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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by Henry Rushton Fairclough (1862–1938)

By Tyrtæus, Archilochus, and their Successors in the Development of Greek Lyric (700–500 B.C.)

  • “Their songs divine
  • Who mixed for Grecian mouths heaven’s lyric wine.”
  • —SWINBURNE, ‘On the Cliffs.’

  • IT is hardly necessary, I imagine, to insist upon the intrinsic and permanent value of Greek poetry. As a body of literature, Greek poetry is the richest legacy that the modern world has received from ancient times. The epic poems of Greece, the Iliad and Odyssey, whether we regard them as the work of one mind or the still more wonderful result of a school of bards, are in their freshness, strength, and artistic beauty without a rival in the early literature of nations. Greek tragedy under the masters, Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, comprises works of consummate genius, which take rank with the highest tragic art of all times. Greek comedy, at least that of Aristophanes, is unique in the history of literature; and in later times the pastoral Muse of Theocritus sings with a delicacy and sweetness that have never been surpassed.

    In the sphere of lyric poetry Greece was no less great; but of the ancient lyric writers the modern world is for certain reasons comparatively ignorant.

    The Iliad and Odyssey have come down to us in their entirety. In the case of the dramatists, though only a tithe of what they wrote has survived, still so prolific were these masters, that that tithe is very considerable. But the lyric writers have met misfortune at the hands of time. In the case of many, their works are completely lost; and as for the rest, mere scraps and fragments of their songs are all that we can pick up. The only lyric poet of whom we can know much, because much of him is preserved, is Pindar; and Pindar’s grand triumphal odes, written as they were to celebrate the glories of victors in a chariot or foot race, a boxing or wrestling match, are so elaborate and difficult of construction, and so alien in spirit to modern literary taste, that it is no easy matter to appreciate his grandeur.

    It may be asked why the great bulk of Greek lyric verse has disappeared. The main answer is to be found in the essential character of that poetry. It was song-poetry; i.e., poetry composed for singing, the soul of which vanished when the music passed away. After the loss of Greek independence, Greek music rapidly degenerated. The music composed by the poets of the classical period was too severe and noble for the Greeks of later days. The older songs, therefore, were no longer sung; and the poetry, minus its music, giving way to shallow and sensational compositions, passed into oblivion.

    Scanty however as are the fragments of Greek lyric poetry, these scanty fragments are of priceless value. The little we possess makes every lover of literature pray that among the rediscovered treasures of antiquity, to which every year of late has made valuable contributions, many more of these lost lyrics may come to light.

    In one sense or another, singing was characteristic of nearly all forms of Greek poetry. The earliest conditions of epic recitation may be realized from certain scenes in the Odyssey. In one passage (viii. 62 ff.) the shipwrecked Odysseus is a guest in the palace of King Alcinous. The feast is spread, and the great hall is thronged with Phæacians, when in the midst appears the blind Demodocus, led by the King’s herald, who sets the minstrel on a high chair inlaid with silver, hangs up his lyre, and brings him a basket of bread and a goblet of wine. After the feast the minstrel is stirred by the Muse to sing the deeds of famous men, and his theme is a quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles, “whereof the fame had reached the wide heaven.” At another feast (i. 325 ff.) the suitors of Penelope compel Phemius the minstrel to take his lyre and sing to them. His lay deals with the return of the Achæans from Troy; and as he sings, Penelope in an upper room, with tears in her eyes, listens to the strain.

    Thus epic poetry, at least in the earliest times, was sung to the lyre; but this singing was probably unlike the later recitations by the rhapsodists, for the verse of Homer is unsuited for melodies, and Greek writers uniformly distinguish epic from lyric,—the former being narrative poetry, the latter song poetry.

    Even elegiac poetry was not regarded by the Greeks as lyric; and yet elegiac verse was originally sung to the music of the flute, an instrument used both on mournful occasions and also at festive social gatherings. But as melodies were found to be inappropriate with the hexameter of epic verse, so their use was not long continued with the elegiac couplet, which in its metrical form is so closely allied to the hexameter.

    Still less lyric in character was the iambic verse of satire, which was first perfected by Archilochus of Paros. Iambic metre, the metre of English blank verse, is (as Aristotle long ago perceived) of all verse forms the least removed from prose. And yet the iambics of Archilochus, according to Plutarch, were sometimes sung. More frequently this verse was given in recitative with musical accompaniment.

    Both elegiac and iambic poetry, then, though originally lyrical, at an early time lost their distinctly lyrical character; and even if then recitation at a funeral or in camp or round the banqueting-board was accompanied by music, yet they were no more regarded by the Greeks as lyrical than were the poems of Homer. For the sake of convenience, however, and because of their subject-matter, these forms are usually included under the head of lyric poetry by historians of Greek literature.

    During the epic period in Greece, lyric poetry existed mainly in an embryonic, undeveloped state. Epic poetry held undisputed sway till near the end of the eighth century before our era. Then began a movement in the direction of political freedom. Oligarchies and democracies took the place of ancient monarchies; the planting of colonies and the extension of commerce gave an impetus to the spirit of enterprise and individual development; and the citizen began to assume his proper rôle as a factor in the life of the State.

    It was coincident with this change that lyric poetry—the poetry that voiced, not the ancestral glory of kings and princes, but the feelings and experience of the individual—entered upon its course of artistic development. The Ionians of Asia Minor were perhaps the first Greeks among whom democratic institutions came to life. They were certainly the most active in commercial and colonizing enterprises by land and sea, as well as the first to enter the hitherto unexplored field of speculative philosophy.

    To the student of Greek history, lyric poetry is very significant. Without it we should hardly realize the great extent of the Greek world toward east and west. Greece would mean little more than Athens and Sparta. But lyric poetry widens our vision. Here we learn of the wealth and luxury of the Asiatic Ionians, of the noble chivalry and refinement of life in the Æolian isles of the Ægean sea, of the beauty and grace of festal celebrations in the Dorian Peloponnesus, in southern Italy and distant Sicily. Then comes Pindar, the heroes of whose triumphal odes dwell in all parts of the Hellenic world—in Thessaly, Bœotia, Attica, and the Peloponnesus, in Ægina and Rhodes, in the Sicilian cities and in Libyan Cyrene.

    In Ionic Greece the new poetry took two forms,—elegiac and iambic. The structure of elegiac verse shows its close connection with the epic; for it is written in couplets, of which the first line is the ordinary hexameter as employed by Homer, and the second the same line abbreviated to five feet. The name elegy, however, indicates the presence of a foreign element; for it comes from that of a plaintive instrumental dirge, in vogue among certain tribes of Asia Minor, especially the Phrygians, to which people belonged Olympus, a musical reformer of the eighth century. As adopted by the Greeks, elegy was not confined to mournful themes, but its application varied as much as that of the flute, the Asiatic instrument which at first accompanied it.

    The earliest Greek elegists of whom we have any records are Callinus and Tyrtæus, who lived as contemporaries at the beginning of the seventh century B.C. Callinus, it is true, is a rather shadowy personage; but he was regarded by the Greeks as the inventor of elegy, and is known to have lived at Ephesus in Ionia, at a time when Asia Minor was overrun by hordes of Cimmerians, who came down from the northern shores of the Black Sea.

