), a celebrated elegiac poet.
There were various accounts as to his birthplace. Some authorities spoke of Colophon, others of Smyrna, others of Astypalaea (it is not specified which of the places of that name) as his native city. (Suidas, s. v. Μίμερμνος
He was generally called a Colophonian (Strab. xiv. p.643
); but from a fragment of his poem entitled Nanno
it appears that he was descended from those Colophonians who reconquered Smyrna from the Aeolians (Strab. xiv. p.634
), and that, strictly speaking, Smyrna was his birthplace. Mimnermus flourished from about B. C. 634 to the age of the seven sages (about B. C. 600).
He was a contemporary of Solon, who, in an extant fragment of one of his poems, addresses him as still living (Diog. Laert. 1.60; Bergk, Poetae Lyrici Graeci,
p. 331). No other biographical particulars respecting him have come down to us, except what is mentioned in a fragment of Hermesianax (Athen. 13.597
) of his love for a flute-player named Nanno, who does not seem to have returned his affection.
The numerous compositions of Mimnermus (Suidas, who calls him Μίμερμνος
, says ἔγραψε βιβλία πολλά
) were preserved for several centuries, comprised in two books, until they were burnt, together with most of the other monuments of the erotic poetry of the Greeks, by the Byzantine monks.
A few fragments only have come down to us; sufficient, however, when compared with the notices contained in ancient writers, to enable us to form a tolerably accurate judgment of the nature of his poetry.
These fragments belong chiefly to a poem entitled Nanno
, and addressed to the fluteplayer of that name.
The compositions of Mimnermus form an epoch in the history of elegiac poetry.
Before his time the elegy had been devoted chiefly either to warlike and national, or to convivial and joyous subjects. Archilochus had, indeed, occasionally employed the elegy for strains of lamentation, but Mimnermus was the first who systematically made it the vehicle for plaintive, mournful, and erotic strains.
The threnetic origin of the elegy, the national temperament and social condition of the Asiatic lonians, and the melancholy feelings with which they must have regarded their subjection to the Lydians, rendered this change easy and natural; and the elegiac poems of Mimnermus may be looked upon as a correct exponent of the general tone of feeling which marked his age and people. Though warlike themes were not altogether unnoticed by him (the war between (vges and the Smyrnaeans was one topic of this kind which he dwelt upon), he seems to have spoken of valorous deeds more in a tone of regret, as things that had been, than with any view of rousing his countrymen to emulate them.
The instability of human happiness, the helplessness of man, the cares and miseries to which life is exposed, the brief season that man has to enjoy himself in, the wretchedness of old age, are plaintively dwelt upon by him, while love is held up as the only consolation that men possess, life not being worth having when it can no longer be enjoyed.
The latter topic was most frequently dwelt upon, and as an erotic poet he was held in high estimation in antiquity. (Hor. Ep. 2.2. 100
; Propert. 1.9. 11.)
From the general character of his poetry he received the name Λιγυστιάδης
He was a flute player as well as a poet (Strab. iv. p.643
; Hermesianax, apud Athen. i. c.
), and, in setting his poems to music, made use of the plaintive melody called the Nomos Kradias.
Since the character which Mimnermus gave to elegiac poetry remained ever after its predominant characteristic, he is sometimes erroneously spoken of as the inventor of the elegy.
The passage of Hermesianax, where he says of Mimnermus, ὃς εὕρετο πολλὸν ἀνατλάς Ἦχον καὶ μαλακοῦ πνεῦμ᾽ ἀπὸ πενταμέτρου
, which has frequently been understood as conveying the same assertion, has been more correctly interpreted, by throwing greater stress on the word μαλακοῦ
, as referring to the change which Mimnermus made in the character of elegiac poetry. (Comp. Propert. 1.9. 11.)
Mimnermus is the oldest poet who mentioned an eclipse of the sun, and spoke of it as a threatening and mournful sign. (Plut. De Facie in Orbe Lunae,
He is also the earliest authority that we have for the mythus that the sun, after setting in the west, is carried round the earth in a golden bowl, the work of Hephaestus, by the river Oceanus back again to the east. (Athen. 11.470
In his account of the voyage of Jason, also, he removed the dwelling of Aeetes to the shores of Oceanus.
The fragments of Mimnermus have been several times published, in the collections of Stephens
, and Bergk
. There is a separate edition by Bach, Lips. 1826.
They have been translated by Stollberg
, A. W. v. Schlegel
, and others.
Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. i. p. 733; K. O. Müller, History of the Literature of Ancient Greece,
p. 115, &c.; Bode, Gesch. der Hellen. Dichtkunst,
vol. ii. pp. 173, 175,247, &c.