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IV.26. Simonides Poeta


Parallels: For parallel versions, see Perry 522.


Quantum ualerent inter homines litterae
dixi superius; quantus nunc illis honos
a superis sit tributus tradam memoriae.
Simonides idem ille de quo rettuli,
uictori laudem cuidam pyctae ut scriberet
certo conductus pretio, secretum petit.
Exigua cum frenaret materia impetum,
usus poetae more est et licentia
atque interposuit gemina Ledae sidera,
auctoritatem similis referens gloriae.
Opus adprobauit; sed mercedis tertiam
accepit partem. Cum relicuas posceret:
"Illi" inquit "reddent quorum sunt laudis duae.
Verum, ut ne irate te dimissum sentiant,
ad cenam mihi promitte; cognatos uolo
hodie inuitare, quorum es in numero mihi."
Fraudatus quamuis et dolens iniuria,
ne male dimissus gratiam corrumperet,
promisit. Rediit hora dicta, recubuit.
Splendebat hilare poculis conuiuium,
magno apparatu laeta resonabat domus,
repente duo cum iuuenes, sparsi puluere,
sudore multo diffluentes, corpore
humanam supra formam, cuidam seruolo
mandant ut ad se prouocet Simonidem;
illius interesse ne faciat moram.
Homo perturbatus excitat Simonidem.
Vnum promorat uix pedem triclinio,
ruina camarae subito oppressit ceteros;
nec ulli iuuenes sunt reperti ad ianuam.
Vt est uulgatus ordo narratae rei
omnes scierunt numinum praesentiam
uati dedisse uitam mercedis loco.


Here is the poem in a more prose-like word order for easy reading:


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Here is the poem with meter marks:


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Elsewhere I have described the great value people place on learning, and now I will record for future reference how greatly learning is honoured by the gods; this is another story about Simonides, whom I have spoken of before.

In exchange for an agreed upon fee, the poet Simonides was to write a victory ode for a certain boxer. Simonides accordingly sought out a place of peace and quiet, but the unpromising subject matter hampered his artistic impulse. As a result, Simonides relied on the usual poetic license, which allowed him to include the gods Castor and Pollux as part of his poem, alluding to the renown that the sons of Leda, those celestial twins, had also enjoyed in boxing. Simonides' client praised the work but he paid the poet only one third of the agreed upon fee. When Simonides demanded the rest, his patron told him, 'Let the twins pay the rest, since their praise occupies two thirds of the poem! Of course,' the man added, 'I don't want people to think that you have been sent away in anger, so please agree to come to my house for dinner this evening. I have invited all my relatives, and I want you to be in their number as well.' Although Simonides had been cheated and was still upset about the loss he had suffered, he agreed to come, not wanting to harm his reputation by parting with his patron on bad terms. The dinner hour arrived and Simonides took his place at the table. The party sparkled with wine and good cheer, and the house resounded with the delightful sounds of the extravagant banquet, when all of a sudden two young men appeared. They were completely covered with dust and sweat, and they had the bodies of supermen. They ordered one of the servant boys to summon Simonides, urging him to be quick about it, as it was a matter of great importance. The awestruck servant roused Simonides, and the poet had barely moved one foot away from the dining room when the structure suddenly collapsed, crushing everyone beneath it. Meanwhile, there were no young men to be found at the door. When the sequence of events became generally known, everyone realized that with their presence, the gods had repaid the poet by saving his life in lieu of a fee.


The Escape of Simonides (trans. C. Smart)

Th' attention letters can engage,

Ev'n from a base degenerate age,

I've shown before; and now shall show

Their lustre in another view,

And tell a memorable tale,

How much they can with heav'n prevail,

Simonides, the very same

We lately had a call to name,

Agreed for such a sum to blaze

A certain famous champion's praise.

He therefore a retirement sought,

But found the theme on which he wrote

So scanty, he was forced to use

Th' accustomed license of the muse,

And introduced and praise bestow'd

On Leda's sons to raise his ode;

With these the rather making free,

As heroes in the same degree.

He warranted his work, and yet

Could but one third of payment get.

Upon demanding all the due,

" Let them," says he, "pay t' other two,

Who take two places in the song;

But lest you think I do you wrong

And part in dudgeon-I invite

Your company to sup this night,

For then my friends and kin I see,

'Mongst which I choose to reckon thee."

Choused and chagrined, yet shunning blame,

He promised, set the hour, and came;

As fearful lest a favour spurn'd

Should to an open breach be turn'd.

The splendid banquet shone with plate,

And preparations full of state

Made the glad house with clamors roar-

When on a sudden at the door

Two youths , with sweat and dust besmear'd,

Above the human form appear'd,

And charged forthwith a little scout

To bid Simonides come out,

That 'twas his interest not to stay.-

The slave, in trouble and dismay,

Roused from his seat the feasting bard,

Who scarce had stirr'd a single yard

Before the room at once fell in,

And crushed the champion and his kin.

No youths before the door are found.-

The thing soon spread the country round;

And when each circumstance was weighed,

They knew the gods that visit made,

And saved the poet's life in lieu

Of those two-thirds which yet were due.




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