Ancient Greek History

What to Know About Lyric Poetry in Ancient Greece

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One of the things that we know and enjoy today about the Ancient Greeks are their various works of poetry and literature that have survived through the centuries. The pursuit of these disciplines was so important to the Ancient Greeks, in fact, that they had several muses to represent them. Kaliope was the muse of epic poetry, Erato was the muse of love poetry, and Euterpe was the muse of lyric poetry.

Because the Greek lyric has its own muse, it is clear that this poetic form had a special place in the culture. Here’s more information about lyric poetry and its importance in Ancient Greece:

Definition of Lyric Poetry

According to Merriam-Webster, lyric as it pertains to poetry is defined as, “expressing direct usually intense personal emotion especially in a manner suggestive of song.” It is said to be a type of poem that expresses the personal thoughts and feelings of the individual who is the subject of the poem. Sometimes the subject of the poem will actually be the poet but in other instances, the subject will be the individual who is narrating the poem (if it isn’t the poet). If no specific subject is being named, we usually assume that the speaker of the poem is the poet.

Lyric Poetry in Ancient Greece

The word, lyric, is said to have originated from the word, lyre, which was a type of stringed instrument that was commonly used by poets in Ancient Greece. Think of the lyre not as a type of guitar, but as a small, hand-held harp. However, it is important to note that a formal description of the lyre as it appeared in Ancient Greece hasn’t been found. It is thought to have had 4, 7, or even 10 strings, which were either plucked or strummed with a bow. Later on in European history, other instruments came about that were referred to as lyres but didn’t really look like the lyres of Ancient Greece.

Subjects of Greek Lyric Poems

The Ancient Greeks had a tendency to write lyric poems concerning certain topics. They didn’t really write about how they felt in their daily lives. Rather, they reserved this type of poem for certain events. These included:

  • Athletics – People often wrote lyric poems about victories in athletics, usually at organized games like the Ancient Olympic Games.
  • The Dead – Another popular subject of a lyric poem is that they were often written to eulogize the deceased.
  • Soldiers – Valor and bravery amongst soldiers was highly prized, so lyric poems were often written to inspire these traits.
  • Religious – Lyric poems often had a religious purpose and were crafted into hymns and other songs for purposes of worship. At the time, these poems were often written about certain gods and goddesses.
  • Love – This was a popular type of lyric in Ancient Greece and the poems were a way to express devotion and love to another.

Besides being written about the above topics, they often had various other topics, such as about politics, war, sports, money, drinking, youth, death, heroics, and the past. Lyric poems were certainly an important part of the culture of Ancient Greece.


Wikipedia – Greek Lyric

Wikipedia – Muses

Merriam-Webster – Lyric

Wikipedia – Lyre

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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