A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Ἀγάθων), an Athenian tragic poet, was born about B. C. 447, and sprung from a rich and respectable family. He was consequently contemporary with Socrates and Alcibiades and the other distinguished characters of their age, with many of whom he was on terms of intimate acquaintance. Amongst these was his friend Euripides. He was remarkable for the handsomeness of his person and his various accomplishments. (Plat. Protag p. 156b.) He gained his first victory at the Lenacan festival in B. C. 416, when

he was a little above thirty years of age : in honour of which Plato represents the Symposium, or banquet, to have been given, which he has made the occasion of his dialogue so called. The scene is laid at Agathon's house, and amongst the interlocutors are, Apollodorus, Socrates, Aristophanes, Diotima, and Alcibiades. Plato was then fourteen years of age, and a spectator at the tragic contest, in which Agathon was victorious. (Athen. 5.217a.) When Agathon was about forty years of age (B. C. 407), he visited the court of Archelaus, the king of Macedonia (Aelian, Ael. VH 13.4), where his old friend Euripides was also a guest at the same time. From the expression in the Ranae (83), that he was gone ἐς μακάρων εὐωχίαν, nothing certain can be determined as to the time of his death. The phrase admits of two meanings, either that he was then residing at the court of Archelaus, or that he was dead. The former, however, is the more probable interpretation. (Clinton, Fast. Hell. vol. ii. p. xxxii.) He is generally supposed to have died about B. C. 400, at the age of forty-seven. (Bode, Geschichte der dram. Dichtkunst, i. p. 553.) The poetic merits of Agathon were considerable, but his compositions were more remarkable for elegance and flowery ornaments than force, vigour, or sublimity. They abounded in antithesis and metaphor, " with cheerful thoughts and kindly images," (Aelian, Ael. VH 14.13,) and he is said to have imitated in verse the prose of Gorgias the philosopher. The language which Plato puts into his mouth in the Symposium, is of the same character, full of harmonious words and softly flowing periods: an ἐλαίου ῥεῦμα ἀψοφητὶ ῥέοντος. The style of his verses, and especially of his lyrical compositions, is represented by Aristophanes in his Thesmophoriazusae (191) as affected and effeminate, corresponding with his personal appearance and manner. In that play (acted B. C. 409), where he appears as the friend of Euripides, he is ridiculed for his effeminacy, both in manners and actions, being brought on the stage in female dress. In the Ranae, acted five years afterwards, Aristophanes speaks highly of him as a poet and a man, calling him an ἀγαθὸς ποιητὴς καὶ ποθεινὸς τοῖς Φίλοις. In the Thesmophoriazusae (29) also, he calls him Ἀγάθων ὁ κλεινός. In some respects, Agathon was instrumental in causing the decline of tragedy at Athens. He was the first tragic poet, according to Aristotle (Aristot. Poet. 18.22), who commenced the practice of inserting choruses between the acts, the subject-matter of which was unconnected with the story of the drama, and which were therefore called ἐμβόλιμα, or intercalary, as being merely lyrical or musical interludes. The same critic (Poet. 18.17 ) also blames him for selecting too extensive subjects for his tragedies. Agathon also wrote pieces, the story and characters of which were the creations of pure fiction. One of these was called the "Flower" (Ἄνθος, Arist. Poet. 9.7); its subject-matter was neither mythical nor historical, and therefore probably "neither seriously affecting, nor terrible." (Schlegel, Dram. Lit. i. p. 189.) We cannot but regret the loss of this work, which must have been amusing and original. The titles of four only of his tragedies are known with certainty: they are, the Thyestes, the Telephus, the Aerope, and the Alcmaeon. A fifth, which is ascribed to him, is of doubtful authority. It is probable that Aristophanes has given us extracts from some of Agathon's plays in the Thesmophoriazusae, 5.100-130. The opinion that Agathon also wrote comedies, or that there was a comic writer of this name, has been refuted by Bentley, in his Dissertation upon the Epistles of Euripides, p. 417. (Ritschl, Commentatio de Agathonis vita, Arte et Tragoediarum reliquiis, Halae, 1829, 8vo.)