Life

Herodas (huh-ROH-duhs) wrote literary mimes (short dramatic scenes) in iambic verse for reading or possibly performance by small groups. Extant works are seven full poems, one partial poem, and additional fragments. Internal evidence in the poems strongly suggests that Herodas was writing in the middle of the third century b.c.e. His poetry shows familiarity with Alexandria, Egypt, and the island of Cos. Herodas’s poems focus on everyday events and feature ordinary characters: housewives, slaves, cobblers, a matchmaker, a pander, a schoolmaster. Themes include gender roles and power relationships: A jealous mistress threatens an unfaithful slave, a mother asks a schoolmaster to punish her son, housewives discuss dildos, and women visit a temple sanctuary. In “Poem 8,” Herodas connects his poetry with Hipponax, a sixth century writer of satirical iambic poetry.

Influence

In the first century c.e., Pliny the Younger, in a private letter, pairs Herodas with Callimachus of Cyrene, a third century b.c.e. poet of considerable influence on Roman literature. However, Herodas’s poetry was mostly lost until a papyrus was discovered in Egypt in 1891. His poetry has been admired for its ancient realism as well as its learned qualities. The modern Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy wrote a graceful homage to Herodas.

Additional Resources

Herodas. “Mimiambi.” In Characters. 2d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Hutchinson, G. O. Hellenistic Poetry. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Mastromarco, Giuseppe. The Public of Herondas. Amsterdam, Netherlands: J. C. Gieben, 1984.