Lives of the Hellenistic Poets

These short biographies were attached to the ancient commentaries (Scholia) on the poets. In most cases, the lives have been preserved in several different versions in the manuscripts. In their final form, they all date from the Byzantine period, but their content is derived from earlier biographies.

There are lives of Apollonius of Rhodes , Aratus of Soli , Lycophron , Menander , Nicander and Theocritus .

As well as the lives translated here, there are entries in the Suda, an "encyclopaedia" which was compiled in the 10th century A.D., for the following writers:
Alexander of Aetolia , Anaxippus , Apollodorus of Gela , Apollodorus of Athens , Apollonius of Rhodes , Aratus of Soli , Archedicus , Callimachus , Eratosthenes , Erinna , Euphorion , Homerus of Byzantium , Ister , Leschides , Lycophron , Lynceus , Menander , Moschus , Nicander , Parthenius , Philemon , Philetas , Philicus , Philippides , Poseidippus , Rhianus , Rhinthon , Simonides of Magnesia , Sotades , Theocritus , Timolaus , Zenodotus


1. The family of Apollonius, the poet who wrote the Argonautica

The family of Apollonius, the poet who wrote the Argonautica, lived in Alexandria, and belonged to the Ptolemais tribe. He was the son of Silleus, or according to some of Illeus. He lived at the time of the third Ptolemaeus [246-222 B.C.], and was a pupil of Callimachus. At first, together with Callimachus his teacher ... later in life he turned to writing poems.

It is said that when Apollonius was still a youth, he published a version of the Argonautica, but met with an unfavourable reaction. He could not bear his dishonour amongst the citizens, or the reproaches and criticism of his fellow poets; so he left his homeland and went off to Rhodes. There he polished up his poem and improved it; when he published it in its new form, he was held in the highest esteem, and therefore in the title of the poem he calls himself a Rhodian. He became a distinguished teacher at Rhodes, and was rewarded by the Rhodians with citizenship and great honour.

2. The life of Apollonius

The family of the poet Apollonius lived in Alexandria. His father was Silleus or Illeus, and his mother was Rhode. He was a pupil of the grammarian Callimachus at Alexandria, where he composed this poem and published it. But the poem was a complete failure, and in his embarrassment he went off to Rhodes. There he made his home and taught rhetoric; therefore he is called a Rhodian. While he was staying there, he polished up his poem, and when he published it he was held in the highest esteem, so that the Rhodians rewarded him with citizenship and great honour.

Some say that he returned to Alexandria, and published the poem again there to such acclaim, that he was appointed to be [? the head] of the libraries and the Museium; and he was buried next to Callimachus himself.

3. The directors of the library at Alexandria

. . .1 Apollonius son of Silleus, of Alexandria, called the Rhodian, the disciple of Callimachus ; he was also the teacher of the first 2 king. He was succeeded by Eratosthenes, after whom came Aristophanes son of Apelles of Byzantium, then Apollonius of Alexandria, the so-called Classifier 3; and after him Aristarchus son of Aristarchus, of Alexandria, but originally of Samothrace; he became also the teacher of the children of Philopator 4. He was followed by Cydas, of the spearmen 5; and under the ninth king 6 there flourished Ammonius, Zenodotus, Diocles, and Apollodorus the grammarians 7.
Notes: 1. The beginning of the list is missing. Zenodotus of Ephesus was the director of the library before Apollonius.
2. A mistake for "third".
3. Greek: Eidographos.
4. A mistake for (?) Philometor.
5. Greek: lonchophoroi.
6. (?) Ptolemaeus Euergetes II.
7. Another, completely unrelated, list follows in the papyrus at this point.


1. The family and life of Aratus

6 The father of the poet Aratus was Athenodorus, and his mother was Letophila. He had three brothers, called Myris, Caliondas and Athenodorus, who had the same name as his father. Aratus mentions his brothers in the letters which are attributed to him. Asclepiades of Myrleia in the eleventh book of his "About Grammarians" says that Aratus came from Tarsus, and not from Soli. But Callimachus, a learned and trustworthy writer, says that he came from Soli, in the following lines:
I suspect that the poet of Soli
Has skimmed off only the sweetest of his verses

- and almost all other writers agree with him.

