Photios' "Bibliotheca"

Translator’s Note

As this work frequently deals with etymology, many translated words are parenthesized and quoted in the original Greek where the Greek will be helpful to understanding the argument. You should also be able to hover over these words to see transliterated forms. For terms where a translation will be helpful to understanding the context but the transliterated Greek term has become a technical term in English, the transliterated term has been parenthesized instead of the Greek. Sometimes, where necessary, both forms are used.

239 (Greek text)

Read from a book of Proclus entitled Select Information About Literature. The book is divided into four parts.

In the first part he speaks about what the virtues themselves of prose and poetry are, and how they differ in greater and lesser degrees. And that of affected style there is a stronger and a weaker style. The stronger is the most striking and more constructed and appears beautifully poetic. The weaker is figurative and follows a combination which is fond of elaborate diction, having neglected the more synthesized, thus it is somehow altogether fitting for the most distressful things. As for the middle style, the name makes clear that the middle is made from both. The especially flowery style is not an affected style itself, but carries things out together with the other styles and is united by those things which are said, and suits the descriptions of places and of meadows or groves.

And he speaks of things said having deviated from these styles, either going away from the stronger into difficulty and excited delights, or away from the weaker into poverty, or away from the middle into brilliance and looseness.

He also treats the judgement of poetry, by teaching some differences of custom (ἦθος) and quality (πάθος). He says that of the poetic there is both the narrative and mimetic. And the narrative is produced through epic, iambic, elegiac, and lyric, and the mimetic through tragedy, Satyr-plays, and comedy.

He says that epic was first discovered by Phemonoe, prophetess of Apollo, by making hexameter oracles; and since things followed (εἵπετο) the oracles and were harmonious with them, anything in the meter was called epic (ἔπος). But others say that because of the technical style and amazing superiority seen in hexameters, hexameter verse claims the common name of every word as its own and is called “epos” (ἔπος, “word”), just as “the poet” Homer and “the rhetorician” Demosthenes claimed those words as their own, and some also called trimeter “epe” (ἔπη, “words”, plural of ἔπος).

And the most excellent epic poets who came into being were Homer, Hesiod, Pisander, Panyasis, and Antimachus. He goes through these, as far as possible, and their kin and fatherlands and what sort of special things they did.

He also discusses the so-called “epic cycle”, which began from Uranus and Gaia’s mythological intercourse, from which three hundred-handed children and three Cyclopes were born to him. Proclus details both other myths about the gods told by the Greeks and whether if there is somehow any true history in them. The epic cycle ends with being finished by different poets, up until the escape of Odysseus into Ithaca, in which he is killed by his unrecognizing son Telegonus. He says how the poems of the epic cycle have been preserved and are studied by many not so much for its virtue as for its sequence of events. He also talks of the names and fatherlands of those who worked on the epic cycle.

And he speaks of certain Cyprian verses (Κυπρίων ποιημάτων), which some attribute to Stasinus of Cyprus, and which others say are by Hegesinus of Salamis, and others say Homer might have written them, in order to give them on behalf of his daughter as a dowry to Stasinus and through his fatherland the work is called the Cypria (Κύπρια). But Proclus does not agree with this explanation: for the poem’s title is never written “Cypria” (Κύπρια) with a proparoxytone accent.

He says that elegy is composed out of hexameter and pentameter lines, and is suited to the dead. And the name is perhaps for this reason: that the ancients called a lament an “elegy” (ἔλεγον) and through this they eulogized (εὐλόγουν) those having died. At any rate later people were satisfied by different purposes for elegy. He also says that the best in this metre are both Callinus of Ephesus and Mimnermus of Colophon, but also Philetas of Cos son of Telephus and Callimachus son of Battos (this being the Cyrenian one).

But for “iambic” verse (ἴαμβον), some in olden times used them for reproach (λοιδορίας); since “to lampoon” (ἰαμβίζειν) according to a certain dialect was called “to reproach” (λοιδορεῖν). But others say it’s from a certain enslaved Iambe (Ἰάμβης), of Thracian origin; this one, he says, when Demeter was grieving the kidnapping of her daughter, went to the area around Eleusis and sat upon the rock which is now called “Agelastos” (“unlaughing”), and through some kind of mockery persuaded the goddess to laugh. But it seemed that in olden times “iambic” was used for things written for censure as well as praise alike; and since some went too far in abusive verses, as a result “to lampoon” (ἰαμβίζειν) became “to insult” (ὑβρίζειν) out of customary use, just as from comedians (κωμικῶν) came “to treat something like a comedian” (κωμῳδεῖσθαι).

Of the iambic poets Archilochus of Paros was best, and then Simonides of Amorgos (or, according to some, of Samos), and then Hipponax of Ephesus; the first first of these was from Gyges’ time, the next was in the time of Amyntas of Macedon, and Hipponax was in his prime under Darius.

