Compiled and edited by Bob Blair. See Bob's introductory comments below.
I wish I had enough Greek to discuss the work of Anacreon as it has come down from antiquity. Instead, I am in the position of most of you: trying to get a feeling for the original from its more modern interpretations.
Anacreon was a Greek. He probably lived from around 570 B.C. to 475 B.C. We know a little about his life. He was born in Teos, a Greek settlement in Asia Minor. In his youth, he was among the early Greek colonizers of Thrace. He was acquainted with some of the most politically powerful Greeks of his time, including Polycrates of Samos and Pisistratus of Athens. He was reputed to be a popular satirist and love-poet, and at least some of his works were preserved by the Romans.
Only fragments of Anacreon's work still exist. Most of the poems we today recognize as Anacreontic were preserved in the Greek Anthologia, although significant fragments are quoted in the works of other ancients. The most extensive collection of Anacreon's verse is held at the Vatican. It is there that Thomas Moore, perhaps the most meticulous of the interpreters of Anacreon, did his research.
European translation of the Odes began in France, and it is there that the Western tradition of Anacreontic verse was born. Though Anacreon wrote in regular Greek measures, his poems have been traditionally rendered into Western languages in rhymed trochaic tetrametric couplets.
The subject matter of the Odes has always been a problem for Western interpreters. Several of them have sexual themes, and at least one strongly suggests a homosexual attachment. Of the poets whose paraphrases are presented here, only Moore chose to render some of the racier verses, and he also forbore to present certain passages. What is left after the filter of the translators' sensibilities, however, is still robust and entertaining.
This collection presents the paraphrases -- I don't think that Greek poetry can really be translated -- of three major English interpreters of Anacreon:
Bob Blair, September 13, 1999