Theognis of Megara

Theognis of Megara (Greek: Θέογνις ὁ Μεγαρεύς, Théognis ho Megareús) was a Greek lyric poet active in approximately the sixth century BC. The work attributed to him consists of gnomic poetry quite typical of the time, featuring ethical maxims and practical advice about life. He was the first Greek poet known to express concern over the eventual fate and survival of his own work[1] and, along with Homer, Hesiod and the authors of the Homeric Hymns, he is among the earliest poets whose work has been preserved in a continuous manuscript tradition (the work of other archaic poets is preserved as scattered fragments).[2] In fact more than half of the extant elegiac poetry of Greece before the Alexandrian period is included in the approximately 1,400 lines of verse attributed to him [3] (though several poems traditionally attributed to him were composed by others, e.g. Solon, Euenos).[4] Some of these verses inspired ancient commentators to value him as a moralist[5] yet the entire corpus is valued today for its "warts and all" portrayal of aristocratic life in archaic Greece.[6]

The verses preserved under Theognis' name are written from the viewpoint of an aristocrat confronted by social and political revolution typical of Greek cities in the archaic period. Part of his work is addressed to Cyrnus, who is presented as his erōmenos. The author of the poems celebrated him in his verse and educated him in the aristocratic values of the time, yet Cyrnus came to symbolize much about his imperfect world that the poet bitterly resented:

πᾶσι δ᾽ ὅσοισι μέμηλε καὶ ἐσσομένοισιν ἀοιδὴ :ἔσσῃ ὁμῶς, ὄφρ᾽ ἂν γῆ τε καὶ ἠέλιος, αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ὀλίγης παρὰ σεῦ οὐ τυγχάνω αἰδοῦς, :ἀλλ᾽ ὥσπερ μικρὸν παῖδα λόγοις μ᾽ ἀπατᾷς.


To all to whom there is pleasure in song and to people yet unborn
You also will be a song, while the earth and sun remain,
Yet I am treated by you without even the least mark of respect
And, as if I were a child, you have deceived me with words.

In spite of such self-disclosures, almost nothing is known about Theognis the man: little is recorded by ancient sources and modern scholars question the authorship of most of the poems preserved under his name.[8]

Tanagra, 5th century kylix a symposiast sings Theognis o paidon kalliste
A kylix from Tanagra, Boeotia, 5th century B.C. A symposiast sings ὦ παίδων κάλλιστε, the beginning of a verse by Theognis


Ancient commentators, the poems themselves and even modern scholars offer mixed signals about the poet's life. Some of the poems respond in a personal and immediate way to events widely dispersed in time.

Ancient sources record dates in the mid-sixth century—Eusebius dates Theognis in the 58th Olympiad (548–45 BC), Suda the 59th Olympiad (544–41 BC) and Chronicon Paschale the 57th Olympiad (552–49 BC)—yet it is not clear whether Suda in this case means a date of birth or some other significant event in the poet's life. Some scholars have argued that the sources could have derived their dates from lines 773–82 under the assumption that these refer to Harpagus's attack on Ionia in the reign of Cyrus The Great.[9]

Chronological evidence from the poems themselves is hampered by their uncertain authenticity. Lines 29–52, if composed by Theognis, seem to portray the political situation in Megara before the rise of the tyrant Theagenes, about the latter half of the seventh century,[10] but lines 891–95 describe a war in Euboea in the second quarter of the sixth century, and lines 773–82 seem to refer to the Persian invasion of mainland Greece in the reign of Xerxes, at the end of the first quarter of the fifth century.[11]

Even some modern scholars have interpreted those lines in that time-frame, deducing a birth date on or just before 600 BC,[12] while others place his birth around 550 BC to fit in with the Persian invasion under either Darius or Xerxes.[13]

There is confusion also about his place of birth, "Megara", which Plato for example understood to be Megara Hyblaea in Sicily,[14] while a scholiast on Plato cites Didymus for the rival theory that the poet was born in a Megara in Attica, and ventures the opinion that Theognis might have later migrated to the Sicilian Megara[15] (a similar theory had assigned an Attic birthplace to the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus).

