Classics Herodas
Graham Zanker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0105


Herodas, a poet of the early 3rd century BCE whose name also appears in ancient sources as Herondas and Herodes, is the inventor of mimiambs, mimes in iambic verse, which have come down to us in eight poems, a fragmentary ninth, and quotations. They combine considerable literary sophistication with “low” subject matter. This includes a bawd tempting a young woman to form a liaison with a young man (Mimiamb 1), a brothel keeper suing an alleged kidnapper of one of his girls (2), the beating of an unruly schoolboy by his teacher under the direction of the boy’s desperate mother (3), two women’s admiration of statues and a painting by Apelles during a visit to a temple of Asclepius (4), a sadistic punishment by a female owner of a slave who has shared his sexual favors with another woman (5), an intimate conversation between two women about a missing dildo (6), a visit to a shoemaker who is probably selling dildoes on the sly (7), and a dream of Herodas’s in which he defends his poetic invention (8). Herodas is not known to have written poetry of any other kind.

General Overviews

Hunter 2016 and Furley 2005 provide concise and comprehensive descriptions of the main aspects of the Mimiambs, while Hutchinson 1988, Arnott 1995, Gutzwiller 2007, and Esposito 2010 offer more detailed discussions for both general readers and more advanced students. Zanker 2009 is aimed at an audience ranging from readers without Greek to advanced scholars.

  • Arnott, W. Geoffrey. 1995. Herodas 1891–91. In Studia classica Iohanni Tarditi oblata: Biblioteca di aevum antiquum 7. Vol. 1. Edited by Luigi Belloni, Guido Milanese, and Antonietta Porro, 657–673. Milan: Vita e Pensiero.

    Readable account of the earliest work on the papyrus, with discussion of the modern reception and main features of Herodas’s art.

  • Esposito, Elena. 2010. Herodas and the mime. In A companion to Hellenistic literature. Edited by James J. Clauss and Martine Cuypers, 266–281. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    An overview of the reception of the text of the Mimiambs since its publication in 1891, Herodas’s learned and ironic borrowings from Homer in poems 1 and 8, Herodas’s connections with the world of the Ptolemies, the question of the poems’ performance, and their relationship to popular mime. Contains a list for further reading on these topics.

  • Furley, William D. 2005. Herodas, Herondas. In Brill’s new Pauly. Vol. 6. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, cols. 251–254. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Excellent first orientation, summarizing the salient facts of Herodas’s life, the poems, their mode of performance, and the poet’s ironic distance from his material.

  • Gutzwiller, Kathryn J. 2007. A guide to Hellenistic literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470690185

    At pp. 127–131 briefly discusses the Mimiambs as a mixture of the prose dramatic mime form of Sophron of Syracuse and the iambic meter of the blame poetry of Hipponax of Ephesus, and describes the contents of the individual poems.

  • Hunter, Richard L. 2016. Herodas. In the Oxford Classical Dictionary. Digital ed. Edited by Sander Goldberg. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.3062

    Concise statement of the clash of Herodas’s learnedness of form and lowness of subject matter. Originally published in 1996 in Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed., edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, 695 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).

  • Hutchinson, Geoffrey O. 1988. Hellenistic poetry. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A chapter on Herodas (pp. 236–257) explores the interaction of low subject matter and quasi-dramatic form in the Mimiambs.

  • Zanker, Graham. 2009. Introduction. In Mimiambs. By Herodas, 1–12. Oxford: Oxbow.

    Covers Herodas’s life, his place in the “genre crossing” characteristic of early Hellenistic poetry, his use of generally Ionic dialect, how his poems were performed, and his meter. The commentaries on the poems are followed by studies of Herodas’s characterization, scene setting, art criticism, and literary program.

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