Soli was a very distinguished city in Cilicia, the home of many excellent men; it is now called Pompeiopolis. There is another city called Soli in Cyprus; but the inhabitants of the Cyprian city were called Solioi, whereas the inhabitants of the Cilician city were called Soleis, as is made clear by the quotation from Callimachus above. [There follows a discussion about how adjectives are formed from city names.]

7 Solon mentions [Cyprian Soli] in his elegies addressed to king Cypranor, who was advised by Solon to found the city, and in gratitude for this advice named the city Soli after him. This is what Solon says:
But now may you and your family long dwell
In this city as lords of the Solians,
And may Cypris of the violet crown give me a safe journey
From this famous island in a swift ship.

Aratus lived during the reign of Antigonus Gonatas, the king of Macedonia. Antigonus was the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and he was married to Phila, the daughter of Seleucus and Stratonice. 8 Because he was a lover of literature and very fond of poetry, he was eager to bring together many cultivated writers, including Aratus. When Aratus joined the king, he was well received on account of his learning and his poetry, and he was instructed by the king to write the Phaenomena. The king gave him a copy of Eudoxus' book entitled "Mirror" (Katoptron) and asked him to put Eudoxus' prose description of the stars into verse. The king said, "You will make Eudoxus more famous (eudoxoteron) by putting his discoveries into verse".

Antigonus was [king] in the 125th Olympiad [280-277 B.C.], at which time Aratus and Alexander of Aetolia were in their prime. In his own letters Aratus mentions the "Mirror" of Eudoxus, Antigonus, Alexander of Aetolia, and how he was requested by the king to write [the Phaenomena].

Aratus is said to have been a student of Dionysius of Heracleia. He produced an edition of the Odyssey, and so this is called the "edition of Aratus", similarly to the editions of Aristarchus and Aristophanes. Some say that he went to Syria and stayed with Antiochus, who asked him to produce an edition of the Iliad, because it had been contaminated by many others.

Others says that Nicander of Colophon was a contemporary of Aratus and Antigonus; that Aratus did not know anything about astronomy and Nicander did not know anything about medicine, but nevertheless Antigonus commanded Aratus, who was a doctor, to write the Phaenomena and Nicander, who was an astronomer, to write the Theriaca and Alexipharmaca; and that therefore both of them made mistakes in the technical details of their subjects. 9 But those who say this are mistaken. They do nor realise that Nicander was not a contemporary of Aratus, but lived many years later. For Antigonus, in whose reign Aratus lived, was king at the same time as the first and second Ptolemaeus; but Nicander lived during the reign of the fifth Ptolemaeus [204-180 B.C.]. Callimachus mentions Aratus as being older than himself, not only in his epigrams, but also in his [letters] to Praxiphanes; he is full of praise [for Aratus] as an erudite and outstanding poet.

Aratus was an admirer of Hesiodus, as Callimachus indicates in the epigram about him:
The subject and the style belong to Hesiodus; but though he is not
(?) The least of poets, I suspect that the poet of Soli
Has skimmed off only the sweetest of his verses; hail,
Subtle utterances, the earnest endeavours of Aratus.

Aratus wrote other books, about Homerus and the Iliad, a Description of Bones, Medicinal Properties, a Hymn to Pan, Weather Signs, Scythicon and other minor works; but the Phaenomena was his most successful poem, so much so that its fame far surpasses all other writers. For Eudoxus of Cnidus wrote a book called Phaenomena, as did Lasus of Magnesia (not Lasus of Hermione, but a different writer with the same name), Hermippus, Hegesianax, 10 Aristophanes of Byzantium and many others. King Ptolemaeus mentions them in his "Personalities", as follows:
Hegesianax, Hermippus and many others
Compiled books about the stars and all the constellations
In the sky; nor did they (?) miss the mark.
But the subtly-speaking Aratus holds the crown.

There were many other distinguished men called Aratus, such as the historians, Aratus of Cnidus, author of historical works about Egypt, and (thirdly) the famous Aratus of Sicyon, who wrote the "Multi-book history", containing more than 30 books.

Almost all writers agree that the letters attributed to Aratus, which we mentioned above, were written by him and are genuine. But Apollonides (?) Cepheus in the eighth book of his "Historical Fakes" says that they were written by Sabirius Pollio, and not by Aratus. Apollonides says that Sabirius Pollio also wrote the letters which are attributed to Euripides.

