Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Tyrtaeus likewise sang in the elegiac measure war songs to inspire the Lacedaemonians in the second Messenian war. Simonides (or Semonides) of Amorgos wrote elegies besides his iambic poems.

4. With Mimnermus of Colophon, towards the end of the seventh century B.C., an important innovation appeared. He produced not only war songs, like his predecessors, but also a book, or books, of erotic elegies, celebrating his love for a beautiful Aute-playing girl named Nanno. Himself a flute player too, he expresses subjectively the sympathetic passion of the lover, and mourns over the swift passing of youth and its ardent feelings.

That this book, which he called Nanno after his darling, occupied a prominent place as a prototype of Roman elegy in general, and of Propertius and his Cynthia book in particular, cannot be doubted."

5. From this time to the end of the great period of Greek literature elegy was popular and treated a great variety of topics. Many leaders in public life as well as in literature wrote elegy. Solon, the famous lawgiver of Athens (c. 638-559), wrote of political and ethical subjects, as well as of youthful joys and loves. Demosthenes in his speech on the false embassy had part of an elegy of Solon read to the court in support of his plea. This ethical, or gnomic, elegy is represented also by the rivals, Phocylides of Miletus and Demodocus of Leros, in the sixth century, and by Theognis of Megara, the only one of all these early Greek elegists whose works have survived to our time in anything like completeness. Theognis belonged to the latter half of this century, and suffered many political vicissitudes. There was an elegy of his (not extant) upon the citizens of Syracuse who were saved in the siege ; and we have, attributed to him, a collection of wise sayings in two books, including many elegies addressed to special friends, such as Simonides, Clearistus, and Damocles, and especially to his dear young friend Cyrnus. In many cases at least they appear to have been first intended to be sung at banquets, and were only later prepared for the reading public without ñusical accompaniment. Antimachus, Dionysius Chalcus, two elegists named Euenus, of Paros, and Critias, one of the thirty tyrants, are among the many names of elegists during this period, while Plato and Aristotle dabbled in elegy much as Cicero did in hexameters, and Pliny in erotic verse.

1 Cf. Prop. 1, 9, 11; Wilamowitz in Sitzungsberichte d. Kgl. Pr. Akad. d. Wiss. 1912, pp. 100 sqq. (reprint with additions in Sappho u. Simonides, Berlin, 1913).

ROM. EL. POETS — 2

6. Simonides of Ceos (556–468 B.c.), the gifted poet whose talent expressed itself in so many forms, did not neglect the patriotic idea, composing elegiac verses on the victories of Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. But by his excellence in threnetic elegy, including certain famous epigrams, he did much to recall the original mournful character of the measure and thus to maintain the tradition concerning its nature which has survived to modern times in the significance of the term “ elegy.” 1 Finally, Antimachus of Colophon, who flourished about 400 B.C., paved the way for the Alexandrian school of elegy by his learned manner. This appeared indeed in his epic Thebais, but was especially noteworthy in the elaborate elegy in which he undertook to console himself for the death of his darling Lyde by telling in rather wearisome detail of the unhappy loves of mythology, thus creating the objective erotic type, as contrasted with the subjective type introduced by Mimnermus.

7. Among the famous group of scholars and men of letters who flourished in the Alexandrian epoch elegy and elegiac epigram were the most highly favored and developed forms of poetry. The prevalent type was erotic. Learning, elaboration, and technique, rather than invention or emotion, characterized the Alexandrian school, thus determining to an important degree elements that were to be prominent in the Roman elegy, whose immediate model it was to become. The two names that stand

1 Cf. Hor. Car. 2, 1, 38: Ceae retractes munera neniae; Cat. 38, 8: maestius lacrimis Simonideis; though both these citations probably refer more especially to the lyric threnodies of Simonides. Cf. Nageotte, Vol. 2, p. 132.

out as foremost, at least in the esteem of posterity, among the Alexandrians are Callimachus and Philetas. It is clear, however, that several other representatives of the Alexandrian school had a direct and important influence upon Roman elegy.

8. It was Philetas of Cos, the renowned teacher of Ptolemy II, as well as of Theocritus and Zenodotus, of whom it was told that in his devotion to study he became so thin that he was obliged to wear lead in his shoes to prevent the wind from blowing him away! Yet he found time to compose merry erotic elegies (talyvia) and thus to immortalize the name of his wife, or mistress, Bittis.? Hermesianax of Colophon, pupil and friend of Philetas, wrote three books of elegies, chiefly about his darling Leontion. Phanocles handled the theme of love for beautiful boys, illustrating from the legends of gods and heroes. Euphorion, born in Euboean Chalcis (c. 275 B.c.), and after living long at Athens transplanted to Alexandria to care for the famous library, although a peculiarly ugly personality in character as well as in figure, wrote voluminously in elegy as well as in other fields of poetry.

