Greek lyric and early Greek literary history

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Placing lyric poetry within the early history of Greek literature is a difficult task for at least two reasons. The first is that, as the introduction to this volume makes clear, a variety of very different poems, songs, recitations and dances constitute the modern category of ’Greek lyric’: these performances were not necessarily thought to have much in common in the archaic period. Aristotle offered no discussion or categorisation of them as a group in his Poetics; and even in Alexandria, where the term ’lyric’ was employed as a means of systematising the canon of ancient authors, scholars tended to subdivide lyric poetry into more consistent and identifiable sub-genres, such as the paean, the victory ode, or the wedding song. Writing about lyric poetry in relation to other forms of literature in ancient Greece can thus easily lead to a strait-jacketing of a rich and disparate body of songs and recitations, whose status as a poetic genre is very doubtful indeed. The second problem concerns the notion of ’literary history’, which tends to promote narratives of development. The most influential study of early Greek lyric in the twentieth century was arguably the third chapter of Bruno Snell’s Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (first published in German in 1946): according to Snell, lyric poets discovered a sense of the personal ’I’ and of their own subjectivity, thus effecting an important transition from the impersonal and objective worldview of epic to the later developments of Greek philosophy, drama, and ultimately modern European thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002479
ISBN (Print)9780521849449
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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