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Alcæus. He was born at Mitylene, in Lesbos : it is from him that the Alcaic verse derived its name. He was a professed enemy to the tyrants of Lesbos, and particularly to Pittacus, against whom he perpetually inveighed in his verses. It is said of him,* that being once in a battle, he was seized with such fear and terror, that he threw down his arms, and ran away. Horace has thought fit to give us the same account of himself.t Poets do not value themselves so much upon prowess as upon wit. Quintilian says, that the style of Alcæus was close, magnificent, and chaste; and to complete his character, adds, that he very much resembled Homer.
SIMONIDES. This poet was a native of Ceos, an island in the Ægean sea. He continued to flourish at the time of Xerxes's expedition. He excelled principally in elegy. The invention of local memory is ascribed to him, of which I have spoken elsewhere.ll At twenty-four years of age he disputed for, and carried, the prize of poetry.
The answer he gave a prince, who asked him, what God was, is much celebrated. T That prince was Hiero, king of Syracuse. The poet desired a day to consider the question proposed to him. On the morrow he asked two days; and whenever he was called upon for his answer, he still doubled the time. The king, surprised at this behaviour, demanded his reason for it. It is, replied Simonides, because the more I consider the question, the more obscure it seems : Quia quanto diutiùs considero, tanto mihi res videtur obscurior. The answer was wise, if it proceeded from the high idea which he conceived of the Divine Majesty, which no understanding can comprehend, nor any tongue express. **
After having travelled through many cities of Asia,tt and amassed considerable wealth by celebrating, in his verses, the praises of those who were capable of rewarding him well, he embarked for the island of Ceos, his native country. The ship was cast away; Every one endeavoured to save what they could. Simonides did not encumber himself with any thing; and when he was asked the reason for it, he replied, I carry all I have about me: Mecum, inquit, mea sunt cuncta. Several of the company were drowned, being overwhelmed by the weight of the things they attempted to save, *Herod. l. v. c. 95.
† Tecum Philippos et celerem fugam.
Sensi, relictâ non bene parmula. Hor. Od. vii. I. 2.
Sed me relictis, Musa procax, jocis
Mæstius lacrymis Simonideis. Catull.
Cic. de Nat. Deor. 1. i. n. 15. ** Certè hoc est Deus, quod et cùm dicitur, non potest dici: cùm æstimatur, non potest mstimari ; cùm comparatur, non potest comparari ; cùm definitur, ipsâ definitione crescit. B. Aug. serm. de temp. cix.
Nobis ad intellectum pectus augustum est. Et ideo sic eum (Deum) dignè æstimamus, dum inæstimabilem dicimus. * Eloquar quemadmodum sentio. Magnitudinem Dei qui se putat nosse, minuit: qui non vult mi nuere, non novit. Minut. Felir. tt Plædr. I. iv
and those who got to shore were plundered by thieves. All that escaped went to Clazomenæ, which was not far from the place where the ressel was lost. One of the citizens, who loved learning, and had read the poems of Simonides with great admiration, was exceedingly pleased, and thought it an honour, to receive him into his house. He supplied him abundantly with necessaries, whilst the rest were obliged to beg through the city; The poet, upon meeting them, did not forget to observe how justly he had answered them in regard to his effects : Dixi, inquit, mea mecum esse cuncta ; vos quod rapuistis, perit.
He was reproached with having dishonoured poetry by his avarice, in making his pen venal, and not composing any verses till he had agreed on the price to be paid for them. In Aristotle,* we find a proof of this, which does him no honour.
A person who had won the prize in the chariot-races, desired Simonides to compose a song of triumph upon that subject. The poet, not thinking the reward sufficient, replied, that he could not treat it well. The prize had been won by mules, and he pretended that animal did not afford the proper matter for praise. Greater offers were made him, which ennobled the mule ; and the poem was made. Money has long had power to bestow nobility and beauty:
Et genus et formam regina pecunia donat. As this animal is generated between a she-ass and a horse, the poet, as Aristotle observes, considered them at first only on the base side of their pedigree. But money made him take them in the other light, and he styled them illustrious foals of rapid steeds: Xaiger' άιλλοπίδων θυγατρες ίππων. .
