Oral poetics through the lens of the Panathenaic festival in Athens
Author: Nagy, Gregory
Affiliation: Harvard University

This paper will focus on lyric as well as epic traditions of performance in the context of the competitions that took place at the seasonally recurring festival of the Panathenaia in Athens. It is well known that epic traditions at the Panathenaia were mediated by professional performers known as rhapsōidoi ‘rhapsodes’. What is less well known is that lyric traditions were mediated primarily by professional performers known as (1) kitharōidoi ‘citharodes’ and (2) aulōidoi ‘aulodes’, that is, by (1) singers who accompanied themselves on a seven-string instrument known as the kithara ‘cithara’ and (2) singers who were accompanied on a double-reed wind instrument known as the aulos ‘reed’ respectively.

An important piece of relevant information comes from the publication of archaeological evidence found in the “Tomb of the Musician” (Attica, 5th c.), which is relevant to questions about the performance of “lyric poetry” at the Panathenaia. The relevant article is by E. Pöhlmann and M. L. West, “The Oldest Greek Papyrus and Writing Tablets: Fifth-Century Documents from the ‘Tomb of the Musician’ in Attica. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 180 [2012] 1-16). I will offer a criticism of there of the terms used by Pöhlmann and West in their description of the finds and of other evidence that is relevant to the finds:

1) “harps”

2) “school scene” as represented by the Douris painter. Pöhlmann and West mention this vase painting once in a footnote, and then never again.

3) “musician”; at their p. 10: “a musician, probably a poet.” The criticism that is offered will be used to generate a new formulation about the performances epic as well as lyric poetry at the Panathenaia.