Modern scholars in general opt for a birthplace in mainland Greek Megara though a suitable context for the poems could be found just about anywhere in archaic Greece[16] and there are options for mix-and-match, such as a birth in mainland Megara and then migration to Sicilian Megara (lines 1197–1201 mention dispossession/exile and lines 783–88 journeys to Sicily, Euboea and Sparta).[17]

The elegiac verses attributed to Theognis present him as a complex character and an exponent of traditional Greek morality. Thus for example Isocrates includes him among "the best advisers for human life", although all consider words of advice both in poetry and in prose to be most useful, they certainly do not derive the greatest pleasure from listening to them, but their attitude towards them is the same as their attitude towards those who admonish: for although they praise the latter, they prefer to associate with those who share in their follies and not with those who seek to dissuade them. As proof once could cite the poetry of Hesiod, Theognis and Phocylides; for people say that they have been the best advisers for human life, but while saying this they prefer to occupy themselves with one another's follies than with the precepts of those poets."—Isocrates, To Nicocles 42–4, cited and translated by Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 171–3</ref> yet Plato's Socrates cites some Theognidean verses to dismiss the poet as a confused and self-contradictory sophist whose teachings are not to be trusted,[18] while a modern scholar excuses self-contradictions as typical of a lifelong poet writing over many years and at the whim of inspiration.[19] The Theognidea might in fact be a collection of elegiac poems by different authors (see Modern scholarship below) and the "life" that emerges from them depends on which poems editors consider authentic.

Two modern authorities have drawn these portraits of Theognis, based on their own selections of his work:

... a man of standing in his city, whose public actions however arouse some discontent; a man who sings to his drinking-comrades of his anxieties about the political situation; a man of cliques who finds himself betrayed by those he trusted, dispossessed of his lands in a democratic revolution, an impoverished and embittered exile dreaming of revenge.

One forms a clear impression of his personality, sometimes high-spirited but more often despondent, and cynical even in his love poetry; a man of strong feelings and candid in their expression.

— David A. Campbell[21]



It was probably his reputation as a moralist, significant enough to deserve comment by Aristotle and Plato, that guaranteed the survival of his work through the Byzantine period.[22] However, it is clear that we don't possess his total output. The Byzantine Suda, for example, mentions 2 800 lines of elegiacs, twice the number preserved in medieval manuscripts. Different scholars have different theories about the transmission of the text to account for the discrepancy[23] yet it is generally agreed that the present collection actually contains too many verses under the name of Theognis: the collection appears in fact to be an anthology that includes verses by him.[24] The collection is preserved in more than forty manuscripts, comprising a continuous series of elegiac couplets that modern editors now separate into some 300 to 400 "poems", according to personal preferences.

The best of these manuscripts, dated to the early 10th century, includes an end section titled "Book 2" (sometimes referred to as Musa Paedica), which features some hundred additional couplets and which "harps on the same theme throughout—boy love."[25] The quality of the verse in the end section is radically diverse, ranging from "exquisite and simple beauty" to "the worst specimens of the bungler's art", and many scholars have rejected it as a spurious addition,[26] including the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (see Nietzsche and Theognis below). However, many modern scholars consider the verses of Book 2 an integral part of the collection.[27] The rest of the work also raises issues about authenticity, since some couplets look like lines attributed by ancient sources to other poets (Solon, Euenus, Mimnermus and Tyrtaeus).[nb 1] and other couplets are repeated with few or no changes elsewhere in the text.[nb 2] Ironically, Theognis mentions to his friend Cyrnus precautions that he has taken to ensure the fidelity of his legacy:

"Cyrnus, as I compose my poems for you, let a seal be placed on the verses; if stolen they will never pass undetected nor will anyone exchange their present good content for worse, but everyone will say: They are the verses of Theognis of Megara, a name known to all mankind."—lines 19–23[28]

The nature of this seal and its effectiveness in preserving his work is much disputed by scholars (see Modern scholarship below).

Subject matter

All the poetry attributed to Theognis deals with subjects typically discussed at aristocratic symposia—drinking parties that had symbolic and practical significance for the participants:

"Authors as distant from each other as Theognis and Plato agree in seeing the symposium as a model for the city, a gathering where men may examine themselves in a playful but nonethless important way. Here we should note the repeated use of the word βάσανος ('touchstone', 'test': Theog. 415–18, 447–52, 1105–6, 1164; Pl. Laws 649d10, 650a2, 650b4) to describe the symposium. Moreover at the symposium poetry plays a significant part in teaching the participants the characteristics required of them to be good men."—N.T. Croally[29]

Feuerbach symposium
A scene from Plato's philosophical work The Symposium by Anselm Feuerbach

Sympotic topics covered by Theognis include wine,[nb 3] politics,[nb 4] friendship,[nb 5] war,[nb 6] life's brevity,[nb 7] human nature,[nb 8] wealth[nb 9] and homosexual love[nb 10]. Distinctions are frequently made between "good" (ἐσθλοί) and "bad" (κακοί), a dichotomy based on a class distinction between aristocrats and "others", typical of the period but usually implicit in the works of earlier poets such as Homer—"In Theognis it amounts to an obsession".[30] The verses are addressed to Cyrnus and other individuals of unknown identity, such as Scythes, Simonides, Clearistus, Onomacritus, Democles, Academus, Timagoras, Demonax and Argyris and "Boy". Poems are also addressed to his own heart or spirit, and deities such as Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Castor and Pollux, Eros, Ploutos, the Muses and Graces.

