Eros in Anacreontea 1

Eros in Anacreontea 11
Copyright James Jope

This paper examines the neglected erotic content of Anacreontea 1, which suggests that the speaker is chosen for induction to Anacreontic poetry as an eromenos of Anacreon, and explores its relevance for the Anacreontic collection.

The Anacreontea are a collection of poems once attributed to Anacreon which were largely neglected after they were shown to be spurious. They have attracted greater interest since Patricia Rosenmeyer, in her influential literary interpretation of this collection, described it as a tradition of authors imitating Anacreon not as rivals (the norm in ancient literature) but as admirers. Although Anacreon himself had also written invective, his followers from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine emulated an image of Anacreon which was essentially restricted to his erotic and symposiastic interests. According to Andrew Lear (2008), Anacreon himself set a precedent for this narrowed range, as he adopted a sort of ‘alternative’ symposiastic lifestyle, apolitical and carefree, driven by pleasure and eschewing engagement in ‘serious’ pursuits. The Anacreontic poems are set in a laid-back fantasy world of vinous indulgence and erotic desire where toil (ponoi), and cares (merimnas) are eschewed2. A keynote is struck by Poem 2, calling for Homer's lyre but without the bloody chord. As a corollary of this withdrawal, the Anacreontics, like some of Anacreon's own poems, describe what Felix Budelmann3 calls 'transferable' experiences: generic situations with little to tie them to a particular time or place.

Considerations of meter and dialect indicate that the Anacreontea comprise two previous anthologies4: a Hellenistic collection comprising mainly erotic poems, and a later anthology of mostly symposiastic poems. It is generally agreed that Poem 1 belongs to the earliest stratum, where it introduced the first collection; whereas Poem 2 may have introduced the second.5 The speaker recounts a dream in which he encounters, and is gifted by, Anacreon:

Ἀνακρέων ἰδών με
ὁ Τήϊος μελωιδὁς
(ὂναρ λἐγω) προσεῖπεν ̇
κἀγὼ δραμὼν πρὸς αὐτόν
περιπλάκην φιλήσας.
γέρων μὲν ἦν, καλός δέ,
καλός δὲ καὶ φίλευνος ̇
τὸ χείλος ὦζεν οἴνου ̇
τρέμοντα δ’ αὐτὸν ἤδη
Ἔρως ἐχειραγώγει.
ὃ δ’ ἐξελὼν καρήνου
ἐμοὶ στέφος δίδωσι ̇
τὸ δ’ ὦζ’ Ἀνακρέοντος.
ἐγὼ δ’ ὁ μωρὸς ἄρας
ἐδησάμην μεtώπωι ̇
καὶ δῆθεν ἄχρι καὶ νῦν
ἔρωτος οὐ πέπαυμαι.
ed. West 1984
Anacreon, the melodious singer from Teos, spotted me (in a dream) and called to me. And I ran over and wrapped my arms around him and kissed him. He was old, it is true, but handsome—handsome, and amorous too. His lips smelled of wine, and he was already trembling, but Eros led him by the hand. He took the garland off his head to give it to me. And it smelled of Anacreon. I, like a fool, took it up and tied it around my head; and from that moment to this very day I have been in love constantly.” (my translation)

To paraphrase: Anacreon calls the speaker, probably at a symposium6. The speaker runs over, throws his arms around Anacreon and kisses him, observing that Anacreon may be old, but he is good-looking, and amorous7 too. Anacreon's kiss tastes of wine, and he is unsteady; but Eros leads him by the hand. Anacreon removes the garland from his own head and gives it to the speaker, who, noticing that it smells of Anacreon, “foolishly” (moros) puts it on his own head, and has been a lover ever since.

The common interpretation sees the dream simply as a poetic investiture, with Anacreon in the role of the muse and the garland conveying inspiration8. This is incomplete. Garlands were commonly a gift of paederastic lovers. Scholars have taken little notice of the erotic aspect, some endeavouring to rationalize it away. K. Bartol9 argues that poetic investiture excludes erotics; whereas in fact they are interwoven here. Glenn W. Most10 suggests that the speaker is cast as Anacreon's eromenos, but he does not explore the implications of this trope.

