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Thomas Bulfinch: Simonides

On one occasion, when the poet was residing at the court of Scopas, king of Thessaly, the prince desired Simonides to prepare a poem in celebration of his exploits, to be recited at a banquet. In order to diversify his theme, Simonides, who was celebrated for his piety, introduced into his poem the exploits of Castor and Pollux. Such digressions were not unusual with the poets on similar occasions, and one might suppose an ordinary mortal might have been content to share the praises of the sons of Leda. But vanity is exacting; and as Scopas sat at his festal board among his courtiers and sycophants, he grudged every verse that did not rehearse his own praises. When Simonides approached to receive the promised reward Scopas bestowed but half the expected sum, saying, “Here is payment for my portion of thy performance; Castor and Pollux will doubtless compensate thee for so much as relates to them.” The disconcerted poet returned to his seat amidst the laughter which followed the great man’s jest. In a little time he received a message that two young men on horseback were waiting without and anxious to see him. Simonides hastened to the door, but looked in vain for the visitors. Scarcely, however, had he left the banqueting hall when the roof fell in with a loud crash, burying Scopas and all his guests beneath the ruins. On inquiring as to the appearance of the young men who had sent for him, Simonides was satisfied that they were no other than Castor and Pollux themselves.

Public Domain

From The Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes by Thomas Bulfinch.

Simonides of Ceos (556–468 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, born in Ioulis on the island of Ceos. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria included him in the canonical list of the nine lyric poets esteemed by them as worthy of critical study. Simonides made his living by singing praises of the kings and heroes of his day.

Thomas Bulfinch (1796 – 1867) was an American writer born in Newton, Massachusetts, best known for Bulfinch’s Mythology, the posthumous combination of his three volumes of mythologies.

Detail of a mosaic in Pompeii (House of the Tragic Poet) showing a poet

3 comments on “Thomas Bulfinch: Simonides

  1. Arlene Weiner
    December 30, 2022

    Simonides then was able to identify those who had died by remembering where people had sat, beginning a mnemonic technique sometimes called the Memory Palace.


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