(n. ca. 544-541 B.C.)
Creek elegiac poet. Many of the 1,390 lines, often cited in later works and inscribed on vases, attributed to him are but slightly altered versions of verses by Tyrtaeus, Solon, and other early poets, along with repetitions that seem to come from a different hand. In addition, references to people and events in the Theognidea extend from 580 to 490, and the surviving verses differ from those cited by the tenth-century Greek lexicon of Suda. Consequently, the extant works seem to be a highly popular Athenian collection made in the fifth century to be sung at symposia, and it is difficult to tell which ones originated with Theognis himself.
The gnomology (collection of maxims) addressed to Cyrnus, the poet's beloved boy who appears in many of the poems, may be genuine. With a clear aristocratic bias, Theognis berated the boy, whom he was trying to improve, for flirtations and infidelities. Full of advice on friendship, loyalty, and other conduct befitting a gentleman, Theognis is often taken as the model for the supposed oldfashioned one-to-one erotic relationship used as the basis forpaideia (instruction]. Theognis' collection of maxims, of which the last 158 deal exclusively with boylove, served in antiquity as a manual of ethical conduct. The poet could not fail to "fawn on" the boy so long as the boy's cheekwas beardless. Others, however, find his constant carping and complaints, his reproaches to ungrateful or self-interested boys, distasteful, especially in comparison with the free love advocated by his contemporaries Ibycus and Anacreon.
Called by some the father of gnomic poetry, Theognis [whom Sir Kenneth Dover unconvineingly dubs the most important early pederastic poet), taught ethics and statecraft in a context of male love, and otherwise emphasized the intellectual and moral formation of the youth as well. His verse thus reflected the role of pederasty in the golden age of Hellenic civilization.
In elegies that he composed to be sung accompanied by the flute at symposia, he claimed (probably an interpolation after the fact) that his verse had given Cyrnus immortality, and that youths at symposia would always sing of him: "Woe is me! I love a smooth-skinned lad who exposes me to all my friends, nor am I loath; I will bearwith many things that are sore against my liking, and make it no secret; for 'tis no unhandsome lad I am seen to be taken with."
Kenneth Dover, Greek Homosexuality, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978; Thomas J. Figueira and Gregory Nagy, eds., Theognis of Megara: Poetry and Polis, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.
William A. Percy