Simonides of Ceos (c. 556-469 BC), Greek lyric poet, was born at Iulis in the island of Ceos. During his youth he taught poetry and music in his native island, and composed paeans for the festivals of Apollo. Finding little scope for his abilities at home, he went to live in Athens at the court of Hipparchus, the patron of literature. After the murder of Hipparchus in 514 BC, Simonides withdrew to Thessaly, where he enjoyed the protection and patronage of the Scopadae and Aleuadae (two celebrated Thessalian families). An interesting story is told of the termination of his relations with the Scopadae. On a certain occasion he was reproached by Scopas for having allotted too much space to the Dioscuri in an ode celebrating the victory of his patron in a chariot race. Scopas refused to pay all the free and told Simonides to apply to the Dioscuri for the remainder. The incident took place at a banquet. Shortly afterwards, Simonides was told that two young men wished to speak to him; after he had left the banqueting room, the roof fell in and crushed Scopas and his guests (Cicero, De oratore, ii. 86). There seems no doubt that some disaster overtook the Scopadae, which resulted in the extinction of the family. After the battle of Marathon, Simonides returned to Athens, but soon after he left for Sicily at the invitation of Hiero, at whose court he spent the rest of his life.
His reputation as a man of learning is shown by the tradition that he introduced the distinction between the long and short vowels (e, e, o, o), afterwards adopted in the Ionic alphabet which came to use during the archonship ofEucleides (403). He was also inventor of a system of mnemonics (Quintilian xi. 2, II). So unbounded was his popularity that he was a power even in the political world; we are told that he reconciled Thero and Hiero on the eve of a battle between their opposing armies. He was the intimate friend of Themistocles and Pausanias the Spartan, and his poems on the war of liberation against Persia no doubt gave a powerful impulse to the national patriotism. For his poems he could command almost any price: later writers, from Aristophanes onwards, accuse him of avarice, probably not without some reason. To Hiero’s queen, who asked him whether it was better to be born rich or a genius, he replied "Rich, for genius is ever found at the gates of the rich." Again, when someone asked him to write a laudatory poem for which he offered profuse thanks, but no money, Simonides replied that he kept two coffers, one for thanks, the other for money; that, when he opened them, he found the former empty and useless and the latter full.
From the eleventh edition of The Encyclopedia, 1911. Public domain. Some editing has been done for the sake of clarity.