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REMARKS ON ANACREON.
There is but little known with certainty of the life of Anacreon. Chamæleon Heracleotes, who wrote upon the subject, has been lost in the general wreck of ancient literature. The editors of the poet have collected the few trifling anecdotes which are scattered through the extant authors of antiquity, and, supplying the deficiency of materials by fictions of their own imagination, have arranged what they call a life of Anacreon. These specious fabrications are intended to indulge that interest which we naturally feel in the biography of illustrious men; but it is rather a dangerous kind of illusion, as it confounds the limits of history and romance, and is too often supported by unfaithful citation.
Our poet was born in the city of Teos, 4 in the delicious region of Ionia, and the time of his birth appears to have been in the sixth century before Christ. He flourished at that remarkable period when, under the polished tyrants Hipparchus and Polycrates, Athens and Samos were become the rival asylums of genius. There is nothing certain known about his family, and those who pretend to discover in Plato that he was a descendant of the monarch Codrus, show much more of zeal than of either accuracy or judgment.6
The disposition and talents of Anacreon recommended him to the monarch of Samos, and he was formed to be the friend of such a prince as Polycrates. Susceptible only to the pleasures, he felt not the corruptions, of the court; and while Pythagoras fled from the tyrant, Anacreon was celebrating his praises on the lyre. We are told, too, by Maximus Tyrius, that, by the influence of his amatory songs, he softened the mind of Polycrates into a spirit of benevolence towards his subjects.?
1 He is quoted by Athenæus " év to nepi toû Avakpéovtos.”
2 The History of Anacreon, by Gaçon (le Poète sans fard, as he styles himself), is professedly a romance; nor does Mademoiselle Scudéri, from whom he borrowed the idea, pretend to historical veracity in her account of Anacreon and Sappho. These, then, are allowable. But how can Barnes be forgiven, who, with all the confidence of a biographer, traces every wandering of the poet, and settles him at last, in his old age, at a country villa near Teos?
3 The learned Bayle has detected some infidelities of quotation in Le Fèvre. (“Dictionnaire Historique," etc.) Madame Dacier is not more accurate than her father : they have almost made Anacreon prime minister to the monarch of Samos.
4 The Asiatics were as remarkable for genius as for luxury. "Ingenia Asiatica inclyta per gentes fecêre Poeta, Anacreon, inde Mimnermus et Antimachus, etc.” — SOLINUS.
5 I have not attempted to define the particular Olympiad, but have adopted the idea of Bayle, who says: “Je n'ai point marqué d'Olympiade ; car, pour un homme qui a vécu quatre-vingtcinq ans, il me semble que l'on ne doit point s'enfermer dans des bornes si étroites.'
6 This mistake is founded on a false interpretation of a very obvious passage in Plato's “Dialogue on Temperance: ” it originated with Madame Dacier, and has been received implicitly by many. Gail, a late editor of Anacreon, seems to claim to himself the merit of detecting this error; but Bayle had observed it before him.
7 Ανακρέων Σαμίοις Πολυκράτην ημέρωσε. Maxim. Tyr. $ 21. Maximus Tyrius mentions this among other instances of the influence of poetry. If Gail had read Maximus Tyrius, how could he ridicule this idea in Moutonnet as unauthenticated ?
REMARKS ON ANACREON.
The amours of the poet, and the rivalship of the tyrant, 1 I shall pass over in silence; and there are few, I presume, who will regret the omission of most of those anecdotes, which the industry of some editors has not only promulged, but discussed. Whatever is repugnant to modesty and virtue is considered, in ethical science, by a supposition very favorable to humanity, as impossible; and this amiable persuasion should be much more strongly entertained where the transgression wars with nature as well as virtue.
But why are we not allowed to indulge in the presumption ? Why are we officiously reminded that there have been really such instances of depravity?
Hipparchus, who now maintained at Athens the power which his father Pisistratus had usurped, was one of those princes who may be said to have polished the fetters of their subjects. He was the first, according to Plato, who edited the poems of Homer, and commanded them to be sung by the rhapsodists at the celebration of the Panathenæa. From his court, which was a sort of galaxy of genius, Anacreon could not long be absent. Hipparchus sent a barge for him; the poet readily embraced the invitation, and the Muses and the Loves were wafted with him to Athens.2
The manner of Anacreon's death was singular. We are told that in the eightyfifth year of his age he was choked by a grape-stone; 3 and however we may smile at their enthusiastic partiality who see in this easy and characteristic death a peculiar indulgence of Heaven, we cannot help
admiring that his fate should have been so emblematic of his disposition. Cælius Calcagninus alludes to this catastrophe in the following epitaph on our poet: 4
Those lips, then, hallowed sage, which poured along
The grape hath closed for ever!
