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Melanippides of Melos (5th century BC) was the most famous lyre-player of the Classical period. It was said that he had increased the number of lyre strings from eleven to twelve. Innovations in the composition of dithyrambs (hymns in praise of Dionysus) are also attributed to him. He spent the last years of his life at the court of the Macedonian king Perdikkas II. Fragments of three of his works, "Marsyas", "Danaides" and "Persephone", have survived .
This text is cited May 2003 from the Macedonian Heritage URL below.
Melanippides. A celebrated Greek lyric poet in the department of the dithyramb, who flourished about B.C. 440 at Melos. His fragments will be found in Bergk, Poet. Lyric. Graec.
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Dithyrambus (dithurambos). A hymn sung at the festivals of Dionysus to the accompaniment of a flute and a dance round the altar. . .
There was a very considerable number of dithyrambic poets. The best known are Melanippides (q.v.) of Melos (about B.C. 415), who is generally held responsible for the degeneracy of the dithyramb and the excess of instrumental music; his disciple Philoxenus of Cythera, who died in 380; Timotheus of Miletus, who died in 357, and his contemporaries Polyidus and Telestes. Of the whole literature we possess nothing but fragments.
This extract is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Feb 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Diagoras the Atheist, lyric poet, 5th c. B.C.
A native of the island of Melos and a follower of Democritus. Having been sold as a captive in his youth, he was redeemed by Democritus and trained up in the study of philosophy. He attached himself also to lyric poetry and was much distinguished for his success. His name, however, has been transmitted to posterity as that of an avowed advocate for the rejection of all religious belief. It is expressly asserted by ancient writers that when, in a particular instance, he saw a perjured person escape punishment, he publicly declared his disbelief of Divine Providence, and from that time spoke of the gods and all religious ceremonies with ridicule and contempt. He even attempted to lay open the sacred Mysteries, writing two books on the subject, called Phrugioi. A price at last was set upon his head, and he fled to Corinth, where he died. He lived about 416 years before Christ ( Cic. N. D.i. 23; iii. 37; Val. Max. i. 1. 7).
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Feb 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Diagoras, the son of Telecleides or Teleclytus, was born in the island of Melos
(Milo), one of the Cyclades. He was a poet and a philosopher, who throughout antiquity
was regarded as an atheist (atheos). With the exception of this one point, we
possess only very scanty information concerning his life and literary activity.
All that is known is carefully collected by M. H. E. Meier (in Ersch. u. Gruber's
Allgem. Encyclop. xxiv.).
The age of this remarkable man can be determined only in a general
way by the fact of his being called a disciple of Democritus of Abdera, who taught
about B. C. 436. But the circumstance that, besides Bacchylides (about B. C. 435),
Pindar also is called his contemporary, is a manifest anachronism, as has been
already observed by Brandis. (Gesch. d. Griech. Rom. Philos. i.) Nearly all the
ancient authorities agree that Melos was his native place, and Tatian, a late
Christian writer, who calls him an Athenian, does so probably for no other reason
but because Athens was the principal scene of the activity of Diagoras. (Tatian,
Orat. adv. Graec.) Lobeck (Aglaoph.) is the only one among modern critics who
maintains that the native country of Diagoras is uncertain. According to a tradition
in Hesychius Milesius and Suidas, Democritus the philosopher ransomed him for
a very large sum from the captivity into which he had fallen in the cruel subjugation
of Melos under Alcibiades (B. C. 411), and this account at all events serves to
attest the close personal relation of these two kindredminded men, although the
details respecting the ransom, for instance, may be incorrect. The same authorities
further state, that in his youth Diagoras had acquired some reputation as a lyric
poet, and this is probably the cause of his being mentioned together with the
lyric poets Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides. Thus he is said to have composed
aismata, mele, paianes, enkomia, and dithyrambs. Among his encomia is mentioned
in particular an eulogy on Arianthes of Argos, who is otherwise unknown, (1) another
on Nicodorus, a statesman of Mantineia, and a third upon the Mantineians. Diagoras
is said to have lived in intimate friendship with Nicodorus, who was celebrated
as a statesman and lawgiver in his native place, and lived, according to Perizonius
(ad Aelian. V. H. ii. 23), at the time of Artaxerxes Mnemon. The foolish Aelian,
who has preserved this statement, declines any further discussion of this relation,
although he knew more about it, under the pretext that he thought it objectionable
to say anything in praise of a man who was so hostile to the gods (Deois echthron
Diagoran). But still he informs us, that Diagoras assisted Nicodorus in his legislation,
which he himself praises as very wise and good. Wachsmuth (Hellen. Alterth. i.
2) places this political activity of the two friends about the beginning of the
We find Diagoras at Athens as early as B. C. 424, for Aristophanes
in the Clouds (830), which were performed in that year, alludes to him as a well-known
character; and when Socrates, as though it were a mistake, is there called a Melian,
tile poet does so in order to remind his hearers at once of Diagoras and of his
attacks upon the popular religion. In like manner Hippon is called a Melian, merely
because he was a follower of Diagoras. It can scarcely be doubted that Diagoras
was acquainted with Socrates, a connexion which is described in the scholia on
Aristophanes as if he had been a teacher of Socrates. Fifteen years later, B.
