Bacchylides: Politics, Performance, Poetic Tradition

Barbara Graziosi writes:

In the early fifth century BCE, Bacchylides’ career was at its height: his services as poet, composer, choreographer and impresario were in demand throughout the Greek world. He delivered theatrical spectacles on commission, composing songs for a wide range of occasions, training choruses to sing and dance to them, and organising their musical accompaniment. His clients asked him to glorify athletic victories, honour the gods, brighten processions, provide entertainment at parties and even celebrate a magistrate’s election to office. He worked for the most powerful individuals and communities of his time: the cities of Athens and Sparta, the king of Macedon, the tyrant of Syracuse and the grandest Aeginetan aristocrats. The only artist who could compete with him was Pindar: sometimes both were commissioned to celebrate the same occasion for the same audience – we still have the rival scripts, but are left to wonder how the performances were arranged, and who got the bigger fee.

(LRB 31 July 2008)