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 6 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 6 of 29)
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^ When the Persians invaded Greece in 480 b. c, Leonidas, king- of
Sparta, went to hold the pass of Thermopylae ag-ainst them. When
by a circuitous route the Persians entered the pass, Leonidas dismissed
his army except three hundred Spartans and seven hundred Thes-
pians, who died on the field faithful to their trust.


The different kinds of Greek literature during the clas-
sical age existed not so much side by side as successively.
In modern times, Tennyson and Goethe composed not only
lyric and dramatic poems, but also epics on a small scale,
but in Greece no single poet tried his powers in these three
classes of literature ; still less did he compose not only all
kinds of poetry, but also artistic and scientific prose. Proba-
bly lyric poetry, songs in praise of the gods, songs of love
and of war, songs of joy and of grief, preceded epic poetry
in Greece as in India ; but these earliest lays have all per-
ished. Greek lyric poetry as we know it was in its begin-
ning when the light of epic poetry was waning, and it passed
its highest glory before dramatic poetry reached its zenith.
And though the drama had but a short life, its glory was
passing before the historian's art was perfected, and this in
turn yielded to oratory and the dialogues of philosophy.
Bucolic poetry was the only new kind of literature to be
developed after the middle of the fourth century before the
beginning of our era.

Greek lyric poetry had two main divisions, — the Aeolic
personal poetry of Asia Minor, that of Sappho and Alcaeus,
which served as a model to the Roman Horace ; and the
choral poetry which flourished particularly among the Dori-
ans, and from which Attic tragedy with its choral songs was
developed. To the latter division belongs the poetry of Ale-
man, Simonides, and Pindar.

Pindar, the greatest and the last of the great lyric poets
of Greece, was almost the exact contemporary of Aeschylus,


the earliest and the most lyric of the great dramatic poets.
He was born near Thebes in the summer of 522 b. c,
and studied music and poetry at Athens, where he must
have known Aeschylus.

The works of Pindar were collected by the scholars of
the Alexandrian library and divided into seventeen " books "
or parts. Of these, three books are extant and probably
most of a fourth, all but two or three of the forty-four odes
being in celebration of victories in the national games of
Greece, — the Olympian held in Elis, the Pythian at Del-
phi, the Isthmian at Corinth, and the Nemean at Nemea.
The ode does not in any case describe the contest in which
the victory was won, but only indicates it. The games, like
all the festivals of the Greeks, were religious in their origin,
being held in honor of some god, and the odes of victory
are very like Greek hymns. The heart of each of the longer
odes is formed by a myth, which if possible is connected
with the family or home of the victor, or if not, at least
with the foundation of the games themselves.

Not every victory could be celebrated by a Pindaric ode,
and naturally Pindar's patrons were for the most part
princes or men of wealth. None but men of Greek blood
could take part in these Greek games, and the princes of
Sicily and Gyrene seem to have been particularly eager to
bind more firmly and openly the tie which bound them to
their kinsmen in Greece by taking part in the contests at
least by proxy, sending a saddle horse or a chariot and four
horses to contend in the races. Thus Hiero of Syracuse,
who was a patron of literature and drew to his court also
Aeschylus and Simonides, Thero of Agrigentum, and Arce-
silaus of Gyrene called the " Theban eagle " to celebrate
their victories, and by his songs he built for them " monu-
ments more enduring than brass."



In honor of a victory with the chariot in the Pythian Games
won by Hiero, king of Syracuse, in 470 B. c. Reference is made
to a recent volcanic eruption of Mt. Aetna, and to the newly
founded city Aetna, which Hiero had recently established with a
Spartan constitution, near the foot of that mountain, on the site
of the modern Catania. There Hiero had made his son Deino-
menes king. Matthew Arnold paraphrases part of this ode in his
Empedocles on Etna.

Hail, golden lyre ! wliose heav'n-in vented string

To Phoebus and the black-hair'd nine belongs ;
Who in sweet chorus round their tuneful king

Mix with thy sounding chords their sacred songs.
The dance, gay queen of pleasure, thee attends ; s

Thy jocund strains her list'ning feet inspire ;
And each melodious tongue its voice suspends

Till thou, great leader of the heav'nly quire,
With wanton art preluding giv'st the sign —
Swells the full concert then with harmony divine. lo

Then, of their streaming lightnings all disarm'd,

The smould'ring thunderbolts of Jove expire ;
Then, by the music of thy numbers charm'd.

The birds' fierce monarch drops his vengeful ire ;
Perch'd on the sceptre of th' Olympian king, 15

The thrilling darts of harmony he feels ;
And indolently hangs his rapid wing,

While gentle sleep his closing eyelid seals ;
And o'er his heaving limbs in loose array
To ev'ry balmy gale the ruffling feathers play. 20

Ev'n Mars, stern god of violence and war,

Soothes with thy lulling strains his furious breast,


Arxd driving from his heart each bloody care.
His pointed lance consigns to peaceful rest.

Nor less enraptur'd each immortal mind 25

Owns the soft influence of enchanting song,

When, in melodious symphony combin'd,
Thy son,^ Latona, and the tuneful throng

Of muses, skill'd in wisdom's deepest lore,
The subtle pow'rs of verse and harmony explore. 30

But they, on earth, or the devouring main,

Whom righteous Jove with detestation views,
With envious horror hear the heav'nly strain,

Exil'd from praise, from virtue, and the muse.
Such is Typhoeus,^ impious foe of gods, 35

Whose hundred headed form Cilicia's cave
Once foster'd in her infamous abodes ;

Till daring with presumptuous arms to brave
The might of thund'ring Jove, subdued he fell,
Plung'd in the horrid dungeons of profoundest hell. 40

Now under sulph'rous Cumae's sea-bound coast,

And vast Sicilia lies his shaggy breast ;
By snowy Aetna, nurse of endless frost.

The pillar'd prop of heav'n, for ever press'd :
Forth from whose nitrous caverns issuing rise 45

Pure liquid fountains of tempestuous fire,
And veil in ruddy mists the noon-day skies.

While wrapt in smoke the eddying flames

1 Apollo.

^ Typhoeus or Typhon, an enemy of Zeus, is supposed by Homer
to lie beneath the Cilician plain, in the "earthquake belt " of Asia
Minor. But now that Mt. Aetna is an active volcano, Pindar transfers
him thither, and he is said to extend from Cumae's coast (i. e. Mt.
Vesuvius) to Sicily (Mt. Aetna).


Or gleaming thro' the night with hideous roar
Far o'er the redd'ning main huge rocky fragments
pour. 60

But he, vulcanian monster, to the clouds

The fiercest, hottest inundations throws,
While with the burthen of incumbent woods,

And Aetna's gloomy cliffs o'erwhelm'd he glows.
There on his flinty bed out-stretch'd he lies, 55

Whose pointed rock his tossing carcase wounds :
There with dismay he strikes beholding eyes,

Or frights the distant ear with horrid sounds.
O save us from thy wrath, Sicilian Jove !
Thou, that here reign'st, ador'd in Aetna's sacred
grove : m

Aetna, fair forehead of this fruitful land !

Whose borrow'd name adorns the royal town,
Rais'd by illustrious Hiero's gen'rous hand,

And render'd glorious with his high renown.
By Pythian heralds were her praises sung, es

When Hiero triumph'd in the dusty course,
When sweet Castalia with applauses rung.

And glorious laurels crown'd the conqu'ring
The happy city for her future days
Presages hence increase of victory and praise. 70

Thus when the mariners to prosp'rous winds,
The port forsaking, spread their swelling sails ;

The fair departure cheers their jocund minds
With pleasing hopes of favorable gales,

While o'er the dang'rous deserts of the main, 75
To their lov'd country they pursue their ways.


