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date: 24 April 2024



  • Martin Litchfield West


Rhapsodes were professional reciters of poetry, particularly of *Homer but also of other poets (Ath. 14. 620 a–d, cf. Pl. Ion 531 a). The name, which means ‘song-stitcher’, is first attested in the 5th cent. (GDI 5786, Hdt. 5. 67, Soph. OT391), but implies the formulaic compositional technique of earlier minstrels; cf. ῥάψαντες ἀοιδήν ‘stitching song’ ‘Hes.’ fr. 357 M–W, ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων ἀοιδοί ‘singers of stitched words’ Pind. Nem. 2. 1 (variously explained by schol.). Originally reciters of *epic accompanied themselves on the lyre, but later they carried a staff instead (cf. Hes. Theog. 30 with 95). Both are shown on vases; *Plato(1) distinguishes rhapsodes from citharodes, but classes Homer's Phemius as a rhapsode (Ion 533 b–c). In the 5th and 4th cents. rhapsodes were a familiar sight, especially at public festivals and games, where they competed for prizes. They declaimed from a dais (ibid. 535 e), and hoped to attract a crowd by their conspicuous attire (ibid. 530 b, 535 d) and loud melodious voice (Diod. Sic. 14. 109). They would be likely to own texts of Homer (Xen. Mem.


  • Greek Literature

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