Leonidas of Tarentum’s biography, like that of most Hellenistic poets, is strictly conjectural, and, in the absence of contemporary references to him, is completely dependent on the evidence of his epigrams, in which he says very little about his own life. Most authorities place him in the first or second generation of Hellenistic poets, either early in the third century b.c.e., with Asclepiades, Callimachus, and Theocritus, or nearer the middle of the century, closer to such poets as Dioscorides and Antipater, whose epigrams echo his style. An epigram purporting to be his own epitaph (Epigram 715 in book 7 AP. or Leonidas 93 G.-P.) represents him as a wanderer who died far from his native Tarentum, itself a plausible claim, because his one hundred-odd surviving epigrams represent people and places scattered all over the Greek-speaking world, the eastern Mediterranean littoral loosely referred to as the oikoumenē.
Though a native of Italy, Leonidas (like the Sicilian Theocritus) was in every sense of the word a member of the Greek world. His city (the modern Taranto) was colonized at the end of the eighth century b.c.e. by Spartans, and from the middle of the fifth century b.c.e. it was the leading Greek city of southern Italy. By the end of the next century, however, Tarentum came under pressure from Italian tribes to the north and depended on various mercenary leaders for protection. The last of these was Rome’s famous adversary Pyrrhus, who left Tarentum to the Romans in 275. From about that time until the Hannibalic wars at the end of the...
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