2. The family of the poet Aratus

11 The family of the poet Aratus lived at Soli in Cilicia. His father was Athenodorus and his mother was Letophila. His father belonged to a distinguished family, who had many claims to fame, and had given good service in war. They had even liberated their homeland on several occasions.

Aratus lived at the time of king [Ptolemaeus] Philadelphus [282-246 B.C.]. He was a contemporary of Alexander of Aetolia and Philetas; and also of Dionysius the philosopher, who deserted his school for a life of pleasure. Aratus wrote an account of Dionysius' teachings.

Aratus wrote various minor works; but there are four which are worthy of mention:

12 Some writers think that Aratus was a doctor by training; and that he was a close friend of Nicander, an astronomer, to whom he gave the Theriaca which he had written. In return, he received the Phaenomena from Nicander, and presented it as his own work.

His Phaenomena is divided into three parts: constellations, the risings and settings of the stars, and weather signs.

In the composition of the poem, he followed the style of Homerus; but some say that he was more influenced by Hesiodus. For just as Hesiodus at the start of the "Works and Days" began with a hymn to Zeus:
Muses of Pieria, who give praise in song, come speak of Zeus,
so Aratus at the beginning of his poem said
Let us start with Zeus.
Aratus copied Hesiodus in his account of the Golden Age, and in many other myths. Boethus of Sidon in the first book of his "On Aratus" says that he imitated Homerus rather than Hesiodus; for Aratus is much grander than Hesiodus in his style of writing.

Many other writers composed Phaenomena, including Cleopater, Sminthes, Alexander of Aetolia, 13 Alexander of Ephesus, Alexander Lycaites, Anacreon, Artemidorus and Hipparchus; but the brilliant power of Aratus' poem puts them all in the shade. Aratus used the force of the natural philosophers; he said that there is one power which controls the details of the universe, including the years, the months, the days, the hours, and the risings and settings of the sun, the moon and the five planets. He says that the earth has the shape of a spherical body in the universe; it is motionless, and its size is 252,000 stades.

Some say that Aratus did not write the present introduction to the poem, but it was added later. They say that the original start of the poem was as follows:
Ancleides, holy offshoot of strangers [ see comment on line 733 ]

This is the end of our account of Aratus' life, family, education, prowess and contemporaries.

3. The family of Aratus

14 Aratus' father was Athenodorus, and his mother was Letophila. His family lived at Soli in Cilicia, which was named after Solon of Lindus. He had three brothers, Lyres, Calliondas and Athenodorus. According to Euphranor, this Athenodorus wrote a reply to the calumnies of Zoilus.

Aratus became famous while he was staying with Antigonus, king of Macedonia. Antigonus became king in the following fashion. 15 After the death of Alexander, Macedonia was ruled by Philippus Arrhidaeus. When Arrhidaeus died, he was succeeded by Seleucus Nicanor, who was killed by Ptolemaeus Ceraunus, the son of Ptolemaeus Soter and Eurydice. Ptolemaeus became king of Macedonia, but he was killed by the Gauls. Then the Macedonians chose Sosthenes as their leader, after whom Antigonus the son of Philippus became their king. Antigonus' son was Demetrius Poliorcetes, and Demetrius' son was Antigonus Gonatas. It was this Antigonus with whom Aratus stayed, along with Persaeus the Stoic, Antagoras of Rhodes (the author of the Thebais) and Alexander of Aetolia, as Antigonus himself relates in his [letter] to Hieronymus. After joining the king, Aratus first read to him his poem to Pan of Arcadia, and then at the king's command he wrote the Phaenomena.

16 Aratus was an associate of Zenon the Stoic, and he wrote a letter to Zenon. He wrote very many works, according to Callimachus.

Dositheus the politician says in his [letter] to Diodorus that Aratus also went to Antiochus the son of Seleucus, and stayed with him for some time.

Antigonus provided Aratus with the subject matter for the Phaenomena; he gave him Eudoxus' book and told him to use it as his guide. Because of this, some of the less intelligent commentators have thought that Aratus had no knowledge of astronomy. 17 They suppose that the Phaenomena of Eudoxus was Aratus' sole source of information for the poem. This is the opinion of Hipparchus of Bithynia, who tries to prove it in his book "On Eudoxus and Aratus". A similar opinion is expressed by Dionysius ... [and Poseidonius] in his "Comparison of Aratus and Homerus in matters of astronomy", who says:
We would not consider him a doctor for writing "Medicinal Properties", nor will we consider him an astronomer for writing a poem which contains nothing except what can be found in Eudoxus' book.