Theognis also details the heightened political tensions within Megara during the seventh century. His works depict the arrival of "other men" that have challenged and displaced former members of the elite.[31] His works, particularly lines 53-58, demonstrate that increasing urbanization among the rural populace surrounding Megara has resulted in heightened social pressures within the city. His writings are thought by modern scholars to largely represent the aristocratic viewpoint of the Megarian elite. However, it is difficult for modern scholars to ascertain both Theognis' position in Megarian society and his role in writing these lines due to possible later additions to his works and the confusion surrounding his origins.

Poetic style

Theognis wrote in the archaic elegiac style. An "elegy" in English is associated with lamentation. In ancient Greece it was a much more flexible medium, suitable for performance at drinking parties and public festivals, urging courage in war and surrender in love. It gave the hexameter line of epic verse a lyrical impulse by the addition of a shorter "pentameter" line, in a series of couplets accompanied by the music of the aulos or pipe.[32] Theognis was conservative and unadventurous in his use of language, frequently imitating the epic phrasing of Homer, even using his Ionian dialect rather than the Dorian spoken in Megara, and possibly borrowing inspiration and entire lines from other elegiac poets, such as Tyrtaeus, Mimnermus and Solon. His verses are not always melodious or carefully constructed but he often places key words for good effect and he employs linguistic devices such as asyndeton, familiar in common speech.[33] He was capable of arresting imagery and memorable statements in the form of terse epigrams.[34] Some of these qualities are evident in the following lines, considered to be "the classic formulation of Greek pessimism":[35]

Πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον :μηδ᾽ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου, φύντα δ᾽ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι :καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον.


Best of all for mortal beings is never to have been born at all
Nor ever to have set eyes on the bright light of the sun
But, since he is born, a man should make utmost haste through the gates of Death
And then repose, the earth piled into a mound round himself.

The lines were much quoted in antiquity, as for example by Stobaeus and Sextus Empiricus, and it was imitated by later poets, such as Sophocles and Bacchylides.[nb 11] Theognis himself might be imitating others: each of the longer hexameter lines is loosely paraphrased in the shorter pentameter lines, as if he borrowed the longer lines from some unknown source(s) and added the shorter lines to create an elegiac version.[37] Moreover, the last line could be imitating an image from Homer's Odyssey (5.482), where Odysseus covers himself with leaves though some scholars think the key word ἐπαμησάμενον might be corrupted.[38][39][nb 12] The smothering accumulation of eta (η) sounds in the last line of the Greek is imitated here in the English by mound round.

Classical scholarship

According to Diogenes Laërtius, the second volume of the collected works of Antisthenes includes a book entitled Concerning Theognis.[40] The work does not survive.

Modern scholarship

The field of Theognidean studies is battle-scarred, strewn with theories dead or dying, the scene of bitter passions and blind partisanship...combat has been continuous, except for interruptions due to real wars.
—David A. Campbell[41]

The collection of verses attributed to Theognis has no overall structure, being a continuous series of elegiac couplets featuring frequent, sudden changes in subject and theme, in which different people are addressed and even the speaker seems to change persona, voicing contradictory statements and, on a couple of occasions, even changing sex.[nb 13] It looks like a miscellaneous collection by different authors (some verses are in fact attributed elsewhere to other poets) but it is not known when or how the collection was finalized.[42] Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker, sometime known as "the father of Theognidean criticism", was the first modern scholar to edit the collection with a view to separating authentic verses from spurious additions (1826), Ernest Harrison (Studies in Theognis 1902) subsequently defended the authenticity of the collection, and thus the scholarly world divided into two camps, which one recent scholar half-jokingly referred to as "separatists" and "unitarians"[43] There have also been divisions within the camps. Separatists have agreed with Theodor Bergk (1843) that the collection was originally assembled as the work of Theognis, into which a large admixture of foreign matter has somehow found its way, or they have believed it was compiled originally as a textbook for use in schools or else as a set of aristocratic drinking songs, in which some verses of Theognis happen to be strongly represented.[44] Quite recently Martin Litchfield West identified 306 lines as a core sequence of verses that can be reliably attributed to Theognis since they contain mention of Cyrnus and are attested by 4th century authorities such as Plato and Aristotle, though the rest of the corpus could still contain some authentic verses.[45] West however acknowledges that the whole collection is valuable since it represents a cross-section of elegiac poetry composed in the sixth and early fifth centuries.[46] According to another view, the quest for authentically Theognidean elegies is rather beside the point—the collection owes its survival to the political motivations of Athenian intellectuals in the 5th and 4th century, disappointed with democracy and sympathetic to old aristocratic values: "The persona of the poet is traditionally based, ideologically conditioned and generically expressed." According to this view, the verses were drinking songs in so far as the symposium was understood to be a microcosm of society, where multiple views were an aspect of adaptive behaviour by the embattled aristocracy, and where even eroticism had political symbolism: "As the polis envisaged by Theognis is degenerate, erotic relationships are filled with pain..."[47]

