More Disappointment in Life: Theophrastus’ Farewell Speech

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.2: Theophrastus 41-42

“[Theophrastus] died an old man, eighty-five years old, when he had recently retired. And this is my epigram about him:

This saying was never uttered to any mortal untrue:
Wisdom’s bow breaks when it is left unused
As long as he worked, Theophrastus was well
But once he relaxed, he immediately fell.

People report that when Theophrastus was asked by his students if he had anything to advise them, he said, “I can’t advise anything other than this: Life makes many pleasures seem real through their reputation. At the moment when we begin to live, we die! There’s nothing as useless as the love of glory.

Goodbye and may you be lucky. Give up my way of life because it requires great toil or stand to it well, for great reputation will be yours. There’s more disappointment in life than profit. But since I can’t advise you any longer, make it your business to investigate what is right to do.”

He said these things, allegedly, and then died.”

Ἐτελεύτα δὴ γηραιός, βιοὺς ἔτη πέντε καὶ ὀγδοήκοντα, ἐπειδήπερ ὀλίγον ἀνῆκε τῶν πόνων. καὶ ἔστιν ἡμῶν εἰς αὐτόν·

οὐκ ἄρα τοῦτο μάταιον ἔπος μερόπων τινὶ λέχθη,
ῥήγνυσθαι σοφίης τόξον ἀνιέμενον·
δὴ γὰρ καὶ Θεόφραστος ἕως ἐπόνει μὲν ἄπηρος
ἦν δέμας, εἶτ᾿ ἀνεθεὶς κάτθανε πηρομελής.

Φασὶ δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ τῶν μαθητῶν εἴ τι ἐπισκήπτει, εἰπεῖν, “ἐπισκήπτειν μὲν ἔχειν οὐδέν, πλὴν ὅτι πολλὰ τῶν ἡδέων ὁ βίος διὰ τὴν δόξαν καταλαζονεύεται. ἡμεῖς γὰρ ὁπότ᾿ ἀρχόμεθα ζῆν, τότ᾿ ἀποθνήσκομεν. οὐδὲν οὖν ἀλυσιτελέστερόν ἐστι φιλοδοξίας. ἀλλ᾿ εὐτυχεῖτε καὶ ἤτοι τὸν λόγον ἄφετε—πολὺς γὰρ ὁ πόνος—ἢ καλῶς αὐτοῦ πρόστητε· μεγάλη γὰρ ἡ δόξα. τὸ δὲ κενὸν τοῦ βίου πλέον τοῦ συμφέροντος. ἀλλ᾿ ἐμοὶ μὲν οὐκέτ᾿ ἐκποιεῖ βουλεύεσθαι τί πρακτέον, ὑμεῖς δ᾿ ἐπισκέψασθε τί ποιητέον.” ταῦτα, φασίν, εἰπὼν ἀπέπνευσε·

Depiction of Theophrastus on the facade of the historical building of the University of Athens. Painted in the 19th century by the Bavarian painter Karl Ral and the Polish Edward Lebietski.
Date 22 May 2022, 17:01:54

Obligatory Ides of March Post: Caesar Wanted to Go Out With A Bang, Not A Whimper

Suetonius, Divus Julius Caesar 86-7

“Caesar left certain of his friends the impression that he did not want or desire to live longer because  of his worsening health. This is why he ignored what the omens warned and what his friends revealed. Others believe that he dismissed the Spanish guards who accompanied him with swords because he was confident in the Senate’s recent decree and their sworn oath. Others report that he preferred to face the plots that threatened him at once rather than cower before them. There are those who assert that he used to say that his safety should be of more importance to the state than to himself: he had acquired an abundance of power and glory already, but the state, should anything happen to him, would have no rest and would suffer civil war in a worse condition than before.

The following is generally held to be the case, however: his manner of death was scarcely against his desire. For, when he read Xenophon’s account of how in the final days of illness Cyrus gave the plans for his own funeral, Caesar expressed disdain for so slow a death and wished that his own would be sudden and fast. And on the day before he died during dinner conversation at the home of Marcus Lepidus on the topic of the most agreeable end to life, Caesar said he preferred one that was sudden and unexpected.”


