Dithyramb

Dithyramb

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The dithyramb was an ancient Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

 sung and danced in honour of Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

, the god of wine
Wine
Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made of fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, or other nutrients. Grape wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. Yeast...

 and fertility
Fertility
Fertility is the natural capability of producing offsprings. As a measure, "fertility rate" is the number of children born per couple, person or population. Fertility differs from fecundity, which is defined as the potential for reproduction...

; the term was also used as an epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 of the god: Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

, in The Laws
Laws (dialogue)
The Laws is Plato's last and longest dialogue. The question asked at the beginning is not "What is law?" as one would expect. That is the question of the Minos...

, while discussing various kinds of music mentions "the birth of Dionysos, called, I think, the dithyramb." Plato also remarks in the Republic (394c) that dithyrambs are the clearest example of poetry in which the poet is the only speaker.

Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 contrasted the dithyramb's wild and ecstatic
Ecstasy (philosophy)
Ecstasy, from the Ancient Greek, έκ-στασις , "to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere ."-Hellenic philosophy:...

 character with the paean
Paean
A paean is a song or lyric poem expressing triumph or thanksgiving. In classical antiquity, it is usually performed by a chorus, but some examples seem intended for an individual voice...

. According to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, the dithyramb was the origin of Athenian
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

 tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

. A wildly enthusiastic speech or piece of writing is still occasionally described as dithyrambic.

History


Dithyrambs were sung by choruses at Delos
Delos
The island of Delos , isolated in the centre of the roughly circular ring of islands called the Cyclades, near Mykonos, is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece...

, but the literary fragments that have survived are largely Athenian
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

. In Athens dithyrambs were sung by a Greek chorus
Greek chorus
A Greek chorus is a homogenous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action....

 of up to fifty men or boys dancing in circular formation (there is no certain evidence that they may have originally been dressed as satyr
Satyr
In Greek mythology, satyrs are a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus — "satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing....

s) and probably accompanied by the aulos
Aulos
An aulos or tibia was an ancient Greek wind instrument, depicted often in art and also attested by archaeology.An aulete was the musician who performed on an aulos...

. They would normally relate some incident in the life of Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

.

The ancient Greeks themselves counted among the special criteria of the dithyramb its special rhythm, its aulos
Aulos
An aulos or tibia was an ancient Greek wind instrument, depicted often in art and also attested by archaeology.An aulete was the musician who performed on an aulos...

accompaniment in Phrygian mode
Phrygian mode
The Phrygian mode can refer to three different musical modes: the ancient Greek tonos or harmonia sometimes called Phrygian, formed on a particular set octave species or scales; the Medieval Phrygian mode, and the modern conception of the Phrygian mode as a diatonic scale, based on the latter...

, its highly-wrought vocabulary, its considerable narrative content, and its originally antistrophic character
Antistrophe
Antistrophe is the portion of an ode sung by the chorus in its returning movement from west to east, in response to the strophe, which was sung from east to west.It has the nature of a reply and balances the effect of the strophe...

.

Competitions between groups singing and dancing dithyrambs were an important part of Dionysiac festivals such as the Dionysia
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

 and Lenaia
Lenaia
The Lenaia was an annual festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in the month of Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysos Lenaios...

. Each tribe would enter two choruses, one of men and one of boys, each under the leadership of a coryphaeus
Coryphaeus
Coryphaeus, or Koryphaios , and often corypheus in English. In Attic drama, the coryphaeus was the leader of the chorus. Hence the term is used for the chief or leader of any company or movement...

. The results of dithyrambic contests in Athens were recorded, with the names of the winning teams and their choregoi recorded, but not the poets, most of whom remain unknown. The successful choregos would receive a statue that would be erected—at his own expense—as a public monument to commemorate the victory.

The earliest mention of dithyramb found by Sir Arthur Wallace Pickard-Cambridge, is in a fragment of Archilochus
Archilochus
Archilochus, or, Archilochos While these have been the generally accepted dates since Felix Jacoby, "The Date of Archilochus," Classical Quarterly 35 97-109, some scholars disagree; Robin Lane Fox, for instance, in Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer , p...

, who flourished in the first half of the seventh century BCE: "I know how to lead the fair song of the Lord Dionysus, the dithyramb, when my wits are fused with wine." As a literary composition for chorus, their inspiration is unknown, although it was likely Greek, as Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 explicitly speaks of Arion
Arion
Arion was a kitharode in ancient Greece, a Dionysiac poet credited with inventing the dithyramb: "As a literary composition for chorus dithyramb was the creation of Arion of Corinth," The islanders of Lesbos claimed him as their native son, but Arion found a patron in Periander, tyrant of Corinth...

 of Lesbos as "the first of men we know to have composed the dithyramb and named it and produced it in Corinth
Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

".

The word dithyramb is of unknown but probably non-Greek derivation. The form soon spread to other Greek city-states
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

, and dithyrambs were composed by the poets Simonides
Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos was a Greek lyric poet, born at Ioulis on Kea. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets, along with Bacchylides and Pindar...

 and Bacchylides
Bacchylides
Bacchylides was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets which included his uncle Simonides. The elegance and polished style of his lyrics have been a commonplace of Bacchylidean scholarship since at least Longinus...

, as well as Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

 (the only one whose works have survived in anything like their original form).

