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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Alcman (Seventh Century B.C.)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
ACCORDING to legend, this illustrious Grecian lyric poet was born in Lydia, and taken to Sparta as a slave when very young, but emancipated by his master on the discovery of his poetic genius. He flourished probably between 670 and 630, during the peace following the Second Messenian War. It was that remarkable period in which the Spartans were gathering poets and musicians from the outer world of liberal accomplishment to educate their children; for the Dorians thought it beneath the dignity of a Dorian citizen to practice these things themselves.  1
  His poetic remains indicate a social freedom at this period hardly in keeping with the Spartan rigor alleged to have been practiced without break from the ancient time of Lycurgus; perhaps this communal asceticism was really a later growth, when the camp of militant slave-holders saw their fibre weakening under the art and luxury they had introduced. He boasts of his epicurean appetite; with evident truthfulness, as a considerable number of his extant fragments are descriptions of dishes. He would have echoed Sydney Smith’s—
  “Fate cannot harm me—I have dined to-day.”
In a poem descriptive of spring, he laments that the season affords but a scanty stock of his favorite viands.
  2
  The Alexandrian grammarians put Alcman at the head of the lyric canon; perhaps partly because they thought him the most ancient, but he was certainly much esteemed in classic times. Ælian says his songs were sung at the first performance of the gymnopædia at Sparta in 665 B.C., and often afterward. Much of his poetry was erotic; but he wrote also hymns to the gods, and ethical and philosophic pieces. His ‘Parthenia,’ which form a distinct division of his writings, were songs sung at public festivals by, and in honor of, the performing chorus of virgins. The subjects were either religious or erotic. His proverbial wisdom, and the forms of verse which he often chose, are reputed to have been like Pindar’s. He said of himself that he sang like the birds,—that is, was self-taught.  3
  He wrote in the broad Spartan dialect with a mixture of the Æolic, and in various metres. One form of hexameter which he invented was called Alcmanic after him. His poems were comprehended in six books. The scanty fragments which have survived are included in Bergk’s ‘Poetæ Lyrici Græci’ (1878). The longest was found in 1855 by M. Mariette, in a tomb near the second pyramid. It is a papyrus fragment of three pages, containing a part of his hymn to the Dioscuri, much mutilated and difficult to decipher.  4
  His descriptive passages are believed to have been his best. The best known and most admired of his fragments is his beautiful description of night, which has been often imitated and paraphrased.  5
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
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