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THE GREEK CLASSICS.
THE GREEK CLASSICS.-NO. VI.
BY GEO. WATERMAN, JR.
Athens he was on terms of intimacy with the tyrant* Hipparchus. He enjoyed many honors from Pausanius the Spartan general; and was esteemed a friend and confidant by Hiero I, King of Syracuse. At the court of Hiero he was ever a welcome guest. That monarch most highly valued his talents, both as a poet and a diplomatist. It is related that on a certain occasion, as Hiero was about to engage in a battle with Theron, King of Agrigentum, Simonides acted the part of mediator, and succeeded in reconciling these two sovereigns at the very moment when their respective armies were about to join in battle.
giveness offered to the Supreme Being for the deceased. Every neighbor helps to dig the grave, bringing his own materials for the purpose, and all try to outwork one another. Indeed, when a stranger happens to die where he has no acquaintances, numbers always flock to assist in burying him; and many of the townspeo- SIMONIDES was born in the island of Ceos, (or Cos, ple will keep an hour's cry, as if they had been related. now Coos,) B. C. 556. Of his history we know but There is no expense for burying, every one assisting little. He seems to have been frequently employed by his neighbor, as I have above mentioned. But the the different Grecian states, as an ambassador both bepriests demand an exorbitant sum, from those who tween themselves and foreign powers. He was highly have property, for prayers of forgiveness; and I have||respected by all who could appreciate true genius. At seen two priests quarreling over the cloth of a poor dead woman, the only good article she had left. If a man dies and leaves a wife and child, the poor woman is drained of the last article of value she possesses, to purchase meat and drink for those priests, for six months after her misfortune, otherwise they would not bestow a prayer upon her husband, which would disgrace her and render her name odious amongst the populace. In this manner I have known many families ruined. An Agow servant of Mr. Coffin's, who had been left behind with me on account of ill health, died at Chelicut where he had formerly taken a wife; and the little wages he had saved had enabled him and his wife to keep a yoke of oxen, she having a piece of land of her own. Knowing the land to be very poor, and the great regard he had for his master, I was induced to give a fat cow and a jar of maze to the priests, to pray for the poor man's soul. This they took, and the poor woman made what corn she had into bread and beer for them; after which they refused to keep their weekly fettart (prayers of forgiveness) for one month, unless she paid them more; to complete which, and to satisfy these wretches, she was obliged to sell her two oxen; and the poor woman was again reduced to work and labor hard with the pickaxe.-Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce.
It was during one of his visits to the Sicilian court, that Hiero inquired of him concerning the nature of God. The poet requested one day for deliberation on the subject. On the following day the King repeated the question. Simonides asked for two days longer. At each subsequent interrogation he doubled the time of the preceding. At length the astonished monarch, lost in wonder at the novelty of his procedure, asked the reason. "Because," replied the poet, “the longer I reflect on the subject, the more obscure does it appear to me to be."
We need not wonder at this answer, when we reflect that Simonides was a pagan. It is true, the light of nature does teach the existence of one Supreme Being. Many of his attributes also are distinctly visible in the creation and government of the natural world. But these traces of the Divine power, wisdom, and benevolence, paganism has always buried, or at least attempted to do so. Not liking to retain the idea of a holy God in their thoughts, they corrupted the knowledge which they possessed, and turned into midnight darkness the feeble rays of the light of nature. Had Simonides possessed the Bible, he might have told the proud Sicilian King that "God is love." But this fact he knew not himself. How then could he communicate it to others? O, with what amazement must many a heathen philosopher and poet have been struck when the awful and sublime realities of eternity first opened upon their view!-an unknown God-an unheard of eternity! How dreadful-how inexpressibly awful such a situation! But to return to our subject.
As a writer Simonides was particularly celebrated for the pathos and sweetness of his muse. Hence, the elegy was his favorite. He is said to have been victo
*The word "tyrant," as used by the Greeks, simply signified a ruler, and not necessarily a despot-in other words, it was not so restricted in its sense as with us.
