Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Philetas

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PHILETAS, a distinguished poet and critic of the Alexandrian school, was the son of Telephus and a native of the island of Cos. He lived in the reigns of Philip, Alexander the Great, and Ptolemy I. of Egypt, the last of whom appointed him tutor to his son Ptolemy Philadelphus. His life thus fell in the latter part of the 4th and early part of the 3rd century B.C. He was a contemporary of Menander, a friend of the poet Hermesianax of Cos, and lived into the time of Aratus. Amongst his pupils were Theocritus and Zenodotus. He was sickly and so thin that he was said to carry lead in his shoes to keep himself from being blown away. The story runs that he died from the excessive assiduity with which he sought the answer to the sophistical problem called “The Liar.”[1] A bronze statue of him was erected in Cos.

The fame of Philetas rested chiefly on his elegiac verses, in which, however, he was esteemed inferior to the younger poet Callimachus. He is frequently mentioned by the Latin elegiac poets Propertius and Ovid. From Hermesianax and Ovid we gather that his verses were amatory and celebrated the praises of the fair Bittis or Battis, but her name does not occur in the existing frag ments, which are of a melancholy rather than an amatory tone. In one of his poems (Demetcr) he depicted the grief of Demeter for the loss of Proserpine ; in another (Hermes) the love of Polymele for Ulysses. The latter poem appears from the fragments to have been composed in hexameter verse. Further, he wrote epigrams and poems called Haiyvta. There is no evidence that he wrote bucolic poems, for the passage in Moschus formerly quoted to prove this is an interpolation of Musneus. Some iambic verses are attri buted to him, probably by a mistake arising from a common con fusion between names beginning with Phil. Besides his poems, Philetas was the author of a vocabulary explaining the meanings of rare and obscure words, including words peculiar to certain dialects. He also wrote notes on Homer. The work on Naxos (XaiaKa), sometimes attributed to him, was perhaps rather by Philteas. The fragments of Philetas have been edited by Kayser, Gbttingen, 1793, and by Bach, Halle, 1829.

  1. The problem was this: If a man says he is telling a lie, does he speak truly or falsely?