    Tyrtæus, according to tradition, was born in Attica; but his poetic career centers in Sparta. Here, during and after the second Messenian war, there was much civic discord; and both Tyrtæus the poet and Terpander the musician are said to have been publicly invited by the Lacedæmonians to apply the resources of art in inspiring a lofty patriotism, and thus healing the wounds of the body politic. The lame Attic schoolmaster—for tradition thus describes Tyrtæus—was eminently successful in his noble task; and the Spartans not only conferred upon the poet the rare favor of citizenship, but did him the greater honor of preserving his poems from age to age, and revering them as national songs. These were sung by the soldiers round the camp-fires at night; and the officers rewarded the best singer with extra rations. Tyrtæus also composed choruses for groups of old men, young men, and boys, the general character of which may be inferred from the following popular ditty, which was sung to a dance accompaniment:—

  • (a)In days of yore, most sturdy youths were we.
  • (b)That we are now: come, watch us, if you will.
  • (c)But we’ll be stronger far than all of you.
  • Famous too were the marching-songs of Tyrtæus, which were accompanied by flute music, and sung by the soldiers advancing to battle. These were written in the tripping anapæstic measure, and in the Dorian dialect. One example may be paraphrased thus:—

  • On, ye glory of Sparta’s youth!
  • Ye whose sires are the city’s might:
  • Grasp the shield with the left hand thus,
  • Boldly poise the spear in the right;
  • Of your lives’ worth take ye no heed,—
  • Sparta knows not a coward’s deed.
  • It is for his elegies, however, that Tyrtæus is most favorably known. True to their origin, these poems, though addressed to a Dorian audience, are written in the Ionic dialect. We have fragments of one elegy called ‘Good Government,’ which eulogizes the Spartan constitution and King Theopompus, one of the heroes of the first Messenian war. But most of the elegies of Tyrtæus are less distinctly political, and aim simply at infusing into the citizen soldiery a spirit of valor, military honor, and contempt for cowardice. The following is a rendering of one of these martial elegies, by the poet Thomas Campbell. The picture of the youth whose fair form lies outstretched in death, is not only pathetic and beautiful but also peculiarly Greek:—

  • HOW glorious fall the valiant, sword in hand,
  • In front of battle for their native land!
  • But oh! what ills await the wretch that yields,
  • A recreant outcast from his country’s fields!
  • The mother whom he loves shall quit her home,
  • An aged father at his side shall roam;
  • His little ones shall weeping with him go,
  • And a young wife participate his woe;
  • While, scorned and scowled upon by every face,
  • They pine for food, and beg from place to place.
  • Stain of his breed! dishonoring manhood’s form,
  • All ills shall cleave to him; affliction’s storm
  • Shall blind him wandering in the vale of years,
  • Till, lost to all but ignominious fears,
  • He shall not blush to leave a recreant’s name,
  • And children, like himself, inured to shame.
  • But we will combat for our fathers’ land,
  • And we will drain the life-blood where we stand,
  • To save our children: fight ye side by side,
  • And serried close, ye men of youthful pride,
  • Disdaining fear, and deeming light the cost
  • Of life itself in glorious battle lost.
  • Leave not our sires to stem the unequal fight,
  • Whose limbs are nerved no more with buoyant might;
  • Nor, lagging backward, let the younger breast
  • Permit the man of age (a sight unblest)
  • To welter in the combat’s foremost thrust,
  • His hoary head disheveled in the dust,
  • And venerable bosom bleeding bare.
  • But youth’s fair form, though fallen, is ever fair,
  • And beautiful in death the boy appears,—
  • The hero boy, that dies in blooming years:
  • In man’s regret he lives, and woman’s tears;
  • More sacred than in life, and lovelier far,
  • For having perished in the front of war.
  • In striking contrast with Tyrtæus and Callinus, whose elegies are so full of martial spirit, stands Mimnermus, an Ionian poet of Smyrna, who flourished near the end of the seventh century B.C. This century witnessed the gradual subjection of the Asiatic Greeks to the Lydian yoke; and from Mimnermus we gather that his Ionian fellow-countrymen, who in former days had successfully resisted the barbarian might, were now sunk in inglorious inactivity and fettered in complacent slavery. Yet the poet can rejoice in the brave days of old, when “on the Hermian plain the spearman mowed down the dense ranks of Lydian cavalry, and Pallas Athene ne’er found fault with his keen valor, as on he rushed in the vanguard, escaping the piercing arrows of his foes in the clash of bloody battle.” The poet’s forefathers too once “left lofty Pylus, home of Neleus, and came in ships to lovely Asia, and in fair Colophon settled with the might of arms, being leaders of fierce boldness; and thence they passed by the counsel of the gods and captured Æolian Smyrna.”

    But the prevailing tone of Mimnermus’s verse is that of luxurious indolence and sensual enjoyment. This is the main characteristic of those elegies, which are addressed to a favorite flute-player called Nanno.

  • Where’s life or joy, when Love no more shines fair?
  • The beauty of comely youth fires the poet with the heat of intense passion:—
  • Then down my body moisture runs in streams,
  • As gazing on the bloom of joyous youth,
  • I tremble oft; so bright are beauty’s beams.
  • But his heart is flooded with melancholy; for all this joy and beauty remind Mimnermus that crabbed age, “unhappy and graceless,” is coming on apace,
  • And cherished youth is short-lived as a dream.
  • As Homer had said long before, “we are but as the leaves which appear with the flowers of spring”; and “when springtime is past, then is it better to die than live”: for “at our side stand two black Fates, one of gloomy age and the other of death”; and of the two, old age and death, the soft, effeminate, pleasure-loving Mimnermus hesitates not to choose the latter:—

  • AH! fair and lovely bloom the flowers of youth—
  • On men and maids they beautifully smile;
  • But soon comes doleful eld, who, void of ruth,
  • Indifferently afflicts the fair and vile:
  • Then cares wear out the heart; old eyes forlorn
  • Scarce reck the very sunshine to behold,
  • Unloved by youths, of every maid the scorn,—
  • So hard a lot God lays upon the old.
  • Translation of John Addington Symonds.

  • If disease and care trouble not, Mimnermus would make sixty years the extreme limit of life to be desired; but his younger contemporary, the Athenian Solon, who had little sympathy with such gloomy views, appeals to the “sweet singer” to change his three to four score years.

    Mimnermus, a pure hedonist, lived only for the sensual pleasures that life could afford; and when these were withdrawn, life was to him no longer worth living. The poet had no sublime religious faith, no lofty philosophy, to guide and comfort his soul; and at a time when Greece was still in her youth, and almost before she had entered upon her wonderful career of glorious achievement, this bright intellect sinks into a nerveless ennui, and gives way to a world-weary pessimism.

    Mimnermus lived before his time; and it is therefore a less remarkable fact that when elegiac verse was long afterwards cultivated by learned poets and versifiers in the artificial society of Alexandria and Augustan Rome, the sweet sentimental Mimnermus should have been more often taken as a model than were the saner and more robust writers of early Greek elegy.

    From elegiac we pass to iambic verse; which, like elegy, has an Ionic origin, is written in the Ionic dialect, and lies midway between epic and lyric poetry proper. But there is this important difference between iambic and elegiac verse: the latter is in form but slightly removed from the dignified measure of heroic poetry; the former—the metre of English blank verse—is but one remove from the language of everyday life. It is therefore suitable for poetry of a personal tone and conversational style; and thus it became the common form for miscellaneous subjects of no great elevation in thought, as well as for sharp satire and dramatic dialogue.

    There is a story that connects the name iambic with the festivals of Demeter. When that goddess was bewailing the loss of her daughter Persephone, none could relieve her grief until the maid Iambe, with her sparkling witticisms, raised a smile on the sorrowful mother’s lips. Archilochus, the reputed inventor of iambic poetry, was a competitor with his verses at the feasts of Demeter; and it is doubtless in the freedom of satiric and jocular utterance tolerated on such occasions, that we are to seek the origin of this species of verse.

    Both iambic and elegiac verse were often cultivated by the same poets. Certain fragments of the elegies of Archilochus, as well as of Solon, have come down to us. In one elegy Archilochus lamented, in graceful language, the loss of a friend at sea. In another we find the martial tone of Callinus. “I serve the Lord of war,” says the soldier-poet, “and am skilled in the Muses’ pleasing gifts. With my spear I earn my kneaded bread, with my spear my Thracian wine, and when I drink ’tis on my spear I rest.”

    Archilochus was born in the island of Paros, one of the Cyclades, and flourished at the beginning of the seventh century B.C. His father Telesicles was a man of aristocratic rank, but his mother Enipo was a slave. While a mere youth he accompanied his father, when the latter led to Thasos, in the northern Ægean, a colony of gold-seekers from Paros. To the young man, disappointed in his quest, Paros with her “figs and sailor life” seemed infinitely superior to Thasos which “like a donkey’s back, stands crowned with wild wood. ’Tis a place by no means fair or lovely or pleasant, as is the land by Siris’s streams.” This allusion to the Siris would seem to imply that the poet had previously traveled to southern Italy. Archilochus soon found the condition of Thasos to be desperate:—

  • All the woes of Hellas throng the Thasian isle,
  • over which “the stone of Tantalus was suspended.” The colonists attempted to gain a foothold on the mainland opposite, but the Thracian tribes drove them back; and in one conflict Archilochus, though he managed to save his life, had to part with his shield. “I’ll get another just as fine,” he adds with cheerful composure. This roving soldier-poet afterwards engaged in war in Eubœa, and visited Sparta; but the paternal government of that model State would have none of him, and he was promptly ordered to withdraw. Subsequently he returned to his native place, and was eventually killed in a battle between the Parians and the people of the neighboring island of Naxos.