THE GREEK CLASSICS.
rious at an Athenian contest, over Eschylus himself, || he afterwards devoted his whole attention. His first in an elegy in honor of those who fell at Marathon. preceptress in poetry was Myrtis. Whether this was This doubtless resulted from the tenderness of feeling necessary in a piece of this character, and which the latter did not possess.
Simonides likewise used the elegy as a plaintive song for the death of individuals, lamenting, with heart-felt pathos, the decease of those dear to him. Among these are the beautiful and touching verses concerning Gorgo, who, while dying, utters these words to her mother, "Remain here with my father, and become, with a happier fate, the mother of another daughter, who may tend thee in thy old age."
Another species of writing, in which Simonides excelled, was the epigram. In this department his pen was eminently successful. Nor were themes wanting in which to employ his powers. The contests with the Persians afforded ample opportunity for their display. One of the most beautiful specimens of these was inscribed on a monument erected at Thermopyla, in honor of the Spartans who perished there: "Stranger, tell the Lacedemonians that we are lying here in obedience to their laws!"
Simonides lived to the advanced age of ninety, and died at the court of his patron and friend, Hiero. He was the first who wrote poetry for money. Of his writings but little remains, except fragments.
Theognis was a native of Megara, and flourished about the year B. C. 550. He was of that class called Gnomic poets. On account of his political sentiments he was exiled from Megara, and afterwards made Thebes the place of his residence. He was considered quite a traveler was a warm politician, and a man devoted to pleasure. His poetry, like that of Hesiod, was committed to memory by the youth in schools. "The versification of Theognis is marked in general by rythmical fluency and metrical neatness." He is said to have lived to the advanced age of eighty-eight years. Nothing but fragments of his writings now remain. The world, however, has probably lost but little in their destruction.
Phocylides was also a Gnomic poet-a native of Miletus, and contemporary of Theognis. He was a philosopher as well as poet. His writings had regard principally to the public weal. We have, however, only a few fragments remaining.
Pindar was born at Cynocephali, a town not far distant from Thebes, and under its dominion, in the year 520, B. C. His father's name was Deiphantus, (or according to some, Scopelinus;) that of his mother Myrto, or Myrtis. He was early educated in all the literature of his age, but became especially attached to music and poetry. This taste he most probably acquired from his parents, one of whom, at least, (his father,) was a musician. His early education was intrusted to females. From them he received his first lessons in music and poetry, to which two sister arts
his own mother, or some other person by the same name, cannot now be ascertained. Afterwards he received lessons from another celebrated female-Corinna. Of her history we know but little. It seems, however, that under her guiding hand Pindar made such proficiency, that he afterwards entered the poetical arena with her as a competitor. When he contended with men, even the first of his age, he was almost always victorious. Yet not less than five times she proved his successful rival in different musical contests. The reason of this most probably was, that she wrote in the Bocotian dialect, which the judges were more familiar with than the Æolic, in which Pindar usually composed. It is not improbable, also, that the distinguished beauty of his fair rival produced a stronger impression upon them than the excellence of her poetry. At least, such is the almost universal opinion. Of her poetry nothing now remains. Pindar was also a pupil of Simonides. But his style is directly the opposite of this last named instructor.
Although Thebes claimed him as especially hers, yet Pindar soon became the poet of the whole Grecian nation. His reputation was the same everywhere. "The fastidious Athenian was proud of the compliment paid to his city by a Boeotian-the elegant Rhodian inscribed his verses in letters of gold within the temple of his guardian deity; and in a later age, Alexander, the son of Philip, 'bade spare the house of Pindarus' when Thebes fell in ruins beneath his hands."
Pindar is said to have lived to the advanced age of eighty-six. His death was calm and peaceful. It took place while he was sitting in a public assembly, probably in which some of his odes were recited, and till the spectators had retired, he was thought to be slumbering. The highest honors were paid to him during life, and after death.
