Elegy and Iambics
Elegy and Iambics
Theognis . The elegiac and iambic metrical schemes, were both unsung, and both form more regular metrical patterns than lyric. Achilochus of Paros, active in the late eighth or early seventh century b.c.e., practiced both, and his voice emerges as one of the most distinctive in Greek literature: a tough cynical soldier with a taste for obscenity, he also shows a pride in his poetic gifts. A much less complex character emerges in the seventh century Spartan elegist, Tyrtaeus, whose verse is full of exhortation to bravery on the battlefield and who upholds this as true excellence in a man. However, the largest body of extant elegy from the period under consideration is that composed for the symposium attributed to the poet Theognis, of the seventh or sixth century b.c.e. In fact, the verses clearly range over a wide chronological period and should be seen more as collection than as the work of a single man. Aristocratic in tone, they extol the pleasures of the feast and the love of youths, while complaining about the social turmoil as the “better” people find themselves displaced in the new order of things.
Hipponax and Solon . The range of poetry produced in iambic meter can be vividly illustrated by the works of Hipponax and Solon. The former, an Ionian poet of the late sixth century b.c.e., wrote monologues presenting himself as one who lived low life to the full, an enthusiast of burglary, sex, and drink. Yet, at the other end of the century Solon, chief magistrate in Athens 594-593 b.c.e., used the meter to write poems justifying his social policy, particularly his cancellation of debts. Iambic meters became in the fifth century the dominant spoken meters of tragedy and comedy; Aristotle claims that the iambic is the meter closest to natural speech.
Cecil Maurice Bowra, Early Greek Elegists (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938).