These writers are exaggerating considerably. It takes some understanding of astronomy to know how to express the ideas; and we can find many instances in which Aratus' understanding was better than that of Eudoxus. Callimachus, who lived at about the same time as Aratus, 18 already says "connected to the endeavours of Aratus" when talking of the study of astronomy, because of Aratus' careful observations. Many other writers wrote Phaenomena after Aratus, but none of them are considered worthy of note.

This is the end [of our remarks] about him.

4. The family of Aratus

19 Aratus' father was Athenodorus, and his mother was Letodora; they lived at Soli in Cilicia. They say that the city was named after Solon of Lindus, and it is now called Pompeiopolis. Aratus lived at the time of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus, and he was a student of Dionysius of Heracleia. He resided with Antigonus the king of Macedonia and his wife Phila, and he was a contemporary of Alexander of Aetolia, Callimachus, Menander and Philetas. 20 Aratus had three brothers, Myris, Calondas and Athenodorus. This Athenodorus is said to have been the first to reply to Zoilus' attacks on the poetry of Homerus.

Aratus was a student of the philosopher Persaeus at Athens, and he accompanied Persaeus when he was summoned to Macedonia by Antigonus. He was present at the wedding of Antigonus and Phila, where he was well received, and he spent the rest of his life in Macedonia.

Antigonus was the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and he became king in about the (?) 125th Olympiad [280-277 B.C.], when Ptolemaeus Philadelphus was king of Egypt. So the story that is put about by some, that Aratus lived at the same time as Nicander of Colophon, the writer of the Theriaca, is shown to be false, [that they made an agreement, Aratus to work on the Phaenomena, and Nicander on the Theriaca], because Nicander is shown to have lived twelve whole Olympiads later than Aratus.

21 Some say that Aratus was the son of Mnaseas, and he was taught by an astronomer called Aristotherus. He was trained as a doctor, and was a poet at the court of Antigonus. He met [Callimachus] of Cyrene when Callimachus was an old man, and was chosen to be the subject of one of his epigrams. He was a contemporary of the astronomer Nicander, who was also one of Antigonus' circle. Some say that Aratus was an imitator of Homerus, but others say he was more an imitator of Hesiodus.

5. Comment in the Scholia, on line 733 of the Phaenomena

Do you not see? When the slender [moon] ... :   Because these words seem to be addressed to someone else, [some editors] were led to insert the introduction which names Ancleides. But they did not realise that this is poetical device, as in Homerus:
  Then you would not have seen Agamemnon shirking [ Iliad 4.223 ]
  Patroclus the knight [ Iliad 16.20 ]
  and   Nor you, Menelaus [ Iliad 4.127 ]
Following these examples, later writers used the same device.


1. TZETZES: The family of Lycophron

The family of this Lycophron lived in Chalcis. He was the son of Socles, or according to some of the historian Lycus. He was one of the seven poets who, because they were seven in number, were called the Pleias. Their names were:

Though some wrongly say that there were others in the Pleias.

These poets lived at the time of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus [282-246 B.C.] and Berenice [? Arsinoe], who were both children of Ptolemaeus, son of Lagus, and of Berenice, daughter of Antigonus. Lycophron was famous at the time not so much for his poetry as for his anagrams, such as that Ptolemaeus became "from honey" (apo melitos) when the letters were re-arranged, Arsinoe became "violet of Hera" (ion Eras), and other similar things.

As a treat for the keen readers among the young men, Lycophron produced this book, which is full of different stories. He summarises everything from Heracles and the Trojan War down to Alexander of Macedonia and beyond. Then at the end of the book he goes back and briefly describes the rape of Io by the Phoenicians, which was the cause of the fighting between the barbarians and the Greeks. The outline [of the poem] is as follows ...

