iambic poetry, Greek

Martin Litchfield West

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics

Published online December 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI:

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‘Iambic’ metre got its name from iambos (ἴαμβος), a term associated in various parts of Greece with traditional jesting and ribaldries in certain festivals of *Demeter and *Dionysus. This and similar words (διθύραμβος (‘*dithyramb’), θρίαμβος, ἴθυμβος) seem to be pre-Hellenic. At *Eleusis the ribaldry was traced back to the mythical *Iambe (Hymn. Hom. Cer.192–205). At *Syracuse the iambistai were dancers (Ath. 181c). *Epicharmus (fr. 77 KA) associates iamboi with Aristoxenus of Selinus, an Archaic poet from whom one anapaestic verse attacking seers is quoted. In Ionia in the 7th and 6th cent. bce the iambos achieved literary status when *Archilochus and others published monologues and songs composed for *festival entertainment and characterized by satirical denunciation of individuals or types, amusing narrations, and lubriciousness. The term ‘iambic poetry’ applies primarily to this material and to later literature inspired by it.

Article.  851 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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