1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stesichorus

STESICHORUS (c. 640–555 B.C.), Greek lyric poet, a native of Himera in Sicily, or of Mataurus a Locrian colony in the south of Italy. According to Suïdas, his name was originally Tisias, but was changed to Stesichorus (" organizer of choruses "). His future eminence as a poet was foretold when a nightingale perched upon his lips and sang (Pliny, Nat. Hist.,x. 43). We are told that he warned his fellow-citizens against Phalaris, whom they had chosen as their general, by relating to them the well-known fable of the horse, which, in its eagerness to punish the stag for intruding upon its pastures, became the slave of man (Aristotle, Rhetoric, ii. 20). But his warnings had no effect; he himself was obliged to flee to Catana, where he died and was buried before the gate called after him the Stesichorean. The story that he was struck blind for slandering Helen in a poem and afterwards recovered his sight when, in consequence of a dream, he had composed a palinode or recantation (in which he declared that only Helen's phantom had been carried off to Troy), is told by Plato (Phaedrus 243 A.), Pausanias (iii. 19, 13), and others. We possess about thirty fragments of his poems, none of them longer than six lines. They are written in the Doric dialect, with epic licences; the metre is dactylico-trochaic. Brief as they are, they show us what Longinus meant by calling Stesichorus " most like Homer "; they are full of epic grandeur, and have a stately sublimity that reminds us of Pindar. Stesichorus indeed made a new departure by using lyric poetry to celebrate gods and heroes rather than human feelings and passions; this is what Quintilian (Instit., x. 1, 62) means by saying that he " sustained the burden of epic poetry with the lyre." Several of his poems sung of the adventures of Heracles; one dealt with the siege of Thebes, another with the sack of Troy.[1] The last is interesting as being the first poem containing that form of the story of Aeneas's flight to which Virgil afterwards gave currency in his Aeneid. The popular legends of Sicily also inspired his muse; he was the first to introduce the shepherd Daphnis who came to a miserable end after he had proved faithless to the nymph who loved him. Stesichorus completed the form of the choral ode by adding the epode to the strophe and antistrophe; and " you do not even know Stesichorus's three " passed into a proverbial expression for unpardonable ignorance (unless the words simply mean, " you do not even know three lines, or poems, of Stesichorus "). He was famed in antiquity for the richness and splendour of his imagination and his style, although Quintilian censures his redundancy and Hermogenes remarks on the excessive sweetness that results from his abundant use of epithets.

Fragments in T. Bergk, Poetae lyrici graeci, iii.; see also S. Bernage, De Stesichoro lyrico (1880); O. Crusius, "Stesichorus und die epodische Composition in der griechischen Lyrik," in Commentationes Philologicae, dedicated to O. Ribbeck (1888).

  1. The tabula Iliaca, a stucco bas-relief found in the ruins of an ancient temple on the site of the ancient Bovillae and so called because it represents the chief events of the Trojan War, is a sort of commentary upon this (see O. Jahn and A. Michaelis, Griechische Bilderchroniken, 1873; and M. F. Paulcke, De tabula iliaca quaestiones Stesichoreae, 1897, an exhaustive treatise).