Alcman and Others. Lyric or sung poetry (the term does not include epic, which was not sung in the historical period at least) goes back well beyond the earliest records of the Greek world. Already Homer mentions choral song several times, and the occasions to which he ascribes these, such as funerals and weddings, continued to provide major opportunities for the formal performance of song in more literate ages. Perhaps the first lyric poet the reader can name is Alcman, a Spartan of the seventh century b.c.e., whose fragmentary work contains several Partheneia, or songs for choruses of maidens. Around the end of that century lived Sappho and Alcaeus on Lesbos, but their work was chiefly monodic rather than choral. The spread of Hellenism also produced contemporary lyric in the West: Stesichorus worked in Himera and composed a famous
Palinode, or retraction-song, in which (supposedly after being blinded after one poem) he apologized to the deified Helen and claimed that she never went to Troy (his sight was then restored). Ibycus, a generation or two later, also had a western origin but moved from his native Rhegium to the court of the tyrant Polycrates in Samos, where Ana-creon of Teos also worked. The first half of the fifth century b.c.e. was the final flush of lyric poetry in its own right: during this time were active the two best preserved lyric poets, Bacchylides of Ceos and Pindar, both of whom wrote choral lyric, especially victory odes for the successful in the Pan-Hellenic games. Lyric lingered on past the end of that century, particularly in the form of the dithyramb, narrative choral lyric that formed part of the City Dionysia drama festival in Athens. However, these seem to have been events valued chiefly for their music and display rather than their poetry, and by this time tragedy, originally a derivative of dithyramb according to Aristotle, was giving every opportunity for lyric expression in its choral odes.
David A. Campbell, The Golden Lyre: The Themes of the Greek Lyric Poets (London: Duckworth, 1983).
lyr·ic / ˈlirik/ • adj. 1. (of poetry) expressing the writer's emotions, usually briefly and in stanzas or recognized forms. ∎ (of a poet) writing in this manner. 2. (of a singing voice) using a light register: a lyric soprano with a light, clear timbre. • n. (usu. lyrics) 1. a lyric poem or verse. ∎ lyric poetry as a literary genre. 2. the words of a song: she has published both music and lyrics for a number of songs.