What is a kletic poem?

Table of Content

1. What are some of the metaphors that the poets use for love? For war? (Be sure to cite examples that are different from the ones I have used.) How does this metaphorical language deepen our understanding of what the poets are trying to say?

Considering that metaphors provide depth and inner complexity to poetry, it comes at no surprise they are so readily used in Greek lyric. Love and war, two extremes of opposite emotions, were topics often visited by several poets. Both topics, when spoken of metaphorically, provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the two. We begin to realize what associations pertaining to war or love we share or may not share with the author.

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Love can be described as many things, considering that there is no true definition for it. Likewise, metaphors for love vary in the same way. Ibycus, in his third poem writes, “Once again Love darts me a melting glance from under dark eyelids and by magical charms of all sorts entangles me in Aphrodite’s endless nets” (pg 98, lines 1-4). The author describes love as if it were a person or an entity of some sort who glances “from under dark eyelids.” Ibycus even capitalizes the “L” in love like it is a name such as Aphrodite. Anecreon writes a very similar piece which states, “…Love with the golden hair points to a girl in embroidered sandals and challenges me to play” (pg 101, poem 5, lines 2-4). Anecreon describes love as a person also, while capitalizing the “L” as well.

Sappho speaks of love in a slightly different way. In her 24th poem she says, “Once again Love drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done” (pg 62). Though Sappho also capitalizes the “L”, she describes love as an abstract being, a “creature” with no human characteristics. She also describes the creature as being bittersweet, illustrating how love can be both pleasurable and painful.

When we think of war, we think of everything else that relates to it. Most if not all the metaphors which are used in poetry concerning war are those related objects or situations. Mimnermus in his sixth poem writes, “Not such was the might and manly spirit of that man…with him Pallas Athena never found fault at all, nor with the keen-edge might of his heart, when through the front lines he used to rush in war’s bloody combat…for no man was better and braver than that one, when he moved like the rays of the sun.” (pg 29-30). Mimnermus described the bravest man who, just like the rays of the sun covering an infinitesimal length of space, could be swift enough to be present everywhere on the battlefield. What is even more significant is the description of the man’s heart. While a keen-edge can be seen as an extremely sharp sword, metaphorically is describes this man’s heart as being strong and quick – a person with a solid will.

Whereas war is usually associated with blood, gore, weapons and destruction, love is usually coupled with beauty and everything dealing with beauty. As Sappho states in the beginning of poem 4, “Some say a host of horsemen is the most beautiful thing on the black earth…but I say it is whatever one loves” (pg 54). In other words, whatever you love is beautiful, and I believe it to be true. War and love differ in several ways. You will never see love in war or vice versa, however some of the emotions are similar. War is bitter, and according to Sappho and others who may have experienced it, so is love at times. Metaphors have the tendency to have the reader delve deeper, maybe revealing emotional connections about certain situations. Sometimes metaphors just depict views of situations that people haven’t experienced or even thought of, adding yet another few words to the definitions of Love or War.

2. What is a kletic poem? What types of relationships between humans and deities do these poems define?

A kletic poem is one that calls or summons a deity to come to the speaker’s assistance. Some poets ask for protection, a blessing, or even a little help with persuasion. To most poets, the gods act almost like parental figures who have the power to aid them in any way possible.

Sappho, in her third poem writes, “Kypris and you Nereids, grant that my brother arrive here unharmed and that everything his heart wishes be perfectly achieved; grant too that he atone for all his past errors and that he prove a source of joy to his friends and sorrow to his enemies; and to us may no one ever again bring trouble…” (pg 53, lines 1-8). Here Sappho requests Kypris and Nereids to keep her brother safe, and to keep him safe from the people he may be entangled with because of his “past errors.” In her fifth poem Sappho states, “Close at hand appear to me as I pray, queenly Hera, in your graceful form, you whom the sons of Atreus besought with supplication, kings renounced…now to me as well be gentle and give aid, according to that ancient usage” (pg 55, lines 1-12).

