Anacreon (also Anakreon, Ανακρέων) (born ca. 570 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets.
Anacreon was born at Teos, an Ionian city on the coast of Asia Minor. Little more is known of his life with certainty. The name and identity of his father is a matter of dispute, with different authorities naming four possibilities: Scythianus, Eumelus, Parthenius, or Aristocritus.
It is likely that Anacreon fled into exile with the mass of his fellow-townsmen who sailed to Thrace when their homeland was attacked. There they founded a colony at Abdera, rather than remaining behind to surrender their city to Harpagus, one of Cyrus the Great's generals. Cyrus was, at the time (545 BC), besieging the Greek cities of Asia Minor. Anacreon seems to have taken part in the fighting, in which, by his own admission, he did not distinguish himself.
From Thrace he removed to the court of Polycrates of Samos. He is said to have acted as tutor to Polycrates; that he enjoyed the tyrant's confidence we learn on the authority of Herodotus (iii.121), who represents the poet as sitting in the royal chamber when audience was given to the Persian herald. In return for his favour and protection, Anacreon wrote many complimentary odes upon his patron. Like his fellow-lyric poet, Horace, who was one of his great admirers, and in many respects a kindred spirit, Anacreon seems to have been made for the society of courts.
On the death of Polycrates, Hipparchus, who was then in power at Athens and inherited the literary tastes of his father Peisistratus, sent a special embassy to fetch the popular poet to Athens in a galley of fifty oars. Here he became acquainted with the poet Simonides, and other members of the brilliant circle which had gathered round Hipparchus. When this circle was broken up by the assassination of Hipparchus, Anacreon seems to have returned to his native town of Teos, where, according to a metrical epitaph ascribed to his friend Simonides, he died and was buried.
According to others, before returning to Teos, he accompanied Simonides to the court of Echecrates, a Thessalian dynast of the house of the Aleuadae. Lucian mentions Anacreon amongst his instances of the longevity of eminent men, as having completed eighty-five years. If an anecdote given by Pliny the Elder (Nat. Hist. vii. 7) is to be trusted, he was choked at last by a grape-stone, but the story has an air of mythical adaptation to the poet's habits, which makes it somewhat apocryphal.
Anacreon was for a long time popular at Athens, where his statue was to be seen on the Acropolis, together with that of his friend Xanthippus, the father of Pericles. On several coins of Teos he is represented holding a lyre in his hand, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing. A marble statue found in 1835 in the Sabine district, and now in the Villa Borghese, is said to represent Anacreon
Poetic form and style
Anacreon wrote all of his poetry in the ancient Ionic dialect. Like all early lyric poetry, it was composed to be sung or recited to the accompaniment of music, usually the lyre. Anacreon's verses were primarily in the form of monody, which means that they were to be performed by a single voice rather than by a chorus.
In keeping with Greek poetic tradition, his poetry relied on meter for its construction. Metrical poetry is a particularly rhythmic form, deriving its structure from patterns of stress within and between the lines of verse. The stresses in Anacreon's poetry, like all the Greek poetry of the day, are found in the use of "long" and "short" vowel sounds. The Ionic dialect also had a tonal aspect to it that lends a natural melodic quality to the recitation.
The Greek language is particularly well suited to this metrical style of poetry but the sound of the verses do not easily transfer to English. As a consequence, translators have historically tended to substitute rhyme and poetic forms for the style of the originals, with the primary, sometimes only, connection to the Greek verses being the subject matter. More recent translators have tended to attempt a more spare translation which, though losing the sound of the originals, may be more true to their flavor. A sample of a translation in the English rhyming tradition is included below.
Themes and subjects of Anacreon's poetry
Anacreon's poetry touched on universal themes of love, infatuation, disappointment, revelry, parties, festivals, and the observations of everyday people and life. It is the subject matter of Anacreon's poetry that helped to keep it familiar and enjoyable to generations of readers and listeners. His widespread popularity inspired countless immitators, which also kept his name alive.
