Philoxenus of Cythera
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Philoxenus of Cythera

Philoxenus of Cythera (Greek: ? ; c. 435/4 - 380/79 BC)[1] was a Greek dithyrambic poet, an exponent of the "New Music."[2] He was one of the most important dithyrambic poets of ancient Greece.[3]


A few details of Philoxenus' life are known.[4] According to the Suda, Philoxenus was the son of Eulytides, from Cythera. On the conquest of the island by the Athenians, Philoxenus was taken as a slave to Athens, where he came into the possession of the dithyrambic poet Melanippides, who educated him.[5]

Philoxenus lived for some time in Sicily, as the court-poet of Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse.[6] There, according to Athenaeus—probably based on an account by the 4th-century philosopher Phaenias of Eresus—Philoxenus tried to seduce Dionysius' mistress Galateia, and was thrown into the quarries.[7] However, according to Diodorus Siculus, Philoxenus imprisonment in the quarries was the result of his refusal to praise Dionysius' bad poetry.[8]

After leaving Sicily, according to the Suda, he lived for a while in the Greek colony of Taras (modern Taranto) in Italy,[9] and died at Ephesus.[10] According to the Parian Marble, he died in 380/79 BC, at the age of 55.[11]

The great popularity of Philoxenus is attested by a complimentary resolution passed by the Athenian Senate in 393 BC. A character in a comedy by Antiphanes spoke of him as "a god among men"; Alexander the Great had his poems sent to him in Asia; the Alexandrian grammarians received him into the canon; and down to the time of Polybius his works were regularly learned and annually performed by the young men of Arcadia.


Philoxenus, was a poet-musician, one of the most important of his era. He was a so-called "New Music" poet, representing a style that developed between the end of the 5th century BC and the first decades of the 4th century BC. He, along with other such "New Music" poets as Melanippides and Timotheus, introduced significant changes in music. These including, adding to the number of strings on the cithara, introducing complex melodies with more notes and larger intervals between notes, and using multiple changes of harmonies and rhythms in a single work.[12]

Philoxenus introduced other innovations, for example while the traditional dithyramb was a choral song accompanied by panpipes, Philoxenus' Cyclops sang a solo accompanied by the cithara.[13] And, in another innovation for dithyrambic performance, the same character was apparently supplied with a costume, which included a leather bag, and sprigs of herbs.[14]

According to the Suda, Philoxenus composed twenty-four dithyrambs, and a lyric poem on the descendants of Aeacus.[15] His most important dythyramb was the Cyclops a pastoral burlesque on the love of the Cyclops Polyphemus for the nymph Galatea. It was parodied by Aristophanes in the Plutus.

Another work of Philoxenus (sometimes attributed to Philoxenus of Leucas, a notorious glutton) is the Deipnon ("Dinner"), of which considerable fragments have been preserved by Athenaeus. The poem gives an account of an elaborate dinner, probably intended as a satire on the luxury of the Sicilian court. In this poem, Philoxenus describes some cakes as "mixed with safflower, toasted, wheat-oat-white-chickpea-little thistle-little-sesame-honey-mouthful of everything, with a honey rim".[16]


Detail of a 1st-century BC wall painting from a bedroom in the villa of Agrippa Postumus at Boscotrecase showing a landscape with Galatea and Polyphemus with some of his flock.

In his poem Cyclops or Galatea, Philoxenus took up the story of Polyphemus, the Cyclops famously encountered by Odysseus in the Odyssey. It was written to be performed in a wild and ecstatic song-and-dance form -- the dithyramb, of which only fragments remain. Philoxenus' story occurs well before the one-eyed monster was blinded by Odysseus. Philoxenus was perhaps the first to provide a female love interest for the Cyclops.[17] The object of Polyphemus' romantic desire is a beautiful sea nymph named Galatea.[18] Philoxenus' Polyphemus is not a cave dwelling, monstrous brute, as in the Odyssey, but instead he is a bit like Odysseus himself in his vision of the world: He has weaknesses, he is adept at literary criticism, and he understands people.[19]

The date of composition for Philoxenus' Cyclops is not precisely known, but it must be prior to 388 BC, when Aristophanes parodied it in his comedy Plutus (Wealth); and probably after 406 BC, when Dionysius I became tyrant of Syracuse,[20] and when Philoxenus served as his court poet.[21] Aristophanes' parody suggests that there had been a recent performance in Athens of Philoxenus' poem.[22]

There were contradictory ancient accounts concerning Philoxenus' inspiration for the poem.[23] According to a Scholiast on Theocritus' Idyll 6, the historian Duris (c. 340–c. 260 BC) said that there was a shrine to Galatea near Mount Etna built by Polyphemus, and that when Philoxenus visited the shrine and could think of no reason for it, he invented the story of Polyphemus' love for Galatea.[24] However in what is probably the earliest account, that of Phaenias', by way of Athenaes, Philoxenus' Cyclops was written, while the poet was imprisoned in the quarries, as a court satire, where, in the manner of a Roman à clef, the characters in Philoxenus' dithyramb: Polyphemus, Odysseus and the sea nymph Galatea, were meant to represent Dionysius, Philoxenus, and Dionysius' mistress, the aulos-player Galatea, respectively.[25]