Later examples were dedicated to other gods, but the dithyramb subsequently was developed (traditionally by Arion
Arion
Arion was a kitharode in ancient Greece, a Dionysiac poet credited with inventing the dithyramb: "As a literary composition for chorus dithyramb was the creation of Arion of Corinth," The islanders of Lesbos claimed him as their native son, but Arion found a patron in Periander, tyrant of Corinth...

) into a literary form. According to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, Athenian
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

 tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 developed from the dithyramb; the two forms developed alongside one another for some time. The clearest sense of dithyramb as proto-tragedy comes from a surviving dithyramb by Bacchylides, though it was composed after tragedy had already developed fully. As a dialogue between a solitary singer and a chorus, Bacchylides' dithyramb is suggestive of what tragedy may have resembled before Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 added a second actor.

In the later 5th century BCE, the dithyramb "became a favorite vehicle for the musical experiments of the poets of the 'new music'." This movement included the poets Timotheus of Miletus
Timotheus of Miletus
Timotheus of Miletus was a Greek musician and dithyrambic poet, an exponent of the "new music." He added one or more strings to the lyre, whereby he incurred the displeasure of the Spartans and Athenians...

, Cinesias
Cinesias (poet)
Cinesias was an innovative dithyrambic poet in classical Athens whose work has survived only in a few fragments. An inscription indicates that he was awarded a victory at the Dionysia in the early 4th century...

, Melanippides
Melanippides
Melanippides of Melos, one of the most celebrated lyric poets in the department of the dithyramb, and an exponent of the "new music."The date of Melanippides can only be fixed within rather uncertain limits. He may be said, somewhat to have flourished about the middle of the 5th-century BC. He was...

, and Philoxenus of Cythera
Philoxenus of Cythera
Philoxenus of Cythera was a Greek dithyrambic poet, an exponent of the "new music."On the conquest of the island by the Athenians he was taken as a slave to Athens, where he came into the possession of the dithyrambic poet Melanippides, who educated him and set him free...

. By the 4th century BCE the genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 was in decline, although the dithyrambic competitions did not come to an end until well after the Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 takeover of Greece.

Dithyrambic compositions are rare in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

; one notable exception is John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

's Alexander's Feast (1697). Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

 wrote a song for bass voice (D 801, published in 1826) on a text Dithyrambe, by Friedrich Schiller
Friedrich Schiller
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright. During the last seventeen years of his life , Schiller struck up a productive, if complicated, friendship with already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe...

 (1796). Wolfgang Rihm
Wolfgang Rihm
Wolfgang Rihm is a German composer.Rihm is Head of the Institute of Modern Music at the Karlsruhe Conservatory of Music and has been composer in residence at the Lucerne Festival and the Salzburg Festival...

 composed a 30-minute work, Concerto, in 2000, with the subtitle Dithyrambe and a scoring for string quartet and orchestra. Nietzsche composed a set of Dionysos-Dithyramben in 1889.

Sources

  • Feder, Lillian. 1998. The Handbook of Classical Literature. New York : Da Capo Press
    Da Capo Press
    Da Capo Press, is an American publishing company with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1964 as a publisher of music books, as a division of Plenum Publishers. it had additional offices in offices in New York City, Philadelphia and Emeryville, California...

     ISBN 0306808803.
  • Francis, Eric David, and Michael J. Vickers. 1990. Image and Idea in Fifth-Century Greece. London and New York: Routledge
    Routledge
    Routledge is a British publishing house which has operated under a succession of company names and latterly as an academic imprint. Its origins may be traced back to the 19th-century London bookseller George Routledge...

    . ISBN 0415019141.
  • Harrison, Jane Ellen
    Jane Ellen Harrison
    Jane Ellen Harrison was a British classical scholar, linguist and feminist. Harrison is one of the founders, with Karl Kerenyi and Walter Burkert, of modern studies in Greek mythology. She applied 19th century archaeological discoveries to the interpretation of Greek religion in ways that have...

    . 1922. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. New ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
    Princeton University Press
    -Further reading:* "". Artforum International, 2005.-External links:* * * * *...

    , 1997. ISBN 0691015147.
  • Harvey, A. E. 1955. "The Classification of Greek Lyric Poetry." Classical Quarterly 5.
  • (Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

    ) Richard Janko, trans. 1987. Poetics with Tractatus Coislinianus, Reconstruction of Poetics II and the Fragments of the On Poets. Cambridge: Hackett. ISBN 0872200337.
  • Pickard-Cambridge, Sir Arthur Wallace
    Arthur Wallace Pickard-Cambridge
    Sir Arthur Wallace Pickard-Cambridge was a British classicist and one of the greatest authorities on the theatre of ancient Greece in the first half of the 20th century....

    . 1927. Dithyramb Tragedy and Comedy. Second edition revised by T.B.L. Webster, 1962. Oxford: Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

    , 1997. ISBN 0198142277.
  • —. 1946. The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens.
  • —. 1953. The Dramatic Festivals of Athens.
  • Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane. 2003. Tragedy and Athenian Religion. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • Trypanis, Constantine Athanasius. 1981. Greek Poetry from Homer to Seferis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
    University of Chicago Press
    The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including Critical Inquiry, and a wide array of...

    . ISBN 0226813169.
  • Wiles, David. 1991. The Masked Menander: Sign and Meaning in Greek and Roman Performance. New ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , 2008. ISBN 0521543525.

External links