THE MUSIC OF ANCIENT GREEKS 

Audio, original Greek texts, and English translations

An approach to the original singing of the Homeric epics and early Greek epic and lyrical poetry by Ioannidis Nikolaos

N. Ioannidis  is a composer, musicologist, multi-instrumentalist performer, media theorist, and digital media creative producer (with formal qualifications in Music, Musicology, Media Studies, and Digital Media Studies) who is researching ancient Greek music and its relationship with all musical cultures, that have been subject to classical Greek cultural influence.

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Ioannidis Nikolaos-Music CD: The music of ancient Greeks

 

All songs in this album are composed, arranged, performed and produced by IOANNIDIS NIKOLAOS. Research, transcription and translation of ancient Greek texts: IOANNIDIS NIKOLAOS

 

Click the poets' names below to listen to audio samples 

and read the original Greek texts and their English translation,

 or click here to read all Greek texts in one file

 

Contents of CD Album:

 

Anacreon:  My lyre sings only songs of love

Simonides:  Danae and Perseus

Alcman:  Bucolic

Simonides:  There is a saying about virtue

Tyrtaeus:  Spartan march

Homer:Iliad-Sing oh goddess the perilous wrath of Achilles

Archilochos:  Oh soul

Orphic hymn:  In praise of Justice

Sappho:  Ode to Aphrodite

Alcaeus:  Winter

Mimnermos:  Short-lived is treasured youth

Homer: Odyssey - Calypso and Ulysses

Hesiod:   Rough is the road to happiness

Bacchylides:   Great gifts, peace brings to mortals

Solon:   Eunomia

 

Author's introduction

      The content of this CD is a collection of audio files extracted from the first part of a very wide in scope multimedia project, (commissioned by HOMO ECUMENICUS Publishing), which explores the whole range of ancient Greek music, but also of Greek culture in general, because, in my view, the music of ancient Greeks can not be studied separately from their literature, poetry, drama, religion, and even their social and political life. This first part deals with the early epic and lyrical poetry and covers the period between the 8th and 5th centuries B.C. The other parts' subjects are: the Homeric Epics, the Orphic Hymns, the Dramatic Poetry (Aeschylous, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes), and the music of the Hellenistic and Roman period.
Creating this project has been a great challenge for me in many respects: As a musician, to compose and perform a kind of music completely different from the mainstream, the fruit of a long-time exploration in the roots of the musical art, especially as this has been expressed in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Balkans and Western Europe. As an MA in Digital Media, by taking advantage of the creative capabilities of the new media, to attempt to reconstruct the musical experience of ancient Greeks not only as sounds but also as texts, images, video and interactive features. Finally, as a researcher in the field of antique Greek culture and philosophy, to show the timeless and classical value of this culture and to argue that it is not a dead thing of the past but the living heart of human civilization, evident in the world's languages, in our thinking, in the organization of our societies, and in every aspect of artistic expression. The study of ancient Greek music in particular (lyrics, metrics, modes, notation etc.) gives sufficient evidence that this music lies in the foundation of both the western and the eastern musical tradition. The manner in which Western culture in particular has expressed itself in the art of music has been profoundly affected by Greek musical thought and practice. 

It is well known that the early Christian church modes drew upon the ancient Greek modes. First the Gnostics used the Greek scale in their incantations, and then Byzantium not only adopted the Greek modes but also adapted the verses of ancient poetry to praise the God of the new religion. In the hymns of today's Greek Orthodox Church which saved unaltered the Byzantine tradition of the early Christian church, the relationship with the ancient Orphic hymns, as well as with the whole range of Greek poetry, both Lyrical and Dramatic, is obvious. Also, the huge legacy of ancient Greek writings on music theory served as models for later theoretical treatises and helped shaped the course of Western and, of course, Middle Eastern music theory. There is no aspect of the musical art that the ancient authors did not deal with: Writings on theory, musical education and the role of music in society (by Plato and Aristotle), on practical aspects of music performance (Aristoxenus), on acoustics (Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemeos) etc. Even the notational system, on which today's Western music theory is based, comes from the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (6th century B.C.) who was the first to define musical intervals in mathematical terms and thus create the first system of musical notation. Finally, the organized system of Western harmony, as expressed in the so called classical music is actually the evolution of the music of the Middle Ages, the organization of which, in turn, derives from the medieval theorists' knowledge of ancient Greek music transmitted to Europe by means of the works of Boethius in the 5th century A.D and the writings of Arabs later.

However, despite its immense contribution to the world's musical culture, very little is known about how the original Greek music actually sounded. Surviving songs are for the most part fragments that have been preserved either as quotations in the works of biographers, metricians, and grammarians, or as passages on papyrus strips, that had been used to wrap mummies and stuff sacred animals in the Hellenistic Egypt. Some notated fragments that have survived, written in a relatively late Greek notational system, do not provide adequate information for a safe reconstruction. Also, some relics of ancient instruments that have survived, are not playable, so our understanding of how the music sounded rests solely on speculating on how the particular constructions could work in terms of acoustics.

