Melinno (Ancient Greek: Μελιννῶ) was a Greek lyric poet. She probably lived in the 2nd century BCE, and was probably from Epizephyrian Locris in Magna Graecia, but because little biographical material on her is available, this is uncertain. She is credited with the work commonly called Ode to Rome, which presents unique problems in the analysis of Greek poetry and is viewed as influential in the future course of Greek and Latin poetry. Her work has been characterised as "something of a sport, to which the extant remains of Greek poetry present no parallel."
Stobaeus, who lived approximately four-to-five centuries later, preserved Melinno's work in his Eclogues. He attributes her work to Melinno the Lesbian, but a Lesbian origin is disputed by at least three modern scholars, who note that the stanzas show little trace of the Aeolic dialect used by the Lesbian poets Sappho and Alcaeus, and the few Aeolicisms observed are probably imitative of Sappho. It may be that Stobaeus meant to emphasize her imitation of the Sapphic stanza, not to say that she was from Lesbos, this is the view of George Stanley Farnell, who concludes that while it is possible and indeed probable that she was not from Lesbos, neither can the Locrian connection be proven, and that readers should "remain content to be in ignorance as to the identity of Melinno.":406 CM Bowra denies that she was from Lesbos, but also refuses to take the step of saying definitely that she was from Locri, because the evidence of Locrian Melinna does not explicitly mention her as the poet Melinno.,:21 :28
If Melinno was Locrian, her native tongue was probably a Doric or Locrian Italiot Greek dialect. The main support for her Epizephyrian Locrian origin is an epigram of Nossis, herself a Locrian, who begins one of her poems by dedicating it her daughter Automellina (Αὐτομέλιννα, which can be read as "Mellino herself").:814 It is certainly noteworthy that another Greek female poet had a daughter named Melinna, whom Nossis describes in glowing terms as "just like her mother," but as Bowra and others point out, she does not explicitly say that the daughter was a poet, much less the poet who wrote Ode to Rome.
Birth and death dates are not available, but analysis of the content of her work provides termini post & ad quem for her life and work. If Melinno was indeed Nossis's daughter, this would place her more firmly in the 2nd century BCE. Bowra cites the calculations of other scholars and opines "Though we cannot date Melinno's hymn with any assurance, the first half of the second century is at least an appropriate time, since the cult of the goddes Rome was then lively in Greek cities". He notes that Greek appreciation of the cult of Roma seems to have declined a century later, "as might be expected after the behaviour of Mummius and Sulla.":28
Importance: Revival and reformation of the Sapphic metre
Melinno is known for five Sapphic stanzas comprising an Ode to Rome, praise poetry addressing the personified deity Roma. Its simultaneous praise of Rome but lack of references to the principate leads scholars to believe that it dates to the Republican Era, after the Pyrrhic War and the Roman conquest of Italy, but before the formation of the Roman Empire.:21
Melinno's work is important because it is a Hellenistic attempt at a revival of the moribund Sapphic stanza in Greek, keeping alive a tradition in the Greek world that that was already being translated to Latin by Horace, and would continue with Catullus. But the Sapphic metre of Horace and Catullus imitated the flowing style of Sappho and Alcaeus, in which thoughts can cross metrical boundaries to reach their completion in another line or stanza, while Melinno does not. Melinno makes a sharp separation between each stanza, which has its antecedent in the sole surviving Sapphic stanza from the centuries that intervened between Alcaeus and Melinno, spuriously attributed to Sappho but likely composed or borrowed by Chamaeleon). Athenaeus quotes this stanza in his Deipnosophists and is adamant that it is not the work of Sappho. Bowra thinks its clumsiness compared to the work of the real Sappho means later Greeks – despite their admiration – were unable to master her style. Both this fragment and Melinno's ode are characterized by Bowra as possessing a "slow, cumbrous progress, quite unlike that of Sappho or Alcaeus", but which later becomes the style of Latin poet Statius, too, in his Silvae.
Bowra also thinks that Melinno's ode may have been by influenced Pindar's ode Olympian V, written for the tyrant Psaumis of Camarina, which could be a spurious attribution that is really the work of a Sicilian Greek imitator. This punctuated style, unusual for Greek poetry, could have arisen out of a need for it to be sung to accompany the three-stage Olympic mule-car race for which it was written. Melinno's ode could also have been performative, written for some five-stage event celebrating Roma. After being popularized by Melinno, this staged, puncuated Sapphic metre style potentially influenced not only Statius, but also Horace, who followed Sappho in his free-flowing Sapphic-style poetry, but used a punctuated style reminiscent of Melinno and the later Hellenistic Sapphics in his ceremonial Carmen Saeculare.:24 Melinno seems to have been conscious of and admired Sappho, but spoke a different form of Greek and lived in a different age that called for a recension of the Sapphic tradition.
Stobaeus lists her poem as among a group of other poems that he classifies as peri andreias ("concerning bravery") because he seems to interpret the addressee as a personification of "Strength" (ῥώμη), instead of Ῥώμη (Rome), an editorial choice that was first questioned by Hugo Grotius. (The words were homophones as well as homographs in Greek). Additionally, if the word is Rome, there could be a variant spelling, as the city could be called either Rṓmā or Rṓmē depending on the dialect of Greek, and given overall Doricism of the piece, the holograph may well have used the Doric Rṓmā, while Mediaeval Greek of Byzantine copyists would likely have encouraged standardisation to the Koine Rṓmē. Since capitalisation was not practiced and because copyists often made editorial choices about proper spelling and accentuation long after the original composition of the work, the precise intent of the author is not always clear. Nevertheless, given other clues in the text, including a formulaic salutation reminiscent of other Greek poems dedicated to deities, like Pindar's ode to Apollo Delios — another deity with topographic associations — impels scholars in the direction of viewing the text as a praise poem to Roma as Rome personified. The Greek text is usually edited to Ῥώμa (Rṓmā) in modern editions, such as the Greek Anthology.:21
Bowra argues that the non-Aeolic forms κρατερῶν and κρατίστους in lines 9 and 17 of the poem (kraterōn, kratistous, they would be praterōn, pratistous in Aeolic) balance out the archaizing (but stritcly speaking, not Aeolic) elements in the work.:21
According to Melinno's entry in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, some 19th-century scholars posited that the Ode to Rome was actually written by Erinna, although it does not specify their reasoning. Yet the chronology of Erinna is also in doubt, as is the reason for her writing in a mix of Aeolic and Doric Greek like Melinno, whether she was a native Dorian or Aeolian, whether she actually came from Lesbos or another island, and whether she actually knew Sappho or tried to imitate her. There is a debate concerning the disputed provenance of several epigrams attributed to Erinna, with some scholars pointing to Nossis as their likely composer. In any case Erinna (fl. either 7th-6th or 4th century BCE) was too far removed in time and place from Roman influence to have been motivated to write verses praising late Republican Rome, which seems to be the consensus view of the poem's theme among modern scholars, pace Stobaeus. Yet — his editorial choices notwithstanding — without Stobaeus's efforts to preserve her work, Melinno would likely be completely unknown to history, as would many other Greek poets he records.