Suspicionem Caesar quibusdam suorum reliquit neque uoluisse se diutius uiuere neque curasse quod ualitudine minus prospera uteretur, ideoque et quae religiones monerent et quae renuntiarent amici neglexisse. sunt qui putent, confisum eum nouissimo illo senatus consulto ac iure iurando etiam custodias Hispanorum cum gladiis †adinspectantium se remouisse. [2] alii e diuerso opinantur insidias undique imminentis subire semel quam cauere … solitum ferunt: non tam sua quam rei publicae interesse, uti saluus esset: se iam pridem potentiae gloriaeque abunde adeptum; rem publicam, si quid sibi eueniret, neque quietam fore et aliquanto deteriore condicione ciuilia bella subituram.

illud plane inter omnes fere constitit, talem ei mortem paene ex sententia obtigisse. nam et quondam, cum apud Xenophontem legisset Cyrum ultima ualitudine mandasse quaedam de funere suo, aspernatus tam lentum mortis genus subitam sibi celeremque optauerat; et pridie quam occideretur, in sermone nato super cenam apud Marcum Lepidum, quisnam esset finis uitae commodissimus, repentinum inopinatumque praetulerat.

By Vincenzo Camuccini – Own work, user:Rlbberlin, Public Domain,

Plato’s Sister and the Women Among His Students

Diogenes Laertius IV.1

“These facts are as accurate details about Plato as we are able to gather in our laborious research of the things said about him. Speusippus, an an Athenian son of Eurymedon, took over for him. He was from the deme of Myrrhinos and was the son of Plato’s sister, Pôtônê.

Speusippos was the leader of the school for eight years, and he began after the 108th Olympiad. He had statues of the Graces dedicated in the Museion which Plato built in the Academy. Although he remained an adherent to Plato’s theories, he was not like him at all in his character.  For he was quick to anger and easily induced by pleasures. People say that he threw a little dog into a well in a rage and he went to Macedonia to the marriage of Kassander thanks to pleasure.

Two women, Lastheneia of Mantinea and Aksiothea of Phlios, were students of Plato who are said to have heard Speusippus speak. Writing at the time, Dionysus says mockingly: “It is possible to evaluate your wisdom from your Arcadian girl of a student.” And, while Plato made everyone who came to him exempt from tuition, you “send everyone a bill and take money from the willing and unwilling alike!”

Τὰ μὲν περὶ Πλάτωνος τοσαῦτα ἦν ἐς τὸ δυνατὸν ἡμῖν συναγαγεῖν, φιλοπόνως διειλήσασι τὰ λεγόμενα περὶ τἀνδρός. διεδέξατο δ᾿ αὐτὸν Σπεύσιππος Εὐρυμέδοντος Ἀθηναῖος, τῶν μὲν δήμων Μυρρινούσιος, υἱὸς δὲ τῆς ἀδελφῆς αὐτοῦ Πωτώνης. καὶ ἐσχολάρχησεν ἔτη ὀκτώ, ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τῆς ὀγδόης καὶ ἑκατοστῆς Ὀλυμπιάδος· Χαρίτων τ᾿ ἀγάλματ᾿ ἀνέθηκεν ἐν τῷ μουσείῳ τῷ ὑπὸ Πλάτωνος ἐν Ἀκαδημείᾳ ἱδρυθέντι. καὶ ἔμεινε μὲν ἐπὶ τῶν αὐτῶν Πλάτωνι δογμάτων· οὐ μὴν τό γ᾿ ἦθος διέμεινε τοιοῦτος. καὶ γὰρ ὀργίλος καὶ ἡδονῶν ἥττων ἦν. φασὶ γοῦν αὐτὸν ὑπὸ θυμοῦ τὸ κυνίδιον εἰς τὸ φρέαρ ῥῖψαι καὶ ὑφ᾿ ἡδονῆς ἐλθεῖν εἰς Μακεδονίαν ἐπὶ τὸν Κασάνδρου γάμον.