SAPPHO. She was of the same place, and lived at the same time, with Alcæus. The Sapphic verse took its name from her. She composed a considerable number of poems, of which there are but two remaining these are sufficient to satisfy us that the praises given her in all ages, for the beauty, pathetic softness, numbers, harmony, and infinite graces, of her poetry, are not without foundation. As a farther proof of her merit, she was called the Tenth Muse; and the people of Mitylene engraved her image upon their money. It were to be wished, that the purity of her manners had been equal to the beauty of her genius; ard that she had not dishonoured her sex by her vices and irregularities.
ANACREON. This poet was of Teos, a city of Ionia. He lived in the 720 Olympiad. Anacreont spent a great part of his time at the court of Polycrates, that fortunate tyrant of Samos; and not only shared in all his pleasures, but was of his council. Plato tells us,f that Hipparchus, one of the sons of Pisistratus, sent a vessel of fifty oars to Anacreon, and wrote him a most obliging letter, entreating him to come to Athens, where his excellent works would be esteemed and relished as they deserved. It is said, the only study of this poet was joy and pleasure: and those remains we have of his poetry sufficiently confirm it. We see plainly in all his verses, that his hand writes what his heart feels and dictates. It is impossible to express the elegance and delicacy of his poems: nothing could be more estimable, had their object been more noble.
* Rhet. I. iii. c. 2.
Herod. I. iij. c. 121.
1 la Hippar. p. 228. 229.
THESPIS. He was the first inventor of Tragedy. I defer speaking of him, till I come to give some account of the tragic poets.
Of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. These men are too famous in antiquity to be omitted in this preBent history. Their lives are written by Diogenes Laertius.
THALES, the Milesian. If Cicero* is to be believed, Thales was the most illustrious of the seven wise men. It was he that laid the first foundations of philosophy in Greece, and gave rise to the sect called the Ionic sect; because he, the founder of it, was of Ionia.
He held water to be the first principle of all things it and that God was that intelligent being, by whom all things were formed from water. The first of these opinions he had borrowed from the Egyptians, who, seeing the Nile to be the cause of the fertility of all their lands, might easily imagine from thence, that water was the principle of all things.
He was the first of the Greeks that studied astronomy. He had exactly foretold the time of the eclipse of the sun that happened in the reign of Astyages, king of Media, of which mention has been made already.
He was also įhe first that fixed the term and duration of the solar year among the Grecians. By comparing the bigness of the sun's body with that of the moon, he thought he had discovered, that the body of the moon was in solidity but the 20th part of the sun's body, and consequently, that the solid body of the sun was above 700 times bigger than the solid body of the moon. This computation is very far from the truth; as the sun's solidity exceeds, not only 700 times, but many millions of times, the moon's magnitude or solidity. But we know, that in all these matters, and particularly in that of which we are now speaking, the first observations and discoveries were very imperfect.
When 'Thales travelled into Egypt, he discovered an easy and certain method for taking the exact height of the pyramids, by observing the time when the shadow of our body is equal in length to the height of the body itself.
To show that philosophers were not so destitute, as some people imagined, of that sort of talents and capacity which is proper for business; and that they would be as successful as others in growing
* Princeps Thales, unus è septem cui sex reliquos concessisse primas ferunt. Lib. iv Acad. Quæst. n. 118.
| Lib. i. de Nat. Deor. n. 25. Plin. lib. xxxvi. cap. 12.
Cic. lib. i. de Divin. n 111.
A. M. 3457.
rich, if they thought fit to apply themselves to that pursuit, he bought the fruit of all the olive-trees in the territory of Miletus before they were in blossom. The profound knowledge he had of nature had probably enabled him to foresee that the year would be extremely fertile. It proved so in fact; and he made a considerable profit by his bargain.
He used to thank the gods for three gs: that he was born a reasonable creature, and not a beast; a man, and not a woman; a Greek, and not a Barbarian. Upon his mother's pressing him to marry when he was young, he told her, it was then too soon; and after several years were elapsed, he told her it was then too late.
As he was one day walking, and very attentively contemplating the stars, he chanced to fall into a ditch.-Ha! says a good old woman that was by, how will you perceive what passes in the heavens, and what is so infinitely above your head, if you cannot see what is just at your feet, and before your nose?
