Chapter 7. Shadows of Hesiod: Divine Protection and Lonely Death

The lives of Ibycus, Arion, Stesichorus, and Simonides echo Hesiod’s vita in their themes of divine protection, often through animals, and lonely, violent death. Therefore it will be useful to consider them in close proximity to Hesiod.


Ibycus [1] was born in Rhegium, Italy, and left there, for Samos, rejecting a chance to reign as a tyrant. [2] Like Hesiod, he was murdered far from home, killed on a deserted beach where he had just landed, near Corinth. “Robbers killed you, Ibycus, the day you left ship to land on a pathless desert shore …” [3]
However, like Hesiod, Ibycus was avenged miraculously. As he died he called on some cranes to avenge him; later, the murderers were overheard laughing about the statement when they saw some cranes, and were brought to justice. [4] According to one source, the very clamor of the cranes seemed to avenge the murder. [5] This theme of the poet aided, in life or death, by animals, appears to be an example of miraculous, hence divine, protection awarded to the specially sacred individual. Antipater exclaims, “Alas, you greedy robbers! why do you not fear the wrath of the gods?” [6]
Iamblichus (Life of Pythagoras 126) wisely doubts the historicity of this tale, since he heard it told of many other people. This may be a good example of how poets’ lives were constructed from already existing myths, oral traditions, and folk motifs. [7]
This pattern of the remarkable death is perhaps an attenuation of the sacred death, a kind of folkloric secularization, with an atmosphere of the uncanny lingering around it. [8] “Sotades” writes, “All who wanted to make a great discovery or an artful poem or a clever bit of learning, all these have come to a bad end in their deaths and have suffered at the hands of the world’s creator.” [9] “Sotades” then lists tragic poets’ and philosophers’ deaths, putting them in a religious context.
Another example of the remarkable death is Ibycus’ companion in amatory verse, Anacreon, who died when a “grape-stone” stuck in his mouth—a fittingly ironic death for a man who had continually lauded the fruit of the vine. [10]


Arion, another poetic recipient of miraculous bestial aid, is, like Ibycus, attacked by murderous robbers, but in his case the animal preserves his life rather than avenges his death. In the well-known story from Herodotus, a crew of Corinthians, attracted by Arion’s wealth which he has amassed in Sicily, conspire to murder him. Arion, after singing one last song, jumps overboard, and is succored by a dolphin, which he rides to land; the poet is later able to bring the evil sailors to justice. [11] The theme of the protection of the gods is here underlined by the dolphin’s strong association with Apollo. [12] In Hyginus, Apollo actually sends Arion a dream directing his actions—this would explain his willingness to jump into the sea, fully clothed, after a last song (which attracted a musically inclined dolphin). [13] In the elaborately crafted Plutarch narrative, the poet is divinely inspired to dress ceremonially and sing his last song, and in it invokes the gods of the sea. [14]
An important aspect of this theme, and another link to the story of Hesiod, is that Arion (like Ibycus) is attacked far from home, when he should have been able to rely on the rights of guestfriendship. This motif of death far from home (as in the case of Homer, Hesiod, and Ibycus) surfaces repeatedly in the lives of the poets. This may be an example of a poet’s vita being developed from underlying mythical motifs, for the theme “salvation by dolphin” is well attested in myth, as Bowra shows. However, there are documented cases of men riding dolphins to safety. As often, history can mirror myth. [15]


Stesichorus presents a scattering of our familiar themes. [16] He was also killed by robbers, one more innocent poet killed unjustly far from home. He used the animal fable for political blame, to oppose the power of a general or tyrant. [17] The fable argued against awarding the already powerful general a bodyguard. A horse, whose pasturage is destroyed by a deer, asks a human for help. The man offers help provided he can mount the horse; the horse agrees, the man mounts, and the horse finds he has received slavery instead of deliverance. This took place at Himera, Stesichorus’ home, in Sicily; thus there is a hint of tension with his native city. [18]
There was also tension with Pallantium in Arcadia, from which he was exiled. “Others say that he went to Catana when banished from Pallantium in Arcadia, and there died.” [19]
The occasion of his famous palinode to Helen was his abuse of Helen: “They say that for writing abuse [psogon] of Helen he was struck blind, but received his sight again on writing an encomium of her, the palinode, in obedience to a dream.” [20] This is a peculiar mixture of themes: the blindness of the poet; the consecration of the poet through dream; blame as productive of consecration and praise. Pausanias, on the other hand, tells us that Helen sent Stesichorus the message explaining his blindness from an isle of heroes (a “white island”) through a warrior who had been wounded and had come to the isle to be healed by Ajax on the instructions of Delphi. [21] Burkert connects this story with the legends of the Greek pre-Socratic wonder-working shaman philosophers. [22]
Stesichorus’ poems, though lyric, were largely concerned with “great wars and famous chieftains.” [23] His power as a poet is attested by the story that through his poetry he pacified a civil strife. [24] He was killed, along with a flute player named Aeschylus, by a professional robber named Hicanus. [25] He had a substantial tomb near a gate at Catana, which was named after him, a detail characteristic of hero cult. [26] Emily Kearns writes that “the hero at the gate,” is typical of the “protector hero”—“No doubt the sacred guardianship of gates has much to do with ‘goings out and comings in,’ with the special qualities of boundaries.” [27] Mythical figures such as Oedipus, Amphion, and Zethus also received cult at gates; as did the soldiers who fell at Plataea. [28] It is difficult to understand why a poet should be viewed as a protector important enough as to receive such cult; but militaristic, savior poets such as Tyrtaeus or Solon would fit the logic of the phenomenon neatly.
So we have, once again, a blame poet in conflict with a strong political leader; he is exiled at some point in his career; he uses animal fables for blame. He is murdered far from home by a robber, and receives a special form of hero cult. This life is notable in that there is very little in his poetry that seems to have anything to do with it.


Simonides is another example of a poet protected from death by the gods. [29] Callimachus has Simonides say, “nor yet had he [a general who pulls down Simonides’ tombstone] any fear of you brethren, O Polydeuces, who made me, alone of all the guests, pass out before the roof fell, when the house at Crannon came down alas! upon the mighty Scopadae.”
οὐδ’ ὑμέας, Πολύδευκες, ὑπέτρεσεν, οἵ με μελάθρου
μέλλοντος πίπτειν ἐκτὸς ἔθεσθέ κοτε
δαιτυμόνων ἄπο μοῦνον, ὅτε Κραννώνιος αἰαῖ
ὤλισθεν μεγάλους οἶκος ἐπὶ Σκοπάδας.
Callimachus Aetia fr. 64.11–14Pf, trans. Edmonds
Cicero tells the complete story:
gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Ceo, quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse. dicunt enim, cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei, quod pactus esset , pro illo carmine daturum; reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret; iuvenes stare ad ianuam duo quosdam, qui eum magno opere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem. hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interisse.
I thank that Cean Simonides, whom they say first excelled in the art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining with Scopas, a wealthy and noble man, at Crannon in Thessaly, and the poet had sung a song which he had written about him, and in which, for the sake of embellishing in the manner of poets, much had been written as if to Castor and Pollux, Scopas said in a very stingy fashion [nimis … sordide] that he would give half of that which had been agreed upon [quod pactus esset] for that poem; Simonides should ask the rest from his Tyndarides, if he didn’t mind, whom he had praised equally. Not long afterward they say it was announced to Simonides that he should go forth, as a certain two youths were standing at the door, who called him out in a vehement way. He arose, went out, and saw no one. Meanwhile, during this interval, that chamber where Scopas was dining fell down, and, flattened by the wreckage, he died, along with his friends.
Cicero On Oratory 3.86 [30]
In a gruesome twist, all of the corpses are so crushed as to be unrecognizable, but Simonides is able to identify them because he remembered exactly where each person had been placed at the feast.
This story fits into the pattern of divine protection of the poet, and vengeance against his enemies. But more importantly, the archaic theme of the niggardly patron is combined with it. [31] The vengeance of the gods is swift: the patron who reneges on full payment of his fees is summarily executed. The theme of oath breaking, as in the lives of Archilochus, Hipponax and Alcaeus, is also here. This is the type of story poets might tell to protect their own interests. And in fact, there is a purely mythical antecedent to this theme, the story of the seer Melampus, who is imprisoned and treated cruelly by a female guard. He divines that his jail is going to collapse by supernatural means (he overhears two woodworms discussing the weakness of a roofbeam), prevails on his captors to remove him from the building, which collapses, killing the cruel guard. (So we have themes of the mantis applied to the poet, himself mantislike, or perhaps a seer in his own right.) [32]
Though Lefkowitz characteristically derives the story of Simonides and Scopas from misinterpreted allusions in Simonides’ own poetry, it is more likely that it was a common, archaic story that was applied to Simonides. Also of interest in the story is the tension between poet and political leader. At other periods of Simonides’ life, he worked in harmony with rich patrons such as the tyrant Hipparchus in Athens. [33]
Another Simonidean story of tension between poet and patron again feels archaic. Here Simonides complains because he is not given a share of roast hare as were the other guests of the tyrant Hieron. [34] In Homer, a proper feast is an equal, just division. [35] The feast defines social standing and justice; the feast may logically be the occasion for excluding the poet from justice, just as in the Scopas story.
