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three pairs of lovers with space



No less than seventy-three epigrams in The Greek Anthology were attributed to Simonides of Keos (ca. 556-468 BC), considered in antiquity to have been one of the nine great lyric poets. However, though some of them were certainly by him, including the most famous one about the Spartans fallen at Thermopylai, many cannot have been.

Four epigrams attributed to Simonides are presented here, two because they celebrate another great poet’s love of boys and two because they are pederastic in tone. Only the third (XVI 2) is likely to have been by him though there is doubt about it too[1], while the attribution to him of the last is absurd. The first two were old enough to be included in the Garland of Meleager, the earliest (2nd century BC) of the sources from which the Greek Anthology was built, but “although accepted by Meleager as authentic, are nevertheless plainly Hellenistic compositions, certainly not older than the third century B.C and probably from the second half of that century. […] They are of high importance, as being irrefutable evidence that epigrams composed by Alexandrian authors of much experience and ability were published under the name of Simonides and accepted as authentic by Meleager.”[2]

The translations are by W. R. Paton in The Greek Anthology, Volumes II and V: Loeb Classical Library Vols. LXVIII and LXXXVI (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1917-8). The only amendments are to undo his Latinisation of names in favour of more literal transliteration of the Greek. 


VII.  Sepulchral Epigrams


On Anakreon

Anakreon (ca. 570-ca.485 BC), the subject of this and the next epigram, was another of the nine lyric poets most highly esteemed by the ancients, and was well-known to Simonides, half a generation younger than him and moving in the same literary circles.

O vine who soothest all, nurse of wine, mother of the grape, thou who dost put forth thy web of curling tendrils, flourish green in the fine soil and climb up the pillar of the grave of Teian Anakreon; that he, the reveller heavy with wine, playing all through the night on his lad-loving lyre,[3] may even as he lies low in earth have the glorious ripe clusters hanging from the branches over his head, and that he may be ever steeped in the dew that scented the old man’s tender lips so sweetly. Ἡμερὶ πανθέλκτειρα, μεθυτρόφε, μῆτερ ὀπώρας,
     οὔλης ἣ σκολιὸν πλέγμα φύεις ἕλικος,
Τηΐου ἡβήσειας Ἀνακρείοντος ἐπ᾿ ἄκρῃ
     στήλῃ καὶ λεπτῷ χώματι τοῦδε τάφου,
ὡς ὁ φιλάκρητός τε καὶ οἰνοβαρὴς φιλοκώμοις
     παννυχίσιν κρούων τὴν φιλόπαιδα χέλυν,
κἠν χθονὶ πεπτηώς, κεφαλῆς ἐφύπερθε φέροιτο
     ἀγλαὸν ὡραίων βότρυν ἀπ᾿ ἀκρεμόνων,
καὶ μιν ἀεὶ τέγγοι νοτερὴ δρόσος, ἧς ὁ γεραιὸς
     λαρότερον μαλακῶν ἔπνεεν ἐκ στομάτων.
Anakreon (on the left) dancing with two boys (kylix by the Oltos painter, ca. 510 BC, British Museum)


In this tomb of Teos, his home, was Anakreon laid, the singer whom the Muses made deathless, who set to the sweet love of lads measures breathing of the Graces, breathing of Love. Alone in Acheron[4] he grieves not that he has left the sun and dwelleth there in the house of Lethe,[5] but that he has left Megisteus,[6] graceful above all the youth, and his passion for Thracian Smerdies.[7] Yet never doth he desist from song delightful as honey, and even in Hades he hath not laid that lute to rest.  Οὗτος Ἀνακρείοντα, τὸν ἄφθιτον εἵνεκα Μουσέων
     ὑμνοπόλον, πάτρης τύμβος ἔδεκτο Τέω,
ὃς Χαρίτων πνείοντα μέλη, πνείοντα δ᾿ Ἐρώτων,
     τὸν γλυκὺν ἐς παίδων ἵμερον ἡρμόσατο.
μοῦνος δ᾿ εἰν Ἀχέροντι βαρύνεται, οὐχ ὅτι λείπων
     ἠέλιον, Λήθης ἐνθάδ᾿ ἔκυρσε δόμων·
ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι τὸν χαρίεντα μετ᾿ ἠϊθέοισι Μεγιστέα,
     καὶ τὸν Σμερδίεω Θρῇκα λέλοιπε πόθον.
μολπῆς δ᾿ οὐ λήγει μελιτερπέος, ἀλλ᾿ ἔτ᾿ ἐκεῖνον
     βάρβιτον οὐδὲ θανὼν εὔνασεν εἰν Ἀΐδῃ.


