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The Erotics of Anacreontea 1

James Jope


This paper examines the erotic subtext of Anacreontea 1 and its literary and social implications.

The Anacreontic collection has attracted wider interest since Patricia A. Rosenmeyer (2006) described it as a tradition of authors imitating Anacreon, not as rivals (the norm in ancient literature) but as admirers. In the introductory poem, the author expresses this admiration by relating a dream in which he is cast as Anacreon's eromenos accepting the poet's calling and inspiration. Anacreon spots him-- apparently at a symposium-- and calls to him. The speaker runs over, throws his arms around Anacreon and kisses him, observing that Anacreon may be old, but he is good-looking-- handsome, and amorous too. Anacreon's kiss tastes of wine, and he is shaky; but Eros leads him by the hand. Anacreon removes the garland from his own head and gives it to the speaker, who, noting that it smells of Anacreon, puts it on his own head, and has not ceased to love since that day.

Rosenmeyer and Kr. Bartol (1993) correctly interpreted the dream as a Dichterweihe, with Anacreon in the role of the Muse and the garland conveying poetic inspiration. They took no notice, however, of the erotic aspect. Glenn W. Most (2014) acknowledges but does not discuss it.

When the author runs to kiss Anacreon, this could be simply philia. But it is Eros who leads Anacreon to offer his garland to the author, and lest there be any doubt about the kind of inspiration given under this god's tutelage, the author cites an olfactory stimulus: The garland smells of Anacreon.

Yet there is no suggestion of disapproval of the sentiments of this eromenos, who writes in the first person and is joining—nay, launching-- the anacreontic tradition.

The speaker as eromenos is a strikingly unusual motif. Generally, boys, like women and slaves had no voice in the literature. This poem, however, offers unique evidence of the thoughts of an eromenos. Close attention to this motif not only clarifies previous issues such as why the young poet is induced to love rather than simply to write; it casts new light on the devotion of Anacreontic poets to their maestro, and provides a rare glimpse of the motivations which an adolescent eromenos might have felt. Modern concepts such as 'role model' and 'hero worship' are applicable.

Whether the author was really a young poet starting his career or an older man reminiscing, he has composed a convincing expression of sexual love by an eromenos. Either way, it is also exemplary of anacreontic values-- wine, eros, and music, spontaneous and carefree. Just as in Classical educational pederasty, the young man acquires the older poet's expertise. But here, of course, he does so without working (ponoi).


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