1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lycophron

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LYCOPHRON, Greek poet and grammarian, was born at Chalcis in Euboea. He flourished at Alexandria in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–247 B.C.). According to Suïdas, he was the son of Socles, but was adopted by Lycus of Rhegium. He was entrusted by Ptolemy with the task of arranging the comedies in the Alexandrian library, and as the result of his labours composed a treatise On Comedy. His own compositions, however, chiefly consisted of tragedies (Suïdas gives the titles of twenty, of which very few fragments have been preserved), which secured him a place in the Pleiad of Alexandrian tragedians. One of his poems, Alexandra or Cassandra, containing 1474 iambic lines, has been preserved entire. It is in the form of a prophecy uttered by Cassandra, and relates the later fortunes of Troy and of the Greek and Trojan heroes. References to events of mythical and later times are introduced, and the poem ends with a reference to Alexander the Great, who was to unite Asia and Europe in his world-wide empire. The style is so enigmatical as to have procured for Lycophron, even among the ancients, the title of “obscure” (σκοτεινός). The poem is evidently intended to display the writer’s knowledge of obscure names and uncommon myths; it is full of unusual words of doubtful meaning gathered from the older poets, and many long-winded compounds coined by the author. It has none of the qualities of poetry, and was probably written as a show-piece for the Alexandrian school. It was very popular in the Byzantine period, and was read and commented on very frequently; the collection of scholia by Isaac and John Tzetzes is very valuable, and the MSS. of the Cassandra are numerous.[1] A few well-turned lines which have been preserved from Lycophron’s tragedies show a much better style; they are said to have been much admired by Menedemus of Eretria, although the poet had ridiculed him in a satyric drama. Lycophron is also said to have been a skilful writer of anagrams.

Editio princeps (1513); J. Potter (1697, 1702); L. Sebastiani (1803); L. Bachmann (1830); G. Kinkel (1880); E. Scheer (1881–1908), vol. ii. containing the scholia. The most complete edition is by C. von Holzinger (with translation, introduction and notes, 1895). There are translations by F. Dehèque (1853) and Viscount Royston (1806; a work of great merit). See also Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, De Lycophronis Alexandra (1884); J. Konze, De Dictione Lycophronis (1870). The commentaries of the brothers Tzetzes have been edited by C. O. Müller (1811).

  1. Two passages of the Cassandra, 1446–1450 and 1226–1282, in which the career of the Roman people and their universal empire are spoken of, could not possibly have been written by an Alexandrian poet of 250 B.C. Hence it has been maintained by Niebuhr and others that the poem was written, by a later poet mentioned by Tzetzes, but the opinion of Welcker that these paragraphs are a later interpolation is generally considered more probable.