TO ANACREON IN HEAVEN – Source of the Star Spangled Banner!


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anacreon640The Anacreontic Song was specifically written, as a commission, for a men’s club known as the Anacreontic Society around 1780. This London gentlemen’s club was named after the Greek poet Anacreon (c. 570-485 BC), who was known for his poems on love and wine. The words are credited to Ralph Tomlinson (1744-1778), and the tune is commonly attributed to John Stafford Smith (1750-1836).

Francis Scott Key wrote his poem, The Star Spangled Banner, to this tune in 1814. It became our National Anthem in 1931. The practice of taking a popular song and writing new lyrics to it (something Parody Project does a lot) was known then as contrafactum – whereas today we refer to songs created in that manner as derivative works.

It is currently popular to comment, based on this information, that the Star Spangled Banner was set to an old English drinking song. This conjures images of drunk men with steins raised high, beer sloshing as they swing them back and forth in time to the music, singing loudly in out of tune voices accompanied by the collective enthusiasm that alcohol lends. That’s not the actual scenario that was taking place at meetings of the Anacreontic Society. There was plenty of alcohol consumption, but only after listening to a concert, and/or literary readings for a couple of hours. Who wouldn’t want to drink at that point? But by the time inebriation was spreading through the gathering, the singing of “To Anacreon in Heaven” was a couple of hours behind them, so in that respect it was not technically a drinking song.

Anacreon was a Greek poet born in the 500 B.C. zone, and he wrote about drinking and carousing – his favorite subjects for poems, in fact. The song tells the story of the members of the Society requesting Anacreon, who is dead and presumably in heaven, to be their Patron and Inspirer. The Greek Gods then get into a kerfuffle over the request, haggle for a while, and then ultimately decide it’s all cool. So, a song about asking a dead guy who wrote poems about love and wine to be your patron, kind of does make it a drinking song in certain respects.

“To Anacreon in Heaven” has been referred to as the “Constitutional Anthem,” for the Anacreontic Society. IMHO, this a transparent attempt to add some credibility to its use as the National Anthem for the United States of America – I mean, read the lyrics. Does that sound like a constitutional anthem to you? While calling it a “drinking song” is misleading, it is certainly more accurate than “constitutional anthem.” You decide for yourself.


To ANACREON in Heav’n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That He their Inspirer and Patron wou’d be;
When this Answer arriv’d from the JOLLY OLD GRECIAN
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
“No longer be mute,
“I’ll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
“And, besides, I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine
“The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS’s Vine.

The news through OLYMPUS immediately flew;
When OLD THUNDER pretended to give himself Airs_
If these Mortals are suffer’d their Scheme to pursue,
The Devil a Goddess will stay above Stairs.
“Hark! already they cry,
“In Transports of Joy
“Away to the Sons of ANACREON we’ll fly,
“And there, with good Fellows, we’ll learn to intwine
“The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS’S Vine.

“The YELLOW-HAIR’D GOD and his nine fusty Maids
“From HELICON’S Banks will incontinent flee,
“IDALIA will boast but of tenantless Shades,
“And the bi-forked Hill a mere Desart will be
“My Thunder, no fear on’t,
“Shall soon do it’s Errand,
“And, dam’me! I’ll swinge the Ringleaders I warrant,
“I’ll trim the young Dogs, for thus daring to twine
“The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS’S Vine.

APOLLO rose up; and said, “Pr’ythee ne’er quarrel,
“Good King of the Gods with my Vot’ries below:
“Your Thunder is useless_then, shewing his Laurel,
Cry’d. “Sic evitabile fulmen, you know!
“Then over each Head
“My Laurels I’ll spread
“So my Sons from your Crackers no Mischief shall dread,
“Whilst snug in their Club-Room, they Jovially twine
“The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS’S Vine.

Next MOMUS got up, with his risible Phiz,
And swore with APOLLO he’d cheerfull join_
“The full Tide of Harmony still shall be his,
“But the Song, and the Catch, & the Laugh shall bemine
“Then, JOVE, be not jealous
Of these honest Fellows,
Cry’d JOVE, “We relent, since the Truth you now tell us;
“And swear, by OLD STYX, that they long shall entwine
“The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS’S Vine.

Ye Sons of ANACREON, then, join Hand in Hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
‘Tis your’s to support what’s so happily plann’d;
You’ve the Sanction of Gods, and the FIAT of JOVE.
While thus we agree
Our Toast let it be.
May our Club flourish happy, united and free!
And long may the Sons of ANACREON intwine
The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS’S Vine.


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