A Sympotic Self: Instruction through Inebriation in Anacreon
Miller, Peter J.
Miller, P. J. "A Sympotic Self: Instruction through Inebriation in Anacreon." Mouseion 15.1 (2018): 131-147. DOI: 10.3138/mous.15.1.9.
As early as the fifth century, Anacreon was the poet of wine, love, and song; even his death—choking on a pip—is attributed to the grape. The fact that the symposion looms large in the extant fragments is, therefore, hardly surprising. In this article, I examine Anacreon’s sympotic verse and its moral quality. While the ethical character of Xenophanes’ and Theognis’ sympotic fragments has been acknowledged, most scholars consider Anacreon as a poet of love, rather than of moral instruction. Recently, Lear and Hobden have begun to address the moral and instructive character of Anacreon’s verse. I build on these analyses by examining the Anacreontic speaker’s presentation of moral value through his own person; there are 46 first-person statements in Anacreon, an important fact considering the narrative and psychological potency of “I” statements in early Greek lyric. In contrast to gnomic statements that purport to be generalized prescriptions, Anacreon’s performative “I” offers an alternative mode of moralizing delivery. These first persons, however, are not the same person: Anacreon gives a multitude of perspectives on appropriate sympotic behaviour. I read the Anacreontic speaker’s diverse and changing persona as a challenging and embodied moral perspective, which destabilizes the idea of a true self, and consequently denies the stereotyping of ancient poetic biography. By enunciating Anacreon’s songs, the speaker puts his own body and individuality into play in the “educative” space of the symposion. In Anacreon’s verse, the self itself becomes the space on which sympotic instructions—moral imperatives—are inscribed and displayed to others.