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1. Of Megara, an ancient elegiac and gnomic poet, whose reputed works form the most extensive collection of gnomic poetry, that has come down to us under any one name; but, unfortunately, the form in which these remains exist is altogether unsatisfactory. Most of our information respecting the poet's life is derived from his writings.

He was a native of Megara, the capital of Megaris (Harpocrat. s.v. Suid. s. v.), not of Megara Hyblaea, in Sicily; as Harpocration (l.c.) justly argues from a line of his poetry (5.783), in which he speaks of his going to Sicily, evidently as to a country which was not his native land, and as appears also from other passages of his writings. (See especially vv. 773, toll.) Harpocration is, however, in error, when he charges Plato with having fallen into a mistake, in making Theognis a citizen of Megara in Sicily (Leg. i. p. 630a.); for we can have no hesitation in accepting the explanation of the Scholiast on Plato, that Theognis was a native of Megara in Greece, but received also the citizenship as an honour from the people of Megara Hyblaea, whom he is known to have visited, and for whom one of his elegies was composed, as is proved by internal evidence. From his own poems also we learn that, besides Sicily, he visited Euboea and Lacedaemon, and that in all these places he was hospitably received (vv. 783, foll.). The circumstances which led him to wander from his native city will presently appear.

The time at which Theognis flourished is expressly stated by several writers as the 58th or 59th Olympiad, B. C. 548 or 544. (Cyrill. ad v. Julian. i. p. 13a., vii. p. 225c.; Euseb. Chron. ; Suid. s. v.). It is evident, from passages in his poems, that he lived till after the commencement of the Persian wars, B. C. 490. These statements may be reconciled, by supposing that he was about eighty at the latter date, and that he was born about B. C. 570. (Clinton, F. H. s. a. 544.) Cyril (l.c.) and Suidas (s. v. Φωκνλίδης) make him contemporary with Phocylides of Miletus.


Both the life and writings of Theognis, like those of Alcaeus, are inseparably connected with the political events of his time and city. The little state of Megara had been for some time before the poet's birth the scene of great political convulsions. After shaking off the yoke of Corinth, it had remained for a time under the nobles, until about the year B. C. 630, when Theagenes, placing himself at the head of the popular party, acquired the tyranny of the state, from which he was again driven by a counter revolution, about B. C. 600 [THEAGENES]. The popular party, into whose hands the power soon fell again, governed temperately for a time, but afterwards they oppressed the noble and rich, entering their houses, and demanding to eat and drink luxuriously, and enforcing their demand when it was refused; and at last passing a decree that the interest paid on money lent should be refunded (παλιντοκία, Plut. Quaest. Graec. 18, p. 295). They alto banished many of the chief men of the city ; but the exiles returned, and restored the oligarchy. (Arist. Polit. 5.4.3.) Several such revolutions and counter-revolutions appear to have followed one another; but we are not informed of their dates. (Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. iii. p. 60.) Theognis was born and spent his life in the midst of these convulsions, to which a large portion of his poetry relates, most of that portion having evidently been composed at a time when the oligarchical party was oppressed and in exile. To this party Theognis himself belonged, and in its fates he shared. He was a noble by birth; and all his sympathies were with the nobles. They are, in his poems, the ἀγαθοί and ἐσθλοί, and the commons the κακοί and δειλοί, terms which, in fact, at that period, were regularly used in this political signification, and not in their later ethical meaning. 1

