Masterpieces of Greek Literature (1902)/Alcaeus


All the poets from whose works extracts have been given, with the exception of Tyrtaeus, were Ionians. But in the perfection of lyric poetry the Ionians have no place, and the Aeolians and Dorians hold the lead side by side. This difference existed between them, however, that the Aeolians sang solos, treating of their own joys and sorrows, while the Dorians composed complex odes, for a trained chorus, in celebration of public events.

Alcaeus was a noble of Mytilene, the chief town of Lesbos, who flourished as early as 612 B. C. His life was spent largely in war, party strife, and wanderings, and its character is reflected in his poems, of which only a few fragments remain.

The following poem has been imitated by Horace, in the ninth Ode of his first book.


The rain of Zeus descends, and from high heaven
A storm is driven:
And on the running water-brooks the cold
Lays icy hold:
Then up! beat down the winter; make the fire 5
Blaze high and higher;
Mix wine as sweet as honey of the bee
Then drink with comfortable wool around
Your temples bound. 10
We must not yield our hearts to woe, or wear
With wasting care;
For grief will profit us no whit, my friend,
Nor nothing mend;
But this is our best medicine, with wine fraught 15
To cast out thought.

Translated by John Addington Symonds.