are right, it would appear that Pindar regarded the younger of the two Cean poets as a jealous rival, who disparaged him to their common patron (schol. Pyth. ii. 52 f.), and as one whose poetical skill was due to study rather than to genius (Ol. ii. 91-110). In Olymp. ii. 96 the dual γαρύετον, if it does not refer to the uncle and nephew, remains mysterious; nor does it admit of probable emendation. One would gladly reject this tradition, to which the scholia so frequently refer; yet it would be rash to assume that it rested merely on surmise. The Alexandrians may have possessed evidence on the subject which is now lost. It is tolerably certain that the three poets were visitors at Hiero’s court at about the same time: Pindar and Bacchylides wrote odes of the same kind in his honour; and there was a tradition that he preferred the younger poet. There is thus no intrinsic improbability in the hypothesis that Pindar’s haughty spirit had suffered, or imagined, some mortification. It is noteworthy that, whereas in 476 and 470 both he and Bacchylides celebrated Hiero’s victories, in 468 (the most important occasion of all) Bacchylides alone was commissioned to do so; although in that year Pindar composed an ode (Olymp. vi.) for another Syracusan victor at the same festival. Nor is it difficult to conceive that a despot such as Hiero, whose constitutional position was ill-defined, and who was perhaps all the more exigent of deference on that account, may have found the genial Ionian a more agreeable courtier than Pindar, an aristocrat of the Boeoto-Aeolic type, not unmindful of “his fathers the Aegidae,” and rather prone to link the praises of his patron with a lofty intimation of his own claims (see, e.g., Olymp. i. ad fin.). But, whatever may have been the true bearing of Pindar’s occasional innuendoes, it is at any rate pleasant to find that in the extant work of Bacchylides there is not the faintest semblance of hostile allusion to any rival. Nay, one might almost imagine a compliment to Pindar, when, in mentioning Hesiod, he calls him Βοιωτὸς ἀνήρ.
Plutarch (de Exilio, p. 605 c) names Bacchylides in a list of writers, who after they had been banished from their native cities, were active and successful in literature. It was Peloponnesus that afforded a new home to the exiled poet. The passage gives no clue to date or circumstance; but it implies that Peloponnesus was the region where the poet’s genius ripened and where he did the work which established his fame. This points to a residence of considerable length; and it may be noted that some of the poems illustrate their author’s intimate knowledge of Peloponnesus. Thus in Ode viii., for Automedes of Phlius, he draws on the legends connected with the Phliasian river Asopus. In Ode x., starting from the Argive legend of Proetus and Acrisius, he tells how the Arcadian cult of Artemis Ἡμέρα was founded. In one of his dithyrambs (xix.) he treated the legend of Idas (a Messenian hero) and Marpessa in the form of a hymenaeus sung by maidens of Sparta.
The Alexandrian scholars, who drew up select lists of the best writers in each kind, included Bacchylides in their “canon” of the nine lyric poets, along with Alcman, Sappho, Alcaeus, Stesichorus, Ibycus, Anacreon, Simonides and Pindar. The Alexandrian grammarian Didymus (circ. 30 B.C.) wrote a commentary on the epinikian odes of Bacchylides. Horace, a poet in some respects of kindred genius, was a student of his works, and imitated him (according to Porphyrion) in Odes, i. 15, where Nereus predicts the destruction of Troy. Quotations from Bacchylides, or references to him, occur in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Strabo, Plutarch, Stobaeus, Athenaeus, Aulus Gellius, Zenobius, Hephaestion, Clement of Alexandria, and various grammarians or scholiasts. Ammianus Marcellinus (xxv. 4) says that the emperor Julian enjoyed reading Bacchylides. It is clear, then, that this poet continued to be popular during at least the first four centuries of our era. No inference adverse to his repute can fairly be drawn from the fact that no mention of him occurs in the extant work of any Attic writer. The only definite estimate of him by an ancient critic occurs in the treatise Περὶ Ὕψους commonly translated “On the Sublime,” but meaning rather, “On the Sources of Elevation in Style”; a work ambiguously ascribed to Cassius Longinus (circ. A.D. 260), but more probably due to some writer of the first century of our era. In chapter xxxiii. of that treatise, the author asks whether we ought to prefer “greatness” in literature, with some attendant faults, to flawless merit on a lower level, and of course replies in the affirmative. In tragedy, he asks, who would be Ion of Chios rather than Sophocles; or in lyric poetry, Bacchylides rather than Pindar? Yet Bacchylides and Ion are “faultless, with a style of perfect elegance and finish.” In short, the essayist regards Bacchylides as a thoroughly finished poet of the second class, who never commits glaring faults, but never reaches the loftier heights.
The first and most general quality of style in Bacchylides is his perfect simplicity and clearness. Where the text is not corrupt, there are few sentences which are not lucid in meaning and simple in structure. This lucidity is partly due, no doubt, to the fact that he seldom attempts imagery of the bolder kind, and never has thoughts of a subtle or complex order. Yet it would be very unjust to regard such clearness as merely a compensatory merit of lyric mediocrity, or to ignore its intimate connexion with the man’s native grace of mind, with the artist’s feeling for expression, with the poet’s delicate skill. How many readers, who could enjoy and appreciate Pindar if he were less difficult, are stopped on the threshold by the aspect of his style, and are fain to save their self-esteem by concluding that he is at once turgid and shallow! A pellucid style must always have been a source of wide, though modest, popularity for Bacchylides. If it be true that Hiero preferred him to Pindar, and that he was a favourite with Julian, those instances suggest the charm which he must always have had for cultivated readers to whom affairs did not leave much leisure for study, and who rejoiced in a poet with whom they could live on such easy terms.
Another prominent trait in the style of Bacchylides is his love of picturesque detail. This characteristic marks the fragment by which, before the discovery of the 1896 MS., he was best known—a passage, from one of his paeans, on the blessings of peace (fr. 13, Bergk, 3, Jebb); and it frequently appears in the Odes, especially in the mythical narratives. Greater poets can make an image flash upon the mind, as Pindar sometimes does, by a magic phrase, or by throwing one or two salient points into strong relief. The method of Bacchylides is usually quieter; he paints cabinet pictures. Observation and elegance do more for him than grasp or piercing insight; but his work is often of very high excellence in its own kind. His treatment of simile is only a special phase of this general tendency. It is exemplified by the touches with which he elaborates the simile of the eagle in Ode v., and that of the storm-tossed mariners in Ode xii. This full development of simile is Homeric in manner, but not Homeric in motive: Homer’s aim is vividness; Bacchylides is rather intent on the decorative value of the details themselves. There are occasional flashes of brilliancy in his imagery, when it is lit up by his keen sense of beauty or splendour in external nature. A radiance, “as of fire,” streams from the forms of the Nereids (xvi. 103 ff.). An athlete shines out among his fellows like “the bright moon of the mid-month night” among the stars (viii. 27 ff.). The sudden gleam of hope which comes to the Trojans by the withdrawal of Achilles is like a ray of sunshine “from beneath the edge of a storm-cloud” (xii. 105 ff.). The shades of the departed, as seen by Heracles on the banks of the Cocytus, are compared to the countless leaves fluttering in the wind on “the gleaming headlands of Ida” (v. 65 ff.)—an image not unworthy of Dante or of Milton.
Among the minor features of this poet’s style the most remarkable is his use of epithets. A god or goddess nearly always receives some ornamental epithet; sometimes, indeed, two or even three (e.g. καλυκοστεφάνου σεμνᾶς ... Ἀρτεμίδος λευκωλένου, v. 98 f.). Such a trait is in unison with the epic manner, the straightforward narrative, which we find in some of the larger poems (as in v., x., and xvi.). On the other hand, the copious use of such ornament has the disadvantage that it sometimes gives a tinge of conventionality to his work. This impression is somewhat strengthened by the fact that many
- For other explanations suggested, see Jebb’s edition, Introd. p. 18.