Born at Rhegium (south Italy) from an aristocratic Greek family, he studied at the lyric school of Stesichorus. After a legend, his death caused by bandits, was avenged by a flock of cranes who led to the discovery of the murderers. He was buried in Rhegium (now Reggio Calabria).
The poetry of Ibycus resembles Sappho's in treating love as an overpowering tempest of emotion. Lauded by the Alexandrian critics as one of the "Nine Lyric Poets" of Greece, he lived at the luxurious court of the tyrant Polycrates of Samos.
We have only fragments (less than 100 verse) of the seven books of poems he wrote: lyric odes of heroic content (encomî) and love poems mainly in praise of beautiful youths. Cicero considered him the most passionate poet amongst all poets of Greek culture.
According to legend Ibycus was on his way to the chariot races and musical competitions held at the Isthmus of Corinth. He was attacked and mortally wounded by a band of robbers. In his dying moments, Ibycus saw a flock of cranes flying over head and swore "Those cranes will avenge me." Shortly afterward one of robbers was sitting in a theatre and saw a flock of cranes flying by. He joked to a friend "there go the avengers of Ibycus." Ironically this was overheard and the robbers were arrested (Plutarch, De Garrulitate, xiv.)
This legend is probably a play on the similarity between the poet's name and the Ancient Greek word for "crane" (ibyx). The phrase "the cranes of Ibycus" became a proverb among the Greeks for the discovery of crime through divine intervention. Centuries later in 1797 a German poet Friedrich Schiller wrote a ballad called "The Cranes of Ibycus" about this legend.
His epitaph calls him a "lover of the lyre" and a "lover of boys."