2. Simonides, of Ceos, one of the most celebrated lyric poets of Greece, was the perfecter of the Elegy and Epigram, and the rival of Lasus and Pindar in the Dithyramb and the Epinician Ode.
He lived at the close of that period of two centuries, during which lyric poetry advanced from the earliest musical improvements of Terpander, to that high stage of development which it attained in his own works, and in the odes of Pindar and the choruses of Aeschylus; in which the form could be no further improved without injuring the true spirit of poetry; and from which, after a brief rest at the point of perfection in the choruses of Sophocles, it rapidly degenerated in the hands of Euripides and of the Athenian dithyrambic poets, whom Aristophanes so severely satirized. His genius must have received, also, no small impulse from the political circumstances of his age. When young, he formed a part of the brilliant literary circle which Hipparchus collected at his court.
In advanced life, he enjoyed the personal friendship of Themistocles and Pausanias, and celebrated their exploits; and in his extreme old age, he found an honoured retreat at the court of Syracuse. His life extended from about the first usurpation of Peisistratus to the end of the Persian wars, from Ol. 56. 1, to Ol. 78. 1, B. C. 556-467.
The chief authorities for his life, besides the ancient writers, and the historians of Greek literature (Müller, Ulrici, Bode, Bernhardy, &c.) are the two works of Schneidewin (Simonidis Cei Carminis Reliquiae,
Brunsv. 1835, 8vo.) and Richter (Simonides der aelt. von Keos, nach seinem Leben beschrieben und in seinem poetiscehen Ueberresten übersetzt,
Schleusingen, 1836, 4to), in which the ancient authorities are so fully collected and discussed, that it is unnecessary to refer to any except the most important of them.
Sirmonides was born at Julis, in the island of Ceos, in Ol. 56. 1, B. C. 556, as we learn from one of his own epigrams (No. 203 1
), in which he celebrates a victory which he gained at Athens, at the age of 80 years, in the archonship of Adeimantus, that is, in Ol. 75. 4, B. C. 476; and this date is confirmed by other authorities, and by the date of his death, which took place at the age of 89 (Suid.) or 90 (Mar. Par.
), in Ol. 78. 1, B. C. 467; Lucian (Macrob. 26
) extends his life beyond 90 years. (Schn. pp. iii. iv.; Clinton, F. H. s. aa. 556, 476, 467.
His father was named Leoprepes, and his grandfather Hyllichus; but this must have been his maternal grandfather, if, as there is reason to believe, his paternal grandfather was also named Simonides. and was also a poet. (Marm. Par.
Ep. 49; Bockh, C.I.
vol. ii. p. 312.)
The poet Bacchylides was his nephew; and another Simonides, distinguished by the epithet of Genealogus,
was his grandson. (See below, No. 3.)
The following is the whole genealogy.
It seems, from a story related by Chamaeleon (Ath. x. p. 456c.), that the family of Simonides held some hereditary office in connection with the worship of Dionysus, and that the poet himself officiated, when a boy, in the service of the god at whose festivals he afterwards gained so many victories.
He appears also to have been brought up to music and poetry as a profession.
The preceding genealogy furnishes strong presumption that the art, according to the then common custom, was hereditary in his family; and it is stated that he instructed the choruses who celebrated the worship of Apollo at Carthaea, where, as also in the rest of his native island, that god was especially honoured. (Chamael. l.c.
) Pindar, who was a bitter rival of Simonides, makes this early poetic discipline a subject of reproach, designating him and Bacchylides as τοὺς μάθοντας
, as if they had been poets merely by instruction, and not by inspiration. (See further, Schneidewin, pp. vi.--viii.)
From his native island Simonides proceeded to Athens, probably on the invitation of Hipparchus, who attached him to his society by great rewards (Plat. Hipparch.
p. 228c.; Aelian, Ael. VH 8.2
The reign of Hipparchus was from B. C. 528 to 514, so that Simonides probably spent the best years of his life at the tyrant's court. Anacreon lived at the court of Hipparchus at the same time, but we have no evidence of any intimate relations between the two poets, except an epitaph upon Anacreon, which is ascribed to Simonides (Fr. 171, Schn.; Brunck, Anal.
vol. i. p. 136, No. 49. s. 55). Another of the great poets then at the court of Hipparchus was the dithyrambic poet LASUS, Pindar's teacher, who engaged in poetical contests with Simonides; and the rivalry between them appears to have been carried on in no friendly spirit. (Aristoph. Vesp. 1410,
We have no positive information respecting the poet's life between the murder of Hipparchus and the battle of Marathon.
