Ancient literary sources ANTISSA (Ancient city) LESVOS - GTP - Greek Travel Pages
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Ancient literary sources (1)

Perseus Project

Lyric poetry & Lesbian lyre

Lyric Poetry. While among the Greeks the elegiac and iambic poetry, which forms the transition from epic to lyric composition, was practised by the Ionians, lyric poetry proper, or, as it was more commonly called, melic poetry (melos, "a song"), the song accompanied by music, was cultivated by the Aeolians and Dorians. This is due to the talent for music peculiar to these races. That playing on stringed instruments and singing were cultivated even in mythical times in Aeolia, in the island of Lesbos, is shown by the legend that the head and lyre of Orpheus, who had been torn to pieces by Thracian women, were washed ashore on that island, and that the head was buried in the Lesbian town of Antissa. Antissa was the native place of Terpander, who gave artistic form to the nomos, or hymn to Apollo, by elaborating the laws of its composition. Settling at Sparta in B.C. 676, he laid the foundation of the Dorian music. While he had closely followed Homeric poetry in the texts which he wrote for his musical compositions, there afterwards arose a greater variety in the kinds of songs, corresponding to the greater variety of musical forms, springing from the foundation laid by him. In the Aeolian lyric the pathetic prevails, as might be expected from the passionate nature of the people; the feelings of love and hatred, joy and sorrow are their principal themes. As to the metrical form we find short lines with a soft, melodious rhythm, which make up a small number of short strophes. They are written in the Aeolic dialect; we may suppose that they were solos sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. In Lesbos the Aeolian lyric was brought to its highest perfection by Alcaeus of Mitylene (about 600), and by his contemporary Sappho, also a Lesbian, and teacher of the poetess Erinna. The joyous poems of Anacreon of Teos (born about 550), whose subjects are love and wine, were also in the Aeolian style, but in the Ionic dialect. An echo of the Aeolian lyric are the scolia...
Scolion (skolion, sc. melos). A short lyrical poem, usually consisting of a single strophe, and intended to be sung after dinner over the wine. The ancients ascribed its invention to Terpander, and it received its first development among the Lesbians, and was written by such masters of song as Alcaeus, Sappho, Praxilla, Timocreon, Simonides, and Pindar. The last mentioned, however, gave it a more artistic form, with several strophes, in accordance with the rules of Dorian lyric verse. This class of poetry found a congenial home in the brilliant and lively city of Athens, where, to the very end of the Peloponnesian War, it was the regular custom at banquets, after all had joined in the paean, to pass round a lyre with a twig of myrtle, and to request all guests who had the requisite skill to sing such a song on the spur of the moment. To judge from the specimens that have been preserved, their contents were extremely varied: invocations of the gods, gnomic sayings, frequently with allusions to common proverbs and fables, and the praises of the blessings and pleasures of life. The most famous scolion was that by a certain Callistratus on Harmodius and Aristogiton, who had killed the tyrant Hipparchus, son of Pisistratus. It consists of four strophes, but the last three are only variations of the first.

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