Mimnermus of Colophon (), Greek elegiac poet, flourished about 630-600 BC. His life fell in the troubled time when the Ionic cities of Asia Minor were struggling to maintain themselves against the rising power of the Lydian kings.
He was a contemporary of Solon, who, in an extant fragment of one of his poems, addresses him as still living.
One of the extant fragments of his poems refers to this struggle, and contrasts the present effeminacy of his countrymen with the bravery of those who had once defeated the Lydian king Gyges.
No other biographical particulars respecting him have come down to us, except what is mentioned in a fragment of Hermesianax, of his love for a flute-player named Nanno, who does not seem to have returned his affection. His most important poems were a set of elegies addressed to this flute player, collected in two books called after her name.
The numerous compositions of Mimnermus were preserved for several centuries, comprised in two books, until they were burned, together with most of the other monuments of the erotic poetry of the Greeks by the Byzantine monks.
Mimnermus is the first author who peculiarly and systematically adapted it to the more tender class of plaintive subjects. Though warlike themes were not altogether unnoticed by him, and though the subjection of a large part of Ionia, and especially of his native city, to the Lydian yoke, could not fail to produce a strong feeling of melancholy, yet he seems, on the whole, to have spoken of valorous deeds more in a tone of regret, as things that had been, than with any view of rousing his countrymen to imitate them. The instability of human happiness, the helplessness of man, the cares and miseries to which life is exposed, the brief season that man has to enjoy himself in, the wretchedness of old age, are plaintively dwelt upon by him, while love is held up as the only consolation that men possess, life not being worth having when it can no longer be enjoyed. The latter topic was most frequently dwelt upon, and as an erotic poet he was held in high estimation in antiquity.
Mimnermus was the first to make the elegiac verse the vehicle for love-poetry. He set his own poems to the music of the flute, and the poet Hipponax says that he used the melancholy , "the fig-branch strain," said to be a peculiar melody, to the accompaniment of which two human purificatory victims were led out of Athens to be sacrificed during the festival of Thargelia (Hesychius, s.v.).
From the general character of his poetry, Mimnermus received the appellation of Lygistiades or Ligyastades.
He was a flute-player as well as a poet, and in setting his poems to music he made use of the plaintive melody called the Nomos kradias.
So highly appreciated, indeed, were the claims of Mimnermus to novelty, if not to absolute originality, as regards the plaintive character of his elegies, and so marked the terms in which they were asserted by his admirers, as to have led superficial critics, both ancient and modern, to admit him, in the face of insuperable chronological difficulties, to a competition with Callinus and Archilochus for the honor of inventing the elegiac measure itself. Setting aside, however, this more fanciful title to priority, Mimnermus enjoys, perhaps deservedly, the same pre-eminence among erotic poets of the elegiac order, as Sappho among the cultivators of the melic branches of erotic poetry.
Edition of fragments in T. Bergk, Poetae lyrici Graeci; see also G Tanzolini, Mimnermo (1883), a study of the poet, with notes and a metrical version of the fragments.
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