The Hellenistic hymns to Apollo with musical notation from Delphi

0. Introduction

In 1893, the French archaeological team working on the site of ancient Delphi uncovered two outstanding inscriptions, which bear the text of two cult songs for Apollo provided with musical notation. The inscriptions have been extensively studied from different angles, first and foremost their musical notation, which has also led to modern performances aiming at a reconstruction of their original execution. The present paper will give a comprehensive introduction to readers approaching them for the first time, by conveniently gathering in the same, online venue the basic data, a survey of existing scholarship, a text and a translation of the hymns, as well as images of the inscriptions and links to modern performances. The aim is to produce a convenient introduction that might prove useful to both scholars and students, and to make these fascinating texts more widely known by gathering in one place the fruit of different studies.

1. Finding and study of the texts

Like many iconic sites of the ancient world, Delphi was also long forgotten after the end of antiquity. The Pythia had already fallen somewhat silent and her prophecies became rarer and rarer in Imperial times (one only needs to think of Plutarch’s work De defectu oraculorum) before the oracular seat stopped operating and the sanctuary fell into ruin. [1] It took more than a thousand years to start the rediscovery of the site. The humanist and antiquarian Ciriaco of Ancona (1391–1453/55), while traveling extensively in Greece, went through the site of ancient Delphi where he saw ‘broken statues lying around’ and ‘marvelous inscriptions in Greek and Latin’ and lamented that the modern inhabitants of the site barely know what lay there in the past. [2] It is only at the end of the nineteenth century, however, that the first attempts at excavating the site were made, though that was complicated by the presence of the modern village of Kastri already mentioned by Cyriacus (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Village of Kastri before Delphi excavations. Photo dated 31.12.1893 by the École française d’Athènes (from
After long negotiations with the Greek state, in 1891, the École française d’Athènes offered to cover the costs for the relocation of the village in exchange for a concession to excavate the site of Delphi. That was the beginning of the excavation season which came to be known as La Grande Fouille (‘the Great Excavation’) and which lasted ca. 10 years.
Among the many archaeological findings, in the surroundings of the Athenian treasury, there were fragments of extensive inscriptions accompanied with musical notation. Especially thanks to their musical notation (which showed two different kinds of musical notation: cf. infra, section 5), scholars were able to piece together two fragmentary inscriptions bearing cult songs for Apollo. Their original titles are partially lost, and scholars do not agree on their reconstruction, but these texts are usually referred to as paeans or hymns. [3] The editio princeps of the text and the music of the hymns was published almost immediately by H. Weil and T. Reinach. [4] The hymns were then included in Fouilles de Delphes and subsequently edited again several times and included in collections such as Powell’s Collectanea Alexandrina (1925). In the following decades, then, several studies focused on specific aspects of the hymns such as their music, performance, historical context, of which we will now try to give an overview.

Figure 2. Plan of Delphi. N. XI is the Treasury of the Athenians (source: graphic elaboration based on P. de la Coste-Messelière, 1936, Au Musée de Delphes. Recherches sur quelques monuments archaiques et leur décor sculpté, Paris; from

Figure 3. Front view (= from East) of the treasury of the Athenians. From here, the wall on the left side (the South-facing one) is the one that originally hosted the decrees on the Pythaides (cf. infra) and the hymns. Photo by Szymon Kobalczyk,

Figure 4. Fragments of the inscribed paeans (Delphi, Archaeological Museum). Originally placed on the Southern wall of the Treasury of the Athenians. Photo from,_128_BC,_inscription_in_AM_of_Delphi,_201386.jpg.

2. Text and Translation of the hymns

Even though there are significant gaps in the stones, it is possible to read to a good extent the surviving fragments. Here follow the texts and translations of the two poems: [5]

          [Παιὰν καὶ προσόδιον] εἰς τὸν θεὸν ὃ ἐ[πόησεν Ἀθ]ήναιος. [6]

