Disparagement of Rhapsodes and Circulatores

face of a prisoner

In the ancient world, literary elites disparaged popular, money-making traveling story-tellers known as rhapsodes and circulatores. Plato’s early dialogue Ion describes negatively a rhapsode’s activities and pecuniary interests. Xenophon’s Symposium (prob. 360s BCE) implies that rhapsodes were common and silly:

{Antisthenes:} You have not forgotten, perhaps, that besides yourself there is not a rhapsodist who does not know these epics {the Iliad and the Odyssey}?

{Niceratus: } Forgotten! Is it likely, considering I had to listen to them almost daily?

{Antisthenes:} And did you ever come across a sillier tribe of people than these same rhapsodists?^

In ancient Rome, popular speech was a source of considerable elite anxiety. Elites ridiculed popular Roman story-tellers, known as circulatores.^ Story-tellers then were probably much like street musicians in major cities today.

Aeschylus’s tragedy Prometheus Bound parodies popular story-seeking. That fits into its concern with second-personal communication with persons being punished.

Leave a comment (will be included in public domain license)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *