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Simonides, Greek poet

Oxford Classical Dictionary


Simonides, Greek poet  
P. J. Parsons
Subject: Greek Literature Online Publication Date: Mar 2016
DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.5942

Simonides, Greek poet from Iulis on Ceos; son of Leoprepes, grandson or descendant of
Hylichus (Callimachus fr. 64. 8; 222), uncle of Bacchylides (Strabo 10. 5. 6). If he worked
at the court of Hipparchus (1) ([Pl.], Hipparch. 228c; Arist., Ath. pol. 18. 1), his career be­
gan before 514 BCE; his praises of Eualcidas of Eretria (fr. 518) date before 498, his Bat­
tle of Plataea (fr. 10–17 W2; see PLATAEA, BATTLE OF) in or after 479; he finished at the
court of Hieron (1), and his tomb was shown at Acragas (Callim. fr. 64. 4). Tradition made
him live to be 90; most sources set his birth c.556 (others c.532).

No poem of Simonides survives intact, except the epigrams attributed to him; even the
Suda's list of works (which should preserve the outlines of the Alexandrian edition) is gar­
bled. But the fragments make it clear that Simonides commanded a wide variety of gen­
res. In choral lyric, he composed epinicians, of which he and perhaps Ibycus are the first
known practitioners; dithyrambs, with which according to a (Hellenistic) epigram (xxvii
Page) he won at least 57 competitions; thrēnoi (laments: see DIRGE); paeans; encomia;
Partheneia and the like (cf. Ar.Av. 919). His elegies, which occupied at least one book, in­
cluded some sympotic pieces (see SYMPOSIUM LITERATURE), and some historical (on
the battles of Artemisium (see ARTEMISIUM, BATTLE OF) and Plataea). Many epigrams,
especially epigrams relating to the Persian Wars, were collected under Simonides' name;
the epitaph for the seer Megistias (vi Page) may be genuine (cf. Hdt. 7. 228. 4). Si­
monides' clients included cities, individual athletes like Eualcidas and Astylus of Croton
(fr. 506), tyrants like Anaxilas of Rhegium (fr. 515), and various Thessalian dynasts, e.g.
the Aleuadae and the Scopadae, for whom see CRANNON (Theoc 16. 42–7). Xenocrates of
Acragas (fr. 513) and the Corinthian Oligaethidae (fr. 519A, 21+22; see CORINTH) com­
missioned poems from him, and also from Pindar (Isthm. 2, Pyth. 6; Ol. 13). Tradition con­
nected him with Themistocles and Pausanias (1); poetic enemies included Timocreon (fr.
10 W; Arist. fr. 75).

For the next generation, Simonides belonged to the classic (old-fashioned) poets (Ar.Nub.
1355; Eup. fr. 148 KA). He had the reputation of a money-grubber (Xen fr. 21 W; Ar.Pax
698 f.), and at some stage Pindar's attack on the ‘Muse for hire’ was applied to him
(Isthm. 2. 6, Callim. fr. 222). He acquired also the reputation of a sage, like Bias and Pitta­
cus (Pl.Resp. 335e; see SEVEN SAGES); various apophthegms were ascribed to him,
mostly cynical; the saying ‘painting is silent poetry and poetry painting that
speaks’ (Plut.Mor. 346 f.) forms the starting point of Lessing's Laokoon. He was credited
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Simonides, Greek poet

further with discovering the third note of the lyre; the long and double letters; and the art
of memory (Callim. fr. 64; Suda).

What little remains of Simonides shows a professional poet of great scope and range,
much in demand over his long life, spanning the tyrants and the new democracy (see
DEMOCRACY, ATHENIAN). Ancient critics admired him for simple pathos (Quint.Inst. 10.
1. 64), and that appears in noble verses for the dead of Thermopylae (fr. 531; see THER­
MOPYLAE, BATTLE OF). But the tragic threnody of Danaë (fr. 543), and the devious
gnomic textures of To Scopas (fr. 542), show other talents; in the elegies, lush eroticism
(fr. 21–2 W2) contrasts with the pocket epic Plataea, whose form (a hymn to Achilles
introducing a narrative of the campaign) enforces the parallel between the Trojan and
Persian Wars, and between Homer and Simonides.

Bibliography
Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Simonides 2.”

Testimonia and fragments: D. A. Campbell, Greek Lyric 3 (Loeb, 1991).

elegies: M. L. West, Iambi et Elegi 22 (1992).

epigrams: D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (1981).

J. H. Molyneux, Simonides (1992).

M. L. West, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 98 (1993), 1 ff..

D. Boedeker and D. Sider, The New Simonides (2001).

L. M. Kowerski, Simonides on the Persian Wars (2005).

P. J. Parsons, Oxyrhynchus Papyri 59 (1992), 4 ff.

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