Simonides Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Nothing is known of Simonides’ (si-MON-ih-deez) childhood or parentage other than that he was born near Iulis on the island of Ceos, fifteen miles (24 kilometers) from the southeast coast of Attica. He left Ceos after studying poetry and music and spent most of the remainder of his life in Athens. In addition to Pisistratus, the archon of Athens, his main patrons were the leaders of Syracuse and Thessaly. Simonides was chiefly known for his invention of the victory ode, a dithyramb offered to celebrate a prize won by a competitor at the religious or athletic festivals of ancient Greece. He was also famous as a maker of epigrams, the most famous of which is carved on a stone celebrating the successful defense of Thermopylae against the Persians: “Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here we lie, obedient to their commands.”


The choral forms that Simonides developed and popularized were widely used to celebrate the Greek victories over Persia and the ideals of Classical Greece after the war.

Further Reading:

Bowra, C. M. Greek Lyric Poetry: From Alcman to Simonides. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Volume of criticism and interpretation includes bibliography and index.

Bowra C. M., and T. F. Higham, eds. Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation. Rev. ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1972. Contains the largest selection of Greek verse in a single source; more than seven hundred items with good notes that cite parallels and explain content.

Hutchinson, G. O. Greek Lyric Poetry, a Commentary on Selected Larger Pieces: Alcman, Stesichorus,...

(The entire section is 700 words.)