The Russian Revival of the Dithyramb: A Modernist Use of Antiquity

TitleThe Russian Revival of the Dithyramb: A Modernist Use of Antiquity
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsLahti, K
Series TitleStudies in Russian Literature and Theory
Number of Pages384 pp.
PublisherNorthwestern University Press
ISBN9780810136700 (cloth); 9780810136694 (paper)

Early twentieth-century Russia witnessed a revival of the dithyramb, a poetic form of verse and dance that ancient Greeks performed to summon Dionysus. The Russian Revival of the Dithyramb offers a fascinating recounting of this resurrection and traces the form’s surprising influence on Russian identity and art in the work of artists, writers, and musicians as varied as Aleksandr Blok, Andrei Bely, Aleksei Remizov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Igor Stravinksy.

Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Viacheslav Ivanov’s treatise in response, “The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God,” have been considered the foundation of the dithyramb revival, but Katherine Lahti shows Erwin Rohde’s Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks also to have played a significant role.

Lahti’s wide-ranging and expertly curated survey of art, music, and letters includes the poetry and plays of the Symbolists and Futurists, with special attention to The Fairground Booth and Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy; the theater of Ozarovsky, Meyerhold, and Evreinov; dancing by Isadora Duncan, Nijinsky, and Fokine; and Matisse’s canvas The Dance.

Lahti follows the persistence of the dithyramb’s popularity after 1917, when it enjoyed a special place in Russian culture during the first years after the Bolshevik Revolution. Demonstrating the influence of the dithyramb on the development of Russian avant-garde culture, this book reshapes our understanding of an extraordinarily dynamic period in Russian art and thought. []


BMCR 2019.02.21 Jordi Redondo

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