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Listen to songs from Iliad The Musical

Listen to songs from Iliad The Musical at http://iliadthemusical.com/mixtape/

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Announcing: A musical version of Homer’s Iliad using Ancient Greek instruments

According to legend, Homer played a seven-string lyre and performed a show called the Iliad, which means the “Story of Troy”.

That was 2,800 years ago. Today, a playwright is hoping to revive the show for modern audiences.

Of course, Homer’s music was lost centuries ago. Only his lyrics survive today.

That’s where Sean McGowan, student of Ancient Greek music, comes in.

McGowan is recreating the show using Ancient Greek instruments, and replacing the spoken-word narrative with action.

The opera, titled Iliad The Musical, faithfully follows Homer’s epic from start to finish, including all the characters.

“From Helen of Troy to Zeus,” McGowan said, “they’re all here.”

The first community production is set for December 2020 in Denver, Colorado. After that, the show will head to a Pre-Broadway theater and then – with a bit of luck – Broadway.

The show is set to be performed in an Ancient-Greek-style theater, using only sound amplification techniques available at the time.

The Trojan War was a real conflict that took place around 1184 BC, in what is now modern-day Turkey. The archaeological site dubbed “Troy VII” provides ample evidence, including arrowheads, buried soldiers, and walls burned by fire.

Homer’s now-famous song focuses on the rage of Achilles – a 25-year-old soldier – and the influence the Olympian gods held over the war.

For more information, visit iliadthemusical.com or send an email to Sean at hello@iliadthemusical.com

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Mixtape

Scene 01 – Invocation

You can listen here to the original song “Invocation”, which is the opening of Scene 1 of Iliad The Musical.

Lyrics

You can also follow along with the libretto for lyrics and context.

Context

The show begins with the invocation of the muse.

The curtains open, revealing the Achaeans in council. Calchas holds the staff that commands the council’s attention. Hitting the staff on the ground on the first of every six beats, Calchas invokes the godess of memory.

In Ancient Greece, a staff was pounded on the ground to mark the start of each verse (that’s why, even today, we draw a “staff” between measures).

According to legend, Homer sang the Iliad in a cobbler’s shop to people getting their shoes fixed. He played a seven-string lyre in the enharmonic genus tuned to the dorian scale.

He sang non-rhyming verses called “heroic verses” or Homeric verses. They’re kind of like dactyllic hexameters, except a few additional rules also apply (for example, the second-to-last foot must be a dactyll and the last foot must be either a spondee or trochee — that way, every verse ends with the same “shave-and-a-haircut” rhythm).

The song grows into a full orchestra of Ancient Greek instruments, but begins with an attempt to recreate exactly how Homer actually sounded in the cobbler’s shop 2,800 years ago.

Harmonics

“Invocation” is composed in the Ancient Greek enharmonic genus, tuned to the ancient hypodorian scale.

Instrumentation

“Invocation” is arranged for Ancient Greek instruments:

  • Aulos I
  • Aulos II
  • Monaulos I
  • Monaulos II
  • Proslambenomenos Aulos
  • Cithara I
  • Cithara II
  • Hydraulis
  • Crotales
  • Timpani
  • Hand claps
  • Foot stomps
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Mixtape

Scene 22 – Hector

You can listen here to the original song “Hector” from Scene 22 of Iliad The Musical.

Lyrics

You can also follow along with the libretto for lyrics and context.

Context

This is Hector’s last song before he dies. His mother and father beg him not to walk outside the walls of Troy to face Achilles alone — but he does so anyway.

He walks outside the walls of Troy. The Scaean Gates close behind him. He has a moment of hesitation and reflect on his life in this song.

Right after this song, Achilles enters. They fight the final duel and Hector dies. As he himself famously foretold, Hector “trusted his strength and ruined his army.”

Harmonics

“Hector” is composed in the Ancient Greek diatonic genus, tuned to the ancient hypolydian scale.