In bands that ne'er shall sever.
Lost his sweet vital breath;
Since poor Anacreon's death.
1 In the romance of Clelia, the anecdote to which I allude is told of a young girl, with whom Anacreon fell in love while she personated the god Apollo in a mask. But here Mademoiselle Scuderi consulted nature more than truth.
2. There is a very interesting French poem founded upon this anecdote, imputed to Desyvetaux, and called " Anacréon Citoyen.'
3 Fabricius appears not to trust very implicitly in this story. “Uvæ passæ acino tandem suffocatus, si credimus Suidæ in oivotótns ; alii enim hoc mortis genere periisse tradunt Sophoclem." “Fabricii Bibliothec. Græc." lib. ii. cap. 15. It must be confessed that Lucian, who tells us that Sophocles was choked by a grape-stone, in the very same treatise mentions the longevity of Anacreon, and yet is silent on the manner of his death. Could he have been ignorant of such a remarkable coincidence, or, knowing, could he have neglected to remark it? See Regnier's introduction to his Anacreon.
4 At te, sancte senex, acinus sub Tartara misit ;
cygneæ clausit qui tibi vocis iter.
hoc rosa perpetuo vernet odora loco;
quæ causam dira protulit, uva, necis,
in vatem tantum quæ fuit ausa nefas. The author of this epitaph, Cælius Calcagninus, has translated or imitated the epigrams eis την Μύρωνος Βουν, which are given under the name of Anacreon.
It has been supposed by some writers that Anacreon and Sappho were contemporaries; and the very thought of an intercourse between persons so congenial, both in warmth of passion and delicacy of genius, gives such play to the imagination that the mind loves to indulge in it. But the vision dissolves before historical truth; and Chamæleon and Hermesianax, who are the source of the supposition, are considered as having merely indulged in a poetical anachronism.
To infer the moral dispositions of a poet from the tone of sentiment which pervades his works, is sometimes a very fallacious analogy; but the soul of Anacreon speaks so unequivocally through his odes, that we may safely consult them as the faithful mirrors of his heart.2 We find him there the elegant voluptuary, diffusing the seductive charm of sentiment over passions and propensities at which rigid morality must frown. His heart, devoted to indolence, seems to have thought that there is wealth enough in happiness, but seldom happiness in mere wealth. The cheerfulness, indeed, with which he brightens his old age is interesting and endearing; like his own rose, he is fragrant even in decay. But the most peculiar feature of his mind is that love of simplicity, which he attributes to himself so feelingly, and which breathes characteristically throughout all that he has sung. In truth, if we omit those few vices in our estimate which religion, at that time, not only connived at, but consecrated, we shall be inclined to say that the disposition of our poet was amiable; that his morality was relaxed, but not abandoned; and that Virtue, with her zone loosened, may be an apt emblem of the character of Anacreon.3
Of his person and physiognomy time has preserved such uncertain memorials, that it were better, perhaps, to leave the pencil to fancy; and few can read the
1 Barnes is convinced (but very gratuitously) of the synchronism of Anacreon and Sappho. In citing his authorities, he has strangely neglected the line quoted by Fulvius Ursinus, as from Anacreon, among the testimonies to Sappho:
Ειμι λαβών είσαράς Σαπφώ πάρθενον αδύφωνον. . Fabricius thinks that they might have been contemporary, but considers their amour as a tale of imagination. Vossius rejects the idea entirely; as do also Olaus Borrichius and others.
2 An Italian poet, in some verses on Belleau's translation of Anacreon, pretends to imagine that our bard did not feel as he wrote:
Lyæum, Venerem, Cupidinemque
nullum præ se habitum gerens amantis.
While sage Anacreon touched the lyre,
Nor filled his bowl to Bacchus higher.
