The World of Christian Cameron

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Another great lyric poet, he lived circa 556 BC to 468 BC, and his nephew, Bacchylides, was as famous as he. Perhaps best known for his epigrams, one of which is

Ώ ξεϊν΄, άγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ότι τήδε
κείμεθα, τοϊς κείνων ΄ρήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

Simonides’ life is better known than his work, thanks to the Suda of late antiquity. But he was a flexible and forward thinker, taking into account the tension between the inner man and his external circumstances. His rival, Pindar, who identified closely with the aristocratic world and its heroic ethic, never composed anything as thoughtful as the following words of Simonides, quoted in one of Plato’s dialogues:

“It is difficult for a man to be truly good, four square in hands, in feet and in mind, fashioned without flaw… I shall never throw away my span of life on an empty vain hope in quest of the impossible, the completely blameless man… I commend and love any man who of his own will does nothing shameful, but with necessity not even the gods fight… A man not too helpless suffices for me, one who understands the justice that helps his city, a sound man. I shall not find fault with him, for the generation of fools is numberless. All things are fair in which the base is not mingled.”