Stitching Together the Songs

Pindar, Nemean 2.1-5

“Just as the Homeridae in fact,
Those singers who stitch songs together,
Begin with a prayer to Zeus
So too has this man welcomed the first of his victories
In the holy contests in the much-sung grove of Nemean Zeus.”

Ὅθεν περ καὶ Ὁμηρίδαι
ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων τὰ πόλλ᾿ ἀοιδοί
ἄρχονται, Διὸς ἐκ προοιμίου, καὶ ὅδ᾿ ἀνήρ
καταβολὰν ἱερῶν ἀγώ-
νων νικαφορίας δέδεκται πρῶτον Νεμεαίου
5ἐν πολυυμνήτῳ Διὸς ἄλσει.

Schol. Ad Pin. Nem. 2.1  var.

Just as the Homeridae”: They used to say in ancient times that the Homeridae were the descendants of Homer who used to sing his poetry in turns. But later on, the rhapsodes no longer attributed their lineage to Homer. But once the performers around Kynaithos became well-known—those ones who people claim composed many verses and inserted them into Homer’s poetry. Kynaithos’ was from Khios and he is said to have composed the Hymn to Apollo among those poems attributed to Homer. This Kynaithos was the first to sing the poems of Homer as a rhapsode among the Syracusians during the sixty-ninth Olympiad, as Hippostratus claims.

 ῞Οθεν περ καὶ ῾Ομηρίδαι: ῾Ομηρίδας ἔλεγον τὸ μὲν ἀρχαῖον τοὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ ῾Ομήρου γένους, οἳ καὶ τὴν ποίησιν αὐτοῦ ἐκ διαδοχῆς ᾖδον· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα καὶ οἱ ῥαψῳδοὶ οὐκέτι τὸ γένος εἰς ῞Ομηρον ἀνάγοντες. ἐπιφανεῖς δὲ ἐγένοντοοἱ περὶ Κύναιθον, οὕς φασι πολλὰ τῶν ἐπῶν ποιήσαντας ἐμβαλεῖν εἰς τὴν ῾Ομήρου ποίησιν. ἦν δὲ ὁ Κύναιθος τὸ γένος Χῖος, ὃς καὶ τῶν ἐπιγραφομένων ῾Ομήρου ποιημάτων τὸν εἰς ᾿Απόλλωνα γεγραφὼς ὕμνον ἀνατέθεικεν αὐτῷ. οὗτος οὖν ὁ
Κύναιθος πρῶτος ἐν Συρακούσαις ἐραψῴδησε τὰ ῾Ομήρου ἔπη κατὰ τὴν ξθ′ ᾿Ολυμπιάδα, ὡς ῾Ιππόστρατός φησιν (FHG IV 433).

“In addition: The rhapsodes etymologize “rhapsodes” because they proceed through Homeric poetry with the rhabdos . Callimachus writes, “I am forever singing the story woven on a rhabdos as a received it…”

Other people claim that Homeric poetry was not brought together into one corpus, but that it was spread around and separated into pieces. When they would act as rhapsodes, they would make something like a series or a stitch as they brought it together into the same composition.

This is what Pindar means too. Some people claim that previously each of the competitors sang whatever part of the separated poem he wanted and that the prize for the victors was a lamb which is why the performers was called “lamb-singers” but that once each of the poems was introduced, the competitors would listen to one another’s parts and go through the whole poem, they were called rhapsodes. Dionysios the Argive claims these things. But Philokhoros says that they were called this from the collocation and stitching of song. Hesiod clearly writes: “Homer and I were then the first singers / who performed at Delos, stitching together song among the new hymns / for Phoibos Apollo, of the golden sword whom Leto bore”. Nikokles says that Hesiod was the first to rhapsodize. Menaikhmos records that rhapsodes were called stikhodes because rhabdoi are called stikhoi by some.

