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date: 22 September 2023



  • Bernhard Zimmermann


Choral song in honour of *Dionysus; the origins of dithryramb, and the meaning of the word itself, have been the subject of speculation since antiquity. There are three phases in the history of the genre: (1) pre-literary dithyramb; (2) the institutionalization of dithyramb in the 6th cent. bce; and (3) the latest phase, which began in the mid-5th cent. Already in phase (1) dithyramb was a cult song with Dionysiac content. It was sung by a group of singers under the leadership of an exarchōn, as shown by the oldest piece of literary evidence, Archilochus fr. 120 West. Phase (2) has its roots in the cultural and religious policies of the tyrants (see tyranny; Pisistratus) and the young Athenian democracy (see democracy, Athenian; tragedy, Greek). *Herodotus (1) (1. 23) says that *Arion in late 7th-cent. *Corinth was the first to compose a choral song, rehearse it with a choir, and produce it in performance, and that he finally gave the name ‘dithyramb’ to this new kind of choral song. (Some scholars take ōnomasanta to mean ‘he gave it a title’, but titles are not associated with dithyrambs before the 5th cent.


  • Greek Literature

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