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1. Of Cos, the son of Telephus, was a distinguished poet and grammarian (ποιητὴς ἅμα καὶ κριτικός, Strab. xiv. p.657).

Philetas flourished during the earlier years of the Alexandrian school, at the period when the earnest study of the classical literature of Greece was combined, in many scholars, with considerable power of original composition. According to Suidas, he flourished under Philip and Alexander but this statement is loose and inaccurate. His youth may have fallen in the times of those kings, but the chief period of his literary activity was during the reign of the first Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, who appointed him as the tutor of his son, Ptoleimy II. Philadelphus. Clinton calculates that his death may be placed about B. C. 290 (Fast. Hell. vol. iii. app. 12, No. 16); but he may possibly have lived some years longer, as he is said to have been contemporary with Aratus, whom Eusebius places at B. C. 272. It is, however, certain that he was contemporary with Hermesianax, who was his intimate friend, and with Alexander Aetolus. He was the instructor, if not formally, at least by his example and influence, of Theocritus and Zenodotus of Ephesus. Theocritus expressly mentions him as the model which he strove to imitate. (Id. 7.39; see the Scholia ad loc.

Philetas seems to have been naturally of a very weak constitution, which at last broke down under excessive study. He was so remarkably thin as to become an object for the ridicule of the comic poets, Who represented him as wearing leaden soles to his shoes, to prevent his being blown away by a strong wind; a joke which Aelian takes literally, sagels questioning, however, if he was too weak to stand against the wind, how could he be strong enough to carry his leaden shoes ? (Plut. An Seni sit ger. Resupab, 15, p. 791e.; Ath. xii. p. 552b.; Aelian, V.H. 9.14, 10.6). The cause of his death is referred to in the following epigram (ap Ath. ix. p. 401e.) :--

Ξεῖνε, Φιλητᾶς εἰμί : λόγων ψευδόμενός με
ὤλεσε καὶ νυιξτῶν Φροντίδες ἐσπέριοι.

We learn from Hermesianax (ap. Ath. xiii. p. 598f.) that a bronze statue was erected to the memory of Philetas by the inhabitants of his native island, his attachment to which during his life-time he had expressed in his poems. (Schol. ad Theoc. l.c.


Elegiac and Hexameter Poetry

The poetry of Philetas was chiefly elegiac (Suid. ἔγραψεν ἐπιγράμματα καὶ ἐλεγείας καὶ ἄλλα). Of all the writers in that department he was esteemed the best after Callimachus; to whom a taste less pedantic than that of the Alexandrian critics would probably have preferred him; for, to judge by his fragments, he escaped the snare of cumbrous learned affectation (Quint. Inst. 10.1.58; Procl. Chrest. 6. p. 379, Gaisf.). These two poets formed the chief models for the Roman elegy : nay, Pro. pertius expressly states, in one passage, that he imitated Philetas in preference to Callimachus (Propert. 2.34. 31, 3.1. 1, 3. 51, 9. 43, 4.6. 2 ; Ovid, Art. Amat. 3.329, Remed. Amor. 759 ; Stat. Silv. 1.2. 252; Hertzberg, de Initatione Poetarum Alexandrinorum, in his Propertius, vol. i. pp. 186-210). The elegies of Philetas were chiefly amatory, and a large portion of them was devoted to the praises of his mistress Bittis, or, as the Latin poets give the name, Battis (Hermesianax, l.c. ; Ovid, Ov. Tr. 1.6. 1, ex Ponto, 3.1. 57; Hertzberg, Quaest. Propert. p. 207; the form Βιττώ also occurs, Corp. Inscrip. Nos. 2236, 2661, b., or in Latin Batto, according to Lachmann's ingenious emendation of Propertius, 2.34, 31, Tu Battus memorem, &c.). It seems very probable that he wrote a collection of poems specially in praise of Bittis, and that this was the collection which was known and is quoted by Stobaeus under the name of Παίγνια (Jacobs, Animadv. ad Anth. Graec. vol. i. pars i. pp. 388, fol.; Bach, Frag. Philet. p. 39; Hertzberg, Quaest. Propert. p. 208). It is natural to suppose that the epigrams of Philetas, which are mentioned by Suidas, and once or twice quoted by Stobaeus, were the same collection as the Παίγνια ; but there is nothing to determine the question positively. There are also two other poems of Philetas quoted by Stobaeus, the subjects of which were evidently mythological, as we see from their titles, Δημήτηρ and Ἑρμῆς. As to the former, it is clear from the three fragments quoted bv Stobaeus (Flor. 104.11, 124.26), that it was in elegiac metre, and that its subject was the lasmentation of Demeter for the loss of her daughter. In the case of the Ἑρμῆς there is a difficulty respecting the exact form of the title, and also respecting the metre in which it was written. Stobaeus three times quotes from the poem, in one place three lines (Flor. 104.12), in another three (Eclog. Phys. 5.4), and in another two (Flor. 118.3), all in hexameters ; while, on the other hand, Strabo (iii. p.168) quotes an elegiac distich from Philetas, ἐν Ἑρμενείᾳ which most critics have very naturally supposed to be a corruption of ἐν Ἑρμῇ, or, as some conjecture, ἐν Ἑρμῇ ἐλεγείᾳ. Meineke, however, has suggested quite a new solution of the difficulty, namely, that the Ἐρμῆς was entirely in hexameters, and that the lines quoted by Strabo are from an entirely different poem, the true title of which cannot be determined with any approach to certainty by ally conjecture derived from the corrupt reading ἐν Ἑρμενείᾳ (Analecta Alexandrina, Epim. ii. pp. 348-351). What was the subject of the Hermes we learn from Parthenius, who gives a brief epitome of it (Erot. 2). It related to a love adventure of Ulysses with Polymele in the island of Aeolus. Another poem, entitled Ναξιακά, has been ascribed to Philetas, on the authority of Eustathius (Ad Hom. p. 1885. 51); but Meineke has shown that the name of the author quoted by Eustathius was Philteas, not Philetus. (Anal. Alc. Epilm. ii. pp. 351-353.)

