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Page:Masterpieces of Greek Literature (1902).djvu/99

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SIMONIDES OF CEOS




Before Simonides, Greek lyric poetry had been chiefly of the personal and individual type. But the increased prominence of the national games in the sixth century B. C., and the Persian wars in the early part of the fifth century, tended to draw the Hellenes together, and to stimulate a national spirit and a national lyric.

The poet's long life covered a period of great importance to his country. Born about 556 B. C., in the age of the Tyrants at Athens, he lived to see the overthrow of the Peisistratidae, the Ionic Revolt, the two Persian invasions, and the establishment of Athens as the leader of Hellas, before his death in 467 B. C. Among his friends were all the great men of the time,—kings and tyrants like Hipparchus at Athens, and Hiero at Syracuse, and the Thessalian princes; statesmen like Pausanias of Sparta and the Athenian Themistocles; and poets like Aeschylus, Anacreon, and Bacchylides.

Simonides lived mainly at the courts of his friends, whose praises he sang in return for gifts; but he identified himself heartily with the Greeks in their struggle for freedom. The patriotic spirit of his epitaphs on those who fell in the Persian Wars has hardly been surpassed. Many of his choral odes celebrated victories in the national games. He achieved distinction in his dirges as well, and from the delicacy and tenderness of his style won from the ancients the name of Melicertesthe sweet poet. He was the most productive of all the Greek lyric poets.