When youth could act the lover's part;
But never, never, reached his heart. 3 Anacreon's character had been variously colored. Barnes lingers on it with enthusiastic ad. miration; but he is always extravagant, if not sometimes also a little profane. Baillet runs too much into the opposite extreme, exaggerating also the testimonies which he has consulted ; and we cannot surely agree with him when he cites such a compıler as Athenæus, as un des plus savans critiques de l'antiquité.". Jugement des Savans,” M.CV.
Barnes could hardly have read the passage to which he refers, when he accuses Le Fèvre of having censured our poet's character in a note on Longinus ; the note in question being manifest irony, in allusion to some censure passed upon Le Fèvre for his Anacreon. It is clear, indeed, that praise rather than censure is intimated. See Johannes Vulpius (“ de Utilitate Poëtices "), who vindicates our poet's reputation.
Odes of Anacreon without imaging to themselves the form of the animated old bard, crowned with roses, and singing cheerfully to his lyre. But the head of Anacreon, prefixed to this work,1 has been considered so authentic, that we scarcely could be justified in the omission of it; and some have even thought that it is by no means deficient in that benevolent suavity of expression which should characterize the countenance of such a poet.
After the very enthusiastic eulogiums bestowed both by ancients and moderns upon the poems of Anacreon, we need not be diffident in expressing our raptures at their beauty, nor hesitate to pronounce them the most polished remains of antiquity. They are, indeed, all beauty, all enchantment. He steals us so insensibly along with him, that we sympathize even in his excesses. In his amatory odes there is a delicacy of compliment not to be found in any other ancient poet. Love at that period was rather an unrefined emotion; and the intercourse of the sexes was animated more by passion than by sentiment. They knew not those little tendernesses which form the spiritual part of affection; their expression of feeling was therefore rude and unvaried, and the poetry of love deprived it of its most captivating graces. Anacreon, however, attained some ideas of this purer gallantry; and the same delicacy of mind which led him to this refinement, prevented him also from yielding to the freedom of language which has sullied the pages of all the other poets. His descriptions are warm; but the warmth is in the ideas, not the words. He is sportive without being wanton, and ardent without being licentious. His poetic invention is always most brilliantly displayed in those allegorical fictions which so many have endeavored to imitate, though all have confessed them to be inimitable. Simplicity is the distinguishing feature of these odes, and they interest by their innocence, as much as they fascinate by their beauty. They may be said, indeed, to be the very infants of the Muses, and to lisp in numbers.
I shall not be accused of enthusiastic partiality by those who have read and felt the original; but to others, I am conscious, this should not be the language of
1 It is taken from the Bibliotheca of Fulvius Ursinus. Bellori has copied the same head into his Imagines. Johannes Faber, in his description of the coin of Ursinus, mentions another head on a very beautiful cornelian, which he supposes was worn in a ring by some admirer of the poet. In the Iconographia of Canini there is a youthful head of Anacreon from a Grecian medal, with the letters TEIOŠ around it; on the reverse there is a Neptune, holding a spear in his right hand, and 2 dolphin, with the word TIANON inscribed, in the left; “ volendoci denotare (says Canini) che quelle cittadini la coniassero in honore del suo compatriota poeta.” There is also among the coins of De Wilde one which, though it bears no effigy, was probably struck to the memory of Anacreon. It has the word THINN, encircled with an ivy crown. “At quidni respicit haec corona Anacre. ontem, nobilem lyricum?” - De Wilde.
2 Besides those which are extant, he wrote hymns, elegies, epigrams, etc. Some of the epi. grams still exist. Horace, in addition to the mention of him (lib. iv. od. 9), alludes also to a poem of his upon the rivalry of Circe and Penelope in the affections of Ulysses, lib. i. od. 17; and the scholiast upon Nicander cites a fragment from a poem upon Sleep by Anacreon, and attributes to him likewise a medicinal treatise. Fulgentius mentions a work of his upon the war between Jupiter and the Titans, and the origin of the consecration of the eagle.
