Hipponax image
star nullstar nullstar nullstar nullstar null


Hipponax (Greek: Ἱππῶναξ), of Ephesus and later Clazomenae, was an Ancient Greek iambic poet who composed verses depicting the vulgar side of life in Ionian society in the sixth century BC. He was celebrated by ancient authors for his malicious wit (especially for his attacks on some contemporary sculptors, Bupalus and Athenis), and he was reputed to be physically deformed (a reputation that might have been inspired by the nature of his poetry). Little of his work survives despite its interest to Alexandrian scholars, who collected it in two or three books. He influenced Alexandrian poets searching for alternative styles and uses of language, such as Callimachus and Herodas, and his colourful reputation as an acerbic, social critic also made him a popular subject for verse, as in this epigram by Theocritus. Ancient literary critics credited him with inventing literary parody and "lame" poetic meters suitable for vigorous abuse, as well as with influencing comic dramatists such as Aristophanes. His witty, abusive style appears for example in this quote by Herodian, who however was mainly interested in its linguistic aspects (many of the extant verses were preserved for us by lexicographers and grammarians interested in rare words.

Ancient authorities record the barest details about his life (sometimes contradicting each other) and his extant poetry is too fragmentary to support autobiographical interpretation (a hazardous exercise even at the best of times).

The Marmor Parium, only partially preserved in the relevant place, dates him to 541/40 BC, a date supported by Pliny The Elder in this comment on the theme of sculpture.

Archeological corroboration for these dates is found on the pedestal of a statue in Delos, inscribed with the names Micciades and Achermus and dated to 550-30. The poet therefore can be safely dated to the second half of the sixth century. According to Athenaeus, he was small, thin and surprisingly strong The Byzantine encyclopaedia Suda, recorded that he was expelled from Ephesus by the tyrants Athenagoras and Comas, then settled in Clazomenae, and that he wrote verses satirising Bupalis and Athenis because they made insulting likenesses of him. A scholiast commenting on Horace's Epodes recorded two differing accounts of the dispute with Bupalus, characterized however as "a painter in Clazomenae": Hipponax sought to marry Bupalus's daughter but was rejected because of his physical ugliness, and Bupalus portrayed him as ugly in order to provoke laughter. According to the same scholiast, Hipponax retaliated in verse so savagely that Bupalus hanged himself. Hipponax in that case closely resembles Archilochus of Paros, an earlier iambic poet, who reportedly drove a certain Lycambes and his daughters to hang themselves after he too was rejected in marriage. Such a coincidence invites scepticism. The comic poet Diphilus took the similarity between the two iambic poets even further, representing them as rival lovers of the poetess Sappho!

The life of Hipponax, as revealed in the poems, resembles a low-life saga centred on his private enmities, his amorous escapades and his poverty but it is probable he was another Petronius, depicting low-life characters while actually moving in higher social circles. In one fragment, Hipponax decries "Bupalus, the mother-fucker (μητροκοίτης) with Arete", the latter evidently being the mother of Bupalus, yet Arete is presented as performing fellatio on Hipponax in another fragment and, elsewhere, Hipponax complains "Why did you go to bed with that rogue Bupalus?", again apparently referring to Arete (whose name ironically is Greek for 'virtue'). The poet is a man of action but, unlike Archilochus, who served as a warrior on Thasos, his battlefields are close to home