Still another story of supernatural protection explains how the poet avoids a shipwreck. He finds an anonymous, unburied corpse on the seashore, and piously gives it its last rites. The body’s ghost, out of gratitude, warns the poet against embarking on a sea voyage he had planned. Simonides heeds the warning, and tries (unsuccessfully) to convince his fellow passengers to stay behind also. Not surpisingly, there is a tremendous storm, a shipwreck, and all of the ship’s passengers die. The poet then writes an epitaph for his unknown savior. [36]
Again—like Aesop, Sappho, Socrates, and Hipponax—Simonides was reputed to be ugly. [37] He also, like Aesop, Homer, and Hesiod, was associated with riddles. [38] Like Stesichorus, he was reputed to have prevented a war by reconciling inimical rulers. [39] There is an emphasis on his tomb in the literature—which according to Callimachus, speaking in the poet’s voice, “the citizens of Acragas threw up for me before their city in awe of Zeus the Hospitable.” This suggests hero cult, [40] and attributes of deity protecting hospitality are especially appropriate for cult awarded to poets. [41]


[ back ] 1. On his life, see testimonia in Davies1991:236–239;Campbell1991:209–213. All references to testimonia in Ibycus and Stesichorus refer to Davies. Translations in this chapter are by Edmonds, adapted, unless otherwise noted.
[ back ] 2. Diogenianus Proverbs 2.71 (test. 4D): “Ibycus, when he might have reigned as a tyrant over his fellow-citizens, went away to live in Ionia” (Ἴβυκος γὰρ τυραννεύειν πολιτῶν δυνάμενος ἀπεδήμησεν εἰς Ἰωνίαν).
[ back ] 3. Antipater, in Palatine Anthology 7.745.2 (test. 5D): Ἴβυκε, ληϊσταί σε κατέκτανον ἔκ ποτε νηὸς / βάντ’ ἐς ἐρημαίην ἄστιβον ἠΐονα … Cf. Suda (test. 1D). “Falling one day among robbers in a deserted spot he was killed exclaiming that the very cranes which flew over at the moment would prove his avengers” (trans. Edmonds), συλληφθεὶς δὲ ὑπὸ λῃστῶν ἐπὶ ἐρημίας ἔφη, κἂν τὰς γεράνους ἃς ἔτυχεν ὑπερίπτασθαι ἐκδίκους γενέσθαι.
[ back ] 4. Antipater of Sidon, in Palatine Anthology 7.745 (test. 5D); Plutarch On Loquacity 14 (509e–f) (test. 6D); Statius Silvae 5.3.152–3 (test. 8D); Suda s.v. Ibycus (test. 1D).
[ back ] 5. Antipater, in Palatine Anthology 7.745: “because of their cries an avenging Fury avenged your murder” (τῶνδε διὰ κλαγγὴν τίσατο σεῖο φόνον). Cf. Lefkowitz 1981:37.
[ back ] 6. ἰὼ φιλοκερδέα φῦλα / ληιστέων, τί θεῶν οὐ πεφόβησθε χόλον; Palatine Anthology 7.745; cf. Thompson 1955 s.v. “cranes of Ibycus,” N 271.3 (with extra-Greek references); Fairweather 1974:271; 272n215; Lefkowitz 1981:37.
[ back ] 7. Cf. Wilamowitz 1956:244; Falter 1934:95; Lefkowitz 1981:37. Further literature at test. 9D.
[ back ] 8. Cf. Bell 1978:31n7; Szegedy Maszak 1978:206–208; Fairweather 1974:260n149; 269n192; Fairweather 1973; Lefkowitz 1981:96n43; Martin 1993:110; the deaths of Aeschylus, Euripides, see below in chs. 12 and 13. For the extraordinary death, often ironic, in the athlete hero myth, see Fontenrose 1968:87–89.