It appears not improbable that he remained at Athens after the expulsion of Hippias, of whom he speaks as
ἀνδρός ἀριστεύσαντος ἐν Ἑλλάδι τῶν ἐφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ
in his epitaph on the tyrant's daughter Archedice (No. 170), which bears, however, internal evidence (vv. 3, 4) of having been written after the ex pulsion of the Peisistratids.
But the favors he had received from the Peisistratids, and especially from Hipparchus, did not prevent him from speak ing of the death of his patron as "a great light arising upon the Athenians," in an epigram (No. 187), which we may suppose to have been inscribed upon the base of the statues set up to Harmedius and Aristogeiton after the expulsion of Hippies, B. C. 510. (Paus. 1.8.5
It was probably the next period of his life which Simonides spent in Thessaly, under the patronage of the Aleuads and Seopads, whose names, according to Theocritus (Theoc. 16.34
) were only preserved from oblivion by the beautiful poems in which the great Ceian bard celebrated the victories gained by their swift horses in the sacred games. Of these poems we still possess a considerable portion of the celebrated Epinician Ode, on the victory of Scopas with the four-horsed chariot (No. 13), which is preserved and commented upon by Plato in the Protagoras ;
and fragments of the Threnes on the general destruction of the Scopads (No. 46), and on the Aleuad Antiochus (No. 48); and it is not improbable that the magnificent Lament of Danae
(No. 50) was a Threne composed for one of the Aleuads. If we may believe Plutarch, the poet was obliged to confess that the charms of his song failed to humanise the rugged spirits of the Thessalians, Ἀμοθέστεροι γάρ εὶσιν
, ἣ ὡς ὑπ̓ ἐμοῦ ἐξαπταᾶσθαι
(Plut. de Aud. Poet.
p. 15c.). Even the tyrants whom he celebrated are said to have grudged him his just reward. (Sozom. H. E.
Respecting these relations of the poet to the tyrants of Thessaly, a most interesting story is told by several of the ancient writers.
The best form of it is probably that which Cicero gives, on the authority of Callinachus (de Orat.
At a banquet given by Scopas, when Simonides had sung a poem which he had composed in honour of his patron, and in which, according to the custom of the poets (in their Epinician Odes), he had adorned his composition by devoting a great part of it to the praises of Castor and Pollux, the tyrant had the meanness to say that he would give the poet only half of the stipulated payment for his Ode, and that he might apply for the remainder, if he chose, to his Tyndarids, to whom he had given an equal share of the praise.
It was not long before a message was brought to Simonides, that two young men were standing at the door, and earnestly demanding to see him.
He rose from his seat, went out, and found no one; but, during his absence, the building he had just left fell down upon the banqueters, and crushed to death Scopas and all his friends, whom we may suppose to have laughed heartily at his barbarous jest. And so the Dioscuri paid the poet their half of the reward for the Ode. Callimachus, in a fragment which we still possess, puts into the poet's mouth some beautiful elegiac verses in celebration of the event (Fr. 71, Bentley).
It is not worth while to discuss the variations upon the story as related by other writers, and especially by Quintilian (11.2.11; comp. V. Max. 1.8
; Aristeid. Orat.
iv. p. 584; Phaed. Fab.
4.24; Ovid. Ib. 513, 514,
&c.; see Schneidewin, pp. xi. foll.).
It appears that the Ode believed to have been sung on this occasion was that same Epinician Ode to which allusion has been already made, and of which we possess the half relating to Scopas himself, though we have lost the other half, which referred to the Dioscuri.
That the story is altogether fabulous can by no means be maintained; although, in the form in which it has now come down to us, it must be classed with those legends which embodied the prevailing sentiment, that the poet was the beloved servant of the gods, who would interpose to preserve him from injury, or to avenge his wrongs; as in the cases of Arion, saved by the dolphin, and Ibycus, avenged by the cranes.
That some overwhelming and general calamity, amounting to an almost total extinction, befell the family of the Scopads about this time, is evident from the threne composed for them by Simonides (No. 46), and from the absence of any mention of them in those events connected with the Persian invasion, in which the Aleuads took so prominent a part (Hdt. 7.6
); not to mention the testimony of Phavorinus (ap. Stob. Serm.