In lines 19–22, the poet announces his intention of placing a "seal" on the verses to protect them from theft and corruption. The lines are among the most controversial in Theognidean scholarship and there is a large body of literature dedicated to their explanation. The 'seal' has been theorized to be the name of Theognis or of Cyrnus or, more generally, the distinct poetic style or else the political or ethical content of the 'poems',[48] or even a literal seal on a copy entrusted to some temple, just as Heraclitus of Ephesus was said once to have sealed and stored a copy of his work at the Artemisium.[49]

Friedrich Nietzsche

P.Berol.21220 Theognis
A papyrus fragment covering lines 917–33, part of a poem addressed to Democles (identity unknown) and considered on textual grounds to be a late addition to the Theognidean corpus, probably fifth century[50]
Coincidentally, Nietzsche's first published article, On the History of the Collection of the Theognidean Anthology (1867), concerned the textual transmission of the poems.[51]

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, studied the work of Theognis during his university days at Leipzig. His first published article (in an influential classical journal, Rheinisches Museum) concerned the historical transmission of the collected verses.[52] Nietzsche was an ardent exponent of "catchword theory", which explains the arrangement of the Theognidean verses as pairs of poems, each pair linked by a shared word or catchword that could be placed anywhere in either poem, as for example in these pairs:

lines 1–10 ("child of God") and lines 11–14 ("daughter of God");
lines 11–14 ("daughter of God) and lines 15–18 ("daughters of God");
lines 15–18 ("word") and lines 19–26 ("words") etc.

However a later scholar has observed that the catchword principle can be made to work for just about any anthology as a matter of coincidence due to thematic association.[53]

Nietzsche valued Theognis as an archetype of the embattled aristocrat, describing him as "...a finely formed nobleman who has fallen on bad times", and "a distorted Janus-head" at the crossroads of social change.[54][nb 14] Not all the verses in the collection however fitted Nietzsche's notion of Theognis, the man, and he rejected Musa Paedica or "Book 2" as the interpolation of a malicious editor out to discredit him.[55] In one of his seminal works, On the Genealogy of Morals, he describes the poet as a 'mouthpiece' of the Greek nobility: Theognis represents superior virtues as traits of the aristocracy and thus distinguishes (in Nietzsche's own words) the "truthful" aristocrat from the "lying common man".

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin represented a widespread preference for a biological interpretation of such statements when he commented on the above lines thus:

The Grecian poet, Theognis...saw how important selection, if carefully applied, would be for the improvement of mankind. He saw likewise that wealth often checks the proper action of sexual selection.
Charles Darwin[56][57]


