Bacchylides Analysis

Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bacchylides (buh-KIHL-uh-deez) was the nephew of Simonides of Ceos. Like his contemporary Pindar, he composed odes to be sung to musical accompaniment of lyres and pipes (reed instruments) and to be danced by choruses. Of his nine books of poems collected in the Hellenistic period, a papyrus discovered in 1896 has preserved substantial portions of fourteen epinician (victory) odes and six dithyrambs. Two recipients of his victory odes, Hieron I of Syracuse and Pytheas of Aegina, were also celebrated by Pindar. His odes, like Pindar’s, contain aphoristic reflections, mythological vignettes, advice, prayers, and praise of achievement, but his style is considerably simpler and less difficult to translate than Pindar’s.

His dithyrambs feature mythological narratives such as Menelaus’s mission to Troy to recover Helen, Deianira’s destruction of her husband Heracles, Theseus’s voyage to confront the Minotaur, while one presents a dramatic dialogue between the chorus and Aegeus, king of Athens.

Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Because only a few short fragments of his poetry were known before the papyrus was published, Bacchylides’ influence was negligible. Furthermore, he was overshadowed by Pindar, to whom antiquity judged him inferior.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Burnett, A. P. The Art of Bacchylides. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Campbell, D. A. Greek Lyric. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Maehler, H. Die Lieder des Bakchylides. Vol. 1. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1982.