100.105.62) and other writers, which is perhaps derived only from the threne itself (Schn. p. xiii.). Schneidewin suggests an ingenious explanation of the story, but conceived in too rationalistic a spirit to be hastily admitted ; namely, that Scopas, whose tyrannical character is shown, both by the story itself and by the apologetic tone in which Simonides speaks of him in his Ode, was so odious to the people, that they plotted his destruction by undermining the building in which he was about to hold the festival in commemoration of his victory at the games; but that they saved Simonides, by a timely warning, on account of his sacred character as a poet. Schneidewin quotes, in confirmation of this view of the case, the testimony of Phanias of Eresos (ap. Ath. x. p. 438e.), who placed the death of Scopas under the head of the Destruction of Tyrants through Revenge. (Schn. p. xv.)
Whether in consequence of this calamity, or on account of the impending Persian invasion, or for some other reason, Simonides returned to Athens, and soon had the noblest opportunity of employing his poetic powers in the celebration of the great events of the Persian wars.
At the request of Miltiades, he composed an epigram for the statue of Pan, which the Athenians dedicated after the battle of Marathon (No. 188).
In the following year, in the archonship of Aristeides, B. C. 489, he conquered Aeschylus in the contest for the prize which the Athenians offered for an elegy on those who fell at Marathon (Fr. 58, Epig. 149). Ten years later, he composed, at the request of the Amphictyons, the epigrams which were inscribed upon the tomb of the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae, as well as an encomium on the same heroes (Epig. 150-155, Fr. 9); and he also celebrated the battles of Artemisium and Salamis, and the great men who commanded in them (Fr. 2-8, Epig. 157-160, 190-194).
He lived upon intimate terms with Themistocles, and a good story is told of the skill with which the statesman rebuked the immoderate demands of the poet (Plat. Them. 5; Praecept. Polit.
p. 807a.; Reg. et Imp. Apophth.
p. 185c.; for another story see Cic. Fin.
2.32). One of his epigrams (No. 197) was written on the occasion of the restoration of the sanctuary of the Lycomidae by Themistocles. Respecting the enmity between Simonides and the poet Timocreon of Rhodes, see Schneidewin, p. xviii.
The battle of Plataeae (B. C. 479) furnished Simonides with another subject for an elegy (Fr. 59; comp. Epig. 199), and gave occasion for the celebrated epigram (No. 198), which he composed for Pausanias, who inscribed it on the tripod dedicated by the Greeks at Delphi out of the Persian spoils; but which, on account of its arrogant ascription of all the honour of the victory to Pausanias himself, was erased by the Lacedaemonians, who substituted for it the names of the states which had taken part in the battle (Thuc. 1.132
; Paus. 3.8.1
). Various stories are told respecting the poet's intimacy with Pausanias; and, among them, that, the king having called upon the poet for some wise saying, Simonides replied, "Remember that thou art a man." Pausanias made light of the warning, until he was shut up in the brazen house, when he was heard to exclaim, Ὦ ξένε Κεῖε
, μέγα τι ἄρα χρῆμα ἦν ὁ λόγος σου
, ἐγὼ δὲ ὑπ̓ ἀνοίας οὐδὲν αὐτὸν φ̓́μην εἶναι
(Plutarch, Consol. ad Apollon.
p. 105a; Aelian, Ael. VH 9.41
The story certainly bears a very suspicious likeness to the well-known tale of Croesus and Solon.
Silmonides had completed his eightieth year, when his long poetical career at Athens was crowned by the victory which he gained with the dithyrambic chorus, in the archonship of Adeimantus, two years later than the battle of Plataeae (Ol. 75. 3/4, B. C. 477), being the fifty-sixth prize which he had carried off (Epig. 203, 204).
It must have been shortly after this that he was invited to Syracuse by Hiero, at whose court he lived till his death in B. C. 467. On his way to Sicily he appears to have visited Magna Graecia, and at Tarentum he is said to have been a second time miraculously preserved from destruction as the reward of his piety (Liban. vol. iv. p. 1101, Reiske; Epig. 183, 184).
He served Hiero by his wisdom as well as by his art, for, immediately after his arrival in Sicily, he became the mediator of a peace between Hiero and Theron of Agrigentum (Schol. ad Pind. Ol.
There are several allusions to the wise discourses of the poet at the court of the tyrant (Plat. Epist.
ii.); and Xenophon has put his Dialogue on the Evils and Excellencies of Tyranny (the Hiero
) into the mouths of Hiero and Simonides.
The celebrated evasion of the question respecting the nature of God is ascribed by Cicero (de Nat. Deor.
