Ancient Greek Elegy

Gregory Nagy

in The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199228133
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Ancient Greek Elegy

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  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)



This article fully considers the tradition and function of ancient Greek elegy. It is shown that the elegy uses its own peculiar hexameters existing in a codependent relationship with the elegiac pentameter. The article then addresses ‘the delights of elegy’. It concentrates on the hexameter as combined with the pentameter in the elegiac couplet. Additionally, the formal characteristics of elegy as a genre in the attested phases of Greek literature are explained. The article considers how the genre of elegy shows its capacity for performing the functions of forms that belong to the genres of epic and oracular poetry. There is a remarkably wide range of possibilities for the self-expression of a woman who is singing a lament. The lament of men in their sympotic singing of elegy may be a stylized and representational form of lament. There is a pleasure to be had in the sensuality of lament.

Keywords: ancient Greek elegy; delights of elegy; hexameters; elegiac couplet; Greek literature; poetry; sympotic singing

Article.  17655 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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