Concerning lyric poetry he says that this has the most different kinds and many different sections. For these were divided with some for the gods, some for humans, some for both gods and humans, and some for various occasions. And those “for the gods” refer to hymn, processional (prosodion), paean, dithyramb, nome (nomos), Adonis-poems (adonidion), Bacchus-hymn (iobacchos), and songs accompanied by movements (hyporchema). And those “for humans” are encomia, victory-song (epinikion), crooked songs (skolia), erotic songs, bridal songs, wedding songs, satirical poems, dirges, and funeral songs. And those “for both gods and humans” are maiden-songs (partheneion), laurel-carrying songs (daphnephorikon), tripod processionals (tripodephorikon), grape-carrying songs (oskophorikon), and prayer songs. For these things written for the gods also embrace people’s approval. And those things “for various occasions” are not different kinds of lyric, but the divisions are attempted by the poets themselves: and these are pragmatic, commercial, going-away songs, sententious, agricultural, and epistolary.

And he says that the hymn (ὕμνον) gets its name from being something “enduring” (ὑπόμονόν) and in this way leads to remembering and to a reminder of the deeds of the hymns; or instead it gets its name from “to name” (ὕδειν) itself, which is like “to speak”. And they generally called all those things which were well-written “hymns”; and on account of this the processional (prosodion) and everything else named before appears contrasted to the hymn like a species to a genus—for we hear of things written like “processional hymn”, “encomium hymn”, “paean hymn” and similar.

The processional (προσόδιον) was recited whenever there was a procession (προσίωσι) to altars or temples, and in being sung was accompanied by the aulos; but the hymn was properly sung by those standing still with a lyre.

The paean is a form of song written now to all the gods, but in the past was specifically portioned off to be sung for the stopping of plagues and sickness by Apollo and Artemis. But some people mistakenly say paeans are processionals.

The dithyramb (διθύραμβος) is written to Dionysus, and gets its name from him, either through the two-entranced (διθύρῳ) cave of Nysa in which Dionysus was raised or through the releasing of the stitches (ῥαμμάτων) of Zeus by which he was found, or because he is reputed to have been born twice (δὶς), first from Semele, and second from the thigh. And he says the dithyramb was discovered by Pindar in Corinth; and Aristotle says Arion is the founder of this song, who first lead the circular chorus.

The nome is written to Apollo, and gets its name from him; for Apollo is called Nomimos, and he was called Nomimos because the establishment of choruses and the melody (nomos) of singing was arranged towards the aulos or lyre. Chrysothemis the Cretan first conceived of dressing brilliantly and taking up the cithara in imitation of Apollo sang nome above all others, and the high esteem of his way of contest perseveres; but he thinks Terpander was the first to perfect the nome, having used hexameter verse, and thereafter Arion of Methymna augmented it in no small amount, having been a poet and citharode himself. But Phrynis of Mitylene instituted it anew; he combined hexameter with free verse and conceived of using more than seven strings. Timotheus later arranged it as it is now.

The dithyramb is full of motion and much enthusiasm with the displaying of dance, being made into this state most of all by its proper god (Dionysus), since he is excited by rhythms and the simplest words. Nome in contrast was set free properly and magnificently through its god (Apollo), and is relaxed in its rhythms and made up of complex words. But each of these two is furnished by its own specific harmonies; for dithyramb is suited by the Phrygian and hypo-Phrygian, but nome by the Lydian metre of the citharodes. And the dithyramb seemed to be invented out of rural festivals and by happy drunken carousing. But nome seemed to be a branch off from paean (for one is more common, in being written as a supplication against evils, while the other is a private prayer to Apollo); from this it doesn’t have divine inspritation, like the dithyramb. One is for drunkenness and festivals, while the other is for supplication and orderliness; since the god himself is arranged with order and organization, and he encompasses the music.

Adonidia are said to be those offered up to Adonis. The Bacchus-hymn (iobacchos) was sung at festivals and sacrifices to Dionysus, and was outrageously wine-soaked. Hyporchema (ὑπόρχημα) was said to be sung with (μετά) dance (ὀρχήσεως) accompanying the music; for the ancients often used “hypo” (ὑπό) instead of “meta” (μετά). And the inventors of these are said by some to be the Curetes, and by others Pyrrhus (Πύρρος) son of Achilles; since they also say a Pyrrhike war-dance (πυρρίχην) is a certain kind of dancing (ὀρχήσεως).

The victory-song (ἐπίνικος, epinikion) was written in celebration of victory (νίκης) itself and for those winning in contests. The crooked song (skolion) is a song sung alongside drunken carousing; so it is also called wine-song (παροίνιος)—it is relaxed in construction and very simple. It is not called “skolion”, as some think, according to antiphrase (for that which is according to antiphrase aims at euphemism, and does not exchange the well-spoken for the poorly-spoken), but according to those listeners whose senses are already overpowered and relaxed by wine, who then brought in the lyre to the symposia and each of the Dionysyizing party-goers clashed together unsteadily concerning the progress of the song. So on account of their having fallen into this drunken turning in song, it’s most simply called a “skolion”.