This is a queer investiture indeed--not an encounter with serious divinities like those which inspired epic or didactic poetry, but, I shall argue, an appropriately seriocomical induction to the insouciant genre of Anacreontic lyric. Ignoring the erotic content has unnecessarily problematized the poem. Why a garland? which, as even Bartol concedes, is more reminiscent of paederastic courtship than of poetic investiture. Why does the speaker feel that he was foolish to accept the gift? Some answer11 that the writer has suffered from the burden of writing the poetry inspired here; but the only aspect of the Anacreontic poems that is burdensome is erotic passion, not writing the poems. In fact, Poem 60 advocates writing poetry to allay that passion. What mysterious words did Anacreon say to his epigone, and why is there no report of specific instructions like those given by the Muses to Hesiod? But if this is also an erotic encounter, the point is simply that Anacreon initiates it, as erastai conventionally did. The opening line of an erotic encounter-- especially by a drunken lover-- is often trivial. Finally, what is the role of Anacreon himself? He is not divine or immortal, yet he can inspire.12 But unlike the Muses, Anacreon inspires by example. Anacreon himself pursued the life of pleasure and composed this kind of poetry. And the project of the Anacreontic poets is to follow his example.

Let us look again at the speaker’s dream. When the author runs to kiss Anacreon, this could be simply philia. But it is Eros who leads Anacreon to offer his garland to the author, and lest there be any doubt about the flavour even of poetic inspiration imparted under this god's tutelage, the author cites an olfactory stimulus: The garland smells of Anacreon: the musky scent of the man after drinking and dancing13. And the speaker reacts to his scent not with aversion, but by eagerly taking and wearing the garland. The signals of erotic motivation are too clear for the scene to involve only a conventional poetic investiture.

Anacreon, the speaker says, is old, but still good-looking (kalos). This cannot mean, in this context, as Bartol14 suggests, that he resembles more conventional agents of inspiration like the Muses in some aspect other than physical attractiveness. The word here means precisely physical attractiveness. Rosenmeyer15 mentions that an early statue of Anacreon emphasized his virility, and that even though he is pictured as old, at least one vase painting seems to label him kalos. Paul Zanker describes a type of portrait statue which he calls the 'handsome old man' (kalos geron). This type began in portraits of Homer, but was later used for others. Regarding Homer, Zanker writes:
Old age does not carry negative connotations here... Signs of decrepitude in the cheeks, temples, and the... eyes are indicated with the utmost discretion. This Homer is a handsome old man... full of dignity... beauty and nobility. (p. 16)
A Periclean statue of Anacreon was influenced by this type. Portrayed as a symposiast, he is shown nude,
...with a handsome, ageless physique. Only ...subtle hints of advancing age. (p. 25)
...his nudity celebrates the perfection of the body, just as those of younger men. (p. 30)
If our poet envisioned Anacreon in this way, his attraction is understandable. And it is likely that he did so. This portrait type was followed in Hellenistic copies; and Hellenistic literary texts often alluded and responded to familiar statuary.16

Some Anacreontic poems feature comical scenes. Eros too can be targeted, although his power can still assert itself. For example, in Poem 6 he is small enough to be swallowed by the poet, and Poem 35 mocks his childishness. Poem 1 too has a comical strain. The inebriated old man needing help to walk, and the speaker's eager response (too eager by some Greeks’ standards) are comical images, as is especially Eros assuming the role of a slave or kindly helper by guiding the old man; anyone acquainted with these and other Hellenistic poems well knows that the sneaky little god must be up to mischief. But the amorous old drunk fits the stereotype of Anacreon throughout this collection. And the eagerness of the speaker shows that he is expressing genuine admiration and attraction. These comic features may signal that the eroticism need not be taken too seriously: It is rather a pointed symbol of the literary liaison of the epigone with Anacreon. The author’s devotion to his model is like that of a responsive eromenos to his suitor and mentor.