[Κέκλυθ’ Ἑλικ]ῶ̣να βαθύδενδρον αἳ λάχετε Διὸ]ς
ἐ[ρι]βρόμου θύγατρες εὐώλ[ενοι,] μόλετε, συνόμ-
αιμον ἵνα Φοῖβον ὠιδα[ῖ]σι μέλψητε χρυσεοκόμαν,
ὃς ἀνὰ δικόρυνβα Παρνασσίδος τᾶσδε πετέρας ἕδραν’ ἅμ’
5        [ἀ]γακλυταῖς Δελφίσιν Κασταλίδος εὐύδρου
νάματ’ ἐπινίσεται, Δελφὸν ἀνὰ [πρ]ῶνα μαν-
τεῖον ἐφέπων πάγον·
[Ἢν] κλυτὰ μεγαλόπολις Ἀθθὶς εὐχα[ῖ]σ̣ι φερό-
πλοιο ναίουσα Τριτωνίδος δά[πε]δον ἄθραυστον· ἁγί-
οις δὲ βωμοῖσιν Ἅφαιστος αἴθε[ι] νέων μῆρα ταύ-
10      ρων· ὁμοῦ δέ νιν Ἄραψ ἀτμὸς ἐς [Ὄ]λ[υ]μπον ἀνα-
κίδν[α]ται· λιγὺ δὲ λωτὸς βρέμων αἰόλοις
μ̣[έ]λεσιν ὠιδὰν κρέκει· χρυσέα δ’ ἁδύθρου̣[ς
κί]θαρις ὕμνοισιν ἀναμέλπεται·
15     ὁ δὲ [Τεχνι]τ̣ῶν πρόπας ἑσμὸς Ἀθθίδα λαχὼ̣[ν
τὸν κιθαρί]σει κλυτὸν παῖδα μεγάλου [Διὸς ἀ-
είδομεν πα]ρ’ ἀκρονιφῆ τόνδε πάγον, ἄμ[βροτ’ ἀ-
ψευδέ’ ὃ]ς πᾶσι θνατοῖς προφαίν[εις λόγια,]
[τρ]ίποδα μαντεῖον ὡς εἷ̣[λες, ἐχθρὸς ὃν ἐφρ]ού-
20     ρει δράκων, ὅτε τε[οῖσι βέλεσιν ἔτρ]ησας αἰ-
όλον ἑλικτὰν [φυάν, ἔσθ’ ὁ θήρ, συχν]ὰ̣ συ-
ρίγμαθ’ ἱεὶς ἀθώπε[υτ’, ἀπέπνευσ’ ὁμῶς· ὣς] δ̣ὲ Γαλα-
τᾶν Ἄρης [βάρβαρος, τάνδ’ ὃς ἐπὶ γαῖα]ν ἐπέ-
ρας ἀσέπτ[ως, χιόνος ὤλεθ’ ὑγραῖς βολαῖ]ς.
Ἀλλ’ ἰὼ γένναν [. . . . . . ]ν θάλος φιλόμ̣[αχον
[. .]ε δάμοιο λοι ̣[
[. .]ρων ἐφορ.[
. . .

Title: [The paian and prosodion] to the God [written by Ath]enaios

Listen, fair-armed daughters of loud-thundering
Zeus whose appointed place is deep-wooded Mt. Helikon,
come here to praise in song your brother Phoibos
of the golden hair, who ascends the twin-peaked abode
5       of this Parnassian rock and with the famous Delphic women
visits the abundant waters of Kastalia’s spring,
he who frequents the oracular seat on the Delphic hill.
Behold the famous, mighty city of Athens, dwelling
in worship of warrior Athena on unshaken ground.
10     On holy altars Hephaistos burns the thighs of bulls;
As the smoke of Arabia [7] goes up to Olympus;
high and clear the reed pours forth lively melodies
and the sweet-voiced golden lyre resounds to our hymns.
15     We, the whole swarm of singers who have come from Athens,
celebrate the famous kitharode, son of mighty Zeus,
beside this snow-capped peak,
who declares infallible oracles to all humans.
You seized the prophetic tripod, which the hateful snake guarded,
20     when you shot the wriggling, coiled shape with arrows
until the beast, emitting many hideous hisses, breathed its last breath.
Likewise the foreign army of Gauls which brutally
attacked this land perished in the wintry snowstorms.
Hail, noble Son of (Zeus)…

Figure 5. Fragment of Athenaeus’s Paean (Delphi, Archaeological Museum). Photo from,_128_BC,_inscription_in_AM_of_Delphi,_201387.jpg.

Figure 6. Fragment of Athenaeus’s Paean, (Delphi, Archaeological Museum). Photo from,_128_BC,_inscription_in_AM_of_Delphi,_201388.jpg.

          [πα]ιὰ̣ν δὲ καὶ π[ροσό]δ̣ιον εἰς τ[ὸν θεὸν ὃ ἐπό]η̣σε[ν
καὶ προσεκιθάρισε]ν Λιμήνι[ος Θ]ο̣ίνο[υ Ἀθηναῖος]

Ἴτ̣’ ἐπὶ τηλέσκοπον τάνδ̣ε Παρ̣[νασί]αν [φιλόχορον]
δικόρυφον κλειτύν, ὕμνων κα̣[τάρ]χ[ετε δ’ ἐμῶν,]
Πιερίδες, αἳ νιφοβόλους πέτρας ναίεθ̣’ [Ἑλι]κωνίδ̣[ας·]
μέλπετε δὲ Πύθιον χ[ρ]υ̣σεοχαίταν ἕ[κα]τ̣ον εὐλύραν
5       Φοῖβον, ὃν ἔτικτε Λα̣τὼ μάκαιρα πα[ρὰ λίμναι] κ̣λυτᾶι,
χερσὶ γλαυκᾶς ἐλαίας θιγοῦσ̣’ [ὄζον ἐν ἀγωνίαι]ς ἐριθα[λῆ.]

