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“Tyrtaeus: —(1) Son of Archembrotus, a Laconian or a Milesian, writer of Elegy and fluteplayer, who is said to have encouraged the Lacedaemonians by his songs in their war with the Messenians, and in this way to have given them the upper hand. He is of very ancient date, being contemporary with the Seven Sages as they are called, or even before them. He flourished in the 35th Olympiad (640-37 B.C.). He wrote for the Lacedaemonians a poem called Citizenship and Exhortations in Elegiac verse, as well as War-Songs, five Books. (2) The Lacedaemonians had sworn that they would take Messena or perish, and when the oracle told them to take a general from among the Athenians, took the lame poet Tyrtaeus, who put fresh heart into them and took Messena in the twentieth year of the war. They razed the city to the ground and made Helots of the prisoners.1

Suidas Lexicon:

“Ath. Let us cite in support the Athenian born who was given Lacedaemonian citizenship, Tyrtaeus, who stands without a rival in his zeal for such things, saying ‘I would neither call a man to mind nor put him in my tale, no not if he were’ the richest of men nor possessed of many good things —and then he gives a pretty complete list of them —, if he did not show himself always best in war. Probably you, Cleinias, have heard these poems; of course Megillus knows them almost too well. —Meg. Yes, almost. —Clein. Yes, they have been imported into Crete from Lacedaemon; so we know them, too.” Plato Laws (Athenian Stranger, Megillus the Spartan, and the Cretan Cleinias)
“This Tyrtaeus was an obscure Athenian, being a lame schoolmaster, thought little of at Athens. When they had come to their wits' end in fighting the Messenians, the Spartans were told by Apollo's oracle to fetch this man; he would be able to make them see what was to their advantage. Indeed the oracle bade them make him their adviser. When he arrived in Lacedaemon he became inspired, and urged them to renew the war by all and every means in his power, including the well-known line ‘Messena is good to plough and good to plant.’ This then is the man mentioned by the Athenian Stranger as an example of one who counselled war.” Scholiast on the passage:
“The Spartans were bidden by the Delphic oracle to get ‘the Athenian’ for their counsellor, and accordingly sent Athens word of the answer they had received, and asked for a man to advise them what to do. Neither desiring that the Lacedaemonians should annex, with no great risk run, the richest part of the Peloponnese, nor yet willing to turn a deaf ear to the words of the God, the Athenians found the man they sought in a schoolmaster called Tyrtaeus who appeared to have little sense and was lame in one leg, and despatched him to Sparta, where he sang Elegiac verse and the Anapaestic lines2 both privily to the government and to any he could gather to hear him.” Pausanias Description of Greece [the Second Messenian War]
“This behaviour of the Athenians is not peculiar to the case of Socrates but is found in a great many others. If we may believe Heracleides, they fined Homer fifty drachmas for a madman, spoke of Tyrtaeus as out of his mind, and honoured Astydamas with a bronze statue in preference to men like Aeschylus.3Diogenes Laertius Life of Socrates:
“... whom we presumed originally to be more warlike than the War-Songs of Tyrtaeus.” Plato Laws:
“Athenian Stranger and Cleinias the Cretan: Ath. But really, is it not right that the lawgiver should be the only writer to advise on what is beautiful and what is good and what is just, teaching us both what they are and how they should be practised by a people that is to be happy? —Cl. Of course it is. —Ath. And is it not more disgraceful for Homer and Tyrtaeus and the other poets to have laid down evil precepts about life and institutions in their writings, than for Lycurgus and Solon and the other men who became men of letters after they had become legislators?” Plato Laws:
“When the Spartans were about to engage the Messenians, and, having resolved to conquer or die, had inscribed each man's name on a letter-stick attached to the left hand so that his friends could recognise him when the dead were taken up for burial, Tyrtaeus, desiring to strike terror into the Messenians by letting them know what the Spartans had done, gave orders that no great heed should be taken of deserting Helots, and the watch being relaxed these deserted as they chose, and told the Messenians of the desperate valour of their enemies. Terror weakened their resistance, and it was not long before they had given the Spartans the victory.” Polyaenus Stratagems:
“... Aristomenes had done the Spartans much damage, when the poet Tyrtaeus was given them by the Athenians to be their general.” Diodorus of Sicily Historical Library:

Athenaeus Doctors at Dinner [the pyrrhic dance]

The warlike character of the dance proves it a Spartan invention. The Lacedaemonians are a warlike people, and not only do their sons learn by rote the Embateria or Songs of the Battle-Charge which are also called Enoplia or Songs-under-Arms,4 but in war they themselves recite the poems of Tyrtaeus from memory and move in time to them. We are told by Philochorus that after the Spartans had defeated the Messenians by the generalship of Tyrtaeus, they made it the custom of their military expeditions that when the Paean had been sung after supper the songs of Tyrtaeus should be given one by each man, the polemarch to decide who sang the best and give the winner a prize of meat.


“When Leonidas was asked what he thought of Tyrtaeus, he replied ‘A good poet for sharpening the courage of the young.’” Plutarch Sagacity of Animals:

See also Paus. 4. 16. 2-6, 18. 1-3, Ael. V.H. 12. 50, Plut. Ap. Lac. Paus. Cleombr. 230d, Vit. Cleom. 2, Dio Chr. Or. 36. 440, Themist. 15. 197d, Harp. Τυρταῖος, Quint. 10. 1. 56, 12. 11. 27, Hor. A.P. 401 and Sch., Just. 3. 5. 9.

1 cf. Hes. Mil. 67

2 Lyra Graeca iii. 534

3 see vol. ii, Astydamas.

4 cf. Lyra Graeca, l.c.

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