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Ἀλκμάν), called by the Attic and later Greek writers Alcmaeon (Ἀλκμαίων), the chief lyric poet of Sparta, was by birth a Lydian of Sardis. His father's name was Damas or Titarus. He was brought into Laconia as a slave, evidently when very young. His master, whose name was Agesidas, discovered his genius, and emancipated him; and he then began to distinguish himself as a lyric poet. (Suidas, s.v. Heraclid. Pont. Polit. p. 206; Vell. 1.18; Alcman, fr. 11, Welcker; Epigrams by Alexander Aetolus, Leonidas, and Antipater Thess., in Jacob's Anthol. Graec. i. p. 207, No. 3, p. 175, No. 80, ii. p. 110, No. 56; in the Anthol. Palat. 7.709, 19, 18.) In the epigram last cited it is said, that the two continents strove for the honour of his birth; and Suidas (l.c.) calls him a Laconian of Messoa, which may mean, however, that he was enrolled as a citizen of Messoa after his emancipation. The above statements seem to be more in accordance with the authorities than the opinion of Bode, that Alcman's father was brought from Sardis to Sparta as a slave, and that Alcman himself was born at Messoa. It is not known to what extent he obtained the rights of citizenship.

The time at which Alcman lived is rendered somewhat doubtful by the different statements of the Greek and Armenian copies of Eusebius, and of the chronographers who followed him. On the whole, however, the Greek copy of Eusebius appears to be right in placing him at the second year of the twenty-seventh Olympiad. (B. C. 671.) He was contemporary with Ardys, king of Lydia, who reigned from 678 to 629, B. C., with Lesches, the author of the "Little Hiad," and with Terpander, during the later years of these two poets ; he was older than Stesichorus, and he is said to have been the teacher of Arion. From these circumstances, and from the fact which we learn from himself (Fr. 29), that he lived to a great age, we may conclude, with Clinton, that he flourished from about 671 to about (631 B. C. ((Clinton, Fast. i. pp. 189, 191, 365; Hermann, Antiq. Lacon. pp. 76, 77.) He is said to have died, like Sulla, of the mortus pedicularis. (Aristot. HA 5.31 or 25; Plut. Sull. 36; Plin. Nat. 11.33.39.)


The period during which most of Alcman's poems were composed, was that which followed the conclusion of the second Messenian war. During this period of quiet, the Spartans began to cherish that taste for the spiritual enjoyments of poetry, which, though felt by them long before, had never attained to a high state of cultivation, while their attention was absorbed in war. In this process of improvement Alcman was immediately preceded by Terpander, an Aeolian poet, who, before the year 676 B. C., had removed from Lesbos to the mainland of Greece, and had introduced the Aeolian lyric into the Peloponnesus. This new style of poetry was speedily adapted to the choral form in which the Doric poetry had hitherto been cast, and gradually supplanted that earlier style which was nearer to the epic. In the 33rd or 34th Olympiad, Terpander made his great improvements in music. [TERPANDER.] Hence arose the peculiar character of the poetry of his younger contemporary, Alcman, which presented the choral lyric in the highest excellence which the music of Terpander enabled it to reach. But Alcman had also an intimate acquaintance with the Phrygian and Lydian styles of music, and he was himself the inventor of new forms of rhythm, some of which bore his name.

Erotic Poetry

A large portion of Alcman's poetry was erotic. In fact, he is said by some ancient writers to have been the inventor of erotic poetry. (Athen. 13.600; Suidas, s. v.) From his poems of this class, which are marked by a freedom bordering on licentiousness, he obtained the epithets of "sweet" and " pleasant" (γλυκύς, χαριείς).


Among these poems were many hymeneal pieces. But the Parthenia, which form a branch of Alcman's poems, must not be confounded with the erotic. They were so called because they were composed for the purpose of being sung by choruses of virgins, and not on account of their subjects, which were very various, sometimes indeed erotic, but often religious.

Other Works

Alcman's other poems embrace hymns to the gods, Paeans, Prosodia, songs adapted for different religious festivals, and short ethical or philosophical pieces. It is disputed whether he wrote any of those Anapaestic war-songs, or marches, which were called ἐμβατήρια; but it seems very unlikely that he should have neglected a kind of composition which had been rendered so popular by Tyrtaeus.


His metres are very various. He is said by Suidas to have been the first poet who composed any verses but dactylic hexameters. This statement is incorrect; but Suidas sees to refer to the shorter dactylic lines into which Alcman broke up the Homeric hexameter. In this practice, however, he had been preceded by Archiochus, from whom he borrowed several others of his peculiar metres: others he invented himself. Among his metres we find various forms of the dactylic, anapaestic, trochaic, and iambic, as well as lines composed of different metres, for example, iambic and anapaestic. The Cretic hexameter was named Alcmanic, from his being its inventor. The poems of Alcman were chiefly in strophes, composed of lines sometimes of the same metre throughout the strophe, sometimes of different metres. From their choral character we might conclude that they sometimes had an antistrophic form, and this seems to be confirmed by the statement of Hephaestion (p. 134, Gaisf.), that he composed odes of fourteen strophes, in which there was a change of metre after the seventh strophe. There is no trace of an epode following the strophe and antistrophe, in his poems.


The dialect of Alcman was the Spartan Doric, with an intermixture of the Aeolic. The popular idioms of Laconia appear most frequently in his more familiar poems.


The Alexandrian grammarians placed Alcman at the head of their canon of the nine lyric poets. Among the proofs of his popularity may be mentioned the tradition, that his songs were sung, with those of Terpander, at the first performance of the gymnopaedia at Sparta (B. C. 665, Aelian, Ael. VH 12.50), and the ascertained fact, that they were frequently afterwards used at that festival. (Athen. 15.678.) The few fragments which remain scarcely allow us to judge how far he deserved his reputation; but some of them display a true poetical spirit.


Alcman's poems comprised six books, the extant fragments of which are included in the collections of Neander, H. Stephens, and Fulvius Ursinus. The latest and best edition is that of Welcker, Giessen, 1815.


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