The majority of the poem describes the past event where Hera offered her help to those in need, and Sappho requests comparable help in the last two lines. Similarly, Alcaeus in his second poem requests help from the gods in an almost identical fashion. He writes, “Come to me here, leaving the island of Pelops, you mighty sons of Zeus and Leda; appear with kindly hearts, Kastor and Polydeukes, you who travel across the broad earth…and easily rescue men from death’s deep chill…in the threatening darkness bringing light to the black ship…” (pg 39). Alcaeus, praying to Kastor and Polydeukes, also includes a broad description of what the gods were capable of doing. This praise or mention of past undertakings could be found quite often in kletic poems.

Anecreon, in his 3rd poem, writes to Dionysos for a rather different reason. It says, “O lord, for whom Love the subduer, the dark-eyed Nymphs, and Aphrodite of the rosy skin are companions in play as you wander over the mountains’ lofty peaks, I entreat you, come to me in a kindly mood, and with approval listen to my prayer: to Kleoboulos offer good counsel, O Dionysos, so that he may accept my love” (pg 100). Here the author prays to Dionysos for help in a love affair (possibly asking Dionysos to persuade Anecreon’s lover into feeling the same way).

Though all kletic poems differ in some way or another, there is no doubt that the authors of these pieces wrote with great respect to the gods, just as one would respect their parents or elders. These poets, along with the rest of the people during this age, knew their place in the world, and thought of the gods as beings who ultimately oversaw the outcome of the world. It comes to no surprise then, these people relied heavily on the gods for support in their lives. Unlike modern times when skepticism of spiritual beings has factual weight, the people of ancient Greek believed their relationship(s) with the gods to be true.

3. Both Theognis and Alcaeus assume a vatic persona (i.e. they become prophets/teachers) in their poetry. What other implicit or explicit examples of this technique do you find? What is its effect? Is it legitimate for a poet to be a teacher?

In Greek lyric, when authors assume a vatic persona, the problems and situations brought up usually deal with politics and society. At other times authors just offer advice in a sort of proverbial manner. Is it legitimate for poets to teach and offer their knowledge? Though it could be argued either way, I believe their teachings to be valid.

Solon in his fourth poem speaks of what we commonly know as “balance of power”. He writes:

I took care that they too should have no unseemly share. I stood holding my strong shield about both parties, allowing neither to gain victory unjustly. The people are likely to follow their leaders best under these conditions, that they be neither given too much rein nor held too much in constraint. For excess gives birth to arrogance, whenever great prosperity attends on those among human beings whose minds are no sound. In actions of great importance it is difficult to please everyone (pg 67, lines 4-13).

Solon speaks of society functioning at its best when its citizens live with a balance of freedom and control. As for power, the author states that too much of it can lead to “arrogance” or overconfidence which inevitably is the truth. Probably the most significant line out of the entire poem is the last, where he explains how the most important decisions may not always please everyone.

This holds true to this day, in our society, when our leader(s) make certain crucial choices about problems, and not everyone comes out smiling. This is also an interesting point because it correlates with a piece written by Theoginis which says, “Kyrnos, as I work my craft let a seal be set upon these words of mine, and they will never be stolen…but all my fellow citizens I have not yet been able to please. This is nothing to wonder at, son of Polypaos, for not even Zeus pleases everyone, whether he rains or holds it back…” (pg 83, lines 1-10). Even Theoginis admits that his advice doesn’t bode well with everyone. It is also worthy to note how he mentions that even Zeus, the god of gods, also cannot please everyone all the time.

Theoginis speaks of problems with the political system in his fourth poem which says, “For though the citizens here are still of sound mind, their leaders are on a fixed course to fall into great wickedness…but when it pleases the base to grow arrogant…for the sake of their own private gain and power, do not expect that city to enjoy unshaken calm for long…gains that come with hurt to the people…for from these things come factions, the internecine slaughter of men…” (pg 83-84, lines 2-14). Here Theoginis discusses what Solon speaks of in his fourth poem, but takes it even further. He mentions that the problem lies within the leaders of society and their lust for more power; however, he goes on to offer a possible outcome if the dilemma persists (as it always does), which submits uprising and rebellion as an inevitability.

Moving away from politics and such, lyric which intends to teach also includes pieces which offer advice. At the end of Theoginis’s third poem which was briefly mentioned above, he states, “Be intelligent, and do not at the cost of shameful of unjust deeds attempt to draw to yourself honors or merits or wealth.” (pg 83, lines 11-14). Though Theoginis doesn’t explicitly blame any one person or groups persons of acting in such a manner in this piece, it’s not hard to see the connection between this poem and his fourth. It was in his fourth poem where he spoke of leaders trying to gain more power at the expense of others.

When it comes to writing lyric of any form, one has to be passionate about a certain topic in order for him/her to write about it. To be passionate about something requires that you understand it to its fullest extent, and this knowledge may be because you’ve experienced it first hand. I do not know whether Theoginis, Solon, or any other poet who assumes a vatic persona have actually experienced what they attempt to teach, but I do know that they are passionate about whatever they write in their lyric. That’s all one needs to teach with validity.

4. What is fatalism? What are some examples in your poetry? And why would the poetry of this age and/or culture have fatalism as one of its topics?

Fatalism is the belief that “what will be, will be,” since all past, present, and future events have already been predetermined by God or another all-powerful force or forces. Everything starting from the time of birth to the time one leaves this world is already fated to happen. It comes at no surprise then that the end of an uncontrollable life is emphasized.

The theme of death comes up very frequently in several pieces. Simonides states in his third poem, “…Inescapable, death hangs over all alike” (pg 113, line 4). Similarly, Callinus says, “For in no way is it fated that a man escape death…after escaping the battle-slaughter and the thud of spears, he returns, and in his house death’s doom overtakes him.” (pg 20-21, lines 12-16). The word “doom” is a short yet powerful word, in that it sums up all the words Simonides wrote in his third poem into just one. In other words, “doom” is the union of fatalism and death – it is not immediate, but it is impending. Semonides correspondingly states, “…others have been subdued in war when Hades sends them under the dark earth…others fasten a noose for a wretched doom…Thus nothing is without evils, but rather countless forms of death await mortals, and undreamed-of miseries and afflictions.” (pg 22-23, lines 13-22).

Again, “doom” is present in this work; however, there is one line which mentions a different reoccurring theme. The line, “Hades sends them under the dark earth,” illustrates that Hades, the god of the netherworld, plays a part, if not the only part of an individual’s undoing. A more straightforward example comes from Archilochus who says, “All things are easy for the gods. Often out of misfortunes they set men upright who have been laid low on the black earth; often they trip even those who are standing firm and roll them onto their backs, and many troubles come to them…” (pg 7, lines 1-6).

Archilochus illustrates that the gods do what they will, and whatever their will may be affects us mortals directly. Our fate is in their hands and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change that. In his 13th poem Xenophanes writes, “Always he remains in the same place, moving not at all, nor does it benefit him to go at different times in different directions.” (pg 111, poem 13) This bluntly states that the choices that people make do not change or affect their fate. No matter what we choose to do the same or differently, we will still be on the same path to the same fate.

In ancient Greek, it was often held that the life of an individual is so rigorously predetermined by fate that he or she has no power to affect the course of events that will inevitably be played out. We are passive pawns in life, completely subject to the whims of fate, and nothing that we do, or try to do, can change the course that has already been mapped out for us. At best all we can do is try to act in accordance with fate, since any attempt to disrupt the natural course of things will usually spell disaster for ourselves and our loved ones.

