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Poets' Tombs and Conceptions of Poetry in Ancient Greece

  • Kimmel-Clauzet, Flore
Publication Date
Sep 12, 2014
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It is now well-known that the Lives of ancient Greek poets contain biographical information inspired by their work. These elements are the product of a selection of specific aspects of their work, which present an image of the poet – but reduced to a part of their work or certain aspects of their poems. A specific type of poetry is thus attributed to the poet (which again is reduced to only some distinctive traits) and he becomes the representative of that type. This ‘specialisation’ of poets could be related to their canonisation, referring to what a Modern would call “poetic genre” (as illustrated by Aristoteles’ Poetics and later by the classification project of the scholars of the Museum in Alexandria). This study focuses on the testimonies about the tombs of major ancient Greek poets: Homer, Hesiod, Archilochus, Stesichorus, Simonides, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. It considers their potential as testimony about the kind of poetry with which the dead poet is identified. It adresses the following issues: do the place and design of the monument or his epitaph (as transmitted by tradition or revealed to us by archeological research) refers to the poetry of the deceased? Does it give an image of the poet that reflects the type of poetry he was supposed to have composed (as per the content, style, genre)? Is this image coherent with the image given by the rest of the biographical tradition, or does it reveal significant discrepancies? The comparative study of multiple cases highlights recurring tendencies, specifically regarding the representation of poets as belonging to particular poetic genres, or more widely, types of poetry. It also shows the growing role of ancient criticism in biographical tradition through the centuries, and of the representation of canonical poets as a group where each one has his own place.

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