To Anacreon in Heaven


A commenter in the thread inspired by Jacob's post below reminds me that the tune to "The Star Spangled Banner" comes from the old British drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven." I wonder how many people who sing it today know that the song they're belting out was originally a paean to a homosexual Greek poet best renowned for his love odes to young boys? (That factoid, by the by, comes courtesy of the excellent Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton, who I interviewed for the magazine about a year back.)

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  1. As a former student of Latin and Ancient Greek, and because I have paganistic tendencies, that just makes me love “The Star-Spangled Banner” even more.

  2. hmm.

    The Soviet national anthem was a rousing, visceral, purposive score overlaid with shitty, totalitarian lyrics.

    When Russia superceded the demise of the USSR, they kept the tune. Some saw this as an unwillingness make a clean aesthetic break with 70 years of totalitarianism, but other folks just liked the melody.

    I think of reappropriation and reclamation as a paridgmatically liberal act.

  3. Next time I go to a ball game, I’m gonna sing the original words.

  4. BillyRay is going to go apeshit. 🙂

  5. GG – I was thinking the same thing!

  6. I have sung “To Anacreon on High” at Seahawk games and Mariner games and only gotten a few weird looks. But don’t try singing those words at a local oval quarter mile dirt track.
    “You sing that song proper like. You hear me boy?”

  7. Score reuse as always been with us.

    Martin Luther used a different drinking song for the background to “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

    And those who can read in original classical Greek can read for themselves the extent to which same-sex relationships permeated the Hellenistic times.

    Today’s theocrats, who only use the bible as their source of history, probably have no such knowledge.

  8. …do you think the National/American leagues would mind if we brought back the ol’ Bacchic Orgy, in place of the seventh-inning stretch? It would surely draw in more Pagans and Satanists to the games. They spend money, too…even if it is coined IN HELL.

    I for one support this motion.

  9. smacky,

    I support that idea as well!

  10. But as “patriotic” as baseball is, I’d give it a snowball’s chance in hell.

    I’m sure there’d be a House subcommittee drummed up to stop it, if nothing else.

  11. smacky,

    What if we modify “the Wave” so that each section’s hottest ladies were required to yank up their shirts when they stood?

    What? Hey, I’m just trying to help!

  12. I wonder how many people who sing it today know that the song they’re belting out was originally a paean to a homosexual Greek poet best renowned for his love odes to young boys?

    Oh, good heavens!

    Well, this ain’t gonna do. We will have to find another tune.

    Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to adapt The Star Spangled Banner to a much more catchy and easy-to-sing tune — “Lola” by the Kinks.

    O say, can you see
    By the dawn’s early light
    What so proudly we hailed
    At last evening’s twilight?
    Star-spangled banner!
    B-A-N-R banner!

    Whose broad stripes and bright stars
    Through the perilous fight
    Over the ramparts we watched
    And they were streaming so right!
    Star-spangled banner!
    B-A-N-R banner!

    And the rockets’ red glare
    The bombs bursting in air
    Gave proof through the night
    That our flag was still there
    I want my banner!
    B-A-N-R banner!

    So, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?
    Over the land of the free and the home of the brave?
    We’ll, I’d declared independence just few years before
    And now I’m fighting Brits again, right here in Baltimore!

    … What? What’s wrong? What?

  13. I mean, I’m not dumb, but I can’t understand
    I know what I am — I’m a glad Ameri-can …

  14. Great, another meeting of the Julian Sanchez Nothing Better To Do Club.

    Have fun.

  15. Glad you stopped by and thanks for your “contribution,” Mr. Dynamo!

  16. BTW, Julian – a more proper title would probably be “To Anacreon in Elysium” or conversely “To Anacreon in Hades”.

  17. Upon rereading the whole post, I now realize that I should be picking my nits with the author of the song lyrics, and not with Julian.

  18. Pedantic Grecian,

    The original 1800s song has the title of “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Julian was just quoting the song title.

  19. It sickens us that Francis Scott Key stole the intellectual property of a previous musician! Intellectual property should be sacrosanct for all eternity! Every performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” should result in a royalty payment to author of “To Anacreon in Heaven”.

    Have YOU paid YOUR royalties today? We didn’t think so. Thief.

  20. “…do you think the National/American leagues would mind if we brought back the ol’ Bacchic Orgy, in place of the seventh-inning stretch?”

    Hell, I’d start going to more games.

  21. Hey, there’s always Christmas and Saturnalia. Aww yeah.

  22. While we’re talking about homoerotic patriotic songs, doesn’t “Yankee Doodle Dandy” have effeminate subtext? From what I understand, the British sang the tune to mock the revolutionaries during battle, and the Americans took it for their own.

    I’m firmly convinced that homophobes have very deep, unresolved issues. Many of them just love to watch sweaty men grab each other on the field, and go to the gym to watch themselves and other men in the mirror. It’s true.

  23. Stevo, you are officially my new hero. That was brilliant.

  24. Thank you, Shem.

    Whoops, let me put a bit more rock-n-roll into that. I mean: “Thank you [insert name of your town here]! We love you all! Good night!”

  25. One thing that people don’t realize is that in the early days, the SSB (reflecting of course its source, To Anacreon in Heaven) was played much faster and lighter than the sometimes almost dirge-like arrangements used today. Someone I knew once commented in a Usenet post:

    “The National Museum of American History in Washington, back in the days when they would regularly unveil the Fort McHenry flag to the public for a few minutes each day, would play both the ‘Anacreon’ arrangement, and then the SSB arrangement that would have been played around the time of the Civil War. Much lighter and joyful than the 20th century’s iteration, you could almost dance to it.”

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