Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology/Anacreon

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ANA′CREON (Ἀνακρέων), one of the principal Greek lyric poets, was a native of the Ionian city of Teos, in Asia Minor. The accounts of his life are meagre and confused, but he seems to have spent his youth at his native city, and to have removed, with the great body of its inhabitants, to Abdera, in Thrace, when Teos was taken by Harpagus, the general of Cyrus (about B. C. 540; Strab. xiv. p. 644). The early part of his middle life was spent at Samos, under the patronage of Polycrates, in whose praise Anacreon wrote many songs. (Strab. xiv. p. 638; Herod, iii. 121.) He enjoyed very high favour with the tyrant, and is said to have softened his temper by the charms of music. (Maxim. Tyr. Diss. xxxvii. 5.) After the death of Polycrates (B. C. 522), he went to Athens at the invitation of the tyrant Hipparchus, who sent a galley of fifty oars to fetch him. (Plat. Hipparch. p. 228.) At Athens he became acquainted with Simonides and other poets, whom the taste of Hipparchus had collected round him, and he was admitted to intimacy by other noble families besides the Peisistratidae, among whom he especially celebrated the beauty of Critias, the son of Dropides. (Plat. Charm. p. 157; Berghk's Anacreon, fr. 55.) He died at the age of 85, probably about B. C. 478. (Lucian, Macrob. c. 26.) Simonides wrote two epitaphs upon him (Anthol. Pal. vii. 24, 25), the Athenians set up his statue in the Acropolis (Paus. i. 25. § 1), and the Teians struck his portrait on their coins. (Visconti, Icon. Grecque, pl. iii. 6.) The place of his death, however, is uncertain. The second epitaph of Simonides appears to say clearly that he was buried at Teos, whither he is supposed to have returned after the death of Hipparchus (B. C. 514); but there is also a tradition that, after his return to Teos, he fled a second time to Abdera, in consequence of the revolt of Histiaeus. (B. C. 495; Suidas, s. v. Ἀνακρέων and Τέω.) This tradition has, however, very probably arisen from a confusion with the original emigration of the Teians to Abdera.

The universal tradition of antiquity represents Anacreon as a most consummate voluptuary; and his poems prove the truth of the tradition. Though Athenaeus (x. p. 429) thought that their drunken tone was affected, arguing that the poet must have been tolerably sober while in the act of writing, it is plain that Anacreon sings of love and wine with hearty good will, and that his songs in honour of Polycrates came less from the heart than the expressions of his love for the beautiful youths whom the tyrant had gathered round him. (Anthol. Pal. vii. 25; Maxim. Tyr. Diss. xxvi. 1.) We see in him the luxury of the Ionian inflamed by the fervour of the poet. The tale that he loved Sappho is very improbable. (Athen. xiii. p. 599.) His death was worthy of his life, if we may believe the account, which looks, however, too like a poetical fiction, that he was choked by a grape-stone. (Plin. vii. 5; Val. Max. ix. 12. §8.) The idea formed of Anacreon by nearly all ancient writers, as a grey-haired old man, seems to have been derived from his later poems, in forgetfulness of the fact that when his fame was at its height, at the court of Polycrates, he was a very young man; the delusion being aided by the unabated warmth of his poetry to the very last.

In the time of Suidas five books of Anacreon's poems were extant, but of these only a few genuine fragments have come down to us. The "Odes" attributed to him are now universally admitted to be spurious. All of them are later than the time of Anacreon. Though some of them are very graceful, others are very deficient in poetical feeling; and all are wanting in the tone of earnestness which the poetry of Anacreon always breathed. The usual metre in these Odes is the Iambic Dimeter Catalectic, which occurs only once in the genuine fragments of Anacreon. His favourite metres are the Choriambic and the Ionic a Minore.

The editions of Anacreon are very numerous. The best are those of Brunck, Strasb. 1786; Fischer, Lips. 1793; Mehlhorn, Glogau, 1825; and Bergk, Lips. 1834.

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