Corinna Essay - Critical Essays



Corinna fl. c. 3rd-5th century b.c.-

(Also transliterated as Korinna) Greek lyric poet.

Considered one of the greatest of the Greek female poets, Corinna wrote narrative verse celebrating the heroes of mythology. She is credited with defeating Pindar in at least one poetry contest and perhaps in as many as five; the accuracy of either account is questioned by many experts who argue that Corinna lived not in Pindar's time, the fifth century b.c., but two centuries later. Although some modern era critics deem her a naïve teller of folk tales, scholars who have been reevaluating her verses find indications of previously overlooked literary skill. Corinna has additionally been receiving attention in the context of women's studies as some of her writings, at least ostensibly, are directed to a female audience.

Biographical Information

There is virtually no information concerning Corinna's life other than the fact that she was born in Boeotia, an area north of Attica in ancient Greece. No reference to her survives from before the first century b.c., when Antipater of Thessalonica included Corinna in his list of the nine Earthly Muses. A later account claims that she was the teacher of the great poet Pindar (522 b.c.-443 b.c.) and that she defeated him in competition. Her poetry is written in the Boeotian dialect of Greek.

Major Works

Corinna reportedly wrote five books of poetry, but only three significant papyrus fragments survive, along with a few short quoted passages in the works of grammarians. One fragment concerns a verse contest between the two mountains Helicon and Cithaeron. The gods decide the winner is Cithaeron; Helicon shows the pain of defeat by hurling a boulder which breaks into a thousand stones. A second fragment tells of how the seer Acraephen attempts to soothe the troubled mind of Asopus as he worries for his nine maiden daughters, who have been abducted by Zeus, Poseidon, Phoibos, and Hermes to serve as their wives. Acraephen states that they will give birth to demigod heroes. The third verse, known as the Terpsichore fragment, finds Corinna announcing her role in the preservation of tradition. Her subjects appear to have chiefly consisted of local Boetian myths, including “The Seven against Thebes,” “Boeotus,” “Euonymie,” “Iolaus,” and “Orion.”

Critical Reception

The majority of Corinna scholarship centers on whether or not she belongs to the fifth century b.c. or the third century b.c. The evidence is persuasive on both sides. According to the tradition of the Alexandrian scholars, Corinna was a contemporary of Pindar, so Plutarch, Pausanias, and Aelian place her in the fifth century. Two relevant questions have been posed but cannot be definitively answered: Was her style archaic or consciously archaizing? Was her challenge to Pindar as a contemporary or as a dominant poet of the past? C. M. Bowra believes Corinna was most likely a contemporary of Pindar. He notes that evidence involving the length of certain vowels in her works is not persuasive because Corinna's fragments have been rewritten from the old spelling to a new Boetian spelling used from 350 to 250. H. J. Rose concurs but asserts that the text in its present form was written down somewhat later, between 225 and 175. Charles P. Segal [see Further Reading] uses the voting arrangement found in the singing contest between Helicon and Cithaeron to strongly argue for a later date, suggesting that Corinna may be using the device of “pseudo-naiveté”: “The fullness of detail looks like archaic simplicity and factuality, but it may be artful and witty archaizing.” Segal further writes: “Corinna avoids figurative language, metaphor, elaborate tropes. There are a few compound adjectives of the type common in fifth-century choral lyric. But on the whole she writes with a simplicity of vocabulary, sentence structure, and meter which has suggested folk-poetry to some scholars.” M. L. West and E. Lobel [see Further Reading] have both presented evidence against using the traditional date for Corinna. Marilyn B. Skinner focuses on Corinna's intended audience, noting a great deal of difference between the attitudes of Corinna and Sappho concerning “what and how a woman is to write.” Sappho set up “the public culture and its competitive values as a negative foil to her own private world of emotional intensity. Women's poetry thus provides a corrective counterstatement to the dominant literary tradition. Corinna, on the other hand, has fully internalized male values. As a woman, she is aware of her second-class status within the public culture. Unlike Sappho, she does not disavow accepted cultural norms; instead, she creates a female poetic that implicitly acknowledges her inferiority to men.” Jane M. Snyder asserts that Corinna has been given short shrift critically and notes that the “paucity of fragments and the question of Korinna's date prevent her from being assigned her appropriate niche in the history of Greek literature. To judge from the fragments themselves, she excelled at heroic narrative which relied largely on simple, direct language but was also characterized both by selective use of Homeric epithets and by significant repetition.” Snyder especially credits Corinna for her “refreshing simplicity” of style.

Principal Works

*Poetarum Lesbiorum Fragmenta (edited by E. Lobel and D. L. Page) 1955

The New Fragments of Alcaeus, Sappho, and Corinna: The Text Edited with Critical Notes (edited by J. M. Edmonds) 1909

Anthologia Lyrica Graeci (edited by Ernst Diehl) 1952

Poetae Melici Graeci (edited by D. L. Page) 1962


Edwin Arnold (essay date 1869)

SOURCE: Arnold, Edwin. “Corinna.” In The Poets of Greece, p. 150. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1869, Arnold notes that Corinna's beauty may have rivaled her ability to compose verses.]