1.22) to Simonides, as an answer to Hiero.
He lived on similar terms of philosophic intercourse with the wife of Hiero.
Of all the poets whom Hiero attracted to his court, among whom were Pindar, Bacchylides, and Aeschylus, Simonides appears to have been his favourite.
He provided so munificently for his wants, that the poet, who always displayed a strong taste for substantial rewards, was able to sell a large portion of the daily supplies sent him by the king; and, upon being reproached for trading in his patron's bounty, he assigned as his motive the desire to display at once the munificence of Hiero and his own moderation.
He still continued, when at Syracuse, to employ his muse occasionally in the service of other Grecian states. Thus, as Cicero remarks (Cat. Alaj. 7
), he continued his poetical activity to extreme old age ; and Jerome mentions him among those swan-like poets, who sang more sweetly at the approach of death (Epist. 34
). His remains were honoured with a splendid funeral, and the following epitaph, probably of his own composition, was inscribed upon his tomb (Tzetz. Chil.
ἓξ ἐπὶ πεντήκοντα, Σιμωνίδη, ἤραο νίκας
καὶ τρίποδας : θνήσκεις δ᾽ ἐν Σικελῷ πεδίῳ.
Κείῳ δὲ μνήμην λείπεις, Ἕλλησι δ᾽ ἔπαινον
εὐξυνέτον ψυχῆς σῆς ἐπιγεινομένοις.
His sepulchre is said by Suidas (s. v.
) to have been ruthlessly destroyed by Phoenix, a general of the Agrigentines, who used its materials for the construction of a tower, when he was besieging Syracuse.
Little space is left to describe the personal and poetical character of Simonides, and this has already been done so well by Ottfried Müller, that it is hardly necessary to say very much. (Hist. Lit. Anc. Greece,
vol. i. pp. 208, foil.) Belonging to a people eminent for their orderly and virtuous character (Plat. Protag.
p. 341e., see Stallbaum's note), Simonides himself became proverbial for that virtue which the Greeks called σωφροσύνη
, temperance, order, and self-command in one's own conduct, and moderation in one's opinions and desires and views of human life; and this spirit breathes through all his poetry. (Schn. p. xxxiii.) His reverence for religion is shown in his treatment of the ancient myths. His political and moral wisdom has already been referred to; it often assumed a polemic character; and he appears to have been especially anxious to emulate the fame of the Seven Wise Men, both for their wisdom itself, and for their brief sententious form of expressing it; and some ancient writers even reckoned him in the number of those sages. (Plat. Protag.
p. 343c.; comp. Schn. p. xxxvi. foll.)
The leading principle of his philosophy appears to have been the calm enjoyment of the pleasures of the present life, both intellectual and material, the making as light as possible of its cares, patience in bearing its evils, and moderation in the standard by which human character should be judged.
He appears to have taken no pleasure in the higher regions of speculative philosophy. (See especially, Plat. l.c.
and foll.; Schn. pp. xxxiv. xxxv.) Of the numerous witty sayings ascribed to him, the following may serve as an example : to a person who pre served a dead silence during a banquet, he said, " My friend, if you are a fool, you are doing a wise thing; but if you are wise, a foolish one." (Plutarch, Conv.
Though he was moderate and indulgent in his views of human life, yet the moral sentiments embodied in his poems were so generally sound, that, in his own age, he obtained the approval of the race of men who fought at Marathon and Salamis, and in the succeeding period of moral and poetical decline his gnomic poetry was extolled by the admirers of that earlier age, in contrast to the licentious strains of Gnesippus, and his scolia still continued to be sung at banquets, though the " young generation " affected to despise them. (Aristoph. Nub. 1355-1362 ;
Ath. xiv. p. 638e.; Schol. ad Aristoph. Wasps 1217.
) Even the philosophers were indebted to Simonides and the other gnomic poets for their most admired conceptions; this Prodicus, in his celebrated Choice of Hercules,
followed an Epinician Ode of Simonides, which again was a paraphrase of the well-known lines of Hesiod (Op. et Di. 265
), τῆς ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα
, &c. (See Schn. p. xxxix. and Fr. 32.)
Simoniides is said to have been the inventor of the mnemonic art and of the long vowels and double letters in the Greek alphabet.
The latter statement cannot be accepted literally, but this is not the place to discuss it.
The other side of the picture may be described almost in one word : Simonides made literature a profession, and sought for its pecuniary rewards in a spirit somewhat inconsistent with his proverbial moderation.