Of course we do not know the author's age in real life.17 But he was certainly younger than Anacreon, whether we mean the image or the poet. And he sees himself as an admirer who here becomes inspired. We seem to have here an expression, perhaps a recollection, or at any rate a representation of erotic love for the older poet by a presumably youthful poet about to embark on his creative career. And it is a 'transferable' experience which other poets aspiring to imitate Anacreon could have shared. Hence its suitability as an introductory poem.

This erotically mediated literary succession must have reminded Greek readers of educational paederasty. After all, the young man acquires his mentor’s expertise in love and poetry.
But Greek readers would also notice a difference. Educational relationships, like the philosophical pederasty advocated by the early Stoics18 or even athletic training19 would always involve prolonged and laborious training-- like the cares (merimnas) and toils (ponoi) eschewed by Anacreontic poets. Anacreon himself had abandoned the educational function along with other ‘serious’ pursuits.20 And the Anacreontic poems repeatedly reject arduous learning in favour of quick inspiration by eros or wine. In Poem 49 wine “teaches” the poet to dance. In 52, the poet rejects the rules and rigours (anankas) of the rhetors for such easy learning. In 58, the poet's temptation to pursue wealth occurs when his heart (thymos), not his brain, encourages him to “think big” (hyperphronein). And in Poem 19 Eros himself does not wish to leave the service of Beauty, because he has been taught (dedidaktai)—i.e., conditioned, obviously by pleasure rather than study-- to serve. All of these poems exhibit a rejection of arduous learning and a preference for heady inspiration. But here, precisely, is an Anacreontic style of succession: Anacreon hands over the garland under the god’s oversight and the eromenos instantly morphs into an erastes. Here there is no instruction, only inspiration. Anacreon offers both the benefit of educational paederasty and the ease of impulsive liaisons. His lessons have no exercises.

Those who would interpret the poem simply as a poetic investiture puzzle over how Anacreon had the power to convey inspiration. But there is no need to ascribe any preternatural power to Anacreon. The competent deity himself (Eros) is present. And he is obviously manipulating the event; for, the result of the encounter is that the speaker cannot cease to be a lover (erotos). The text does not say “to love Anacreon” or “to write poems” (though he does both). The surprising result of inspiration in Poem 1, viz., that the dreamer becomes not just a poet, but a lover, is less surprising if we remember that Poem 1 belongs to the first, predominantly erotic collection, and that the Anacreontea imitate Anacreon’s ‘alternative lifestyle’ as well as his poetry21. Poem 60, at the end of the Anacreontea, contains the often quoted exhortation “Imitate Anacreon” (ton Anakreontea mimou). What that poem advocates specifically is writing erotic poetry as a safe way to mitigate searing passion. It is desire (eros) that produces both the creativity of Anacreontic poets and the anxiety which the final poem seeks to mitigate, and which of course explains why the speaker in Poem 1 was ‘foolish’ to accept the garland.

In our poem, and throughout the collection, Anacreon is a role model. Our poet’s attitude resembles that of a young admirer who desires to follow in his footsteps. Close attention to the erotic motif has clarified previously problematized issues about this poem; it casts new light on the devotion of Anacreontic poets to their model, and incidentally provides a rare glimpse of the motivations which a responsive eromenos might have felt. Anacreon here is a role model, an erastes, and a mentor; but all of these are human attributes. Since the preternatural influence which transfers his poetic talent operates by making the younger poet too an erastes, it must come from the god. In spite of the playful treatment of Eros in our poem, it is he who is the ultimate source of inspiration and the presiding deity. If the speaker’s enthusiasm expresses itself as erotic attraction when he becomes excited at the sudden appearance of his handsome model, this would not seem so unusual in Hellenistic Greece as it might today. In the Anacreontic setting, however, it is more than appropriate.

