Odes, epics and elegies : its all Greek to me!

To represent the next few authors (Trytaeus, Sappho, and later Theognis) there are only a few remaining poems or fragments; and the terms ‘elegies’, ‘odes’ and ‘lyric poetry’ start to crop up. Before I start, it might be wise for me to investigate these various terms, as I didn’t understand the difference between them. (The following is pulled together from several sources)

  • Epics are long poetic tales, often heroic in theme and apparently tend to use an elevated style of language.
  • Lyric poems are shorter and do not tell a long story. They were often sung and accompanied on the lyre, and tended towards the emotional state of the poet, and are more in keeping with what I think of as modern poetry. Subcategories of this style of poetry include elegy, ode, and sonnet.
  • A definition of ‘elegy’ is a little harder to pin down. Narrowly defined as a formal lament for the death of a particular person – more broadly defined, its subject matter in practice can consist of almost any topic, including celebrations or philosophical matters. Trytaeus’ military calls and praises, and Theognis’ emotive poems are elegies.
  • An ode is a long lyric poem with a serious subject written in an elevated style.
  • The sonnet was originally a love poem which dealt with the lover’s sufferings and hopes. It uses a single stanza of fourteen lines and an intricate rhyme pattern.

So literature buffs separate poetry into epic or lyric poetry, with the latter further divided into odes, elegies, sonnets, etc. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and perhaps to a lesser impact, Hesiod’s poems, are definitely epics. Hope this helps 🙂

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