Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of the epithets are long compound words, not found elsewhere and (in some cases at least) probably invented by the poet; words which suggest a deliberate effort to vary the stock repertory.

The poems contained in the MS. of Bacchylides found (see below) in 1896 are of two classes: I. Odes of Victory; II. Dithyrambs. The Ode of Victory, ἐπινίκιον (μέλος) or ἐπίνικος (ὕμνος), is a form derived from the ὕμνος, which was properly a song in praise of a deity. Stesichorus (c. 610 B.C.) seems to have been the first who composed hymns in honour, not of gods, but of heroes; the next step was to write hymns in celebration of victories by living men. This custom arose in the second half of the 6th century B.C., the age in which the games at the four great Greek festivals reached the fulness of their popularity. Simonides (b. c. 556 B.C.) was the earliest recorded writer of epinikia. His odes of this class are now represented only by a few very small fragments, some twenty lines in all. Two of these fragments, belonging to the description of a chariot-race, warrant the belief that Simonides, in his epinikia, differed from Pindar in dwelling more on the incidents of the particular victory. The same characteristic is found in the epinikia of Bacchylides. His fifth ode, and Pindar's first Olympian, alike celebrate the victory of the horse Pherenicus; but, while Pindar's reference to the race itself is slight and general (vv. 20-22), Bacchylides describes the running of the winner much more vividly and fully (vv. 37-49).

The MS. contains fourteen epinikia, or thirteen if Blass be right in supposing that Odes vi. and vii., as numbered by Kenyon in the editio princeps, are parts of a single ode (for Lachon of Ceos). Four (or on the view just stated, three) of the odes relate to the Olympian festival; two to the Pythian; three to the Isthmian; three to the Nemean; and one to a Thessalian festival called the Πετραῖα. This comes last. The order in which the MS. arranges the other epinikia seems to be casual; at least it does not follow (1) the alphabetical sequence of the victors' names, or of the names of their cities; nor (2) chronological sequence; nor (3) classification by contests; nor (4) classification by festivals—except that the four great festivals precede the Petraea. The first ode, celebrating a victory of the Cean Argeios at the Isthmus, may possibly have been placed there for a biographical reason, viz., because the poet treated in it the early legends of his native island.

A mythical narrative, connected in some way with the victor or his city, usually occupies the central part of the Pindaric ode. It serves to lift the poem into an ideal region, and to invest it with more than a local or temporary significance. The method of Bacchylides in this department of the epinikion is best illustrated by the myth of Croesus in Ode iii., that of Heracles and Meleager in Ode v., and that of the Proetides in Ode x. Pindar's habit is to select certain moments or scenes of a legend, which he depicts with great force and vividness. Bacchylides, on the other hand, has a gentle flow of simple epic narrative; he relies on the interest of the story as a whole, rather than on his power of presenting situations. Another element, always present in the longer odes of victory, is that which may be called the “gnomic.” Here, again, there is a contrast between the two poets. Pindar packs his γνῶμαι, his maxims or moral sentiments, into terse and sometimes obscure epigrams; he utters them in a didactic tone, as of one who can speak with the commanding voice of Delphic wisdom. The moralizing of Bacchylides is rather an utterance of quiet meditation, sometimes recalling the strain of Ionian gnomic elegy.

The epinikia of Bacchylides are followed in the MS. by six compositions which the Alexandrians classed under the general name of διθύραμβοι, and which we, too, must be content to describe collectively as Dithyrambs. The derivation of δι-θύραμβος is uncertain: δι may be the root seen in δῖος (cp. διπόλια, and θύραμβος another form of θρίαμβος, a word by which Cratinus (c. 448 B.C.) denotes some kind of hymn to the wine-god. The “dithyramb,” first mentioned by Archilochus (c. 670 B.C.), received a finished and choral form from Arion of Lesbos (c. 600 B.C.). His dithyrambs, produced at Corinth, belonged to the cult of Dionysus, and the members of his chorus (τραγικὸς χορός) personated satyrs. Originally concerned with the birth of the god, the dithyramb came to deal with all his fortunes: then its scope became still larger; it might celebrate, not Dionysus alone, but any god or hero. This last development had taken place before the close of the 6th century B.C. Simonides wrote a dithyramb on Memnon and Tithonus; Pindar, on Orion and on Heracles. Hence the Alexandrian scholars used διθύραμβος in a wide sense, as denoting simply a lyric poem occupied with a mythical narrative. Thus Ode xvii. of Bacchylides (relating the voyage of Theseus to Crete), though it was clearly a παιάν for the Delian Apollo, was classed by the Alexandrians among his “dithyrambs”—as appears not only from its place in our MS., but also from the allusion of Servius (on Aen. vi. 21). The six dithyrambs of Bacchylides are arranged in (approximately) alphabetical order: Ἀντηνορίδαι, Ἡρακλῆς, Ἠΐθεοι ἢ Θησεύς, Θησεύς, Ἰώ, Ἴδας. The principal feature, best exemplified by the first and third, is necessarily epic narrative,—often adorned with touches of picturesque detail, and animated by short speeches in the epic manner.

