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(dĭth`ĭrăm), in ancient Greece, hymn to the god Dionysus, choral lyric with exchanges between the leader and the chorus. It arose, probably, in the extemporaneous songs of the Dionysiac festivals and was developed (according to tradition, by ArionArion
, Greek poet, inventor of the dithyramb. He is said to have lived at Periander's court in Corinth in the late 7th cent. B.C. A legend repeated by Herodotus tells how, having been thrown overboard by pirates, Arion was saved by a dolphin charmed by his music.
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) into the literary form to be found, for example, in the dithyrambs of BacchylidesBacchylides
, fl. c.470 B.C., Greek lyric poet, b. Ceos; nephew of Simonides of Ceos. A contemporary of Pindar, he was patronized by Hiero I. His poetry is noted for its narrative powers, clarity, and lucidity.
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. In its later development by such poets as Philoxenus and TimotheusTimotheus
, c.450–c.357 B.C., Greek poet and musician of Miletus. An innovator in music, he added a string to the kithara. Fragments of his dithyrambs and nomes remain. Euripides wrote the prologue for his Persae, a lyric nome.
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 it became freer in its meter and more musical. The tragedytragedy,
form of drama that depicts the suffering of a heroic individual who is often overcome by the very obstacles he is struggling to remove. The protagonist may be brought low by a character flaw or, as Hegel stated, caught in a "collision of equally justified ethical aims.
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 seems to have come out of the dithyramb, but the dithyramb was also cultivated after tragedy was invented.


See A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, Dithyramb, Tragedy, and Comedy (1927, repr. 1962).



a genre of ancient lyric poetry; it appears to have originated in ancient Greece as a choral song and hymn in honor of Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of the grapevine and wine-making. It later honored other gods and heroes. The dithyramb, accompanied by frenzied orgiastic dance, had the rudiments of dialogue between the lead singer and the chorus and contributed to the development of Greek drama. The dithyramb was given a literary form in the seventh century B.C. by Arion, a poet and musician from the island of Lesbos. During the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. the dithyramb flourished in the poetry of Simonides of Ceos, Pindar, and Bacchylides. Only fragments have been preserved.

Imitations of the ancient dithyramb are encountered in modern European literature (Schiller, Möller, and Herder), and satirical imitations have been written by Nietzsche. The word dithyramb is used figuratively to signify excessive praise.


Golosovker, la. E. Lirika drevnei Ellady. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935. (Translations from ancient Greek; includes a translation of Bacchylides’ dithyramb Theseus.)
Radtsig, S. I. Istoriia drevnegrecheskoi literatury, 2nd ed., Moscow, 1959.


1. (in ancient Greece) a passionate choral hymn in honour of Dionysus; the forerunner of Greek drama
2. any utterance or a piece of writing that resembles this
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