Greek Public Monuments of the Persian Wars

XIII. Corinthian Monuments

63. Epigram for the aid of Aphrodite in the Persian Wars in general.

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39; Athenaeus 13.573c.

Bergk, Poetae Lyricae Graecae, 4th ed., Simonides 137; Hauvette 1894: 8; Hiller 1926: 29; Diehl, Simonides 104.

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39 (Plutarch has just related the story that when Xerxes invaded Greece, Corinthian courtesans prayed to Aphrodite for success against Persia):

“For the deed was shouted about, and Simonides composed an epigram for the bronze images set up in the temple of Aphrodite, which they say Medeia founded, some that she had stopped away from her man, others that in the affair of Thetis honoring Jason the goddess stopped her. The epigram is as follows:

These in behalf of the Greeks and the warrior citizens,

have stood, praying to godly Cypris,

For she, bright among goddesses, did not wish

to betray the acropolis of Greece to the spear-bearing Medes”

Athenaeus 13.573c:

These in behalf of the Greeks and the warrior citizens,

have stood, praying to godly Cypris,

For she, bright among goddesses, did not wish

to betray the acropolis of Greece to the spear-bearing


64. Epitaph for the Corinthians buried on Salamis.

IG I2 927; Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39; Ps.-Dio Chrysostom 37.18.

Stone: Athens, Epigraphical Museum 22.

Inscription: IG I2 927; SEG 10.404a.

Dragoumes 1897: 52-58 and pl. 9; Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1897: 306-308; Wilhelm 1899: 227-228; Bormann 1903: 245-248; Roehl 1907: 44.8; Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1913: 192; Kern 1913: 9; Buck 1913: 144; Geffcken 1916: 96; Schwyzer 1923: 126; Hiller 1926: 20; Wade-Gery 1933: 76; Austin 1938: 65; Friedländer 1838-1939: 95,97-98; Bowra 1938: 188-189; Tod 1945-1948,1: 16; Peek 1955: 7; Jeffery 1961: 120,129 and pl. 21 (Corinth 29); Carpenter 1963a: 81-83 and 1963b: 209.

IG I2 927:

“[O stranger, in well-water]ed Corinth we dwelt;

[now the isle of Aja]x [Salamis hold us].

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39:

”In Salamis, beside the city, they allowed them (the Corinthians) to bury their dead, as having become brave men, and this elegy is written over them:

O stranger, once we dwelt in well-watered Corinth;

now Salamis, the isle of Ajax, holds us.

There, having destroyed Phoenician ships and Persians

and Medes, we saved holy Hellas.”

Ps-Dio Chrysostom 37.18:

“For I do not agree with Herodotus but with the grave and the poem of Simonides which he composed for the Corinthians buried in Salamis:

O stranger, once we dwelt in well-watered Corinth;

now Salamis, the isle of Ajax, holds us.

Easily, having destroyed Phoenician ships and Persians

And Medes, we saved sacred Hellas.”

A large part of the upper face of the slab bad been worn smooth by the passage of time, but part of an inscription was visible: the latter two-thirds of a line of hexameter and traces of three letters below it. The letters are inscribed in an archaic alphabet, probably Corinthian, and a complete elegiac distich can be restored. It was identified as the epitaph for the Corinthians who died in the battle of Salamis and were buried by their countrymen on the island, as reported by Plutarch and in an oration in the manuscripts of Dio Chrysostom generally attributed to the rhetorician Favorinus.

The interpolator attempted to imitate the style of the original author, possibly Simonides (cf. Dragoumes 1897, Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1913: 192, and Wilhelm 1899: 227-228), but to modern critics he betrayed his hand in certain irregularities: the faulty scansion of Persas as short in its final syllable and the reference to Xerxes’ host as “Persians” and again as “Medes”. No contemporary, it was thought, would have lumped together these two ethnic terms. Moreover, the second couplet seemed merely to be an expansion of the first and lacking in force and point (cf. Hauvette 1894: 77-78; Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1897: 308).

We possess, then, the original gravestone which the Corinthians set up over their dead on the island of Salamis, after the famous battle from which a later malicious tradition would accuse them of running away. Such was the fame of Salamis, in fact, and of the Corinthian tombstone that Wilamowitz believed no specific reference to the actual battle necessary (1897). The epitaph on the tomb, inviting the notice of the passer-by and begging his pity for Corinthians buried on foreign soil, would at once recall to the Greeks of the fifth century the famous days of Panhellenic unity.

Rhys Carpenter has recently suggested (1963a: 81-83) that the alphabet of the inscription looks much earlier than the fifth century. The letters are tall and slender, unevenly spaced in accordance with the different widths of the individual letters. As specific examples of letters which seem early he cites mu with small skied legs; san with the shallow roof; and tiny omicron and theta.

He claims, moreover, that the alphabet is not Corinthian at all and, therefore, that the epitaph was not written for the Corinthians who died at Salamis. Carpenter claims that the letters are Megarian of the late seventh century, citing the straight iota (invariably crooked in early Corinthian) and the characteristic form of rho (never in use at Corinth but normal for Megara). Megara, he points out, originally learned its alphabet from Corinth and later Atticized it by substituting straight for crooked iota and sigma for san.

Carpenter’s arguments are strong but the evidence is not so conclusive as he seems to imply. The presence of san in the inscription favors Corinthian attribution; sigma was always in use at Megara (Jeffery 1961: 132-133) and koppa, never used at Megara, was original cut as the first letter of the last word of line one. Kappa was engraved over it but the top loop of koppa is still clearly visible. The Corinthian alphabet used both letters at different times.

Plutarch and Favorinus quote the poem as the epitaph for the Corinthians who died at Salamis, and this may be taken as the verdict of later antiquity. The evidence of the alphabet is apparently not conclusive enough to support Carpenter’s claim that the inscription is Megarian of the seventh century, having nothing to do with the battle of Salamis. The epigram is important in indicating how late antiquity dealt with famous epigrams of its past.

Both Plutarch and Favorinus quote an expanded version which does not appear on the stone. The version of Favorinus is probably more embellished than that of Plutarch. Favorinus’ use of the aorist hidrusametha instead of the present tense in the second line and of reia de instead of enthade betrays an attempt to knit the second couplet more closely to the first. The poet of the last two lines has failed to grasp the significance of the present tense: the dead are speaking and, in claiming to have saved Greece, they speak their last words.

65. Epigram for Salamis on cenotaph set up at the Isthmus.

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39; Palatine Anthology 7.250; Schol. on Aristides 3.136 Dindorf, and on Aristides 2,512 Dindorf.

Bergk, Poetae Lyricar Graecae, 4th ed., Simonides 97; Hauvette 1894: 26: Wilhelm 1899: 243-244; Geffcken 1916: 108; Hiller 1926: 22; Diehl, Simonides 95; Jacoby 1945: 172, n. 57.

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39:

“The cenotaph at the Isthmus bears this inscription:

All Greece standing on a razor’s edge,

having saved with our souls, here we lie.”

Palatine Anthology and School. On Aristides 3,136 Dindorf cite the epigram as above:

All Greece standing . . . etc.

Aristides 2,512 Dindorf (The above distich is cited, followed by four additional lines):

All Greece standing . . . etc.

. . . saving

from slavery; all kind of pains for Persian intentions

we made as monuments of a bright naval battle.

Salamis has our bones; Corinth our fatherland

set up this monument for our good deed.”

Aristides himself quoted an expanded version of three distichs, which is obviously a literary addition, The expansion adds only clarifying details to the original two lines. Moreover, the original two lines are Doric and the other four (in Aristides) Ionic. For a similar literary expansion, cf. no. 64. The word patterns of line two are similar to line two of the Spartan epitaph for Thermopylae (no. 76).

66. Epigram for Plataea.

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 42.

Bergk, Poetae Lyricae Graecae, 4th ed., Simonides 84; Diehl, Simonides 64,51.

Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 42:

“But of the Corinthians and the force with which they fought the barbarians and the kind of end they had from the contest at Plataea it is possible to learn from Simonides, who wrote of them in the following:

Living in the middle of the fertile fields of Ephyra,

knowing all manner of valor in war,

tending the city of Glaukos, the city of Corinth,

they made the city the finest witness,

honored by gold on high; and for them

it nourished the broad bolt of their fathers.”

It is in fact doubtful that, if ever inscribed, the epitaph was inscribed in the form in which Plutarch gives it. Three distichs would be highly unlikely in a fifth century epigram. Nevertheless the first four lines are complete in themselves, or even the first two with the verb understood, and the rest maybe a literary expansion (cf nos. 64,65).

It may have stood over one of the tombs on the field of Plataea, although Herodotus does not say that the Corinthians had a “full” tomb there (9.85). Yet long after the battle, when their dead were not recoverable, they may have set up a grave, a cenotaph on the field, as many cities did.

Plutarch’s phrase taksin hen emachonto tois barbarois suggests a land battle, and Corinth fought at Plataea (Hdt. 9.28,31,69) and she has a position of prominence on the serpent column (no. 25). The epigram itself does not mention the taksis but Plutarch may well have associated the poem with the Corinthian battle line.


[ back ] 1. The preserved inscription is engraved near the top margin and there is ample room for additional lines, but no evidence that any were actually inscribed. Letters are, however, cut at random above and below the hexameter line, which are considered modern. See Jeffery 1961: 404 and pl. 21, where the letters cut above the line are visible. [ back ]