Several other classes of composition are represented by those fragments of Bacchylides, preserved in ancient literature, which were known before the discovery of the new MS. (1) ὕμνοι. Among these we hear of the ἀποπεμπτικοί, hymns of pious farewell, speeding some god on his way at the season when he passed from one haunt to another. (2) παιᾶνες, represented by the well-known fragment on the blessings of peace. (3) προσόδια, choral odes sung during processions to temples. (4) ὑπορχήματα, lively dance-songs for religious festivals. (5) ἐρωτικά, represented by five fragments of a class akin to σκόλια, drinking-songs. Under this head come some lively and humorous verses on the power of wine, imitated by Horace (Odes, iii. 21. 13-20). It may be conjectured that the facile grace and bright fancy of Bacchylides were seen to especial advantage in light compositions of this kind. (6) The elegiacs of Bacchylides are represented by two ἐπιγράμματα ἀναθηματικά, each of four lines, in the Palatine Anthology. The first (Anth. vi. 313) is an inscription for an offering commemorative of a victory gained by a chorus with a poem written by Bacchylides. The second (Anth. vi. 53) is an inscription for a shrine dedicated to Zephyrus. Its authenticity has been questioned, but not disproved.

The papyrus containing the odes of Bacchylides was found in Egypt by natives, and reached the British Museum in the autumn of 1896. It was then in about 200 pieces. By the skill and industry of Mr F. G. Kenyon, the editor of the editio princeps (1897), the MS. was reconstructed from these lacerated members. As now arranged, the MS. consists of three sections, (1) The first section contains 22 columns of writing. It breaks off after the 8 opening verses of Ode xii. (2) The second section contains columns 23-29. Of these, column 23 is represented only by the last letters of two words. This section comprises what remains of Odes xiii. and xiv. It breaks off before the end of xiv., which is the last of the epinikia. (3) The third section comprises columns 30-39. It begins with the mutilated opening verses of Ode xv. (Ἀντηνορίδαι, the first of the dithyrambs), and breaks off after verse 11 of the last dithyramb, Ἴδας. The number of lines in a column varies from 32 to 36, the usual number being 35, or (though less often) 34.

It is impossible to say how much has been lost between the end of column 29 and the beginning of column 30. Probably, however, Ode xiv., if not the last, was nearly the last of the epinikia. It concerns a festival of a merely local character, the Thessalian Πετραῖα, and was therefore placed after the thirteen other epinikia, which are connected with the four great festivals. The same lacuna leaves it doubtful whether any collective title was prefixed to the διθύραμβοι. After the last column (39) of the MS., a good deal has probably been lost. Bacchylides seems to have written at least three other poems of this class (on Cassandra, Laocoon and Philoctetes); and these would have come, in alphabetical order, after the last of the extant six (Idas).

The writing of the MS. is a fine uncial. It presents some traits of a distinctly Ptolemaic type, though it lacks some features found in the earlier Ptolemaic MSS. (those of the 3rd or 2nd century B.C.). Among the characteristic forms of letters is the form of Upsilon, with a shallow curve on the top of the upright; a form found in MSS. ascribed to the 1st century B.C., and different from the more fully formed upsilon of the Roman period. Another very significant letter is the Ξ, written as form of Xi, a form which begins to go out after c. 50 B.C., giving place to one in which the middle stroke is connected with the other two. From these and other indications it is probable that the MS. is not later than the middle of the 1st century B.C.

The scribe, though he sometimes corrected his own mistakes, was, on the whole, careless of the sense, as of the metre; he seems to have been a mechanical copyist, excellent in penmanship, but