Instrumentation

“Hector” is arranged entirely for Ancient Greek instruments:

  • Panpipes
  • Aulos I
  • Aulos II
  • Monaulos I
  • Monaulos II
  • Proslambenomenos Aulos
  • Cithara
  • Hydraulis
  • Crotales
  • Timpani
  • Hand claps
  • Foot stomps
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Mixtape

Scene 02 – Never Forget

You can listen here to the original song “Never Forget” from Scene 2 of Iliad The Musical.

Lyrics

You can also follow along with the libretto for lyrics and context.

Context

This is the big opening number (about 8 minutes into the show), during the famous Catalog Of Ships from Book 2 of Homer’s Iliad.

Ten years earlier, the Achaean alliance invaded Troy with 1,000 ships. In this song, the leaders of these ships march to war, announce themselves, and give a shout out to their homelands. Athena leads the chorus in song.

In Ancient Greece, heroes who won their glory were welcomed back home with a song written just for them — played on pipes called auli. The pipers and singers played together as family and friends celebrated the soldier’s homecoming.

Harmonics

“Never Forget” is composed in the Ancient Greek chromatic genus, tuned to the ancient hypophrygian scale.

Instrumentation

“Never Forget” is arranged entirely for Ancient Greek instruments:

  • Aulos I
  • Aulos II
  • Proslambenomenos aulos
  • Cithara
  • Hydraulis
  • Crotales
  • Timpani
  • Hand claps
  • Foot stomps
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Mixtape

Scene 24 – Charge Of God

You can listen here to the original song “Charge Of God” from Scene 24 of Iliad The Musical.

Lyrics

You can also follow along with the lyrics in the libretto.

Context

Iliad The Musical ends here, in Scene 24, when the Trojan king Priam meets Achilles.

Priam, catching Achilles unaware, clasps Achilles’s knees and kisses Achilles’s hands. Achilles and his two comrades are startled, as Priam explains who he is and why he’s done what no human is capable of doing: kissing the hands of the one who killed his sons.

Then this song begins.

After witnessing the rage of Achilles for the entire show, we at last see Achilles soften his anger – when he gives Hector’s body to Priam. Achilles does this after reflecting on his own father and crying with Priam over the suffering caused by the war.

After this song the show ends, but not before Priam takes Hector’s body back to Troy where Hecabe, Andromache, and Helen mourn and bury Hector in a proper ceremony.

Harmonics

“Charge Of God” is composed in the ancient enharmonic genus, tuned to the ancient hypophrygian scale.

Instrumentation

“Charge Of God” is arranged entirely for Ancient Greek instruments:

  • Aulos I
  • Aulos II
  • Proslambenomenos Aulos
  • Cithara
  • Hydraulis
  • Crotales
  • Timpani
  • Hand claps
  • Feet stomps
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Research

Judgement of Paris

The judgement of Paris led to the Trojan War. It also led to some of the finest works of art ever created.

The story of the Trojan War begins at the wedding of Achilles’s parents, Thetis and Peleus.

All the gods are invited to the wedding except one: Eris, the goddess of discord. But this doesn’t stop her from leaving her mark on the occasion. Instead of attending the wedding, Eris plucks a golden apple from the Garden of Hesperides, writes “To the fairest one” on it, and tosses it inside the wedding ceremony.

Three goddesses – Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite – each claim that the apple is meant for herself. When they ask Zeus to settle the matter, and decide who is the fairest, he suggests that they ask a Trojan shepherd named Paris.

So Hermes leads them to Mount Ida.

Here Paris is confronted with three gods, each wanting the golden apple, each offering Paris something in return for judging her the fairest. Hera offers Paris political power over Europe and Asia. Athena offers Paris neverending victories on the battlefield. Aphrodite offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world.

The judgement of Paris is to award Aphrodite the apple. This leads to Helen and Paris eloping, Agamemnon launching a thousand ships, Odysseus building the Trojan Horse, and eventually Helen sailing back home to Sparta with her husband Menelaus.

Above is a 1904 painting by Enrique Simonet titled El Juicio De Paris, and below are are some other classic renditions of the world-famous scene.