Anacreon had a reputation as a composer of hymns, as well as of those bacchanalian and amatory lyrics - some of a pederastic nature - which are commonly associated with his name. Two short hymns to Artemis and Dionysus, consisting of eight and eleven lines respectively, stand first amongst his few undisputed remains, as printed by recent editors. But pagan hymns, especially when addressed to such deities as Aphrodite, Eros and Dionysus, are not so very unlike what we call "Anacreontic" poetry as to make the contrast of style as great as the word might seem to imply. The tone of Anacreon's lyric effusions has probably led to an unjust estimate, by both ancients and moderns, of the poet's personal character. The "triple worship" of the Muses, Wine and Love, ascribed to him as his religion in an old Greek epigram (Anthol. iii. 25, 51), may have been as purely professional in the two last cases as in the first, and his private character on such points was probably neither much better nor worse than that of his contemporaries. Athenaeus remarks acutely that he seems at least to have been sober when he wrote; and he himself strongly repudiates, as Horace does, the brutal characteristics of intoxication as fit only for barbarians and Scythians (Fr. 64).
Of the five books of lyrical pieces by Anacreon which the Suda and Athenaeus mention as extant in their time, we have now but the merest fragments, collected from the citations of later writers.
A collection of poems by numerous, anonymous imitators was long believed to be the works of Anacreon himself. Known as the Anacreonteia, it was preserved in a 10th Century manuscript which also included the Palatine Anthology. The poems were later translated into French by Henry Estienne, known as Stephanus, but little is known about the origins of the manuscript. Salmasius reports seeing the Anacreonteia at the library in Heidelberg in 1607. In 1623, it was given to Pope Gregory XV after the sacking of Heidelberg. It was later taken from the Vatican City by Napoleon in 1797, who had it rebound as two separate volumes. One of those volumes was returned to Heidleberg but the other remained in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.
In the 17th century, Abraham Cowley translated the verses into English. The poems themselves appear to have been composed over a long period of time, from the time of Alexander the Great until the time that paganism gave way in the Roman Empire. They reflect the light hearted elegance of much of Anacreon's genuine works although they were not written in the same Ionic Greek dialect that Anacreon used. They also display literary references and styles more common to the time of their actual composition.
Anacreon had a reputation as a composer of hymns, as well as of those bacchanalian and amatory lyrics which are commonly associated with his name. Two short hymns to Artemis and Dionysus, consisting of eight and eleven lines respectively, stand first amongst his few undisputed remains, as printed by recent editors. But pagan hymns, especially when addressed to such deities as Aphrodite, Eros and Dionysus, are not so very unlike what we call "Anacreontic" poetry as to make the contrast of style as great as the word might seem to imply. The tone of Anacreon's lyric effusions has probably led to an unjust estimate, by both ancients and moderns, of the poet's personal character. The "triple worship" of the Muses, Wine and Love, ascribed to him as his religion in an old Greek epigram (Anthol. iii. 25, 51), may have been as purely professional in the two last cases as in the first, and his private character on such points was probably neither much better nor worse than that of his contemporaries. Athenaeus remarks acutely that he seems at least to have been sober when he wrote; and he himself strongly repudiates, as Horace does, the brutal characteristics of intoxication as fit only for barbarians and Scythians (Fr. 64).
The Muse of Anacreon, Arnold Böcklin 1873
The Wounded Cupid. Song
Cupid as he lay among
Roses, by a Bee was stung.
Whereupon in anger flying
To his Mother, said thus crying;
Help! O help! your Boy's a dying.
And why, my pretty Lad, said she?
Then blubbering, replied he,
A winged Snake has bitten me
Which Country people call a Bee.
At which she smil'd; then with her hairs
And kisses drying up his tears:
Alas! said she, my Wag! if this
Such a pernicious torment is:
Come, tell me then, how great's the smart
Of those, thou woundest with thy Dart!
Translated from the Greek by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks, and gapes for drink again,
The plants suck in the earth, and are
With constant drinking fresh and fair;
The sea itself (which one would think
Should have but little need of drink)
Drinks twice ten thousand rivers up,
So filled that they o'erflow the cup.
The busy Sun (and one would guess
By 's drunken fiery face no less)
Drinks up the sea, and, when he's done,
The Moon and Stars drink up the Sun:
They drink and dance by their own light;
They drink and revel all the night.
Nothing in nature's sober found,
But an eternal health goes round.