Ἐλέγοντο δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ αἱ Πλάτωνος ἀκούειν μαθήτριαι, Λασθένειά τε ἡ Μαντινικὴ καὶ Ἀξιοθέα ἡ Φλιασία. ὅτε καὶ Διονύσιος πρὸς αὐτὸν γράφων τωθαστικῶς φησι· “καὶ ἐκ τῆς Ἀρκαδικῆς σου μαθητρίας ἔστι καταμαθεῖν τὴν σοφίαν. καὶ Πλάτων μὲν ἀτελεῖς φόρων τοὺς παρ᾿ αὐτὸν φοιτῶντας ἐποίει· σὺ δὲ δασμολογεῖς καὶ παρ᾿ ἑκόντων καὶ ἀκόντων λαμβάνεις.”

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Alexander’s Earth

“He worked, not like someone who works in order to live, but like someone who wants nothing but to work, and that is because he has no regard for himself as a human being . . .” 

–Thomas Mann, “Tonio Kröger” 

Arrian, The Anabasis of Alexander, VII.1.5-6.

“I commend the wise Indians who, people say, were passing time in the open air of a meadow when Alexander came upon them.  When they saw his face and his army, none of them did anything but stamp his feet on the ground where he stood. 

Alexander asked through interpreters what this gesture meant. They replied with this: 

‘King Alexander, each man occupies as much of the earth as he stands on. You are a man like other men, except you’re hyperactive and brazen. You range much of the earth, away from your own land, doing this and that and making demands of other people. And yet, when you die in a little while, you too will occupy only as much of the earth as suffices to bury your body.’”


. . . ἐπαινῶ τοὺς σοφιστὰς τῶν Ἰνδῶν, ὧν λέγουσιν ἔστιν οὓς καταληφθέντας ὑπ᾽ Ἀλεξάνδρου ὑπαιθρίους ἐν λειμῶνι, ἵναπερ αὐτοῖς διατριβαὶ ἦσαν, ἄλλο μὲν οὐδὲν ποιῆσαι πρὸς τὴν ὄψιν αὐτοῦ τε καὶ τῆς στρατιᾶς, κρούειν δὲ τοῖς ποσὶ τὴν γῆν ἐφ᾽ ἧς βεβηκότες ἦσαν. ὡς δὲ ἤρετο Ἀλέξανδρος δι᾽ ἑρμηνέων τι νοοῖ αὐτοῖς τὸ ἔργον, τοὺς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὧδε: βασιλεῦ Ἀλέξανδρε, ἄνθρωπος μὲν ἕκαστος τοσόνδε τῆς γῆς κατέχει ὅσονπερ τοῦτό ἐστιν ἐφ᾽ ὅτῳ βεβήκαμεν: σὺ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ὢν παρα πλήσιος τοῖς ἄλλοις, πλήν γε δὴ ὅτι πολυπράγμων καὶ ἀτάσθαλος, ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκείας τοσαύτην γῆν ἐπεξέρχῃ πράγματα ἔχων τε καὶ παρέχων ἄλλοις. καὶ οὖν καὶ ὀλίγον ὕστερον ἀποθανὼν τοσοῦτον καθέξεις τῆς γῆς ὅσον ἐξαρκεῖ ἐντεθάφθαι τῷ σώματι.

Thomas Mann

Er arbeitete nicht wie jemand, der arbeitet, um zu leben, sondern wie einer, der nichts will als arbeiten, weil er sich als lebendiger Mensch für nichts achtet . . .

color photograph of a tombstone in front of an open graveLarry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Alexander’s Jeopardy!

Plutarch, Lives (Alexander), LXIV.1-4.

. . . These men [philosophers] were reputed to be especially clever and succinct at answering questions, so he [Alexander] put hard questions to them. He said he would kill the first one who answered incorrectly, and then, one by one, do likewise to the others.