  1. ^ Solon (lines 315–18, 585–90), Euenus (lines 467–96, 667–82, 1341–50), Mimnermus (lines 795–56, 1020–22) and Tyrtaeus (lines 1003–6),
  2. ^ Repeated lines: 87–90≈1082cf, 116≈644, 39–42≈1081–82b, 209–10≈332ab, 509–10≈211–12, 853–54≈1038ab, 877–78≈1070ab, 415–18≈1164eh, and including Book Two 1151–52≈1238ab.
  3. ^ Example of a wine-theme: "Two demons of drink beset wretched mortals, enfeebling thirst and harsh drunkenness. I'll steer a middle course between them and you won't persuade me either not to drink or to drink too much."—lines 837–40, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb, page 295
  4. ^ Example of political theme:"Cyrnus, this city is pregnant and I am afraid she will give birth to a man who will set right our wicked insolence. The townsmen are still of sound mind but their leaders have changed and fallen into the depths of depravity."—lines 39–42, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb, page 181
  5. ^ Example of friendship theme: "Many in truth are your comrades when there's food and drink, but not so many when the enterprise is serious."—lines 115–16, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb page 189
  6. ^ Example of war theme: "This is excellence, this the best human prize and the fairest for a man to win. This is a common benefit for the state and all the people, whenever a man with firm stance holds his ground among the front ranks."—lines 1003–6 (also attributed to Tyrtaeus), translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb page 319
  7. ^ Example of carpe diem theme: "Enjoy your youth, my dear heart: soon it will be the turn of other men, and I'll be dead and become dark earth."—lines 877–78, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb, page 301
  8. ^ Example of human nature theme: "It is easier to beget and rear a man than to put good sense in him. No one has yet devised a means whereby one has made the fool wise and a noble man out of one who is base."—lines 429–31, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb page 237
  9. ^ Example of Wealth theme: "O wretched poverty, why do you delay to leave me and go to another man? Don't be attached to me against my will, but go, visit another house, and don't always share this miserable life with me.—lines 351–54, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb page 225
  10. ^ Example of a love theme: "Don't show affection for me in your words but keep your mind and heart elsewhere, if you love me and the mind within you is loyal. Either love me sincerely or renounce me, hate me and quarrel openly,"—lines 87–90, translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb page 187
  11. ^ Stobaeus 4.52, Sextus Empiricus Pyrrh. hypot. 3.231, Sophocles O.C 1225 and Bacchylides 5.160–2—cited by David Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry page 366
  12. ^ ... δοιοὺς δ' ἄρ' ὑπήλυθε θάμνους
    ἐξ ὁμόθεν πεφυῶτας· ὁ μὲν φυλίης, ὁ δ' ἐλαίης.
    τοὺς μὲν ἄρ' οὔτ' ἀνέμων διάη μένος ὑγρὸν ἀέντων,
    οὔτε ποτ' ἠέλιος φαέθων ἀκτῖσιν ἔβαλλεν,
    οὔτ' ὄμβρος περάασκε διαμπερές· ὣς ἄρα πυκνοὶ
    ἀλλήλοισιν ἔφυν ἐπαμοιβαδίς· οὓς ὑπ' Ὀδυσσεὺς
    δύσετ'. ἄφαρ δ' εὐνὴν ἐπαμήσατο χερσὶ φίλῃσιν
    εὐρεῖαν· φύλλων γὰρ ἔην χύσις ἤλιθα πολλή
    Odyssey 5.476–83
  13. ^ A woman's voice for example here: "My friends betray me and refuse to give me anything when men appear. Well, of my own accord I'll go out at evening and return at dawn, when the roosters awake and crow"—lines 861–64 translated by Douglas Gerber, Loeb page 299
  14. ^ "Theognis appears as a finely formed nobleman who has fallen on bad times...full of fatal hatred toward the upward striving masses, tossed about by a sad fate that wore him down and made him milder in many respects. He is a characteristic image of that old, ingenious somewhat spoiled and no longer firmly rooted blood nobility, placed at the boundary of an old and a new era, a distorted Janus-head, since what is past seems so beautiful and enviable, that which is coming—something that basically has an equal entitlement—seems disgusting and repulsive; a typical head for all those noble figures who represent the aristocracy prior to a popular revolution and who struggle for the existence of the class of nobles as for their individual existence."—from a biography of Nietzsche by Curt Paul Zanz, quoted and translated by Maudemarie Clark and Alan Swensen in their edition, On the Genealogy of Morality: a polemic, Hackett Publishing Company (1998), page 133