It would seem that, in that particular revolution, from which Theognis suffered, there had been a division of the property of the nobles, in which he lost his all, and was cast out as an exile, barely escaping with his life, " like a dog who throws every thing away in order to cross a torrent; " and that he had also to complain of treachery on the part of certain friends in whom he had trusted. In his verses he pours out his indignation upon his enemies, " whose black blood he would even drink." He laments the folly of the bad pilots by whom the vessel of the state had been often wrecked, and speaks of the common people with unmeasured contumely. Amidst all these outbursts of passion, we find some very interesting descriptions of the social change which the revolution had effected. It had rescued the country population from a condition of abject poverty and serfdom, and given them a share in the government. " Cyrnus," he exclaims, " this city is still a city, but the people are others, who formerly knew nothing of courts of justice or of laws, but wore goat-skins about their ribs, and dwelt without this city, like timid deer. And now they are the good (ἀγαθοί) ; and those who were formerly noble (ἐσθλοί) are now the mean (δειλοί) : who can endure to see these things ? " (vv. 53-58, ed. Bergk.) The intercourse of common life, and the new distribution of property, were rapidly breaking down the old aristocracy of birth, and raising up in its place an aristocracy of wealth. " They honour riches. and the good marries the daughter of the bad, and the bad the daughter of the good, wealth confounds the race (ἔμιξε γένος). Thus, wonder not that the race of citizens loses its brightness, for good things are confounded with bad." (vv. 189-192.) These complaints of the debasement of the nobles by their intermixture with the commons are embittered by a personal feeling; for he had been rejected by the parents of the girl he loved, and she had been given in marriage to a person of far inferior rank (πολλὸν ἐμοῦ κακίων); but Theognis believes that her affections are still fixed on him (vv. 261-266). He distrusts the stability of the new order of things, and points to a new despotism as either established or just at hand.

Most of these political verses are addressed to a certain Cyrnus, the son of Polypas; for it is now generally admitted that the same Πολυπαΐδης, which has been sometimes supposed to refer to a different person, is to be understood as a patronymic, and as applying to Cyrnus. From the verses themselves, as well as from the statements of the ancient writers, it appears that Cyrnus was a young man towards whom Theognis cherished a firm friendship, and even that tender regard, that pure and honourable παιδεπαστία, which often bound together men of different ages in the Dorian states (vv. 253, foll., 655, 820, 1051, foll.; Suid. s. v. Θέογνις; Phot. Lex. s. v. Κύρνος). From one passage (805, foll.) it appears that Cyrnus was old enough, and of sufficient standing in the city, to be sent to Delphi as a sacred envoy (θεωρός) to bring back an oracle, which the poet exhorts him to preserve faithfully. There is another fragment, also of a political character, but in a different tone. addressed to a certain Simonides; in which the revolution itself is described in guarded language. which indicates the sense of present danger; while in the verses addressed to Cyrnus the change is presupposed, and the poet speaks out his feelings, as one who has nothing more to fear or hope for.

The other fragments of the poetry of Theognis are of a social, most of them of a festive character. They " place us in the midst of a circle of friends. who formed a kind of eating society, like the philislia of Sparta, and like the ancient public tables of Megara itself." (Müller p. 123.) All the members of this society belong to the class whom the poet calls " the good." He addresses them, like Cyrnus and Simonides, by their names, Onomacritus, Clearistus, Democles. Demonax, and Timagoras, in passages which are probably fragments of distinct elegies, and in which allusion is made to their various characters and adventures; and he refers, as also in his verses addressed to Cyrnus, to the fame conferred upon them by the introduction of their names in his poems, both at other places, where already in his own time his elegies were sung at banquets, and in future ages. A good account of these festive elegies is given in the following passage from Muller : -- " The poetry of Theognis is full of allusions to symposia : so that from it a clear conception of the outward accompaniments of the elegy may be formed. When the guests were satisfied with eating, the cups were filled for the solemn libation; and at this ceremony a prayer was offered to the gods, especially to Apollo, which in many districts of Greece was expanded into a paean. Here began the more joyous and noisy part of the banquet, which Theognis (as well as Pindar) calls in general κῶμος, although this word in a narrower sense also signified the tumultuous throng of the guests departing from the feast. Now the Comos was usually accompanied with the flute : hence Theognis speaks in so many places of the accompaniment of the flute-player to the poems sung in the intervals of drinking; while the lyre and cithara (or phorminx) are rarely mentioned, and then chiefly in reference to the song at the libation. And this was the appropriate occasion for the elegy, which was sung by one of the guests to the sound of a flute, being either addressed to the company at large, or (as is always the case in Theognis) to a single guest." (p. 124.) Schneidewin traces a marked distinction in the style and spirit of those portions of the poems of Theognis, which he composed in his youth and prosperity, and those which he wrote in his mature age, and when misfortunes had come upon him.