C. 411, he was involved, as Diodorus (xiii. 6) informs us, by the democratical
party in a lawsuit about impiety (diaboles tuchon ep asebeiai), and he thought
it advisable to escape its result by flight. Religion seems to have been only
the pretext for that accusation, for the mere fact of his being a Melian made
him an object of suspicion with the people of Athens. In B. C. 416, Melos had
been conquered and cruelly treated by the Athenians, and it is not at all impossible
that Diagoras, indignant at such treatment, may have taken part in the party-strife
at Athens, and thus have drawn upon himself the suspicion of the democratical
party, for the opinion that heterodoxy was persecuted at Athens, and that the
priests in particular busied themselves about such matters, is devoid of all foundation.
(Bernhardy, Gesch. d. Griech. Lit. i.) All the circumstances of the case lead
us to the conclusion, that the accusation of Diagoras was altogether and essentially
of a political nature.
All that we know of his writings, and especially of his poems, shews
no trace of irreligion, but on the contrary contains evidence of the most profound
religious feeling. (Philodemus in the Herculanens. ed. Drummond and Walpole) Moreover,
we do not find that out of Athens the charge of asebeia was taken notice of in
any other part of Greece. All that we know for certain on the point is, that Diagoras
was one of those philosophers who, like Socrates, certainly gave offence by their
views concerning the worship of the national gods; but we know what liberties
the Attic comedy could take in this respect with impunity. There is also an anecdote
that Diagoras, for want of other fire-wood, once threw a wooden statue of Heracles
into the fire, in order to cook a dish of lentils, and, if there is any truth
in it, it certainly shews his liberal views respecting polytheism and the rude
worship of images. (Meier, l. c.) In like manner he may have ridiculed the common
notions of the people respecting the actions of the gods, and their direct and
personal interference with human affairs. This, too, is alluded to in several
very characteristic anecdotes. For example, on his flight from Athens by sea to
Pallene he was overtaken by a storm, and on hearing his fellowpassengers say,
that this storm was sent them by the gods as a punishment, because they had an
atheist on board, Diagoras shewed them other vessels at some distance which were
struggling with the same storm without having a Diagoras on board. (Cic. de Nat.
Deor. iii. 37.) This and similar anecdotes (Diog. Laert. vi. 59) accurately describe
the relation in which our philosopher stood to the popular religion. That he maintained
his own position with great firmness, and perhaps with more freedom, wit, and
boldness than was advisable, seems to be attested by the fact, that he in particular
obtained the epithet of atheos in antiquity. Many modern writers maintain that
this epithet ought not to be given to him, because he merely denied the direct
interference of God with the world; but though atheists, in the proper sense of
the word, have never existed, and in that sense Diagoras was certainly not an
atheist, yet as he did not believe in the personal existence of the Athenian gods
and their human mode of acting, the Athenians could hardly have regarded him as
other than an atheist. In the eulogy on his friend Nicodorus he sang
Kata daimona kai tuchan ta panta Brotoisin ekteleitai.
But to return to the accusation of Diagoras, in consequence of which
he was obliged to quit Athens. That time was one in which scepticism was beginning
to undermine the foundations of the ancient popular belief. The trial of those
who had broken down the statues of Hermes, the profanation of the mysteries, and
the accusation of Alcibiades, are symptoms which shew that the unbelief, nourished
by the speculations of philosophers and by the artifices of the sophists, began
to appear very dangerous to the conservative party at Athens. There is no doubt
that Diagoras paid no regard to the established religion of the people, and he
may occasionally have ridiculed it; but he also ventured on direct attacks upon
public institutions of the Athenian worship, such as the Eleusinian mysteries,
which he endeavoured to lower in public estimation, and he is said to have prevented
many persons from becoming initiated in them. These at least are the points of
which the ancients accuse him (Craterus, ap. Scol. Aristoph. l. c. ; Tarrhaeus,
ap. Said.; Lysias, c. Andocid.; Joseph. c. Apion. ii. 37; Tatian, adv. Graec.),
and this statement is also supported by the circumstance, that Melanthius, in
his work on the mysteries, mentions the decree passed against Diagoras. But, notwithstanding
the absence of accurate information, we can discover political motives through
all these religious disputes. Diagoras was a Melian, and consequently belonged
to the Doric race ; he was a friend of the Doric Mantineia, which was hated by
Athens, and had only recently given up its alliance with Athens; the Dorians and
Ionians were opposed to each other in various points of their worship, and this
spark of hostility was kindled into a glowing hatred by the Peloponnesian war.
Diagoras fled from Athens in time to escape the consequences of the attacks which
his enemies had made upon him. He was therefore punished by Steliteusis, that
is, he was condemned, and the psephisma was engraved on a column, promising a
prize for his head, and one talent to the person who should bring his dead body
to Athens, and two talents to him who should deliver him up alive to the Athenians.
