Poets and Kings, Pausanias, 1.2.2-4


“Even in that time poets lived with kings as in earlier generations Anacreon was at the home of the tyrant Polykrates in Samos or Aeschylus and Simonides traveled to see Hieron in Syracuse. Dionysus, who ruled in Sicily later, entertained Philoxenos and Antagoras of Rhodes was at the court of Antigonus the king of Macedon along with Aratus the Solean.

Hesiod and Homer either did not win the friendship of kings or they willfully looked down on it—the former because he was too rustic and reluctant to travel, and Homer, though he traveled far, wished more for repute among the masses than help getting money from kings (even though in Homer’s poems we find Demodocus present at Alkinoos’ court and the fact that Agamemnon left a poet behind to advise his wife).”


συνῆσαν δὲ ἄρα καὶ τότε τοῖς βασιλεῦσι ποιηταὶ καὶ πρότερον ἔτι καὶ Πολυκράτει Σάμου τυραννοῦντι ᾿Ανακρέων παρῆν καὶ ἐς Συρακούσας πρὸς ῾Ιέρωνα Αἰσχύλος καὶ Σιμωνίδης ἐστάλησαν· Διονυσίῳ δέ, ὃς ὕστερον ἐτυράννησεν ἐν Σικελίᾳ, Φιλόξενος παρῆν καὶ ᾿Αντιγόνῳ Μακεδόνων ἄρχοντι ᾿Ανταγόρας ῾Ρόδιος καὶ Σολεὺς ῎Αρατος. ῾Ησίοδος δὲ καὶ ῞Ομηρος ἢ συγγενέσθαι βασιλεῦσιν ἠτύχησαν ἢ καὶ ἑκόντες ὠλιγώρησαν, ὁ μὲν ἀγροικίᾳ καὶ ὄκνῳ πλάνης, ῞Ομηρος δὲ ἀποδημήσας ἐπὶ μακρότατον καὶ τὴν ὠφέλειαν <τὴν> ἐς χρήματα παρὰ τῶν δυνατῶν ὑστέραν θέμενος τῆς παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς δόξης, ἐπεὶ καὶ ῾Ομήρῳ πεποιημένα  ἐστὶν ᾿Αλκίνῳ παρεῖναι Δημόδοκον καὶ ὡς ᾿Αγαμέμνων καταλείποι τινὰ παρὰ τῇ γυναικὶ ποιητήν.

3 thoughts on “Poets and Kings, Pausanias, 1.2.2-4

  1. Interesting how Pausanias’ conclusion is the opposite of the way modern scholars look at Homer. (Or maybe it’s only *some* modern scholars?) I know I’ve read assertions that he (or they) was essentially a court poet, applying the social relations of the late Dark Age onto the Late Bronze Age setting of the traditional myths, and using the epics to validate, justify, antiquate and glorify the form of power his patrons wielded. (Though, in truth, the Late Bronze Age rulers really did have loads of power, as far as archaeology can tell.)

    Actually, it seems really odd that Pausanias would come to that conclusion, considering the overwhelming praise paid to kings and princes in the Homeric epics, and the fact that the only commoner in the Iliad is ugly, useless and hated. (Commoners come off better in the Odyssey, of course, so maybe that’s more what he was thinking about.)

    I always wonder where the ancient beliefs about the life of Homer came from. Since writing was rare at the time of the composition of the Homeric epics, it’s not as though anyone would have written anything down about the life of the poet(s) responsible for epics that probably didn’t take on their preeminent status for a century or more. (It took about 100-200 years, I think, before (surviving) vase paintings begin to prefer the combat between Achilles and Hector to the combat between Achilles and Memnon, which seems like a good indicator that the Homeric epics took a while to really catch on.) So where did the notion of the blind, wandering poet come from? Okay, actually, I understand that the wandering part was suggested by the name assigned to him, and the blind part was because of Demodokos, but where did the rest of it come from?

    1. The blind part is in part tied to the depiction of Demodocus in the Odyssey, but there is also a short passage n the Homeric Hymn to Apollo that echoes some of these ideas.

      There are a handful of ancient Lives of Homer, most written during the hellenistic age and later. Mary Leftkowitz has a brilliant short book on the Lives of the Poets to discuss this. And Barbara Graziosi’s “the Invention of Homer” (2002?) pretty much shows that all of the biographical details are cultural responses to the poetry and nothing to do with a ‘real’ person…

Leave a Reply