The hymns to Apollo

An ancient hymn to Apollo from the Treasury of the Athenians
© Ephorate of Antiquities of Phocis, Ministry of Culture and Sports

Amongst the inscriptions covering the south wall of the Treasury of the Athenians, which preserve mostly honorary decrees for citizens of Athens, stand out two inscriptions which attracted the attention of the epigraphists, since it was evident that they recorded poetic verse. A more careful examination proved that they constituted two ancient hymns to Apollo, out of a total of about fifty known similar hymns from Ancient Greece. The examination of these hymns in relation to other inscriptions from the archaeological site of Delphi proved that the paeans were composed by the singer Athenaeus, son of Athenaeus, and the musician Limenius, son of Thoinos. The hymns were composed on the occasion of the Pythaid of 128 B.C., the ritual procession of the Athenians to Delphi. We know that the performance of one of the two hymns had been awarded a prize.

Between the lines of the verses are discerned musical symbols, which have been interpreted by the experts on the basis of a treatise by Alypius, a musicographer of Late Antiquity (3rd century A.D.). The first paean consisted of four stanzas, three of which are extant. The second paean was much larger: it had nine stanzas and ended with a “prosodion”, i.e. a jubilant finale. 
The subject of the paeans is naturally related to various events from the life of the god, such as his birth, his coming to Delphi etc. The god's role during the fight against the Galatians is also hailed. 
These hymns were thoroughly examined by musicologists and there have been many efforts to perform them with replicas of ancient musical instruments. The first time they were performed was in 1894, only one year after their discovery, during the “Congress on the Revival of the Olympic Games”. 

Text: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian
Translation: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian