In Greek mythology, Thamyris, son of Philammon and the nymph Argiope, was a Thracian singer who was so proud of his skill that he boasted he could outsing the Muses. He competed against them and lost. As punishment for his presumption they paralysed him, and took away his ability to make poetry and to play the lyre. This outline of the story is told in the Iliad.
This allusion is taken up in Euripides' Rhesus, in the Library attributed to Apollodorus, and in the Scholia on the Iliad. These later sources add the details that Thamyris had claimed as his prize, if he should win the contest, the privilege of having sex with all the Muses (according to one version) or of marrying one of them (according to another); and that after his death he was further punished in Hades. The story demonstrates that poetic inspiration, a gift of the gods, can be taken away by the gods.
According to Diodorus the mythical singer Linus took three pupils, Heracles, Thamyris and Orpheus, which neatly settles Thamyris's legendary chronology. When Pliny the Elder briefly sketches the origins of music he credits Thamyris with inventing the Dorian mode and with being the first to play the cithara as a solo instrument with no voice accompaniment.
A lost epic, Titanomachy, attributed to the blind Thracian bard Thamyris, himself a legendary figure, was mentioned in passing in an essay On Music that was once attributed to Plutarch.
Thamyris is said to have been a lover of Hyacinthus and thus to have been the first man to have loved another male.
Thamyris is another name for the ancient Greek painter Timarete and also the name of a Theban who was killed by Actor.
Homer, Iliad Book 2
Men from Pylos, lovely Arene, Thryum,
by Apheus ford, well-built Aipy, Cyparisseis,
Amphigenea, Pteleum, Helos, Dorium,
where the Muses met the Thracian Thamyris,
and stopped his singing—he was coming back
from Oechalia, from the court of Eurytus the king,
having boasted his singing would surpass the Muses,
daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, should they compete,
so in their anger the Muses mutilated Thamyris,
taking away his godlike power of song,
and making him forget his skill in playing the lyre.
When the Electra is crossed, there is a spring called Achaia, and the ruins of a city Dorium. Homer states that the misfortune of Thamyris took place here in Dorium, because he said that he would overcome the Muses themselves in song. But Prodicus of Phocaea, if the epic called the Minyad is indeed his, says that Thamyris paid the penalty in Hades for his boast against the Muses. My view is that Thamyris lost his eyesight through disease, as happened later to Homer. Homer, however, continued making poetry all his life without giving way to his misfortune, while Thamyris forsook his art through stress of the trouble that afflicted him.
Image of Thamyras Attic red-figure vase, ca. 475-425 BC. Oxford. Ashmolean Museum G291
SOCRATES: And if I am not mistaken, you never met with any one among
flute-players or harp-players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who was
able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyras or Orpheus, or Phemius the
rhapsode of Ithaca, but was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion of
Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or defects?
Thamyris was also the name of a Theban who was killed by Actor.
- ^ Iliad 2.594-600.
- ^ Apollodorus, Library 1.3.3; Scholia on the Iliad 2.595. See Dalby, Andrew (2006), Rediscovering Homer, New York, London: Norton, ISBN 0393057887, p. 96.
- ^ Diodorus Siculus 3.67.
- ^ Pliny, Natural History 7.207.
- ^ Apollodorus, Library 1.3.3.
Donatella Restani, "Music and myth in ancient Greece": (http://www.muspe.unibo.it/period/MA/index/number2/restani/thamyris.html) literary mentions of Thamyris quoted (in English)