Agathon (c. 448-400 BC) was an Athenian tragic poet and friend of Euripides and Plato. He is best known from his mention by Aristophanes (Thesmophoriazusae) and in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy (416). He was the long time (10-15 years) beloved of Pausanias, also mentioned in the Symposium and Protagoras. Pausanias followed Agathon to the court of Archelaus, king of Macedon, who was recruiting playwrights. This is where Agathon probably died. He introduced certain innovations, and Aristotle (Poetics, 9) tells us that the plot of his Antho was original, not, as usually, borrowed from mythological subjects.

He is introduced, by Plato, as a handsome young man, well dressed, of polished manners, courted by the fashion, wealth and wisdom of Athens, and dispensing hospitality with ease and refinement. The Epideixis, in praise of love, which he recites in the Symposium, is full of the artificial and rhetorical expressions which might be expected from a former pupil of Gorgias. Aristotle tells us that he was the first to introduce into the drama arbitrary choral songs, which had nothing to do with the subject, and that he wrote pieces with fictitious names, which appear to have been half way between the idyl and comedy. His intimacy with Aristophanes doubtless saved him from many well-deserved strictures, though in one of his comedies, the latter burlesques his flowery style, representing him as a delicate and effeminate youth, and it may be only for the sake of punning on his name that he makes Dionysus call him a noble poet.

Agathon was a friend of Euripides, accompanying him to the court of Archelaus of Macedon, where he died about 402 BC. He had all the faults, without the genius, of his famous contemporary, and these he carried to excess, attempting to surprise the spectators with unexpected developments and strange, improbable dénouments. Add to this his fondness for epigram, antitheses and other rhetorical embellishments, after the fashion of Gorgias, and no wonder that whatever he possessed of ability was smothered beneath his mannerisms. Yet, of the latter, he appears to have been proud, considering them essential to his verse; for when asked to purge himself of such blemishes, he replied: "You do not see that that would be to purge Agathon's play of Agathon." His poetry was full of trope, inflection and metaphor; glittering with sparkling ideas and flowing softly along, with harmonious words and nice construction, but lacking in the element of truly virile expression and deficient in manly thought and vigor. With him begins the decline of tragic art in its higher sense.

See: Aristophanes, Thesmoph. 59, 106, Eccles. 100


The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, volume 1, by Alfred Bates. (London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906)

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