The poem, incidentally, also throws light upon the response of boys in a pederastic relationship. The representation of an eromenos in the first person singular, even if the words ascribed to him are projected by an older author, is rare in the literature. But here we have a plausible and positive representation of the subjective experience (dream) of a responsive youth.


1.This article originated as a presentation at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of Canada in Quebec City, 2016. Thanks to William A. Percy for bringing the Anacreontea to my attention, and to Robert Fowler and Beert Verstraete for advice on initiating my research.  

2 Rosenmeyer also stresses the absence of violence and of consummated sex. However, there are exceptions. The violence of Eros shooting the poet in the gut in Poems 13 and 33 is as graphic as an epic battle scene, although it may be intended to parody such. And the rape in Poem 59: 20-24 is consummated, with serious consequences. West 1984: 46 notes: “puellae suadetur... innuptae videlicet: nuptias igitur sponsas tantum prodere potest.” While it is true that sex is usually not consummated, this it is hardly an exclusive feature of these poems; it motivates perhaps most love poetry.

3 Budelmann 2009: 234-235

4 West op.cit.: pages XVI-XVII. For the argument based on dialects see also Sens (2014).

5 For detailed discussion of the composition and dates of the collection see Campbell, D.A. 1988: 14-18 and Edmonds, J.M.: 1-16.

6 The setting of the dream is not described. Most Anacreontic poems are set at a symposium, and there is no reason why Poem 1 should be an exception. Anacreon has been drinking, and dancing (hence his scent).

7 phileunos: “amorous” is my translation. LSJ translate this as “fond of the marriage bed”, but there is no reference to marriage either in the word itself or in this poem. Edmonds emends to philoinos, arguing that the context concerns drinking; but the reference to drinking is only one detail of this erotic investiture. Rosenmeyer translates “good in bed”, but the word denotes fondness for rather than skill at making love.

8 Thus Rosenmeyer 1993 and Bartol 1993. For more detailed discussion of the erotic content--albeit still without acknowledging its importance--see Brioso Sánchez 1979, who argues that Anacreon's portrayal simply epitomizes his standard characteristics. But this does not explain the role of Eros and the behaviour of the speaker. 
9 Bartol 1993: 68 recognizes “eine deutliche Anspielung auf das sympotische Modell einer homosexuellen Situation” but insists that “das Bild kann aber zugleich anders interpretiert werden”.

10 Most

11 Bartol op. cit.: 69; cf. Rosenmeyer op. cit.: 67.

12 Gutzwiller 2014: 54-56 cites evidence that Anacreon may have been treated as a hero in the Hellenistic period, but I see no indication of that in this particular poem.

13 Readers who consider the suggestion of sweat repugnant have postulated that the scent is of wine or of myrrh. These undoubtedly sweetened the bouquet, but the text says only that the garland smelled of Anacreon.

14 op. cit. 69

15 op. cit. 28-29

16 Gutzwiller discusses several instances of Hellenistic epigrams relating to statues of Anacreon. The essays collected by Evelyne Prioux and Agnès Rouveret 2010 explore in depth cross-references between the literary and plastic media in the Hellenistic period.

17 More than one scholar believe that an Anacreontic persona may be at least quasi-autobiographical. Alexander Rudolph 2014: 131-144 argues that the 'I' in these poems is more real than fictitious, because the literary setting is anchored in the social setting of the symposium, where the speaker plays a type role that could be experienced by any of the participants.

18 For the sexual ethics of the early Stoics see Schofield 1991 3-56.

19 For the athletics, see Hubbard 2003.

20 As Lear explains, the educational side of pederasty was a ‘serious’ social duty. Stehle 2014: 250 suggests that Anacreon avoided educational involvement because of its political repercussions, as he was hosted by tyrants. The two motives need not be mutually exclusive.

21 For the imitation of the Anacreontic lifestyle see also, e.g., Glenn W. Most 2014: 151.


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