A skolion (from Ancient Greek: σκόλιον) (pl. skolia), also scolion (pl. scolia), was a song sung by invited guests at banquets in ancient Greece. Often extolling the virtues of the gods or heroic men, skolia were improvised to suit the occasion and accompanied by a lyre, which was handed about from singer to singer as the time for each scolion came around.[1] "Capping" verses were exchanged, "by varying, punning, riddling, or cleverly modifying" the previous contribution.[2]

A female aulos-player entertains men at a symposium on this Attic red-figure bell-krater, c. 420 BC


Although Greek folk etymology connects skolion with δύσκολος 'difficult', the likeliest connection is with σκέλος 'bent limb, part' as joined verse or repartee. This use is comparable to Japanese renga 'linked verse'.


Skolia are often referred to as 'banquet songs', 'convivial songs", or 'drinking songs'. The term also refers to poetry composed in the same form.[citation needed] In later use, the form was used in a more stately manner for chorus poetry in praise of the gods or heroes.[citation needed]

Terpander is said to have been the inventor of this poetic form,[1] although that is doubtful. Instead, he may have adapted it for musical accompaniment. That these skolia were written, not only by poets like Alcaeus, Anacreon, Praxilla, Simonides, but also by Sappho and by Pindar,[3] shows in what high esteem skolia were held by the Greeks.[1] "The gods of Olympos sang at their banquets".[4]

The Epitaph of Seikilos, dated to the first century AD, found with the original music in the ancient Greek notation, is the oldest complete example of ancient Greek music.[5][6] Although often referred to as a skolion, its context as a short tombstone inscription scarcely suggests such a characterisation. It is, rather, an epigram. The confusion about this piece in modern scholarship is due to the association made by the scholiast to Plato's Gorgias 451e between the epigram and the skolion.[7]

Other usesEdit

See alsoEdit

  1. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Poetry" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 21 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Christian Werner (2005-05-18). "review of Derek Collins". Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry. Bryn Mawr Classical Review.
  3. ^ D. S. Robertson (June 1961). "Pindar's Skolia - B. A. Van Groningen: Pindare au Banquet. Les fragments des scolies édités avec un commentaire critique et explicatif. Pp. 132. Leiden: Sijthoff. 1960. Cloth, fl. 16". The Classical Review. New Series. 11 (2): 111–115. doi:10.1017/S0009840X00210846. JSTOR 707529.
  4. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth (1963). Greek Melic Poets, (1900). New York: Biblo and Tannen. p. xcviii.
  5. ^ The Song of Seikilos on YouTube
  6. ^ "Skolion of Seikilos". The Session.
  7. ^ Thomas Mathiesen (1999). Apollo's Lyre: Greek Music and Music Theory in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-8032-3079-6.
  8. ^ "Societies | Balliol JCR". www.ballioljcr.org.


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