4th-3rd century BC engraving on the back of an Etruscan bronze mirror by unknown artist

1st century AD mosaic by unknown artist

c. 1485-1488 painting by Sandro Botticelli

c. 1510-1520 print by Mercantonio Raimondi, after Raphael


c 1550s painting by Frans Floris


c. 1600 painting by Hans Rottenhammer

c. 1638 painting by Peter Paul Rubens

c. 1645-1646 painting by Claude Lorrain


c. 1710-1720 painting by Michele Rocca


c. 1808 painting by Francois-Xavier Fabre


c. 1812 painting by Guillaume Guillon Lethiere


c. 1862-1864 painting by Paul Cezanne


c. 1906 painting by Eduard Lebiedzki


1908-1910 painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


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Research

Who is Hermes?

This 15-minute video gives an awesome overview of who Hermes is, including his identities as Pan and Mercury.

Among other roles, in Book 24 of Iliad Hermes guides King Priam across the Achaean border to Achilles’s hut. This leads to the emotional climax of the epic when Achilles finally softens his anger and agrees to give Hector’s body back to Priam.

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Research

Where is the center of the world?

The center of the Ancient Greek world is in the town of Delphi. This stone is called the Omphalos, or “navel” of the world. Think of it as Mother Earth’s bellybutton.

A long time ago, Zeus wanted to find the center of the world, so he sent two eagles — one from each end of the earth. When they met at Delphi, Zeus sent down the Omphalos, a stone that his father ate and regurgitated (thinking he was eating his son Zeus) as navel of the world.

Omphalos Syndrome is the belief that the city with the most money and most powerful politicians is in fact the center of the world.

So, where is the center of the world? It used to be by the temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the great oracle Sibyl gave prophesy. Now, it’s just up the road at the new museum.

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Research

The Ancient Greek aulos

The aulos is a double-reeded pipe, like an oboe (though it’s sometimes played with a single reed, like a clarinet) made out of bamboo and bone. This 1st century AD mosaic from the “House of the Tragic Poet” in Pompeii shows a piper playing two auli at once, surrounded by actors in goatskin dresses and theatrical masks.

Traditionally, you play two auli at once. This allows you to harmonize with yourself, and anyhow each aulos has only 1/2 of the notes in a scale, so you need two auli to play a complete scale.

While the lyre is associated with Apollo, the aulos is associated with Dionysus.

Here is a 2-minute aulos performance by Prof. Stefan Hagel.

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Research

Song Of Seikilos

2,000 years ago Seikilos wrote a song for Euterpe, and carved it into her tombstone. Today it’s the oldest surviving complete song in the world.

Here’s an English translation of the song’s lyrics:

While you live, shine.
Have no grief at all.
Life exists only for a short while
and Time demands his due.

The lyrics give us the song’s time signature. The notes above the lyrics indicate what pitches to sing, and how long to sing them for. Here’s what it would look like if you stretched it out flat:

Here’s what it looks like transcribed into modern letters on a clean background:

Here’s one way to annotate it in modern musical notation:

And here’s a 3-minute performance of the piece.

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Research

Fresco of Actor & Lyre Player

This 1st century AD fresco from Pompeii shows a singer/actor with his theatrical mask on the top of his head, and a lyre player playing a 9-string lyre.

Homer’s Iliad is traditionally performed by two such people. Indeed, at the time, the Iliad was the most popular show in Ancient Rome. Each line in the Iliad is played to six beats, and sung to notes on the lyre tuned to the enharmonic genus, playing notes in the ancient dorian scale.

So, we know the musical chords Homer composed for the Iliad. We know the drum beats. We know the lyrics. We just don’t know the melody.

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Research

Vase of Sarpedon

This vase, painted around 440 BC, shows Hypnos and Thanatos carrying the body of Sarpedon off of the Trojan battlefield.

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Research

Ancient Greek poetry is musical theater

The oldest known Greek poet was Homer. His poetry was set to music and sung out loud in public theaters like this one, built in Epidaurus in the 4th century BC.