Fill up the bowl then, fill it high,
Fill all the glasses there; for why
Should every creature drink but I?
Why, man of morals, tell me why?
Oft am I by the women told,
Poor Anacreon, thou grow'st old!
Look how thy hairs are falling all;
Poor Anacreon, how they fall!
Whether I grow old or no,
By th' effects I do not know;
This I know, without being told,
'Tis time to live, if I grow old;
'Tis time short pleasures now to take,
Of little life the best to make,
And manage wisely the last stake.
Fill the bowl with rosy wine!
Around our temples roses twine!
And let us cheerfully awhile,
Like the wine and roses, smile.
Crowned with roses, we contemn
Gyges' wealthy diadem.
To-day is ours, what do we fear?
To-day is ours; we have it here:
Let's treat it kindly, that it may
Wish, at least, with us to stay.
Let's banish business, banish sorrow;
To the gods belongs to-morrow.
Underneath this myrtle shade,
On flowery beds supinely laid,
With odorous oils my head o'erflowing,
And around it roses growing,
What should I do but drink away
The heat and troubles of the day?
In this more than kingly state
Love himself shall on me wait.
Fill to me, Love, nay fill it up;
And, mingled, cast into the cup
Wit, and mirth, and noble fires,
Vigorous health, and gay desires.
The wheel of life no less will stay
In a smooth than rugged way:
Since it equally doth flee,
Let the motion pleasant be.
Why do we precious ointments show'r?
Noble wines why do we pour?
Beauteous flowers why do we spread,
Upon the monuments of the dead?
Nothing they but dust can show,
Or bones that hasten to be so.
Crown me with roses while I live,
Now your wines and ointments give
After death I nothing crave;
Let me alive my pleasures have,
All are Stoics in the grave.
A mighty pain to love it is,
And 'tis a pain that pain to miss;
But, of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain.
Virtue now, nor noble blood,
Nor wit by love is understood;
Gold alone does passion move,
Gold monopolizes love;
A curse on her, and on the man
Who this traffic first began!
A curse on him who found the ore!
A curse on him who digged the store!
A curse on him who did refine it!
A curse on him who first did coin it!
A curse, all curses else above,
On him who used it first in love!
Gold begets in brethren hate;
Gold in families debate;
Gold does friendship separate;
Gold does civil wars create.
These the smallest harms of it!
Gold, alas! does love beget.
Happy Insect! what can be
In happiness compared to thee?
Fed with nourishment divine,
The dewy Morning's gentle wine!
Nature waits upon thee still,
And thy verdant cup does fill;
'Tis filled wherever thou dost tread,
Nature's self's thy Ganymede.
Thou dost drink, and dance, and sing;
Happier than the happiest king!
All the fields which thou dost see,
All the plants, belong to thee;
All that summer hours produce,
Fertile made with early juice.
Man for thee does sow and plow;
Farmer he, and landlord thou!
Thou dost innocently joy;
Nor does thy luxury destroy;
The shepherd gladly heareth thee,
More harmonious than he.
Thee country hinds with gladness hear,
Prophet of the ripened year!
Thee Phoebus loves, and does inspire;
Phoebus is himself thy sire.
To thee, of all things upon Earth,
Life's no longer than thy mirth.
Happy insect, happy thou!
Dost neither age nor winter know;
But, when thou'st drunk, and danced, and sung
Thy fill, the flowery leaves among,
(Voluptuous, and wise withal,
Sated with thy summer feast,
Thou retir'st to endless rest.
Foolish prater, what dost thou
So early at my window do,
With thy tuneless serenade?
Well 't had been had Tereus made
Thee as dumb as Philomel;
There his knife had done but well.
In thy undiscovered nest
Thou dost all the winter rest,
And dreamest o'er thy summer joys,
Free from the stormy season's noise:
Free from th' ill thou'st done to me;
Who disturbs or seeks out thee?
Hadst thou all the charming notes
Of the wood's poetic throats,
All thou art could never pay
What thou hast ta'en from me away.
Cruel bird! thou'st ta'en away
A dream out of my arms to-day;
A dream that ne'er must equaled be
By all that waking eyes may see.
Thou, this damage to repair,
Nothing half so sweet or fair,
Nothing half so good, canst bring,
Though men say thou bring'st the Spring.
