Ancient Greek Poet, Musician. A leader of the Greek "New Music" revolution, he lived from 435 to 380 BC. His best known works, the satirical dithyrambs "Cyclops" and "Dinner" (c. 395 BC), were popular well into the Roman era. "Cyclops" was the source of the myth of Polyphemus and his impossible love for the sea nymph Galatea. Philoxenus was born in the Spartan colony of Cythera. During the Peloponnesian War (426 BC) the island was conquered by the Athenians and Philoxenus, still a boy, was sent as a slave to Athens. He was purchased by Melanippides, who trained him in music and freed him, and went on to great acclaim as a kitharode - a singer-poet-composer who accompanied himself on a kithara. During the 390s BC he was in Sicily at the court of Dionysius I, the Tyrant of Syracuse, and he later performed throughout Italy and Asia Minor. In 393 BC he was awarded a special commendation by the Athenian Senate. He died in Ephesus, in what is now western Turkey. Like other advocates of the "New Music", Philoxenus sought to liberate Greek song from its austere origins. He specialized in the dithyramb, originally a narrative hymn for chorus sung and danced in honor of the wine god Dionysus. In his hands it became a solo vehicle for himself, comic in tone and freer in its use of musical modes. Traditionalists accused him of corrupting the genre but his skills as a kitharode left audiences helpless in their admiration. Philoxenus was credited with at least 24 dithyrambs and one lyric poem; all his music and most of his verse are lost. What survives are four lines and a partial synopsis of "Cyclops", substantial fragments of "Dinner", and the titles of four other compositions, "The Syrian", "The Reveller", "Shine", and "A Prey to All". But there are also numerous testimonials of Philoxenus's high reputation, from Aristotle and Plutarch to the 10th Century Byzantine historian Suidas. The playwright Antiphanes called him "a god among men". Alexander the Great was a fan of his poetry, and for 200 years after his death an annual festival of his works was held in Arcadia. "Cyclops" and "Dinner" emerged from Philoxenus's stay in Sicily, the only period of his life recorded in some detail, though the story of how "Cyclops" came to be written has the whiff of legend. Philoxenus and his patron Dionysius the Tyrant apparently got along well at first, as both were gourmands and enjoyed getting drunk together. Unfortunately, Dionysius dabbled in poetry. One evening he showed Philoxenus some of his poems and asked for suggestions. Philoxenus suggested he throw them in the fire, causing the enraged monarch to banish him to the stone quarries. Through the intervention of friends he was brought back to the palace a few days later. Dionysius recited his verses before an audience, which duly applauded, then asked the poet, "How do you like them now?" Philoxenus answered, "Take me back to the quarries". There he allegedly wrote "Cyclops", his spoof of an episode in Homer's "Odyssey", to mock Dionysius and his pretentions. In Homer, the one-eyed Polyphemus was a man-eating monster who imprisoned Odysseus in his cave. Philoxenus turned him into a lovesick Sicilian oaf, singing clumsy lyre songs to attract Galatea, who wants nothing to do with him. The wily Odysseus manipulates the situation to escape his predicament. There is little doubt that the characters of Polyphemus and Odysseus were stand-ins for Dionysius and Philoxenus, with Galatea (not in the Homeric original) imaginatively brought in as a discriminating muse. Its influence was both immediate and long-lasting. Aristophanes parodied "Cyclops" in his play "Plutus" (388 BC); Theocritus wrote two humorous idylls about Polyphemus and Galatea around 275 BC. In Book XIII of his "Metamorphoses" (8 AD) Roman poet Ovid gave the story a famous tragic twist by having Galatea fall in love with the mortal Acis, who is then killed by Polyphemus out of jealousy. The grieving sea nymph transforms Acis's flowing blood into a river and their love is consummated symbolically. From there Galatea rose from a minor mythological figure to a favorite subject of pastoral romances and, after the Renaissance, of classical drama, music and visual art. In 1762, author Jean-Jacques Rousseau appropriated Galatea for another Ancient Greek myth, giving her name to the anonymous statue that came to life in his retelling of "Pygmalion". She is now better known in this incarnation. Philoxenus's "Dinner" is a sybaritic (and occasionally mouth-watering) bill of fare in verse and was probably intended to satirize the excesses of Dionysius's court. In its day it was even more popular than "Cyclops", to the point that in Athens a brand of flat cakes was named "Philoxenei" after the author. A 19th Century edition of "Encyclopædia Britannica" declared that "Dinner" "possesses more interest to cooks than to scholars", perhaps a reference to its niche in gastronomic literature. Even today food writers have been intrigued enough to create recipes based on dishes in Philoxenus's poetic menu.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards