But of all the Greeks, the Lacedæmonians were those who preserved the art of music most strictly, as they applied themselves to the practice a great deal: and there were a great many lyric poets among them. And even to this day they preserve their ancient songs carefully, being possessed of very varied and very accurate learning on the subject; on which account Pratinas says—
The Lacedæmonian grasshopper sweetly sings,And on this account the poets also continually styled their odes—
Well suited to the chorus.
President of sweetest hymns:and—
The honey-wing'd melodies of the Muse.For owing to the general moderation and austerity of their lives, they betook themselves gladly to music, which has a sort of power of soothing the understanding; so that it was natural enough that people who hear it should be delighted. And the people whom they called Choregi, were not, as Demetrius of Byzantium tells us in the fourth book of his treatise on Poetry, those who have that name now, the people, that is to say, who hire the choruses, but those who actually led the choruses, as the name intimates: and so it happened, that the Lacedæmonians were good musicians, and did not violate the ancient laws of music. Now in ancient times all the Greeks were fond of music; but when in subsequent ages disorders arose, when nearly all the ancient customs had got out of fashion and had become obsolete, this fondness for music also wore out, and bad styles of music were introduced, which led all the composers to aim at effeminacy rather than delicacy, and at an enervated and dissolute rather than a modest style. And [p. 1011] perhaps this will still exist hereafter in a greater degree, and will extend still further, unless some one again draws forth the national music to the light. For formerly the subjects of their songs used to be the exploits of heroes, and the praises of the Gods; and accordingly Homer says of Achilles—
And of Phemius he says—
With this he soothes his lofty soul, and sings
Th' immortal deeds of heroes and of kings.Iliad, ix. 157.
And this custom was preserved among the barbarians, as Dinon tells us in his history of Persia. Accordingly, the poets used to celebrate the valour of the elder Cyrus, and they foresaw the war which was going to be waged against Astyages. “For when,” says he, “Cyrus had begun his march against the Persians, (and he had previously been the commander of the guards, and afterwards of the heavy-armed troops there, and then he left;) and while Astyages was sitting at a banquet with his friends, then a man, whose name was Angares, (and he was the most illustrious of his minstrels,) being called in, sang other things, such as were customary, and at last he said that—
Phemius, let acts of gods and heroes old,
What ancient bards in hall and bower have told,
Attemper'd to the lyre your voice employ,
Such the pleased ear will drink with silent joy.Odyss. i. 237.
A mighty monster is let loose at lastAnd when Astyages asked him what monster he meant, he Said—' Cyrus the Persian.' And so the king, thinking that his suspicions were well founded, sent people to recal Cyrus, but did not succeed in doing so.”
Into the marsh, fiercer than wildest boar;
And when once master of the neighbouring ground
It soon will fight with ease 'gainst numerous hosts.