Πᾶ[ς δὲ γ]άθησε πόλος οὐράνιος [ἀννέφελος ἀγλαός·]
10     ν̣ηνέμους δ’ ἔσχεν αἰθὴρ ἀε̣[λλῶν ταχυπετ]εῖς [δρ]ό̣μους, λῆξε δὲ βα-
ρύβρομον Νη[ρέως ζαμενὲς ο]ἶδμ’ ἠδὲ μέγας Ὠκεανός,
ὃς πέριξ γ[ᾶν ὑγραῖς ἀγ]κάλαις ἀμπέχει.
Τότε λιπὼν Κυνθίαν νᾶσον ἐπ̣[έβα θεὸ]ς πρω[τό]καρ-
πον κλυτὰν Ἀτθίδ’ ἐπὶ γα[λόφωι πρῶνι] Τριτωνίδος·
15     μελίπνοον δὲ Λίβυς αὐδὰν χέω[ν λωτὸς ἀνέ-
μελ]πεν [ἁ]δεῖαν ὄπα μειγνύμενος αἰόλ[οις κιθάρι]ο̣[ς
μέλεσιν· ἅ]μα δ’ ἴαχεν πετροκατοίκητος ἀχ[ώ.]
[ὁ] δ̣ὲ̣ γέγαθ’ ὅτι νόωι δεξάμενος ἀμβρόταν
Δι̣[ὸς ἐπέγνω φρέ]ν̣’· ἀνθ’ ὧν ἐκείνας ἀπ’ ἀρ-
20     χᾶς Παιήονα κικλήισκ[ομεν ἅπας] λ̣α̣ὸς αὐ̣τ̣[ο]χθόνων
ἠδὲ Βάκχου μέγας θυρσοπλὴ[ξ ἑσμὸς ἱ]ε-
ρὸς Τεχνιτῶν ἔνοικος πόλει Κεκροπίαι.

Ἀλ̣[λὰ χρησμ]ωιδὸν ὃς ἔχεις τρίποδα, βαῖν’ ἐπὶ θεοστιβ[έα
τάνδε Π]αρναα̣[σ]σίαν δειράδα φιλένθεον.
25     Ἀμφὶ πλόκ[αμον σὺ δ’ οἰ]νῶ̣[πα] δάφνας κλάδον
πλεξάμενος ἀπ[λέτους θεμελίους] ἀμβρόται χειρὶ σύ-
ρων, ἄναξ, Γ[ᾶς πελώρωι συναντᾶις τ]έ̣ραι.
Ἀλλὰ, Λατοῦς ἐρατογ[λέφαρον ἔρνος, ἄγριο]ν παῖδα Γᾶ[ς]
τ’ ἔπεφνες ἰοῖς ὁ[μοίως τε Τιτυὸν ὅτε] π̣όθον ἔσχε μα̣-
τ̣ρὸς [. . . . . . ]
. . . θῆρα κατέκτ[α]ς, οσ[. . .
30     . . . σ]ύριγμ’ ἀπ’ ε[ὐν]ῶν . . .
Εἶτ’] ε̣φρούρε[ις] δὲ Γᾶ[ς ἱερόν, ὧναξ, παρ’ ὀμφαλόν, ὀ βάρ-
βαρος ἄρης ὅτε [τε]ὸν μαντόσυ̣[νον οὐ σεβίζων ἕδος
πολυκυ]θὲς λη<ι>ζόμενος, ὤλεθ’ ὑγρᾶι χι̣[όνος ἐν ζάλαι.

35     Ἀλλ , ὦ Φοῖβε,] σῶιζε θεό-
κτισ̣τον Παλλάδος [ἄστυ καὶ
λαὸν κλεινόν, σύν] τε θεά,
τόξων δεσπότι Κρησίω[ν
40     κυνῶν τ’ Ἄρτεμις, ἠδὲ Λα-
τὼ] κυδίστα̣· [κ]αὶ ναέτας
Δελφῶν τ̣[ημελεῖθ’ ἅμα τέ-
κνοις συμ]βίοις δώμα̣σ̣ιν ἀ-
45     πταίστους Βάκχου [θ’ ἱερονί-
καισιν εὐμε]νεῖς μόλ[ε]τ̣ε
προσπόλοισ<ι>, τάν τε δορί-
σ̣[τεπτον κάρτει] Ῥωμαίω[ν]
ἀρχὰν αὔξετ’ ἀγηράτωι
θάλλ̣[ουσαν φερε]νίκαν.