He was born the first year of the 35th, and died the Ant. J. C. 547. first year of the 58th Olympiad: consequently, he lived to be above ninety years of age.
Solon. His life has been already related at length.
Chilo. He was a Lacedæmonian: very little is related of him. Æsop asking him one day, how Jupiter employed himself? In humbling those, says he, that exalt themselves, and exalting those that abase themselves.
He died of joy at Pisa, upon seeing his son win the prize at boxing, in the Olympic games. He said when he was dying, that he was not conscious to himself of having committed any fault during the whole course of his life (an opinion well becoming the pride and blindness of a heathen philosopher;) unless it was once, when he made use of a little dissimulation and evasion, in giving judgment in favour of a friend : in which action he did not know, whether he had done well or ill. He died about the 52d Olympiad.
Pittacus. He was of Mitylene, a city of Lesbos. Joining with the brothers of Alcæus, the famous Lyric poet, and with Alcæus himself, who was at the head of the exiled party, he drove the tyrant who had usurped the government out of that island.
The inhabitants of Mitylene being at war with the Athenians, gave Pittacus the comma??d of the army. To spare the blood of his fellow-citizens, he offered to fight Phrynon, the enemy's general, in single combat. The challenge was accepted. Pittacus was victorious, and killed his adversary. The Mitylenians, out of gratitude, with unanimous consent, conferred the sovereignty of the city upon him; which he accepted, and behaved himself with so much moderation and wisdom, that he was always respected and beloved by his subjects.
In the mean time Alcæus, who was a declared enemy to all tyrants, did not spare Pittacus in his verses, notwithstanding the mildness of bis government and temper, but inveighed severely against
VOL. II. 2 B
him. The poet fell afterwards into Pittacus's hands, who was so far from taking revenge, that be gave him his liberty, and showed, by that act of clemency and generosity, that he was only a tyrant in
After having governed ten years with great equity and wisdom, he voluntarily resigned his authority, and retired. He used to say,* that the proof of a good government was, to engage the subjects not to be afraid of their prince, but to be afraid for him. It was a maxim with him, that no man should ever give himself the liberty of speaking ill of a friend, or even of an enemy. He died in the 52d Olympiad.
Bias. We know but very little of Bias. He obliged Alyattes, king of Lydia, by a stratagem, to raise the siege of Priene, where he was born. The city was hard pressed with famine; upon which he caused two mules to be fattened, and contrived a way to have them pass into the enemy's camp. The good condition they were in astonished the king, who thereupon sent deputies into the city, upon pretence of offering terms of peace, but really to observe the state of the town and people. Bias, guessing their errand, had ordered the granaries to be filled with great heaps of sand, and those heaps to be covered with corn. When the deputies returned, and made report to the king of the great plenty of provisions they had seen in the city, he hesitated no longer, but concluded a treaty, and raised the siege. One of the maxims Bias particularly taught and recommended, was, to do all the good we can, and ascribe all the glory of it to the gods.t
CLEOBULUS. We know as little of him as of the former. He was born at Lindos, a town in the isle of Rhodes; or, as some will have it, in Caria. He invited Solon to come and live with him, when Pisistratus had usurped the sovereignty of Athens.
PERIANDER. He is numbered among the wise men, though he was a tyrant of Corinth. When he had first made himself master of that city, he wrote to Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus, to knov what measures he should take with his new acquired subjects. The latter, without any other answer, led the messenger into a field of wheat, where in walking along he beat down with his cane all the ears of corn that were higher than the rest. Periander perfectly well understood the meaning of this enigmatical answer, which was a tacit intimation to him, that, in order to secure his own life, he should cut off the most powerful of the Corinthian citizens. But, if we may believe Plutarch, f Periander did not relish so cruel advice.
He wrote circular letters to all the wise men, inviting them to pass some time with him at Corinth, as they had done the year be
Εί τους υπηκόους ο άρχων παρασκευάσμε φοβείσθαι μη αυτόν, αλλ' υπέρ QurcůPlut. in Conv. sept. sap. p. 152. + “Οτι άν αγαθών πράττης, είς θεούς ανάπιμπε.
In Conv. sept. sap Dlog. Laorl. in ric Periand.