It was he whose elegies Gallus translated into Latin. 9. Callimachus (c. 310–240 B.C.), the most celebrated name in the Alexandrian group, came from the Dorian colony of Cyrene, and after studying at Athens and teaching grammar at Eleusis, a suburb of Alexandria, was put in charge of the great library of the Ptolemies. He is said to have left behind him eight hundred books to testify of his learning and his poetic skill. His elegies are the most famous of the poetical works, and the most noted of them was the Aitia, in four books, dealing with the origins of cities, games, religious forms, and other phenomena. The extant fragments of his works include some

1 Or Philitas; cf. Crönert in Hermes, 37 (1902), p. 212; Bechtel in Genethliakon C. Robert Ueberreicht, p. 73; Wilamowitz in Sitzungsberichte d. Kgl. Pr. Akad. d. Wiss. 1912, p. 110. Cf. Quint. 10, 1, 58: cuius [elegiae] princeps habetur Callimachus, secundas confessione plurimorum Philetas occupavit ; Prop. 3, I, I; Ovid, A.A. 3, 329: sit tibi Callimachi, sit Coi nota poetae, etc.

2 Ovid, Trist. I, 6, 1: nec tantum Clario Lyde dilecta poetae, nec tantum Coo Bittis amata suo est ; Ex P. 3, 1, 57: non inferius Coa Bittide nomen habes.

excellent epigrams and hymns. The character of the satirical poem Ibis is revealed in Ovid's imitation ; and the Berenice's Hair is known to us through the translation of Catullus (No. 66). The Aitia furnished the model for the aetiological elegies of Propertius, who was otherwise deeply indebted to him, and often refers to him as his direct pattern. As a fine example of the doctus poeta, Callimachus was duly appreciated even by his Roman imitators.2

10. Among the many other Alexandrian elegists may be mentioned Alexander the Aetolian, Poseidippus, and numerous epigrammatists, including Theocritus, some of whose epigrams have survived to our day. Of peculiar interest is Parthenius of Nicaea, brought to Rome in B.C. 73 as a prisoner taken in the war with Mithridates. That he had been a close student of the Alexandrian poets is evidenced by his frequent references to them as his authorities. For his friend the promising elegist Cornelius Gallus he collected Έρωτικά Παθήματα (The Misfortunes of Love) in prose. This tendency towards the tragic thus appearing even in erotic literature is seen also in the threnetic elegy which he seems especially to have affected. In Naples he was the teacher of Vergil, and the pseudo-Vergilian Moretum was an imitation of his Muttwtós, as the Ciris was of one of his Metamorphoses.

Roman Elegy

II. Incalculable as is the debt of Roman elegy to Greek elegy, especially that of the Alexandrian school, as well as to Greek comedy and other forms of Greek literature, it must not be supposed that the Roman elegists were merely slavish imitators, lacking individual genius and invention. Rather must it be acknowledged by candid critics that Roman elegy developed into an independent product, covering its own field in its own way, and becoming one of the most successful and justly ap

1 E.g. 3, 1, 1; 9, 43; 4, I, 64 : Umbria Romani patria Callimachi.
2 Cf. Ovid, Am. I, 15, 14: quamvis ingenio non valet, arte valet.

preciated varieties of Roman literature. That this was not as well appreciated by contemporary Romans themselves as by posterity is not a unique literary phenomenon. We must beware of accepting as the sober judgment of to-day the derogatory remarks of the Romans about their own literature, or the scoffs that authors then threw at their rivals. Cicero may, indeed, when it happens to suit his argument, say, doctrina Graecia nos et omni litterarum genere superabat.' Vergil may in his great epic conciliate all literary parties by giving them severally their meed of praise. Horace may sneer at the Roman disregard of poetic form and charge his own generation with prefering money to culture. But similar pessimism is familiar in every day. What poets and novelists have been rightly valued in their own time? Who recognized Shakespeare as the dramatist of the world while Shakespeare was still treading the boards ? Who, when Milton was alive, believed Paradise Lost to be our great English epic? How many of the contemporaries of Dante supposed that his name would be that around which would circle the whole idea of Italian literature? Who listened to Edmund Burke's speeches ? Circumstances were unfavorable to the normal development of originality in Roman literature; but in satire, in the epistle, in didactic poetry, and in other branches of literature the Romans worked out matchless types of their own. In elegy, too, theirs was a master product, which surpassed its pattern and achieved a style and beauty all its own. The subjectivity of genuine personal feeling is ultimately happily wedded to the objective learning of Alexandria, and the Roman atmosphere pervades the whole. As Wilamowitz: says: “The Roman poets of the brief golden age sucked the finest education of taste from the greatest variety of flowers; but what they produced was a honey of their own. So Propertius and Tibullus became creators of a new elegy.' By the end of the first Christian century this began to be realized even at

1 Tusc. Disp. I, I, I.

2 Aen. 6, 847 sqq.
8 Sitzungsberichte d. Kgl. Pr. Akad. d. Wiss. 1912, p. 122.

« ZurückWeiter »