Introducing Homer's Iliad
Introducing Homer's Iliad

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Introducing Homer's Iliad

3.3 Homeric music

You’ve now completed a close reading of the first seven lines of the Iliad, thinking about the effects of metre, word order, epithets, and the audience’s knowledge of the Trojan story. The only thing that is still missing from the whole experience of the Iliad is the music. As you now know, the Iliad would not have simply been recited, but sung with instrumental accompaniment. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of the original performance context to recreate, but it’s not impossible. A researcher named Stefan Hagel has been working for 35 years on creating a reconstruction of Homeric singing and music.

Activity 9

First, read this explanation of Stefan Hagel’s research method in recreating Homeric music:

Most scholars are convinced that Homer stood in a tradition of lyre-accompanied epic song, just as depicted in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The melodies, which would have been improvised along with the text, are of course lost, the first Greek notated musical documents surviving only from about 400 years later. However, computer-aided statistics of word accents in the epics have shown that these were not distributed randomly; especially word-final accents accumulate in certain places, in a way that can only be explained as governed by melodic preferences. Patterns emerge that align melodic contours with metrical and grammatical units, even across verses.

On the basis of these patterns and the conventions of Homeric versification it becomes possible to improvise a melody for any piece of archaic hexameter poetry, adjusting the broader contours to the demands of individual word accents, so that the melody becomes a stylised representation of Greek speech – just as it is observed in notated music from the Hellenistic period (after 323 BCE) on. In the audio example below, the re-envisaged Homeric melody is accompanied on a seven-stringed lyre, the typical instrument of the early poets, tuned to what may have been the archaic version of ‘Aeolian’ – probably the closest we may get to a seventh-century BCE tuning, and in good geographic accord with the history of the epic language.

Now listen to this audio, in which Stefan Hagel performs an improvisation on the lyre and sings the opening lines of the Iliad.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: a229_1_music_edit.mp3
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Audio 4 A performance by Stefan Hagel

A229_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371