    The poet’s private life was not of a high type, and seems to have been deeply colored by his ill-success in love. He was betrothed to Neobule, daughter of Lycambes, a Parian, and was passionately enamored of the girl.

  • But oh! to touch the hand of her I love!
  • he sighs; and then gives us this simple and beautiful picture:—

  • Holding a myrtle rod she blithely moved,
  • And a fair blossoming rose; the flowing hair
  • Shadowed her shoulders, falling to her girdle.
  • Translation of John Addington Symonds.

  • In the depth of personal feeling, and the impetuosity and fire of his passion for Neobule, Archilochus belongs to the same class as the Lesbian singers, Alcæus and Sappho. “So strong,” he writes, “was the storm of love which gathered in my heart, that over my eyes it poured a heavy mist, and from my brain stole my wits away.”

    For what reason we can only conjecture, Lycambes withdrew his consent to the marriage of his daughter; whereupon the poet, in furious rage, assailed him with merciless abuse, embracing in his venomous attack—for chivalry was a virtue unrecognized by Archilochus—both Neobule herself and her innocent sisters. To illustrate the power of this master of satire, tradition assures us that Lycambes and his daughters were driven to self-destruction. Good reason, then, had Archilochus to utter in blunt fashion the unchristian boast:—

  • One mighty art full well I know—
  • To punish sore my mischief-working foe.
  • We possess but scanty fragments of the poems of Archilochus, and therefore are unable to form for ourselves a correct judgment upon his merits. There is, however, plenty of evidence to show in what esteem he was held by antiquity. Though Homer stood supreme above all other poets, yet Archilochus, summo proximus, was placed in the same rank. In statuary they were represented together; and Quintilian assures us that if Archilochus was inferior to any other poet, the inferiority, in the opinion of many, was due to his subject-matter, not his genius. When Plato made his first assaults upon the Sophists, Gorgias exclaimed, “Athens has found a new Archilochus.”

    The Roman Horace claimed to be not merely the Alcæus but also the Archilochus of Rome. “I was the first,” he says, “to show to Latium Parian iambics; following the metre and spirit of Archilochus, but not his subjects or words.” Archilochus in his rhythms, as in other ways, gives proof of a daring originality. One interesting use to which he put his epodes, or system of lines alternately long and short, was in the narration of fables which contained a satiric moral. In one fragment a fox thus prays: “O Zeus, father Zeus! thine is power in heaven; thou seest the deeds of men, both knavish and righteous, and in beasts too thou payest heed to frowardness and justice.” Burns could sing how—

  • “The best-laid plans o’ mice and men
  • Gang aft a-gley”;
  • but surely no poet-moralist was ever bolder than Archilochus, in thus attributing moral qualities to the lower creatures. In these fables he was the forerunner of Æsop.

    Still another metrical creation of this poet’s must be mentioned. This is the trochaic system, which like the iambic was destined to become one of the most popular measures in later poetry. Here too in Archilochus we find evidence of much variety; but the favorite trochaic line of the Parian poet was that of four measures. Tennyson’s ‘Locksley Hall’ is in its form a distant descendant of the tetrameters of Archilochus. This measure was used by him for personal description which is humorous rather than malicious in intent. So for example in the passage: “I care not for a tall general with outspread legs,—a curled, well-shaven dandy: give me a short man with bandy legs, who treads firmly on his feet and is full of spirit.” The tetrameter is further employed in giving counsel or in animated philosophic moralizing:—

  • To the gods intrust thou all things. Ofttimes out of evil toil
  • Raise they mortals who lie abject, stretched upon earth’s darksome soil.
  • Ofttimes too they overturn men; and when we have walked in pride,
  • Trip us up and throw us prostrate. Then all evils throng our side,
  • And we fare forth lacking substance, outcast and of wits bereft.
  • The poet’s beautiful lines on equanimity are well worth remembering:—

  • TOSSED on a sea of troubles, Soul, my soul,
  • Thyself do thou control;
  • And to the weapons of advancing foes
  • A stubborn breast oppose:
  • Undaunted ’mid the hostile might
  • Of squadrons burning for the fight.
  • Thine be no boasting when the victor’s crown
  • Wins thee deserved renown;
  • Thine no dejected sorrow, when defeat
  • Would urge a base retreat:
  • Rejoice in joyous things—nor overmuch
  • Let grief thy bosom touch
  • ’Midst evil, and still bear in mind
  • How changeful are the ways of human-kind.
  • Translation of William Hay.
  • Still another side of the manifold literary activity of Archilochus is represented by his hymns composed in honor of gods or heroes. In one of his trochaic couplets we find the first allusion in Greek literature to the dithyramb, or convivial hymn, in praise of Dionysus, the seed from which grew the glorious tragedy of Athens. “When my brain,” says the poet, in words which imply a chorus of revelers, “is smitten by wine as by a thunderbolt, I know how to lead off the dithyramb, the beautiful strain of Lord Dionysus.” Thus Archilochus was the predecessor of Pindar in the dithyramb of Bacchic festivities, as he was also in the songs of victory sung at Olympia. Even in Pindar’s day exultant friends still sang the “Hail Victor” refrain of Archilochus’s hymn to Heracles, as they led the conquering hero to the shrine of Zeus.

    It is not, however, as an elegiac or love poet, as an inventor of varied forms of verse, as a fable-writer or singer of hymns and songs of victory, that Archilochus is best remembered: it is as the forerunner of the great Aristophanes, of Lucilius, Horace, and Juvenal, of Swift and Pope, of Molière and Voltaire, and as the most potent wielder in antiquity of the shafts of personal satire by means of what Hadrian called his “frenzied iambi”; for, as Quintilian says, compressed into his “short and quivering sentences was the maximum of blood and sinew.” In this sphere his surpassing greatness has completely overshadowed later iambic writers of no little intrinsic merit; such as Simonides of Amorgus, the unsparing reviler of womankind, and the caustic Hipponax of Ephesus, whose crippled lines (for Hipponax was the inventor of the so-called “limping iambics”) present vivid and homely pictures of daily life among the Asiatic Greeks of those remote times.

    The iambic measure, having been found a fitting vehicle for personal and satiric effusions, afterwards enjoyed the great distinction of being adopted as the ordinary verse of dialogue in the Attic drama. Greek elegy, too, being applicable to the most heterogeneous subjects, especially to epigrammatic composition, continued an independent existence not only till the glory of Greece herself had departed, but even till after the fall of the Roman empire.

    In contrast with this Ionic poetry, let us turn to that which was first brought to perfection by the Æolian and Dorian tribes, and which alone was regarded by the Greeks as lyric. If we cared to employ a term used by the Greeks themselves, we might distinguish Æolian and Dorian lyric by the term melic, because such poetry was always set to some melos or melody. The Æolian lyric was cultivated chiefly in the Æolian island of Lesbos, the Dorian in the Dorian Peloponnesus and Sicily. The former was sung in the Æolic dialect, the latter chiefly in the traditional epic dialect, but included a sparing admixture of Doric forms. The two schools differ materially in every respect,—in style, subject, and form.

    The Æolic was intended to be sung by a single voice, the singer accompanying himself on a stringed instrument, with suitable gestures. It was essentially personal, expressing the singer’s own emotion. Political feeling is, to be sure, prominent in Alcæus; but this is due to the poet’s identifying his personality so completely with a political party. As to form, Æolic lyrics are very simple, either consisting of a series of short lines of equal length, or of stanzas in which a shorter line marks the separation from one another. The four-lined stanza is the commonest form. The Alcaic and Sapphic odes of Horace are illustrations familiar to the Latin student.

