Minor Greek Poets

Archaic Lyric Poets

“Lyric” was the word used by Hellenistic scholars from Alexandria for poems whose performance was accompanied by a flute or a stringed instrument, often the lyre. Unfortunately we possess only fragments of these poets’ work and they were often found written on papyrus. The Alexandrian Canon rated nine authors who were considered the most esteemed from antiquity: Alcman, Sappho, Alcaeus, Anacreon, Stesichorus, Ibicus, Simonides, Bacchylides, Pindar. There were nine of them, just like the nine Muses. Thereafter, the poetess Corinna too was added to this group. Modern scholars nowadays assert that also Archilochus and Mimnermus were also important lyric poets, even if they do not form part of the famous Canon.

There were different forms of archaic lyrics. Poetry performed by only one voice was called “monodic lyric”: these poems were created inside restricted contexts, such as the thiasos, an elitist circle where young girls were educated, and the eteria, a political group. Lyric with choral sections was denominated “choral poetry” and it was composed for public occasions. Besides these forms, there was also “iambic poetry”, an often aggressive kind of lyric, whose aim was to represent realistic situations. Lastly there was “elegiac poetry”, which was a quite complex genre: in the first examples poems were meant to encourage soldiers before going into war, but most poets used elegiac verses to express personal feelings and thoughts about life, time, youth and love. These poems featured during religious or political ceremonies, when the whole community took part in the event.

Lyric, in fact, played a very important role in Greek society between the 7th and 6th century BCE, because it served as a vehicle through which rapid social change and political tensions could be expressed. Afterwards, in the 5th century, expectations and fears of Greek people would be represented in dramatic plays, both in tragedy and comedy. At that point, lyric poetry gradually disappeared. Choral poetry was the last to be extinguished, as it was bound to the aristocratic world.

The most important revolution brought about by Archaic lyric poetry in the Greek world was the birth of individualism: man, for the first time, feels as if he is in the middle of the world and wants to react to the Homeric “shame culture” and to a vision of life dominated by deities, where he could decide none of his actions and words. He wants to communicate his own vision of the world, his point of view, his love for life, his scale of values, grounded on his own experience, often standing back from traditional ethics (Archilocus, fr. 5 West: I saved myself, so what do I care about the shield?).

Mariangela Labate, Head of Classics, Liceo Scientifico
“Leonardo da Vinci”, Reggio Calabria, Italy


Pindar | Sappho


Ibycus was born in the VIth century BCE in Rhegion, now known as Reggio Calabria, a Greek colony in the very south of Italy. He spent most of his life away from his native town, as he went to Sicily first, then to the Aegean Island of Samos, where he met the poet Anacreon at the court of the tyrant Polycrates. Suida recounts that he was murdered by bandits near Corinth and afterwards his murderer was revealed by  the cranes he had invoked just before dying.

He certainly composed some celebratory poems related to mythological themes, but above all he is well known for the passages decribing the power of love, the strength of which is impossible for humans to avoid, just as there is no way to arrest the stream of time and the cyclical alternation of seasons. Cicero himself attributes the first place in writing love poems to the poet Ibycus. (Maxime vero omnium flagrasse amore Rheginum Ibycum apparet ex scriptis : Cic., Tusc. Disp. IV 33, 71).

Ibycus may be included in the context of choral poetry, as he was a court poet and most fragments might be related to public occasions. Nevertheless, he embraced the tradition ofAlcman, the first archaic choral poet, who had also expressed his personal feelings in verse. Ibycus’ style could be defined as “baroque” , because it is elaborate, full of epithets, adjectives and metaphors.

Ibycus | Fragment 6
Contributed by Mariangela Labate

Ibycus | Fragment 7
Contributed by Mariangela Labate

Ibycus Fragment 12 D | Endlessness 
Contributed by Cristina Maria Lofaro

 Mimnermus | Fragment 8
Contributed by Domenico Crea