The first was asked which he thinks is more numerous: the living or the dead. He said “the living, for the dead no longer exist.”

The second was asked which has larger beasts: the earth or the sea. “The earth,” he answered, ”for the sea is part of the earth.”

The third was asked what animal is the most cunning. “The one which, up to now,” he said, “mankind has not discovered.”

The fourth, questioned about his reasons for encouraging Sabbas to revolt, answered: “I wanted him to live well or to die well.”

The fifth was asked which he thought came first, day or night. “Day,” he said, “and by one day.” He added, in response to the king’s astonishment, “there must be hard answers to hard questions.”

…δεινοὺς δοκοῦντας εἶναι περὶ τὰς ἀποκρίσεις καὶ βραχυλόγους, ἐρωτήματα προὔβαλεν αὐτοῖς ἄπορα, φήσας ἀποκτενεῖν τὸν μὴ ὀρθῶς ἀποκρινάμενον πρῶτον, εἶτα ἐφεξῆς οὕτω τοὺς ἄλλους. . . ὁ μὲν οὖν πρῶτος ἐρωτηθείς πότερον οἴεται τοὺς ζῶντας εἶναι πλείονας ἢ τοὺς τεθνηκότας, ἔφη “τοὺς ζῶντας: οὐκέτι γὰρ εἶναι τοὺς τεθνηκότας.” ὁ δὲ δεύτερος, πότερον τὴν γῆν ἢ τὴν θάλατταν μείζονα τρέφειν θηρία, “τὴν γῆν: ταύτης γὰρ μέρος εἶναι τὴν θάλατταν.” ὁ δὲ τρίτος, ποῖόν ἐστι ζῷον πανουργότατον, “ὃ μέχρι νῦν,” εἶπεν, ἄνθρωπος οὐκ ἔγνωκεν.” ὁ δὲ τέταρτος ἀνακρινόμενος τίνι λογισμῷ τὸν Σάββαν ἀπέστησεν, ἀπεκρίνατο, “καλῶς ζῆν βουλόμενος αὐτὸν ἢ καλῶς ἀποθανεῖν.” ὁ δὲπέμπτος ἐρωτηθείς πότερον οἴεται τὴν ἡμέραν ἢ τὴν νύκτα προτέραν γεγονέναι, τὴν ἡμέραν, εἶπεν, ἡμέρᾳ μιᾷ καὶ προσεπεῖπεν οὗτος, θαυμάσαντος τοῦ βασιλέως, ὅτι τῶν ἀπόρων ἐρωτήσεων ἀνάγκη καὶ τὰς ἀποκρίσεις ἀπόρους εἶναι.

color photograph of Alex Trebek of Jeopardy standing at a lectern in front of the gameboard
His questions were easier, and wrong answers
were less consequential.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Marcus Cato Was a Cheap, Cruel Man

Plutarch, Marcus Cato 339

“Some people blame these traits on Marcus Cato’s cheapness; but others believe he is a model for his rectitude and wisdom, since he counterbalanced the excess of everyone else. But I believe that how he used slaves up as if they were pack animals and then driving them away and selling them when they were old is the mark of a deeply cruel character—one that believes that human beings have nothing in common except for need.

But we know that kindness occupies more territory than justice. For we use law and justice only in reference to human beings, but it is kindness and charity that at times pour out from a gentle character even for the unthinking animals just as water from a full spring. Kind people take care of horses even when they are old and dogs too—not just when they are puppies, but when their old age requires care.”