    On the other hand, Dorian lyric poetry was sung by a number in chorus, accompanied by dancing and musical instruments. For the most part it was of public importance, and when it was performed in private the occasion was one of general interest. Hence choral poetry is found connected with the sacred and festal gatherings of the people, or the marriages and funerals of private life. The structure of a choral poem is often very elaborate and artificial; but the movements of the dance, appealing to the eye, assisted the ear in unweaving the intricacies of the rhythm.

    Let it always be borne in mind that Greek dancing was very different from the modern art. Dancing to our mind simply implies tripping it “on the light fantastic toe”; and often with little reason and less grace. But in Greece the term dancing applied to all movements of the body which were intended to aid in the interpretation of poetry or the expression of emotion. Thus gestures, postures, and attitudes were most important forms of dancing, and in dance movements the hands and arms played a much larger part than the feet. Aristotle tells us that dancers imitate actions, characters, and passions by means of gestures and rhythmical motion. Thus the spirit which animates Greek mythology and Greek art—the desire to give form and body to mental conceptions—is characteristic of Greek dancing. There must have been infinite varieties of dancing, though we know that the art was to some extent systematized and reduced to certain types. The character of a dance depended entirely upon the nature of the thought involved. To-day in all likelihood, Greek practice is best exemplified by the Russian artists, who with extraordinary skill can vividly represent through the dance and emotions evoked by striking incidents. Their imitative and interpretative movements make a remarkable contrast with the ludicrous and meaningless feats of the ordinary ballet-dancers, with their scanty costumes and painted expressionless faces.

    As to Greek music, it too was very different from ours; but in this sphere the advantage certainly lies with the modern art. And yet the music of the Greeks, as illustrated by the few extant remains, especially by the Apollo hymns found at Delphi in 1893, has its own peculiar beauties, which can arouse the sympathy and interest of a cultivated audience even to-day.

    In the best period of Greek poetry, the only musical instruments employed were practically the lyre, a string instrument, and the flute, a wind instrument; the former being much preferred because it allowed the same person to sing and play. Other string instruments, such as the cithara, phorminx, psaltery, chelys, barbiton, and pectis, were all mere variations of the lyre, and depended on the same principle. Instruments with a large number of strings were known, as the magadis and trigon; but these, though commonly used by professional musicians, were unhesitatingly condemned by Plato and Aristotle, as pandering to perverted tastes. As to wind instruments, the flute was originally imported from Lydia, and was still unfamiliar to the Greeks in Homer’s time. This flute must not be confounded with the one used in our modern orchestras, for it resembled rather the clarionet or oboe. It was also stronger and shriller than our modern flute. Flutes varied in length; and a double flute was often used. The syrinx, or Pan’s pipe, had seven reeds of different length, giving the seven notes of the scale. For special effect the trumpet or horn was introduced: also the tympanum or drum, and cymbals.

    The question is often asked whether the Greeks employed harmony or not. Part-singing was unknown among them, as were also the elaborate harmonies of the modern art. Yet they did understand and employ harmonies; though with the exception of octave singing, these were confined to instrumental music. In the best days of Greek song, however, harmony seems to have been little more than a matter of octaves, fourths, and fifths,—the only concords, it is said, that the Japanese have to-day. Pythagoras on theory rejected the third, which we regard as the most pleasing of intervals; but it was apparently used in practice.

    Yet if the Greeks were far inferior to us in harmony, it would appear that they developed melody to an extraordinary degree. Quarter-tones, used it is true as merely passing notes, were sung by the voice and played on strings; and as there was no bowing, as with our violin, this was done without sliding from one note to another. Yet this sort of playing, when well done, aroused the greatest enthusiasm.

    In Greek lyric, the three sister arts of poetry, music, and dance formed a trinity in unity, whereas with us they are quite distinct. Poetry and music may be united artificially on occasion; but in antiquity the great poets were musicians as well, and wrote their own music, perhaps simultaneously with their poetry. As for the dance, that too was an important element of Greek lyric; though nowadays it is very poor poetry indeed that we should care to marry to the art of romping.

    After what has just been said, it will not be thought remarkable that the first name in the history of Greek melic, or lyric poetry proper, is noteworthy also in the history of music. Terpander, who was the first to add three strings to the primitive four-stringed lyre, and who thus gave a great impetus to musical development, was born in the Æolian island of Lesbos. He is said to have won the victor’s prize on the occasion when the festival of Apollo Carneus was first established at Sparta in 676 B.C. His consequent fame gave him great influence with the music-loving Lacedæmonians, among whom he introduced his melodies or nomes, which received the sanction of State authority. These nomes, which were sacred hymns sung by a single voice, were composed chiefly in the stately dactylic and solemn spondaic verses. Only long syllables are used in a hymn to Zeus which begins in this simple but weighty language: “Zeus, of all things the beginning, of all things leader: Zeus, to thee I offer this beginning of hymns.”

    That the Æolian Terpander should have practiced his art in a Dorian State is but one illustration of the way in which the various streams of Greek artistic activity tended to intermingle. In the seventh century, however, Sparta was the greatest power in Greece; and it was but natural that she should act as a magnet, drawing within her borders the leading artists of every State. Thus Terpander the Lesbian was followed by Tyrtæus a reputed Athenian, Clonas the Theban, Thaletas the Cretan, and Alcman the Lydian. These were the poets who laid the foundations of choral poetry, which was destined to have so magnificent a future.

    Meanwhile in Terpander’s native isle, the wealthy and luxurious Lesbos, that form of song which embodied purely personal sentiment was being gradually developed. We know nothing of the immediate predecessors of the great Lesbian poets; but the fact that Terpander was entering upon his career at the beginning of the seventh century is sufficient proof that at that time Lesbos was already a center of music and poetry. At the end of this same century, suddenly and without warning, we come face to face in Lesbos with the very perfection of lyric art.

    The greatest names in Æolian lyric are Alcæus and Sappho. The former was a Lesbian noble, a proud and fiery cavalier, who sang of love and wine or poured forth passionate thoughts on politics and philosophy. The scanty fragments of Sappho’s songs fully bear out the verdict of antiquity, that her verse was unrivaled in grace and sweetness. She was “the poetess,” as Homer was “the poet”; and Plato added her to “the choir of Muses nine.” (See the special articles on these two poets.) With the Æolian poets of Lesbos, Anacreon, an Ionian, must be classed, because he too sings simple songs of personal feeling. But Anacreon is not to be compared with Alcæus and Sappho in inspiration and genuine emotion. He has plenty of grace, plenty of metrical charm and polish; but the fire of genius is lacking. Anacreon is a mere courtier who adorns the palaces of princes, and free from deep or absorbing passion, sings lightly and sweetly of youths and maidens, of love and wine and pleasure. This very absence of real seriousness of purpose largely accounts for the great popularity of Anacreon’s verse, which in more prosaic days was freely imitated. The admiration bestowed by the modern world upon Anacreon is founded almost entirely upon a collection of odes which pass under his name, but which have long since been proven spurious. These Anacreontics, most familiar to us in Thomas Moore’s translation, are of unequal merit; some of them being very graceful and pleasing, while others are feeble and puerile.

    Æolic song, besides being limited in local sphere, was very short-lived. As the expression of purely personal, individual emotion, apart from the sentiments of one’s associates and fellow-citizens, song did not play that part in the Greek world with which we are so familiar to-day. As a race, the Greeks were not sentimental and introspective; but were distinguished for their practical, objective manner of looking upon the world. The Greek could never forget that he was a member of a community; and even in the expression of his joys and sorrows he would not stand aloof from his fellow-men. Hence, we find that in the creative period of Greek poetry, the song to be sung by a single voice, and setting forth the feelings of the individual heart, was never widespread, but limited to the small field of the Lesbian school; and however remarkable its brilliance, flourished in splendor for little more than a single generation.

    Not so with the poetry which voiced the sentiments and emotional life of a whole community. Lyric poetry of this popular and general character is found from early days in connection with the festivals and institutions of the various Greek States. More particularly did it suit the genius of the Dorian tribes, among whom civic and communal life was more pronounced than elsewhere. After undergoing a rich artistic development, this Dorian lyric became panhellenic in the range of its acceptance; and being adopted in Attica in the service of the gods, it enjoyed a glorious history in the evolution of Athenian greatness, and more particularly in the remarkable development of the Attic drama.

