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It is impossible to assign any date to the writings which are ascribed to Orpheus, nor does it appear to be quite certain that any real poet of that name ever existed. By some writers he is represented to have lived before the Trojan war; and Clement of Alexandria asserts that many fragments of his works are to be found interwoven with the Homeric poems. Diodorus and Pausanias mention Orpheus by name, and Pherecydes is said by Suidas to have made a collection of his writings at a very early period.
Many of the poems called Orphica are ascribed to Onomacritus, who lived about five hundred years before the Christian era; and it is certain that they were current at that period. They are often quoted by Plato. The extant poems consist of the Theogony, a series of Hymns, a treatise on the properties of stones, called Lithica, and the Argonautica, an epic poem descriptive of the Argonautic expedition, in which the poet is supposed to have borne a part.
Cudworth quotes many passages from the Orphic writings, indicative of a belief in a Supreme God, antecedent and superior to all other deities; and the opinions of the author on the subject of the divine nature appear generally to coincide with those of Pythagoras and Plato. Some fragments of his hymns have been supposed to indicate an acquaintance with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but these are for the most part found only in writers of a much later period, and there is great doubt as to their genuineness. See notes on Matt. iii. 16, and 1 John v. 7.
Museus may be classed with Orpheus, whose son, or disciple, he is supposed to have been. Of his works some poetical fragments only are extant, and the genuineness even of these is very questionable.
Linus may also be regarded as a semi-mythological personage; and the few verses attributed to him by Stobæus are evidently fabrications of a much more recent date than that to which the existence of this poet must be ascribed.
Flourished B.C. 968-884 (?) Contemporary Writings-1 Kings xii, 2 Kings xi, 2 Chron. xiii-xxv, Canticles, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes.
Seven cities contended for the honour of having given birth to Homer. These are named in the following verses—
Smyrna, Chios, Colopho, Salamis, Rhodos, Argos, Athenæ,
Homer was universally regarded by the ancients as the author of the two great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Some fragments of these in the form of poetic lays or legends existed before his time, and were sung by the rhapsodists or minstrels at the great public festivals; but it was Homer who first conceived the idea of uniting them in a consecutive form, and to him therefore, may justly be ascribed the authorship of these great and matchless poems.
The art of writing being almost unknown in those days, a class of rhapsodists at Chios, the Homerids, who called themselves the descendants of the poet, made it their
special business to sing the lays of the Iliad and Odyssey, and to transmit them by oral teaching to their disciples. In this way they were preserved until the days of Pisistratus, by whom, it is said, they were committed to writing.
In the Iliad, Homer describes the resentment of Achilles, and the fatal consequences which ensued in the Grecian army before the walls of Troy. The Odyssey was composed after the Iliad, and has for its subject the wanderings of Ulysses, and his many misfortunes, after the fall of Troy, together with his return to his own country, Ithaca. The two poems are each divided into twenty-four books, each book being distinguished by one of the letters of the Greek alphabet, as the several divisions of the 119th Psalm are by those of the Hebrew.
There are many passages in the Iliad which inculcate moderation and forbearance, and inspire even in the midst of warlike descriptions a love of justice, honour, and benevolence; while the Odyssey is replete with expressions of piety, patriotism, and moral excellence. There is no internal evidence to shew that the poet had any acquaintance with Hebrew writings, or traditions; but he had visited other countries more advanced than his own, and the descriptions of patriarchial manners, as well as the incidents related in his two great poems, remind us constantly of the history, and even of the very language of the sacred Scriptures.
The Hymns attributed to Homer, as well as the Batrachomyomachia, or battle of the frogs and mice, appear to belong to a later date, and to a different writer.
Flourished B.C. 735 (?)
Contemp. 2. Kings xvi., 2 Chron. xxviii. Hosea.
Hesiod is said by some ancient writers to have lived before the age of Homer; by others, about a century later. Pausanias says that in his time Hesiod's verses were to be seen inscribed on tablets in the temple of the Muses, of which the poet was a priest. Clement of Alexandria asserts that he borrowed much from Museus; as Virgil, in his Georgics, has done from Hesiod. The following works were attributed to Hesiod in antiquity: 1.-Opera et Dies, Works and Days, a didactic poem, containing ethical, political, and economical precepts, of which the latter form the larger portion of the work: rules for navigation, commerce, agriculture, the choice of a wife and the education of a family are also included. Three distinct poems appear to have been inserted in this work, viz., the fable of Prometheus and Pandora; the story of the four ages of the world—the golden, the silver, the brazen, and the iron-and a poetic description of winter. 2.-Theogonia, an account of the origin of the world, and the birth of the gods, concluding with the history of some of the most illustrious heroes. The theory of heaven here introduced, and the description of the deities, became for a time the popular superstition; but it was rejected in later ages by those who obtained information from purer sources; and Pythagoras pretended to have seen the soul of Hesiod in the infernal regions, bound to a brazen column, shrieking under the punishment inflicted on him for having fabricated calumnies against the gods. 3.-The Shield of Hercules, which seems to be an imitation of the description of the shield of Achilles in Homer. This poem is suspected to be spurious.
Hesiod is said to have been murdered, and his body thrown into the sea; but the corpse was brought to shore by some dolphins, and immediately recognised, and the murderers being discovered by the help of the poet's dogs, they were in their turn cast into the sea.
Hesiod appears to have been desirous of exciting a religious spirit, and his works are interspersed with many just and pleasing reflections. One design in his Works and Days is said to have been to wean his brother from idle pleasures and to excite in him a love of industry and virtue. Seleucus Nicator was so much delighted with it that the book was found placed beneath his head after his death. Cicero strongly commends the poet, and the Greeks were so fond of his poetry and moral instructions that they required their children to learn all by heart.
The description of the four first ages of the world are compared with the scriptural account of Eden and the period subsequent to the fall; and the battles of the giants with the history of Babel and the dispersion. The story of Pandora will also be found to bear some analogy to the history of the temptation; and numerous moral precepts are cited in different parts of this work.
Flourished B.C. 730. Contemp. 2 Kings xviii., 2 Chronicles xxix., Nahum, Isaiah. Callinus of Ephesus was the earliest Greek elegiac poet. Of his elegies one only, consisting of twenty-one lines, is extant.
Flourished B.C. 680-668. Contemp. 2 Kings xxi., 2 Chronicles xxxiii.
The poems of Tyrtæus are of two kinds, namely, elegies inciting to constancy and courage, and songs which were intended to be sung by soldiers when on their march, and which were accompanied by the music of the flute. The design of his poems was to animate the courage of the Spartans in their conflict with the Messenians.
Flourished B.C. 634-600. Contemp. 2 Kings xxiii., 2 Chronicles xxxiv.-xxxvi.,
An elegiac poet, a native of Smyrna. The instability of human happiness, the helplessness of man, the cares and miseries of life, and the wretchedness of old age, form the subject of his lays; the poet's maxim being very like that referred to by St. Paul, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
Flourished B.C. 611-590.
Contemp. 2 Kings xxiv.-xxv., 2 Chronicles xxxvi.,
His odes were
The earliest of the Æolian lyric poets, born at Mytilene, in Lesbos.
of a warlike character. Some fragments of them remain; imitations of others are to be found in Horace. The time of his death is uncertain.
Flourished B.C. 610-592. Contemp. 2 Kings xxiv.-xxv., 2 Chronicles xxxvi., Jeremiah, Ezekiel.
A native of Mytilene. Sappho composed nine books in lyric verses, besides epigrams, elegies, &c.: of all these only some few fragments are extant. Plutarch compares the inspiration of her poems to that of the Pythoness. The Lesbians esteemed her verses so highly that after her death they raised temples and altars, and paid divine honours to her. Her most important poem is a splendid ode to Venus.
