Smaro Gregoriadou

Home arrow ARTICLES arrow Ancient greek choral odes and their inner melodic, rhythmic and metric structure:

Ancient greek choral odes and their inner melodic, rhythmic and metric structure:

An elemental anatomy of drama – how greek language and its metric and rhythmic logic changed – rhythmic and metric roots of ancient greek choral odes and their transmission into folk song: Bridges towards an understanding


The following points contribute to a deeper understanding on ancient drama and its presentation on stage:


1. Since ancient greek was a musical language and every single word contained specific meter, rhythm and melody, the fabric of music, movement and meaning in drama and especially in Sophocles’ plays was so tightly woven, that significant portions of the plays cannot be fully realized on stage unless the musical effects and the complete musical form created by the poet are incorporated.


2. Rhythm of greek poetry and language changed radically since first Hellenistic era: meter and scansion patterns (sets of metrical verses used in drama, such as choriambic, dactylic, anapaestic etc) gradually disappeared from language, but were transmitted in folk song and dance and still survive, revealing the timeless dimension of human expressiveness.


3. Metrical patterns in ancient drama are not a secondary detail of the plays but a central feature of their musical organization. Just as the playwright enhanced awareness of themes with a series of recurring and developing verbal images, he also designed the music and meter to guide the audience understanding of unfolding, often ambiguous events. Inner rhythm of characters’ and chorus’ thoughts and moods is coordinated with outer rhythm and meter of the odes. The chorus becomes a single persona, a character with partial knowledge, a sharer in the action. The combination of words, meters and forms provides a new perspective on each play, since meter was:

  • distributor of inner energy of characters’ moods, and
  • symbol of cosmic order, truth, essence of God.