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.
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
to furnish them (Isaeus,
de Dicaeog. hered.
§ 36; Lysias, Accept.
§ 1); also at Aphrodisias (C. I.
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
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
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.
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.
), but generally they were slaves (Wilm. 222). The
pyrrhica was sometimes danced by criminals in the amphitheatre (Dig. 48
; Plut. de sera
1.9 = 554 ed. Reiske). The dancers had masks and
splendid purple cloaks (ib.). Pliny (Plin. Nat.
) tells us that elephants were taught to dance the pyrrhica, and
36) mentions a ballet of monkeys. An elaborate
account of a pyrrhica representing the Judgment of Paris is given by
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.)
(4.122) alludes when he speaks of pegma et pueros inde ad
(cf. Mayor ad loc.
(Most that is to be known about the Roman pyrrhicae is given in
Friedländer, Sittengeschichte Roms,