The First Delphic Hymn To Apollo (Ancient Greek Melody c​.​138BC)

from by Michael Levy

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This is my arrangement for solo lyre, of the famous "First Delphic Hymn to Apollo" - a precious surviving fragment of music, which is an amazing legacy from the mostly lost musical culture of ancient Greece! My replica "Kinnor" lyre of the Ancient hebrews (based on illustrations found on ancient Jewish coins), is virtually identical to the ancient Greek "Kithara" - the large wooden lyre favoured by the professional musicians of ancient Greece (with the small exception, that Kithara had 7 strings, whereas the Kinnor had 10 - no doubt to represent the Ten Commandments?)

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. My rendition here, is of the earlier of them; the First Delphic Hymn. Although it has unfortunately not survived in its complete form, the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo is THE earliest unambiguous surviving fragment of notated music from anywhere in the Western World! 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:

www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Delphic_Hymns

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

The First Delphic Hymn to Apollo was discovered in 1893 by a French archaeologist. It was inscribed in marble, carved on an outside wall of the Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi.

All that is known about its composer is that it was written by an Athenian, around 138 BC, since the part of the inscription giving the name of the composer is too difficult to read. The Second Delphic Hymn is slightly more recent, and has been dated to precisely 128 BC; evidently it was first performed in the same year. The name of the composer of the Second Delphic Hymn has also survived, in a separate inscription: he is called "Limenius". The occasion of the later hymn was the Pythian Festival, and this one, the earlier hymn, was probably written for the boys choir at the Pythian Games in 138 BC.

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, . . . ."

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from An Ancient Lyre, released July 20, 2009

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Michael Levy UK

Michael Levy is a prolific composer for the recreated lyres of antiquity, whose musical mission is to create an entirely new musical genre, which could best be described as a 'New Ancestral Music' - dedicated to reintroducing the recreated lyres, ancient musical modes and intonations, back into the modern musical world.. ... more

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