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Πιττακός), one of those early cultivators of letters, who were designated as the "Seven Wise Men of Greece," was a native of Mytilene in Lesbos. His father was named Hyrrhadius, or Caicus, and, according to Duris, was a Thracian, but his mother was a Lesbian. (D. L. 1.74; Suid. s. v.) According to Diogenes Laertius (1.80) he flourished at Ol. 42, B. C. 612. He was born, according to Suidas, about Ol. 32, B. C. 652. He was highly celebrated as a warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, and a poet. He is first mentioned, in public life, as an opponent of the tyrants, who in succession usurped the chief power in Mytilene. In conjunction with the brothers of Alcaeus, who were at the head of the aristocratic party, he overthrew and killed the tyrant Melanchrus. This revolution took place, according to Suidas, in Ol. 42, B. C. 612. About the same time, or, according to the more precise date of Eusebius, in B. C. 606, we find himn commrnanding the Mytilenaeans, in their war with the Athenians for the possession of Sigeum, on the coast of the Troad. In this conflict the Mytilenaeans were defeated, and Alcaeus incurred the disgrace of leaving his shield on the field of battle; but Pittacus signalized himself by killing in single combat Phrynon, the commander of the Athenians, an Olympic victor celebrated for his strength and courage : this feat Pittacus performed by entangling his adversary in a net, and then despatching him with a trident and a dagger, exactly after the fashion in which the gladiators called retiarii long afterwards fought at Rome. For this achievement he received from the Mytilenaeans high honours and substantial rewards; but of the latter he would accept only as much land as he could cast his spear over; and this land he dedicated to sacred uses, and it was known in later ages as "the Pittaceian land." (D. L. 1.75; Hdt. 5.94, 95 ; Euseb. Chron. s. a. 1410; Strabo xiii. p.600 ; Suid. s.v. Polyaen. 1.25; Plut. Mor. p. 858a, b; Festus, s. v. Retiario ; ALCAEUS.) This war was terminated by the mediation of Periander, who assigned the disputed territory to the Athenians (Herod. Diog. ll. cc.); but the internal troubles of Mytilene still continued. The supreme power was fiercely disputed between a succession of tyrants, such as Myrsilus, Megalagyrus, and the Cleanactids, and the aristocratic party, headed by Alcaeus and his brother Antimenidas; and the latter were driven into exile. (Strabo xiii. p.617.) It would seem that the city enjoyed some years of comparative tive tranquillity, until the exiles tried to effect their return by force of arms. To resist this attempt the popular party chose Pittacus as their ruler, with absolute power, under the title of αἰσυμνήτης, a position which differed from that of a τύραννος, inasmuch as it depended on popular election, and was restricted in its prerogatives, and sometimes in the time for which it was held, though sometimes it was for life; in short, it was an elective tyranny, ὡς ἁπλῶς εἴπειν αἱρετὴ τυραννίς. (Aristot. Pol. 3.9. s. 14.) Pittacus held this office for ten years, B. C. 589 to 579, and then volumtarily resigned it, having by his administration restored order to the state, and prepared it for the safe enjoyment of a republican form of government. The oligarchical party, however, represented him as an ordinary tyrant, and Alcaeus poured out invectives vectives against him in the poems which he composed in his exile, calling him τὸν κακοπάτριδα Πίττακον, deriding the zeal and unanimity with which the people chose him for their tyrant, and even ridiculing his personal peculiarities (Fr. 37, 38, ed. Bergk; Aristot. l.c. ; D. L. 1.81) : there is, however, some reason to suppose that Alcaeus was afterwards reconciled to Pittacus. [ALCAEUS.] He lived in great honour at Mytilene for ten years after the resignation of his government; and died in B. C. 569, at a very advanced age, upwards of 70 years according to Laertius (1.79), upwards of 80 according to Suidas, and 100 according to Lucian. (Macrob. 18.)

There are other traditions respecting Pittacus, some of which are of very doubtful authority. Diogenes Laertius mentions various communications between him and Croesus, and preserves a short letter, which was said to have been written by Pittacus, declining an invitation to Sardis to see the treasures of the Lydian king (1.75. 77, 81) ; and Herodotus mentions a piece of sage advice which was given to Croesus, as some said, by Bias, or, according to others, by Pittacus (1.27) : but all these accounts are rendered doubtful by the fact, that Croesus was only 25 years old at the death of Pittacus. Other anecdotes of his clemency, wisdom, and contempt of riches, are related by Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, Aelian, and other writers,

Of the proverbial maxims of practical wisdom, which were current tinder the names of the seven wise men of Greece, two were ascribed to Pittacus, namely, Χαλεπὸν ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι, and Καιρὸν γνῶθι. The former furnishes the subject of an ode of Simonides, of which Plato has a very ingenious, though sophistical discussion, in his Protagoras (p. 338e.; Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. p. 747). Others of his celebrated sayings are recorded by Diogenes (1.77, 78).

Pittacus was very celebrated as an elegiac poet. According to Diogenes (1.79), he composed as many as six hundred elegiac verses, forming a collection of didactic statements concerning the laws, addressed to his fellow-citizens. The only extant fragment of his poetry is the few lines preserved by Diogenes (1.78), who says that they were the most celebrated of his verses : --

ἔχοντα δεῖ τόξον1 καὶ ἰοδύκον φαρέτραν
στείχειν ἐπὶ φῶτα κακόν:
πιστὸν γὰρ οὐδὲν γλῶσσα διὰ στόματος
λαλεῖ διχόμυθον ἔχουσα καρδίν νόημα.
(Schneidewin, Delect. Poes. Graec. p. 260; Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. p. 568.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 3.1285a
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.95
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.94
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