Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Traditional accounts claim that Alcman (ALK-muhn) was originally a slave in the Lydian city of Sardis before being sold and taken to Sparta. He earned fame as a choral writer for various public festivals. Of his reported six books of poetry, one work, Partheneion (n.d.; English translation, 1936), a choral piece that includes both mythical narrative and dialogue for a chorus of young women, survives intact along with various fragments. Alcman’s work covered a wide range of topics: marriage, love, religion, nature, and myths.

Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

A style of lyric meter was named after Alcman by ancients who considered his poetry difficult to understand because of his style and subject matter. Modern scholars cite his works as the earliest example of Greek choral poetry and as examples of the prevailing theme of eros, women as both object and subject of love poetry, and the high culture of archaic Sparta.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bing, Peter, and Rip Cohen. Games of Venus. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Calame, Claude. The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Davenport, Guy. Archilochos, Sappho, Alkman: Three Lyric Poets of the Late Bronze Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Robbins, Emmet. “Public Poetry: Alcman.” In The Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets, edited by Douglas E. Gerber. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997.