Development of the Collection

As to the form in which the poems of Theognis were originally composed, and that in which the fragments of them have come down to us, there is a wide field for speculation. The ancients had a collection of elegiac poetry, under his name. which they sometimes mention as ἐλέγεια, and sometimes as ἔπη, and which they regarded as chiefly, if not entirely, of a gnomic character. (Plat. Menon. p. 95d.) Xenophon says that " this poet discourses of nothing else but respecting the virtue and vice of men, and his poetry is a treatise (σύγγραμμα) concerning men, just as if any one skilled in horsemanship were to write a treatise about horsemanship." (Xenoph. apud Slob. Florileg. lxxxviii.) To the same effect Isocrates mentions Hesiod, Theognis, and Phocylides, as confessedly those who have given the best advice respecting human life (καὶ γὰρ τούτους φασὶ μὲν ἀρὶστους γεγενῆσθαι συμβούλους τῷ βίῳ τῷ τῶν ἀνθρώπων); and, from the context, it may it inferred that the works of these poets were used in Greek education (Isocrat. ad Nicoel. 42, p. 23. b). Suidas (s. v.) enumerates, as his works, an Elegy εἰς τοὺς σωθέντας τῶν Συπακουσιων ἐν τῇ πολιορκίᾳ (see Welcker, Proleg. p. xv.); Gnomic Elegies, to the amount of 2800 verses (Γνῶμαι δἰ ἐλεγείας εἰς ἔπη βώ); a Gnomology in elegiac verse, and other hortatory counsels, addressed to Cyrnus (καὶ πρὸς Κύρνον, τὸν αὐτοῦ ἐπώμενον, Γνωμολογίαν δἰ ἐδεγείων καὶ ἑτέρας ὑποθήκας παραινετικάς). Suidas adds, that these poems were all of the epic form (τὰ πάντα ἐπικῶς), a phrase which can only be explained by taking the word epic in that wide sense, of which we have several other instances, one of which (Plat. Men. p. 95d.) has been noticed above, as including poems in the elegiac verse; for all the remains of Theognis which we possess are elegiac, and there is no sufficient reason to suppose that he wrote any epic poems, properly so called, or even any gnomic poems in hexameter verse. Had he done so, the fact would surely have been indicated by the occasional appearance of consecutive hexameters in the gnomic extracts from his poems. The passage of Plato (l.c.), sometimes quoted to show that he wrote epic poetry, seems to us to prove, if anything, the very opposite. The poems, which have come down to us, consist of 1389 elegiac verses, consisting of gnomic sentences and paragraphs, of one or more couplets; which vary greatly in their style and subjects, and which are evidently extracted from a number of separate poems. Even in the confused account of Suidas we trace indications of the fact, that the poetry of Theognis consisted of several distinct elegies. In what state the collection was in the time of Suidas, we have not sufficient evidence to determine; but, comparing his article with his well-known method of putting together the information which he gathered from various sources, we suspect that the work which he calls Γνῶμαι δἰ ἐλεγείας εἰς ἔπη βώ, was a collection similar to that which has come down to us, though more extensive, and with which Suidas himself was probably acquainted, and that he copied the other titles from various writers, without caring to inquire whether the poems to which they referred were included in the great collection. Xenophon, in the passage above cited, refers to a collection of the poetry of Theognis ; though not, as some have supposed, to a continuous gnomic poem; and it is evident that the collection referred to by Xenophon was different from that which has come down to ns, as the lines quoted by him as its commencement are now found in the MSS. as vv. 183-190.

The manner in which the original collection was formed, and the changes by which it has come into its present state, can be explained by a very simple theory, perfectly consistent with all the facts of the case, in the following manner.

Theognis wrote numerous elegies, political, convivial, affectionate, and occasional, addressed to Cyrnus, and to his other friends. In a very short time these poems would naturally be collected, and arranged according to their subjects, and according to the persons to whom they were addressed; but at what precise period this was done we are unable to determine : the collection may have been partly made during the poet's life, and even by himself ; but we may be sure that it would not be left undone long after his death.

