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From Latin coryphaeus, from Ancient Greek κορυφαῖος (koruphaîos, leader), from κορυφή (koruphḗ, top of the head), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn; top, head).


coryphaeus (plural coryphaeuses or coryphaei)

  1. (drama, historical) The conductor or leader of the chorus of a drama in Ancient Greece.
    • 1830, Gottfried Hermann, John Seager (translator), Gottfried Hermann, Hermann's Elements of the Doctrine of Metres, page 165,
      Then the coryphæus finishes the remaining part of the strophe. But when they have returned to order, Bacchus again interposes by beginning the antistrophe β', which the coryphæus ought to have done.
    • 1975, Francisco Rodríguez Adrados, Christopher Holme (translator), Festival, Comedy and Tragedy: The Greek Origins of Theatre, [1972, Festia, Comedia y Tragedia], page 250,
      The chorus, that is those members of the komos who have not become specialized as actors and continue singing and dancing, are headed by a coryphaeus, who sometimes addresses them, exhorting them to action, or to begin the song or the rite, or else anticipates or summarizes their words, or represents them in conversation with the actors.
    • 2000, David Wiles, Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction[1], page 135:
      Post-classical references to the famous ‘chorus-trainer’ Sannio indicate that his role extended to performing and thus taking the coryphaeus role.12 The coryphaeus was both leader and teacher, and in performance played a crucial role in setting the time that the other dancers followed.
  2. (by extension) The chief or leader of a party or interest.
    • 1822, Robert Southey, Mr. Southey's Reply to Lord Byron, Blackwood's Magazine, Volume 11, page 94,
      Of the work which I have done, it becomes me not here to speak, save only as relates to the Satanic School, and its Coryphæus, the author of Don Juan.
    • 1986, Ladislav Matejka, I. R. Titunik, Translators' Preface, V. N. Vološinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, page vii,
      Among those rare exceptions, fortunately, was that coryphaeus of modern thought in the humanities, Professor Roman Jakobson.
    • 1997, Ignaz Goldziher, Wolfgang Behn (editor and translator), The Zāhirīs: Their Doctrine and Their History, page 123,
      Indeed, when we make a comparative study of the Zāhirite school's known coryphaei of the different periods for their dogmatic point of view, we shall soon find out that the most divergent, diametrically opposed dogmatic branches could be combined as belonging to the Zāhirite fiqh school.
  3. The leader of an opera chorus or another ensemble of singers.


  • (leader of a dramatic chorus in Ancient Greece):
  • (chief or leader of a party or interest): coryphe