Ταῦτα δ᾿ οἱ μὲν εἰς μικρολογίαν ἐτίθεντο τοῦ ἀνδρός, οἱ δ᾿ ὡς ἐπὶ διορθώσει καὶ σωφρονισμῷ τῶν ἄλλων ἐνδοτέρω συστέλλοντος ἑαυτὸν ἀπεδέχοντο. πλὴν τὸ τοῖς οἰκέταις ὡς ὑποζυγίοις ἀποχρησάμενον ἐπὶ γήρως ἐλαύνειν καὶ πιπράσκειν ἀτενοῦς ἄγαν ἤθους ἔγωγε τίθεμαι, καὶ μηδὲν ἀνθρώπῳ πρὸς ἄνθρωπον οἰομένου κοινώνημα τῆς χρείας πλέον ὑπάρχειν. καίτοι τὴν χρηστότητα τῆς δικαιοσύνης πλατύτερον τόπον ὁρῶμεν ἐπιλαμβάνουσαν· νόμῳ μὲν γὰρ καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ πρὸς ἀνθρώπους μόνον χρῆσθαι πεφύκαμεν, πρὸς εὐεργεσίας δὲ καὶ χάριτας ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ μέχρι τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων ὥσπερ ἐκ πηγῆς πλουσίας ἀπορρεῖ τῆς ἡμερότητος. καὶ γὰρ ἵππων ἀπειρηκότων ὑπὸ χρόνου τροφαὶ καὶ κυνῶν οὐ σκυλακεῖαι μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ γηροκομίαι τῷ χρηστῷ προσήκουσιν.

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On His Birthday: Nero Sings and Renames Things

Ps-Lucian, Nero 6

Menekrates: “Musonius, that voice which made him music-mad and longing for Olympian and Pythian games, how was the tyrant’s voice? Some people who sailed to Lemnos were amazed by it, others mock it.”

Musonius: “Well, Menekrates, his voice really merits neither wonder nor mockery, since nature has made him moderately and unquestionably in tune. He speaks with a naturally open and deep voice, since his throat is deep, and when he sings he buzzes a little because of his throat shape. Nevertheless, the tones of his voice make him seem smoother if he does not try too hard, but relies instead on the melody, good accompaniment, and selecting the right time to walk, to stop, to move, and to nod his head along with the music. What is shameful is that a king appears to want success in these pursuits.”

6. Ἡ φωνὴ δέ, Μουσώνιε, δι᾿ ἣν μουσομανεῖ καὶ τῶν Ὀλυμπιάδων τε καὶ Πυθιάδων ἐρᾷ, πῶς ἔχει τῷ τυράννῳ; τῶν γὰρ Λήμνῳ προσπλεόντων οἱ μὲν ἐθαύμαζον, οἱ δὲ κατεγέλων.
Ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνός γε, ὦ Μενέκρατες, οὔτε θαυμασίως ἔχει τοῦ φθέγματος οὔτ᾿ αὖ γελοίως· ἡ γὰρ φύσις αὐτὸν ἀμέμπτως τε καὶ μέσως ἥρμοκε. φθέγγεται δὲ κοῖλον μὲν φύσει καὶ βαρύ, ἐγκειμένης αὐτῷ τῆς φάρυγγος· μέλη δ᾿ οὕτω κατεσκευασμένης βομβεῖ πως. οἱ δέ γε τόνοι τῶν φθόγγων ἐπιλεαίνουσι τοῦτον, ἐπεὶ μὴ θαρρεῖ αὑτῷ, χρωμάτων δὲ φιλανθρωπίᾳ καὶ μελοποιίᾳ εὐαγώγῳ μὲν δὴ καὶ κιθαρῳδίᾳ εὐσταλεῖ καὶ <τῷ> οὗ καιρὸς βαδίσαι καὶ στῆναι καὶ μεταστῆναι καὶ τὸ νεῦμα ἐξομοιῶσαι τοῖς μέλεσιν, αἰσχύνην ἔχοντος μόνου τοῦ βασιλέα δοκεῖν ἀκριβοῦν ταῦτα.

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Nero 53, 55

“He was mostly deranged by a desire for popularity and was an enemy to anyone who had any sway over the popular mob. Most believed that after all of his accomplishments on the stage he was going to compete among the Athletes at the next Olympian games. He was wrestling endlessly and he had watched the gymnastic contests all over Greece as a judge would, sitting on the ground of the stadium. If any competitors withdrew too far back, he would push them forth again with his own hand. Because he was alleged to have equaled Apollo in song and the Sun in chariot-driving, Nero planned to rival the deeds of Herakles too. People claim that a lion had been trained which he would be able to kill naked in the amphitheater in front of all the people with either a club or his arms’ embrace.”