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Research

The Ancient Greek hydraulis

The hydraulis is a hand-powered organ. Just like a pipe organ in a modern church, the hydraulis makes sound by blowing air through pipes, and is played by pressing keys on a keyboard. This 2-minute video demonstrates what a Roman replica sounds like.

The word “hydraulis” literally means “water-pipe” because water (“hydra”) is used to deliver steady air pressure to a pipe (“aulos”).

This 2-minute video shows a hydraulis performance with a closer look at how the organ works.

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Research

What Ancient Greek Music looks like

This shows the first and second verses of the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, carved in marble for the Athenian Pythaides festival in 128 BC in Delphi. The composer’s name is Athenaios Athenaiou (Athenaios, son of Athenaios).

The melody is written above the lyrics, and shows which notes to sing (according to the Greater Perfect System).

The rhythm is inherent in the poetics of the verse. For example, we see cretics (instead of, say, iambs or dactyls) so we know the time signature is 5/8.

Here is a performance of the hymn.

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Research

The Trojan War really happened

In 1184 BC, the 30-foot-high walls of Troy were set on fire, putting an end to the Trojan War.

The ashes, the arrowheads, and the fallen soldiers still exist to the present day — preserved underneath a later city built on its ruins.

The city of Priam, often called “Troy VII” or “Troy VIIa”, is still being unearthed in modern-day Turkey..

Modern Remains Of Troy

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Research

The Ancient Greek kithara

The Ancient Greek kithara gives us the word “guitar”.

This 5-minute video shows Professor Stefan Hagel explaining some basics of Ancient Greek music, followed by a nice performance demonstrating what the kithara sounds like in the diatonic genus.

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Research

Ogilby’s Iliad

People often overlook John Ogilby’s English translation of Homer’s Iliad. The frontispiece of this 1660 edition was engraved by Wenceslas Hollar.

It was published just after George Chapman’s famous translation, which he wrote in long-lined non-rhyming verse, in installments starting in 1598.

It was published just before Alexander Pope’s timeless translation, which he wrote in rhyming iambic pentameter couplets, in installments starting in 1715.

But Ogilby’s English translation was one of the first to be annotated, and his editions were always beautifully illustrated.

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Research

Marble statue of Athena

This sculpture of Athena was carved out of marble in the 1st century AD/BC in Rome. It was a copy of an earlier Greek sculpture from the 4th century BC.

Of all Athena’s iconography, her helmet might be the most widely recognized, but she has other icons that you can use to identify her. If you look closely you can also see snakes on her tunic, and a big Gorgon on her brooch. These are dead giveaways you’re looking at Athena.

Homer characterizes her as the god of battle strategy and wisdom.

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Research

How did the world begin?

This 7-minute video outlines one Ancient Greek story of the creation of the universe: the beautifully-worded Theogony of Hesiod.

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Research

What Ancient Greek music sounds like

This 16-minute video is an interesting attempt to recreate authentic Ancient Greek music.

They cover some fundamental instruments like the kithara and the aulos. They play a jazzy version of Homer. It finishes with a really cool semi-authentic performance of the actual music Euripides composed for Orestes, which was a musical, not a play.

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Research

The death of Aeschylus

In his life, Aeschylus wrote many musicals, won many awards, and broke many records. He pioneered many innovations that are now standard in modern theater. This 15th century illustration shows his death in 456 BC.

Legend has it he died from a turtle dropped on him by an eagle. Now, that may sound ridiculous, but in fact there are eagles in that region that eat turtles by dropping them on stones from high up to crack their shells. The legend goes that the eagle mistook Aeschylus’s bald head for a hard stone. Pliny adds that Aeschylus was only outside in the first place to avoid a prophecy that he would be killed by falling object.

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Research

Fresco of lyre player

This fresco from the Bronze Age palace of Nestor (who fought in the Trojan war) in Ancient Greece shows a lyre player performing a song. The song is represented by a bird. Homer’s noble characters often speak with “winged words”.