Cooperative commemoration : Simonides on the Persian Wars




Lather, Amy Kathleen

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The name ‘Simonides’ has long been associated with the Persian Wars. More specifically, Simonides is famous in large part because of his commemoration of the Persian War dead in the form of epigrams. The purpose of this paper is to investigate a set of four of the most famous and most distinctively ‘Simonidean’ poems to the end of delineating their stylistic deviations from conventional epitaphic speech. This paper argues that the specific ways in which Simonides departs from the conventions of epigrammatic language serve to convey a distinctively democratic ethos. This ethos is clear in that Simonides’ epigrams privilege the mass efforts of the collective, and do not praise any particular individuals over another. Moreover, that these poems do not include the sort of identifying details that we would normally expect to find in epigrams anticipates a readership that is uniformly knowledgeable about the events of the Persian Wars. This represents another facet of the egalitarian ethos evident in this group of epigrams, as Simonides treats his readers as equally aware of the events of the Persian Wars. Thus, Simonides assumes a unified, panhellenic identity that characterizes both the subjects of his poems as well as his readers: they are all part of the same entity that defeated the Persians. Simultaneously, however, Simonides, or at the very least, the Simonidean name, achieves his own kleos as an individual poet through his distinctive commemorations of the Persian War dead. With these poems comes the emergence of a Simonidean poetic persona that renders the poet’s voice unique because of the way in which Simonides diverges from epigrammatic convention. The allotment of immortal kleos both to the anonymous, undifferentiated masses of Persian War dead and to the name ‘Simonides’ reflects two distinctive ideologies, the latter archaic and the former classical. My reading of these epigrams thus demonstrates how the commemoration of the Persian Wars is poised between two different eras and two different ideologies.