    Let us first note the various forms which this public poetry assumed. The very earliest lyric poetry of Greece is connected with the worship of nature, such as the Linus-song, incidentally mentioned by Homer (Iliad, xviii. 570) and sung at the vintage as an elegy on the death of a beautiful youth who symbolized the passing of summer. Similar songs were the lament for Hyacinthus and that for Adonis, subjects which often found artistic treatment in the poets of later times.

    A fruitful source of lyric song was the worship of the nature-god Dionysus or Bacchus. Like our Christmas festival, the Bacchic festivities had two sides, a sacred and a secular. Characteristic of the latter was the so-called phallic song, the seed from which was to spring Attic comedy. In the ‘Acharnians’ of Aristophanes we have a mosaic of such a song, not without much of its primitive coarseness. To the more reverential side belongs the invocation of the god, the dithyrambic hymn, first mentioned by Archilochus. The dithyramb became popular at luxurious Corinth; and here it was that in the beginning of the sixth century B.C., Arion, a Lesbian, first gave it artistic form, adapted it to a chorus, and set it on the path of development, which was to lead to the tragic drama. Before the discovery of Bacchylides, only one such poem has come down to us in any completeness; and that is a beautiful dithyramb of Pindar’s, composed for a chorus of fifty voices. (An English rendering is given by Campbell, ‘Greek Tragedy,’ page 50. See also below.)

    The hymns sung in honor of other deities were probably less popular and general in character; being mainly connected with local cults and often with hereditary priesthoods. Delos and Delphi were the peculiar homes of the worship of Apollo, and there it was that the Apollo hymns chiefly flourished. The most important variety of these was the Pæan, which glorified Apollo as the giver of health and victory. In a lyrical monody of Euripides’s ‘Ion,’ we have what is probably the burden of one of these solemn old Delphian chants, “O Pæan, Pæan, blessed be thou, O son of Leto!”

    Processional hymns, sung by a chorus to instrumental accompaniment, were a common feature of solemn festivals. These prosodia, as they were called, were composed by the greatest poets of the day, such as Alcman, Stesichorus, and Pindar. Processional hymns, when sung by girls only, were called parthenia. What beauty and splendor these processions of youths and maidens could lend to civic celebrations, may be inferred from those glorious pictures in marble adorning the frieze of the famous Parthenon.

    Still another occasion when the noblest sentiments of Greek civic life found utterance in lyric song, was the celebration of victory in the national games. In this matter-of-fact age, notwithstanding our devotion to athletics and manly sports, we find it very difficult to comprehend the lofty idealism with which in days of old the contests on the banks of the Alpheus, and at other noted centers, were invested. And yet unless we realize how intense was the national and spiritual exaltation which characterized these games, we shall never regard Pindar as more than an idle babbler of meaningless words, whereas in reality he is one of the most sublime and creative geniuses in all literature.

    Other occasions for the use of lyric were funeral solemnities and wedding festivities. Even as early as Homer, laments for the dead were sung by professional mourners; and with the growth of the poetic art, dirges became an important form of artistic song. Simonides and Pindar were both distinguished in this field; and in the lyrical part of tragedy the dirge is a prominent element.

    The hymenæus, or joyous wedding song, is also known to Homer. In one of the cities represented on the shield of Achilles were depicted bridal feasts, “and with blazing torches they were leading brides from their chambers through the city, and the hymenæus swelled high. And youths were whirling in the dance, while among them flutes and harps resounded; and the women, standing at their several doors, marveled thereat.” (Iliad, xviii. 491.) The songs sung in chorus before the bridal chamber were called epithalamia, and were deemed worthy of the attention of the greatest lyric artists. Sappho was particularly famous for her epithalamia; but only fragments have survived, and we must form our conception of a Sapphic epithalamium from Catullus’s beautiful imitation—

  • Vesper adest, iuvenes, consurgite.
  • Greek drinking-songs belong to the borderland between personal and popular verse. Some of the so-called scolia or catches were patriotic songs; an interesting specimen of which is the ode by Callistratus in honor of those idols of the Athenian people, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who slew the tyrant Hipparchus:—

  • WITH leaves of myrtle I’ll wreathe my sword,
  • Like Harmodius of yore and his comrade brave,
  • What time they slew the tyrant lord
  • And equal laws to Athens gave.
  • Beloved Harmodius, thou hast not died!
  • The isles of bliss hold thee, ’tis said;
  • There Achilles the fleet is by thy side,
  • And Tydeus’s son, famed Diomed.
  • With leaves of myrtle I’ll wreathe my sword,
  • Like Harmodius of yore and his comrade brave,
  • What time at Athene’s festal board
  • Through tyrant Hipparchus the sword they drave.
  • For aye will men sing with one accord
  • Of thee, loved Harmodius and thy comrade brave;
  • For ye did slay the tyrant lord
  • And equal laws to Athens gave.
  • Another of these songs, written by Hybrias, a Cretan, was doubtless popular with those proud young cavaliers who adopted arms as a profession, and served in various lands and under various leaders. The sentiment recalls to our minds Archilochus. Here is a spirited translation by the poet Thomas Campbell:—

  • MY wealth’s a burly spear and brand,
  • And a right good shield of hides untanned
  • Which on my arm I buckle:
  • With these I plow, I reap, I sow,
  • With these I make the sweet vintage flow,
  • And all around me truckle.
  • But your wights that take no pride to wield
  • A massy spear and well-made shield,
  • Nor joy to draw the sword—
  • Oh, I bring those heartless, hapless drones
  • Down in a trice on their marrow-bones,
  • To call me king and lord.
  • Most pleasing of the forms of popular poetry are the songs of children. The so-called flower song ran thus: “Where are my roses? Where are my violets? Where are my beautiful parsley-leaves?” “Here are your roses; here are your violets; here are your beautiful parsley-leaves.” The children of Rhodes had a pretty custom. On a day in early spring they would go round the town seeking presents from door to door, and singing the advent of the swallow:—

  • SHE is here, she is here, the swallow!
  • Fair seasons bringing, fair years to follow!
  • Her belly is white,
  • Her back black as night!
  • From your rich house
  • Roll forth to us
  • Tarts, wine, and cheese:
  • Or if not these,
  • Oatmeal and barley-cake
  • The swallow deigns to take.
  • What shall we have? Or must we hence away?
  • Thanks, if you give; if not, we’ll make you pay!
  • The house-door hence we’ll carry;
  • Nor shall the lintel tarry;
  • From hearth and home your wife we’ll rob;
  • She is so small
  • To take her off will be an easy job!
  • Whate’er you give, give largess free!
  • Up! open, open to the swallow’s call!
  • No grave old men, but merry children we!
  • Translation of John Addington Symonds.
  • Choral poetry of a definite artistic type seems to have been first cultivated in Sparta by Alcman about the middle of the seventh century B.C. Alcman composed hymns to the gods, marching-songs and choral songs for men and boys; but his best-known compositions were choruses for girls, which were largely dramatic in character (see special article). A pupil of Alcman’s was Arion the Lesbian, who in Corinth first gave a literary form to the dithyramb. Well known is the pretty story of Arion and the dolphin. The poet had traveled through Magna Græcia, and having made a large fortune by his songs, again took ship at Tarentum for Corinth. But the sailors, who coveted his wealth, forced him to jump overboard; whereupon to their amazement a dolphin bore him safely to land.

    In Stesichorus (630–550 B.C.) we meet for the first time a Sicilian poet, and one of great power. His original name was Tisias, which he resigned for another that indicated his profession as a trainer of choruses. His native city Himera was a Dorian settlement, but had a large Ionic element in the population. Catana was the scene of his death.

    According to Quintilian, Stesichorus sustained in lyric form the weight of epic verse. By this is meant that the poet made use of epic material; taking such subjects as the exploits of Hercules, the tale of Orestes, or the story of Helen. But recitation was supplanted by song; and the verse of Stesichorus was such that it could be sung by choruses. It was he who permanently established the triple division of choral odes into strophes, antistrophes, and epodes. These terms refer primarily to the music, and as dance and music were closely interwoven, the orchestric movements must have been in intimate harmony with the song-divisions. Thus the melody and dance of the strophe were doubtless repeated in the rendition of the metrically similar antistrophe, while for the after-song, the dissimilar epode, a change of melody doubtless involved a change, if not a cessation, of dance movements. The triad of strophe, antistrophe, and epode formed one artistic whole. Correspondence of strophe and antistrophe seems to have been known to Alcman; but to Stesichorus must be given the credit for first revealing the capabilities of the choral ode, through the addition of the epode and the elaboration of artistic details. Herein he is the forerunner not only of Pindar, but also of the great dramatists.

