Anacreon’s poetry reflects the aristocratic Greek society of the sixth century b.c.e. in which he lived. His was a society endangered by Persian encroachments on Ionic Greece, as well as by internal political upheavals marked by the rise and fall of antiaristocratic tyrannies. Although little is known for certain about Anacreon’s life, much can be conjectured from ancient citations and, to a lesser degree, from the remains of his own poetry.
Anacreon, son of Scythinus, was born in the Ionian city of Teos (now Sigacik, Turkey) about 571 b.c.e. Teos was seized by the Persian Harpagus soon after the fall of Sardis about 541 b.c.e. Many Teans, including Anacreon, escaped Persian rule by fleeing to Abdera on the coast of Thrace; fragments 391 P. and 419 P. may refer to this traumatic period in Anacreon’s life. Anacreon’s Thracian period is obscure; only a few fragments, including 417 P., reflect his experiences there. Anacreon’s poetic reputation, however, certainly grew from that time, for he was at some point invited to the court of the Samian tyrant, Polycrates (ruled 540 to c. 522 b.c.e.), to tutor Polycrates’ son in music and poetry.
Polycrates’ political policy on Samos included a patronage of the arts which brought to the island not only Anacreon but also the West Greek poet, Ibycus of Rhegium, known for his choral song. Although Anacreon remained in Samos until the death of Polycrates and is said by ancient sources to have...
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