Dithyramb

What Is a Dithyramb?

Chorus from Sophocles' Antigone
Culture Club/Getty Images

Definition:

A dithyramb was a choral hymn sung by fifty men or boys, under the leadership of an exarchon, to honor Dionysus. The dithyramb became a feature of Greek tragedy and is considered by Aristotle to be the origin of Greek tragedy, passing first through a satyric phase. Herodotus says the first dithyramb was organized and named by one Arion of Corinth in the late 7th century B.C. By the fifth century BCE there were dithyramb competitions between tribes of Athens.

Rabinowitz says the competition involved 50 men and boys from each of the ten tribes, amounting to 1000 competitors. Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides were important dithyrambic poets. Their content is not the same, so it is difficult to capture the essence of dithyrambic poetry.

Sources:

  • Bernhard Zimmermann "dithyramb" The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth. © Oxford University Press 1949, 1970, 1996, 2005.
  • "'Nothing to Do with Dionysus': Tragedy Misconceived as Ritual," by Scott Scullion. The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 52, No. 1 (2002), pp. 102-137.

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Examples: "In his life, say the Corinthians, (and with them agree the Lesbians), there happened to him a very great marvel, namely that Arion of Methymna was carried ashore at Tainaron upon a dolphin's back. This man was a harper second to none of those who then lived, and the first, so far as we know, who composed a dithyramb, naming it so and teaching it to a chorus at Corinth.

24."
Herodotus I

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Gill, N.S. "Dithyramb." ThoughtCo, Feb. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/dithyramb-in-greek-tragedy-118860. Gill, N.S. (2017, February 13). Dithyramb. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dithyramb-in-greek-tragedy-118860 Gill, N.S. "Dithyramb." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dithyramb-in-greek-tragedy-118860 (accessed November 19, 2017).