It’s clear that erotic (ἐρωτικά) songs are those sung revolving around the loves (ἐρωτικάς) of women, boys, and girls. And bridal songs (ἐπιθαλάμια, epithalamium) are those sung together by unmarried young boys and girls upon (ἐπὶ) the bridal chambers (θαλάμων) just as the brides are being led into the chambers (θαλαμευομένοις). Proclus says that wedding songs (ὑμέναιον) are to be sung at weddings expressing longing and searching for Hymen (Ὑμήν) son of Terpsichore, who is said by some to become invisible after having married, but according to others this is in honor of the Athenian Hymen—for he says that this one once took back Athenian girls from pirates after having pursued them. But I think the song lays down the preface of a successful life and joins together in prayer those engaged in a marriage in communion with love, weaving the prayer with an Aeolic dialect, something fit for “wedding-song-singing” (ὑμεναίειν) and “agreeing” (ὁμονοεῖν)—these are always dwelling together in the same place.

The satirical poem cautiously holds reproaches and ridicules for men. The dirge differs from the funeral-song, as the funeral-song is sung at the funeral itself, with the body still laid out—but the dirge is not limited to a specific time.

He said that maiden-songs (παρθένια) are sung by choruses of young girls (παρθένων). And the “laurel-carrying songs” (δαφνηφορικά) he puts into the same category as these; for every nine years in Boeotia, priests bring in laurels (δάφνας) to the temple of Apollo, singing to him with a chorus of young girls. And the reason is this: the Aeolians who lived in Arne and the surrounding areas left there in response to an oracle, and invading Thebes were destroying that place which was formerly occupied by the Pelasgians. They made truces for the establishment of a festival of Apollo which they both held in common, and with some cutting up laurel on the Helicon, others offered it to Apollo near the Melas river. But Polematas, leader of the Boeotians, dreamed of a young man giving him his armor and ordering him to make prayers to Apollo by bringing laurels every nine years. And after three days of fighting he prevailed over his enemies and performed the laurel-bringing himself; and afterwards this custom is still observed. The laurel-bringing (δαφνηφορία) is this: an olive branch is wrapped with laurels and flowers of various colors and a bronze sphere is attached to the tip of the branch, with smaller ones hanging off of it; around the middle of the branch they put smaller balls than the tip and fasten purple garlands; the ends of the branch they wrap with a saffron-colored robe. By these it is meant for the top-most sphere to represent the sun (which they ascribe to Apollo), the one below represents the moon, the attached balls represent the constellations and stars, and the garlands represent the course of a year: for they make 365 of these. The laurel-bringing is lead by a child with both parents living, and their closest relative carries the garlanded branch, which they call the “kopo” (κώπω). The laurel-carrier follows them holding the laurel, with their hair let down, carrying a golden crown and wearing a bright robe down to their feet which are both bound with bandages; a chorus of young girls follows closely after, holding olive-branches and singing. And they sent the laurel-carrier to the temple of Apollo Ismenius and Chalazios.

And the tripod-processional (τριποδηφορικὸν) song is sung by the Boeotians with a tripod leading the way. Proclus held that the reason goes like this: some of the Pelasgians attacked the Boeotian fortress Panakton, and the Thebans were defending it; and they sent into Dodona to consult an oracle concerning victory in the battle. And the oracle’s response to the Thebans was this: if they committed a huge sacrilege, they would win. So it seemed to them that a huge sacrilege would be for them to kill the priestess who had delivered the oracular response, and they killed her. But the other priestesses in the surrounding lands demanded justice for the Thebans’ murder. The Thebans could not entrust women alone to be worthy of administering their justice; so a jury of women and men together was established and the white pebbles of the men acquitted the Thebans. The Thebans later understood what the oracle had ordered them to do, and having removed one of the sacred tripods in Boeotia and covering it up like sacriligious temple-robbers they sent it to Dodona. Since they flourished after this they made the act a festival.

And grape-carrying songs (Ὠσχοφορικὰ) are sung by the Athenians. A chorus of two young men dressed like women lead the festival carrying a grape-vine full of blooming grapes (they call this the “oschen” (ὤσχην), from which the name of the song is derived). They say that Theseus first began this deed; since by voluntarily sailing to Crete he released his homeland from the misfortune of paying tribute, and giving thank-offerings to Athena and Dionysus, they appeared to him on the island of Dia, and he had done this with two veiled young men as attendants to the sacrifice. This procession by the Athenians was from the temple of Dionysus into the temple of Athena Skiras. And the chorus follows the youths and sings the song. All of the ephebes from each tribe contend with each other in a race; and the winner of these gets a taste from the so-called “five-fold” bowl, which mixes together olive-oil, wine, honey, cheese, and barley.

Prayer-songs are written by those asking for something to be done by a god. Pragmatic songs are any of those which concern practical affairs. Commercial songs are those written in relation to going abroad and commerce being done. And going-away songs are those made of people being sent away. It is clear that sententious songs have advice for moral character. And agricultural songs are suited to the country and the care and seasons of plants. And epistolary songs are those in relation to orders sent off to people to do things.

These are the two parts read from Proclus’ Select Information About Literature.