  1. ^ B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), pages 138
  2. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 8
  3. ^ cf. Highbarger, p.170
  4. ^ Dorothea Wender; Penguin Classics edition
  5. ^ B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 140
  6. ^ David Mulroy, Early Greek Lyric Poetry, The University of Michigan Press (1992), page 171
  7. ^ Theognis 251–4, cited by Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 208
  8. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), pages 343–47
  9. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), pages 345–46
  10. ^ Martin L. West, Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus, Berlin / New York 1974, p. 68; disputed by Hendrik Selle, Theognis und die Theognidea, Berlin / New York 2008, p. 233–4
  11. ^ Thomas J. Figueira and Gregory Nagy (eds), Theognis of Megara: Poetry and the Polis, The Johns Hopkins University Press (1985), Introduction (online here
  12. ^ Thomas Hudson-Williams, The Elegies of Theognis, G. Bell and Sons Ltd (1910), pages 9–10
  13. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), pages 346
  14. ^ Plato Laws 1.630a, cited by Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 169
  15. ^ Scholiast on Laws 1.630a, cited by Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 169
  16. ^ B. M. Knox, "Theognis", The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 138
  17. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), pages 345
  18. ^ Meno 95, contrasting verses 33–6 with 434–38 (online version: Perseus Digital Library)
  19. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), p. 345
  20. ^ M.L.West, Greek Lyric Poetry, Oxford University Press (1993), pages xiv–xv
  21. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), page 347
  22. ^ B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 158
  23. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), page 346
  24. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 7
  25. ^ B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 137
  26. ^ Thomas Hudson-Williams, The Elegies of Theognis, G. Bell and Sons Ltd (1910), pages 55–57
  27. ^ Lear, Andrew, "The Pederastic Elegies and the Authorship of the Theognidea", Classical Quarterly 61 (2011), pages 378-93.
  28. ^ translated by B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 138–9
  29. ^ N.T. Croally, Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the function of tragedy, Cambridge University Press (1994), pages 18–19
  30. ^ Gerald F. Else, Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument, Harvard University Press (1957), page 75
  31. ^ Mackil, Emily, "Tyrtaeus and Theognis", Lecture, September 11, 2018
  32. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 1–3
  33. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), pages 346–47
  34. ^ David Mulroy, Early Greek Lyric Poetry, The University of Michigan Press (1992), page 171
  35. ^ B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 144
  36. ^ Theognis 425–8, cited by Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), page 234
  37. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), note 1 page 235
  38. ^ Thomas Hudson-Williams, The elegies of Theognis and other elegies included in the Theognidean sylloge (1910), note 428 pages 205–6
  39. ^ see also J.M.Edmonds (ed.), 'Elegiac Poems of Theognis, Elegy and Iambus Vol.1, note 103, Persus Digital Library
  40. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. VI. 16.
  41. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), page 344
  42. ^ translated by B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 137
  43. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol Classical Press (1982), page 343–45
  44. ^ Thomas Hudson-Williams, The elegies of Theognis and other elegies included in the Theognidean sylloge (1910), note 428 pages 17, 24 and 43
  45. ^ M.L.West, Theognidis et Phocylides fragmenta Berlin (1978), cited by B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 139
  46. ^ M.L.West, Greek Lyric Poetry, Oxford University Press (1993), pages xiv–xv
  47. ^ Thomas J. Figueira and Gregory Nagy (eds), Theognis of Megara: Poetry and the Polis, The Johns Hopkins University Press (1985), Introduction (online here
  48. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), note 2 page 179
  49. ^ B. M. Knox, 'Theognis', The Cambridge History of Greek Literature:I Greek Literature, Cambridge University Press (1985), P. Easterling and B. Knox (ed.s), page 139
  50. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Elegiac Poetry, Loeb Classical Library (1999), note 1 page 307
  51. ^ Maudemarie Clark and Alan Swensen in their edition, On the Genealogy of Morality: a polemic, Hackett Publishing Company (1998), note 13:13 page 133
  52. ^ Walter Kaufman (ed.), On the Genealogy of Morals, Vintage Books (1969), note 1 page 29
  53. ^ Thomas Hudson-Williams, The Elegies of Theognis, G. Bell and Sons Ltd (1910), pages 13–15
  54. ^ quoted in a biography on Nietzsche by Curt Paul Janz and cited in a note by Maudemarie Clark and Alan Swensen in their edition, On the Genealogy of Morality: a polemic, Hackett Publishing Company (1998), page 133
  55. ^ Thomas Hudson-Williams, The Elegies of Theognis, G. Bell and Sons Ltd (1910), pages 60–61
  56. ^ M.F. Ashley Montagu, 'Theognis, Darwin and Social Selection' in Isis Vol.37, No. 1/2 (May 1947) page 24, online here
  57. ^ Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd edition, London (1874), chapter 2

Further reading

  • Easterling, P.E. (Series Editor), Bernard M.W. Knox (Editor), Cambridge History of Classical Literature, v.I, Greek Literature, 1985. ISBN 0-521-21042-9, cf. Chapter 5, pp. 136–146 on Theognis.
  • Gärtner, Thomas, "Überlegungen zu den Theognideen", Studia Humaniora Tartuensia 8.A.1, 2007, 1–74.
  • Highbarger, Ernest L., "A New Approach to the Theognis Question", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 58, (1927), pp. 170–198, The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Murray, Gilbert, A History of Ancient Greek Literature, 1897. Cf. Chapter III, The Descendants of Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, p. 83 and on.
  • Nietzsche, On Theognis of Megara, edited by Renato Cristi & Oscar Velasquez, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2015
  • Selle, Hendrik, Theognis und die Theognidea (Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008) (Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, 95).
  • Wikisource Williams, Thomas Hudson (1911). "Theognis of Megara" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.


External links

6th century BC

The 6th century BC started the first day of 600 BC and ended the last day of 501 BC.

This century represents the peak of a period in human history popularly known as Axial Age. This period saw the emergence of five major thought streams springing from five great thinkers in different parts of the world: Buddha and Mahavira in India, Zoroaster in Persia, Pythagoras in Greece and Confucius in China.

Pāṇini, in India, composed a grammar for Sanskrit, in this century or slightly later. This is the oldest still known grammar of any language.

In Western Asia, the first half of this century was dominated by the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean empire, which had risen to power late in the previous century after successfully rebelling against Assyrian rule. The Kingdom of Judah came to an end in 586 BC when Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jerusalem, and removed most of its population to their own lands. Babylonian rule was ended in the 540s by Cyrus, who founded the Persian Empire in its place. The Persian Empire continued to expand and grew into the greatest empire the world had known at the time.