(Schol. ad Aristoph. Av. 1013, 1073; Diod. xiii. 6.) Melanthius, in his work on
the mysteries, had preserved a copy of this psephisma. That the enemies of the
philosopher acted on that occasion with great injustice and animosity towards
him, we may infer from the manner in which Aristophanes, in his Birds, which was
brought upon the stage in that year, speaks of the matter; for he describes that
decree as having been framed in the republic of the birds, and ridicules it by
the ludicrous addition that a prize was offered to any one who should kill a dead
tyrant. Meier, with full justice, infers from this passage of Aristophanes, that
the poet did not approve of the proceedings of the people, who were instigated
by their leaders, had become frightened about the preservation of the constitution,
and were thus misled to various acts of violence. The mere fact that Aristophanes
could venture upon such an insinuation shews that Diagoras was by no means in
the same bad odour with all the Athenians.
From Athens Diagoras first went to Pallene (2) in Achaia, which town
was on the side of Lacedaemon from the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, and
before any other of the Achaean towns. (Thuc. ii. 9.) It was in vain that the
Athenians demanded his surrender, and in consequence of this refusal, they included
the inhabitants of Pallene in the same decree which had been passed against Diagoras.
This is a symptom of that fearful passion and blindness with which the Athenian
people, misguided as it was by demagogues, tore itself to pieces in those unfortunate
trials about those who had upset the Hermae. (Wachsmuth, l. c. i. 2; Droysen,
in his Introduct. to the Birds of Aristoph.) For all that we know of Diagoras,
his expressions and opinions, his accusation and its alleged cause, leads us to
see in him one of the numberless persons who were suspected, and were fortunate
enough to escape the consequences of the trial by flight. From Pallene he went
to Corinth, where, as Suidas states, he died.
Among the works of Diagoras we have mention of a work entitled Phrngioi
logoi (3), in which he is said to have theoretically explained his atheism, and
to have endeavoured to establish it by arguments. This title of the work, which
occurs also as a title among the works of Democritus and other Greek philosophers
(Diog. Laert. ix. 49, mentions the logos Phrngios of Democritus, and concerning
other works of the same title, see Lobeck, Aglaoph.), leads us to suppose that
Diagoras treated in that work of the Phrygian divinities, who were received in
Greece, and endeavoured to explain the mythuses which referred to them; it is
probable also that he drew the different mysteries within the circle of his investigations,
and it may be that his accusers at Athens referred to this work. The relation
of Diagoras to the popular religion and theology of his age cannot be explained
without going back to the opinions of his teacher, Democritus, and the intellectual
movement of the time. The atomistic philosophy had substituted for a world-governing
deity the relation of cause and effect as the sources of all things. Democritus
explained the wide-spread belief in gods as the result of fear of unusual and
unaccountable phaenomena in nature; and, starting from this principle, Diagoras,
at a time when the ancient popular belief had already been shaken, especially
in the minds of the young, came forward with the decidedly sophistical doctrine,
that there were no gods at all. His attacks seem to have been mainly directed
against the dogmas of Greek theology and mythology, as well as against the established
forms of worship. The expression of the Scholiast on Aristophanes (Ran. 323),
that Diagoras, like Socrates, introduced new divinities, must probably be referred
to the fact, that according to the fashion of the sophists, which is caricatured
by Aristophanes in the Clouds, he substituted the active powers of nature for
the activity of the gods; and some isolated statements thtt have come down to
us render it probable that he did this in a witty manner, somewhat bordering upon
frivolity; but there is no passage to shew that his disbelief in the popular gods,
and his ridicule of the established, rude, and materialistic belief of the people,
produced anything like an immoral conduct in the life and actions of the man.
On the contrary, all accounts attest that he discharged the duties of life in
an exemplary manner, that he was a moral and very estimable man, and that he was
in earnest when in the eulogy on Arianthes of Argos he said : Deos, Deos pro pantos
ergon nomai phren npertatan! We do not feel inclined, with Meier, to doubt the
statement that he distinguished himself not only as a philosopher, but also as
an orator, and that he possessed many friends and great influence; for though
we find it in an author of only secondary weight (Dion Chrysost. Horn. IV in prim.
Epist. ad Corinth. Op. v., ed. Montf.), yet it perfectly agrees with the fate
which Diagoras experienced for the very reason that he was not an unimportant
man at Athens. (Fabric. Bibl. Graec. ii.; Brucker, Hist. Crit. Philos. i.; Thienemann,
in Fulleborn's Beitrage zur Gesch. der Philos. xi.; D. L. Mounier, Disputatio
de Diagora Melio, Roterod. 1838.)
1. The change in the constitution of Mantineia by the sunoikismos took place with
the assistance of Argos (Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterth. i. 2, i. 1), and Arianthes
of Argos was probably a person of some political importance.
2. This statement is founded upon a conjecture of Meier, who proposes to read
in the scholion on Aristoph. Av. l. c. kai tons ME ekdidontas Pelleneis.
3. Suidas calls it tous apopurgizontas logous, an explanation of which has been
attempted by Meier.
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Oct 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
Dionysodorus of Melos, 3rd cent. BC
Dionysodorus, the mathematicians, bearing the same name as the Melian geometer
- Perseus: Strabo, Geography