Greek poet
Country: Greece

  1. Vakhylid: A Greek Poet and Representative of Choral Lyric Poetry
  2. Biography
  3. Poetic Style and Works

Vakhylid: A Greek Poet and Representative of Choral Lyric Poetry

Vakhylid, a Greek poet, was a representative of choral lyric poetry. He was included in the canonical list of the Nine Lyric Poets by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. Born in the city of Ioulis on the island of Keos, near the coast of Attica, Vakhylid was the nephew of the renowned poet Simonides of Keos. It is possible that Simonides taught him the rules of composing choral songs and undoubtedly had a significant influence on his nephew. Vakhylid should also be considered as a successor to Stesichorus, who transformed mythological narratives into one of the most significant components of choral lyric poetry. Vakhylid was a contemporary of Pindar, and from his texts, it is evident that he often competed with Pindar in various competitions in Athens, Macedonia, Sicily, Thessaly, and Aegina. Vakhylid wrote for the representatives of powerful Thessalian families, for Alexander I – the king of Macedonia, for Hiero I – the tyrant of Syracuse, as well as for noble families in Athens, Keos, and Aegina. His dithyrambs written for the Athenian and Keian families are considered an important stage in the development of this genre.


Vakhylid embarked on several journeys, most notably a trip to Sicily to the court of Hiero, where he lived, presumably, with his uncle. It is reported that towards the end of his life, Vakhylid, who was sentenced to exile, moved to the Peloponnese. In the Hellenistic period, Vakhylid's works were divided into 9 books according to genres: Hymns, Paens, Dithyrambs (6 have been preserved, some are corrupted), Prosodiae ("songs for processions"), Parthenia ("songs for girls"), Hyporchemes ("songs for dances"), Encomia or Skolia ("drinking songs"), Epinicia ("triumphant odes"; 14 have been preserved, some are corrupted), and Erotika ("love songs"). The last of the surviving songs is dated to 452 BC.

Until the end of the 19th century, Vakhylid was known only through quotations in the works of other authors (fragments of drinking and love poetry), collected by Neii, Schneidewin, and Bergk in the anthology "Greek Lyric Poets" (Poetae lyrici graeci, vol. 3, Berlin, 1923). In 1896, the British Museum acquired two papyrus scrolls found in Egypt, containing Vakhylid's epinicia and dithyrambs (15 epinicia and 6 dithyrambs; published by the British scholar Som in 1897). In the 20th century, new papyrus fragments were discovered. Thanks to these sources, Vakhylid's works are now well represented, with the epinicia and dithyrambs being the most prominent. The surviving epigrams attributed to him are likely not authentic.

Poetic Style and Works

Vakhylid's epinicia follow the same rules as Pindar's works, but they differ in their character. Vakhylid lacks the grandeur of thought present in Pindar's poetry; he focuses on details and meticulous craftsmanship, writing in a clearer and simpler manner than Pindar. Although lacking in original and daring metaphors and not reaching the same austere sublimity characteristic of Pindar, Vakhylid's texts are simpler and filled with genuine Ionian elegance. They are renowned for their finesse of form, linguistic transparency, and plasticity of imagery.

In his works, Vakhylid praises the recipients of his songs and lavishes them with exquisite compliments. The narrative parts of Vakhylid's texts (which depict scenes from the lives of gods and heroes) are beautiful, poetic, and full of dramatic tension and even pathos. The ornate style inherent in choral lyric poetry is achieved by Vakhylid through the grouping of epithets around a single noun. Despite their simplicity, Vakhylid's works feature the use of complex adjectives, many of which were neologisms.

Vakhylid achieved considerable success in the genre of epinicia with his commission for the victory of Hiero of Syracuse's chariot at the Olympic Games in 468 BC. It is reported that this epinicion disappointed Pindar with some of his own works, as in his previous odes written for Hiero, Pindar was unable to handle the bodily and political weaknesses of the patron as delicately as Vakhylid.

Above the epinicia, the dithyrambs are considered to be more significant, as they are purely mythological narratives in a lyrical-epic style. The flourishing of drama in the 5th century BC led to a greater dramatization of lyric poetry, particularly the dithyramb (originally associated with the cult of Dionysus, which was then preserved in a dramatized form).

Vakhylid used lesser-known versions of myths and often turned to the Attic tradition (Vakhylid's myths are much closer to epic than Pindar's lyrics). In this regard, the dithyramb "Theseus" is particularly interesting, as it takes the form of a dialogue between the King of Athens, Aegeus, and the chorus.

The dithyramb is considered an element of transition from choral song to drama and is important for the study of the formation of ancient tragedy. However, since Vakhylid worked during the period of the full flourishing of tragedy, it can be assumed that it was under the influence of tragedy that he gave "Theseus" such a form.

Among the other surviving texts of Vakhylid, special attention should be given to the scolion written for Alexander I, which skillfully captures the atmosphere of a feast and light intoxication. In Alexandria, Vakhylid was included in the canon of the Nine Lyric Poets, and his works were collected and published in the 2nd century BC. Commentaries were also written for many of his texts. The greatest influence of Vakhylid's poetry can be seen in the works of Theocritus. In later periods, Vakhylid's works were sought after not so much for their poetic heights, but for mythological, geographical, and other information.

Ancient literary theorists had mixed opinions about him. For example, the author of the treatise "On the Sublime," Pseudo-Longinus, speaks highly of Vakhylid's elegance, but still prefers Pindar's "sudden and unpredictable brilliance." Generally, it was believed that Vakhylid's versatility was comparable to that of Simonides and Pindar, but he was incomparable to them in terms of scale and power.

Nevertheless, Vakhylid (who was considered a "light" poet) was read for a long time. In Rome, Vakhylid was of particular interest to Horace. Vakhylid was also known to Julian the Apostate, after whom the poet's name ceased to be mentioned, and his works were lost.