Other Poems

There are also a few fragments from the poems of Philetas, which cannot be assigned to their proper places : among them are a few Iambic lines, which are wrongly ascribed to him in consequence of the confusion between names beginning with the syllable Phil, which has been already referred to under PHILEMON : Philetas has also been erroneously supposed to have written bucolic poems, on the authority of the passage of Theocritus, above referred to, which only speaks of the beauty of his poetry in general; and also on the authority of some verses in Moschus (Idyll. 3.94, foll.), which are known to have been interpolated by Musaeus.

Besides his poems, Philetas wrote in prose on grammar and criticism. He was one of the commentators on Homer, whom he seems to have dealt with very freely, both critically and exegetically; and in this course he was followed by his pupil Zenodotis. Aristarclus wrote a work in opposition to Philetas (Schol. Venet. ad Il. 2.111). But his most important grammatical work was that which Athenaeus repeatedly quotes under the title of Ἄτακτα, and which is also cited by the titles ἄτακτοι γλῶσσαι, (Schol. ad Apol. Rhod. 4.989), and simply γλῶσσαι (Etym. Mag. p. 330. 39). The importance attached to this work, even at the time of its production, is shown by the fact that the comic poet Straton makes one of his persons refer to it (Ath. ix. p. 383; Meineke, Frag. Com. Graec. vol. iv. p. 546), and by the allusions which are made to it by Hermesianax (l.c.), and by Crates of Malls, in his epigram on Euphorion (Brunck, Anal. vol. ii. p. 3, Anth. Pal. 9.318). Nothing is left of it, except a few scattered explanations of words, from which, however, it may be inferred that Philetas made great use of the light thrown on the meanings of words by their dialectic varieties. It is very possible that all the grammatical writings of Philetas, including his notes on Homer, were comprised in this one collection.


The fragments of Philetas have been collected by C. P. Kayser, Philetae Coi Fragmenta, quae reperiuntur, Gotting. 1793, 8vo.; by Bach, Philetae Coi, Hermesianactis Colophonii, atque Phanoclis Reliquiae, liquiae, Halis Sax. 1829, 8vo.; and in the editions of the Greek Anthology (Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 189, ii. p. 523, iii. p. 234; Jacobs, Anth. Graec. vol. i. pp. 121-123). The most important fragments are also contained in Schneidewin's Delectus Poesis Graecorum, vol. i. pp. 142-147.

Further Information

Reiske, Notitia Epigrammatorum, p. 266; Schneider, Anal. Crit. p. 5; Heinrich, Obserr. in Auct. Vet. pp. 50-58 ; Jacobs, Animadv. in Anth. Graec. vol. i. pt. i pp. 387-395, vol. iii. pt. iii. p. 934; Preller, in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopädie.

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  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 1.58
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.6
    • Sextus Propertius, Elegies, 2.31
    • Sextus Propertius, Elegies, 2.34
    • Statius, Silvae, 1.2
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