[ back ] 9. “Sotades” 15.5–8 (see Powell 1925:243), as quoted by Lefkowitz 1981:96n43. ὅτι πάντες ὅσοι περισσὸν ἠθέλησαν εὑρεῖν / ἢ μηχανικὸν ποίημ’ ἢ σοφὸν μάθημα, / οὗτοι κακὸν εἰς τὸν θάνατον τέλος ἐποίησαν / ὑπὸ τοῦ γεννήτορος κόσμου κακῶς παθόντες.
[ back ] 10. For Anacreon’s vita, see Rosenmeyer 1992:12–15. For Anacreon as satirist, cf. fr. 43 LP.
[ back ] 11. Herodotus 1.23; Plutarch Dinner of the Seven Sages 18 (160e–162b); Aelian On Animals 12.45; Bowra 1963 (which discusses Aelian at length); Csapo 2003:91–92. For the theme of poet as protected by the gods, see Falter 1934:94. The theme is explicit in Plutarch. “He fully realized that his rescue had been guided by God’s hand” (162a, trans. Babbitt), παντάπασιν αἰθέσθαι θεοῦ κυβερνήσει γεγονέναι τὴν κομιδήν.
[ back ] 12. Falter 1934:94.
[ back ] 13. Fables 194, cf. Falter 1934:94.
[ back ] 14. For hero cult awarded Arion, see Herodotus 1.23 (statue); Clay 2004:130.
[ back ] 15. Bowra 1963:131–132 lists example of men saved by dolphins who help to establish cult, which brings Hesiod to mind. Historical examples on p. 131. Bowra believes that Arion’s story is connected with cult in some way, p. 133, perhaps in his association with dithyrambic performance.
[ back ] 16. On his life, testimonia in Davies 1991:134; Campbell 1991:39–43; see also Maas 1929:2459–2460; Vürtheim 1919; West 1971; Lefkowitz 1981:31–35. The dates for his life are separated by centuries, and some conclude that there were two (or three) poets named Stesichorus.
[ back ] 17. For the general, Phalaris, see Aristotle Rhetoric 2.1393b (test. 8D); for the tyrant, Gelon, see Conon FGH 26 F1.42 (test. 10D). Cf. Demetrius On Style 99.
[ back ] 18. Cf. West 1971:302–303.
[ back ] 19. Suda s.v. Stesichorus (test. 19D): οἱ δὲ ἀπὸ Παλλαντίου τῆς Ἀρκαδίας φυγόντα αὐτὸν ἐλθεῖν φασιν εἰς Κατάνην κἀκεῖ τελευτῆσαι.
[ back ] 20. Suda s.v. Stesichorus: φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν γράψαντα ψόγον Ἑλένης τυφλωθῆναι, πάλιν δὲ γράψαντα Ἑλένης ἐγκώμιον ἐξ ὀνείρου, τὴν παλινῳδίαν, ἀναβλέψαι. See also Plato Phaedrus 243a–b. Plato refers to the Palinode as “an ancient mode of purification [katharmos arkhaios].”
[ back ] 21. Pausanias 3.19.12–13 (test. 40D); cf. West 1971: 303; Conon FGH 26 F1.18 (test. 41D); Hermias on Plato Phaedrus 243a (test. 42D). Cf. Detienne 1957:141.
[ back ] 22. Burkert 1972:153n182.
[ back ] 23. Quintilian 10.1.62: maxima bella et clarissimos canentem duces.
[ back ] 24. Diogenes Babylonius fr. 84 ap. Philodemus On Music 18 Kemke (test. 12D); Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1956:235; Huxley 1962:64, 71; West 1971:303. Cf. below on Thaletas, ch. 16.
[ back ] 25. Suda s.v. epitēdeuma (test. 44D). He is identified as a kitharōidos, one who sings to the lyre.
[ back ] 26. Suda s.v. Stesichorus; Pollux 9.100; Clay 2004:152. Heroes at the gate: see below on Simonides, this chapter; and on Solon, ch. 11.
[ back ] 27. Kearns 1989:54.
[ back ] 28. See Clay’s discussion at 2004:96.
[ back ] 29. For his life, see testimonia in Campbell 1991:344ff, 375–379; Molyneux 1992.