THE POET'S CHOICE
If hoarded gold possessed a power
To lengthen life's too fleeting hour,
And purchase from the hand of death
A little span, a moment's breath,
How I would love the precious ore!
And every day should swell my store;
That when the fates would send their minion,
To waft me off on shadowy pinion,
I might some hours of life obtain,
And bribe him back to hell again.
But since we ne'er can charm away
The mandate of that awful day,
Why do we vainly weep at fate,
And sigh for life's uncertain date?
The light of gold can ne'er illume
The dreary midnight of the tomb!
And why should I then pant for treasures?
Mine be the brilliant round of pleasures;
The goblet rich, the hoard of friends,
Whose flowing souls the goblet blends!
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 treasured gold my own.
But oh! be mine the rosy braid,
The fervor of my brows to shade;
Be mine the odors, richly sighing,
Amid my hoary tresses flying.
To-day I'll haste to quaff my wine,
As if to-morrow ne'er should shine;
But if to-morrow comes, why then--
I'll 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
With mantling cup and cordial smile;
And shed from every bowl of wine
The richest drop on Bacchus's shrine!
For Death may come, with brow unpleasant,
May come when least we wish him present,
And beckon to the sable shore,
And grimly bid us--drink no more!
A LOVER'S SIGH
The Phrygian rock that braves the storm
Was once a weeping matron's form;
And Procne, hapless, frantic maid,
Is now a swallow in the shade.
Oh that a mirror's form were mine,
To sparkle with that smile divine;
And like my heart I then should be,
Reflecting thee, and only thee!
Or could I be the robe which holds
That graceful form within its folds;
Or, turned into a fountain, lave
Thy beauties in my circling wave;
Or, better still, the zone that lies
Warm to thy breast, and feels its sighs!
Or like those envious pearls that show
So faintly round that neck of snow!
Yes, I would be a happy gem,
Like them to hang, to fade like them.
What more would thy Anacreon be?
Oh, anything that touches thee,
Nay, sandals for those airy feet--
Thus to be pressed by thee were sweet!
Anacreon and the Star Spangled Banner
Anacreon's delightful verses and high spirits continued to inspire many composers, professional and amateur alike. As contemporary French and English translations of his work circulated widely, groups devoted to his poetry and love of drinking parties formed througout the United Kingdom. Around 1771, the "Anacreon Society" was formed by well-off fans in London. They promptly set about writing new verses in his style. The best remembered one, dated to approximately 1776, was entitled "To Anacreon in Heaven," and tells of Anacreon's adventures in the afterlife. The lyrics appear to have been a group effort headed by Dr. Thomas Arnold. But the tune to which it was sung is attributed to another one of the Anacreon Society's members: John Stafford Smith. The tune, and always evolving lyrics, became a favorite among the patrons of pubs, taverns, and drinking halls on both sides of the Atlantic. It was still being sung in 1814 when Francis Scott Key composed "In Defense of Fort McHenry" to its melody. Key's song was later re-titled "The Star Spangled Banner" and became the national anthem of the United States.
Poets named after Anacreon
- Anacreon of Painters, Francesco Albano or Albani (1578-1660).
- Anacreon of the Guillotine, Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac (1755-1841).
- Anacreon of the Temple, Guillaume Amfrye, abbé de Chaulieu (1639-1720).
- Anacreon of the Twelfth Century, Walter Mapes, "The Jovial Toper." His famous drinking song, "Meum est prepositum ..." has been translated by Leigh Hunt (1150-1196).
- The French Anacreon. 1. Pontus de Thiard, one of the "Pleiad poets" (1521-1605). 2. P. Laujon, perpetual president of the Caveau Moderne, a Paris club, noted for its good dinners, but every member was of necessity a poet (1727-1811).
- The Persian Anacreon, Mahommed Hafiz. The collection of his poems is called The Divan (1310-1389).
- Anacreon of Sweden, Bellmann
- The Sicilian Anacreon, Giovanni Meli (1740-1815).
Anacreon Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek Copenhagen
Jean-Léon Gérôme 1824-1904: Anacreon with Cupid and Bacchus
Anacreon sculpture, Eugène Guillaume 1851 Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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