Early Greek Poets Chronology

Timelines for Ancient Greek Epic, Elegiac & Iambic, and Lyric Poets

Sappho. Clipart.com

The following sets of timelines for ancient Greek poets divide them according to sub-genre. The earliest genre was the epic, so that comes first, with the two main poets listed after a small introduction to the genre. The second group combines elegies, which may sing someone's praise, and iambics, which may do the opposite. Again, there is, first, a bit of an introduction, followed by the major Greek writers of elegy and iambic. The third category is that of poets who would originally have been accompanied by the lyre.

Because of limitations inherent in the study of ancient history, we don't know for certain when many of these early Greek poets were born or died. Some dates, like those for Homer, are guesses. The new scholarship could revise these dates. So, this early Greek poets timeline is a way to visualize relative chronology within the same genre. The genres of poetry relevant here are:


Epic Poets

1. Types of Epic Poetry: Epic poetry told the stories of heroes and gods or provided catalogues, like genealogies of the gods.

2. Performance: Epics were chanted to a musical accompaniment on the cithara, which the rhapsode himself would play.

3. Meter: The meter of epic was the dactylic hexameter, which can be represented, with symbols for light (u), heavy (-), and variable (x) syllables, as:

Poets of Elegies and Iambics

1. Types of Poetry: Both inventions of the Ionians, Elegy and Iambic poetry are linked together. Iambic poetry was informal and often obscene or about common topics like food. Whereas iambics were suitable for everyday entertainment, elegy tended to be more decorous and suitable for formal occasions like campaigns and public gatherings.

Elegiac poetry continued to be written to the time of Justinian.

2. Performance: They were originally considered lyric, in that they were sung to music, at least, in part, but over time they lost their musical connection. Elegiac poetry required two participants, one playing the pipe and one singing the poem. Iambics could be monologues.

3. Meter: Iambic poetry was based on the iambic meter. An iam is an unstressed (light) syllable followed by a stressed (heavy). The meter for elegy, which shows its relationship to the epic, is usually described as a dactylic hexameter followed by a dactylic pentameter, which together make up an elegiac couplet. Coming from the Greek for five, the pentameter has five feet, whereas the hexameter (hex = six) has six.

  • fl. 650 - Archilochus
  • fl. 650 - Callinus
  • fl. 640-637 - Tyrtaeus
  • b. 640 - Solon
  • fl. 650 - Semonides
  • fl. 632-629 - Mimnermus
  • fl. 552-541 - Theognis
  • fl. 540-537 - Hipponax

Lyric Poets

Lyric poets were divided into two categories: archaic lyric poets and later choral lyric.

Archaic Lyric Poets

1. Types: Sub-genres (often indicating place of performance) of early choral lyric poetry were marriage song (hymenaios), dancing song, dirge (threnos), paean, maiden song (partheneion), processional (prosodion), hymn, and dithyramb.

2. Performance: Lyric poetry did not require a second person, but choral lyric did require a chorus which would sing and dance. Lyric poetry was accompanied by a lyre or barbitos. Epic poetry was accompanied by a cithara.

3. Meter: Varied.


  • fl. 650 - Alcman
  • 632/29-556/553 - Stesichorus


>Monody was a type of lyric poetry, but as the mon- implies, it was for one person without a chorus.

  • b. probably c. 630 - Sappho
  • b. c. 620 - Alcaeus
  • fl. c. 533 - Ibycus
  • b. c. 570 - Anacreon

Later Choral Lyric

The occasions for choral lyric increased over time and new subgenres were added to praise human accomplishments (the enkomion) or for performance at drinking parties (symposia).

  • b. 557/6 - Simonides
  • b. 522 or 518 - Pindar
  • Corinna - contemporary of Pindar (Korinna)
  • b. c. 510 - Bacchylides


  • The Cambridge History of Classical Literature Volume I Part 1 Early Greek Poetry, edited by P.E. Easterling and B.M.W. Knox. Cambridge 1989.
  • Select Epigrams from The Greek Anthology Edited with a Revised Text, Translation, and Notes, by J. W. Mackail London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890
  • A Companion to Greek Studies, by Leonard Whibley; Cambridge University Press (1905).
  • "Where Was Iambic Poetry Performed? Some Evidence from the Fourth Century B.C.," by Krystyna Bartol; The Classical Quarterly New Series, Vol. 42, No. 1 (1992), pp. 65-71.
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Gill, N.S. "Early Greek Poets Chronology." ThoughtCo, Apr. 25, 2021, thoughtco.com/early-greek-poets-chronology-112165. Gill, N.S. (2021, April 25). Early Greek Poets Chronology. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/early-greek-poets-chronology-112165 Gill, N.S. "Early Greek Poets Chronology." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/early-greek-poets-chronology-112165 (accessed March 21, 2023).