In Iron Age Europe, the Celtic expansion was in progress. China was in the Spring and Autumn period.

Mediterranean: Beginning of Greek philosophy, flourishes during the 5th century BC

The late Hallstatt culture period in Eastern and Central Europe, the late Bronze Age in Northern Europe

East Asia: the Spring and Autumn period. Confucianism, Legalism and Moism flourish. Laozi founds Taoism

West Asia: During the Persian empire, Zoroaster, a.k.a. Zarathustra, founded Zoroastrianism, a dualistic philosophy. This was also the time of the Babylonian captivity of the ancient Jews.

Ancient India: the Buddha and Mahavira found Buddhism and Jainism

The decline of the Olmec civilization in Central America

Elegiac couplet

The elegiac couplet is a poetic form used by Greek lyric poets for a variety of themes usually of smaller scale than the epic. Roman poets, particularly Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, adopted the same form in Latin many years later. As with the English heroic, each couplet usually makes sense on its own, while forming part of a larger work.

Each couplet consists of a hexameter verse followed by a pentameter verse. The following is a graphic representation of its scansion. Note that - is a long syllable, u a short syllable, and U is either one long syllable or two short syllables:

- U | - U | - U | - U | - u u | - -

- U | - U | - || - u u | - u u | -The form was felt by the ancients to contrast the rising action of the first verse with a falling quality in the second. The sentiment is summarized in a line from Ovid's Amores I.1.27 Sex mihi surgat opus numeris, in quinque residat—"Let my work rise in six steps, fall back in five." The effect is illustrated by Coleridge as:

In the hexameter rises the fountain's silvery column,

In the pentameter aye falling in melody back.translating Schiller,

Im Hexameter steigt des Springquells silberne Säule,

Im Pentameter drauf fällt sie melodisch herab.

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences. According to the 19th-century abolitionist politician Charles Sumner, it does not come from any classical source. It has also been ascribed to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, see "Piso's justice". It was used in the landmark judgment Somerset v Stewart, where slavery was held to be unlawful at common law.

Greek city-state patron gods

Ancient Greek temples were dedicated to a certain deity. A typical temple would have a statue inside. An altar would be placed outside, upon which offerings would be placed as sacrifices to the city's patron deity. The Parthenon is a famous example of an Ancient Greek temple.

Athena and Apollo are among the most common choices of patron gods of the ancient Greek cities.

Homeric Greek

Homeric Greek is the form of the Greek language that was used by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey and in the Homeric Hymns. It is a literary dialect of Ancient Greek consisting mainly of Ionic and Aeolic, with a few forms from Arcadocypriot, and a written form influenced by Attic. It was later named Epic Greek because it was used as the language of epic poetry, typically in dactylic hexameter, by poets such as Hesiod and Theognis of Megara. Compositions in Epic Greek may date from as late as the 3rd century BC, though its decline was inevitable with the rise of Koine Greek.

Jean-Marie-Louis Coupé

Jean-Marie-Louis Coupé (18 October 1732, Péronne (Somme) – 10 May 1818, Paris) was a French abbé, man of letters and librarian.

John Hookham Frere

John Hookham Frere PC (21 May 1769 – 7 January 1846) was an English diplomat and author.

List of Ancient Greek poets

This list of Ancient Greek poets covers poets writing in the Ancient Greek language, regardless of location or nationality of the poet. For a list of modern-day Greek poets, see List of Greek poets.

Nouveau riche

Nouveau riche (French: [nuvo ʁiʃ]; French for "new rich") is a term, usually derogatory, to describe those whose wealth has been acquired within their own generation, rather than by familial inheritance. The equivalent English term is the "new rich" or "new money" (in contrast with "old money"/vieux riche). Sociologically, nouveau riche refers to the person who previously had belonged to a lower social class and economic stratum (rank) within that class; and that the new money, which constitutes his or her wealth, allowed upward social mobility and provided the means for conspicuous consumption, the buying of goods and services that signal membership in an upper class. As a pejorative term, nouveau riche affects distinctions of type, the given stratum within a social class; hence, among the rich people of a social class, nouveau riche describes the vulgarity and ostentation of the newly rich man or woman who lacks the worldly experience and the system of values of "old money", of inherited wealth, such as the patriciate, the nobility and the gentry.

Pandora's box

Pandora's box is an artifact in Greek mythology connected with the myth of Pandora in Hesiod's Works and Days. The container mentioned in the original story was actually a large storage jar but the word was later mistranslated as "box".

In modern times an idiom has grown from it meaning "Any source of great and unexpected troubles", or alternatively "A present which seems valuable but which in reality is a curse". Later depictions of the fatal container have been varied, while some literary and artistic treatments have focused more on the contents of the idiomatic box than on Pandora herself.