Ev'n so, Apollo, thou, whom Lycia's plain.

Whom Delus, and Castalia's springs obey,
These hopes regard, and Aetna's glory raise
With valiant sons, triumphant steeds, and heav'nly
lays ! 80

For human virtue from the gods proceeds ;

They the wise mind bestow'd, and smooth'd the
With elocution, and for mighty deeds

The nervous arm with manly vigor strung.
All these are Hiero's : these to rival lays ss

Call forth the bard. Arise then. Muse, and
To this contention ; strive in Hiero's praise.

Nor fear thy efforts shall his worth exceed ;
Within the lines of truth secure to throw.
Thy dart shall still surpass each vain attempting
foe. 90

So may succeeding ages, as they roll,

Great Hiero still in wealth and bliss maintain.
And joyous health recalling, on his soul

Oblivion pour of life-consuming pain.
Yet may thy memory with sweet delight 95

The various dangers and the toils recount,
Which in intestine wars and bloody fight

Thy patient virtue, Hiero, did surmount ;
What time, by Heav'n above all Grecians crown 'd.
The prize of sovereign sway with thee thy brother
found. 100

Then like the son of Poean didst thou war,
Smit with the arrows of a sore disease ;


While, as along slow rolls thy sickly car,

Love and amaze the haughtiest bosoms seize.
In Lemnos pining with th' envenom'd wound 105

The son of Poean, Philoctetes,^ lay :
There, after tedious quest, the heroes found.
And bore the limping archer thence away ;
By whom fell Priam's tow'rs (so Fate ordain 'd)
And the long harass'd Greeks their wish'd repose
obtain' d. uo

May Hiero too, like Poean's son, receive

Recover'd vigor from celestial hands !
And may the healing God proceed to give

The pow'r to gain whate'er his wish demands.
But now, O Muse, address thy sounding lays us

To young Dinomenes, his virtuous heir.
Sing to Dinomenes his father's praise ;

His father's praise shall glad his filial ear.
For him hereafter shalt thou touch the string.
And chant in friendly strains fair Aetna's future king.

Hiero for him th' illustrious city rear'd, 121

And fill'd with sons of Greece her stately

Where by the free-born citizen rever'd

The Spartan laws exert their virtuous pow'rs.

For by the statutes, which their fathers gave, 125
Still must the restive Dorian youth be led ;

Who dwelling once on cold Eurotas' wave,^

1 The Greeks on their way to Troy abandoned Philoctetes at Lem-
nos, but were obliged to seek his aid.

2 The Eurotas flows past Sparta, and Mt. Taygetus rises high
above the city. The Spartans derived their orig-in from Doris on thi
slopes of Pindus. Amyelae was the old capital of Lacedaemon. Tli
" Twins of Leda " were Castor and Pollux, whose sanctuary was near


"Where proud Taygetus exalts his head,
From the great stock of Hercules divine
And warlike Pamphylus deriv'd their noble line. iso

These from Thessalian Pindus rushing down,

The walls of fam'd Amyclae once possess' d,
And rich in fortune's gifts and high renown,

Dwelt near the twins of Leda, while they pressed
Their milky coursers, and the pastures o'er 135

Of neighb'ring Argos rang'd, in arms supreme.
To king and people on the flow'ry shore

Of lucid Amenas, Sicilian stream,
Grant the like fortune, Jove, with like desert
The splendor of their race and glory to assert. uo

And do thou aid Sicilia's hoary lord

To form and rule his son's obedient mind ;
And still in golden chains of sweet accord,

And mutual peace the friendly people bind.
Then grant, O Son of Saturn, grant my pray'r ! 145

The bold Phoenician ^ on his shore detain ;
And may the hardy Tuscan never dare

To vex with clam'rous war Sicilia's main ;
Rememb'ring Hiero, how on Cumae's coast
Wreck'd by his stormy arms their groaning fleets
were lost. 150

What terrors ! what destruction then assail'd !

