John Henry Wright.

Masterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; online

. (page 5 of 29)
Online LibraryJohn Henry WrightMasterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; → online text (page 5 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The hero boy, that dies in blooming years :

In man's regret he lives, and woman's tears ; ^

More sacred than in life, and lovelier far.

For having perished in the front of war. 35

Translated by Thomas Campbell.


Archilochus, of the island Paros, was the first poet to
use the iambic metre, which afterwards played an important
part in Greek verse. His birth, at about 700 b. c, was,
according to the story, foretold by the Delphic oracle ; and
this same oracle after his death cursed the soldier who
had killed him in battle, for " slaying the servant of the

His poems we hear were largely personal attacks on the
family of Lycambes, who had betrothed his daughter Neo-
bul^ to the poet and then withdrawn his consent to the
marriage, and the " rage " of Archilochus was noted in an-
cient times. But he certainly did not limit himself to
invectives, for he was held in the highest esteem by the
ancients, ranking indeed second only to Homer. Of his
Work only a few considerable fragments are extant.


Tossed on a sea of troubles, Soul, my Soul,

Thyself do thou control ;
And to the weapons of advancing foes

A stubborn breast oppose ;
Undaunted 'mid the hostile might 5

Of squadrons burning for the fight.

Thine be no boasting when the victor's crown
Wins thee deserved renown ;

Thine no dejected sorrow, when defeat

Would urge a base retreat : 10


Rejoice in joyous things — nor overmucli

Let grief thy bosom touch
Midst evil, and still bear in mind
How changeful are the ways of humankind.

Translated by William Hay.


' The early lyric poetry of the Greeks was made up largely
of songs composed for different occasions, — marriages,
funerals, celebrations of victories and the like. An impor-
tant class of these were " banquet songs," — scolia, or ,
catches, sung as the wine-cup passed around, — which every
Athenian was assumed to be ready to sing.

Of these the most celebrated in ancient times was the fol-
lowing, attributed to Callistratus.


Harmodius and Aristogeiton conspired to slay Hipparchus and
his elder brother Hippias, tyrant of Athens, during the proces-
sion at the Panathenaic festival in 514 b. c. Through a mis-
take they succeeded in killing only Hipparchus. Harmodius was
put to death at once by the tyrant's guard, and Aristogeiton
soon after. After the expulsion of Hippias in 510 B. c, Har-
modius and Aristogeiton became the most popular of Athenian
heroes, and through a false view of their act were celebrated as
the deliverers of Athens.

In a wreath of myrtle I '11 wear my glaive,
Like Harmodius and Aristogeiton brave,
Who, striking the tyrant down.
Made Athens a freeman's town.

Harmodius, our darling, thou art not dead ! 5
Thou liv'st in the isles of the blest, 't is said,

With Achilles first in speed,

And Tydides Diomede.


In a wreath of myrtle I '11 wear my glaive,
Like Harmodius and Aristogeiton brave, lo

When the twain on Athena's day
Did the tyrant Hipparchus slay.

For aye shall your fame in the land be told,
Harmodius and Aristogeiton bold,

Who, striking the tyrant down, 15

Made Athens a freeman's town.

Translated by John Conington.


My wealth 's a burly spear and brand.
And a right good shield of hides untanned.

Which on my arm I buckle :
With these I plough, I reap, I sow.
With these I make the sweet vintage flow, 5

And all around me truckle.
But your wights that take no pride to wield
A massy spear and well-made shield.

Nor joy to draw the sword :
O, I bring those heartless, hapless drones, 10

Down in a trice on their marrow-bones,

To call me king and lord.

Translated by Thomas Campbell.


In ancient times as well as modern, the swallow was regarded
as the harbinger of spring. Every year boys went from house
to house in Rhodes, announcing the welcome arrival of this bird,
and begging gifts in return for their good news. This is the
song that they sang.


She is here, slie is here, the swallow !
Fair seasons bringing, fair years to follow !
Her belly is white,
Her back black as night !
From your rich house 5

Roll forth to us
Tarts, wine, and cheese :
Or if not these,
Oatmeal and barley-cake
The swallow deigns to take. lo

What shall we have ? or must we hence away ?
Thanks, if you give ; if not, we '11 make you pay !
The house-door hence we '11 carry ;
Nor shall the lintel tarry ;
From hearth and home your wife we 'II rob ; 15

She is so small,
To take her off will be an easy job !
Whate'er you give, give largess free !
Up ! open, open to the swallow's call !
No grave old men, but merry children we ! 20

Translated by John Addington Symonds.