2. extract from TZETZES: On Comedy (Preface to Aristophanes)

19 Note that Alexander of Aetolia and Lycophron of Chalcis were appointed by Ptolemaeus Philadelphus to correct the texts of the dramatists. Lycophron worked on the comedies, and Alexander worked on the tragedies, along with the satyr plays. 20 Ptolemaeus was a great lover of literature. With the help of Demetrius of Phalerum and other distinguished men, he used the royal funds to buy books from all over the world, and gathered them in two libraries in Alexandria. The outer library had 42,800 volumes; the library inside the palace complex had 400,000 mixed volumes, and 90,000 unmixed single volumes. Callimachus later compiled a catalogue of these books.

21 The king entrusted Eratosthenes, a contemporary of Callimachus, with the management of this library. The books which were collected there came not only from the Greeks, but from all other nations, including the Hebrews. The king appointed wise men from each of the other nations, who had a good knowledge both of their own language and of the Greek language, for the purpose of translating their books into Greek. It was at his command that the seventy [wise men] translated the Hebrew scriptures [into Greek].

As I said previously, Alexander and Lycophron corrected the texts of the dramatists; the texts of the poets were corrected first by Zenodotus, and later by Aristarchus. 22 The text of the Homeric poems, which previously had existed in various different forms, was established by 72 grammarians when Peisistratus was tyrant of Athens; but later the text was revised by Aristarchus and Zenodotus, who were two of the other scholars who corrected texts at the time of Ptolemaeus. Some writers ascribe the edition which was made under Peisistratus to just four scholars: Orpheus of Croton, Zopyrus of Heracleia, Onomacritus of Athens, and Epiconcylus.

23 Later many scholars wrote commentaries on all the dramatists and the poets. Didymus, Tryphon, Apollonius, Herodianus, and Ptolemaeus of Ascalon wrote commentaries, along with the philosophers Porphyrius, Plutarchus and Proclus - just as, before any of them, Aristotle had done.


1. A Short History of Comedy (Prolegomena de Comoedia, 3)

Because this list of famous writers of comedy is of general interest, it is translated here in its entirety. The Greek text is in "Scholia in Aristophanem", edited by W.Koster.

They say that comedy was invented by Susarion. Some writers say that it derived its name from the villages [κώμαι]; because they used to go round the villages, singing and presenting shows, when people were living in villages, before cities came into existence. Other writers deny this; they say that the Athenians used to call their villages demes, not κώμαι, and comedy was so named because they held a festival [ἐκώμαζον] in the streets. Another name for it was τρυγωδία, either because the victors at the Lenaea were given new wine, which they called τρύξ, or because before masks were invented the actors used to smear their faces with the lees from new wine. There were three styles of comedy: Old Comedy, New Comedy and Middle Comedy. The poets of the Old Comedy did not have a serious purpose, but held their contests in pursuit of simple amusement. In total, 365 plays are attributed to these poets, including some plays that are spurious. The most illustrious of these poets were Epicharmus, Magnes, Cratinus, Crates, Pherecrates, Phrynichus, Eupolis and Aristophanes.

{Epicharmus of Syracuse} was the first to revive comedy, when it had fallen into disarray, and he made many improvments. He lived about the 73rd Olympiad [488-485 B.C.]; and in his poetry he was fond of maxims, inventive and artistic. 40 of his plays have survived, of which 4 are disputed.

Magnes of Athens won 11 victories at Athens. None of his plays has survived. Nine [plays] are attributed to him.

Cratinus of Athens won victories after the 85th Olympiad [440-437 B.C.]. He died while the Lacedaemonians were invading Attica for the first time, as Aristophanes says [ Pax_702 ]:
  He swooned away; he could not bear to see
  A flask full of wine, smashed and broken.
He was very poetic, and aspired to the character of Aeschylus. 21 plays are attributed to him.

Crates of Athens was an actor at first, so they say, and attached himself to Cratinus. He was very funny and cheerful, and was the first to portray drunks in comedy. There are seven plays by him.

Pherecrates of Athens won victories (?) in the theatre. He {also} was an actor, and was a rival of Crates, but withheld from abusing him. He was clever at inventing stories, and won a good reputation by introducing new material.

Phrynichus the son of Polyphradmon died in Sicily. [This is apparently a confusion with Phrynichus the tragedian.]

Eupolis of Athens produced a play when Apollodorus was archon [430 B.C.], at the same time as Phrynichus. He was powerful in his diction, and a rival of Cratinus, [except] that some of his writing was abusive and spiteful. 14 plays are attributed to him.