Philoxenus had his Polyphemus play the cithara, a professional lyre requiring great skill. The Cyclops playing such a sophisticated and fashionable instrument would have been quite a surprising juxtaposition for Philoxenus' audience, and perhaps signaled a competition between two genres of performance -- the nome (a primitive music form of a poem set to music) and the dithyramb. So the character of the Cyclops, in this interpretation, would not represent Dionysius the tyrant of Sicily, but perhaps instead the cithara-playing poet Timotheus.[26]

The romantic element, originated by Philoxenus, was revived by Hellenistic poets that were to follow, including: Theocritus, Callimachus, Hermesianax, and Bion of Smyrna.[27]

Aristophanes' parody

The text of Aristophanes' last extant play Plutus (Wealth) has survived, but with almost all of its choral odes missing,[28] what remains for the chorus shows Aristophanes (as he does to some extent in all his plays) parodying a contemporary literary work -- in this case Philoxenus' Cyclops.[29] With this parody Aristophanes, while poking fun at literary aspects of Philoxenus' dithyramb, is at the same time commenting on musical developments occurring in the fourth century BC, developing themes that run through the whole play.[30] It also contains lines and phrases taken directly from Cyclops.[31]

The slave Cario, tells the chorus that his master has brought home with him the god Wealth, and because of this they will all now be rich. The chorus wants to dance for joy.[32] So Cario begins a different kind of performance, parodying Philoxenus' dithyramb.[33] As a solo performer leading a chorus that sings and dances, Cario recreates the form of a dithyramb being performed. He first casts himself in the role of Polyphemus, and the chorus as his flock of sheep and goats:

And now I wish--threttanello!--to imitate the Cyclops and, swinging my feet to and fro like this, to lead you in the dance. But come on, children, shout and shout again the songs of bleating sheep and smelly goats and follow with your cocks skinned--for you're going to eat the goat's breakfast![34]

Cario vocally imitates the sound of a lyre ("threttanello") which is thought to be a reference to Philoxenus having Polyphemus play the lyre, and "to eat the goat's breakfast" is an obscene joke referencing self-administered fellatio.[35]

The chorus, however, doesn't want to play sheep and goats, they'd rather be Odysseus and his men, and threaten to blind Cario (as the drunken Cyclops) with a wooden stake:[36]

But we in turn will try--threttanello!--while we bleat to catch you as the Cyclops, still hungry, holding a sack of damp wild greens, and hung over to boot! Then while you happen to take a nap while leading your sheep, we'll pick up a great half-burnt stake and blind you![37]

Philoxenus continues to be quoted in this scene from Aristophanes, and the chorus responds to Cario's obscene joke with their own comic description of a drunken Cyclops passing out while leading his sheep.[38]

Aristophanes delivers a satiric rebuttal to a dithyramb that has wandered into territory more properly the domain of drama.[39]

Aristotle's comment

Philoxenus' Cyclops is also referred to in Aristotle's Poetics. Aristotle discusses representations of people in tragedy and comedy ("tragedy differs from comedy. The latter sets out to represent people as worse than they are to-day, the former as better").[40] Before making this point, he has indicated that as in comedy, it is the same in dithyrambic poetry, and cites as examples the Cyclops of both Timotheus and Philoxenus.[41]