Title: The paian and p[roso]dion to [the God which] Limeni[os, son of Th]oinos,
composed [and accompanied on the lyre]:

Come here to jutting twin-peaked Mt. Parnassos,
famed for dancing, and conduct my hymns, Muses
of Pieria, who inhabit Helikon’s snow-covered crags.
Sing of Pythian Phoebus, golden hair, far-darting,
5       skilled in the lyre, how blessed Leto bore him by the famous lake,
clutching a thriving shoot of grey-green olive during labour.
The whole heavenly dome rejoiced in cloudless glory
and the air restrained the swift squalls of wind;
Nereus’s powerful breakers stilled their thunder
10     and wide Ocean who encloses earth in a watery embrace.
Leaving the isle of Kynthia the god arrived in Attica,
famous for the first corn, on Tritonis’s craggy slope;
the melodious Libyan flute sang out delightfully
mingling with the lively melodies of the kithara
15     while an echo, latent in the rock, resounded.
And he was pleased because he comprehended
this was Zeus’s divine design. So, from that time on
we, the whole native Athenian population, call on Paieon
as do the great thyrsos-stricken holy company
20     of Bakchos’s Singers living in the city of Kekrops.
So you who hold the seat of divination, come
to this Parnassian ridge trodden by the god, filled with his divinity.
Having crowned your glossy hair with laurel,
while hauling massive stones with godly hand
25     you challenged, Lord, the enormous, earth-born monster.
But, child of Leto with lovely eyes, you shot the savage child
of Earth with arrows, and likewise Tityos when he lusted
for your mother…
… you killed the beast…
30     … a hissing from its den.
Then, Apollo, you protected Earth’s sacred navel, when
a foreign army brought sacrilegious plunder to your wealthy
seat of prophecy but perished in a storm of freezing rain.
O Phoebus, save Athena’s city
35     which was founded by the gods,
its famous people, with the help
of Artemis, Mistress of archery
and Cretan hounds and world-famous
40     Leto. And keep the citizens
of Delphi and the children in their houses
safe from trouble, come kindly
to the victorious servants of Bakchos’s,
increase the spear-crowned power of the Romans,
45     prosperous with victory, through ageless strength.

Figure 7. Fragments of Limenius’s Paean (Delphi, Archaeological Museum). Photo by Michael Nicht, from

