Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-cf9d5c678-mpvvr Total loading time: 0.172 Render date: 2021-07-31T16:57:37.597Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Homeric Epithets in Greek Lyric Poetry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009


One of the ways in which a poet may show his quality is by discrimination and originality in his choice of adjectives. Poetry likes to adorn the bare noun; a noun such as ‘the sky’ calls out for an attribute. But in practice the poet has to take care to avoid the cliche. He can seldom write ‘the blue sky’; even ‘the azure sky’ has become trite. He has to search for the epithet which will be both apt and original.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1957

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Leumann, M., in Mus. Helv. iv (1947), pp. 119 ff., well describes the phenomenon, but does not consider its implications.Google Scholar

1 Homer would have said is post-Homeric. But the effect is no more original for that.

1 Buss, Hermann, De Bacchylide Homeri Imitatore (Giessen, 1913), p. 27.Google Scholar On Bacchylides' original coinages see Eberhard's, of this in B.Ph.W. xxxiv (1914), col. 1225.Google Scholar

2 The distinction is carefully formulated by Page, D. L., Sappho and Alcaeus, pp. 65 f.Google Scholar

3 Diehl's observation, ‘carmen conditum esse ad exemplum Hectoris (ω 265 ss.)’, is misleading. Cf. Page, , op. cit., p. 71.Google Scholar

4 Cf. Z 396 f. (i.e. the birthplace of Andromache). There is no known place, river, or monument called except a Pelasgian colony near the Mysian Olympus, a long way to the north-east of Thebes (which is at the foot of Mt. Ida). According to Dicaearchus (Schol. Venet. A Z 396), was an epithet of , owing to Thebes' propinquity to . Now it seems unlikely that Sappho had direct geographical knowledge of the area: it is more probable that she picked up the name from Homer, in which case there are two possibilities. Either conceals a noun, and is correctly used as an adjective (this is barely conceivable); or else Sappho misdivided in Z 397 as , in which case the last word in the line will be a purely ornamental epithet for something which never existed.

1 Fränkel, H., G.G.N. 1924, p. 64,Google Scholar points out that in Homer the phrase would be used in closer syntactical connexion with the rest of the sentence; but I cannot agree with him that in Sappho the phrase is full of meaning. Cf. , Sappho fr. 27 a 10.

1 Kl. Schr., p. 375, Qu. Epicae, p. 289, followed by Boisacq, s.v.

2 Et. Mag. 603. 26 Cf. Hesychius, s.v.

1 For another instance of a word losing its precision, compare . This occurs once in Homer (ψ 583) of a whip, in Sappho of a plant; and its root meaning is doubtless something like ‘pliant’. But even in the archaic period its vagaries are notable. Stesichorus (19 D) writes , Anacreon (165 B4) uses the word of horses, to mean ‘swift’, and Ibycus (58 B4)

1 I cannot agree with Wilamowitz and Diehl that The following lines must be understood as an answer to the imputation that he, Anacreon, is not sufficiently skilful. The point is made by Snell, B. in Philologus, xcvi (1944), pp. 285 f.Google Scholar

2 B 592

3 Cf. Soph. EL 707 . Here the whole passage—the list of competitors in the Pythian games—is tinged with epic vocabulary.

1 Fr. 104 is a striking combination of the literal and figurative uses of in Homer, and might be added as a further example. Archilochus' particular interest in Homeric words is discernible in 54, 56, 116 D, 186 B4. See also Hauvette, , Archiloque, pp. 269–72.Google Scholar

1 I have therefore allowed a separate category for them in the analyses below.

2 Soph. Ant. 1115 ff. is another example.

3 The context of these four is also that of a hymn. Here, as elsewhere, some overlapping of the categories is inevitable, but immaterial.

1 I cannot believe that in this verse also goes with . The name of some divinity must have preceded.

2 Hesych., s.v.

3 Cf. Suidas, s.v.

4 There may be traces of this in the mythical and vague personage (Paus. io. 6. 4) who seems to have chthonic associations, and in the cult-title in Phigalaea (Paus. 8. 5. 8; 8. 42. 1). Cf. Gruppe, O., Gr. Mythologie, p. 103Google Scholar n. 10, also Schol. Eur. Or. 1094, Callim., fr. 52 Pf.

1 At least until the fifth century. Pindar (0. 9. 50) and Bacchylides (13. 153) each only use the phrase once, and (Pindarfr. 33 b Sn.) looks like a conscious elaboration on it.

2 Cf. Treu, Max, ‘Von Homer zur Lyrik’ (Zetemata, xii [1955]), pp. 175 ff.,Google Scholar for a valuable discussion of the lyric poets' use of these words.

1 This is probably not an indication of a particular colour so much as a suggestion of rich, varied colour in general, cf. Weber, , Anacreontea, p. 65,Google ScholarDeroy, L. in Ét. classiques, xvi (1948), pp. 3 ff.Google ScholarMarzullo, B. even argues (Maia, 1950, pp. 132 ff.)Google Scholar that is an old cult-title for Aphrodite meaning ‘marina’.

2 The ball of the Phaeacian dancers in θ 372 was ( = versicolor?), and this may also have been in Anacreon's mind. Eustathius, ad loc, says : it is more the brilliance of the ball than its colour which is suggested, the fact that it was coloured rather than its specific hue.

3 Aeschylus, it has long been believed (Schol. P. V. 128), learnt the ionic metre from Anacreon: did he also learn this trick with colours from the same poet ? Cf. Hik. 529 f.

1 It is possible that these heroic phrases are used of the girls deliberately, as in the passages of Anacreort discussed above, pp. 211 ff.

1 Alcman and Alcaeus used this word differently, Eust. Il. 314. 41.

3 See above, p. 217.

4 may have implied exceptional beauty as well as colour: Eust. in I1. 432. 27

5 Alcaeus probably understood π 148–9 as giving the colour, not the names, of Achilles' horses.

1 It is possible that a second substantive stood in v. 2 and went with . In Homer this adjective is used only of islands; but Alcaeus' use of it is not much more original for that. , however, has a certain freshness (v. 6).

2 Cf. also sub ‘Incertum utrius auctoris’ L.P.: .

3 Leumann, M., Homerische Wörter, p. 340,Google Scholar argues that this phrase derives from a misdivision of in some passage of the Homeric poems now lost.

4 See above, p. 220, n. 2.

5 Out of conservatism, I attribute no more than the following elegiac fragments to Anacreon: 96–99, 101, 102, 107, 108, 110–12. Cf. Weber, pp. 31 ff., Wilamowitz, S.u.S., p. 107, Trypanis, C. A. in C.Q. xlv (1951), pp. 31 ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

1 Anacreon fr. 21:

Cynulcus (Athen. 671 f) comments —and indeed the question much exercised the grammarians Hephaestion even wrote a book called and many learned theories were advanced to explain why Megistes wore such an ‘odd’ garland. But surely it is just as odd that he should have drunk , which means either new, unfermented wine, or the dregs, the lees of wine; neither of which could be described as . There is one perfectly simple answer: Anacreon is mocking Megistes for wearing a rustic wreath ( Athen. I.e.) and drinking cheap raw wine. are used with irony.

Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Homeric Epithets in Greek Lyric Poetry
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Homeric Epithets in Greek Lyric Poetry
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Homeric Epithets in Greek Lyric Poetry
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *