Epic poetry (9 th – 7 th c) expresses great themes, like war, glory, immortality, courage and fate. The individual is not important, unless he/she is a leader, a noble or immortal. By contrast the lyric focuses upon the individual, the ordinary person, with his/her dreams, hopes, feelings, loves and hates, fears and anxieties. In this respect the Lyric allows us to read into the private anxieties of individuals in the ancient world. The lyric poetry of the archaic period contains most major themes which will be developed by classical and postclassical authors in later centuries, such as love, deception, jealousy, fear, ageing, sexuality, sex, desire, lust and loyalty.
Sapphos immortal verses elevate love into a theme worthy of poetry, and will be very influential for many centuries. Love is presented as a disease, which takes over ones being, uncontrollable and fierce In Sappho, however, love is often gentle and rare, it is ordinary and sometimes extraordinary. Archilochos views the theme with a certain cynicism In Sappho, Ibykos, Anacreon and other lyric poets love is often unrequited. Love is not necessarily erotic: Erinna mourns Baukis, a young woman who died.
Sophisticated treatment of the topic by Sappho Jealousy of a woman towards the man who is marrying her lover Jealousy towards another woman for stealing her beautiful girl Anacreon: Jealousy towards a younger woman who is stealing the affections of his beloved girl Jealousy of an old man for youth In Archilochos jealousy is linked with bitter and angry vengeance. In later literature the theme will appear many times among gods and mortals in many variations. Loyalty may appear in epic literature as the ideal (Penelope), but it rarely figures in Greek lyric as a genuine human condition.
The Symposion: A drinking party with food, wine and other pleasures. Only men and indecent women participated. Respectable women did not participate in regular symposia. The guests drank, had conversations, recitals, were entertained with song, music and dance Sex games and encounters were part of, and often sex either in the room itself, or afterwards with entertainers and hired prostitutes. Thus the sympotic sphere is social, sexual, and typically aristocratic in early times. The soft lifestyle of luxury (habrosyne) was considered typically Ionian and had a few stern critics. Much of the Greek Lyric was created for the sympotic sphere.
Archilochos has explored the theme of deception, which is central in his cynical and pessimistic view of the world. Anacreon also explores deception and old age. In later centuries the theme would be typically attached to courtesans and prostitutes. However, from the time of early Lyric deception is often a quality and a tactic of all women (e.g Simonides). Men, enslaved by desire are drawn into a trap to be manipulated and led to inglorious paths, becoming slaves of their passions. In the early 6 th century a law of Solon in Athens invalidated a will if it was done under the influence of a woman. Thus deception was perceived to be a typically feminine quality.
Archilochos, in a reaction to epic bravery and fearlessness, acknowledges fear as a valid human emotion. Fear of losing a lover, of getting old, of rejection, loneliness etc. frequently appears in Greek lyric There is no shame attached to fear; it is just part of the human condition Frequently someone is invited to overcome their fears and approach their loved one, or live in the moment Archilochos advises a good drink to overcome fear
The pleasures of youth, and the woes of old age frequently appear in Greek lyric, especially in mens poetry. Ageing is presented as an inevitable curse Youth is like a fruit, or a flower, to be enjoyed in the short time that it lasts. Because youth is short and old age is coming, one must enjoy the moment, and whatever little pleasure they can seize. Much of lyric poetry is essentially hedonistic and focused in the present.
Desire is often physical, related to specific features of the body. The hoped outcome of desire is raw sexual gratification Some poets (e.g. Archilochos) push this theme to levels which would offend modern sensibilities about respectable poetry (e.g. anal sex, ejaculation, venal sex). Jealousy is often physical, and so is love. There is no concept of shame or restrain from the theme of steaming sexuality and lust. However, idealized love themes are not absent and placing ones object of desire on a pedestal is a perfectly legitimate and widespread theme. Other forms of love, such as marital affection, friendship or non-sexual love also abound in the Greek lyric as personal expressions of love.