Flourished B.C. 559-478. Contemp. Ezra, Esther, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah.
A'celebrated lyric poet, of whose poems only a few genuine fragments have come down to us. He is represented as a consummate voluptuary, and his songs, which treat of love and wine, confirm this character. He was a native of Teos, in Asia Minor. His death was characteristic, being caused, it is said, by swallowing a grape stone while in the act of drinking.
Flourished B.C. 548-490. Contemp. Ezra i.-vi., Esther, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah.
An elegiac and gnomic poet. Many of his verses are of a political nature, others of a social and festive character. They contain much that is highly poetical in thought, and elegant, as well as forcible, in expression. They abound also in prudential maxims and moral precepts.
Flourished B.C. 544. Contemp. See Theognis.
An Ionian poet, of whose writings only some fragments, eighteen in number, are extant.
Flourished B.C. 540-510. Contemp. see Theognis.
Pythagoras is said by Plutarch never to have written anything. He was the founder of a sect of philosophers who flourished till the end of the reign of Alexander, and the
Golden verses, Aurea carmina, attributed to him, are supposed to express his doctrines and opinions as written down and preserved by his disciples. He seems to have maintained that the world had a beginning, and was made by God, the principle of all things, and that the soul was immortal, and a part of the divine essence.
This great man is supposed to have introduced into Greece the doctrine of the hypostases of the Trinity. He also treats of the divine nature under the term of a Tetrad or Tetractys, by which he perhaps intended to express the TETRAGRAMMATON, or Hebrew name of JEHOVAH.
Pythagoras was educated at Samos, and during his travels in search of knowledge visited Jerusalem, Egypt, Crete, Sparta, and Italy, conversing with Pherecydes, Thales, and other sages. He made himself acquainted with the laws of Zoroastres, Minos, and Lycurgus, and was distinguished for his efforts in the cause of truth, morality, and virtue. The Pythagoreans held the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, which was regarded chiefly as a process of purification. Souls under the dominion of sensuality were either passed into the bodies of animals or, if incurable, were thrust down into Tartarus. The pure were exalted to a higher state of life, and at last to an incorporeal existence. The most noted Pythagoreans were men of great uprightness, conscientiousness, and self-restraint.
Many of the Golden Verses appear to have been derived from the laws and precepts of Moses.
Born B.c. 522. Died B.C. 442. Contemp. Ezra v.-vi., Esther, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah. Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of Greece, was born at Thebes, in Boeotia, of a noble family celebrated for its skill in music. The only poems which survive entire are the Epinicia or triumphal odes, viz., the Olympic, the Pythian, the Nemean, and the Isthmian. Pindar appears to have embraced the Pythagorean philosophy: he represents the deities as of the same origin as men, both being derived from a common mother; but he speaks of a supreme God whom he denominates the most powerful, the lord and cause of all things. He describes the soul as immaterial, and alludes to the happy condition of men in a future state of reward. Clement of Alexandria affirms that Pindar borrowed many things from the sacred writings, and chiefly from the Proverbs of Solomon.
Born B.C. 525.
Contemp. see Pindarus.
This celebrated tragic poet was born at Eleusis, in Attica. He is said to have written seventy tragedies, of which seven only are extant. He appears to have been a Pythagorean in his opinions, and makes a distinction between Jupiter and the other gods; but Plato observes that his works ought not to be read by the young, because he speaks of the gods with too little respect. In his mythology there is a general reference to principles originating in revelation; and the history of Prometheus contains passages so striking that some of the fathers of the Church regarded them as bearing a mysterious reference to the passion of our Saviour and to the benefits resulting from it to mankind.
The proverbs and forms of speech which are used by Prometheus, and which are in some instances nearly the same as those employed by the Evangelists, can be regarded only as accidental coincidences of thought and expression.
Born B.C. 495. Died B.C. 406. Contemp. Ezra vi., Esther, Nehemiah.
