Poets as Civic Leaders

Coluccio Salutati, de laboribus Herculis 1.10-12

“Examples of this include Tyrreus* the Athenian, whom the Lacedaemonians, that most warlike nation, selected as a general against the rebellious Messenians; when they were thrice routed and thought about giving up the battle, they – goaded on by his song – entered the contest and overcame the enemy in the bloodiest battle. Sophocles, too, is a testament to this – Sophocles, who wrote many tragedies, even as he came to the hundredth year of his life. Indeed, the Athenians selected him as the associate of Pericles in their doubtful war with the Lacedaemonians; as generals, they invaded the country of the enemy with twin armies, ravaged and widely devastated the fields, and subjected many cities of Asia, captured in war, to the power of the Athenians.

Eurpides the the tragedian is also an example. Archelaus, the king of the Macedonians, who is said to have turned naval battle into a science, though the ancient Cretan king Minos was the first to have fought at sea. Archelaus felt a singular esteem for Euripides, and entrusted the chief cares of planning to him. He also loved him to such a degree that, when Euripides, heading home from dinner with the king, was seized by dogs and killed in a most savage and shocking kind of death (whatever the madness was), Archelaus not only honored his friend with a costly funeral, but also considered it necessary to grieve publicly with his hair cut short. Macedonia, itself glorious for its many illustrious men, ornamented his grave and considered it of such great importance to possess his ashes that, though the Athenians sent a remarkable legation to request Euripides’ bones (as Agellius tells us), nevertheless firmly refused to hand them over. Nor, according to Theopompus, were they moved by the nobility of his ancestors, nor by his mother (who was of such a low condition that she sold vegetables); they were moved only by the name and tomb of such a great poet.”

*Here, Salutati means Tyrtaeus.

Testes sunt Tyrreus Atheniensis, quem sibi ducem gens bellicosissima Lacedemonii contra rebellantes Messenios elegerunt, cuius adhortati carmine, cum iam ter acie fusi prelio desistere cogitarent, certamen ineunt et hostes pugna cruentissima superarunt. Testis est et Sophocles, qui et usque centesimum annum vite perveniens senex scripsit plurimas tragedias. Hunc etenim dubio cum Lacedemoniis bello sue delegerunt Athene Pericli socium, qui duces gemino exercitu fines hostium invadentes Spartanorum agros depopulati sunt latissimeque vastaverunt ac plurimas Asie civitates bello captas Atheniensium imperio subiecere. Testis et Euripedes tragicus, quem Archelaus, Macedonum rex, qui primus naumachiam traditur in artis regulam collegisse, cum antiquissimus tamen Cretensium rex Minos primus navi certaverit, non solum unice dilexit sed sibi summam consiliorum tradidit et commisit adeoque ipsum ardenter amavit quod, cum a regis cena repetens domum fuisset acerrimo et inusitato mortis genere, quecunque rabies fuerit, a canibus interceptus et mortuus, non solum sumptu funeris amicum ornaverit sed detonsis crinibus rex inclitus atque magnus publice duxerit esse lugendum. Et ipsa Macedonia multis viris illustribus gloriosa sepulcrum eius ornavit tantique duxit cineres illius habere poete quod Atheniensibus singulari legatione ossa repetentibus in ea re, sicut inquit Agellius, constanter perstiterit deneganda. Nec eos maiorum ut solet nobilitas, quippe Theopompo teste mater eius adeo vilis condicionis fuit quod holera venundaret, movit sed solum tanti poete nomen famaque sepulcri.

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