For the crater, see Phocylides (crater), which is named after Johannes Phocylides Holwarda.Phocylides (Greek: Φωκυλίδης ὁ Μιλήσιος), Greek gnomic poet of Miletus, contemporary of Theognis of Megara, was born about 560 BC.

A few fragments of his "maxims" have survived (chiefly in the Florilegium of Stobaeus), in which he expresses his contempt for the pomps and vanities of rank and wealth, and sets forth in simple language his ideas of honour, justice and wisdom. An example is an epigram quoted by Dio Chrysostom:

And this from Phocylides: a city in good order, though small

and built on a distant crag, is mightier than foolish Nineveh.(Or. 36.13, trans. Colburn)

Aristotle also found cause to quote him:

Many things are best in the mean; I desire to be of a middle condition in my city.(The Politics. Book Four. Ch. XI.)

Slavery in ancient Greece

Slavery was a common practice in ancient Greece, as in other societies of the time. Some Ancient Greek writers (including, most notably, Aristotle) considered slavery natural and even necessary. This paradigm was notably questioned in Socratic dialogues; the Stoics produced the first recorded condemnation of slavery.Most activities were open to slaves except politics, which was reserved for citizens. The principal use of slaves was in agriculture, but hundreds of slaves were also used in stone quarries or mines, and perhaps two per household were domestic servants. It is certain that Athens had the largest slave population, with as many as 80,000 in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, with average of three or four slaves per household, except in poor families.

Modern historiographical practice distinguishes between chattel slavery (personal possession, where the slave was regarded as a piece of property as opposed to a mobile member of society) versus land-bonded groups such as the penestae of Thessaly or the Spartan helots, who were more like medieval serfs (an enhancement to real estate). The chattel slave is an individual deprived of liberty and forced to submit to an owner, who may buy, sell, or lease them like any other chattel.

The academic study of slavery in ancient Greece is beset by significant methodological problems. Documentation is disjointed and very fragmented, focusing primarily on the city-state of Athens. No treatises are specifically devoted to the subject, and jurisprudence was interested in slavery only as much as it provided a source of revenue. Greek comedies and tragedies represented stereotypes, while iconography made no substantial differentiation between slaves and craftsmen.


Sophrosyne (Greek: σωφροσύνη) is an ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, decorum and self-control.

It may be related to similar concepts such as of zhōngyōng (中庸) of Chinese Confucianism and sattva of Indian thought.

Sphragis (literary device)

Sphragis (Latin, from Greek σφραγίς 'sphragis' a seal or 'signet') is a modern term in literary theory and classical philology used to describe a literary device employed mainly in the classical world, in which an author names or otherwise identifies himself, most often at the beginning or the end of a poem or collection of poems. In the broader sense, it can refer to any technique when an author tries to hide his name or a reference to his identity in an encrypted manner (e.g. acrostic). The meaning of the word in the original literary contexts, however, is still not properly understood and the modern usage of the term may be historically inaccurate.One of the earliest uses of the word can be attested in Theognis (19ff) in a "highly controversial passage" in which the poet speaks of setting his seal on his verses, to protect them from being plagiarized:

The device has been employed by many other writers in the Hellenistic and Roman period:

Nicander, Theriaca 957-8

Virgil, Georgics iv.563-6

Horace, Odes iii.30

Ovid, Amores iii.15Sphragides became almost "mandatory" in Classical Arabic and Turkmen poetry (e.g. in the poems of Magtymguly Pyragy), but have been used by many modern poets as well (e.g. Bohdan Ihor Antonych or Sergey Esenin).


In ancient Greece, the symposium (Greek: συμπόσιον symposion or symposio, from συμπίνειν sympinein, "to drink together") was a part of a banquet that took place after the meal, when drinking for pleasure was accompanied by music, dancing, recitals, or conversation. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara. Symposia are depicted in Greek and Etruscan art that shows similar scenes.In modern usage, it has come to mean an academic conference or meeting such as a scientific conference. The equivalent of a Greek symposium in Roman society is the Latin convivium.

The Farmer and the Viper

The Farmer and the Viper is one of Aesop's Fables, numbered 176 in the Perry Index. It has the moral that kindness to the evil will be met by betrayal and is the source of the idiom 'to nourish a viper in one's bosom'. The fable is not to be confused with The Snake and the Farmer, which looks back to a situation when friendship was possible between the two. The moral of this story is similar to that of The Scorpion and the Frog.

Theognis (disambiguation)

Theognis is the name of:

Theognis of Megara, 6th century BC Greek elegiac poet

Theognis (tyrant), one of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens in 404–403 BC (possibly to be identified with the minor tragic poet mentioned by Aristophanes)

Theognis of Nicaea, 4th century AD bishop

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