Sophocles, a native of Colone, in Attica, was distinguished both as a poet and a statesman. He wrote for the stage with great applause, and obtained the poetical prize on twenty different occasions. Of 120, or as some say, 70 tragedies which Sophocles composed, only seven are extant. His Edipus rex is considered to be the finest tragedy of antiquity. He appears to have taken delight in describing noble characters and in expressing generous affections. He speaks of the Supreme God in a manner superior to the vulgar notions of his time, and which seems to raise the great object of adoration with distinction above the deities of the heathen. There are some modes of expression and sentiment in Sophocles which harmonise with passages in Scripture. He commends piety as acceptable to God and imperishable.
Born B.c. 480; Died B.c. 406. Contemp. see Sophocles.
Euripides was born at Salamis, on the very day of the Grecian victory near that island. He received a costly education, studying physics under Anaxagoras, and rhetoric under Prodicus. Anaxagoras taught the principles of Thales at Athens, and maintained that the universe did not result from chance or necessity, but was the work of an eternal and incorporeal mind, by which all things were created and preserved. Euripides lived on terms of intimacy with Socrates, who was his fellow-student, as was also Pericles. The tragedies of Euripides were upwards of ninety in number, but only nineteen of them are extant. He appears to have aimed at the instruction of his hearers, and to have endeavoured to promote piety, constancy, and prudence: there are some passages in his plays which assert the providence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of future punishments. Many of the characters in the plays of Euripides are supposed to have been derived from sacred originals. There are also expressions and forms of speech which bear a strong resemblance to those of Scripture.
Born B.C. 484; Died B.C. 408. Contemp. see Sophocles.
Herodotus, the father of history, was born at Halicarnassus, of a noble family; but left his native city at an early age in order to escape from the oppressive government of the tyrant Lygdamis. He spent many years in travelling, and visited nearly every country and city of note, in order to collect materials for his great historical work. He travelled through Egypt, Lybia, Asia Minor, and Syria; visited the cities of Babylon, Ecbatana, and Susa, explored the whole of Greece proper, and most of the islands, and penetrated northwards as far as Thrace, and the borders of the Black Sea. His observations were made with much judgment, and the accuracy of his descriptions is remarkable. The History of Herodotus is divided into nine books, which bear the names of the nine Muses it contains an account of the wars of the Persians against the Greeks, from the age of Cyrus to the defeat of Xerxes at Mycale. The whole work is pervaded by a deep religious sentiment, and gives evidence of a most profound reverence for everything sacred or divine.
Amongst the variety of relations which this historian furnishes of ancient times, many particulars may be collected which bear testimony to facts mentioned by the sacred writers; and there are frequent general notices and allusions which tend to corroborate the narratives of sacred history.
Born B.C. 471; Died B.C. 401.
The author of the History of the Peloponnesian War was an Athenian, of whom Lucian relates that while yet a boy, being present at the Olympic games, when Herodotus read his history to the Greeks, he was so touched by the applause bestowed upon the historian that he burst into tears. Thucydides bore a part in the Peloponnesian war, and the expedition which he commanded for the relief of Amphipolis having been unsuccessful, he was banished from Athens. His history was written Thrace, during the twenty years of his exile, and was interrupted by his death. He wrote in the Attic dialect, and stands unrivalled for the conciseness, vigour, and energy of his narration.
Thucydides appears to have been a man of great probity and modesty; and the candour and impartiality which he displays in his history are remarkable.
Born B.C. 444; Died B.C. 380.
The comedies of Aristophanes are of the highest historical interest, on account of the pictures they present, though caricatured and exaggerated, of the leading men of Athens, and of the social condition of that city, of which he was most probably a native. Aristophanes, with all his buffoonery, was a zealous patriot, and opposed himself to the powerful misleaders of the people, and to the new theories of the sophists by whom both the religious creed and moral principles of the Athenians were endangered. Suidas says that Aristophanes was the author of fifty-four plays, of which eleven only are now in existence.