3 See Horace, “Maximus Tyrius," etc. “His style (says Scaliger) is sweeter than the juice of the Indian reed.” – “Poet.” lib. i. cap. 44. “ From the softress of his verses (says Olaus Borrichius) the ancients bestowed on him the epithets, sweet, delicate, graceful,” etc. — “Dissertationes Academicæ, de Poetis,” diss. 2. Scaliger again praises him thus in a pun; speaking of the médos, or ode,
Anacreon autem non solum dedit haec uean sed etiam in ipsis mella. See the passage of Rapin, quoted by all the editors. I cannot omit citing also the following very spirited apostrophe of the author of the Commentary prefixed to the Parma edition: “O vos sublimes animæ, vos A pollinis alumni, qui post unum Alcmanem in totâ Hella le lyricam poesim exsuscitastis, coluistis, amplifi. castis, quæso vos an ullus unquam fuerit vates qui Teio cantori vel naturæ candore vel metri suavitate palmam præripuerit.”
4 “We may perceive," says Vossius, “that the iteration of his words conduces very much in the sweetness of his style.” Henry Stephen remarks the same beauty in a note on the forty-fourth ode. This figure of iteration is his most appropriate grace; but the modern writers of Juvenilia and Basia have adopted it to an excess which destroys the effect.
a translator, whose faint reflection of such beauties can but ill justify his admiration of them.
In the age of Anacreon music and poetry were inseparable. These kindred talents were for a long time associated, and the poet always sung his own compositions to the lyre. It is probable that they were not set to any regular air, but rather a kind of musical recitation, which was varied according to the fancy and feelings of the moment. The poems of Anacreon were sung at banquets as late, as the time of Aulus Gellius, who tells us that he heard one of the odes performed at a birthday entertainment.2
The singular beauty of our poet's style and the apparent facility, perhaps, of his metre have attracted, as I have already remarked, a crowd of imitators. Some of these have succeeded with wonderful felicity, as may be discerned in the few odes which are attributed to writers of a later period. But none of his emulators have been half so dangerous to his fame as those Greek ecclesiastics of the early ages, who, being conscious of their own inferiority to their great prototypes, determined on removing all possibility of comparison, and, under a semblance of moral zeal, deprived the world of some of the most exquisite treasures of ancient times. The works of Sappho and Alcæus were among those flowers of Grecian literature which thus fell beneath the rude hand of ecclesiastical presumption. It is true they pretended that this sacrifice of genius was hallowed by the interests of religion, but I have already assigned the most probable motive; 3 and if Gregorius Nazianzenus had not written Anacreontics, we might now perhaps have the works of the Teian unmutilated, and be empowered to say exultingly with Horace,
Nec si quid olim lusit Anacreon
The zeal by which these bishops professed to be actuated gave birth more innocently, indeed, to an absurd species of parody, as repugnant to piety as it is to taste, where the poet of voluptuousness was made a preacher of the gospel, and his muse, like the Venus in armor at Lacedæmon, was arrayed in all the severities of priestly instruction. Such was the “ Anacreon Recantatus,” by Carolus de Aquino, a Jesuit, published 1701, which consisted of a series of palinodes to the several songs of our poet. Such, too, was the Christian Anacreon of Patrignanus, another Jesuit, 4 who preposterously transferred to a most sacred subject all that the Græcian poet had dedicated to festivity and love.
His metre has frequently been adopted by the modern Latin poets; and Scaliger, Taubman, Barthius, 5 and others, have shown that it is by no means uncongenial
1 In the Paris edition there are four of the original odes set to music, by Le Sueur, Gossec, Méhul, and Cherubini. “On chante du Latin, et de l'Italien," says Gail, “ quelquefois même sans les entendre ; qui empêche que nous ne chantions des odes grecques ?”. The chromatic learning of these composers is very unlike what we are told of the simple melody of the ancients; and they have all, as it appears to me, mistaken the accentuation of the words.
2 The Parma commentator is rather careless in referring to this passage of Aulus Gellius (lib. xix. cap. 9). The ode was not sung by the rhetorician Julianus, as he says, but by the minstrels of both sexes, who were introduced at the entertainment.
3 We may perceive by the beginning of the first hymn of Bishop Synesius, that he made Anacreon and Sappho his models of composition.
"Αγε μοι, λίγεια φόρμιγξ,
μετά Λεσβίαν τε μολπάν. .
4 This, perhaps, is the Jesuita quidam Græculus alluded to by Barnes, who has himself composed an 'Avakpéwv Xplotiavós, as absurd as the rest, but somewhat more skilfully executed.
5 I have seen somewhere an account of the MSS. of Barthius, written just after his death, which mentions many more Anacreontics of his than I believe have ever been published.