Ibycus (IB-I-kus) was one of the nine great lyric poets of ancient Greece. He lived in the mid 6th century BCE. Its said that he wrote seven books of poetry, though little of it survives. He is known for his erotic verse celebrating young boys.

Ibycus was born in the Greek colony of Rhegium, which was on the southern tip of mainland Italy, just across the Straits of Messina in Sicily. He later moved to Sicily, then to the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea, where he gained the patronage of the ruler Polycrates.

Legend has it that near Corinth he was attacked by robbers and killed. Before his death, Ibycus saw a flock of cranes and called upon them to avenge his death. In a scene that would be reenacted at a Phil Collins concert millennia later, the murderers attended a performance and when they saw a flock of cranes pass over the amphitheater. One of them uttered something like "the avengers of Ibycus!" and they were unmasked as the killers and thus executed. The phrase "the cranes of Ibycus" came to mean an unexpected witness to or divine intervention unveiling of a crime.

Perhaps the most famous literary post-classical appearance of the cranes of Ibycus is the 1797 poem of that title by Friedrich Schiller. American poet Emma Lazarus also has a lesser known poem with the same title.

What are the Seven Wonders of the World?, Peter D’Eprio and Mary Desmond Pinkowish
Bulfinch’s Mythology, book I, chapter XXV

Two translations of a poem by Ibycus:

Love Knows No Winter Sleep

In spring the quince trees
Ripen in the girls’ holy orchard
With river waters’
And grapes turn violet
Under the shade of luxuriant leafage
And newborn shoots.

But for me, Eros
Knows no winter sleep, and as north winds
Burn down from Thrace
With searing lightning,
Kypris mutilates my heart with black
and baleful love.

- Willis Barnstone, 1962

In Spring the Quince

In the Spring the quince and the
Pomegranate bloom in the
Sacred Park of the Maidens,
And the vine tendril curls in
The shade of the downy vine leaf.
But for me Love never sleeps.
He scorches me like a blaze
Of lightning and he shakes me
To the roots like a storm out of
Thrace, and he overwhelms my heart
With black frenzy and seasickness.

- Kenneth Rexroth, 1962

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