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Wednesday’s Wise Women … An Ancient Greek Lyric Poet

March 9, 2012

A fragment of Corinna’s poetry.

Terpsecore [told] me
lovely old tales to sing

to the white-robed women of Tanagra
and the city delighted greatly
in my voice, clear as the swallow’s.

(Wikipedia 2012)

Corinna an Ancient Greek lyric poet, was born, it is believed in May some years before her pupil Pinder who was born 522 BC. She was the daughter of Acheloodorus and Procastia from Thebes or Tanagra.  She was one of four female poets we know something of living in the Classical Age. First Myrtis ‘… and sweet-voiced Myrtis; all craftswoman of immortal pages’ it is thought that she was the teacher of  Corinna.  Then, Praxilla and Telesilla survive in a few scattered lines.  All earned considerable reputations during their times and after. Plutarch, c. 46 – 120 AD, a Greek historian, biographer and essayist referring to fine deeds of women writes of Telesilla the poetess who urged the women to fight against the Cleomenes for the possession of Argos. Eusebius sings the praises of the Lyric poet Praxilla (Blundell 1995)
It is said that Corinna defeated Pindar in poetry competitions and as a result Pindar called her a sow.  It was suggested by Pausanias (a geographer of the 2nd century AD) that her success was due to her beauty and her use of the local Boetician dialect different to the Doric of Pindar’s poems. Corinna was critical of Pindar’s work she described them as being ere embellishment with rare words, paraphrases, melodies and rhythms. In revenge he wrote the famous song ‘Shall we sing of Ismenus or gold-distaffed Mekia or Cadnus or the holy race of sown men or dark-snooded Thebe or the all daring might of Heracles or the glorious honour of Dionysus …’ When he showed it to Corinna she laughed and said that one should sow with the hand not the whole sack. For Pindar had mixed together different myths into one song.
As the only lyric poet of Thebes, Corinna’s tomb is placed in conspicuous part of the city and Pausanias says in his Description of Greece in the the gymnasium there is a painting of her tying her hair back in a ribbon to mark the victory she won over Pindar.   (Campbell 1992)
It is sad that little of her work survives but it not surprising as most modern research shows that women’s achievements have been overlooked in a continued male dominated society.

Bibliography

Blundell, S. (1995). Women in ancient Greece London British Museum.

Campbell, D. A. (1992). Greek lyric : 4. Bacchylides, Corinna, and others. London, Harvard University Press.

Wikipedia (2012). “Corinna.” from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corinna.

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