ἄλλως. τοὺς ῥαψῳδοὺς οἱ μὲν ῥαβδῳδοὺς ἐτυμολογοῦσι διὰ τὸ μετὰ ῥάβδου δηλονότι τὰ ῾Ομήρου ἔπη διεξιέναι.
Καλλίμαχος (fr. 138)·
καὶ τὸν ἐπὶ ῥάβδῳ μῦθον ὑφαινόμενον / ἠνεκὲς ἀείδω δεδεγμένος.
οἱ δέ φασι τῆς ῾Ομήρου ποιήσεως μὴ ὑφ’ ἓν συνηγμένης, σποράδην δὲ ἄλλως καὶ κατὰ μέρη διῃρημένης, ὁπότε ῥαψῳδοῖεν αὐτὴν, εἱρμῷ τινι καὶ ῥαφῇ παραπλήσιον ποιεῖν, εἰς ἓν αὐτὴν ἄγοντας. οὕτω καὶ ὁ Πίνδαρος ἐκδέδεκται. οἱ δὲ, ὅτι κατὰ μέρος πρότερον τῆς ποιήσεως διαδεδομένης τῶν ἀγωνιστῶν ἕκαστος ὅ τι βούλοιτο μέρος ᾖδε, τοῦ δὲ ἄθλου τοῖς νικῶσιν ἀρνὸς ἀποδεδειγμένου προσαγορευθῆναι τότε μὲν ἀρνῳδούς, αὖθις δὲ ἑκατέρας τῆς ποιήσεως εἰσενεχθείσης τοὺς ἀγωνιστὰς οἷον ἀκουμένους πρὸς ἄλληλα τὰ μέρη καὶ τὴν σύμπασαν ποίησιν ἐπιόντας, ῥαψῳδοὺς προσαγορευθῆναι. ταῦτά φησι Διονύσιος ὁ ᾿Αργεῖος (FHG III 26). Φιλόχορος (FHG I 417) δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ συντιθέναι καὶ ῥάπτειν τὴν ᾠδὴν οὕτω φησὶν αὐτοὺς προσκεκλῆσθαι. δηλοῖ δὲ ὁ ῾Ησίοδος λέγων (fr. 265)·
ἐν Δήλῳ τότε πρῶτον ἐγὼ καὶ ῞Ομηρος ἀοιδοὶ
μέλπομεν, ἐν νεαροῖς ὕμνοις ῥάψαντες ἀοιδὴν,
Φοῖβον ᾿Απόλλωνα χρυσάορον, ὃν τέκε Λητώ.
ῥαψῳδῆσαι δέ φησι πρῶτον τὸν ῾Ησίοδον Νικοκλῆς (FHG IV 464). Μέναιχμος δὲ ἱστορεῖ τοὺς ῥαψῳδοὺς στιχῳδοῦς καλεῖσθαι διὰ τὸ τοὺς στίχους ῥάβδους λέγεσθαι ὑπό τινων.

“Another version is this: the Homeridai were once the children of Homer and then later on the rhapsodes around Kunaithos. These are the people who remembered the Homeric poetry that had been scattered around and they performed it. But they totally ruined it. They always begin their poems by making a proem to Zeus. And sometimes the Muses.

Ἄλλως. ῾Ομηρίδαι πρότερον μὲν οἱ ῾Ομήρου παῖδες, ὕστερον δὲ οἱ περὶ Κύναιθον ῥαβδῳδοί· οὗτοι γὰρ τὴν ῾Ομήρου ποίησιν σκεδασθεῖσαν ἐμνημόνευον καὶ ἀπήγγελλον· ἐλυμήναντο δὲ αὐτῇ πάνυ. αἰεὶ οὖν τὴν ἀρχὴν ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πλεῖστον ἐκ Διὸς ἐποι-οῦντο προοιμιαζόμενοι, ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ Μουσῶν.

Some links on this passage: Greg Nagy in classical inquiries;  Derek Collins in Master of the Game; Nagy again in Homer the Preclassic; and José M González, ., The Epic Rhapsode and His Craft: Homeric Performance in a Diachronic Perspective.

color photograph of ancient greek sewing needles, three of them
Ancient greek sewing needles. reek Gallery, Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany. Complete indexed photo collection at

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