Hurl'd from their riven decks what numbers died !
When o'er their might Sicilia's chief prevail'd,

Their youth o'erwhelming in the foamy tide,
Greece from impending servitude to save. 15.

Thy favor, glorious Athens ! to acquire
^ I. e. the western Phoenician, or Carthaginian,


Would I record the Salaminian wave ^

Fam'd in thy triumphs ; and my tuneful lyre
To Sparta's sons with sweetest praise should tell,
Beneath Cithaeron's shade ^ what Medish archers fell.

But on fair Himera's wide-water'd shores ^ m

Thy sons, Dinomenes, my lyre demand.
To grace their virtues with the various stores

Of sacred verse, and sing th' illustrious band
Of valiant brothers, who from Carthage won m

The glorious meed of conquest, deathless praise.
A pleasing theme ! but censure's dreaded frown

Compels me to contract my spreading lays.
In verse conciseness pleases ev'ry guest.
While each impatient blames and loathes a tedious
feast. 170

Nor less distasteful is excessive fame

To the sour palate of the envious mind ;
Who hears with grief his neighbor's goodly name,

And hates the fortune that he ne'er shall find.
Yet in thy virtue, Hiero, persevere ! . 175

Since to be envied is a nobler fate
Than to be pitied. Let strict justice steer

With equitable hand the helm of state.
And arm thy tongue with truth. O king, beware
Of ev'ry step ! a prince can never lightly err. iso

O'er many nations art thou set, to deal

The goods of fortune with impartial hand ;

1 Keferring to the battle of Salamis, 480 b. c.

2 Referring to the battle of Plataea, 479 b. C.

8 The poet thus compares the battle of Himera, 480 B. C, won by
Hiero and his brothers (sons of Dinomenes the elder) over the Cartha-
ginians, with the battles of Salamis and Plataea.


And ever watchful of the public weal,

Unnumber'd witnesses around thee stand.
Then, would thy virtuous ear for ever feast iss

On the sweet melody of well-earn'd fame,
In generous purposes confirm thy breast,

Nor dread expenses that will grace thy name ;
But scorning sordid and unprincely gain,
Spread all thy bounteous sails, and launch into the
main. 190

When in the mould'ring urn the monarch lies,

His fame in lively characters remains.
Or grav'd in monumental histories.

Or deck'd and painted in Aonian^ strains.
Thus fresh, and fragrant, and immortal blooms 195

The virtue, Croesus, of thy gentle mind.
While fate to infamy and hatred dooms

Sicilia's tyrant,^ scorn of human kind ;
Whose ruthless bosom swell'd with cruel pride.
When in his brazen bull the broiling wretches died. 200

Him therefore nor in sweet society

The gen'rous youth conversing ever name,
Nor with the harp's delightful melody

Mingle his odious inharmonious fame.
The first, the greatest bliss on man conferr'd 205

Is in the acts of virtue to excel :
The second, to obtain their high reward.

The soul-exalting praise of doing well.
Who both these lots attains, is bless'd indeed.
Since fortune here below can give no richer meed. 210

Translated by Gilbert West.
^ I. e. of the Muses.

2 Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum (Girgenti), who was said to roast
men alive in a bronze bull.



Part of the description of the expedition of the Argonauts to
Colchis for the Golden Fleece, which was in the possession of
King Aietes, son of Helios, and father of Medea, who was skilled
in sorcery. The Golden Fleece was the skin of the wonderful
ram which had borne Phrixus from danger in Greece, and had
been sacrificed by him in Asia.

And with breezes of the South they came wafted to
the mouth of the Axine ^ sea ; there they founded a
shrine and sacred close of Poseidon, god of seas, where
was a red herd of Thracian bulls, and a new-built altar
of stone with hollow top.

