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date: 17 January 2018

lyric poetry, Latin

The modern definition of lyric (verse neither epic nor dramatic but characterized by brevity, use of stanzas, and the enthusiastic expression of personal experience and emotion) would have meant little in Roman antiquity. Greek lyric could be defined by the social settings of its performance, the accompaniment of the lyre, and the use of certain metrical patterns. Already, however, the classification of the corpus of lyric poetry posed special problems for the scholars of Alexandria (1), and in the Roman context the only one of these criteria which may be usefully employed is that of metre. The Roman poets knew the Alexandrian canon of Nine Greek Lyricists, and Horace, who considers himself to be the first Latin lyric poet, memorably asks to be added to the list (Carm. 1. 1. 35). The generic status of Catullus(1), who combines lyric and iambic metres in his polymetrics (poems 1–60), is disputed by Martial, Quintilian, and Suetonius. For modern scholars the number of lyric poems to be ascribed to him varies between two and sixty-three. Catullan polymetry (and the use of varied metres in a collection can be considered one of the defining features of ancient lyric) may be compared with polymetric experiments involving lyric metres by Laevius in his Erotopaegnia, Varro in his Menippean satires, and Horace in his Epodes. It is Horace who first combines Hellenistic technical refinement with the spirit of the lyric of Alcaeus (1) and Pindar, and his Odes represent the crowning achievement of Latin lyric poetry. Before them the cantica of Plautus provide genuine examples of lyric verse, as do the unfortunately fragmentary choral odes of early Roman tragedy (see tragedy, latin). After Horace, Seneca's tragedies (see annaeus seneca (2), l.) include choral lyric and Statius' Silvae contain two lyric poems (4. 5 and 7). Persius (6. 1 f.) and Quintilian (10. 1. 96) mention the lyric verse of Caesius Bassus, while Pliny (2) (Ep. 9. 22. 2) praises Passennus Paulus as the equal of Horace and provides evidence (e.g. Ep. 3. 1. 7, 7. 4. 9) for a considerable amount of amateur lyric versification. The fragments of a number of 2nd-cent. ce poets, conveniently but misleadingly characterized as the poetae novelli, also preserve lyric verse of a metrically innovative but alas now very fragmentary nature. Perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most influential, successors of Horace in the tradition of Latin lyric are the Christian poets Ambrose in his Hymns and Prudentius in his Cathemerinon and Peristephanon. See further under individual authors.


R. Heinze, Vom Geist des Römertums (1960), 172–89.Find this resource:

W. R. Johnson, The Idea of Lyric (1982).Find this resource:

P. A. Miller, Lyric Texts and Lyric Consciousness: The Birth of a Genre from Archaic Greece to Augustan Rome (1994).Find this resource:

M. Paschalis, Horace and Greek Lyric Poetry (2002).Find this resource:

A. Barchiesi, in M. Depew and D. Obbink (eds.), Matrices of Genre. Authors, Canons, and Society (2000).Find this resource:

S. Harrison, Generic Enrichment in Vergil and Horace (2007), ch. 6.Find this resource:

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