Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Writing and literature: Alcman and Tyrtaeus

See text: pp.109-110

Read Tyrtaios in Greek here.


  • 2nd half 7th Century
  • poetry sung by men, esp. army
  • wrote about patriotism, courage, honour, disgrace
  • didactic: to teach the right attitudes
  • only fragments survive, mostly from quotation in other works (e.g., Fragment 1b on the Spartan government is quoted by Plutarch in “Life of Lycurgus” 6)
  • probably a native Spartan
  • key virtues: courage, discipline, manliness
  • conquest of Messenia after 20 years of fighting under King Theopompos. Describes the worn out messenian helots: must give half their harvest to their masters.
  • politically conservative – praises eunomia

“It is a beautiful thing when a good man dies fighting for his fatherland.” (Fragment 7)

“When men stand one next to the other... a few men are killed, but they save the men behind them. When men run away, all virtue is lost.” (Fragment 8)

Calliope, Muse of epic poetry

  • middle 7th Century
  • Greek choral poet – the first whose works have survived
  • may have some from Sardis in Asia Minor or been a native Spartan
  • describes the natural attractions of the region, e.g. mountains, seasons, birds
  • Choir master. Wrote for maiden chorus. Accompanied them on lyre.

Read Partheneion, p.110 and answer the questions.

Read the Nature's Calm and answer the question which follows.

by: Alcman
external image t_pic.gifHE mountain brows, the rocks, the peaks, are sleeping, Uplands and gorges hush! The thousand moorland things are stillness keeping; The beasts under each bush Crouch, and the hivèd bees Rest in their honeyed ease; In the purple sea fish lie as they were dead, And each bird folds his wing over his head.
This English translation, by Edwin Arnold, of 'Nature's Calm' is reprinted from Greek Poets in English Verse. Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

In what ways is the poetry of Alcman different from that of Tyrtaeos?
Refer to the purpose, audience and the main concerns of each poet.

Click here to listen to a reading of a fragment of Alcman's poetry in Ancient Greek.