    In addition to being an originator in the structure of choral verse, Stesichorus seems to have been the first to give literary standing to two important spheres of poetry. A single surviving line,—

  • When in springtime twitters the swallow,—
  • and his references to Cydonian apples, myrtle leaves, roses, and violets, are an indication of his affinity to Theocritus and Bion. His pastoral on Daphnis was probably based on a form of Sicilian popular poetry; and his love idyls—which were utterly unlike the erotic poems of the Lesbian school, and which also, we may well believe, have a popular origin—are the beginning of Greek romantic poetry. One of these, called ‘Rhadina,’ told the sad story of a brother and sister who were put to death by a tyrant; and another, ‘Calyce,’ set forth the unhappy end of “love’s sweet dream.”
  • When thus her lover passed away,
  • From her too passed the light of day.
  • A peculiarly interesting figure in the history of lyric poetry is Ibycus, who hails from the Italian Rhegium, another half-Dorian, half-Ionian city. He belongs to the middle of the sixth century; and in his art shows the influence both of Alcman and Stesichorus on the one hand, and on the other of the Æolian school of Lesbos. In form his verse belongs wholly to the Dorian lyric; but in giving free scope to the personal element he resembles Alcman, and when indulging his passionate erotic sentiment he is evidently under the spell of Sappho and his contemporary Anacreon. His career was divided between Sicily and distant Samos. In Sicily he followed in the steps of his master Stesichorus; producing odes of elaborate structure, based largely on epic and mythological material. But at the invitation of Polycrates, Ibycus left western Greece, and crossed the seas to adorn the court of the great tyrant of Samos.

    The rule of the tyrants was a transitional period in the development of democratic life in Greece. It came after the overthrow of oligarchic power, when the people were still unprepared to assume the responsibility of government. But it was a period of great commercial progress, industrial activity, and national ambition. The several tyrants, vying with one another in their display of wealth, adorned their cities and courts with all the embellishments and luxuries that riches and art could provide. It was thus that the poets found a home with princes. Henceforth the courts of tyrants, whether at Syracuse, Athens, or Samos, are thronged with sculptors, musicians, painters, and poets; and art, which had heretofore been largely local in sphere, comes to have more and more of a panhellenic character. By Ibycus the forms of Dorian lyric are planted in Ionian Samos, even as through Arion’s career at Corinth they take up their home at Ionian Athens.

    The love poetry of Ibycus, though clearly expressive of personal emotion, exhibits a choral structure, and was apparently sung on public occasions. Its tone may be inferred from the following fragment:—

  • IN spring Cydonian apple-trees,
  • Watered by fountains ever flowing
  • Through crofts unmown of maiden goddesses,
  • And young vines, ’neath the shade
  • Of shooting tendrils, tranquilly are growing.
  • Meanwhile for me, Love, never laid
  • In slumber, like a north wind glowing
  • With Thracian lightnings, still doth dart
  • Blood-parching madness on my heart,
  • From Kupris hurtling, stormful, wild,
  • Lording the man as erst the child.
  • Translation of John Addington Symonds.
  • Here as in other fragments of Ibycus we can detect an almost romantic sentiment for external nature, as evidenced by fruits and flowers, nightingales, running brooks, and starry nights. For the conception of love in the above passage, we may compare another where love looks upon the poet “from under deep-dark brows,” and Ibycus “trembles at his onset like a valiant chariot-horse which in old age must once more enter the race.” The love of Ibycus, as of Sappho, was a mighty, terrible creature, not the mischievous baby Cupid of later times.

    The panhellenic range of choral lyric, first seen in the career of Ibycus, is manifested most clearly by the two greatest masters in this sphere of art, Simonides and Pindar. Both of these poets enjoyed a national reputation, and both lived through the most glorious period in Hellenic existence, the period when Greece was engaged in her life-or-death struggle with her Persian foe.

    Simonides, born in the Ionian island of Ceos, became like Ibycus a court poet, and enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of the Athenian Pisistratidæ, of the powerful Aleuadæ and Scopadæ of Thessaly, and of Hiero the lordly tyrant of Syracuse. So too Pindar, born a Theban aristocrat, became famous and popular throughout the length and breadth of the whole Greek world. He was intimate with the kings of Macedon, and with the tyrants of Thessaly, Syracuse, and African Cyrene. He sings of Ægina, Corinth, Argos, and the various cities of Sicily. His heroes hail from all parts of the Hellenic domains, and win their laurels in those great centers of national unity, the sacred seats of Pythian Apollo, Isthmian Poseidon, Nemean and Olympian Zeus. At Lindos, in the island of Rhodes, the seventh Olympian was set up on the walls of Athene’s temple in letters of gold. Especially at Athens was Pindar held in high esteem. Not only did he receive a gift of money, but his statue was erected near the temple of Ares, and he was made Athenian proxenus, or State representative at Thebes. A century after his death, when Alexander the Great destroyed Thebes, the only private house left standing was that of Pindar, and among the few citizens who were spared a life of slavery were the descendants of Pindar. Pindar, like Euripides, was more than a mere citizen of a single State: his Muse and his fame were panhellenic.

    On Simonides and Pindar, however, we have no right to dwell, as they will be found treated in separate articles; but a word may be spared for Bacchylides, the nephew and disciple of Simonides, who was numbered by the Greeks among their nine great lyric writers. He too was intimate with Hiero, and most of his poetry was written to grace the refined and luxurious life of a court. Bacchylides followed closely in the steps of his uncle, and was an elegant and finished writer; but his personality and fame are almost lost in those of his more distinguished relative. He appears to have given a choral character to banqueting-songs and songs of love, though the following ode shows how closely he is allied in thought to Anacreon’s school:—

  • WHEN the wine-cup freely flows,
  • Soothing is the mellow force,
  • Vanquishing the drinker’s heart,
  • Rousing hope on Love’s sweet course.
  • Love with bounteous Bacchus joined
  • All with proudest thoughts can dower;
  • Wallèd towns the drinker scales,
  • Dreams of universal power.
  • Ivory and gold enrich his home;
  • Corn-ships o’er the dazzling sea
  • Bear him Egypt’s untold wealth:
  • Thus he soars in fancy free.
  • This is one of the few poems by which Bacchylides was known to the modern world until in 1896 there was discovered in Egypt a papyrus manuscript of the first century B.C., now in the British Museum, containing nineteen of his Odes. Another familiar citation is new known in its original setting (in the fifth Ode): “’Tis best for mortals,” he cries, “not to have been born, or to look upon the light of the sun. No mortal is happy all his days.” The best known fragment is from a pæans, giving a foretaste of Aristophanes, who in the lyric songs of his ‘Peace’ dwells upon the same theme.

  • TO mortal men Peace giveth these good things:
  • Wealth, and the flowers of honey-throated song;
  • The flame that springs
  • On carven altars from fat sheep and kine,
  • Slain to the gods in heaven; and all day long,
  • Games for glad youths, and flutes, and wreaths, and circling wine.
  • Then in the steely shield swart spiders weave
  • Their web and dusky woof;
  • Rust to the pointed spear and sword doth cleave;
  • The brazen trump sounds no alarms;
  • Nor is sleep harried from our eyes aloof,
  • But with sweet rest my bosom warms:
  • The streets are thronged with lovely men and young,
  • And hymns in praise of boys like flames to heaven are flung.
  • Translation of John Addington Symonds.
  • Of the nineteen recently recovered poems, thirteen are odes of victory. These epinicia are distributed among the national festivals as follows: four Olympian, two Pythian, three Isthmian, three Nemean, and one Petræan, this last celebrating a victory at certain Thessalian games held in honor of Poseidon. The fifth ode celebrates the same victory that Pindar commemorates in his first Olympian, that of Hieron’s famous horse Pherenicus in 476 B.C. It consists of five strophic triads, in contrast with Pindar’s four. In the opening words, the poet addresses Hieron as war-lord of Syracuse, who, “better than any other living man, will value the sweet gifts of the violet-crowned Muses.” The wondrous range which Hieron and his brothers offer to the Cean poet is like the boundless realms of air to a soaring eagle, which “on high cleaves the deep ether with swift tawny wings…. No peaks of the great earth stay him, no wild waves of the unwearied sea. In the limitless void he plies his delicate plumes, afloat on the Zephyr’s breath, clear to view before the eyes of men.” After briefly describing the achievement of Pherenicus, the poet continues: “Happy is he to whom the god has granted a portion of honors, and a life of abundance, with enviable fortune; for no mortal man is in all things blest.”

