Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry

  Collins, Derek. 2004. Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry. Hellenic Studies Series 7. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

14. Anacreon

As we have seen, on one hand Xenophanes and Solon, and on the other Heraclitus, invidiously opposed the ethical and metaphysical disunity of Homeric poetry to symposiastic values. Anacreon of Teos, in contrast, suggests that he is willing to incorporate Homeric poetry into his own sympotic poetry, provided that Homeric themes are adjusted to suit the occasion of conviviality. Again we focus not on all of Anacreon’s poetry, only on the expression of thoughts that may be taken to attack the tradition of rhapsodic performance. I begin with the so-called royal (βασιλικόν) poem of the Anacreontea (2 West), which although probably late Hellenistic at the earliest, nevertheless furnishes us with a convenient point of departure because it appears intended for a symposiarch, the ad hoc “king of the symposium” whose job it was to moderate the guests’ intake ot wine. [1] Thus its appeal to modify Homer is particularly relevant:

δότε μοι λύρην Ὁμήρου
φονίης ἄνευθε χορδῆς,
φέρε μοι κύπελλα θεσμῶν,
φέρε μοι νόμους κεράσσας,
μεθύων ὅπως χορεύσω,
ὑπὸ σώφρονος δὲ λύσσης
μετὰ βαρβίτων ἀείδων
τὸ παροίνιον βοήσω.
δότε μοι λύρην Ὁμήρου
φονίης ἄνευθε χορδῆς,

Give me Homer’s lyre,
without the murderous chord,
bring me cups of ordinances.
bring them after mixing in laws,
so that when I am drunk I will dance,
and under a temperate madness
singing with the lyre
I will shout the drinking-song.
Give me Homer’s lyre,
without the murderous chord.

But let us not be too quick to assume that Anacreon altogether rejects Homer in these lines either. At the metrical level of this elegy, there appears to be articulated a similar accommodation between the performance of epic and elegy comparable to what the anacreontic poet had called for in Anacreontea 2. In the first distich, the hexameter is devoted to drinking while the pentameter is devoted to conflict and warfare, which exactly reverses the relationship between meter and theme that we might expect. The second distich may then be said to compliment or possibly cap the first inasmuch as both of its verses are now properly reserved for the Muses, Aphrodite, and the mirth of the symposium. Without putting too fine a point on it, we might say that the movement in this elegy from the first to the second distich enacts the very kind of incorporation of Homer into the symposium that Anacreon would allow. Still, Anacreon occupies a middle ground with respect to the diametrically antithetical positions of Xenophanes, Heraclitus, or Solon toward the rhapsodic performance of Homer. This could in part be explained by his support and patronage by Hipparchus, [5] especially in the wake of the latter’s rewriting of the rules for rhapsodic performance at the Panathenaia, but only if we could verify that Anacreon’s audience in this poem was in fact the Athenians under the Peisistratids and not instead the Samians under the tyranny of Polycrates. [6] Nevertheless, Anacreon moderates his critique of rhapsodic performance while situating himself squarely within the tradition of denigrating the potentially socially disruptive effects of epic performance.


[ back ] 1. See Pellizer 1990:178, who also notes the range of terminology for the symposiarch. Moderation of wine intake is strikingly and humorously inverted at Plato, Symposium 213e, when Alcibiades arrives and declares himself ἄρχων τῆς πόσεως ‘leader of drinking’. Noticing that the symposiasts are still sober, his first command is that they must drink more wine.

[ back ] 2. Further discussion of this poem can be found in Rosenmeyer 1992:126–29.

[ back ] 3. West 1990:273.

[ back ] 4. For the same expression, cf. Ibycus fr. S151.7 Davies.

[ back ] 5. Again [Plato], Hipparchus 228c.

[ back ] 6. Verta 1983:LI.