3. Historical context

We are now reasonably certain of the performative context of the hymns. [8] Since the stones seem to have been originally placed on the Southern wall of the Athenian treasury below some decrees concerning the Pythais procession of different years (138, 128, 106, 97 BCE), it is very likely that they were performed and inscribed for such occasions. The Pythais was an official procession (theoria) sent by a polis to the Delphic sanctuary to demonstrate its devotion to the god with sacrifices, music, and dancing. The procession was supposed to commemorate the mythical itinerary of Apollo, who stopped in Athens on his way to Delphi before establishing his control over the sanctuary (the episode recalled in lines 11–20 of the paean of Limenius, but cf. section 5 infra for this detail of the myth). It seems that in Classical times the Pythais took place at irregular intervals, and precisely when lightning was spotted on Mt. Parnes from the Cave of Zeus Astrapaios in certain time periods; [9] later, specific decrees aimed at making it more regular and after the Pythais of 97 BCE, a decree established that it should occur every nine years, [10] even though the processions actually stopped after the sack of Delphi by Silla during the Mithridatic wars. As Rutherford summarised, ‘[a]t its high point, the Pūthaïs was a travelling image of the Athenian state. Elements representing the city as whole (the magistrates, the Pūthaïstai paides and Pthastai Elected by Lot) are balanced by others that represent different subdivisions of it, such as the delegates from the genē and the tribes. There was also a balance between religion (the Pthastai, the kanēphoroi, and the delegates from the genē) and politics (the archons and officials, perhaps also the theōroi of the tribes in Pūth 3 and 4), and between two types of human activity represented in the competitions: the cutting-edge military power implied in the equestrian displays, and avant-garde musical culture of the Dionysiac Artists’. [11]
The inscription pertaining the Pythais of 128 BCE mentions a certain Limenius as one of the technitai Dionysou who took part in the procession (who are also mentioned in lines 19–21 of Limenius’s composition): [12] therefore, scholars reasonably assumed that we are dealing with the same Limenius and generally agree on dating his hymn to 128 BCE. As for the other poem, there is no agreement. A. Bélis argued that the word ΑΘΗΝΑΙΟΣ in the title should be interpreted as Ἀθήναιος, i.e., a proper name, and not as an ethnonym (Ἀθηναῖος, Athenian) and she identified this person with the ‘Athenaeus son of Athenaeus’ mentioned in the same inscription mentioned above at l. 19 among the choristers of the Pythais of 128 BCE. Bélis, then, believes that both songs were performed in the same year. This hypothesis rests on a reading of the text and music of the hymns that stresses their differences. However, other scholars who underlined the textual and musical similarities between the two hymns pointed out that it is hard to understand why they would be performed on the same occasion; [13] it has also been noted that l. 9 of the above-mentioned inscription talks about ‘the paean’ in the singular (ἀισόμενοι τὸν παιᾶνα εἰς τὸν θεό[ν]). It must be said that an epigraphical analysis showed that the two hymns were inscribed by the same person and that the connecting particle in the title of Limenius’s poem ([πα]ι̣ὰν δὲ καὶ π[ροσό]δ̣ιον…) establishes a link between them (and so, for some, it is a further proof that the hymns were performed consecutively at the Pythais of 128 BCE). Furley and Bremer, however, who believe in a dating of Athenaeus’s song in 138 BCE and Limenius’s song in 128 BCE, explain this by hypothesizing that Athenaeus’s song was not originally recorded on the stone in 138 BCE, and when the Athenians were to inscribe Limenius’s song in 128 BCE they thought of updating the inscription and recorded both compositions. [14]
Political considerations were also brought into the discussion. A series of sources tell us that the guild of the technitai Dionysou entered a conflict with the rival guild of the technitai of the Isthmus sometime in 138/134 BCE, a conflict which was not resolved before 112 BCE (when a senatus consultus definitely ruled in favor of the Athenian guild). Their litigation lasted for quite some time and also involved more than one appeal to the Roman authorities, who acted as arbiters of the quarrel. A decree of the Delphic Amphictyony from 125 BCE, which seems to swing in favor of the Athenian guild, led A. Bélis to connect this decision with the Pythais in which Athenaius’s Paean was (according to her) performed in 128 BCE. This point was further developed by Vamvouri Ruffy, [15] who believes that the magnificent display of the Pythais, the skill of the technitai, as well as the splendor of Athenaeus’s song, influenced the favor of the Amphictyony; this would also explain the desire to flatten the Roman authorities that emerges here and there from the texts. [16]
Whether we think that the songs were performed in the same year or not, their historical context is reasonably clear both from their texts and the rest of the above-quoted evidence: the political display of the theoria, the connection with Athens, the flattering mentions of the Roman power, the insistence on the excellence of the technitai. [17]

