During the Golden Age of ancient Greece, all
forms of literature reached new heights. The writing
style known as lyric poetry, which was designed
to be sung by a performer, was of particular
importance. One of the most important Greek
lyric poets of this era was Bacchylides.
The nephew of the lyric poet Simonides, Bacchylides
was born in the town of Ceon but later
emigrated to the city-state of Syracuse, on the island
of Sicily. Syracuse was then controlled by the
powerful ruler Hieron, who was a great patron of
the arts. During his time in Syracuse, Bacchylides
was a rival of the more famous poet PINDAR.
Bacchylides’ works were almost unknown to
historians until the late 19th century. Fortunately,
a collection of works was discovered in the Egyptian
desert in 1897, preserved in writing on papyrus.
Nineteen poems were recovered, including
dithyrambs (lyric poems written in a lofty style)
and epinician odes (poems written to honor Greek
athletes who won victories in the Olympic
Games). In one of his dithyrambs, Bacchylides
memorializes the legendary Greek hero Theseus.
The poem takes the form of a dramatic dialogue
between King Aegeus and a chorus of Athenians.
The dialogue describes a young man (Theseus)
and his epic defeat of a host of monsters.
Bacchylides’ works are important in the details
they provide of ancient Greek culture and traditions,
as well as for the insight they give to changes
taking place in the formation and purpose of
English Versions of Works by Bacchylides
Complete poems. Translated by Robert Fagles. New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961.
Bacchylides: A Selection. Edited by Herwig Maekler.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Works about Bacchylides
Burnett, Anne Pippin. The Art of Bacchylides. Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985.
Pfeijffer, Ilja Leonard and Simon R. Slings, eds. One
Hundred Years of Bacchylides: Proceedings of a Colloquim
Held at the Virje Universeieit Amsterdam.
Amsterdam: VU Boekhandel/Uitgeverij, 2004.