Aristophanes’ Bacchylides: Reading Birds 1373–1409

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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The significance of Aristophanes in the history of ancient literary criticism cannot be doubted. Equally undoubted is also the dismissive attitude that he appears to have towards the musical and poetic innovations of the late-fifth century BC. This position of his becomes essential when one considers the manner in which he treats the appraised canonical lyric poets and the contemned representatives of the New Dithyramb. This paper is concerned with the reading specifically of Bacchylides in Aristophanes. It argues in favour of the use of Bacchylides’ Ode 5 to Hieron in Birds 1373-1409 as well as for the poem’s reconfiguration by Kinesias within the context of the New Music. In the process it will allow us to comment on a number of poetic characteristics of Bacchylides’ poetry and also to draw conclusions on Bacchylides’ status within the melic tradition as the poet in-between classical lyric poetry and the New Music.

Aristophanes’ Bacchylides: Reading Birds 1373–1409

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies



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Zimmermann 1993a43-45. Csapo and Wilson (2009 282) note that “suddenly in the later fifth century musical innovation became an ‘issue’ for the Greeks” (my emphasis). Their claim is confirmed by a number of scholarly studies. E.g. with reference to the New Dithyramb Ford (2013 320-322) shows how Aristophanes criticizes Aeschylus for the excess in compound epithets for which he also parodied the New Dithyramb. Wallace (2003 75-82) has also shown that the aulos was also marked by revolutionary musical changes in early fifth century an era that was defined as traditional and always in comparison to the new character of music and poetry in the latter half of the fifth century.


Dunbar 1995665.


Barker 2004.


Ford 2013319-321quotation from 319.


Kirkwood 196698-101.


Gentili and Catenacci 2007341.


Segal 1976101107.


LeVen 2013ain an attempt to explore the sensual and aesthetic experience of mousikē examines poikilos and poikilia “as terms of aesthetic and self-conscious discourse on the nature of the sensory experience and its effects” (p.236). She notes in particular (p.240) that poikilia as a term referring to musical complexity becomes “one of the characteristics of the (much-discussed) virtuoso style of New Music.” Csapo (2004 227) explains how the New Music appealed “to senses especially to the ears and eye of the mind.” West (1992 363) characterises the language of Timotheus’ Persae as elaborate exuberant highly-coloured and with tendency to concentrate on pictorial details in his narrative.


Cf. Gentili and Catenacci 2007341on how Bacchylides differs from Pindar in that he often analyses his characters’ psychology; Csapo (2004 228) comments on how ethopoieia was one of the main quests of the New Music.


Cf. Kirkwood 1966; Fearn 2012.


Calame 2013341 entitles his section dealing with Bacchylides’ dithyramb “The mimetic narratives of Bacchylides.”


West 199244. Zimmermann (1992 118-128) and Csapo (2004 207-229) (2011 65-89) offer detailed accounts of the characteristics of the New Music; with reference to the character of the dithyrambic genre Zimmermann (1993b 51-54) gives a short overview of the changing process of the dithyramb between the fifth and second centuries; Ieranò (1997 37-48 and 205-232) gathers and analyses the relevant testimonia on the innovations introduced by the New Dithyramb; Wilson (2004 303-306) considers briefly the manner in which stringed instruments were affected by the New Music; Csapo and Wilson (2009 287-290) offer a concise overview of the musical characteristics of the New Music with special emphasis on Timotheus; D’Angour (2011 202-206) accompanies his overview of the main technical and performative features of the New Music with allusions to a few reactionary tendencies. See also Richter 1968; West 1992 356-372; D’Angour 2006; Fearn 2007 181-205; Power 2010 82-86 110-115 and 500-516; Kowalzig and Wilson 2013 19-23; Franklin 2013; Power 2013.


D’Angour 2013206.


Csapo 2004214 and 2011 74.


See Peponi 2013362-364; Franklin 2013 232 for two interpretations of the passage in connection with the dithyramb.


D’Alessio 2013119-122 discusses the genre of Bacchylides’ Kassandra in connection to kuklioi khoroi. Cf. which closes with the semi-paeanic refrain iē iē. Despite this closure the poem could plausibly be classified as a dithyramb because it is followed on the papyrus by fr.61 which like the rest of Bacchylides’ dithyrambs is given a title.


Cf. Zimmermann 1992116 and 1993b 54.


Rosen 2010242. It is clear that Aristophanes was looking for radical features in every aspect of life: the gluttons the extremely wealthy the leading politicians who were notorious scandalous or more powerful and more successful than average on which Sommerstein 1996.


Rosen 2010242.


E.g. Jebb 190663; Kirkwood 1966 100; Carey 1999 20-1; Fearn 2007 20-1; Cairns 2010 45-57 with reference to the quasi-epic narrative style of his myths; on the Homeric quality of Bacchylides’ persona Hadjimichael 2010-2011.


See Fearn 2007120-143.


Prauscello (2012) has recently argued convincingly in favour of the transitional phase that Pindar’s epinician belonged to; she documents how his poetry proves that he cannot be perceived as the musically conservative figure presented in our sources. Her conclusion does not alter the conclusions drawn above on Bacchylides; rather it confirms the possibility of the co-existence of the traditional and the innovative in poets that have always been perceived as classic.


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