Lycophron was a Hellenistic Greek
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 tragic poet, grammarian, and commentator on comedy, to whom the poem Alexandra is attributed (perhaps falsely).

Life and miscellaneous works

He was born at Chalcis
Chalcis or Chalkida , the chief town of the island of Euboea in Greece, is situated on the strait of the Evripos at its narrowest point. The name is preserved from antiquity and is derived from the Greek χαλκός , though there is no trace of any mines in the area...

 in Euboea
Euboea is the second largest Greek island in area and population, after Crete. The narrow Euripus Strait separates it from Boeotia in mainland Greece. In general outline it is a long and narrow, seahorse-shaped island; it is about long, and varies in breadth from to...

, and flourished at Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 BC). According to the Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

, the massive tenth century Byzantine Greek historical encyclopedia, he was the son of Socles, but was adopted by Lycus of Rhegium. He was entrusted by Ptolemy with the task of arranging the comedies in the Library of Alexandria
Library of Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt, was the largest and most significant great library of the ancient world. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the...

; as the result of his labours he composed a treatise On Comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

. Lycophron is also said to have been a skilful writer of anagram
An anagram is a type of word play, the result of rearranging the letters of a word or phrase to produce a new word or phrase, using all the original letters exactly once; e.g., orchestra = carthorse, A decimal point = I'm a dot in place, Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort. Someone who...



The poetic compositions of Lycophron chiefly consisted of tragedies
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

, which secured him a place in the Pleiad of Alexandrian tragedians
Alexandrian Pleiad
The Alexandrian Pleiad is the name given to a group of seven Alexandrian poets and tragedians in the 3rd century BC working in the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphus...

. The Suda gives the titles of twenty tragedies, of which a very few fragments have been preserved. Among these, a few well-turned lines show a much better style than the Alexandra. Lycophron's tragedies are said to have been much admired by Menedemus of Eretria
Menedemus of Eretria was a Greek philosopher and founder of the Eretrian school. He learned philosophy first in Athens, and then, with his friend Asclepiades, he subsequently studied under Stilpo and Phaedo of Elis. Nothing survives of his philosophical views apart from a few scattered remarks...

, although Lycophron had ridiculed him in a satyr play
Satyr play
Satyr plays were an ancient Greek form of tragicomedy, similar in spirit to burlesque. They featured choruses of satyrs, were based on Greek mythology, and were rife with mock drunkenness, brazen sexuality , pranks, sight gags, and general merriment.Satyric drama was one of the three varieties of...


The Alexandra

One poem traditionally attributed to him, Alexandra or Cassandra, has been preserved in its complete form, running to 1474 iambic trimeter
Iambic trimeter
iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry consisting of three iambic units per line.In ancient Greek poetry, iambic trimeter is a quantitative meter, in which a line consisted of three iambic metra and each metron consisted of two iambi...

s. It consists of a prophecy uttered by Cassandra
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy...

, and relates the later fortunes of Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

 and of the Greek and Trojan heroes. References to events of mythical and later times are introduced, and the poem ends with a reference to Alexander the Great, who was to unite Asia and Europe in his world-wide empire.

The style obtained for the poem's author, even among the ancients, the title of "obscure"; one modern scholar says the Alexandra "may be the most illegible piece of classical literature, one which nobody can read without a proper commentary and which even then makes very difficult reading." The poem is evidently intended to display the writer's knowledge of obscure names and uncommon myths; it is full of unusual words of doubtful meaning gathered from the older poets, and long-winded compounds coined by the author. It was probably written as a show-piece for the Alexandrian school, rather than as straight poetry. It was very popular in the Byzantine period, and was read and commented on very frequently; the manuscripts of the Cassandra are numerous. Two explanatory paraphrases of the poem survive, and the collection of scholia by Isaac and John Tzetzes
John Tzetzes
John Tzetzes was a Byzantine poet and grammarian, known to have lived at Constantinople during the 12th century.Tzetzes was Georgian on his mother's side...

 is very valuable (much used by, among others, Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

 in his Greek Myths
The Greek Myths
The Greek Myths is a mythography, a compendium of Greek mythology, by the poet and writer Robert Graves, normally published in two volumes....


A pseudepigraphic work?