4. The content of the Hymns: myth, cult, propaganda

Let us now turn to some matters of form and content of the two texts. From a formal point of view, as scholars have noted, it is clear that both hymns follow some traditional patterns of Greek hymns, i.e. (i) invocation to the deity, (ii) narrative part (mythical episodes linked to the deity and historical events), (iii) final request. [18] The structures of the two hymns also present strong similarities, as outlined below.
Athenaeus’s Paean Limenius’s Paean
lines Theme lines Theme
1–7 Invocation to the Muses and Apollo 1–3 Invocation to the Muses and Apollo
4–10 Birth of the god
8–18 Celebration of Athens and the sacred procession with the Technitai 11–17 Apollo leaves Delos and arrives in Attica
17–20 First celebration of Apollo (invention of the Paean) by the Technitai
19–23 Narrative section on the victory of Apollo over Python and the Gauls 21–33 Address to Apollo and narrative section on the victory of Apollo over Python, Tityos and the Gauls
24 New address to Apollo
(the fragment is interrupted)
34–46 Closing prayer and address to Leto, Artemis, and Apollo to protect Delphi, Athens, the Technitai, and the Romans
Table 1. Summary of the contents of the hymns. [19]
It is quite evident that both texts show a strong political connotation in so far as they stress the role and the glory of Attica. Mentions such as the following are quite explicit: Athenaeus’s Paean lines 8–9 [Ἢν] κλυτὰ μεγαλόπολις Ἀθθὶς εὐχα[ῖ]σ̣ι φερόπλοιο ναίουσα Τριτωνίδος δά[πε]δον ἄθραυστον, ‘Behold the famous, mighty city of Athens, dwelling in worship of warrior Athena on unshaken ground’, l. 15 ὁ δὲ [Τεχνι]τ̣ῶν πρόπας ἑσμὸς Ἀθθίδα λαχὼ̣[ν, ‘We, the whole swarm of singers who have come from Athens’; Limenius’s Paean l. 13–14 Τότε λιπὼν Κυνθίαν νᾶσον ἐπ̣[έβα θεὸ]ς πρω[τό]καρπον κλυτὰν Ἀτθίδ’ ἐπὶ γα[λόφωι πρῶνι] Τριτωνίδος, ‘Leaving the isle of Kynthia the god arrived in Attica, famous for the first corn, on Tritonis’s craggy slope’, l. 19–22 ἀνθ’ ὧν ἐκείνας ἀπ’ ἀρχᾶς Παιήονα κικλήισκ[ομεν ἅπας] λ̣α̣ὸς αὐ̣τ̣[ο]χθόνων ἠδὲ Βάκχου μέγας θυρσοπλὴ[ξ ἑσμὸς ἱ]ερὸς Τεχνιτῶν ἔνοικος πόλει Κεκροπίαι, ‘we, the whole native Athenian population, call on Paieon as do the great thyrsos-stricken holy company of Bakchos’s Singers living in the town of Kekrops’.
As often observed in Greek culture, the manipulation of the mythical matter also plays a prominent role in this operation: the fact that in Limenius’s hymn Apollo stops in Attica on his way to Delphi finds a parallel only in Aeschylus’s Eumenides lines 9–11, which some ancient sources interpreted as an act of flattery towards Athens; [20] lines 13–18 seem to imply that the Athenians invented the Paean; and more subtly, in l. 6 Leto is said to clutch a ‘thriving shoot of grey-green olive during labour’, which in the version of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo was a palm tree and which is aimed again at stressing an Athenian connection. [21]
At the same time, the Athenian identity is qualified in contrast with that of the Gauls. The defeat of the Gauls in 278 BCE was soon appropriated by Delphic propaganda immediately after the event, which stressed the role of Apollo in the victory, allegedly shown by the earthquake that caused a crag of the Parnassus to fall during the battle as well as the adverse weather conditions; later, the victory was appropriated by propaganda of the Aetolian league upon seizing control of the Delphic sanctuary in the mid-third century BCE, who was interested in minimizing the role of the god and the sanctuary to the advantage of their military power. Callimachus’s version in the Hymn to Delos (lines 170–187), then, exploits the episode in a complex encomiastic strategy aimed at glorifying Ptolemy Philadelphus and presenting him as a panhellenic savior. [22] With regards to this, our hymns seem to aptly present Athens as a country of pacific, indigenous farmers to be contrasted with the violent and foreign invaders. As Vamvouri Ruffy noted, this is due to the mutated political conditions: if there is any place for the mention of some military power, that is the one of the new masters, ‘the spear-crowned power of the Romans’ that Apollo is asked to increase. [23]

5. Musical notation and modern performances

As anticipated above, these hymns are an outstanding document because they are a rare example of musical notation for extensive texts. It is actually their musical notation that helped in distinguishing the fragments of the two paeans (16 in total), since the texts employ two different types of musical notation, i.e., vocal notation for Athenaeus’s paean and instrumental notation for Limenius’s. [24] The music has been studied extensively and exhaustively by Pohlmann, West and Bélis, though their interpretations differ on some points. [25]
Interestingly, right from the discovery of the texts, attempts were made to perform reconstructed versions of their music. One of the editores principes, T. Reinach, planned a performance of the Hymn of Athenaeus at the plenary meeting of the ‘Association pour l’Encouragement des Études Grecques en France’ in the Spring of 1894. He justified the decision of accompanying the singing with the harp and the harmonium, which would stand for the kithara and the aulos respectively mentioned by the Hymns themselves. [26] He worked with G. Fauré to produce the arrangement, which was later published, and there were several performances in Paris and, apparently, also abroad; a prominent occasion was the first Olympic congress on June 16th, in the framework of the project of revival of the Olympics animated by Pierre De Coubertin. When remains of the Limenius’s Paean were also published, Reinach started working on a musical accompaniment for this too, though working with another composer. There is also evidence that the hymns travelled quickly to the English-speaking world, and, in the Summer of 1894, they were performed in England and the United States. There was, then, a short and intense time period when these Hymns were extremely popular, certainly due to a series of concurrent factors and events, i.e. the archaeological excavations of the Athenian Theatre of Dionysus, the excavations at Delphi and the ones at Olympia, which all sparkled a desire to perform modern reconstructions of Greek drama, musical performances and the revival of Olympic Games; ‘but soon thereafter, modern ears for the most part once again became deaf to ancient Greek music’ (Solomon 2010:125). [27]
This was destined to change due to the incredible advancement of our knowledge of ancient Greek music which produced many a landmark study; [28] this happened alongside detailed studies on the remnants of ancient instruments which prompted attempts in the wake of ‘experimental archaeology’ aimed at reconstructing instruments resembling the ancient ones (in the extant specimens) as much as possible, and therefore reproducing melodies which are supposed to be closer to the original ones. [29] The result is a series of performances whose scientific accuracy, despite all the inevitable limits, is much higher than before, and whose recordings are available for everyone to listen to. [30]

Figure 8. Detail of the musical notation in Athenaeus’s Paean (detail of figure 6 supra).

