Corinna (Greek: Κόριννα, Korinna) is an ancient Greek poet from Thebes. Though once of considerable repute—she was hailed as the ninth Muse by Antipater of Thessalonica—her poetry fell into obscurity in the Medieval era and was thereupon lost, save for some fragments.
The Suda provides the traditional biography of Corinna:
Corinna, daughter of Achelodorus and Procatia, from Thebes or Tanagra, student of Myrtis; nicknamed Myia (‘Fly’); lyric poet. It is reported that she beat Pindar [in contest] five times. She wrote five books, both epigrams and lyric nomes.
Plutarch adds that Corinna chided Pindar on his “lack of refinement,” since his poetry lacked the adornment of myths. Afterward, he added so many myths to a single ode (fr. 29) that she laughingly exclaimed that “one should sow with the hand, not the whole sack.” Aelian includes Pindar’s retort, in which he calls her a “Boeotian sow.” Pausanias claims that he saw her tomb in Tanagra and a painting of her “binding her head with a fillet for the victory she won over Pindar at Thebes.”
Some scholars have questioned the traditions of Corinna and have instead located her in the third century BCE within the Hellenistic milieu, two to three hundred years later. The chief reason for this re-dating is the argument that her poetry better fits among later authors. The circularity of that argument aside, it would be anomalous, yet not impossible, if the reception of Corinna managed to so badly misjudge the date of someone who would have lived so close in time to them. Moreover, a third century dating is unlikely, since Tatian reported seeing a statue of Corinna
Of the fragments that do survive, one contains a reproach to Myrtis for “contesting with Pindar,” which could be the origin of Pindar-Corinna feud, though it could also just as likely be a representation of it. Another potential piece of evidence comes from Statius’ grouping of the poets his father studied: Callimachus, Lycophron, and Corinna, all of which are Hellenistic poets. There is always the possibility that this was an actual representative sample of his father’s studies without acknowledging chronology.
Without compelling evidence or reason to do otherwise, it is best to default to the traditional fifth century date.
Only fragments of Corinna’s poetry survive. Her works were often quoted by later authors, who attest to a variety of mythological poems: the Boeotus, Seven Against Thebes, Daughters of Euonymus, Iolaus, Voyage Home, and Orestes. Egyptian papyri containing some of her poetry have also been found, yielding fragments of The Contest of Helicon and Cithaeron, Daughters of Asopus, and the Tales. Since she wrote in the Boeotian dialect, later grammarians quoted her to show the peculiarities of the dialect, which also preserved additional lines.
Impact and Legacy
Despite Pindar’s insult (which regardless of Corinna’s date is likely a misinterpretation of Pindar’s poetry), Corinna seems to have been a highly revered poet. Pausanias claims that her tomb was in a prominent part of Tanagra, her hometown, and the references in Statius and Propertius imply respect toward her poetry. She must have also garnered enough interest to be included in various commentaries, and she was added to the Nine Lyric Poets as an honorary tenth member. Additionally, Antipater of Thessalonica names her among the greatest of the Greek poetesses and a ninth Muse. She likely provided the inspiration for Ovid’s pseudonym for his beloved in his Amores.
Corinna’s text is not currently freely available online. This will be remedied soon.
Malcolm Davies 1988. “Corinna’s Date Revisited.” SIFC 81: 186–194.
Diane J. Rayor 1993. “Korinna: Gender and the Narrative Tradition.” Arethusa 26.3: 219–231.
Derek Collins 2006. “Corinna and Mythological Innovation.” CQ 56.1: 19–32.
Athanassios Vergados 2012. “Corinna’s Poetic Mounts: PMG 654 col. i 1–34 and Hesiodic Reception.” CPhil 107.2: 101–118.