In this collection, the distinction of the separate poems in each great division would naturally be less and less regarded, on account of the uniformity of the metre, the similarity of the subjects, and--in the case especially of those addressed to Cyrnus--the perpetual recurrence of the same name in the different poems. Thus the collection would gradually be fused into one body, and, first each division of it, and then perhaps the whole, would assume a form but little different from that of a continuous poem. Even before this had happened, however, the decidedly gnomic spirit of the poems, and their popularity on that account (see Isocr. l.c.), would give rise to the practice of extracting from them couplets and paragraphs, containing gnomic sentiments; and these, being chosen simply for the sake of the sentiment contained in each individual passage, would be arranged in any order that accident might determine, without reference to the original place and connection of each extract, and without any pains being taken to keep the passages distinct. Thus was formed a single and quasi-continuous body of gnomic poetry, which of course has been subjected to the common fates of such collections; interpolations from the works of other gnomic poets, and omissions of passages which really belonged to Theognis; besides the ordinary corruptions of critics and transcribers. Whatever questions may be raised as to matters of detail, there can be very little doubt that the socalled poems of Theognis have been brought into their present state by some such process as that which has been now described.

In applying this theory to the restoration of the extant fragments of Theognis to something like their ancient arrangement, Welcker, to whom we are indebted for the whole discovery, proceeds in the following manner. First, he rejects all those verses which we have the positive authority of ancient writers for assigning to other poets, such as Tyrtaeus, Mimniermus, Solon, and others; provided, of course, that the evidence in favour of those poets preponderates over that on the ground of which the verses have been assigned to Theognis. Secondly, he rejects all passages which can be proved to be merely parodies of the genuine gnomes of Theognis, a species of corruption which he discusses with great skill (pp. lxxx. foll.). Thirdly, he collects those passages which refer to certain definite persons, places, seasons, and events, like the epigrams of later times; of these he considers some to be the productions of Theognis, but others manifest additions. His next class is formed of the convivial portions of the poetry; in which the discrimination of what is genuine from what is spurious is a matter of extreme difficulty. Fifthly, he separates all those paragraphs which are addressed to Polypaides; and here there can be no doubt that he has fallen into an error, through not perceiving the fact above referred to, as clearly established by other writers, that that word is a patronymic, and only another name for Cyrnus. Lastly, he removes from the collection the verses which fall under the denomination of παιδικά, for which Suidas censures the poet; but, if we understand these passages as referring to the sort of intercourse which prevailed among the Dorians, many of them admit of the best interpretation and may safely be assigned to Theognis, though there are others, of a less innocent character, which we must regard as the productions of later and more corrupt ages. The couplets which remain are fragments from the elegies of Theognis, mostly addressed to Cyrnus, and referring to the events of the poet's life and times, and the genuineness of which may, for the most part, be assumed; though, even among these, interpolations may very probably have taken place, and passages actually occur of a meaning so nearly identical, that they can hardly be supposed to have been different passages in the works of the same poet, but they seem rather to have been derived from different authors by some compiler who was struck by their resemblance.


The poetical character of Theognis may be judged of, to a great extent, from what has already been said, and it is only necessary to add that his genuine fragments contain much that is highly poetical in thought, and elegant as well as forcible in expression.


