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Rhianus


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Poet and scholar; born c.275 bc at Bene (?Lebena) or Ceraea; began life as a slave, working as attendant at a wrestling-school, but was later educated and became a schoolteacher. One of his epigrams (70 Powell) mentions Troezen, and it has been conjectured that he moved to mainland Greece.

works Rhianus produced an influential edition of Homer, more conservative than Zenodotus of Ephesus'. He also wrote epigrams (66–76 Powell), mostly on erotic themes, but was best known as a prolific writer of epic poetry. Only small fragments (mostly geographical names) survive of his Heracleia (probably in 14 books), possibly modelled on that of Panyassis of Halicarnassus, and of the ethnographical epics Thessalica (at least 16 books), Achaïca (at least 4 books), and Eliaca (at least 3 books). We are better informed about the Messeniaca (at least 6 books): two papyrus fragments (Suppl. Hell. 923, 946) have been plausibly attributed to it, and the travel-writer Pausanias used it as a source for his narrative (4. 14–24) of the ‘Second Messenian War’. It recounted the uprising of the Messenians, led by Aristomenes, against Spartan rule, the siege and fall of their stronghold on Mt. Hira, the adventures of the defeated insurgents, and Aristomenes' death in Rhodes. (Historians generally place these events in the early 5th cent.; but H. T. Wade-Gery (in E. Badian (ed.), Ancient Society and its Institutions (1966), 289–302) argues for a dating c.600.) We cannot determine which elements in Pausanias can be ascribed to Rhianus, but such episodes as Aristomenes' affair with the priestess (4. 17. 1), his escape from prison (4. 18. 5–6), and the adulterous intrigue of the herdsman double-agent (4. 20. 5–10) have a poetic flavour. It is not known to which, if any, of the epics the longest fragment (1 Powell) belongs: some regard it as a complete poem; its 21 lines, on human folly, written in straightforward Homerizing style with an admixture of Hesiodic diction, are sometimes interpreted as an attack on the pretensions of Hellenistic monarchs.

Rhianus represents a type of poetry very different from that of Callimachus, but the scantiness of his surviving fragments makes aesthetic judgements hazardous.

Frederick John Williams

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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