Theognis: A Poet to Avoid for, Um, Virtue

CW: Eugenics

Suda, Theta 137

“Theognis, the Megarian, from the Megarians in Sicily, lived around the time of the 59th Olympiad (544-541 BCE). He composed an elegy for those who were saved in the siege of the Syracusans and an additional collection of 2800 elegiac lines. Some were advice and traditional wisdom addressed to Kyrnos, his lover. All his work was in epic language. Note that Theognis composed useful advice, but mixed in with this are disgusting and pederastic love poems and other topics  that a virtuous life turns away from.”

Θέογνις, Μεγαρεύς, τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ Μεγάρων, γεγονὼς ἐν τῇ νθ′ ὀλυμπιάδι. ἔγραψεν ἐλεγείαν εἰς τοὺς σωθέντας τῶν Συρακουσίων ἐν τῇ πολιορκίᾳ, γνώμας δι’ ἐλεγείας εἰς ἔπη βω′, καὶ πρὸς Κῦρον, τὸν αὐτοῦ ἐρώμενον, Γνωμολογίαν δι’ ἐλεγείων καὶ ἑτέρας ὑποθήκας παραινετικάς. τὰ πάντα ἐπικῶς. ὅτι μὲν παραινέσεις ἔγραψε Θέογνις· ἀλλ’ ἐν μέσῳ τούτων παρεσπαρμέναι μιαρίαι καὶπαιδικοὶ ἔρωτες καὶ ἄλλα, ὅσα ὁ ἐνάρετος ἀποστρέφεται βίος.

Stobaus. 4.29.53

 “Here is something from Xenophon’s work on Theognis. “These are the verses of Theognis of Megara. That poet composed about nothing other than human virtue and vice. His poetry is a theory about people, just as if some equestrian were to compose a work about horses. The first principle of his poetry is correct. For he begins by talking about good breeding, since he believed that no person nor any other creature could be good if its parents were not good.

It seemed best to him to use other animals as an example, not those who survive in nature, but those who are tended with skill by humans, to get a view of how creatures turn out best. He is very clear in his poems about this. His lines say that people don’t know how to breed properly with one another and because of this the human race is always deteriorating because the better lines are constantly mixed with the worse. But many other people think that in these verse, the poet is accusing and railing against people who use money to excuse low-breeding and bad behavior. He seems to me to be indicating their ignorance about their own lives.”

Ξενοφῶντος ἐκ τοῦ περὶ Θεόγνιδος. “Θεόγνιδός ἐστιν ἔπη τοῦ Μεγαρέως” (22–23). οὗτος δὲ ὁ ποιητὴς περὶ οὐδενὸς ἄλλου λόγον πεποίηται ἢ περὶ ἀρετῆς καὶ κακίας ἀνθρώπων, καί ἐστιν ἡ ποίησις σύγγραμμα περὶ ἀνθρώπων, ὥσπερ εἴ τις ἱππικὸς ὢν συγγράψειεν περὶ ἱππικῆς. ἡ οὖν ἀρχή μοι δοκεῖ τῆς ποιήσεως ὀρθῶς ἔχειν· ἄρχεται γὰρ πρῶτον ἀπὸ τοῦ εὖ γενέσθαι. ᾤετο γὰρ οὔτ᾿ ἄνθρωπον οὔτε τῶν ἄλλων οὐδὲν ἂν ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, εἰ μὴ τὰ γεννήσοντα ἀγαθὰ εἴη. ἔδοξεν οὖν αὐτῷ παραδείγμασι τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις χρήσασθαι, ὅσα μὴ εἰκῆ τρέφεται, ἀλλὰ μετὰ τέχνης ἕκαστα θεραπεύεται, ὅπως γενναιότατα ἔσονται. δηλοῖ δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσι· (183–90). ταῦτα τὰ ἔπη λέγει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους οὐκ ἐπίστασθαι γεννᾶν ἐξ ἀλλήλων, κἆτα γίγνεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν ἀνθρώπων κάκιον ἀεὶ μειγνύμενον τὸ χεῖρον τῷ βελτίονι. οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ἐκ τούτων τῶν ἀνθρώπων κατηγορεῖν καὶ ἀντὶ χρημάτων ἀγένειαν καὶ κακίαν ἀντικαταλλάττεσθαι εἰδότας. ἐμοὶ δὲ δοκεῖ ἄγνοιαν κατηγορεῖν περὶ τὸν αὐτῶν βίον.

The lines Xenophon mentions.

Theognis, 183-190

“We search for well-bred rams, horses, and donkeys, Kyrnos
And everyone wants to climb atop females from good stock
But an aristocrat doesn’t think twice about the wicked daughter
Of a bad man if her father gives him a load of cash,
Just as a woman won’t refuse a common man as a husband
If he’s rich—no, she wants wealth over nobility.

They worship money. A nobleman marries a commoner’s daughter
And a lowborn child comes from on high. Wealth has ruined class.
So don’t be amazed at how the stock of your citizens degrades
Polypaides—our finer things are all mixed up with the poor.”

Κριοὺς μὲν καὶ ὄνους διζήμεθα, Κύρνε, καὶ ἵππους
εὐγενέας, καί τις βούλεται ἐξ ἀγαθῶν
βήσεσθαι· γῆμαι δὲ κακὴν κακοῦ οὐ μελεδαίνει
ἐσθλὸς ἀνήρ, ἤν οἱ χρήματα πολλὰ διδῶι,
οὐδὲ γυνὴ κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀναίνεται εἶναι ἄκοιτις
πλουσίου, ἀλλ’ ἀφνεὸν βούλεται ἀντ’ ἀγαθοῦ.
χρήματα μὲν τιμῶσι· καὶ ἐκ κακοῦ ἐσθλὸς ἔγημε
καὶ κακὸς ἐξ ἀγαθοῦ· πλοῦτος ἔμειξε γένος.
οὕτω μὴ θαύμαζε γένος, Πολυπαΐδη, ἀστῶν
μαυροῦσθαι· σὺν γὰρ μίσγεται ἐσθλὰ κακοῖς.

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