The function of direct speech in Bacchylides’ poetry

The case of ode 5 and ode 18

ELISA NURIA MERISIO (Sapienza Università di Roma)

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Abstract: This paper is aimed at analysing Bacchylides’ narrative choices and the role played by and the effects of direct speech in two poems of his, namely ode 5 and ode 18. The use of direct speech in these odes allows the poet to achieve narrative effects that would be unthinkable by resorting only to an extradiegetic narrator and to pure narrative. The investigation of narrative structures can therefore help to understand in depth the aims of Bacchylides’ poetry and how he achieves them.

The occasion and the aims of the two odes considered are different. Ode 5 is a victory ode: the insertion of the mythical narrative, with its pessimistic and subdued tone, is aimed at offsetting the excitement caused by a sports victory, which is a typical process of epinician poetry. Conversely, ode 18 is designed to celebrate a civic community, a glorification of Athens by celebrating its mythical founder and its youth filled with warlike ardour. In odes 5 and 18 a tragic effect is achieved, first and foremost, thanks to the poet’s masterly use of several narrative levels and in particular the narrative mode of mimesis adopted by resorting to direct speech. This mode highlights the gap of knowledge between characters on the one hand and the narrator and the audience on the other, thereby creating an effect of dramatic irony that reminds us of the best achievements of Attic tragedy.


About the Author:    Elisa Nuria Merisio is a Ph.D. student in Greek and Latin Philology at “Sapienza” Università di Roma. She is working on a project dealing with metrical funerary inscriptions from Phrygia under the Roman Empire with particular attention to the relationship between Greek paideia and local identity. Elisa’s previous projects included an examination of myth-telling in Bacchylides’ poetry (MA Dissertation – Università degli Studi di Siena) and a study of the ‘ephemeral’ human condition in archaic Greek poetry (BA Dissertation – Università degli Studi di Siena).