From the recording The Ancient Greek Lyre

Your price

The First Delphic Hymn To Apollo (Ancient Greek Melody c.138 BCE - Arranged For Replica Lyre)

Track download

Please choose a price: $ USD ($0.99 or more)

Please pay at least $0.99

Out of stock

This substantial fragment of ancient Greek music was composed ca. 138 B.C. by an Athenian composer. It was discovered inscribed on a slab of marble in May 1893, in the ruins of the Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Now preserved in the Museum of Delphi: Delphi Inv. No. 517, 494, 499.

There are two Delphic Hymns that have been discovered, and they were dedicated to the god Apollo. The two Delphic Hymns have sadly not survived in their complete form. However, they do survive in substantial fragments - giving just a tantalizing taste of the glory of the tragically lost, magnificent musical culture of ancient Greece.

The two Delphic Hymns are dated c.138 BC and 128 BC. Recent musilogical research may indicate that both Hymns were actually written in 128 BCE: " They were long regarded as being dated circa 138 BCE and 128 BCE, respectively, but recent scholarship has shown it likely they were both written for performance at the Athenian Pythaides in 128 BCE (Pöhlmann and West 2001, 71–72). If indeed it dates from ten years before the second, the First Delphic Hymn is the earliest unambiguous surviving example of notated music from anywhere in the western world whose composer is known by name." (

My rendition here, is of the First Delphic Hymn. It is written in the unambiguous alphabetical musical notation system used in ancient Greece, whereby alphabetical notation describing the pitch of the melody, is written above the text of the song, as can be clearly seen in this image of the actual Delphic Hymn, as it was found, inscribed in marble:

The rhythm can easily be inferred from the syllables of the text.

I have based my arrangement for solo replica Kithara, on the first half of the fragment, which is based around the ancient Greek Hypodorian Mode. The second half of the Hymn is highly chromatic, (the piece was written for vocal perfomance) and not really suitable for performance on solo enharmonically tuned lyre with limited number of strings. In order to play chromatic accidentals on a lyre, it is necessary to stop the string with the left hand to shorten it's length to achieve the required pitch - this technique can be heard towards the end of the melody, where one of the notes of the melody is required to be lowered a semitone.

The translation of the fragment of text which has survived of the this, the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, is as follows:

"Hear me, you who posses deep-wooded Helicon,
fair-armed daughters of Zeus the magnificent!
Fly to beguile with your accents your brother,
golden-tressed Phoebus who, on the twin peak of this rock of Parnassus,
escorted by illustrious maidens of Delphi,
sets out for the limpid streams of Castalia, traversing,
on the Delphic promontory, the prophetic pinnacle.
Behold glorious Attica, nation of the great city which,
thanks to the prayers of the Tritonid warrior,
occupies a hillside sheltered from all harm.
On the holy alters Hephaestos consumes the thighs of young bullocks,
mingled with the flames, the Arabian vapor rises towards Olympos.
The shrill rustling lotus murmurs its swelling song, and the golden kithara,
the sweet-sounding kithara, answers the voice of men.
And all the host of poets, dwellers in Attica, sing your glory, God,
famed for playing the kithara, son of great Zeus,
beside this snow-crowned peak, oh you who reveal to all mortals
the eternal and infallible oracles.
They sing how you conquered the prophetic tripod
guarded by a fierce dragon when, with your darts
you pierced the gaudy, tortuously coiling monster,
so that, uttering many fearful hisses, the beast expired.
They sing too, . . . ."