Aristophanes of Athens, the son of Philippus, was by far the most eloquent of the Athenians, and more naturally gifted than any of the others. He rivalled Euripides, (?) and outdid him in the elegance of his lyric poetry. He presented his first play when Diotimus was archon [428 B.C.], with Callistratus as the producer; they say that his political plays were produced by Callistratus, and the plays about Euripides and Socrates were produced by Philonides. As a result of these, he gained a reputation as a good poet, and won other prizes in his own name. Then he handed over his plays to his son; the plays are 54 in number, of which 4 are spurious.

The poets of the Middle Comedy did not adopt a poetical style, but they achieved virtue in speech through colloquial language, so that poetical expression is only rarely found in them. They all spend a lot of effort on their plots. There are 57 poets of Middle Comedy, and the total number of their plays is 617. The most illustrious of them are Antiphanes and {? Alexis}.

Antiphanes of Athens, the son of Stephanus, began to produce plays after the 98th Olympiad [388-385 B.C.]. They say that he was born at Larissa in Thessaly, but was admitted into Athenian citizenship by Demosthenes. They say that he was very skilful at writing and producing plays. He died at Chios, and his bones were brought back from there to Athens. Some of his comedies were also presented by Stephanus. The number of his plays is 260.

There were 64 poets of the New Comedy, but the most illustrious of them were Philemon, Menander, Diphilus, Philippides, Poseidippus and Apollodorus.

Philemon was the son of Damon, from Syracuse, but he was awarded Athenian citizenship. He started producing plays before the 113th Olympiad [328-325 B.C.]. 97 of his plays have survived.

Menander of Athens, the son of Diopeithes, was distinguished for both his character and his family background. He stayed for a long time with Alexis, and seems to have been instructed by him. He produced his first play as an ephebe, when Philocles was archon [322 B.C.]. He was extremely talented, and wrote a total of 108 plays. He died at Athens, when he was 52 years old.

Diphilus of Sinope was producing plays at the same time as Menander. He died at Smyrna. There are 100 plays by him.

2. A Synopsis of two of Menander's plays   (POxy_1235)

Translated by B.P.Grenfell and A.S.Hunt.

{The Priestess . . .} The former husband of the priestess . . . having recovered tried to seek out the son whom he loved. His servant was persuaded to be brought to the priestess under pretence of being possessed, in order that he might be accorded treatment; and he secretly obtained information and discovered the truth. The true son of the mother of the supposititious child desiring to marry the daughter of the priestess sent his mother to speak with the priestess about him. While the women were talking {the old man, who} had become suspicious, and especially in consequence of the information of his servant that there was a difference in personal appearance, addresses the younger of his neighbour's sons as his own. The youth discerning his mistake intimidates his brother in advance by saying that the old man was mad and was declaring every young man to be his son. Accordingly when the old man subsequently learned the truth and addressed the elder as his son the latter sends him away as being mad. At the same time ... the old man having recovered his son marries the priestess, and the son receives the daughter of his foster-parents and the younger and true son of the neighbours receives the daughter of the priestess whom he had loved, and the marriages of all three pairs are celebrated . . .

Such are the incidents of the plot. The play is one of the best and . . .

The Imbrians, commencing "For how long a time, Demeas, I . . .". "My good man, I . . ." This he wrote when Nicocles was archon [302/1 B.C.], being his 7{.}th play, and issued it for production at the Dionysia; but it did not take place on account of the tyrant Lachares. The play was subsequently acted by the Athenian Callippus.

The plot is as follows : Two poor men who were friends lived in close association at Imbros and married twin sisters; and sharing all their possessions too they worked industriously both on land and sea . . .

3. Production Note of Menander's Dyskolos   (PBodmer_4)

Translated by W.G.Arnott.

[Menander] produced [this play] at the Lenaea festival, when Demogenes was archon [January 316 B.C.], and won first prize. Aristodemus of Scarphe was his principal actor. It has an alternative title, "The Misanthrope".

4. A Greek inscription, found at Rome   (IG_14.1184)

Menander the son of Diopeithes, from Cephisia, was born when Sosigenes was archon [342/1 B.C.]. He died at the age of 52 years, when Philippus was archon [? 292/1 B.C.], in the 32nd year of the reign of Ptolemaeus Soter.

5. Scholia on Ovid   (Ovid, Ibis_591)

Translated by Alan H. Sommerstein.

