Greek Poetry: Iambos

Christopher G. Brown

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:
Greek Poetry: Iambos

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The word iambos (sometimes Latinized as iambus; the plural is iamboi or iambi) is a word of uncertain etymology. It seems originally to have been used of a type of poem that is first attested in Ionia in the 7th century bce. Defining iambos has proved to be elusive, owing to the fragmentary state of the surviving evidence. Modern scholars have typically understood it as defined by content rather than form, with its most salient features being invective and the abuse of named individuals. Other characteristics are obscenity, narrative (often involving a first-person narrator), speeches embedded in narrative, moral exhortation, and the use of beast fables. Recent scholarship has emphasized the importance of occasion in determining genre in early Greek poetry, but for iambos there is no agreement on the occasion at which the poems were performed. Form, however, may not be irrelevant to understanding iambos. The iambic rhythm seems to have been characteristic of these poems, and the use of the term to describe the rhythm seems to have arisen from its association with early iambos. The problem here is that there was clearly early iambic poetry that does not reflect the characteristics associated with iambos. The most prominent association of iambos is with the poet Archilochus, and, to a slightly lesser extent, with Semonides of Amorgos and Hipponax. Although there were other composers of iambos, these three poets seem to have been considered the canonical early iambographers. In later Antiquity iambos was revived by both Hellenistic and Roman poets, but the resulting poetry seems to have been very different in character from the early form.

Article.  9088 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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