Anacreon Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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...

(The entire section is 523 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111207619-Anacreon.jpg The Greek poet Anacreon dismisses Cupid, who is dressed as a messenger boy. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Little is known of the early life of Anacreon (uh-NAK-ree-uhn). His father was Scythinus, about whom nothing has been recorded regarding his profession or rank in society. Certain themes in Anacreon’s poetry—especially love, drinking, and the refined pleasures of life—suggest that he had an aristocratic background, yet Anacreon’s poetry may not have been autobiographical. Authors of early Greek lyrics composed works on standard themes, including drinking songs, erotic poems to both women and boys, funerary inscriptions, and battle hymns. As a result, Anacreon’s poetry may reflect personal experience or may simply embody well-established themes.

The era of Anacreon’s birth was that of the first Greek tragedies and the earliest speculations by the pre-Socratic philosophers. Thales (c. 625-546 b.c.e.), generally regarded as the founder of Greek philosophy, lived in Miletus, less than a hundred miles from Anacreon’s native Teos. When Anacreon was a child, Greek cities in Asia Minor were threatened by the Persians under Cyrus the Great (c. 600-529 b.c.e.). In about 541 b.c.e., when Anacreon was still a young man, Teos fell to Cyrus’s general, Harpagus. Along with other Teians, Anacreon sailed to Thrace on the shore of mainland Greece. There the city of Abdera was founded (or perhaps rebuilt). It was a major commercial center that would later produce the philosophers Protagoras (c. 480-411 b.c.e.) and Democritus (c. 460-370 b.c.e.).

In Abdera, Anacreon composed his earliest extant poetry. In addition to poems on drinking and love, he wrote works dealing with the wars that had so greatly affected his life. In one such poem, he speaks of a young friend who died fighting for Abdera. In another, he imitates Archilochus of Paros (c. 735-676 b.c.e.), who mentioned throwing away his shield in battle. Other...

(The entire section is 823 words.)