Bacchylides

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Bacchylides (Greek: Βακχυλίδης) (5th century BC) 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 (De Sublimitate 33,5).[1] Some scholars however have associated these qualities with superficial charm.[2] He has often been compared unfavourably with his contemporary, Pindar, as "a kind of Boccherini to Pindar's Haydn",[3] yet the differences in their styles doesn't allow for easy comparison and "to blame Bacchylides for not being Pindar is as childish a judgement as to condemn...Marvel for missing the grandeur of Milton."[4] His career coincided with the ascendency of dramatic styles of poetry, as embodied in the works of Aeschylus or Sophocles, and he is in fact one of the last poets of major significance within the more ancient tradition of purely lyric poetry.[5] The most notable features of his lyrics are their clarity in expression and simplicity of thought,[6] making them an ideal introduction to the study of Greek lyric poetry in general and to Pindar's verse in particular.[7]

Contents

The life of Bacchylides

This simple precept, from one of Bacchylides' extant fragments, was considered by his modern editor, Richard Claverhouse Jebb, to be typical of the poet's temperament: "If the utterances scattered throughout the poems warrant a conjecture, Bacchylides was of placid temper; amiably tolerant; satisfied with a modest lot; not free from some tinge of that pensive melancholy which was peculiarly Ionian; but with good sense..."[9]

Bacchylides' lyrics do not seem to have been popular in his own lifetime. Lyrics by his uncle, Simonides, and his rival, Pindar, were known in Athens and were sung at parties, they were parodied by Aristophanes and quoted by Plato, but no trace of Bacchylides' work can be found until the Hellenistic age, when Callimachus began writing some commentaries on them.[10] Like Simonides and Pindar, however, Bacchylides composed lyrics to appeal to the sophisticated tastes of a social elite[11] and his patrons, though relatively few in number, covered a wide, geographical area around the Mediterranean, including for example Delos in The Aegean Sea, Thessaly to the north of mainland Greece and Sicily or Magna Graecia in the west.[12] It has been inferred from the elegance and quiet charm of his lyrics that he only gradually acquired fame towards the end of his life.[13]

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