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date: 02 December 2022



  • Martin Litchfield West


Tyrtaeus, Spartan elegiac poet of the mid-7th cent. bce. His works are said to have filled five books; some 250 lines or parts of lines survive in quotations and papyri. They are of great historical interest in relation to two crises affecting Sparta at the time. One was civic unrest that threatened the authority of the kings and elders. In a poem that later came to be entitled Eunomia (‘Law and Order’) (frs. 1–4 W), Tyrtaeus reminded the citizens of the divine right by which the kings ruled, and of the oracle which had laid down the constitutional roles of kings, council, and demos; fr. 4. 3–9 quotes the four-line hexameter oracle, padded out with pentameters, and corresponding to part of the Rhetra in Plut.Lyc. 6. The other crisis was the Second Messenian War (see messenia, Myth-history; sparta, § 2). Here too Tyrtaeus functioned as a sort of state poet, exhorting the Spartans to fight to the death for their city (frs. 10–14, 18–24). *Callinus was making similar use of elegy at the same period on the other side of the Aegean.


  • Greek Literature

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