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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
References in periodicals archive ?
Though the poem's finale is a complex of falling rhythms and rocking epiplocean lines, it is a dithyrambic veneer that we have seen before--namely in the progress odes of Collins and Gray.
84) Cinesias (450-390 BC) was an important dithyrambic poet, but also a well-known politician of rather conservative convictions.
In a continuation of the visiting scenes of 862-1057, a Rebellious Son (1337-1371), the dithyrambic poet Kinesias (1372-1409), and a Sycophant (1410-1469) arrive to ask for wings.
In an uncharacteristic dithyrambic passage of his own, Mann rapturously observes that the ninth section of "I sing the body electric" "is an anatomical hymn, a devout and orgiastic celebration of the human body in its organic structure, reckoned up in all its several parts, in the exuberant, copious, naive style of this untamed artist" ("German Republic," 40).
Admittedly, this stance is discemible in parts of Walt Whitman's "Song of myself'--celebrated as the dithyrambic American declaration of personal identity--"I have no chair, nor church nor philosophy; / I lead no man to a dinner-table or library or exchange".
This image saturating his dithyrambic cycle Hymnen an die Nacht [Hymns to the Night], published in 1800, continues to be read by some in terms of obscure private experiences despite the twentieth-century work of Kate Hamburger, Martin Dyck, and others that show scientific connections.
To bear out this hypothesis Tilg could have added that Chariton lavishes dithyrambic praise on Callirhoe's voice: it has a musical echo, as of a lyre (2.
The sense of audience identification with the choral presence on the tragic stage (orchestra) during the three-a-day, three day period of dramatic performances was probably amplified, Simon Goldhill writes, by the fact that the Dionysian festival was also an important occasion for Athenian men and boys to sing and dance competitively in dithyrambic choruses enrolling (in total) a thousand or so individuals and representing the tribes of the democratic polis (250).