The CHS is pleased to announce the online publication of the article “Theognidea and Megarian Society,” along with a supplemental timeline “Chronological Table: Archaic Megara, 800-500 B.C.,” by historian Thomas J. Figueira. Originally published in 1985 in Theognis of Megara: Poetry and the Polis, edited by Figueria and G. Nagy, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, this version is updated from that made available at the Stoa Consortium.
From “Theognidea and Megarian Society”
The analysis of Theognis has always been inextricably bound with the reconstruction of Megarian history, so that it is not surprising that historical observation and textual exegesis have consistently been applied together in analyses of the Theognidea. In any such application, there emerges a single central problem, namely, the relationship of the political, social, and historiographical traditions of Megara to the content of the Theognidea. The standard approach has been to combine individual sections of Theognis (often chosen arbitrarily) with the few attested data on seventh- or sixth-century Megara in order to create a political-literary biography of Theognis, an individual Megarian aristocrat held to be the author of the corpus or, at least, of some original authentic core of it.
This line of investigation, for reasons that will become clear below, obstructs rather than clarifies the relationship between Megara and Theognis. The corpus reflects history obliquely, developing in its own ideological terms and preserving vestiges of previous social situations. The Theognidean vision of Megarian realities was at every time highly selective. Thus, the focus must be on ideology throughout, because Megara was the contest ground for two opposing understandings of how a good society is to operate. Ideological systems are generated to explain, both to their adherents and to others, the lives in society of those who adopt them. In the case of Megara, exigencies created by external forces intervened to make local ideology, perhaps already in crisis, irrelevant for state policy (cf. the Chronological Table, Notes P, R, S). The historical existence of the Megarians diverged from their inner lives, as represented in part by the value system of the Theognidea. I shall attempt below to explore the place of the poetry of Theognis both in traditions of the Megarians about their community’s past and in the social history of Megara.
Image credit: A kylix from Tanagra, Boeotia, 5th century B.C. A symposiast sings “O pedon kalliste”, the beginning of a Theognidian verse, by Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung