Old Songs
The Poets
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The Poets
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Alcaeus and Sappho

Alcaeus (Lesbos, c. 620 BC) Contemporary,
compatriot, and admirer of Sappho. Struggled
against Pittacus,Myrsilos, Melanchs, and other
Mytilean tyrants. Ancient sources have him
either dying in battle or throwing away his armor
in flight.

Alcman (Sardis or Sparta, c. 670 BC) He was
thoroughly erotic, and the first Greek to write love
songs. His ancestors were house slaves. Palatine
Anthology: “His tomb is small to look at, but it
covers the bones of a great man.”

Anacreon (Teos, c. 565 BC) Antipater of Sidon,
PalatineAnthology: “Your entire life, old man, was
poured out for three things: the Muses, Dionysus,
and Eros.”

Archilochus (Paros, c. 685 BC) After his proposed
marriage to Neobule was refused, he drove her father
Lycambes to suicide with satirical verses. Pindar
resolves to avoid slander, having seen Archilochus
in dire want, with only words of hatred for nourishment.
An epitaph advises the traveler to pass by quietly,
lest he stir up the wasps that settle on the poet’s tomb.

Bacchylides (Ceos, c. 450 BC) Son of an athlete and
Simonides’ nephew, his principal theme was praise of
Olympic medalists. Longinus (?): “Certainly Bacchylides
and Ion never made a mistake, and are masters in all
their works of a beautiful writing style.”

Crates (Thebes, c. 325 BC) Diogenes Laertius:
“He, too,was one of the famous students of the Dog
[Diogenes theCynic].” Apostolus: “Wishing to follow
the Cynic philosophy, he took all his possessions
and threw them to the people.”

Hipponax (Ephesus, c. 540 BC) Banished by the
tyrants Athenagoras and Comas, he settled in
Clazomenae. He attacked in verse the sculptors
Bupalos and Athenis for making him look ugly. His
lover Arete lacked constancy. From his poverty
came a proverb: “Give a coat to Hipponax.”

Mimnermus (Colophon or Smyrna, c. 630 BC)
Discovered pentameter verse after much suffering,
says Hermesianax, and burned for the love of Nanno
the flute player. According to Horace, Mimnermus
believed there was no joy without love and humor.

Phocylides (Miletus, 540 BC) Dio Chrystom:
“Some of the other poets’ work might be called
popular, giving counsel andadvice to ordinary men:
for example the verse of Phocylides or Theognis...”

Praxilla (Sicyon, c. 450 BC) Antipater of
Thessalonica, Palatine Anthology: “These god-voiced
women were fed on hymns by Mount Helicon and
Pieria, the Macedonian crag: Praxilla, Moero...
[rest of line lost].”

Sappho (Lesbos, c. 610 BC) Plato, in the Palatine
Anthology: “Some say there are nine muses: how
thoughtless. Look: Sappho of Lesbos is the tenth.”

Simonides (Ceos, c. 520 BC) Aristotle says that
the wife of his patron, the tyrant Hiero, asked
Simonides whether it was better to be wealthy or wise.
“Wealthy, because I see wise men spending their lives
at rich men’s doors.”

Solon (Athens, c. 590 BC) Famed legislator and
one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Stobaeus says
that when he heard his nephew singing one of Sappho’s
songs, he asked him to teach it to him. The nephew,
surprised, asked why. “I want to learn it and die.”

Stesichorus (Sicily, c. 600 BC) Palatine Anthology:
“Stesichorus, the complete and measureless voice of
the Muse, was buried in ashen Katana. In his heart,
following what Pythagoras says about human nature,
the soul that was once Homer’s made its second home.”

Xenophanes (Colophon, c. 540 BC) Natural
philosopher, attacked Homer and Hesiod for their
anthropomorphic gods. Plutarch says that someone
told Xenophanes that he had seen eels living in
boiling water. “If so,” he replied, “we should be able
to cook them in cold water.”