Monday, October 22, 2007

Lyric Poetry

The prescribed genre for Latin extension next year is Lyric Poetry. I was a bit unsure what qualified as Lyric poetry, so I checked the article in my trusty Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, and this is what it said:

Lyric Poetry

1. Greek Lyric Poetry

Lyric poetry, meaning 'poetry sung to the lyre', is a term applied originally to songs accompanied by music; at first to Scolia or drinking songs, and to light songs of love; but always to to songs as expressing the untrammelled and personal sentiments of the poets, as distinguished from epic and dramatic poetry. Lyric poetry had its origin in the Aeolian island of Lesbos, with Terpander, Sappho, and Alcaeus, and in Ionia with Anacreon. It was accompanied at first on some kind of lyre. It employed a great variety of meters, of which the most characteristic were combinations of dactyls and trochees. It was chiefly developed among the Dorians, where Terpander, who migrated to Sparta, is said to have established it. It there took the more solemn and elaborate form of the Choral Lyric, accompanied by the flute as well as the lyre. This reached its greatest perfection with Pindar. The age of the great lyric poets ended about 452 B.C. when Pindar and Bacchylides wrote their last known odes. But by this time lyric poetry had found a new field in the choruses of the Greek drama. Greek tragedy was at first essentially lyric in character. The early tragedian Phrynicus was famous for the sweetness of his lyrics; and although as tragedy developed the chorus was more and more relegated to a subordinate position, the lyrical element continued a source of delight to the end of the period of the great tragedians. Lyrics are an important feature likewise in the comedy of Aristophanes, and there is often in his choruses 'a rush of real feeling and beauty, quickly apologised for and turned off with a laugh' (Murray).

2. Roman Lyric Poetry

The adoption in Latin of the Greek Lyric meters presented great difficulty, especially with the restrictions that the Romans introduced, and the number of great Roman lyric poets is small. Livius Andronicus composed a national hymn to be sung by a choir of maidens; and Laevius was another early writer of lyrics, but only fragments of his work have survived. The two chief Roman lyric poets were Catullus and Horace, and they had no important successors (except perhaps Statius). Seneca uses a variety of lyric meters in the choruses of his tragedies, Sapphics, Glyconics, Asclepiads; but without the metrical skill of the great Greek tragedians and without the variety of the strophic arrangement.

(Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. Sir Paul Harvey, 1962)


Mike Salter said...

Thanks JM, that's a useful wrap.

I'm already enjoying teaching this year's Extension course much more than the Philosophy one.

Can't wait 'til we get to Odes 4.7 (the "diffugere nives" one). That's probably my favourite Latin poem of many layers to it.

Anonymous said...

I somehow managed to get through uni without reading much Horace, but I've been doing a bit of reading lately, and I'm enjoying his poetry a lot. I can't say that I've thought much about 4.7 yet, though...