suggest the original Aeolic verse
Aeolic verse
Aeolic verse is a classification of Ancient Greek lyric poetry referring to the distinct verse forms characteristic of the two great poets of Archaic Lesbos, Sappho and Alcaeus, who composed in their native Aeolic dialect...

 rhythms, predominantly choriamb
Choriamb
In Greek and Latin poetry, a choriamb is a metron consisting of four syllables in the pattern long-short-short-long , that is, a trochee alternating with an iamb. Choriambs are one of the two basic metra that do not occur in spoken verse, as distinguished from true lyric or sung verse...

ic ( ¯˘˘¯, ¯˘˘¯ ), with some dactylic expansion (¯˘˘¯˘˘¯) and an iambic close (˘¯,˘¯):
Being a man you cannot tell what might befall when tomorrow comes
Nor yet how long one who appears blessed will remain that way,
So rapid are life's turns even the long-winged fly
Changes course less suddenly.

The only decorative word is 'long-winged' , used to denote a dragonfly, and it emerges from the generalized meanings of the passage as an 'objective correlative' for the fragility of the human condition. The rhythm evokes the movement of the dragonfly and the mutability of human fortunes.

Ethics


Simonides championed a tolerant, humanistic outlook that celebrated ordinary goodness, and recognized the immense pressures that life places on human beings. His rival, Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

, who identified closely with the aristocratic world and its heroic ethic, never composed anything as thoughtful or sympathetic as the following poem of Simonides (fr. 542), quoted in Plato's dialogue, the Protagoras
Protagoras
Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of virtue...

, and reconstructed here according to a recent interpretation, making it the only lyric poem of Simonides that survives intact:
ἄνδρ' ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι                στρ. α
χαλεπὸν, χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόωι
      τετράγωνον, ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον·
θεὸς ἂν μόνος τοῦτ' ἔχοι γέρας‧ ἄνδρα δ' οὐκ
      ἔστι μὴ οὐ κακὸν ἔμμεναι,
ὃν ἀμήχανος συμφορὰ καθέληι·
πράξας γὰρ εὖ πᾶς ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός,
κακὸς δ' εἰ κακῶς, <οὓς
δ’ οἱ θεοὶ φιλέωσιν
πλεῖστον, εἰσ’ ἄριστοι.>

οὐδ᾽ ἐμοὶ ἐμμελέως τὸ Πιττάκειον                   στρ. β
νέμεται, καίτοι σοφοῦ παρὰ φωτὸς εἰ-
      ρημένον· χαλεπὸν φάτ' ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι.
<ἐμοὶ ἀρκέει> μητ' <ἐὼν> ἀπάλαμνος εἰ-
      δώς τ' ὀνησίπολιν δίκαν,
ὑγιὴς ἀνήρ· οὐ<δὲ μή νιν> ἐγώ
μωμήσομαι· τῶν γὰρ ἠλιθίων
ἀπείρων γενέθλα.
πάντα τοι καλά, τοῖσίν
τ' αἰσχρὰ μὴ μέμεικται.


τοὔνεκεν οὔ ποτ' ἐγὼ τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι               στρ. γ
δυνατὸν διζήμενος κενεὰν ἐς ἄ-
      πρακτον ἐλπίδα μοῖραν αἰῶνος βαλέω,
πανάμωμον ἄνθρωπον, εὐρυεδέος ὅσοι
      καρπὸν αἰνύμεθα χθονός·
ἐπὶ δ' ὔμμιν εὑρὼν ἀπαγγελέω.
πάντας δ' ἐπαίνημι καὶ φιλέω,
ἑκὼν ὅστις ἔρδηι
μηδὲν αἰσχρόν· ἀνάγκαι
δ' οὐδὲ θεοὶ μάχονται.
PMG 542


For a man it’s certainly hard to be truly good — perfect in hands, feet, and mind, built without a single flaw; only a god could have that prize; but a mere man, there’s just no way he can help being bad when some overwhelming disaster knocks him down. Any man’s good when life treats him well, and bad when it treats him badly, and the best of us are the ones the gods love most.

But for me that saying of Pittacus doesn’t ring true either (even if he was a smart man): he says “being good is hard.” For me, a man's good enough as long as he's not lawless, and if he has the common sense of right and wrong that does a city good — a decent guy. I certainly won’t find fault with a man like that. After all, there’s an endless supply of stupid fools. The way I see it, if there’s no great shame in it, it's all right.

So I’m not going to throw away my short allotment of life on a futile, silly hope, searching for something there simply cannot be, a completely blameless man — not among us mortals who must win our bread from the broad earth. (Of course, If I do happen to come across one, I’ll be sure to let you know.) So long as he doesn't willfully do wrong, I give my praise and love to any man. But not even the gods can resist necessity.

Translations in other Languages


External links