The so-called remains of Theognis were first printed in the Aldine collection, Venet. 1495, fol., mentioned under THEOCRITUS (p. 1034b.), then in the several collections of the gnomic poets published during the 16th century. (See Hoffmann, Lex. Bibliogr. s. v. Of several other old editions, the most important are, that of Jo. Lodov. Tiletanus, Paris, 1537, 4to.: that of El. Vinet. Santo, Paris, 1543, 4to.: that of Joachim Camerarius, who was the first to discover that the collection was not a single work by a single author, and whose edition is still very valuable for its critical and explanatory notes; its full title is, Libellus scolaslicus utilis, et valde bonus, quo continentur, Theognidis praeccpta, Pythagorac versus aurei, Phocylidae Praeccpta, Solonis, Tyrtaci, Simonidis, et Callimachi quacdam Carmina, collecta et explicata a Joachimo Camcrario Pabepergen, Basil. 1551, 8vo.: that of Melanchthon, with his Explicatio, or exposition of the author, delivered in his lectures at the University of Wittemberg, Witeberg, 1560, 8vo.; often reprinted, but without the Explicatio : that of Seber, who used three MSS. which had not been collated before, but whose edition is inaccurately printed, Lips. 1603, 8vo.; reprinted more accurately, 1620, 8vo. but this edition is very rare : that of Sylburg, with the other gnomic poets, Ultraject. 1651, 12mo.; reprinted, 1748, 12mo. : that of H. G. Just, Francof. et Lips. 1710, 8vo. : that of Fischern, with a German translation. Altenburg, 1739, 8vo. : that in the edition of Callimachus, the editorship of which is doubtful, Lond. 1741, 8vo. (see Hoffmann, s. v. Callimachus) : and that of Bandini, with a metrical Italian version, Florent. 1766, 8vo.

There are two standard modern editions; that of Imm. Bekker, who has preserved the order of the MSS., Lips. 1815, and 2d ed. 1827, 8vo.; and that of Welcker, who has re-arranged the verses in the manner explained above, Francof. 1826, 8vo. : there is also an edition of the text, with critical notes, by J. Casp. Orellius, Turic. 1840, 4to.

The poems are also contained in several of the ancient collections of the Greek poets, besides those of the gnomic poets already referred to (see Hoffmann), and in the following modern collections : Brunck's Gnomici Poetae Graeci, Argentorat. 1784, 8vo., reprinted 1817, 8vo.; also reprinted, for the use of colleges and schools, by Schaefer, Lips. 1817, 12mo. and in the Tauchnitz Classics, 1815, 1829, 32mo.; Gaisford's Poetae Minores Graeci, Oxon. 1814-1820, Lips. 1823, 8vo.; Boissonade's Poetae Graeci Gnomici, Paris, 1823, 32mo.; Schneidewin's Delectus Poesis Graecorum, Gotting. 1838, 8vo.; and Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci, Lips. 1843, 8vo.

Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. i. pp. 704, foll.; Welcker, Prolegomena ad Theognidem, comp. the Review by Geel, in the Bibl. Crit. Nov. vol. iv. pp. 209-245 ; Schneidewin, Theogn. Eleg. Prooemium, in his Delectus, pp. 46-56; Müller, History of the Literature of Ancient Greece, vol. i. pp. 120-124 ; Ulrici; Bode; Theognis Restitutus. The Personal history of the poet Theognis deduced from an anal ysis of his existing Fragments, Malta, 1842, 4to.; this last work we have not seen; it is favourably mentioned tioned by Schneidewin, who says, " manches ist sehr sinnreich aufgefasst u. anregend," in Mühlmann and Jenicke's Repertorium d. class. Philologie. 1844, vol. i. p. 41, in which periodical also will be found references to several recent papers in the German periodicals on matters relating to Theognis : for an accountt of other illustrative works, see Hoffmann. Lex. Bibliogr. s. v.

1 * For a full illustration of the meanings of these words, see Welcker's Prolegomena ad Theogn., and an excellent note in Grote's History of Greece, vol. iii. p. 62 : -- " The ethical meaning of these words is not absolutely unknown, yet rare, in Theognis : it gradually grew up at Athens, and became popularized by the Socratic school of philosophers as well as by the orators. But the early or political meaning always remained, and the fluctuation between the two has been productive of frequent misunderstanding. Constant attention is necessary, when we read the expressions οἱ ἀγαθοί, ἐσθλοὶ, βελτιστοὶ, καλοκἀγαθοὶ, χπηστοὶ, &c., or on the other hand, οἱ κακοὶ, δειλοὶ, &c., to examine whether the context is such as to give to them the ethical or the political meaning." Mr. Grote also illustrates the similar use of boni, mali, optimates and optimus quisque, from Sallust (Hist. Frag. i. p. 935, Cort.) and Cicero (De Rep. 1.34, pro Sext. 45).

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