Research in this particular field becomes even more problematic from the fact that most researchers come from disciplines other than music (they are either archeologists or classicists) and also the majority of them are non-Greek natives and, as a result, not familiar with the language, or with the contemporary Greek music, which is the natural child of the ancient one. In my view, if they had a background in music and also were familiar with the ancient language, they would recognize the intrinsic rhythms and melodies of the ancient verses, almost untouched by time, not only in contemporary Greek traditional music but in the whole range of humanity's musical endeavors. They could see, for example, the ancient hymns, paeans, encomia, hymeneoi, partheneia, elegies, dithyrambs etc. in the love songs, religious songs, dance songs, drinking songs, laments etc. of contemporary Greek, Middle Eastern, Balkan and European folk music. If they tried to play the ancient Phrygian or Hypodorian modes using any stringed instrument, they would be surprised by how western these modes would sound, and they would see the close connection of the ancient rhapsodists and aoidoi with the medieval bards and troubadours, and even with today's singer-songwriters. If they were familiar with the ancient Greek culture, attempts to reconstruct the music would not result in monotonous recitations, based on stereotyped assumptions that Greek music consisted entirely of melodies sung in unison, and that there was no polyphony or complex arrangements. In my view, this music, being the product of a highly sophisticated culture, which encouraged free thinking and creativity and thus created masterpieces in all fields of artistic expression, could not be an exception.

On this principle I based my own compositional approach, without however breaking the limits imposed by the current status of archaeological evidence. As notation for the songs of this particular collection has not survived, with regard to melody, I tried to accommodate melodic principles to the demands of the verses by creating melodic movement from the natural rise and fall of the text.

The modes I used were those that seemed to me most appropriate for the lyrical subject, mood, or occasion on which the particular songs were likely to have been performed. I made use of all modes (except for the Mixolydian mode), but in the majority of compositions I used combinations of the most common modes:  Dorian,  Lydian, and Phrygian.

With regard to rhythm, I used the rhythm of the words, as this was dictated by the accentual structure of the Ancient Greek language, as well as by metrical structures. Actually, the intrinsic rhythm of the verses revealed to me the whole range of all known rhythmical patterns including my favorite odd signatures like 9/8 and 7/8.

With regard to sound, in order to emulate the ancient stringed instruments' sound, I used a copy of an ancient kithara (the instrument featured on the CD cover), which I patterned after surviving museum originals and iconographic representations on sculptures and vase paintings. This instrument being a combination of a modern classical guitar and a harp actually sounds both like a guitar and a harp, and I believe that its sound can not be very different of that of the original kithara. I also used a modern classical guitar which I tuned like a six-stringed barbitos or lyra, and which I played without fretting. To emulate the sound of the ancient aulos (reedpipe), I used three woodwind instruments that feature in the traditional music of Greece, Asia Minor and the Middle East. They are the flogera, the zournas and the ney. For percussion, I used the traditional Greek instruments daires, defi and dumbek.

In my transcription of the Greek texts I used all capital letters to avoid the problems associated with Greek fonts. Also, in order to make them more readable I had to speculate on the missing pieces and take the risk of introducing elements, for the sake of lyric flow.

Finally, with regard to the translations of the Greek texts which was not easy, due to the fragmented nature of the material, I tried to make them as literally as possible, while being faithful to the original Greek text, that is by showing how phrase follows phrase.

I believe that my approach, having been based on the findings of a deep research and the utilization of all available archeological evidence cannot be very far from the actual music of ancient Greeks. My hope is that this work will contribute a little to the research in the field of antique Greek culture, which in our turbulent times becomes once more extremely relevant
 

Nikolaos Ioannidis

September 2002

 

 

  

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Editor's note:

The subject of the influence of Greek music on the musical cultures of the peoples, who have been subject to classical Greek cultural influence, has also been  researched by the author in the framework of an academic research project at the University of Sussex.

Information on this research project is available at the URL: http://homoecumenicus.com/ioannidis_doctoral_dissertation.htm

 

 

Related musical works

MUSIC and RELIGION

Extant ancient Greek religious songs 

OEDIPUS REX  English opera

 

 

LINKS TO OTHER WORKS BY IOANNIDIS NIKOLAOS

Musical Works  list of all musical works   ESSAYS  on music and media   ANCIENT  GREEK TEXTS  translated into  English  by N. Ioannidis  ANCIENT GREEK INSTRUMENTS reconstructed by N. Ioannidis and used in the ancient Greek recordings  mp3 downloading page LYRICS

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This CD is available to buy online at the IOANNIDIS shopping page 

Sound clips of all songs are available at the IOANNIDIS mp3 downloading page,

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