    This last reflection, it is said, is due to the fact that Hieron suffered from some incurable disease, and the myth now introduced, and occupying the largest part of the poem, is doubtless intended as the heroic parallel to the prince’s misfortune. Heracles, going down to Hades for Cerberus, “there, by Cocytus’s streams, perceived the souls of hapless mortals, countless as leaves quivering in the wind on Ida’s gleaming headlands, the grazing land of sheep. And conspicuous among them was the shade of a valiant wielder of the spear, Porthaon’s seed.” This is Meleager, who forthwith narrates to Heracles, not without tears, the story of the Calydonian boar, and how Althæa, in grief for her brother’s death, burned the brand, “which fate had decreed should be the measure of my life…. And my sweet life waned, and I knew my strength was ebbing away. Ah me! with my latest breath I wept, hapless one, at thus leaving the glory of my youth.” It is in the reply of Heracles that those pessimistic words already cited occur: “’Tis best never to have been born.” The story ends very abruptly, and in the last triad the poet returns to Hieron’s victory: “May Zeus, most mighty father, keep his fortunes steadfast in peace!”

    The third Ode, commemorating Hieron’s victory in the chariot-race at Olympia in 468 B.C., tells the famous story of Crœsus in a form elsewhere unknown. Instead of being sentenced to the pyre by Cyrus, the Bacchylidean Crœsus resolves to escape slavery by consigning himself and his family to the flames.

  • “And Crœsus, on coming to that unlooked for day, was not minded to await the further grief of slavery. Before the brazen walls of his courtyard he had a pyre built, whereon he mounted with his loyal wife and fair-tressed, wildly-sobbing daughters; then, lifting up his hands to high heaven, he cried: ‘O thou most mighty Spirit, where is the gratitude of the gods? Where is our lord, the son of Leto? The house of Alyattes is falling,… into shameless captivity women are led forth from the well-built halls: a fate once abhorred is now welcome; death is the sweetest lot.’ So saying he bade the attendant kindle the structure of wood. The maidens shrieked, and flung their hands about their mother; for most bitter to mortals is a violent death foreseen. But when the dread fire’s gleaming strength was rushing athwart the pile, Zeus brought overhead a dark-bosomed cloud, and quenched the yellow flame. Beyond belief is nought that divine care works. Thereupon the Delian Apollo bare the old king to the Hyperboreans, and there established him with his slender-ankled daughters, in requital of his piety, for that of all mortals he had sent up the richest gifts to divine Pytho.”
  • The last six Odes of Bacchylides are of unusual interest, because, aside from a few fragments, they alone represent for us the Greek dithyramb, as it was developed independently of the tragic drama. Originally composed in honor of Dionysus alone, the dithyramb had come to embrace a variety of heroic legends, and might even be performed at the festivals of various gods. Of the six dithyrambs of Bacchylides, only two are in any obvious way associated with Dionysus. The fifteenth, the Heracles, was intended for performance at Delphi in the winter months, when Dionysus took the place of Apollo, and the eighteenth sets forth the wine-god’s descent from Io. Two others, the sixteenth and seventeenth, may have been produced with a dithyrambic chorus of fifty. The latter of these, the only extant specimen of a dithyramb in dialogue, was probably performed at the Attic Thargelia in honor of Apollo. Its subject is Theseus, who, having slain Sinis and Sciron, and performed other valorous deeds, is now on his way to Athens, his future home, the city of which he is to become king and national hero.

  • “Two men attend him. From his gleaming shoulders hangs a sword; in his hands are two polished javelins; a Laconian helm covers his auburn locks; a purple tunic and a woolen Thessalian mantle enfold his breast. A red flame, as from Lemnos, flashes from his eyes: he is a youth in earliest manhood, intent on the games of Ares, on warfare, and on battle’s brazen clangor; and he seeks splendor-loving Athens.”
  • This interesting narrative is set forth in a dialogue between King Ægeus and a chorus of Athenians, and as the ode is the only extant example of such a dramatic lyric, it is our sole representative of that type of dithyramb from which, according to Aristotle, Attic tragedy was developed.

    The sixteenth ode, also dealing with Theseus, is properly a pæan to Apollo, which was sung at Delos by a Cean chorus. In two triads, extending to 132 verses, this beautiful lyric sings the legend of Theseus’s descent into the sea, to prove thereby his divine origin. At the outset the poet, in epic fashion, plunges in medias res. “A blue-prowed ship, bearing valiant Theseus and twice seven goodly children of Ionia, was cleaving the Cretan sea. On its far-gleaming sail fell northern breezes, by grace of glorious, ægis-swaying Athena.” The youths and maidens whom Theseus accompanies are the tribute exacted for the Minotaur, year by year, by King Minos, son of Zeus and Europa. On the journey Minos, having made advances to one of the maidens, is defied by Theseus, who reminds the king that he too is of divine parentage, being offspring of Æthra and Poseidon. Zeus, appealed to by his son, sends a lightning-flash, whereupon Minos challenges Theseus, if he indeed be of Poseidon’s stock, to bring from the sea a gold ring, which he forthwith throws into the waves. “So spake he: and the hero’s courage recoiled not, but stepping upon the vessel’s shapely stern he leaped, and gladly the deep received him to her groves.” Dolphins bore Theseus to the hall of the gods.

  • “There beheld he with awe the glorious daughter of the blessed Nereus; for a splendor as of fire shone from their beauteous limbs; fillets of woven gold encircled their hair, while with lightly-moving feet they delighted their hearts in the dance. Then in those lovely halls he saw his father’s dear wife, the stately, ox-eyed Amphitrite, who flung upon him a purple cloak, and set on his curling hair a wondrous wreath, dark with roses, once bestowed on her as wedding-gift by wily Aphrodite.
  • “Nothing that the gods will is past belief to men of sober wit. He arose at the ship’s narrow stern. Ah, with what thoughts did he check the Cnossian commander, when he came forth, unwetted, from the sea, a marvel to all, the gods’ adornments glittering on his limbs. The beauteous-throned maidens cried aloud with new-born joy, the sea resounded, while near at hand the youths and maidens raised a pæan with lovely voices. God of Delos, may thy heart be charmed by choruses of Ceans, and for our portion vouchsafe us heaven-sent blessings!”
  • Thus the story ends as abruptly as it began.

    From these examples one may learn something of this poet’s style and thought. If prince or people preferred Bacchylides to Pindar, this may well have been due to the clarity and simplicity of the Cean as contrasted with the obscurity and difficulty which readers commonly find in the Theban’s verse. Bacchylides indulges in wise reflections, but he does not assume the oracular tone of an inspired seer. Moreover, his Ionic milieu is revealed in the graceful charm of his narrative, in his decorative coloring, his lavish use of ornamental epithets, and in his general appreciation of picturesque incidents and details. One finds it easy to subscribe to the verdict pronounced by the author of the Greek treatise “On the Sublime,” who declares that while Bacchylides is “a faultless poet, of elegant and finished style,” he nevertheless lacks those qualities of real greatness which we admire in Pindar.