" As the comic poet perished while swimming in the wet waves,
  So may the waters of Styx suffocate your mouth! "
Comment: Menander, the Athenian comic poet, was drowned while swimming in the harbour of Peiraeus; about this there have been handed down some very famous elegiac verses of the Greek authorship, and an epigram by Callimachus.


1. The life of Nicander

Dionysius of Phaselis, in his book "About the poetry of Antimachus", says that the poet Nicander came from an Aetolian family; but in his book "On poets" he say that Nicander was a priest of Apollo of Clarus, having inherited the priesthood from his ancestors. And Nicander says of himself at the end of the Theriaca:
... bred by the snowy town of Clarus
Clarus is a place which is sacred to Apollo.

Nicander calls himself the son of Damaeus, in these words:
You will praise the son of much-remembered Damaeus

He lived in the reign of Attalus, the last king of Pergamum [139-133 B.C.], who was deposed by the Romans. He addressed Attalus in these words:
Descendant of Teuthras, who for ever holds the heritage of your fathers,
Hear my hymn, and do not thrust it disregarded away from your ear;
For I have heard, Attalus, that your lineage reaches back
To Heracles and wise Lysidice, whom Pelops' wife
Hippodame bore, when he had seized power over the Apian land.

Nicander lived in Aetolia for a long time, as is clear from his writings about Aetolia and his other poems, and from his descriptions of rivers, places and other features in Aetolia; he also mentions plants which are local to there.

2. An inscription found at Delphi ( SIG_452 )

With good fortune. The Delphians granted to Nicander of Colophon, the son of Anaxagoras, the epic poet, and to his descendants: the rights of proxeny, of priority in consulting the oracle, of refuge, of priority in trial, of freedom from all taxes, of a seat of honour at all the games which the city presents, and of all the other privileges which are given to the foreign friends and benefactors of the city of Delphi. Nicodamus was archon, and the members of the council were Ariston, Nicodamus, Pleiston, Xenon and Epicharidas.

[ This inscription is dated to the third century B.C.; because the date and the name of Nicander's father are different from what is stated in the Life, it has been suggested that there were two different epic poets who were both called Nicander. ]


1 A. The family of Theocritus

The family of Theocritus, the bucolic poet, lived in Syracuse. His father was Simichus, as he himself says:
Son of Simichus, where are you treading in the middle of the day?
But some say that "Simichidas" was a nickname for Theocritus - because he seems to have been snub-nosed (simos) - and that his father was really Praxagoras and his mother was Philina.

Theocritus was a pupil of Philetas and Asclepiades, both of whom he mentions. He lived at the time of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus [282-246 B.C.], the son of Ptolemaeus son of Lagus. He became extremely famous for his skill in composing bucolic poetry. According to some, he was originally called Moschus, but was later given the name Theocritus.

Note that this Theocritus was a contemporary of Aratus, Callimachus and Nicander. He lived at the time of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus.

1 B. The invention of bucolic poetry

They say that bucolic poetry was invented at Sparta, and was held in great esteem, for the following reason. At the time of the Persian wars, when the whole of Greece was in a state of fear, the festival of Artemis Caryatis was due to be celebrated. The maidens hid themselves away, because of the alarm caused by the war, but some men from the countryside entered the temple and sang their own songs in honour of Artemis. The goddess was pleased by their unusual music, and so the tradition was established and preserved.

Others says that bucolic poetry was first performed at Tyndaris in Sicily. When Orestes took the image of Artemis away from Tauris in Scythia, he received an oracle, that he should wash himself in seven rivers flowing from one source. Therefore Orestes went to Rhegium in Italy, and washed away the curse in the so-called "separated" rivers. Then he crossed over to Tyndaris in Sicily, where the inhabitants sang their local songs in honour of the goddess, and this was the origin of the tradition.

But the truth is as follows. Once there was political discord at Syracuse, and many of the citizens were killed. When the people came back into harmony, it seemed that Artemis had been the cause of their reconciliation. The countrymen brought gifts to the goddess, and in their celebrations they sang songs to her. Afterwards the songs of the countrymen became an established tradition.

