Online Encyclopedia

DITHYRAMBIC POETRY

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 324 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DITHYRAMBIC

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POETRY  , the description of
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poetry in which the character of the dithyramb is preserved . It remains quite uncertain what the derivation or even the
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primitive meaning of the Greek word &Obpayi3os is, although many conjectures have been attempted . It was, however, connected from earliest times with the choral worship of Dionysus . A dithyramb is defined by Grote as a round choric dance and
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song in honour of the wine-
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god . The earliest dithyrambic poetry was probably improvised by priests of Bacchus at solemn feasts, and expressed, in disordered numbers, the excitement and frenzy felt by the worshippers . This element of unrestrained and intoxicated vehemence is prominent in all poetry of this class . The dithyramb was traditionally first practised in
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Naxos; it spread to other islands, to
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Boeotia and finally to Athens .
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Arion is said to have introduced it at Corinth, and to have allied it to the worshir of Pan . It was thus " merged," as Professor G . G . Murray says; " into the Satyr-choir of wild mountain-goats" out of which sprang the earliest form of tragedy . But when tragic drama had so fat
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developed as to be quite
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independent, the dithyramb did not, on ' That is, the right of claiming military service, and the right of bringing capital offenders to justice .

that

account, disappear . It flourished in Athens until after the age of Aristotle . So far as we can. distinguish the form of the ancient Greek dithyramb, it must have been a kind of irregular wild poetry, not divided into strophes or constructed with any
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evolution of the theme, but imitative of the
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enthusiasm created by the use of wine, by what passed as the Dionysiac delirium . It was accompanied on some occasions by flutes, on others by the lyre, but we do not know enough to conjecture the reasons of the choice of instrument . Pindar, in whose hands the ode took such magnificent completeness, is said to have been trained in the elements of dithyrambic poetry by a certain
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Lasus of Hermione .
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Ion, having carried off the prize in a dithyrambic contest, distributed to every Athenian citizen a cup of Chian wine . In the opinion of antiquity, pure dithyrambic poetry reached its climax in a lost poem, The Cyclops, by Philoxenus of Cythera, a poet of the 4th century B.C . After this time, the composition of dithyrambs, although not abandoned, rapidly declined in merit . It was essentially a Greek form, and was little cultivated, and always without success, by the Latins . The dithyramb had a spectacular character, combining verse with
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music . In
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modern literature, although the adjective " dithyrambic " is often used to describe an enthusiastic
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movement in lyric language, and particularly in the ode, pure dithyrambs have been extremely rare . There are, however, some very notable examples .

The Baccho in Toscana of

Francesco Redi (1626-1698), which was translated from the
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Italian, with admirable skill, by Leigh Hunt, is a piece of genuine dithyrambic poetry . Alexander's Feast (1698), by Dryden, is the best example in
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English . But perhaps more remarkable, and more genuinely dithyrambic than either, are the astonishing improvisations of Karl Mikael Gellman (1740-1795), whose Bacchic songs were collected in 1791 and form one of the most remarkable bodies of lyrical poetry in the literature of Sweden . (E .

End of Article: DITHYRAMBIC POETRY
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