Ancient Greek Poet, Composer. Also known as Mesomedes of Crete. He was active in Rome and Egypt in the first half of the 2nd Century AD. For centuries his surviving hymns were the only known full examples of written music dating from antiquity. Biographical data on Mesomedes is sparse. Of Cretian birth, he was a freed slave and court poet of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was a devoted admirer of Greek culture. He wrote paens glorifying his patron and his policies, such as the "Hymn to Nemesis", which reflected the Hadrianic cult of the Greek goddess as an agent of justice. In 130 AD Mesomedes traveled to Egypt as part of the imperial entourage. During that journey the Emperor's young lover Antinous drowned in the Nile, and the poet composed a panegyric in his memory. Hadrian had Mesomedes installed as a resident scholar and artist at the Musaeum in Alexandria, a forerunner of the modern university, where he apparently spent the rest of his days. He was provided with a government salary, free room and board, and servants. Following Hadrian's death in 138 AD his salary was reduced by Emperor Antoninus Pius, though the fact that it was not withdrawn completely (as it was with most others at the Musaeum) shows that he continued to be held in imperial favor. According to historian Cassius Dio, the bloodthirsty Emperor Caracalla erected a cenotaph to Mesomedes in Rome in 213 AD; ironically, this same tyrant sacked Alexandria two years later and abolished the Musaeum. His lyrics were still being cited by Greek and Roman writers 300 years later. Today 15 poems by Mesomedes are extant, four with their music: "Hymn to Nemesis", "Invocation of the Muse", "Hymn to the Sun", and "Invocation of Calliope and Apollo". They were preserved through Alexandrian and later Byzantine sources. Pioneer Baroque composer and theorist Vincenzo Galilei published three of them in his book "Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna" (1581). Since the late 19th Century, the discovery of other Hellenic compositions (mostly fragments) has shed a little more light on that remote era, though not always to Mesomedes's benefit. Some modern critics feel his works are unimaginative compared to the powerful "Delphic Hymns" or the haunting beauty of the "Seikilos Epitaph". But they have been recorded several times and anthology discs of ancient music typically include at least one of them. Mesomedes is mentioned as Hadrian's "favorite musician" in Marguerite Yourcenar's classic novel "Memoirs of Hadrian" (1951).
Bio by: Bobb Edwards