Some modern studies have concluded that the Alexandra cannot be the work of the third-century BC author; in one scholar's summary of this view, the poem was:
written in the immediate aftermath of the victory of Flamininus at Cynoscephalae over Philip V of Macedon
Philip V of Macedon
Philip V was King of Macedon from 221 BC to 179 BC. Philip's reign was principally marked by an unsuccessful struggle with the emerging power of Rome. Philip was attractive and charismatic as a young man...

 in 197/6 BC. The author, whose true name and place of origin are probably concealed beneath the impenetrably enigmatic biographical tradition concerning "Lycophron," probably used the name, and some of the literary substance, of Lycophron, not in emulation, but as an ironic reminiscence of the earlier writer, who had combined the practice of tragedy and the elucidation of comedy. Only on this assumption of a deliberate pseudepigraphon can the full irony of his work be appreciated.

The question turns on passages in the poem (1226–1280; cf. 1446-1450) that describe Roman dominance in terms that only fit the situation after the Second Macedonian War
Second Macedonian War
The Second Macedonian War was fought between Macedon, led by Philip V of Macedon, and Rome, allied with Pergamon and Rhodes. The result was the defeat of Philip who was forced to abandon all his possessions in Greece...

. Cassandra prophesies that her Trojan ancestors' descendants "shall with their spears win the foremost crown of glory, obtaining the sceptre and monarchy of earth and sea" and elaborates with allusions to the course of historical events. Some scholars, such as Stephanie West, regard these passages as interpolations
Interpolation (manuscripts)
An interpolation, in relation to literature and especially ancient manuscripts, is an entry or passage in a text that was not written by the original author...

 and defend the attribution of the bulk of the poem to Lycophron the tragic poet.

Further reading

  • Aldus Manutius
    Aldus Manutius
    Aldus Pius Manutius , the Latinised name of Aldo Manuzio —sometimes called Aldus Manutius, the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Aldus Manutius, the Younger—was an Italian humanist who became a printer and publisher when he founded the Aldine Press at Venice.His publishing legacy includes...

     (1513), Aldine Press
    Aldine Press
    Aldine Press was the printing office started by Aldus Manutius in 1494 in Venice, from which were issued the celebrated Aldine editions of the classics . The Aldine Press is famous in the history of typography, among other things, for the introduction of italics...

    , editio princeps
    Editio princeps
    In classical scholarship, editio princeps is a term of art. It means, roughly, the first printed edition of a work that previously had existed only in manuscripts, which could be circulated only after being copied by hand....

  • John Potter (1697, 1702)
  • Ludwig Bachmann (1830) online
  • Félix Désiré Dehèque (1853) online
  • Gottfried Kinkel
    Gottfried Kinkel
    Johann Gottfried Kinkel was a German poet also noted for his revolutionary activities and his escape from a Prussian prison in Spandau with the help of his friend Carl Schurz.-Early life:...

  • Eduard Scheer (1881–1908), including the paraphrases and Tzetzian scholia
  • Carl von Holzinger (1895), Teubner edition with commentary online
  • Emanuele Ciaceri (1901) online
  • Lorenzo Mascialino (1964), Teubner edition
  • André Hurst and Antje Kolde (2008), Budé
    Collection Budé
    The Collection Budé, or the Collection des Universités de France, is a series of books comprising the Greek and Latin classics up to the middle of the 6th century...

  • Pascal Quignard
    Pascal Quignard
    Pascal Quignard is a French writer born in Verneuil-sur-Avre, Eure. In 2002 his novel Les Ombres errantes won the Prix Goncourt, France's top literary prize. Terrasse à Rome , received the French Academy prize in 2000...

    , Lycophron. Alexandra, Paris, Mercure de France (1971)

English translations
  • Philip Yorke, Viscount Royston
    Philip Yorke, Viscount Royston
    Philip Yorke, Viscount Royston , was a British politician.Yorke was the eldest son of Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke, by Lady Elizabeth, daughter of James Lindsay, 5th Earl of Balcarres. He was the grandson of Charles Yorke and the nephew of Charles Philip Yorke and Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke...

     (1784 - 1808, posthumously published 1832) online
  • A. W. Mair (1921), Loeb Classical Library
    Loeb Classical Library
    The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by Harvard University Press, which presents important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each...

     online copy 2
  • George W. Mooney (1921)

  • J. Konze, De Dictione Lycophronis (1870)
  • Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff
    Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff
    Enno Friedrich Wichard Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff was a German Classical Philologist. Wilamowitz, as he is known in scholarly circles, was a renowned authority on Ancient Greece and its literature.- Youth :...

    , De Lycophronis Alexandra (1884) online

External links

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