All the poets from whose works extracts have been
given, with the exception of Tyrtaeus, were lonians. But
in the perfection of lyric poetry the lonians have no place,
and the Aeolians and Dorians hold the lead side by side.
This difference existed between them, however, that the
Aeolians sang solos, treating of their own joys and sorrows,
while the Dorians composed complex odes, for a trained
chorus, in celebration of public events.

Alcaeus was a noble of Mytilene, the chief town of Les-
bos, who flourished as early as 612 B. c. His life was
spent largely in war, party strife, and wanderings, and its
character is reflected in his poems, of which only a few
fragments remain.

The following poem has been imitated by Horace, in the
ninth Ode of his first book.


The rain of Zeus descends, and from high heaven

A storm is driven :
And on the running water-brooks the cold

Lays icy hold :
Then up ! beat down the winter ; make the fire s

Blaze high and higher ;
Mix wine as sweet as honey of the bee

Abundantly ;
Then drink with comfortable wool around

Your temples bound. lo


We must not yield our hearts to woe, or wear

With wasting care ;
For grief will profit us no whit, my friend,

Nor nothing mend ;
But this is our best medicine, with wine fraught is

To cast out thought.

Translated by John Addington Symonds.


Sappho, living near the time of Alcaeus, and composing
verses in similar metrical and musical forms, far surpassed
liim. In both ancient and modern times she has been re-
garded as the greatest love poet of Greece. As Homer is
called " The Poet," so is she " The Poetess," and Plato has
an epigram —

" Some thoughtlessly proclaim the Muses nine ;
A tenth is Lesbian Sappho, maid divine."

Little is known of her life, and the stories told of her are
so inconsistent that we must rely for our knowledge of her
upon her verses. She lived in Mytilene near the beginning
of the sixth century before Christ, and was the leader of a
coterie of women devoted to the pursuit of music and poesy.
Tradition tells of her rejection of Alcaeus' love, and of her
own unrequited passion for Phaon, for whose sake she leaped
from the Leucadian cliff into the sea. False as these stories
probably are, it is at least certain that her verses are written
chiefly on one theme — that of love.


Immoetal Venus, throned above
In radiant beauty, child of Jove,
O skilled in every art of love

And artful snare ;
Dread power, to whom I bend the knee, s

Release my soul and set it free


From bonds of piercing agony

And gloomy care.
Yet come thyself, if e'er, benign,
Thy listening ears thou didst incline lo

To my rude lay, the starry shine

Of Jove's court leaving,
In chariot yoked with coursers fair,^
Thine own immortal birds that bear
Thee swift to earth, the middle air 15

With bright wings cleaving.
Soon they were sped — and thou, most blest,
In thine own smiles ambrosial dressed,
Didst ask what griefs my mind oppressed —

What meant my song — 20

What end my frenzied thoughts pursue —
For what loved youth I spread anew
My amorous nets — " Who, Sappho, who

Hath done thee wrong ?
What though he fly, he '11 soon return — 25

Still press thy gifts, though now he spurn ;
Heed not his coldness — soon he '11 burn,

E'en though thou chide."
— And saidst thou thus, dread goddess ? O,
Come then once more to ease my woe ; 30

Grant all, and thy great self bestow.

My shield and guide !

Translated by John Herman Merivale.


Blest as the immortal gods is he.
The youth who fondly sits by thee.
And hears and sees thee all the while
Softly speak and sweetly smile.

1 The chariot of Venus was drawn by doves.


'T was this deprived my soul of rest, 5

And raised such tumults in my breast;
For while I gazed, in transport tost,
My breath was gone, my voice was lost :

My bosom glowed ; the subtle flame

Ran quick through all my vital frame ; 10

O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung ;

My ears with hollow murmurs rung^

In dewy damps my limbs were chilled ;

My blood with gentle horror thrilled ;

My feeble pulse forgot to play ; is

I fainted, sank, and died away.

Translated by Ambrose Phillips.


The stars around the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon.
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space.

Translated by Edwin Arnold.


Yea, thou shalt die,
And lie

Dumb in the silent tomb ;
Nor of thy name
Shall there be any fame

In ages yet to be or years to come :

For of the flowering Rose


Which on Pieria ^ blows,

Thou hast no share :
But in sad Hades' house, lo

Unknown, inglorious
'Mid the dim shades that wander there
Shalt thou flit forth and haunt the filmy air.

Translated by John Addington Symonds.


" Oh, my sweet mother, 't is in vain,
I cannot weave as once I wove,
So 'wildered is my heart and brain
With thinking of that youth I love."

Translated by Thomas Moore.



Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the top-
most bough,

A-top on the topmost twig, — which the pluckers for-
got, somehow, —

Forgot it not, nay ! but got it not, for none could get
it till now.


Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is

Which the passing feet of the shepherds for ever tear

and wound.
Until the purple blossom is trodden into the ground.

Translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

^ The Muses received their name Pierian from Pieria on the north-
ern slopes of Mount Olympus in Thessaly, where was their early home.



O Hespeeus ! ^ Thou bringest all things home ;
All that the garish day hath scattered wide ;
The sheep, the goat, back to the welcome fold ;
Thou bring' st the child, too, to his mother's side.

Translated by William Hyde Appletoa.

^ The evening star.


Anacreon of Teos, although an Ionian by birth, is gen-
erally reckoned with Alcaeus and Sappho among the Aeo-
lians, because he " cultivated the lyrical stanza of personal
emotion." His Ionian temperament, however, influences
his verses to such an extent that they lose the intensity and
sincerity of those of Alcaeus and Sappho, although they
keep the grace and delicacy of style of these earlier poets.

Anacreon was essentially a court poet, although it was at a
different court from time to time that he made his home, —
first under the patronage of Polycrates in Samos, then with
Hipparchus at Athens. He died probably at the court of
a Thessalian prince at the end of the sixth century B. c.
His songs rarely touched on themes more serious than love
and wine, and make it hard to find the man behind the
poet. The wide popularity of his verses incited many to
imitate them, and most of the writings which have come
down to us under his name are " Anacreontics," works of
authors of unknown later periods.

The translations that follow are all from the Anacreontics,
made by Thomas Moore.



The women tell me every day
That all my bloom has past avs^ay.
" Behold," the pretty wantons cry,
" Behold this mirror with a sigh ;


The locks upon thy brow are few, 5

And, like the rest, they 're withering too ! "

Whether decline has thinned my hair,

I 'm sure I neither know, nor care ;

But this I know and this I feel.

As onward to the tomb I steal, lo

That still as death approaches nearer,

The joys of life are sweeter, dearer ;

And had I but an hour to live,

That little hour to bliss I 'd give.

I care not for the idle state
Of Persia's king, the rich, the great :
I envy not the monarch's throne
Nor wish the treasur'd gold my own.
But oh ! be mine the rosy wreath, 5

Its freshness o'er my brow to breathe ;
Be mine the rich perfumes that flow,
To cool and scent my locks of snow.
To-day I '11 haste to quaff my wine,
As if to-morrow ne'er would shine ; 10

But if to-morrow comes, why then —
I '11 haste to quaff my wine again.
And thus while all our days are bright,
Nor time has dimmed their bloomy light,
Let us the festal hours beguile 15

With mantling cup and cordial smile ;
And shed from each new bowl of wine
The richest drop on Bacchus' shrine.
For Death may come, with brow unpleasant,
May come, when least we wish him present, 20
And beckon to the sable shore,
And grimly bid us — drink no more !



How am I to punish tbee,

For the wrong thou 'st done to me,

Silly swallow, prating thing —

Shall I clip that wheeling wing ?

Or, as Tereus ^ did, of old, s

(So the fabled tale is told,)

Shall I tear that tongue away.

Tongue that utter'd such a lay ?

Ah, how thoughtless hast thou been !

Long before the dawn was seen, lo

When a dream came o'er my mind,

Picturing her I worship, kind,

Just when I was nearly blest.

Loud thy matins broke my rest !


I will, I will, the conflict 's past,

And I '11 consent to love at last.

Cupid has long, with smiling art,

Invited me to yield my heart ;

And I have thought that peace of mind 6

Should not be for a smile resign'd ;

And so repell'd the tender lure,

And hop'd my heart would sleep secure.

But, slighted in his boasted charms,

The angry infant flew to arms ; lo

He slung his quiver's golden frame,

He took his bow, his shafts of flame.

And proudly summoned me to yield.

Or meet him on the martial field.

1 Tereus cut out the tongue of liis wife's sister, Philomela, to pre-
vent her telling- the wrong' he had done her.


And what did I unthinking do ? 15

I took to arms, undaunted, too ;

Assum'd the corslet, shield, and spear,

And, like Pelides,^ smil'd at fear.

Then (hear it, all ye powers above !)

I fought with Love ! I fought with Love ! 20

And now his arrows all were shed,

And I had just in terror fled —

When, hearing an indignant sigh,

To see me thus unwounded fly,

And having now no other dart, 25

He shot himself into my heart !

My heart — alas the luckless day !

Keceiv'd the God, and died away.

Farewell, farewell, my faithless shield !

Thy lord at length is forc'd to yield. so

Vain, vain, is every outward care,

The foe 's within, and triumphs there.