This poetess was a native of Tanagra in Bœotia, and she must have been no mean singer, if it be true, as is alleged, that she four times wrested the prize of song from the great Pindar himself. There is nothing extant to account for this high triumph, or only a few incoherent fragments, quoted here and there by Apollonius, Hephæstio, and others. Thus it is at least possible, as certain mischievous authors report, that the beauty of Corinna had more effect upon the mind of her judges than her verses.

C. M. Bowra (essay date February 1931)

SOURCE: Bowra, C. M. “The Date of Corinna.” The Classical Review 45, no. 1 (February 1931): 4-5.

[In the following essay, Bowra sets forth his objections to E. Lobel's argument (see Further Reading) that Corinna belongs to a later date than is traditionally assigned to her.]

In Hermes LXV. (1930), pp. 356-365, Mr. E. Lobel has put forward, with some uncertainty, a view that Corinna was not a contemporary of Pindar, but lived at some later period before 300 b.c. Coming from an authority so distinguished, and combined with much that is acute and just on questions of language and metre, this opinion is bound to receive serious consideration. But if we examine...

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H. J. Rose (essay date February 1934)

SOURCE: Rose, H. J. “Pindar and Korinna.” The Classical Review 48, no. 1 (February 1934): 8.

[In the following essay, Rose examines an insulting comment purportedly made by Pindar concerning Corinna's verse, suggesting that it was due to a misreading and that no slight was intended.]

Mr. Bowra shows his usual good sense when he indicates surprise at the statement that Pindar called Korinna a sow.1 I would go further and say that it is utterly incredible. Pindar was a gentleman; he owed Korinna gratitude, perhaps for good advice2 and certainly for a handsome compliment3; why, then, should anyone suppose him capable of reviling his...

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Albin Lesky (essay date 1957-58)

SOURCE: Lesky, Albin. “Songwriters on the Mainland.” In A History of Greek Literature, translated by James Willis and Cornelis de Heer, pp. 177-81. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1966.

[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in German in 1957-58, Lesky addresses the nature of Corinna's surviving fragments and the problem of assigning a date to them.]

If we treat a group of poetesses together here, it is only to get out of a difficulty. We are concerned with personalities for whom our information is as scanty as it is unreliable, so that it would be difficult to place them in the historical development.

Corinna is the...

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Marilyn B. Skinner (essay date spring 1983)

SOURCE: Skinner, Marilyn B. “Corinna of Tanagra and Her Audience.” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 2, no. 1 (spring 1983): 9-20.

[In the following essay, Skinner contrasts the views of Corinna and Sappho concerning their roles as women artists in ancient Greece.]

Current scholarly perception of Corinna seems to be colored by an awareness of her sex: it matters much whether she is being regarded as an ancient Greek poet or as an ancient Greek woman poet writing for other women.1 Although her work was popular in the early Roman empire—surprisingly so, in view of its dismissal by many modern critics—nothing survives outside of brief quotations and a...

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Jane M. Snyder (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Snyder, Jane M. “Korinna's ‘Glorious Songs of Heroes.’” Eranos 82 (1984): 125-34.

[In the following essay, Snyder examines three major fragments of Corinna's works and argues that the poet has not received due critical respect in modern times.]

Since the publication in 1930 of E. Lobel's theory that Korinna of Tanagra was a Hellenistic writer [see Further Reading]—despite ancient evidence connecting her with the 5th century b.c.—nearly all the scholarship about her poetry has centered on the controversy surrounding her date. The dispute continues, with the pendulum now perhaps swinging back in the direction of the 5th century, but it seems unlikely...

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M. L. West (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: West, M. L. “Dating Corinna.” The Classical Quarterly 40, no. 2 (1990): 553-57.

[In the following essay, West reasserts the position that Corinna belongs to the third century b.c. and offers a rebuttal to various claims that she flourished two centuries earlier.]

In CQ [Classical Quarterly] 20 (1970), 277-87 [see Further Reading], I argued for dating Corinna to the third century b.c. In my Greek Metre (1982), p. 141, I continued to assume this date, observing that not everyone accepted it but that I knew of no attempt to answer my arguments. I must confess to having overlooked at least one such attempt, by A. Allen in CJ...

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Further Reading


Allen, Archibald. “A Date for Corinna.” The Classical Journal 68, no. 1 (October-November 1972): 26-8.

Argues that Corinna was a contemporary of Pindar and that Boeotians would not have made the error of calling her ancient if she were of the third century b.c.

Bolling, George Melville. “Notes on Corinna.” American Journal of Philology 77, no. 3 (July 1956): 282-87.

Suggests a reading of the damaged and error-ridden Berlin papyrus of Corinna.

Frel, Jiri. “A Date for Corinna.” The Classical Journal 68, no. 1 (October-November 1972): 28-30.


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