He is said to have been the first who took money for his poems; and the reproach of avarice is too often brought against him by his contemporary and rival, Pindar, as well as by subsequent writers, to be altogether discredited. (Schn. pp. xxiv.--xxxii.)
The feelings of the poet himself upon the subject can be gathered from his own expressions, if we may believe the stories related of him. His sense of the emptiness of mere fame, his conviction that he deserved all he obtained, mingled with the bitter consciousness to which he sarcastically gave utterance, that mind was at the command of money, may be illustrated by the following anecdotes.
In the height of his prosperity, he used to say that he had two coffers, the one for thanks, the other for money; the former always empty, and the latter always full. (Plut. de Ser. Num. Vind.
p. 555f.; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pac.
681; the latter writer tells the story with a prudent reserve as to its truth.) On one occasion (if the details of the story be correct, it must have been near the commencement of his career), he had wandered about in Asia, seeking to relieve his poverty by his art, and had collected a considerable sum, with which he was returning home, when the ship was wrecked on the coast of Asia Minor. Simonides remained unconcerned, while all his fellow-voyagers were collecting their goods, and, being asked the reason, he replied, " I carry all my property about me." When the ship broke up, many, encumbered with their burthens, perished in the waves, the rest were plundered by robbers as soon as they reached the shore, and had to go a-begging; while the poet at once obtained shelter, clothing, and money, in the neighboring city of Clazornenae (Phaedr. Fab.
iv.). On being asked, by the wife of Hiero, which was the more powerful, the wealthy or the wise man, he replied, " The wealthy; for the wise may always be seen hanging about the doors of the rich." (Aristot. Rh. 2.6
These and similar stories may not be literally true, but they embody the feelings natural to the man who makes a traffic of his genius too well to be lightly passed over.
That the system of patronage under which the poet lived damaged the independence of his spirit and the uprightness of his conduct, is plain, not only from the nature of the case, and from various anecdotes, but also from the express and important statement of Plato, who makes Socrates say that " Simonides was often induced to praise a tyrant, or some other of such persons, and to write encomiums upon them, not willingly, but by compulsion," as in the case, already referred to, of Scopas, the son of Creon. (Protag.
p. 346b. Our space does not permit us to discuss the criticism of Socrates on that Epinician Ode; our conviction is, after repeatedly studying it, in its connection both with the whole dialogue and with the life of Simonides, that it is meant for a bona fide
exposition, and not a mere sophistical darkening of a poem already obscure, for the purpose of perplexing or confounding Protagoras; the latter end had already been sufficiently attained.)
It is also clear that the bitter enmities between Simonides and Pindar were chiefly the fruit of their unworthy competition for the favour of Hiero. (See Schneidewin, p. xxx.)
The chief characteristics of the poetry of Simonides were sweetness (whence his surname of Melicertes
) and elaborate finish, combined with the truest poetic conception and perfect power of expression ; though in originality and fervour he was far inferior, not only to the early lyric poetics, such as Sappho and Alcaeus, but also to his contemporary Pindar.
He was probably both the most prolific and the most generally popular of all the Grecian lyric poets.
The following is a list of those of his compositions of which we posses either the titles or fragments : --
The most remarkable of these poems were his Epinician Odes and Threnes, respecting the character of which see Müller (pp. 211, 212).
The fragment of his Lament of Danae
is one of the finest remains of Greek lyric poetry that we possess.
The general character of the dialect of Simonides is, like that of Pindar, the Epic, mingled with Doric and Aeolic forms. Respecting the minute peculiarities of his language and of his metres, see Schneidewin, pp. xlvi.--liii.
Ancient Commentaries on his Life
Of the ancient commentaries on his life and writings, by far the most important was that of Chamaeleon, notices from which are preserved by Athenaeus (x. p. 456c., xiii. p. 611a., xiv. p. 656c.). The Egyptian or Athenian grammarian Palaephatus wrote ὑποθέσεις εἰς Σιμωνίδην
His fragments are contained in the chief collections of the Greek poets, in Brunck's Analecta, vol. i. pp. 120-147
, who gives with them those which belong to the other poets of the same name, in Jacobs's Anthologia Graeca, vol. i. pp. 57-80, in Schneidewin's standard edition
, and in his Delectus Poesis Graecorum, pp. 376-426
, and in Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci, pp. 744-806
. (For the editions of portions see Hoffman, Lexicon Bibl. Script. Graec.