Simonides Biography

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(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, Sappho, Alcaeus, Ibycus, Anacreon, Simonides, Bacchylides, Pindar. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Provides excellent translations and a good selection of poems as well as easy accessibility.

Lattimore, Richmond. Greek Lyrics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Has the advantage of excellent translations and a good selection of poems as well as easy accessibility. Perhaps its small size (a mere eighty-two pages) is also an asset, since the collection does not overwhelm a reader new to Greek lyric poetry and presents only the best. Lattimore is particularly good in his treatment of the elegy, somewhat less so in the lyric proper. One defect of the book is a lack of commentary.

Lucas, F. L. Greek Poetry. New York: Dutton, 1966. Partially fills the void of critical material appropriate for the common reader. Comprehensively edited. The introduction sets Greek lyric verse into its proper literary context. There are four main sections that cover the full historical span of ancient Greek verse, provide notes on the poems, and present brief biographies as well as fine appendixes on the Palatine Anthology and Delphic verse attributed to the oracle.

Molyneux, John H. Simonides: A Historical Study . Chicago: Bolzchazy Carducci, 1992. Thoroughly examines the documentary evidence available with respect to Simonides and the dating of events and poetry in the various stages of his...

(The entire section is 700 words.)