They say that when the men sang, they prepared a loaf with many images of wild animals on it, a pouch full of all kinds of seeds, and wine in a goatskin, to pour out as an offering for those they met. They wore a garland, with the antlers of a deer [on their head], and a staff in their hands. The victor in the contest received the loaf of the man he had vanquished; and the victor remained in the city of Syracuse, while the losers went out to the surrounding villages to collect food for themselves. They sang songs full of fun and laughter, and added the following propitious words:
Receive good fortune,
Receive good health,
Which we bring from the goddess,
Which she (?) has commanded.

2. "Anecdoton Estense"

The family of Theocritus, the bucolic poet, lived in Syracuse. His father was Praxagoras, and his mother was Philina. For the same "Simichidas" is said not to be derived from his father, but to be a nickname, because he was snub-nosed (simos). Theocritus was a pupil of Philetas and Asclepiades, both of whom he mentions. He lived at the time of Ptolemaeus son of Lagus. He became extremely famous for his skill in composing bucolic poetry.

Others say that he lived at the time of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus, who was the son of Ptolemaeus son of Lagus and of Berenice the daughter of Antigonus. They say that there were seven outstanding poets at the time, who were called the Pleias because they were seven in number. Their names were as follows:

There is an epigram attributed to Theocritus, as follows:
The Chian is a different man; I, Theocritus, who wrote this,
Am one of the many Syracusans,
The son of Praxagoras and famous Philina,
And I have not assumed a foreign muse."

[This manuscript also contains an account of the invention of bucolic poetry, very similar to the one above.]

Selected prefaces to Theocritus' poems from the Scholia:

Idyll 6

Theocritus addresses his friend Aratus, whom he also mentions in the "Harvest Festival", where he says
Aratus, dearest in every way
Let us not keep watch in the porch, Aratus

This may be the Aratus who wrote the Phaenomena. He lived at the same time as Theocritus, and it is likely that they were friends.

Idyll 7

[a] When he was staying on Cos, Theocritus became friendly with Phrasidamus and Antigenes, the sons of Lycopeus. They invited him to the harvest festival of Demeter, and he set out with Eucritus and Amyntas. He did not, as Munatius says, set out with Phrasidamus and Antigenes, who had invited him; for Theocritus says, "the third one of us was Amyntas".

[b] The title of this idyll is "The Harvest Festival", and the action takes place on Cos. Theocritus was staying on the island, during his journey to visit Ptolemaeus at Alexandria. While he was there, he became friendly with Phrasidamus and Antigenes, the sons of Lycopeus ...

Idyll 15

The title of this idyll is "Syracusan women" or "Women at the festival of Adonis". The subject is some women from Syracuse who are staying at Alexandria; they arrange to go to watch the procession of Adonis, which has been furnished by Arsinoe, the wife of [Ptolemaeus] Philadelphus. Gorgo visits Praxinoa, and together they go out to watch. Theocritus modelled the poem on the "Spectators at the Isthmia" by Sophron, and it is different from his usual style of poetry.

At the festival of Adonis, the inhabitants of Alexandria used to adorn the statues of Adonis and escort them in traditional fashion down to the sea. When the Syracusan women leave their house, they are astonished by the crowd and by what is happening in the crowd.

Theocritus wrote this poem while he was staying at Alexandria, to please the queen. He describes the violent commotion of the men, and the singer who in her song extols the lavishness of Arsinoe.

Idyll 16

This idyll is addressed to Hieron son of Hierocles, the last tyrant of Syracuse. Hieron came to power after he was appointed general by the citizens, and he destroyed the forces [of their enemies]; as a result, he was proclaimed tyrant. [After him, Hieronymus the son of Gelon was ruler of Sicily.]

Because Theocritus received nothing from Hieron, he composed this idyll, which has as its title "The Graces" [or "The Favours"]. It tells the story of Simonides' boxes. It is said that Simonides had two boxes, one of favours, and one of sponsors. When someone came to ask him for a favour, Simonides told him to bring the boxes and open them up for inspection. The box of favours was found to be empty, and the box of sponsors was full; and in this way he rebuffed the man who asked for a favour.

Idyll 17

This idyll is addressed to Ptolemaeus Philadelphus, who was the son of Ptolemaeus, son of Lagus, and of Berenice. Therefore Munatius is wrong to make [Ptolemaeus] Philopator a contemporary of Theocritus, when there is such a difference in time between them.

There were three kings called Ptolemaeus:

The poem is about the third of these kings.

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