Then as they set forth toward an exceeding peril
they prayed the lord of ships that they might shun
the terrible shock of the jarring rocks : ^ for they
were twain that had life, and plunged along more
swiftly than the legions of the bellowing winds ; but
that travel of the geed of gods made end of them at

After that they came to the Phasis ; there they
fought with dark-faced Colchians even in the presence
of Aietes. And there the queen of keenest darts, the
Cyprus-born,^ first brought to men from Olympus the
frenzied bird, the speckled wry-neck, binding it to a
four-spoked wheel without deliverance, and taught the
son of Aison* to be wise in prayers and charms, that
he might make Medea^ take no thought to honor her

1 Axine is inhospitable, — the esiitly name of the Black Sea, which
was later called Euxine, or hospitable.

2 The " justling rocks," which lay at the mouth of the Black Sea,
were thought to clash together until the Argo passed through safely.

* Aphrodite, the Roman Venus.

* Jason, leader of the Argonauts.


parents, and longing for Hellas might drive her by
persuasion's lash, her heart afire with love.

Then speedily she showed him the accomplishment
of the tasks her father set, and mixing drugs with oil
gave him for his anointment antidotes of cruel pain,
and they vowed to be joined together in sweet wed-

But when Aietes had set in the midst a plough
of adamant, and oxen that from tawny jaws breathed
flame of blazing fire, and with bronze hoofs smote
the earth in alternate steps, and had led them and
yoked them single-handed, he marked out in a line
straight furrows, and for a fathom's length clave the
back of the loamy earth ; then he spake thus : " This
work let your king, whosoever he be that hath com-
mand of the ship, accomplish me, and then let him
bear away with him the imperishable coverlet, the
fleece glittering with tufts of gold."

He said, and Jason flung off from him his saffron
mantle, and putting his trust in God betook himself
to the work ; and the fire made him not to shrink, for
that he had had heed to the bidding of the stranger
maiden skilled in all pharmacy. So he drew to him
the plough and made fast by force the bulls' necks in
the harness, and plunged the wounding goad into the
bulk of their huge sides, and with manful strain ful-
filled the measure of his work. And a cry without
speech came from Aietes in his agony, at the marvel
of the power he beheld.

Then to the strong man his comrades stretched
forth their hands, and crowned him with green
wreaths, and greeted him with gracious words. And
thereupon the wondrous son of Helios told him in
what place the knife of Phrixos had stretched the


shining fell; yet he trusted that this labor at least
should never be accomplished by him. For it lay in
a thick wood and grasped by a terrible dragon's jaws,
and he in length and thickness was larger than their
ship of fifty oars, which the iron's blows had welded.

Translated by Ernest Myers.


Aeschylus was born at Athens, 525 b. c. He had part
in the battle of Marathon, 490 B. c, as he tells us on his
tombstone, and doubtless also in the battle of Salamis, 480
B. c. He is called the Father of Greek Tragedy, since
before him only one actor was employed, who, wearing
various masks, held converse with the leader of the chorus.
No true dramatic action was possible until the second actor
was introduced. Of the ninety plays of Aeschylus, only
seven have come down to us ; of these the most magnificent
and the most difficult to understand is the Agamemnon,
which Robert Browning translated. Aeschylus died at
Gela in Sicily in 456 b. c.

The story on which the Prometheus Bound is based is
told in the play itself. The audience had no play-bills
or information other than that which the drama supplied.
Prometheus belonged to the older race of gods, — he was a
Titan, — but he took the part of Zeus (Jupiter) in the lat-
ter's contest with his father Cronos (Saturn), and assisted
in establishing the new dynasty. By aiding men, however,
especially in conveying to them the gift of fire^ which
should prove for them the mother of every art, he incurred
the enmity of Zeus, and is to be severely punished.

The scene of the play is laid in Scythia, near the waters
of Ocean.

