Tyrtaeus of Sparta

The origin of Tyrtaeus very and cannot be confirmed confidently. More important is his poetic influence in Sparta. He flourished during the second Messenian war c650 B.C., a period of remarkable musical and poetical activity at Sparta, when poets like Terpander and Thaletas were welcomed--that he not only wrote poetry but served in the field, and that he endeavoured to compose the internal dissensions of Sparta (Aristotle, Politics, v. 6) by inspiring the citizens with a patriotic love for their fatherland.

His work

Only fragments survive of Tyrtaeus's work, which was divided by scholars in Alexandria around the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., into five books, or papyrus rolls, that include elegies and war poems. The elegies are the only securely authentic fragments and include the Elegy to the Muses ; the Eunomia (“Law and Order”), which defends the Spartan constitution; and poems calling young men to arms, which combine exhortations to courage and self-discipline with reminders of past victories and assurances of future success and posthumous glory.

Legend surrounding him.

A Greek described as the son of Archembrotus of Aphidnae in Attica. In the seventh century he introduced the Ionic elegy into Sparta. According to the older tradition, the Spartans during the Second Messenian War were commanded by an oracle to take a leader from among the Athenians, and thus to conquer their enemies, whereupon they chose Tyrtaeus as their leader [3]. Later writers state that Tyrtaeus was a lame schoolmaster, of low family and reputation, whom the Athenians, when applied to by the Lacedaemonians in accordance with the oracle, purposely sent as the most inefficient leader they could select, being unwilling to assist the Lacedaemonians in extending their dominion in the Peloponnesus, and little thinking that the poetry of Tyrtaeus would achieve that victory to which his physical infirmity seemed to forbid his aspiring [4].

The poems of Tyrtaeus exercised an important influence upon the Spartans, quieting their dissensions at home, and animating their courage in the field. He explicitly reveals the importance of the middle-class hoplites for the safety of the state. In order to appease their civil discords, he composed his celebrated elegy entitled Legal Order [5]. But still more celebrated were the poems by which he animated the courage of the Spartans in their conflict with the Messenians. These poems were of two kinds: namely, elegies, containing exhortations to constancy and courage, and descriptions of the glory of fighting bravely for one's native land; and more spirited compositions, in the anapaestic measure, which were intended as marching-songs, to be accompanied by the music of the flute [6]. He lived, it is said, to see the success of his efforts in the entire conquest of the Messenians, and their reduction to the condition of Helots. His life therefore lasted down to 668 B.C., which was the last year of the Second Messenian War. It has been observed that Tyrtaeus in a fragment of the Eunomia seems to speak of himself as a Lacedaemonian, and though this might be explained by his having been made a citizen of Sparta, yet Herodotus [7] does not include him among the few foreigners who became Spartan citizens. Hence some (following Strab. p. 362) have doubted the truth of his Athenian origin. On the other hand, there is so strong a consensus of ancient authorities, including Plato (l. c.), for his Athenian origin that it can hardly be resisted.

 

Some of his poems are listed below.

ARETE

Rise up, warriors, take your stand at one another's sides,
our feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground.
Then bide your time, biting your lip, for you were born
from the blook of Heracles, unbeatable by mortal men,
and the god of gods has never turned his back on you.

So cast off whatever fears arise at the armoured legions
they'll muster before you, hedge yourselves round
with hollow shields, and learn to love death's ink-black
shadow as much as you love the light of dawn.
So that when the hour comes, the battle lines drawn.

you won't hang back beyond javelin and stone but,
marshaled into ranks, advance as one to engage your enemy
hand to hand. Then hefting your bronze-tipped
spears and raking the air with your broadswords,
set foot to foot, battle dreww to weaponry,

horsehair crest to polished mail, and - helmet to helmet,
eye to eye - mangle their gear, hack off limbs, lay open
the organs that warm their chests, then beat them down
until the plain runs red with enemy blood and you
still stand, breathlessly gripping your wet sword's hilt.