" Tell me,2 why, my sweetest dove,
Thus your humid pinions move.
Shedding through the air in showers
Essence of the balmiest flowers ?
Tell me whither, whence you rove, i

Tell me all, my sweetest dove."

" Curious stranger, I belong
To the bard of Teian ^ song ;

^ Achilles, the son of Peleus.

* The first six verses are addressed hy a strang-er to Anaereon's
dove, who is hearing a note from the poet to his mistress. The dove

^ Anacreon was born at Teos.


With his mandate now I fly

To the nymph of azure eye ; — lo

She, whose eye has madden 'd many,

But the poet more than any.

Venus, for a hymn of love,

Warbled in her votive grove,

('T was in sooth a gentle lay,) 15

Gave me to the bard away.^

See me now his faithful minion, —

Thus with softly-gliding pinion,

To his lovely girl I bear

Songs of passion through the air. 2C

Oft he blandly whispers me,

' Soon, my bird, I '11 set you free,'

But in vain he '11 bid me fly,

I shall serve him till I die.

Never could my plumes sustain 25

Ruffling winds and chilling rain,

O'er the plains, or in the dell.

On the mountain's savage swell,

Seeking in the desert wood

Gloomy shelter, savage food. 30

Now I lead a life of ease.

Far from rugged haunts like these.

From Anacreon's hand I eat

Food delicious, viands sweet ;

Flutter o'er his goblet's brim, 35

Sip the foamy wine with him\

Then, when I have wanton'd round

To his lyre's beguiling sound ;

Or with gently-moving wings

Fann'd the minstrel while he sings : 40

^ Since tlie dove was Venus' own bird she could fitly bestow it as
reward for a song.


On his harp I sink in slumbers, *

Dreaming still of dulcet numbers !

" This is all — away — away —

You have made me waste the day.

How 1 've chatter'd ! prating crow 45

Never yet did chatter so."

Thou, whose soft and rosy hues
Mimic form and soul infuse,
Best of painters, come portray
The lovely maid that 's far away.
Far away, my soul ! thou art, 5

But I 've thy beauties all by heart.
Paint her jetty ringlets playing,
Silky locks, like tendrils straying ;
And, if painting hath the skill
To make the spicy balm distil, 10

Let every little lock exhale
A sigh of perfume on the gale.
Where her tresses' curly flow
Darkles o'er the brow of snow,
Let her forehead beam to light, is

Burnish'd as the ivory bright.
Let her eyebrows smoothly rise
In jetty arches o'er her eyes,
Each, a crescent gently gliding,
Just commingling, just dividing. 20

But hast thou any sparkles warm,
The lightning of her eyes to form ?
Let them effuse the azure rays
That in Minerva's glances blaze,


Mix'd with the liquid light that lies 25

In Cytherea's ^ languid eyes.

O'er her nose and cheek be shed

Flushing white and soften'd red ;

Mingling tints, as when there glows

In snowy milk the bashful rose. 80

Then her lip, so rich in blisses,

Sweet petitioner for kisses.

Rosy nest, where lurks Persuasion,

Mutely courting Love's invasion.

Next, beneath the velvet chin, ss

Whose dimple hides a Love within,

Mould her neck with grace descending,

In a heaven of beauty ending ;

While countless charms, above, below,

Sport and flutter round its snow. 40

Now let a floating, lucid veil

Shadow her form, but not conceal ;

A charm may peep, a hue may beam.

And leave the rest to Fancy's dream.

Enough — 't is she I 't is all I seek ; 45

It glows, it lives, it soon will speak !

Observe when Mother Earth is dry,
She drinks the droppings of the sky ;
And then the dewy cordial gives
To ev'ry thirsty plant that lives.
The vapours, which at evening weep, 5

Are beverage to the swelling deep ;
And when the rosy sun appears.
He drinks the ocean's misty tears.

* Venus took this name from the island of Cythera, one of her
faTorite haunts, near Sparta.


The moon, too, quaffs her paly stream

Of lustre, from the solar beam. lo

Then, hence with all your sober thinking !

Since Nature's holy law is drinking;

I '11 make the laws of nature mine,

And pledge the universe in wine.

I often wish this languid lyre,
This warbler of my soul's desire,
Could raise the breath of song sublime,
To men of fame in former time.
But when the soaring theme I try, 5

Along the chords my numbers die,
And whisper, with dissolving tone,
" Our sighs are given to love alone ! '*
Indignant at the feeble lay,
I tore the panting chords away,^ 10

Attun'd them to a nobler swell,
And struck again the breathing shell ; ^
In all the glow of epic fire,
To Hercules I wake the lyre ;
But still its fainting sighs repeat, 15

" The tale of love alone is sweet ! "
Then fare thee well, seductive dream.
That mad'st me follow Glory's theme.
For thou my lyre, and thou my heart.
Shall never more in spirit part ; 20

And all that one has felt so well
The other shall as sweetly tell !

