Anacreon Analysis


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

Anacreon (uh-NAK-ree-uhn) is said to have been among the colonists when the people of Teos escaped the Persians by migrating northward to Thrace. Most of Anacreon’s known work, however, is assigned to the period after he left Thrace and settled at Samos, then under the rule of the tyrant Polycrates of Samos. There, in addition to tutoring Polycrates’ son in music, he became famous for his love songs and poems. Many of his amorous verses were written to boys. Other poems celebrated wine and carousing. During his stay at Samos, Anacreon steered clear of political themes.

After the fall of Polycrates’ tyranny and his dreadful death, Anacreon moved to the court of Pisistratus in Athens. Pisistratus’s younger son, Hipparchus, was a patron of the arts and brought both Anacreon and Simonides to Athens to grace the city. Anacreon lived much the same kind of life in Athens as he had in Samos.


Anacreon’s metrical forms were widely copied at least until late Byzantine times.Anacreontea (1554 c.e.; Odes of Anacreon, 1800), a collection of about sixty short poems on love, wine, and the changing fortunes of life, composed by post-Classical Greek writers but attributed to Anacreon, influenced Renaissance French poetry. His work also influenced poets such as German Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the eighteenth century.

Other Literary Forms

Anacreon is remembered only for his poetry.


Included in the Alexandrine canon of nine Greek lyric poets, Anacreon has influenced generations of poets since classical times, although it is difficult to measure his influence precisely with such fragmentary texts. The surviving fragments show that Anacreon set a high standard for sophisticated, polished, short poems written in a variety of meters. While he appears to favor a combination of Glyconics and Pherecrateans in his extant verse, he is best known for the Anacreontic meter, an anaclastic Ionic dimeter to which he has given his name. He was probably most admired in antiquity for his love poems, his banquet poems, and his imagery and tropes, especially those dealing with Eros, which became standardized in later poetry.

Anacreon’s style was copied by unknown Greek poets writing under his name; these spurious poems, usually called the Anacreonteia, survive in the Palatine Anthology and range in date from the Alexandrine period through late Byzantine times. The poetry of Horace and of other Roman lyric poets also shows conscious imitation of Anacreon, whose authentic works could still be read in Augustan Rome. Anacreon is better known in the modern world through the Anacreonteia than through his own works. The Anacreonteia, first printed in 1554, had a great influence upon several European literary schools; upon the French Renaissance poets Pierre de Ronsard and Rémy Belleau; upon such Italian lyric poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as Gabriello Chiabrera and Jacopo Vittorelli; upon such eighteenth century German poets as Friedrich von Hagedorn, Johann Gleim, and Johann Götz; and upon the British and Irish poets Robert Herrick, William Oldys, and Thomas Moore. These poets, often called Anacreontics, either made free translations of the Greek Anacreonteia into their own languages or wrote original poetry in the meter and style known as Anacreontic.


Bowra, C. M. Ancient Greek Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Bowra, C. M., and T. F. Higham. The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1948.

Campbell, David A. The Golden Lyre: The Themes of Greek Lyric Poets. London: Duckworth, 1983. Comments about Anacreon’s work are scattered throughout a book devoted to exploring Greek poets’ writing about subjects such as love, athletics, politics, friendship, gods and heroes, life and death, and the arts. Provides excellent insight into the ways Anacreon’s poetry parallels or diverges from the work of other classical lyricists.

Frankel, Hermann. Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1975. A section on Anacreon is included in this extensive study of the development of Greek literature. Selected poems are examined to illustrate the musical qualities of Anacreon’s poetry and highlight his technique.

Kirkwood, G. M. Early Greek Monody: The History of a Poetic Type. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974. Treats Anacreon as a major writer in the tradition of monody. Illustrates differences between his work and that of earlier monodists, and describes his influence on later writers, especially the Latin poet Horace.

Mulroy, David D. Early Greek Lyric Poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

O’Brien, John. Anacreon Redivivus: A Study of Anacreontic Translation in Mid-Sixteenth Century France. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Though concentrating on the work of scholars in only one century, this study provides useful insight into the ways Anacreon and his imitators have been read by later audiences. Carefully details the critical principles used by key translators who helped shape the canon of Anacreontic poetry in published form.

Podlecki, Anthony J. The Early Greek Poets and Their Times. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984.

Rosenmeyer, Patricia A. The Poetics of Imitation: Anacreon and the Anacreontic Tradition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Discusses the influence of Anacreon on his contemporaries and examines the way Anacreontic imitators have been discovered, translated, and evaluated. Contains a chapter on the poet’s life and work, explicating individual works and exploring major themes in his corpus. Also examines the concept of imitation as a poetic device in ancient poetry.