Ex is, qui in porticibus spatiabantur, lapides in Eumolpum recitantem miserunt. At ille, qui plausum ingenii sui nouerat, operuit caput extraque templum profugit. Timui ego, ne me poetam uocaret.
Petronius Satyricon


The following study started out as an attempt to do for hero poets what Fontenrose had done for hero athletes. Thus, his methodology of theme comparison will be apparent in the following pages, and also an interest in hero cult. However, Aesop, Hipponax, and Sappho, especially, led me to the central theme of the pharmakos, and I became interested in the theme of the exclusion of the poet—by trial, exile, or execution/murder—of which the pharmakos theme is the ritual reflex. Though hero cult and the pharmakos complex are related, my focus shifted to the scapegoat.
However, this study’s compass goes far beyond the classic Aesopic pharmakos pattern. Any time a poet-satirist is subjected to legal punishment, is exiled, or is executed or murdered, I have examined the story. Such themes are closely related to the pharmakos pattern, of course, for that unfortunate victim was sometimes chosen by trial, was forcibly expelled from his city, and, at least in legend, was killed. Expulsion is the key theme.
I have examined such stories whether they were legendary or historical—or, as was often the case, an ambiguous interface between the two. Thus my focus is quite different from the investigation of those who have been concerned with proving a story ahistorical. While they often seem to lose interest as soon as they have come to the conclusion that a story is not factually true, I became increasingly interested in persistent legendary patterns, which can be very archaic. Often, it is close to impossible to ascertain whether a story is historical or legendary, though one can make educated guesses one way or the other. There are undoubtedly ahistorical legends of exiled or murdered poets (most obvious when there is a miraculous or supernatural framework, as in the legend of Simonides in which the Dioscuri save the poet from death and punish a stingy, dishonest patron); but there are undoubtedly historical cases of exiled or executed poets. To complicate the issue, certainly historical cases often have legendary accretions. But, for my purposes, certainty on the question of historicity is not necessary, though, when possible, it is useful to have. A legendary pattern has its own significance and interest.
Thus, my analysis of these stories, and my central theme, led me to probe the meaning of the scapegoat in Greek, and other cultures, both in legend and history. I became especially interested in the positive aspects of the scapegoat—in the case of the poet, he is inspired; in legendary cases, often overtly consecrated by a theophany, thus sacred. Seemingly, much different from the deformed human katharma, refuse, stoned out of Greek cities. Of course, the scapegoat is ambiguous, even in ritual, and the effect of the scapegoat is always positive, according to the ideology of the ritual.
In addition, the connections of the scapegoat—and of our poets—with war led to related issues. Often the pharmakoi are excluded to deal with war or invasion as a crisis. And often, our poets had military vocations, partially or dominantly. Archilochus was a soldier, and was reportedly killed in battle, a death linked to a cultic legend. Tyrtaeus is a standard deformed, dim-witted, mad pharmakos figure, whom the Athenians have selected as their least desirable citizen, to expel from the city and give to the Spartans; he becomes the Spartans’ general, poetic source of martial inspiration, and savior.
Furthermore, satirical poetry and language have often been compared to violent combat. A common denominator of poet and warrior is madness—or, more precisely, possession. The aggression of the satirist and the aggression of the warrior are both ambiguously focused toward the good of the community, and the warrior becomes as much a scapegoat as does the poet. The warrior wields a sword or spear; as does the satirist, verbally (though his poetry is often compared to the violence of the animal’s bite, as well as to weapons).
After examining the Greek poets, I turn to a comparative perspective. In 1975, M. L. West criticized classicists for examining Greek culture in isolation, then showed how the myth of Helen in Greece had possible Indo-European roots. [1] Though there are certainly pitfalls and uncertainties in cross-cultural comparison, such comparison nevertheless often offers important insights. Greek etymology, for instance, without study of extra-Greek cognates, would be obviously uncritical. The study of extra-Greek mythical and cultural cognates is just as valuable for an understanding of Greek myth and culture. West referred to analysis of Helen, without its Indo-European context, as a “dereliction of knowledge,” [2] and wrote that in some (not all) areas of Greek studies, “it is necessary to view the Greeks in a larger spatio-temporal context … We must not be afraid to cross boundaries … I would hesitate to dismiss any branch of knowledge as having nothing to contribute to the rest.” [3] Such study, like all other research, is subject to constant revision, but some solid progress has been made in this area. The studies of West, Georges Dumézil, Marcello Durante, Gregory Nagy, and Calvert Watkins on the prehistory of Indo-European poetics effectively show how breadth of perspective can contribute toward specialization. Watkins’s How to Kill a Dragon (1995) is an exciting contribution both to comparative poetics and myth. [4]
Thus, in chapters 17 through 19, I examine poets and myths about poets chiefly in two European countries, Ireland and Germany. Many of the themes in Greek culture receive affirmation and illumination from these poets, especially in my analysis of the combination of aggression and possession in the archaic poet. Many Irish poets were warriors, and two of the chief warrior figures studied by Dumézil, Starkaðr and Suibhne, were leading poets in their cultures. I examine their poetic dimensions in chapter eighteen. In the following chapters I examine exiled or executed poets in Rome.
I should make a few preliminary points. First, my definition of the poet is broad: I look at any verbal artist or satirist. To me, the continuity of satirical language patterns and themes is more important than defining the poet strictly as a metrical practitioner. Thus, Aesop, Socrates, and Cicero are included as important examples of the pattern I discuss. I touch on the relationship of poetry, philosophy, and oratory in the Cicero chapter. In the Mythical Poets chapter, I include Marsyas and related figures, sometimes musicians, not poets by limited definition, largely because Aesop and Socrates were both explicitly compared to Marsyas. But poetry and music were not separate spheres in ancient Greece—for instance, we have the relationship of the word mousikē with Muse, Mousa, traditional consecrator of poets. The etymology of poiētēs, which has a base meaning of ‘maker, creator’, suggests the broad definition of poet I am working with in this study, (verbal) creative artist. [5] Bloomfield defines “early” poets as using “all forms of verbal art except conversation. It is difficult to find an accurate word to cover these forms in early societies because verbal art is so closely woven into its culture … Some ‘poetry’ will of course include what we normally mean when we use ‘prose’ as opposed to ‘poetry.’” [6]
Second, and paradoxically, though this study examines poets, it is chiefly a study in myth, legend, religion, and history, though it has obvious relevance to literary study, especially to archaic Greek poetry. Examination of the poet’s poetry is frequent, though the life of the poet is examined first. Clearly, this is merely one way of looking at an issue, not a value judgment on a “right” or “wrong” way.
Third, much of the biographical evidence for poets is late, but this does not automatically mean that it could not be based on earlier traditions. K. J. Dover writes that, “to reject every historical proposition for which a writer of the Roman period fails to cite a Classical source by name … would be to turn the ars nesciendi into an obsession.” [7] On the other hand, some late evidence will clearly not reflect early tradition; when this can be convincingly shown, it is obviously an advance in scholarship. But late does not automatically mean valueless. One of the most significant contributions of Timothy Gantz’s magnum opus, Early Greek Myth, is its repeated demonstration that many myths not attested in the literary record until Hellenistic times or later were certainly pre-Hellenistic, because they are attested in art much earlier than in the fragmentary literary record. For example, Heracles’ murder of Linus is not attested in the written record until Diodorus and Apollodorus; however, it is recorded in fifth-century BC red-figure pottery. [8] In fact, we should often regard the first attestation in the historical record as the end of a process (often including much variation in oral tradition and legend, especially in the heroizing narratives we will examine in this study) rather than the beginning.
Fourth, though I examine the lives of many of the most important Greek and Latin poets, I am by no means trying to deal with all major Greek or Latin poets. Still less am I trying to fit them all into the “scapegoat-exile” pattern. Many poets, in fact, even many satirists, are not in any way related to the pattern. Many seem to follow a different pattern, the bright mirror inversion of the dark scapegoat satirist, so to speak. This pattern would certainly be worthy of study, but is not examined in this book. Such poets do not seem to be embroiled in bitter quarrels; they often live peacefully in their home cities all their lives; they perhaps have close, friendly ties with local political leaders. In genetic Indo-European terms, the poet often has mutually beneficial relations with his or her patron. [9] One thinks of Sophocles, Pindar, or Horace. However, the “dark” pattern is found frequently enough to be an important pattern.