  1. ^ Campbell, p. 7; Parian Marble Ep. 69 (p. 18 Jacoby) = Philoxenus test. 2 Campbell.
  2. ^ Rocha, BMCR 2015.05.32; LeVen, p. 71.
  3. ^ Smith, s.v. Philoxenus.
  4. ^ Campbell, p. 7.
  5. ^ Suda ? 393 (iv 728s. Adler) = Philoxenus test. 1 Campbell = PMG 814.
  6. ^ Rocha, BMCR 2015.05.32; Hordern, p. 446.
  7. ^ Hordern, pp. 445–446; Creese, p. 564; Athenaeus, 1.6–7a = Philoxenus fr. 816 Campbell = PMG 816 = Phaenias fr. 13 Wehrli. See also Aelian, Varia Historia 12.44.
  8. ^ Hordern, p. 446; Diodorus Siculus, 15.6 = Philoxenus test. 3 Campbell. Compare with Suda ? 397 (iv 729s. Adler) = Philoxenus test. 4 Campbell.
  9. ^ Suda ? 397 (iv 729s. Adler) = Philoxenus test. 4 Campbell.
  10. ^ Suda ? 393 (iv 728s. Adler) = Philoxenus test. 1 Campbell = PMG 814. Suda ? 393, also says that "Callistratus wrote that [Philoxenus] belonged to Pontic Heraclea" (Campbell, p. 139), i.e. Heraclea Pontica in Anatolia (modern Turkey) on the Black Sea, however Campbell, p. 139 n. 5 discounts this.
  11. ^ Rocha, BMCR Parian Marble2015.05.32; Parian Marble Ep. 69 (p. 18 Jacoby) = Philoxenus test. 2 Campbell.
  12. ^ Rocha, BMRC 2015.05.32; Campbell, pp. 1–2. For a detailed discussion of these "New Music" poets see Campbell, pp. 1–8; see also LeVen 2014.
  13. ^ Campbell, p. 2; fr. 819 Campbell = PMG 819.
  14. ^ Campbell, p. 2; fr. 820 Campbell = PMG 820.
  15. ^ Suda ? 393 (iv 728s. Adler) = Philoxenus test. 1 Campbell = PMG 814.
  16. ^ Wilkins, p. 129.
  17. ^ That Polyphemus' love for Galatea is "possibly" a Philoxenus innovation, see Creese, p. 563 with n. 5.
  18. ^ Brooks, pp. 163-164.
  19. ^ LeVen, p. 237
  20. ^ Rosen, p. 155; Hordern, p. 445.
  21. ^ Hordern, p. 446, with n. 4, giving numerous ancient sources.
  22. ^ Farmer, p. 215; Hordern, p. 445.
  23. ^ Hopkinson, p. 36.
  24. ^ Hordern, p. 447; Scholiast on Theocritus 6 = FGrHist 76 F 58 = Philoxenus fr. 817 Campbell = PMG 817 .
  25. ^ Rocha, BMCR 2015.05.32; LeVen, pp. 127–128; Hordern, pp. 445–446; Creese, p. 564; Athenaeus, 1.6–7a = Philoxenus fr. 816 Campbell = PMG 816 = Phaenias fr. 13 Wehrli. For a reading of this Phaenias passage, see Leven, pp. 128–134.
  26. ^ Jackson, p. 126.
  27. ^ LeVen, pp. 234–234.
  28. ^ Jackson, p. 124.
  29. ^ Jackson, p. 124; Farmer, p. 213; Hordern, p. 445.
  30. ^ Jackson, p. 125.
  31. ^ Jackson, p. 126.
  32. ^ Aristophanes, Plutus 284–287.
  33. ^ For the intrpretation of this scene followed here, see Farmer, pp. 213–216, and Jackson, pp. 124–126.
  34. ^ Farmer, p. 215; Aristophanes, Plutus 290–295.
  35. ^ Farmer, p. 216.
  36. ^ Jackson, p. 125.
  37. ^ Farmer, p. 216; Aristophanes, Plutus 296–301.
  38. ^ Farmer, p. 216.
  39. ^ Farmer, p. 219.
  40. ^ Aristotle, Poetics 1448a.
  41. ^ LeVen, p. 235; Hordern, pp. 448–450; Farmer, p. 215.


  • Aelian, Historical Miscellany, translated by Nigel G. Wilson, Loeb Classical Library No. 486, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1997. Online version at Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-99535-2.
  • Aristophanes, Plutus (Wealth), in Aristophanes, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth, Edited and translated by Jeffrey Henderson, Loeb Classical Library No. 180, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2002. Online version at Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-99596-3.
  • Aristotle, Poetics in Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 23, translated by W.H. Fyfe. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1932. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters, Volume I: Books 1-3.106e, edited and translated by S. Douglas Olson, Loeb Classical Library No. 204, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2007. Online version at Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-99620-5.
  • Brooks, Francis, ed. Greek Lyric Poets. Publisher: David Nutt. 1896. Google Books.
  • Campbell, David A., Greek Lyric, Volume V: The New School of Poetry and Anonymous Songs and Hymns, Loeb Classical Library No. 144. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-674-99559-8. Online version at Harvard University Press.
  • Creese, David, "Erogenous Organs: The Metamorphosis of Polyphemus' 'Syrinx' in Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.784" in The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Dec., 2009), pp. 562-577. JSTOR 20616706.
  • Diodorus Siculus, Diodorus Siculus: The Library of History. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Twelve volumes. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. 1989. Online version by Bill Thayer
  • Farmer, Matthew C., Tragedy on the Comic Stage, Oxford University Press, 2017. ISBN 9780190492076. Google Books.
  • Hordern, J. H. "The Cyclops of Philoxenus" in The Classical Quarterly, Volume 49, No. 2, 1999 pp. 445-455. JSTOR 639870.
  • Hopkinson, N., (ed.), Ovid: Metamorphoses Book XIII, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-55421-7.
  • Jackson, Lucy C. M. M., The Chorus of Drama in the Fourth Century BCE: Presence and Representation Oxford University Press, 2019. ISBN 978-0-19-884453-2.
  • LeVen, Pauline A., The Many-Headed Muse: Tradition and Innovation in Late Classical Greek Lyric Poetry. Cambridge University Press 2014. ISBN 978-1-107-01853-2.
  • Rocha, Roosevelt, "Adelaide Fongoni, Philoxeni Cytherii Testimonia et Fragmenta. Dithyrambographi Graeci, 1", Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.05.32.
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  • Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). Online version at the Perseus Digital Library
  • Wilkins, John M. Food in the Ancient World, Blackwell 2006.

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