[ back ] 30. My trans. Cf. Quintilian 11.2.11; Ovid Ibis 511; Valerius Maximus 1.8. ext.7 (following Cicero, see Oates 1932:3); Phaedrus 4.25 (following Quintilian); Aelian. fr. 63 H. = Suda s.v. Simonides; Oates 1932:2–4; 7–12; Falter 1934:94–95; Page 1962:510, 242–244; Molyneux 1971:197–205 (further bibliography, ancient and modern, 197–198); Slater 1972:232–240 (who dates the story to at least the school of Aristotle, 238); Lefkowitz 1981:55–56; Molyneux 1992:121–126.
[ back ] 31. See above, ch. 2 (Aesop); below, ch. 26 (Juvenal); ch. 17, on the poets Cridenbel and Aniér MacConglinne.
[ back ] 32. Pherekydes FGH 3 F33. Further parallels and examples of houses caving in may be found in Slater 1972:238. As happens so often, this theme is shared with the athlete-heroes’ lives, see Fontenrose 1968:102. Both may have inherited the theme from mantic mythology. It is possible that Simonides referred to this incident in his poetry, or to something like it, see Quintilian 11.2.11, who discusses variations in the details of the Scopas story, and supports one variant by citing Simonides himself : “as Simonides himself seems to indicate in a certain passage” (trans. Gerber), ut ipse quodam loco significare Simonides videtur. But this appears to be an allusion, not a retelling of the story by the poet. Cf. Oates 1932:10.
[ back ] 33. “Plato” Hipparchus 228c; Molyneaux 1992:65–80.
[ back ] 34. Chamaeleon, at Athenaeus 14.656c–d = fr. 33 of Wehrli 1969; cf. Thebaid fr. 3, in Allen 1912 5.113; West 2003b:46; Bell 1978:30.
[ back ] 35. Odyssey iii 66; Iliad XIX 179–180, cf. above, ch. 2, for sacrificial aspects of the feast in the Aesop vita; Burkert 1983:37–38; Nagy 1979:125–141. The theme of the poet demanding a correct portion of a feast has archaic dimensions. For instance, the bad poet Cridenbel always demands the best portions of his patron’s feast, see below chapter 17; cf. above on Hesiod, ch. 6; Nagy 1979:231. Significantly, Chamaeleon (see previous note) has no sympathy for Simonides: the poet was “a skinflint and sordidly greedy of gain” (κίμβιξ … καὶ αἰσχροκερδής). Again, the justice of the poet’s cause may depend on the point of view of the narrative. Cf. Plato Republic 1.331e, where Simonides is referred to as a “wise and divine man,” σοφὸς γὰρ καὶ θεῖος ἀνήρ, and Cicero The Nature of the Gods 1.22, “Simonides, of whom tradition speaks not only as a delightful poet but in all respects a learned and wise man” (Simonidem … [non enim poeta solum suavis, verum etiam ceteroqui doctus sapiensque traditur]); cf. Bell 1978:77. We seem to have parallel negative and positive traditions, a common phenomenon in poetic biography. Cf. above on Archilochus, ch. 3; and below, ch. 17, on Aithirne and other ambiguously malevolent poets.
[ back ] 36. Palatine Anthology 7.77; scholia to Aristides, 3.533 (Dindorf = p. 201 Frommel); Cicero On Divination 1.27.56–57, 2.66.135, Libanius 8.42 (Foerster); Tzetzes Chiliades 1.619–639; Valerius Maximus 1.7.ext. 3. See also Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1893:7–8; Oates 1932:4–6; Pease 1963:194.
[ back ] 37. Plutarch Themistocles 5.
[ back ] 38. Chamaeleon fr. 34 Wehrli/Athenaeus 14.456c (see above), cf. Bell 1978:59n118; Lefkowitz 1981:54.
[ back ] 39. Timaeus (ca. 356–260 BC), quoted by a scholiast on Pindar Olympic Odes 2.29d; Molyneaux 1992:224.
[ back ] 40. Callimachus Aetia fr. 64: ἐμόν κοτε σῆμα, τό μοι πρὸ πόληος ἔχ[ευ]αν / Ζῆν’] Ἀκραγαντῖνοι Ξείνι[ο]ν ἁζόμενοι. Clay 2004:152 insightfully suggests that this might have been a “tomb at the gate,” see on Stesichorus above. According to the Suda, a general tears down the tomb to fortify the city (which suggests that it was a substantial structure), and it is at that spot that the city is taken.
[ back ] 41. Cf. the “gods of hospitality” in the story of Hesiod’s death.