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ῥαψῳδός). A Greek term derived from ῥάβδω, originally designating the man who adapted the words to the epic song—i. e. the epic poet himself, who in the earlier time recited his own poetry. Afterwards the term especially denoted one who made the poems of others a subject of recitation.

At first such rhapsodists were generally poets themselves; but, with the gradual dying out of epic poetry, they came to hold the same position as was afterwards held by the actors, professionally declaiming the lays of the epic poets. Epic verses were originally sung to musical accompaniment, but after the time of Terpander, as lyric poetry became more independently cultivated, the accompaniment of stringed instruments fell into disuse; and then gradually, instead of a song-like recitation, a simple declamation, in which the rhapsodist held a branch of bay in his hand, came to be generally adopted. This had happened even before the time of Plato and Aristotle (see especially Plato's Ion). As in earlier times the singers moved from place to place, in order to get a hearing at the courts of princes or before festive gatherings, so the rhapsodists also led an unsettled and wandering life. At Athens (Leocr. 102) and many other towns, as at Sicyon, before the time of the tyrant Clisthenes (Herod.v. 67), public recitations of the Homeric poems were appointed, at which the rhapsodists competed with one another for definite prizes, and thus found opportunity to display their art. It is true that other epic poems, and even the iambic poetry of Archilochus and Simonides of Amorgus, were also recited by rhapsodists; still at all times the labours of such reciters continued to be devoted in the first place to Homeric poetry (Pindar, Nem. ii. 2; Plato, Ion, 530D; Rep. 599E; Phaedr. 252 B). Hence they were also called Homeridae and Homeristae (Aristot. in Athenaeus, 620 B). It was to the older rhapsodists that the Homeric poems primarily owed their wide diffusion among the Greeks. In the course of time the high esteem in which the rhapsodists originally stood began to decline, because many practised their art as a matter of business and in a purely mechanical fashion. Still their employment survived long beyond the classical time, and not only did the public competition continue to exist, but it was also the custom to introduce rhapsodists at banquets and on other occasions. See Epos; Homerus.

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.67
    • Pindar, Nemean, 2
    • Plato, Republic, 10.599e
    • Plato, Ion, 530d
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