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Alcaeus: Greek poet from the island of Lesbos

One of the Nine Lyric Poets of Greece

  • The State
  •     What constitutes a State?
  •       Not high-raised battlement, or labored mound,
  •           Thick wall or moated gate;
  •     Not cities fair, with spires and turrets crown’d;
  •       No: —Men, high-minded men,
  •     With powers as far above dull brutes endued
  •       In forest, brake or den,
  •     As beasts excel cold rocks and brambles rude—
  •       Men who their duties know,
  •     But know their rights, and knowing, dare maintain;
  •       Prevent the long-aimed blow,
  •     And crush the tyrant, while they rend the chain.
  • Poverty
  •     The worst of ills, and hardest to endure,
  •           Past hope, past cure,
  •       Is Penury, who, with her sister-mate
  •     Disorder, soon brings down the loftiest state,
  •           And makes it desolate.
  •       This truth the sage of Sparta told,
  •           Aristodemus old,—
  •       “Wealth makes the man.” On him that’s poor,
  •     Proud worth looks down, and honor shuts the door
  • A Banquet Song
  •     The rain of Zeus descends, and from high heaven
  •               A storm is driven:
  •       And on the running water-brooks the cold
  •               Lays icy hold;
  •     Then up: beat down the winter; make the fire
  •               Blaze high and higher;
  •     Mix wine as sweet as honey of the bee
  •               Abundantly;
  •     Then drink with comfortable wool around
  •               Your temples bound.
  •     We must not yield our hearts to woe, or wear
  •               With wasting care;
  •     For grief will profit us no whit, my friend,
  •               Nor nothing mend;
  •     But this is our best medicine, with wine fraught
  •                 To cast out thought.
  • The Poor Fisherman
  •     The fisher Diotimus had, at sea
  •       And shore, the same abode of poverty—
  •       His trusty boat; — and when his days were spent,
  •     Therein self-rowed to ruthless Dis he went;
  •     For that, which did through life his woes beguile,
  •     Supplied the old man with a funeral pile.
  • An Invitation
  •     Why wait we for the torches› lights?
  •         Now let us drink while day invites.
  •         In mighty flagons hither bring
  •       The deep-red blood of many a vine,
  •     That we may largely quaff, and sing
  •       The praises of the god of wine,
  •       The son of Jove and Semele,
  •       Who gave the jocund grape to be
  •     A sweet oblivion to our woes.
  •       Fill, fill the goblet — one and two:
  •     Let every brimmer, as it flows,
  •       In sportive chase, the last pursue.
Alcaeus

Alcaeus (c.625/620-c.580 B.C.) was a Greek poet from the island of Lesbos (the same birthplace as his contemporary, the poet Sappho (c. 630-c.570 B.C.), who was said to be his lover). His poetry can be roughly divided into four categories: political songs, drinking songs, hymns and love songs. He is credited with inventing the Alcaic Stanza – an elaborate meter written in four-line groupings which many fellow Greek and future Latin poets employed. He is included as one of the Nine Lyric Poets of Greece, sometimes placed first among them, sometimes esteemed only second to the poet Pindar (518-486 B.C.).

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  • The State
  •     What constitutes a State?
  •       Not high-raised battlement, or labored mound,
  •           Thick wall or moated gate;
  •     Not cities fair, with spires and turrets crown’d;
  •       No: —Men, high-minded men,
  •     With powers as far above dull brutes endued
  •       In forest, brake or den,
  •     As beasts excel cold rocks and brambles rude—
  •       Men who their duties know,
  •     But know their rights, and knowing, dare maintain;
  •       Prevent the long-aimed blow,
  •     And crush the tyrant, while they rend the chain.
  • Poverty
  •     The worst of ills, and hardest to endure,
  •           Past hope, past cure,
  •       Is Penury, who, with her sister-mate
  •     Disorder, soon brings down the loftiest state,
  •           And makes it desolate.
  •       This truth the sage of Sparta told,
  •           Aristodemus old,—
  •       “Wealth makes the man.” On him that’s poor,
  •     Proud worth looks down, and honor shuts the door
  • A Banquet Song
  •     The rain of Zeus descends, and from high heaven
  •               A storm is driven:
  •       And on the running water-brooks the cold
  •               Lays icy hold;
  •     Then up: beat down the winter; make the fire
  •               Blaze high and higher;
  •     Mix wine as sweet as honey of the bee
  •               Abundantly;
  •     Then drink with comfortable wool around
  •               Your temples bound.
  •     We must not yield our hearts to woe, or wear
  •               With wasting care;
  •     For grief will profit us no whit, my friend,
  •               Nor nothing mend;
  •     But this is our best medicine, with wine fraught
  •                 To cast out thought.
  • The Poor Fisherman
  •     The fisher Diotimus had, at sea
  •       And shore, the same abode of poverty—
  •       His trusty boat; — and when his days were spent,
  •     Therein self-rowed to ruthless Dis he went;
  •     For that, which did through life his woes beguile,
  •     Supplied the old man with a funeral pile.
  • An Invitation
  •     Why wait we for the torches› lights?
  •         Now let us drink while day invites.
  •         In mighty flagons hither bring
  •       The deep-red blood of many a vine,
  •     That we may largely quaff, and sing
  •       The praises of the god of wine,
  •       The son of Jove and Semele,
  •       Who gave the jocund grape to be
  •     A sweet oblivion to our woes.
  •       Fill, fill the goblet — one and two:
  •     Let every brimmer, as it flows,
  •       In sportive chase, the last pursue.
Alcaeus

Alcaeus (c.625/620-c.580 B.C.) was a Greek poet from the island of Lesbos (the same birthplace as his contemporary, the poet Sappho (c. 630-c.570 B.C.), who was said to be his lover). His poetry can be roughly divided into four categories: political songs, drinking songs, hymns and love songs. He is credited with inventing the Alcaic Stanza – an elaborate meter written in four-line groupings which many fellow Greek and future Latin poets employed. He is included as one of the Nine Lyric Poets of Greece, sometimes placed first among them, sometimes esteemed only second to the poet Pindar (518-486 B.C.).

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