Ancient Greek Music – “First Delphic Hymn to Apollo”c.138BC

This is my 1st (somewhat shakey!) attempt at playing on replica lyre, 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! In this upload, I attempted to use ancient Greek cyclical tuning to TRY and achieve “Just Tuning”…with not very good results! I couldn’t get the 3rds to sound “right” :o(

There are two Delphic Hymns that have been discovered, and they were dedicated to the god Apollo. Unlike the famous “Song of Seikilos” (the first COMPLETE piece of music that has been so far found to have survived from antiquity), the two Delphic Hymns have sadly not survived in their complete form. However, they do survive in substantial fragments…giving just a tantilizing taste of the glory of the tragically lost, magnificant 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 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.

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 illustrius maidens of Delphi,
sets out for the limpid strams 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 cosumes 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, . . . .”

All of my 9 albums of mystical, ancient lyre music are now available from iTunes…

1)”An Ancient Lyre”:

2)”King David’s Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel”:

3)”The Ancient Biblical Lyre”:

4)”Lyre of the Levites”:

5)”Apollo’s Lyre”:

6)”Ancient Times — Music of The Ancient World”:

7)”The Ancient Greek Modes”:

8)”The Ancient Greek Lyre”:

9)”Ancient Visions — New Compositions for an Ancient Lyre”:

Physical CDs are also available anywhere in the world from CD Baby, for 3 of my best selling albums:

“An Ancient Lyre”:

“King David’s Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel”:

“Lyre of the Levites”:

For full details about my albums of lyre music, and the fascinating ancient historical background, please visit my official website:



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