^ I. e., he tried new strings for his lyre.

^ The sounding board of the early lyres was formed of a tortoise-


To all tliat breathe tlie air of lieaven.
Some boon of strength has Nature given.
In forming the majestic bull,
She fenced with wreathed horns his skull ;
A hoof of strength she lent the steed, g

And wing'd the timorous hare with speed.
She gave the lion fangs of terror,
And o'er the ocean's crystal mirror
Taught the unnumber'd scaly throng
To trace their liquid path along ; lo

While for the umbrage of the grove,
She plum'd the warbling world of love.
To man she gave, in that proud hour,
The boon of intellectual power.
Then what, O woman, what for thee, is

Was left in Nature's treasury ?
She gave thee beauty — mightier far
Than all the pomp and power of war.
Nor steel, nor fire itself hath power
Like woman in her conquering hour. 20

Be thou but fair, mankind adore thee.
Smile, and a world is weak before thee !


Before Simonides, Greek lyric poetry had been chiefly of
the personal and individual type. But the increased promi-
nence of the national games in the sixth century b. c, and
the Persian wars in the early part of the fifth century,
tended to draw the Hellenes together, and to stimulate a
national spirit and a national lyric.

The poet's long life covered a period of great impor-
tance to his country. Born about 556 b. c, in the age of
the Tyrants at Athens, he lived to see the overthrow of
the Peisistratidae, the Ionic Revolt, the two Persian in-
vasions, and the establishment of Athens as the leader of
Hellas, before his death in 467 b. c. Among his friends
were all the great men of the time, — kings and tyrants
like Hipparchus at Athens, and Hiero at Syracuse, and the
Thessalian princes ; statesmen like Pausanias of Sparta and
the Athenian Themistocles ; and poets like Aeschylus, Ana-
creon, and Bacchylides.

Simonides lived mainly at the courts of his friends, whose
praises he sang in return for gifts ; but he identified him-
self heartily with the Greeks in their struggle for free-
dom. The patriotic spirit of his epitaphs on those who fell in
the Persian Wars has hardly been surpassed. Many of his
choral odes celebrated victories in the national games. He
achieved distinction in his dirges as well, and from the deli-
cacy and tenderness of his style won from the ancients the
name of Melicertes — the sweet poet. He was the most
productive of all the Greek lyric poets.



When, in the carven chest,
The winds that blew and waves in wild unrest
Smote her with fear, she, not with cheeks unwet,
Her arms of love round Perseus set,
And said : " O child, what grief is mine ! 5
But thou dost slumber, and thy baby breast

Is sunk in rest,
Here in the cheerless brass-bound bark.
Tossed amid starless night and pitchy dark.

Nor dost thou heed the scudding brine lo

Of waves that wash above thy curls so deep,
Nor the shrill winds that sweep, —
Lapped in thy purple robe's embrace,

Fair little face !
But if this dread were dreadful too to thee, is

Then wouldst thou lend thy listening ear to me ;
Therefore I cry, — Sleep, babe, and sea, be still.
And slumber our unmeasured ill !

Oh, may some change of fate, sire Zeus, from
Descend, our woes to end ! 20

But if this prayer, too overbold, offend
Thy justice, yet be merciful to me ! "

Translated by John Addington Symonds.

^ Danae was imprisoned in a tower by her father Acrisius, in con-
sequence of an oracle which predicted that he would be slain by his
daughter's son. Nevertheless Zeus visited her in a shower of gold,
and she bore a son, Perseus. She and her child were then shut up in
a chest by her father, and thrown out to sea.



Of those who at Thermopylae were slain,

Glorious the doom, and beautiful the lot ;
Their tomb an altar : men from tears refrain

To honor them, and praise, but mourn them not.
Such sepulchre, nor drear decay 5

Nor all-destroying time shall waste ; this right have

Within their grave the home-bred glory

Of Greece was laid : this witness gives
Leonidas the Spartan, in whose story ic

A wreath of famous virtue ever lives.

Translated by John Sterling".

Online LibraryJohn Henry WrightMasterpieces of Greek literature; Homer: Tyrtaeus: Archilochus: Callistratus: Alcaeus: Sappho: Anacreon: Pindar: Aeschylus: Sophocles: Euripides Aristophanes: Herodotus: Thucydides: Xenophon: Plato: Theocritus: Lucian, with biographical sketches and notes; → online text (page 5 of 29)