Maxime autem popularitate efferebatur, omnium aemulus, qui quoquo modo animum vulgi moverent. Exiit opinio post scaenicas coronas proximo lustro descensurum eum ad Olympia inter athletas; nam et luctabatur assidue nec aliter certamina gymnica tota Graecia spectaverat quam brabeutarum more in stadio humi assidens ac, si qua paria longius recessissent, in medium manibus suis protrahens. Destinaverat etiam, quia Apollinem cantu, Solem aurigando aequiperare existimaretur, imitari et Herculis facta; praeparatumque leonem aiunt, quem vel clava vel brachiorum nexibus in amphitheatri harena spectante populo nudus elideret.

“He had a desire for eternal and endless fame, but it was ill-considered. Because of this he changed the names of many things and places from their ancient titles to something from his own name. So, he called the month of April Neroneus and planned to have Rome renamed Neropolis.”

Erat illi aeternitatis perpetuaeque famae cupido, sed inconsulta. Ideoque multis rebus ac locis vetere appellatione detracta novam indixit ex suo nomine, mensem quoque Aprilem Neroneum appellavit; destinaverat et Romam Neropolim nuncupare.

File:Nero 1.JPG
Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum

Pythagorean Self-Invention

Scholion to Sophocles Electra 62.2

“Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. After that, once he reappeared again later, he was telling fantastic tales of reincarnation and the people of Hades, explaining to the living about the matters of the dead. From these stories, he created that kind of repute for himself that, before the Trojan War, he was Aithalidês the son of Hermes and then Euphorbos, and then Hermotimos of Samos, then Delian Pythios and after all of them, Pythagoras.”

…Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα, ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ᾅδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο, διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων, οἷς ἐν ᾅδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν. ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν, ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωϊκῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ Ἑρμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα Ἑρμότιμος Σάμιος, εἶτα Πύθιος Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας.A picture of a cave with the text over it saying: “Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. " This is a quotation from a scholion to Sophocles.

A Leader’s First Duty

Plutarch, Theseus and Romulus 2

“A ruler’s first duty is to save the state itself. This is saved no less in refraining from what is not fitting than from pursuing what is fitting. But the one who shirks or overreaches is no longer a king or a ruler, but in fact becomes a demagogue or a despot. He fills the subjects with hatred and contempt. While the first problem seems to come from being too lenient or a concern for humanity, the second comes from self-regard and harshness.”

δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἄρχοντα σώζειν πρῶτον αὐτὴν τὴν ἀρχήν· σώζεται δ᾿ οὐχ ἧττον ἀπεχομένη τοῦ μὴ προσήκοντος ἢ περιεχομένη τοῦ προσήκοντος. ὁ δ᾿ ἐνδιδοὺς ἢ ἐπιτείνων οὐ μένει βασιλεὺς οὐδὲ ἄρχων, ἀλλ᾿ ἢ δημαγωγὸς ἢ δεσπότης γιγνόμενος, ἐμποιεῖ τὸ μισεῖν ἢ καταφρονεῖν τοῖς ἀρχομένοις. οὐ μὴν ἀλλ᾿ ἐκεῖνο μὲν ἐπιεικείας δοκεῖ καὶ φιλανθρωπίας εἶναι, τοῦτο δὲ φιλαυτίας ἁμάρτημα καὶ χαλεπότητος.

Theseus Minotaur BM Vase E84.jpg
Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC BM E84

Take Messenia or Die Trying

Suda, s.v. Tyrtaios

“Tyrtaeus, a son of Arkhembrotos, Laconian or Milesian. An elegiac poet and an aulos player. The story goes that he used his songs to encourage the Spartans while they were fighting the Messenians and he made them stronger. He is really ancient, contemporaneous with the so-called Seven Sages, or even older. He peaked around the time of the 35th Olympiad. He wrote a Constitution for the Spartans and precepts in elegiac poems as a well as martial songs, 5 books worth.