Figure 9. Detail of the instrumental notation in Athenaeus’s Paean (detail of figure 7 supra).

6. Conclusion

The analysis we have carried out shows how unique these texts are. Despite their fragmentary state and some irresolvable problems of interpretation on different aspects, they constitute two original Greek cult songs of which we know the context of performance, the political and historical context, as well as the musical accompaniment, which is so rare for our other textual evidence from the ancient world. At the same time, they are an example of how the interpretation of a complex document can be shaped over more than one century as a consequence of the advancement of different areas as diverse as political history, musicology and experimental archaeology. Yet, they feature rarely—compared to others—both in general academic treatments and in mainstream media. Our hope is that the synthetic treatment we have offered will prove useful to scholars, students, and even non-specialists by collecting scholarly work and multimedia material pertaining to these unique texts.


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———. 2020. ‘Notation’, in A Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Music, T. Lynch and E. Rocconi, 297–310.
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Pöhlmann, E., and M.L. West. 2001. Documents of ancient Greek music: the extant melodies and fragments. Oxford.
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[ back ] 1. On the last phase of the oracle, cf. Parke-Wormell (1956.1:285–291).
[ back ] 2. ‘Delphos adveni. Ubi nam primum diruta magna ex parte vetusta, atque nobilissima moenia conspexi diversaque architectorum ope conspicua. Exinde collapsum undique rotundum Apollinis Templum, et Amphitheatrum iuxta admirandum magnorum lapidum gradibus XXXIII. Et in sublimi Civitatis arce altissimis sub ripibus ornatissimum gradibus marmoreis hippodrom DC p. longitudinis. Vidique confractas hinc inde statuas. Epigrammataque tam Graecis quam Latinis litteris nobilissima, ac intus, et extra per agros marmorea ingentia, atque ornatissima sepulchra, rupesque incisas arte mirabili (…). Haec omnia apud Delphos vidi, quae hodie Castri ab inepto Graecorum vulgo nuncupatur, et ubinam Delphi fuissent, penitus ignorant’, Ciriaco of Ancona, Epigrammata reperta per Illyricum a Cyriaco Anconitano apud Liburniam (Rome 1764:27; 31).
[ back ] 3. Cf. the title of the text in section 2 with notes.
[ back ] 4. Weil (1893), (1894), and Reinach (1893).
[ back ] 5. I reproduce the text of Furley-Bremer (2001) and their translation (adapted). Many of the supplements that they provide are exempli gratia and others far from certain; readers interested in alternative supplements will find plenty of information in the apparatus of their edition as well as in Bélis (1992). Unfortunately, the fragments today are more damaged than they were at the moment of the finding, which makes the old drawings, squeezes, and transcriptions still valuable: they can be found in Bélis (1992).
[ back ] 6. The integration of the title is based on the title of Limenius’s composition; alternative supplements have been ἆισμα μετὰ κιθάρας or Παιὰν καὶ ὑπόρχημα (cf. Furley-Bremer 2001.1:129, and the discussion in Bélis 1992:53–54). For Athenaeus, cf. infra, section 3.
[ back ] 7. Scil. ‘Incense’.
[ back ] 8. The editores principes thought that the Hymns should be dated to ca. 245/44 BCE, after the victory over the Gauls (for which cf. section 5 infra), for the confutation of which cf. Furley-Bremer (2001.1:132–133n116).
[ back ] 9. Strabo 9.2.11: ‘Here [scil. Harma in Attica] originated the proverb, “when the lightning flashes through Harma”; ‘for those who are called the Pythaistae look in the general direction of Harma, in accordance with an oracle, and note any flash of lightning in that direction, and then, when they see the lightning flash, take the offering to Delphi. They would keep watch for three months, for three days and nights each month, from the altar of Zeus Astrapaeus; this altar is within the walls between the Pythium and the Olympium’ (transl. Jones).
[ back ] 10. FD 3.2.48, l. 8: τὰν ἱερὰν νομιζομέναν Πυθαΐδα δι’ ἐννεετηρίδος.