The Dramatis Personae are skilfully chosen : Strength
and Force, as the roughest of Zeus's servants, bring Prome-
theus to the scene of his sufferings. Hephaestus (Vulcan),
the god of fire and the patron of all work in metals, the
Tubal Cain of the Greel^s, binds the Titan to the rocks.
The Ocean Nymphs hear the sound of the hammer on the


fetters, and come out of curiosity, but full of sympathy.
They are sisters of Prometheus's bride, Hesione. No others
could have formed the chorus so well, since the brothers
of Prometheus had been hurled into Tartarus, and the
higher gods of Olympus were at enmity with the Titan,
and his place of punishment had been chosen far from the
dwellings of mortals. Oceanus (Ocean) himself enters not
long after his daughters, and advises Prometheus to bow
before the sovereignty of Zeus. He is an excellent foil to
the chief character, since he agrees with him in his feeling,
but adapts himself to circumstances. lo is the only mortal
introduced in the play, and a '' motive " is given for her
coming : she is wandering, tormented by the oestrus, along
the shore. She, too, is a foil to Prometheus, since her suf-
ferings come indirectly from Zeus, but she yields helplessly,
in a manner contrasted with the Titan's stubborn resist-
ance. She is further connected with the story, since her
descendant Heracles (Hercules) is to release Prometheus.
Prometheus's sympathy for lo in her sufferings draws from
him a distinct prediction of the overthrow of Zeus and his
dynasty, and this brings upon the scene Hermes (Mercury) ^
the messenger of the gods, who threatens suffering still
more dire, if Prometheus will not tell how this disaster may
be averted. The Titan defies Zeus, and the play ends with
thunder, lightning, and earthquake.

This play was the Prometheus Bound. Another (no
longer extant) followed, — Prometheus Unbound, — in
which the Titans, who had been freed from Tartarus, served
as chorus, and Heracles (Hercules) at the bidding of Zeus
released Prometheus. How the reconciliation between Zeus
and Prometheus could be brought about without humiliation
to the king of the gods, is not easy to see. In the play
before us, Zeus is represented as a wilful and unjust tyrant.
How these ways were justified to men in the second play,
we do not know. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, in which
he makes Prometheus a martyr, is wholly fanciful.

The character of Prometheus was before Milton's mind


as he depicted Satan, and by the Greek title Prometheus
Desviotes {Bound) was suggested the title of Milton's Sam-
son Agonistes.

The play was presented in the great open-air theatre of
Dionysus, at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, about 470
B. C. In the time of Aeschylus the action seems to have
been not on a raised stage, but in a circular " orchestra '*
or dancing-place. The scenery and theatrical machinery
were simple. The actors wore masks, and in general
Aeschylus employed but two actors for each play. In this
play, one actor may have taken the parts of Strength,
Oceanus, lo, and Hermes, while the actor who took the
part of Hephaestus may have slipped around behind the
rocks to speak the verses of Prometheus. This would re-
quire a lay figure for the Titan, but would explain how the
" adamantine wedge " could be driven through his breast,
and would provide a mechanical reason for the silence of
Prometheus during the first scene. The dramatic reason
for this silence is that the Titan will not demean himself to
bandy words with his tormentors. Force is a "mute," a

In 1833, Elizabeth Barrett (Mrs. Browning) published
anonymously a translation of the Prometheus, — " com-
pleted in thirteen days," she wrote in 1845 to Mr. Brown-
ing, — " the iambics thrown into blank verse, the lyrics
into rhymed octosyllabics and the like." This work was
afterwards suppressed, but Miss Barrett in 1845 thoroughly
revised it, and published her new translation in 1850. An-
other slight revision was made and published in 1856. Mr.
Browning wrote that Mrs. Browning was " self-taught in
almost every respect," and her Greek scholarship naturally
was not that of a philologist of to-day. Of a few words
and phrases she failed to catch the exact meaning, and
in several instances she thus lost the full connection of
thought. But her poetic genius more than atoned for her

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 6 of 29)