Tyrtaeus: The Spartans swore to either seize Messenia or die trying. When Apollo prophesied that they should take a general from the Athenians, they took the poet Tyrtaeus, a disabled man. He helped them take Messenia by encouraging them to excellence. They razed the city and converted the warriors into Helots.”

Τυρταῖος, Ἀρχεμβρότου, Λάκων ἢ Μιλήσιος, ἐλεγειοποιὸς καὶ αὐλητής· ὃν λόγος τοῖς μέλεσι χρησάμενον παροτρῦναι Λακεδαιμονίους πολεμοῦντας Μεσσηνίοις καὶ ταύτῃ ἐπικρατεστέρους ποιῆσαι. ἔστι δὲ παλαίτατος, σύγχρονος τοῖς ἑπτὰ κληθεῖσι σοφοῖς, ἢ καὶ παλαίτερος. ἤκμαζε γοῦν κατὰ τὴν λέ ὀλυμπιάδα. ἔγραψε πολιτείαν Λακεδαιμονίοις, καὶ ὑποθήκας δι᾿ ἐλεγείας, καὶ μέλη πολεμιστήρια, βιβλία ε΄.

Τυρταῖος· ὅτι οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι ὤμοσαν ἢ Μεσσήνην αἱρήσειν ἢ αὐτοὶ τεθνήξεσθαι. χρήσαντος δὲ τοῦ θεοῦ στρατηγὸν παρὰ Ἀθηναίων λαβεῖν, λαμβάνουσι Τυρταῖον τὸν ποιητήν, χωλὸν ἄνδρα· ὃς ἐπ᾿ ἀρετὴν αὐτοὺς παρακαλῶν εἷλε τῷ κ΄ ἔτει τὴν Μεσσήνην. καὶ ταύτην κατέσκαψαν καὶ τοὺς αἰχμαλώτους ἐν τοῖς Εἵλωσι κατέταξαν.

Schol ad Plato Leges 1.629a-b

“That Tyrtaeus was Athenian, a humble person in his fortune. He was a teacher with a disability who was despised in Athens. Apollo prophesied to the Lakedaimonians to send for him–at that time when they were fighting the Messenians and were in great danger–because he would be just enough for them to figure out what would be advantageous. He ordered them to use him as an advisor.”

ὁ Τυρταῖος οὗτος Ἀθηναῖος ἐγένετο, εὐτελὴς τὴν τύχην· γραμματιστὴς γὰρ ἦν καὶ χωλὸς τὸ σῶμα, καταφρονούμενος ἐν Ἀθήναις. τοῦτον Λακεδαιμονίοις ἔχρησεν ὁ Ἀπόλλων μεταπέμψασθαι, ὅτε πρὸς Μεσσηνίους εἶχον τὴν μάχην καὶ ἐν ἀπορίᾳ κατέστησαν πολλῇ, ὡς δὴ ἱκανοῦ αὐτοῖς ἐσομένου πρὸς τὸ συνιδεῖν τὸ λυσιτελές· αὐτῷ γὰρ ἐπέτρεψε χρήσασθαι συμβούλῳ.

the biographical tradition that makes Tyrtaeus foreign to Laconia may be rooted in his poetic dialect. Tyrtaeus–unlike, say, Alcman–does not present a Doric dialect, but instead an Ionian dialect closer to the Panhellenic poetic forms favored by Homer and Hesiod. The stories attached to him can be seen, I think, as a individuated biographical allegory for Panhellenism.

East Greek [Ionian] perfume container shaped like a warrior's head with helmet. Clay/terracota head of warrior with helmet
East Greek [Ionian] perfume container shaped like a warrior’s head with helmet. 7th century BCE [?] Rhodes Archaeological Museum