The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

The Poet as Hero: Fifth-Century Autobiography and Subsequent Biographical Fiction

Mary R. Lefkowitza1

a1 Wellesley College

The old proverb S0009838800034996_inline1 (‘poets tell a lot of lies’) can still more accurately be applied to their biographers.‘ Even the more plausible and psycho logically tempting details in the lives of literary figures derive from these authors’ fictional works, poems, and dramas, and not from the kind of source material biographers use today, letters, documents, eyewitness testimony. Critics and readers eager to establish some historical correlation between any ancient poet's life and his work should expect to be disappointed. But even if the ancient lives are useless to the historian or critic trying to explain what in Euripides’ experience compelled him to write about Medea, these stories are of interest to mythologists. If we stop being angry at the Lives for failing to be historical, and look at them rather as myths or fairy tales, some informative patterns begin to emerge.