An Ancient Greek Hymn to the Muse

© 1995, John Opsopaus

  • Introduction
  • References
  • Hymn in Modern Musical Notation
  • MP3 Files

  • Introduction

    Comparatively little ancient Greek music survives. Although the oldest examples date to the third century BCE, they are fragmentary. Most of the examples complete enough for performance were composed in the Graeco-Roman period by Mesomedes, the court musician for Hadrian (reigned 117-138 CE). He was born in Crete and a freedman of Hadrian; he composed lyrics and epigrams for Hadrian and the Antonines.

    The following "Hymn to the Muse" by Mesomedes is in the Lydian mode (soft or round Lydian, since the B is flatted), which was the most popular mode at that time. The style is intentionally archaic.

    The original text is reproduced in Pohlmann (14-15), including the music in ancient notation and a transcription into modern notation. I have transposed the music to D major, which is more convenient for recorders, tin whistles, and similar instruments; transposing to other keys is left as an exercise for the reader! I have also translated the Greek and set it as well as I can to the music, for which I've taken the original setting as a model. (I claim no skill as a songsmith, however.)

    The hymn is addressed to Calliopeia, often considered the Muse of epic poetry.  The Delian child of Leto is of course Apollo, and "Paean" refers to Him as Savior.


    1. Pohlmann, Egert. Denkmäler Altgriechischer Musik: Sammlung, Übertragung und Erläuterung aller Fragmente und Fälschungen. Nürnberg: Verlag Hans Carl, 1970. See pp. 14-31 on Mesomedes and his hymns.
    2. Anderson, Warren D. Music and Musicians in Ancient Greece. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. See pp. 220-4 for a little about Mesomedes.

    Hymn in Modern Musical Notation

    Oh Muse, Thou dear one, sing to me,
    Commence and order my song.
    Cool breezes blowing from Thy groves
    Inspire my breast and rouse my heart.

    Calliopeia Thou wise
    Principal of the Muses delightful,
    Thou too, wise mystery guide,
    Leto's child, Thou Delian Paean,
    Be propitious and stand by me.

    MP3 Files

    In order to improve appreciation of Mesomedes' Hymn, I have provided three MP3 files containing performances (synthesized with Melody Assistant 6.4.4).  For greater authenticity, the performances use Pythagorean tuning.

    Expert and authentic (human) performances of Mesomedes' Hymn can be found on De Organographia's CD Music of the Ancient Greeks (tracks 5 & 6).


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