  • The Youths and Theseus
  • (Bacchylides, XVI.)
  • A DARK-PROWED ship, Theseus the bold convoying(Str. 1)
  • And twice seven Ionian youths and maidens fair,
  • Was cleaving the Cretan sea,
  • As full and free
  • Upon her sail, its bright beams far deploying,
  • The north wind blew, through famed Athena’s care—
  • War-ægis wielder she.
  • Now Minos’ heart burned fierce with fire
  • Of Cypris, goddess of desire,
  • Who laid on Eribœa her dread dower,
  • Till, waxing in the maiden’s beauty bold,
  • He touched her cheek’s white flower.
  • Aloud she shouted to Pandion’s son,
  • Bronze-armored Theseus; and his dark eye rolled
  • Beneath his brow to see the outrage done,
  • And, choking half with agony, he cried:
  • “Lo, hast thou, son of great Zeus, ceased to guide
  • Aright the counsels of thy covetous breast.
  • Stay, man, thine impious quest.
  • “Once Fate, all-potent, heaping Justice’ scale full,(Ant. 1)
  • Decrees us aught from the gods, then shall we bow,
  • And take the appointed doom
  • Whenso it come.
  • But thou, cease to pursue thy purpose baleful.
  • What though Phœnix’ dear child, ’neath Ida’s brow
  • Yielding her maiden bloom
  • To Zeus, bare thee, a lord of earth?
  • To me the sea-god’s bride gave birth,
  • Poseidon’s: the rich Pittheus was her sire,
  • And from the dark-haired Nereids she had dower
  • Of a gold-gleaming tire.
  • Therefore, O Cnossian chieftain, heed thou me.
  • Stay thy fell insolence, nor dare deflower
  • One of these maidens. Nay, it shall not be.
  • I could not bear to look again upon
  • The lovely light of the unfailing dawn.
  • Sooner will I put forth my own hands’ might
  • And let God judge the right.”
  • Thus spoke the hero, spear-renowned,(Ep. 1)
  • While awe transfixed the sailors round.
  • But Helios’ kinsman held self-counsel, wroth at heart.
  • Then from his wily soul he spoke:
  • “Zeus, mighty father, I invoke
  • Thine intervention. If in truth my sire thou art,
  • And white-armed Phœnissa bore me,
  • Shake the lightning’s fire-mane o’er me
  • For a clear sign out of heaven of my part.
  • And for thee
  • That boast to be
  • Child of Troezenian Aethra and
  • Poseidon, shaker of earth’s walls,
  • This trinket on my hand,
  • Behold,
  • This ring of gold,—
  • Leap boldly down into thy father’s halls
  • And bring it back from the abysmal sea.
  • So shalt thou know if he hath heard my call,
  • Cronian, lord of thunder, lord of all.”
  • And to the unblushing prayer the lord Zeus hearkened(Str. 2)
  • And gave great honor unto Minos, fain
  • A manifest sign to make
  • For his son’s sake.
  • The lightning flashed. And to the sky undarkened
  • The warrior-hero, glad for the portent plain,
  • Spread forth his hands, and spake:
  • “Theseus, behold the clear-shown sign,
  • Zeus-given. What remains is thine.
  • Plunge thou into the sullen-thundering sea,
  • And king Poseidon, thy father, Cronos’ son,
  • Will surely accomplish thee
  • Glory supreme through all the tree-clad land.”
  • So spake; and the other shrunk not, but upon
  • The vessel’s lofty poop took straight his stand
  • And leaped. And over him the waves closed glad.
  • Joyous at heart the son of Zeus quick bade
  • Trim the good ship to fly on the wind’s wings.
  • But Fate planned other things.
  • The swift ship sped upon her way, for steady(Ant. 2)
  • And strong the north wind blew behind. Natheless
  • The Athenians, youth and maid,
  • Trembled, afraid,
  • When the hero leaped into the sea, and ready
  • Tears filled their tender eyes for heaviness
  • Of the grief on them laid.
  • But dolphins, dwelling ’neath the foam,
  • Swift bore to his horseman father’s home
  • Great Theseus. To the gods’ abodes he came.
  • He saw rich Nereus’ famous daughters there—
  • Vision of awe! for flame
  • Clothed on their shining limbs as flame of fire,
  • And golden bands ran in and out their hair,
  • And with lithe feet they danced to the heart’s desire.
  • There too he saw, within her charming house,
  • The noble large-eyed Amphitrite, spouse
  • Beloved of his sire, who clothed him new
  • With robe of purple hue,
  • And on his fleecy locks she set(Ep. 2)
  • A faultless red-rose coronet,
  • Her wedding-gift from Aphrodite, subtle queen.
  • Gods may work wonders past the ken,
  • Not past the faith, of thoughtful men.
  • Lo, soon beside the strait-sterned vessel he was seen.
  • Ah, how instantly the froward
  • Cnossian captain’s pride he lowered,
  • Risen, oh wondrous, dry from mansions submarine!
  • Marred nor dim
  • On beauteous limb
  • The gifts the gods had given him gleamed;
  • And in the rapture of new joys
  • The bright-throned maidens screamed,
  • The sea
  • Broke clamorously,
  • And pressing close around, with tuneful voice
  • The young men joined in a triumphal hymn.—
  • O Delian, now our Cean choirs are heard,
  • Be ours the lot of blessings god-conferred.
  • Translation of Alphonso Gerald Newcomer.
  • Pindar and Bacchylides are the last of the great writers whose poetry was exclusively lyric. With the rise of the drama, lyric poetry came to be regarded mainly as the handmaid of tragedy and comedy; and though a few forms, such as the dithyramb, continued to enjoy an independent existence, still these either failed to attract real genius, and so fell into decline, or they suffered from the tendency to magnify the accompaniments of music and dance, and thus lost the virtue of a high poetical tone.

    It is however a peculiarity of Greek poetry that none of the earlier forms are completely lost, but are absorbed in the later. When we reach the drama, we find that this splendid creation of Hellenic genius gathers up in one beautiful and harmonious web the various threads of the poetic art.

    The drama, as is well known, originated in the songs which were sung in the festivals of Bacchus. Tragedy is literally the goat-ode; that is, the choral song chanted by satyrs, the goat-footed attendants of Bacchus. At first, then, tragedy was of a purely lyric character,—a story in song with expressive dance and musical accompaniment. The further history of tragedy and comedy is, in brief, the development of dialogue and the harmonizing of the lyric and dramatic elements. The greatest impetus was given to dialogue in Attica through the recitations of Homeric poetry by professional bards. Epic metre, however, was unsuited to dramatic dialogue, which, after essaying the lighter trochaic line, finally adopted the more conversational iambic verse which Archilochus had used so effectively for satire.

    Already at the end of the sixth century B.C., the drama presents the twofold character which in Greece it never lost, the chorus and the dialogue, the former due to Dorian lyric poetry, the latter to the Ionic verse-forms of Archilochus. With the full development of dramatic form the lyric was reduced from its supreme position to an inferior station, in which it should no longer be the controlling element, but merely the efficient and beautiful handmaid of dramatic dialogue. In Æschylus the lyric still assumes undue proportions; in Sophocles the lyric and dramatic are blended in perfect harmony; but in Euripides the work of disintegration has set in, and the lyric tends to become a mere artistic appendage.

    All works on Greek literature treat this subject more or less fully. Flach’s ‘Geschichte der Griechischen Lyrik’ (Tübingen: 1883) is the most complete work on the whole field. Symonds’s ‘Greek Poets’ and Jebb’s ‘Classical Greek Poetry’ are both excellent. The Greek student finds Bergk’s ‘Poetæ Lyrici Græeci’ (Leipzig: 1882) indispensable. An attractive and convenient edition of the ‘Poetæ Lyrici Græci Minores’ is that by Pomtow (Leipzig: 1885) or that by Hiller ‘Anthologia Lyrica’ (Leipzig: 1897). Farnell’s ‘Greek Lyric Poetry’ (Longmans: 1891) is confined to the “melic” writers; so too is Smyth’s ‘Greek Melic Poets’ (Macmillan: 1900). Davidson’s ‘Anacreontea’ (Dent: 1915) is a good translation of Anacreon and Anacreontics. The most popular treatment of Greek music will be found in Naumann’s ‘History of Music,’ edited by Sir F. Gore Ouseley (Cassell & Co.). Chappell’s ‘History of Music’ (London: 1874) is a standard work. Monro’s ‘The Modes of Ancient Greek Music’ (Clarendon Press: 1894) is intended for the specialist. The latest work on Greek dancing is Maurice’s ‘The Antique Greek Dance’ (Lane: 1916).