It is really no surprise then, that fatalism was a common topic for this age. Ancient Greeks believed in many gods – gods which existed actively through people. Believing in gods who can affect your lives instantaneously goes hand in hand with fatalism because it raises the question of whether or not you really have control of your life. It is intriguing to think how people saw their lives back then. Were their lives more or less stressful because of a fatalistic approach to life? If you were unsuccessful for example, you would blame the gods and not yourself for being in this position. On the other hand, if you were living richly you might be concerned of losing all of your possession through some punishment dealt by the gods.

5. Why are there poems of invective? Do they convey messages different from other types of poetry?

Poems of invective are very abusive language aimed at a particular target, which can also be quite humorous at times. They exist because passionate views on particular disputes exist. Authors of invective poems want their views to be seen and understood by others, and they offer these pieces as admonitions, knowledge which they deem as significant, or just plain revenge.

Revenge is one theme we see come up rather frequently. Archilochus in poem 25 says, “There’s one big thing I know, to pay back injury done to me with terrible injuries.” (pg 6). He offers a more vivid case of revenge in poem 38 which states, “…may the top-knotted Thracians most hospitably receive him…there to endure miseries in full measure, eating the bread of slavery – frozen stiff with cold, crusted with salt and covered thick with seaweed…this is what I would like to see happen to the man who wronged me…” (pg 9, lines 2-11). Archilochus goes into detail of what he would like to see happen to a person who “wronged” him. Although he doesn’t say how he was wronged, these measures do seem to be “terrible injuries”.

Semonides takes his invective poetry to different topic. In his second poem he speaks of women, and divides them into several different types – only one of which is flattering. For example some of the poem states, “…Another the god made from the wicked vixen…Another is from the bitch, a mischief-maker just like her mother…another the Olympians fashioned out of the earth and gave man with wits impaired…another is from the ash-gray obstinate ass…” (pg 23-24, lines 7-44). Semonides illustrates his opinions on women by describing each type. Whether or not these opinions were based on actual experiences with different women I don’t know, but Semonides feels very strongly about it nonetheless. Obviously, this poem is very derogatory towards women, but I don’t think the author wrote this just to condemn women. The way he writes the piece in list form is like it was meant to be informative – to warn men of the “bad” types of women and to seek out the good woman, the woman made “from the bee” (pg 25, line 83).

Hipponax takes a more comedic approach when writing his invective poetry. Although this first example isn’t exactly comedic, (unless you have a very deep, dark sense of humor) it is short and powerful. It begins, “Two days in a woman’s life are sweetest: when someone marries her and when he carries her out dead.” (pg 106, poem 7) It is a very morbid depiction of a woman’s life. The woman is happy the day she is married, yet she is just as happy when she dies, implying that her life after marriage was grueling.

This was probably something that people knew during this age, but didn’t really notice or want to notice. Hipponax’s 8th poem is rather different. It is invective but quite comedic. It says, “Hold my jacket, people; I’m going to punch Boupalos in the eye. I’m ambidextrous, and my punches never miss” (pg 106). I found this piece to be very amusing, considering that even to this day, phrases like these are being used and in the same context. This poem still illustrates some sort of disagreement, although even Boupalos probably found this poem to be ridiculous and comical.

It seems that invective poems are written almost in ways in which we speak to each other since they are directed to be understood by a specific person or audience. They are blunt and straightforward, yet very insulting at times. Given that central to what we call traditional satire is some underlying moral vision, so that the “negative” portrayal of the target works in the service of a “positive” moral vision, it is clear that satire can take on a wide range of tones. That is, the moral resentment in the heart of the satirist can lead him to something really vicious and savage, an unrelenting and unforgiving attack on what he sees as extreme moral corruption in what he is ridiculing, or, alternatively, at another extreme the indignation of the satirist may temper itself with some affection for the target, so that the satire is much more good natured, less abusive and aggressive, even to the point where we are not sure just how much the comic portrait is really satiric or simply comic.

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What is a kletic poem?. (2017, Nov 25). Retrieved from


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