XVI.  Epigrams of the Planudean Anthology Not in the Palatine Manuscript


Most probably, Theognotos, the victor of the boys’ wrestling at the Olympic Games whose statue is described here, was from Aigina and won in the Olympics of 476 BC.[8] There is nothing overtly pederastic in this epigram, but "the statement that a certain boy is fair, normally had a clear erotic connotation. The habit and its meaning are well known from inscriptions on Attic vases and from epigrams."[9]

Know Theognetos when thou lookest on him, the boy who conquered at Olympia, the dexterous charioteer of wrestling,[10] most lovely to behold, but in combat nowise inferior to his beauty. He won a crown for the city of his noble fathers.[11]   Γνῶθι Θεόγνητον προσιδών, τὸν Ὀλυμπιο νίκαν
     παῖδα, παλαισμοσύνας δεξιὸν ἡνίοχον,
κάλλιστον μὲν ἰδεῖν, ἀθλεῖν δ᾿ οὐ χείρονα μορφῆς,
     ὃς πατέρων ἀγαθῶν ἐστεφάνωσε πόλιν.


Youths wrestling between their trainers, a boy watching on the right: kylix of ca. 485 BC inscribed "Panaitios is beautiful" (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)


Phryne was a courtesan born in Thespiai in Boiotia just under a century after Simonides died (hence the absurdity of the attribution of the epigram to him). Praxiteles, the most renowned Athenian sculptor of the 4th century BC, was one of her lovers and gave her his famous statue of Eros which she dedicated in her birthplace. Athenaios, The Learned Banqueters 591a says that, before this gift, the statue had stood below the stage of the theatre in Athens with an inscription on its pedestal almost the same as this epigram. Three other epigrams about the statue are in Book XVI of The Greek Anthology, (nos. 167, 203 and 205), but they do not have the pederastic implication conveyed by the last two lines of this one, that the statue of the boy-god was so beautiful that men fell in love with him.

On the Eros of Praxiteles

Praxiteles perfectly portrayed that Love he suffered, taking the model from his own heart, giving me to Phryne in payment for myself. But I give birth to passion no longer by shooting arrows, but by darting glances.[12]


Εἰς τὸν Πραξιτέλους Ἔρωτα

Πραξιτέλης ὃν ἔπασχε διηκρίβωσεν Ἔρωτα
     ἐξ ἰδίης ἕλκων ἀρχέτυπον κραδίης,
Φρύνῃ μισθὸν ἐμεῖο διδοὺς ἐμέ. φίλτρα δὲ τίκτω
     οὐκέτι τοξεύων, ἀλλ᾿ ἀτενιζόμενος.



[1] “The style is florid, and the absence of the name of the home-land [of Theognetos, the boy victor celebrated in the epigram] would be surprising in a contemporary epigram […]; these lines may well be the work of a learned Alexandrian.” (D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 244)

[2] D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 282.

[3] Anakreon was also very well-known for his love of boys, which was also alluded to by Antipatros of Sidon and Dioskourides in four other poems in this book of the Greek Anthology.

[4] Acheron was the river of sorrow in Hades across which the newly-deceased had to be ferried by Charon.

[5] Lethe was the river of forgetfulness in Hades, and also the personification of forgetfulness.

[6] Megisteus was a boy loved by Anakreon and described in surviving fragments 352 and 416 of his poems as kind, quiet and open-hearted.

[7] Smerdis was a boy loved in Samos by both Anakreon, who particularly admired his hair, and the tyrant Polykrates (Aelian, Varia Historia IX 4).

[8] “Pindar's eighth Pythian ode celebrates a victory by Aristomenes of Aegina in the wrestling at Delphi, and praises him as worthy of his uncles Theognetus and Cleitomachus, 35ff. […] Pausanias (6.9.1) repeats that Theognetus won the boys' wrestling and adds that he had a statue made by his countryman Ptolichus” (D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 244). Moreover, the victor-list in Papyrus Oxyrhynchos. 222.15 lists a boy victor for the year 476 B.C. whose name, partially missing, ends in νητος.

[9] Walther Ludwig writing on “Plato’s Love Epigrams” in Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies IV (1963) 69.

[10]  i. e. he had complete command of the science. [Translator’s note]

[11] The gens of the Midylidae at Aegina [Translator’s note]. The reason for treating this as pederastic is that the poet says Theognetos was "most lovely to behold." As Walther Ludwig says in his “Plato’s Love Epigrams”: "The statement that a certain boy is fair, normally had a clear erotic connotation. The habit and its meaning are well known from inscriptions on Attic vases and from epigrams (Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies IV (1963) 69).

[12] Phrased more plainly, “Eros makes people fall in love by shooting his darts into them; Praxiteles’s statue has just as great an effect on people who merely stare at it.” (D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 281)




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