As a writer, Pindar stands unrivaled among all the poets of antiquity, both for the boldness of his imagination, and the variety and sweetness of his diction. The writers of Greece speak of him as "the man whose birth was celebrated by the songs and dances of the deities themselves in joyous anticipation of those immortal hymns which he was to frame in their praise." Splendor was the chief characteristic of his mind. His very pride seems to have suggested to him that nothing but splendor was worthy of his muse. His genius, to use a figure of his own, was the eagle of Jove, that could not be severed from the sceptre and the god. The celebration of great actions seemed to be the chief object of his pen. In these it mattered but little to him whether they were performed by the peasant or the king. Each shared alike in his eulogies. Nor did his commendations blind him to the faults of those he celebrated. The proud Hiero, upon the Sicilian throne, is not exempt from reproof, or above being counseled and admonished by the Theban bard.
Pindar was eminently a moral poet. He stood forth as the champion of the religion of Greece, but not in
its grossest forms. He attempts on the one hand to defend it from the sneers of philosophers, and on the other to spiritualize it, and prevent its degenerating into mere image worship. His deities are not the gross and cruel beings which his predecessors had represented them. They are just and benignant, and the all-wise rulers of all things. It has been supposed by many, and with some show of reason, that Pindar was acquainted, to some extent, with the Jewish Scriptures, and that many of his ideas of the Deity he derived therefrom. Whether this be true or not, few writers can be found who inculcate purer principles of morality in all their writings. And scarcely a page of his can be found in which his reverence for the gods is not distinctly visible.
In every species of writing he excelled. We have remaining, however, only a few odes which he wrote in celebration of the victors in the different national games, and hence denominated Epinikian odes. These number forty-five in all. From them we shall make a few extracts, as specimens of his style of writing. We quote from the translation of the Rev. C. A. Wheelwright, in the London Family Classical Library. The first is a single stanza from one of his Olympic odes, showing the power of poetry even when based on fable.
"When from poetic tongue
The honeyed accents fall,
Howe'er from monstrous fiction sprung, They win their unsuspected way,
And grace disguises all,
Till some far distant day
Render the dark illusion plain;
Yet not to mortal lips be given
By tales unworthy or profane The majesty of heaven."
The following, also from an Olympic ode, dissuades from an attempt to pry into futurity, the desire of which seems almost universal with fallen man.
"Then let not vain, presumptuous man,
Seek with unhallowed eye to scan
Th' irrevocable doom,
If clouds invest his final day,
Or heaven shall gild with cheerful ray
The darkness of the tomb;
For bliss and sorrow, with alternate flow,
The following, from one of his Pythian odes, shows that human nature has not changed much since his
"I joy that merited success
Should all thy recent efforts bless;
But I lament that envy's cloud
Must thy victorious actions shroud;
Yet such, they say, is man, whose fate
The following is part of a beautiful and highly poetical invocation to the lyre, showing its effects on gods and men. It constitutes, in part, an introduction to one of the Pythian odes.
"O, golden lyre! to whose harmonious string
Glad prelude which the choral train obey,
When moving in the mazy dance,
To the sweet strains the band advance,
The lightning's everlasting flame.
Thy melting sounds his eyelids close
Gives his impetuous spear to rest-
We make but a single quotation more. scription of Elysium. The poetry, as our readers will It is a deall agree, is extremely beautiful. Of the sentiment it is not our intention here to speak.
"Where beams of everlasting day
Through night's unclouded season play,
The good shall perfect bliss enjoy.
But with the honored gods, whose ear
The faithful vow delights to hear,
Shall be their tearless age of rest,
pangs of aspect dire distract the impious train.
But they whose spirit, thrice refined,
Have trod their heavenly way,
The ocean breezes play;
There golden flowrets ever blow,
Some springing from earth's verdant breast
These on the lonely branches glow,
While those are nurtured by the waves below.
From them the inmates of these seats divine,
Around their hands and hair the woven garlands twine."
SWEET are the visions of the eve,
That float in fancy's eye;
And sweet the hour when troubles leave, When dark afflictions fly;
But sweeter still the joy that flows,
From sin forgot, forgiv❜n,
Yes, sweet the peace the sinner knows, Whose hopes are rais'd to heaven.
O may the lot of him be mine,