[ back ] 11. Rutherford 2013:230 (he refers to the Pythais of 138, 128, 106, 97 BCE with Pyth 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively). On the Pythais, cf. his whole section at pp. 222–230.
[ back ] 12. FD 3.2.47, l. 22. On the technitai, cf. Le Gein (2001), Lightfoot (2002), Aneziri (2003).
[ back ] 13. Pöhlmann 1970.
[ back ] 14. Furley-Bremer (2001.1:129–131). Cf. also Fantuzzi (2010:194): ‘Regardless of whether the two paeans were performed on the same occasion, it seems plausible that they were inscribed on the Treasury together because they complement each other as propaganda for the city and technitai of Athens. What is more, it cannot be ruled out that the particle δέ in the preface to Limenius’s paean (Παιὰν δὲ ϰαὶ π[ροсό]διον, ϰτλ.) points to a placement close to Athenaeus’s (earlier) text, inviting a complementary reading of the two inscriptions’.
[ back ] 15. Bélis (1992:140), Vamvouri Ruffy (2004: Ambitions professionnelles des technites dionysiaques).
[ back ] 16. Vamvouri Ruffy (2004: quotes as an example FD III, 2,70a, l. 46: κοινοῖς εὐεργέταις Ῥωμαῖοις; cf. Limenius’s Paean, lines 47–50.
[ back ] 17. Somewhat isolated is the theory of Schröder (1999), who wants to date Limenius’s paean to the Pythais of 108 BCE: for the problems posed by this hypothesis, cf. Furley-Bremer (2001.1:130–131 with nn. 103 and 108).
[ back ] 18. On formal aspects of Greek Hymns, cf. Furley-Bremer (2001.1:50–64).
[ back ] 19. Cf. also the table in Bélis (1992:135).
[ back ] 20. Schol. Aeschylus Eumenides 11 χαριζόμενος Ἀθηναίοις καταχθῆναί φησι ἐκεῖσε Άπόλλωνα κἀκεῖθεν τὴν παραπομπὴν αὐτῷ εἶναι (cf. Vamvouri Ruffy 2004:8.2.2); on this aspect, cf. the contribution by S. Fiori in this same issue, section 2.3.
[ back ] 21. Vamvouri Ruffy (2004:, ‘Qui dit olivier dit Athéna et donc Athènes, la cité protégée de la déesse’; cf. Fiori, section 3.2 and in general his whole section 3.
[ back ] 22. On the propaganda linked to the victory over the Gauls, cf. Giuseppetti (2013:156–164).
[ back ] 23. Vamvouri Ruffy (2004:
[ back ] 24. On ancient musical notation, cf. now Hagel (2020) and earlier West (1992), Pöhlmann-West (2001), Hagel (2009).
[ back ] 25. On metrical aspects of the Hymns, cf. Pöhlmann-West (2001:85).
[ back ] 26. Cf. Furley-Bremer (2001.1:135): i 12 λωτός, ii 13 Λίβυς [λωτός], i 14 κί]θαρις, ii 14 κιθάρι]ο̣[ς.
[ back ] 27. For information on the first performances of the Hymns, cf. the exhaustive and meticulous account of Solomon (2010) who also comments on the musical choices of Reinach and gathers all the available documentary evidence as well as placing the phenomenon within the wider Zeitgeist of late-Nineteenth century Paris.
[ back ] 28. I.e., the seminal work of West (1992) and Pöhlmann (1970) which was then re-edited collected as West-Pöhlmann (2001), which collects all the available evidence to that date with extensive musical commentary; cf. also Barker (1984–1989). A landmark moment was also the foundation by A. Barker of Moisa (International Society for the Study of Greek and Roman Music and its Cultural Heritage) in 1993, which to this day organizes Symposia and academic events, the output of which have been several volumes on Greek and Roman Music. Readers will now find extensive information on all the aspects of ancient music in Lynch-Rocconi (2020).
[ back ] 29. Such work has been advancing for many years and has been recently further stimulated by the institution of EMAP (European Music Archaeology Project) funded by the European Union (
[ back ] 30. A Symposium organized by the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften included performances which were recorded and published together with its proceedings (Hagel-Harrauer 2003) and can be accessed online ( A. Bélis, author of the 1992 edition of the Hymns, is also the founder of the Ensemble Kérylos ( which aims to produce scientifically-based reconstructions of ancient Greek and Roman Music: in 2016, the Ensemble released a video with many of such performances introduced by explanatory remarks ( An analogous operation was recently undertaken by A. D’Angour at Oxford, which culminated in a performance held in July 2017 at the Ashmolean Museum and in the release of a video explaining the process of reconstruction of the music and including a recording of parts of the performance (