A Greek described as the son of Archembrotus of Aphidnae in Attica. In the seventh century he
introduced the Ionic elegy into Sparta. According to the older tradition, the Spartans during
the Second Messenian War were commanded by an oracle to take a leader from among the
Athenians, and thus to conquer their enemies, whereupon they chose Tyrtaeus as their leader
(Plato, De Leg.
i. p. 629; c. Leoch.
p. 211; Diod.xv. 66
). Later writers state that Tyrtaeus was a lame
schoolmaster, of low family and reputation, whom the Athenians, when applied to by the
Lacedaemonians in accordance with the oracle, purposely sent as the most inefficient leader
they could select, being unwilling to assist the Lacedaemonians in extending their dominion in
the Peloponnesus, and little thinking that the poetry of Tyrtaeus would achieve that victory
to which his physical infirmity seemed to forbid his aspiring (Paus.iv.15.3
; Just.iii. 5
p. 242; Schol. ad
402). The poems of Tyrtaeus exercised an important influence upon the
Spartans, quieting their dissensions at home, and animating their courage in the field. In
order to appease their civil discords, he composed his celebrated elegy entitled Legal
Pol. v. 7, 1
; Paus. iv.18.2
). But still
more celebrated were the poems by which he animated the courage of the Spartans in their
conflict with the Messenians. These poems were of two kinds: namely, elegies, containing
exhortations to constancy and courage, and descriptions of the glory of fighting bravely for
one's native land; and more spirited compositions, in the anapaestic measure, which were
intended as marching-songs (ἐμβατήρια
), to be accompanied by
the music of the flute (Paus.iv.14.1
; Athen. p. 630; Plut. Cleom. 2
; A. P.
402; Suid. s. v.
). He lived, it is said, to see the success of his efforts in
the entire conquest of the Messenians, and their reduction to the condition of Helots. His
life therefore lasted down to B.C. 668, which was the last year of the Second Messenian War.
It has been observed that Tyrtaeus in a fragment of the Eunomia
seems to speak
of himself as a Lacedaemonian, and though this might be explained by his having been made a
citizen of Sparta, yet Herodotus (ix. 35) does not include him among the few foreigners who
became Spartan citizens. Hence some (following Strab. p. 362) have doubted the truth of his
Athenian origin. On the other hand, there is so strong a consensus of ancient authorities,
including Plato (l. c.
), for his Athenian origin that it can hardly be
The fragments of his poems are edited by Bach, with the remains of the elegiac poets
Callinus and Asius (Leipzig, 1831)
, and in Bergk's Poet. Lyr.
ii. pp. 8-22 (1878)
. See Carus, De Tyrtaei Patria et
; Hölbe, De Tyrtaei Patria
; and Hoffmann, Ueber Tyrtaeus und seine Kriegslieder