MARTIAL ELEGY

How glorious fall the valiant, sword in hand,
In front of battle for their native land!
But oh! what ills await the wretch that yields,
A recreant outcast from his country's fields!
The mother whom he loves shall quit her home,
An aged father at his side shall roam;
His little ones shall weeping with him go,
And a young wife participate his woe;
While scorned and scowled upon by every face,
They pine for food, and beg from place to place.

Stain of his breed! dishonoring manhood's form,
All ills shall cleave to him: affliction's storm
Shall blind him wandering in the vale of years,
Till, lost to all but ignominous fears,
He shall not blush to leave a recreant's name,
And children, like himself, inured to shame.

But we will combat for our fathers' land,
And we will drain the lifeblood where we stand,
To save our children: -- fight ye side by side,
And serried close, ye men of youthful pride,
Disdaining fear, and deeming light the cost
Of life itself in glorious battle lost.
Leave not our sires to stem the unequal fight,
Whose limbs are nerved no more with buoyant might;
Nor, lagging backward, let the younger breast
Permit the man of age (a sight unblest)
To welter in the combat's foremost thrust,
His hoary head disheveled in the dust,
And venerable bosom bleeding bare.
But youth's fair form, though fallen, is ever fair,
And beautiful in death the boy appears,
The hero boy, that dies in blooming years:
In man's regret he lives, and woman's tears;
More sacred than in life, and lovelier far,
For having perished in the front of war.


THE CODE OF THE CITIZEN SOLDIER

I would not say anything for a man nor take account of him
For any speed of his feet or wrestling skill he might have,
not if he had the size of a Cyclops and strength to go with it.
Not if he could outrun Boreas, the North Wind of Thrace,
not if he were more handsome and gracefully formed than Tithonos,
or had more riches than Midas had, or Kinyras too,
not if he were more a king than Tantalid Pelops,
or had the power of speech and persuasion Adrastos had,
not if he had all splendours except for a fighting spirit.
For no man ever proves himself a good man in war
Unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter,
go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.
Here is courage, mankind's finest possession,
here is the noblest prize that a young man can endeavour to win,
and it is a good thing his polis and all the people share with him when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears relentlessly,
all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,
and has trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,
and with his words encourages the man who is stationed beside him.
Here is a man who proves himself to be valiant in war.
With a sudden rush he turns to flight the rugged battalions of the enemy,
and sustains the beating waves of assault.And he who so falls among the champions and loses his sweet life,
so blesses with honour his polis, his father,
and all his people,with wounds in his chest,
where the spear that he was facing has transfixed that massive guard of his shield,
and gone though his breastplate as well,
Why……….such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,
and all his polis goes into mourning and grieves for his loss,
His tomb is pointed out with pride,
and so are his children,and his children's children,
and afterwards all the race that is his.
His shining glory is never forgotten,
his name is remembered,and he becomes immortal,
though he lies under the ground,
when one who was a brave man has been killed by the furious War Godstanding his ground and fighting hard for his children and land.
But if he escapes the doom of death, the destroyer of bodies,
and wins his battle,
and bright renown for the work of his spear,all men give place to him,
the youth and the elders,
and much joy comes his way before he goes down to the dead.
Aging he has reputation among his citizens.
No one tries to interfere with his honours or all he deserves;
All men withdraw before his presence,
and yield their seats to him,
the youth, and the men of age,
and even those older than he.
Thus a man should endeavour to reach this high place of courage with all his heart, and, so trying, never be backward in war.


FRONTIERS

You should reach the limits of virtue, before you cross the border of death.

For no man ever proves himself a good man in war unless he can endure to face the blood
and the slaughter, go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.

Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of courage with all of his heart,
and, so trying, never be backward in war.


COURAGE

For no man ever proves himself a good man in war
unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter,
go close against the enemy and fight with his hands.

Here is courage, mankind's finest possession, here is
the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win,
and it is a good thing his city and all the people share with him
when a man plants his feet and stands in the foremost spears
relentlessly, all thought of foul flight completely forgotten,
and has well trained his heart to be steadfast and to endure,
and with words encourages the man who is stationed beside him.

Here is a man who proves himself to be valiant in war.
With a sudden rush he turns to flight the rugged battalions
of the enemy, and sustains the beating waves of assault.
And he who so falls among the champions and loses his sweet life,
so blessing with honor his city, his father, and all his people,
with wounds in his chest, where the spear that he was facing has transfixed
that massive guard of his shield, and gone through his breastplate as well,
why, such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,
and all his city goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.
His tomb is pointed to with pride, and so are his children,
and his children's children, and afterward all the race that is his.

His shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered,
and he becomes an immortal, though he lies under the ground,
when one who was a brave man has been killed by the furious War God
standing his ground and fighting hard for his children and land.

But if he escapes the doom of death, the destroyer of bodies,
and wins his battle, and bright renown for the work of his spear,
all men give place to him like, the youth and the elders,
and much joy comes his way before he goes down to the dead.

Aging, he has reputation among his citizens. No one
tries to interfere with his honors or all he deserves;
all men withdraw before his presence, and yield their seats to him,
the youth, and the men his age, and even those older than he.

Thus a man should endeavor to reach this high place of courage
with all his heart, and, so trying, never be backward in war.


TO THE SOLDIERS; AFTER A DEFEAT

Now, since you are the seed of Heracles the invincible,
courage! Zeus has not yet turned away from us. Do not
fear the multitude of their men, nor run away from them.
Each man should bear his shield straight at the foremost ranks
and make his heart a thing full of hate, and hold the black flying
spirits of death as dear as he holds the flash of the sun.

You know what havoc is the work of the painful War God,
you have learned well how things go in exhausting war,
for you have been with those who ran and with the pursuers,
O young men, you have had as much of both as you want.

Those who, standing their ground and closing their ranks together,
endure the onset at close quarters and fight in the front,
they lose fewer men. They also protect the army behind them.
Once they flinch, the spirit of the whole army falls apart.
And no man could count over and tell all the number of evils,
all that can come to a man, once he gives way to disgrace.
For once a man reverses and runs in the terror of battle,
he offers his back, a tempting mark to spear from behind,
and it is a shameful sight when a dead man lies in the dust there,
driven through from behind by the stroke of an enemy spear.

No, no, let him take a wide stance and stand up strongly against them,
digging both heels in the ground, biting his lip with his teeth,
covering thighs and legs beneath, his chest and his shoulders
under the hollowed-out protection of his broad shield,
while in his right hand he brandishes the powerful war-spear,
and shakes terribly the crest high above his helm.
Our man should be disciplined in the work of the heavy fighter,
and not stand out from the missiles when he carries a shield,
but go right up and fight at close quarters and, with his long spear
or short sword, thrust home and strike his enemy down.
Let him fight toe to toe and shield against shield hard driven,
crest against crest and helmet on helmet, chest against chest;
let him close hard and fight it out with his opposite foeman,
holding tight to the hilt of his sword, or to his long spear.
And you, O light-armed fighters, from shield to shield of your fellows,
dodge for protection and keep steadily throwing great stones,
and keep on pelting the enemy with your javelins, only
remember always to stand near your own heavy-armed men.


SPARTAN SOLDIER

It is beautiful when a brave man of the front ranks,
falls and dies, battling for his homeland,
and ghastly when a man flees planted fields and city
and wanders begging with his dear mother,
aging father, little children and true wife.
He will be scorned in every new village,
reduced to want and loathsome poverty; and shame
will brand his family line, his noble
figure. Derision and disaster will hound him.
A turncoat gets no respect or pity;
so let us battle for our country and freely give
our lives to save our darling children.

Young men, fight shield to shield and never succumb
to panic or miserable flight,
but steel the heart in your chests with magnificence
and courage. Forget your own life
when you grapple with the enemy. Never run
and let an old soldier collapse
whose legs have lost their power. It is shocking when
an old man lies on the front line
before a youth: an old warrior whose head is white
and beard gray, exhaling his strong soul
into the dust, clutching his bloody genitals
into his hands: an abominable vision,
foul to see: his flesh naked. But in a young man
all is beautiful when he still
possesses the shining flower of lovely youth.
Alive he is adored by men,
desired by women, and finest to look upon
when he falls dead in the forward clash.

Let each man spread his legs, rooting them in the ground,
bite his teeth into his lips, and hold.


Fragment 11

For you know the destructive deeds of sorrow-inducing Ares, and you have well learnt the anger of brutal war; you, young men, have often tasted flight and pursuit, and have had your fill of both.


 

Unknown title -(Tyrtaeus, fragment 12, trans. Lattimore)

Such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders
And all his city goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.
His tomb and children are notable among men,
and his children's children, and his race thereafter;
His noble memory is not destroyed nor his name,
but he is immortal, though he lies beneath the earth,
whomever, excelling in valor, standing fast, and
fighting land and children, raging Ares destroys.


Tyrtaeus describes how the Messenians endured the insolence of the masters [1]

As asses worn by loads intolerable,
So Them did stress of cruel force compel,
Of all the fruits the well-tilled land affords,
The moiety to bear to their proud lords.


Tyrtaeus fragment 5: The First Messenian War [2]

To our king beloved of the gods, Theopompus, through whom we took Messene with wide dancing-grounds; Messene good for ploughing and good for planting, over which they fought...the spearmen fathers of our fathers... for nineteen years, always unceasingly and with an enduring spirit; and in the twentieth year the enemy, leaving behind their fertile lands, fled from the great heights of Mt Ithome.


Lacedaemonians: Fragment 1.18.1

For although Lacedaimon...had civil strife for the longest period of time that we know, nevertheless it acquired 'good order' earlier than any other state and has always been free from tyrants.


Fragment 11. 11-14 also known as 'The War Song'

Now of those, who dare, abiding one beside another, to advance to the close fray, and the foremost champions, fewer die, and they save the people in the rear; but in men that fear, all excellence is lost.
No one could ever in words go through those several ills, which befall a man, if he has been actuated by cowardice. For ‘tis grievous to wound in the rear the back of a flying man in hostile war. Shameful too is a corpse lying low in the dust, wounded behind in the back by the point of a spear.

Another interpretation of the first line is:

Those who display the courage to go into close combat in the front line, standing side by side with each other, die in fewer numbers and save those behind. But when men tremble, the courage of all is destroyed.


To rule in council is for the kings, who are esteemed by the gods And in whose care is the lovely city of Sparta, And for the Elders; but then it is for the common people to respond in turn with straight rhetras[laws].
TYRTAEUS fragment in PLUTARCH , Lycurgus 6


References:
*01 Bury and Meiggs, "A History of Greece," 4th Ed
*02 Aspects of Greek History 750bc- 323bc by Terry Buckley page 66. 2008
*03 Plato, De Leg. i. p. 629; c. Leoch. p. 211; Diod.xv. 66
*04 Paus.iv.15.3; Just.iii. 5; Themist.xv. p. 242; Schol. ad A. P. 402
*05
Eunomia: Arist. Pol.v. 7Arist. Pol., 1; Paus.iv.18.2
*06
Paus.iv.14.1; Athen. p. 630; Plut. Cleom.2; A. P. 402; Suid. s. v.
*07 'Histories' by Herodotus (ix. 35)

Name: Tyrtaeus
(Tie-ar-tay-eeus)
Name in Greek: ???ta???
(Tear-tar-Os)
Name means:  
Father:  
Born:  
Native City:  
Died:  
Reason of death:  
Age:
Highest Title:  
   

 

 

Married to:  
Children:  

Tyrataeus poems in Greek.

Tyrtaeus
* a lame Athenian schoolmaster, sent to Sparta: Paus. 4.15.6
* sings to Spartans: Paus. 4.15.6
* stirs up hindmost in battle: Paus. 4.16.2
* encourages defeated Lacedaemonians: Paus. 4.16.6
* composes dissensions of Spartans: Paus. 4.18.3
* his verses quoted: Paus. 4.6.5, Paus. 4.13.6, Paus. 4.14.5, Paus. 4.15.2

 

 

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