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PY´RRHICA (πυρρίχη) among the Greeks was properly the military dance of the Lacedaemonians and Cretans--dance, that is, in the sense of rhythmical marchings and evolutions, which became stereotyped afterwards into a kind of ornamental parade. There is the greatest divergence among the authorities as to the inventor; a Cretan called Pyrrhicus, or Pyrrhus son of Achilles, or the Dioscuri, or the Curetes, or Athena, being assumed by different authors (Krause, Gymnastik und Agonistik, 2.836). Plato says the pyrrhic dance “imitates the modes of avoiding blows and darts by dropping, or giving way, or springing aside, or rising up, or falling down; also the opposite postures, which are those of action, as, for example, the imitation of archery and the hurling of javelins, and of all sorts of blows” (Leg. 7.815, Jowett's translation). Athenaeus (14.631) calls it προγύμνασμα τοῦ πολέμου, and that it required the best music and most stirring strains. It was practised at Sparta by children when they were as young as five years. Exhibitions of pyrrhic dancers also took place at the Panathenae at Athens, and it was a common λειτουργία to furnish them (Isaeus, de Dicaeog. hered. § 36; Lysias, Accept. Mum. Def. § 1); also at Aphrodisias (C. I. G. 2758) and Teos (3089). There is a lively account of a πυρρίχη danced by a woman in Xenophon (An. 6.1, 12). Grasberger (Erziehung und Unterricht, 3.297) says that the youths used to strike the shields with their daggers, and, forming into two opposing lines, used to strike their daggers against the shields of those of the opposite line. The Romans sometimes gave somewhat similar exhibitions, which they called pyrrhicae militares (Spart. Hadr. 19; cf. Amm. 16.5, 10, 18.7, 7; Herodian, 4.2, 9). It is a mistake to suppose that this is the same as the Ludus Trojae, as is stated by Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 5.602). But with the Romans pyrrhica for the most part signified a dramatic representation by several dancers, male and female, like our ballet, with all kinds of marching, evolutions, and groupings (Apul. Met. 10.29). There were also kinds of sham fights; an epigram on the pyrrhica (Anthol. Lat. 959, ed. Meyer) says, “In spatio Veneris simulantur praelia Martis Cum sese adversum sexus uterque venit.” The subjects were most various: the Judgment of Paris, Icarus and Pasiphae (Suet. Nero 12); but a very common one was something connected with Bacchic worship, as it lent itself so well to picturesque treatment, the dancers being got up with fawn-skins, thyrsi, &c. Thus we hear of the invasion of India by Bacchus and Pentheus being subjects (Ath. 14.631). Boys and girls for this kind of dance were imported from Asia Minor (cf. Suet. Jul. 39). They were sometimes free, and given citizenships if they gave satisfaction (Suet. Nero 12), but generally they were slaves (Wilm. 222). The pyrrhica was sometimes danced by criminals in the amphitheatre (Dig. 48, 19, 8, 11; Plut. de sera Numinis vind. 1.9 = 554 ed. Reiske). The dancers had masks and splendid purple cloaks (ib.). Pliny (Plin. Nat. 8.5) tells us that elephants were taught to dance the pyrrhica, and Lucian (Pisc. 36) mentions a ballet of monkeys. An elaborate account of a pyrrhica representing the Judgment of Paris is given by Apuleius (Met. 10.30-34). It was very like our ballets. We may notice especially the characteristic music, solemn with the entrance of Juno, the martial Doric mood as Minerva appears, and voluptuous Lydian strains accompanying Venus (100.31); also the elaborate scenery, Mount Ida with real living bushes and trees, real goats browsing on it, and real water in its many tountains (100.30). These at the end shot up a stream of crocus and wine just before, at the end of the performance, the mountain sank (100.34). The machinery used in such ballets must have been most elaborate; and it is doubtless to a pyrrhica that Juvenal

Pyrrhic dancer, from a tomb at Chiusi. (Dennis.)

[p. 2.528]

(4.122) alludes when he speaks of pegma et pueros inde ad velaria raptos (cf. Mayor ad loc.).

(Most that is to be known about the Roman pyrrhicae is given in Friedländer, Sittengeschichte Roms, ii.3 443-445.)


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