All scholarship is based on the work of others. Many of my influences will be apparent; I am especially indebted to the work of Walter Burkert, J. Fontenrose, and Nagy, in the field of classics; in the field of Indo-European studies, Dumézil and Jaan Puhvel. Though I differ with Mary Lefkowitz occasionally, I owe much to her book on the Greek poets. I was fortunate in having Puhvel as head of my doctoral committee; his encouragement and polymathic expertise in philological and Dumézilian matters were invaluable. I owe Gregory Nagy special thanks for his willingness to foster comparative work like this book in the field of classics. In addition to his own pathbreaking and ever-stimulating work, he will leave a important legacy in the work of scholars whom he has generously “aided and abetted.” I would also like to thank Casey Dué Hackney, Leonard Muellner, and M. Zoie Lafis for help in preparing this book for publication.
I am far from a specialist in Irish or Sanskrit, so I am grateful to my co-worker Randall Gordon for his help with those languages in my Indo-European chapters. In addition, I am grateful to Steven Lattimore, Ann Bergren, Kees Bolle, Donald Ward, Richard Janko, Jan Bremmer, Michael Haslam, and Leslie Myrick for reading parts or all of this manuscript; their criticisms and suggestions have improved my work immeasurably. All of the limitations in this book are entirely my own, however.
On a personal level, I would like to thank my parents and siblings for encouragement while this book was beginning. Thanks also to Dave and Mike, Terry, Stephen, Dan, Elbert, Kaz, Leslie, Martha, Jeff, Katy, Laurel, Robert, Becky, and Esther, for friendship and inspiration in the ongoing quest. I am indebted to Gene Wolfe, classicist and fantasist nonpareil, for patiently enduring early descriptions of the content of this book. However, this book is dedicated to Laura, who has shown the continued truth of Odysse y vi 182-185.


[ back ] 1. West 1975.
[ back ] 2. West 1975:15.
[ back ] 3. West 1975:15. West has dealt with Semitic parallels to Greek myth and philosophy extensively in his books (see now his vast East Face of Helicon, West 1997), more rarely with Indo-European parallels. But see the following note. Burkert has also dealt mostly with Semitic parallels in his comparative work, see Burkert 1992, 2004. Cf. Seaford 1994; Penglase 1994; Sergent 1998.
[ back ] 4. See West 1973 and 1973b; Dumézil 1943; Durante 1958, 1962, and 1971; Nagy 1979; Bremmer 1987:2, with bibliography; Watkins 1995.
[ back ] 5. See below, chapter 3.
[ back ] 6. Bloomfield and Dunn 1989:1n.
[ back ] 7. Dover 1976:39. For the importance of “late” sources in the study of myth, see Henrichs 1987. Obviously, archaic material was often preserved in masses of Hellenistic and Imperial scholia and in collections of myth. Biographical traditions, historical or otherwise, also preserved some archaic data.
[ back ] 8. Gantz 1993:378–379, cf. 411, 438, 459.
[ back ] 9. Watkins 1995:70–84.