Rhythm in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry


FWF-Project Nr. P 24924-G19

Projektleitung:  S. Hagel

Projektmitarbeiterin: T. Lynch

The project is designed to take Greek metrical and rhythmical studies to a new level by application of IT and thorough mathematical analysis in addition to the conventional tools of classical philology. By the construction of a comprehensive database of lyric texts, equipped with highly complex search and evaluation algorithms, it will be possible to address on a general basis the question of plausible positions of rhythmically overlong (and also shortened) elements. This, it is to be hoped, will help in clarifying the basic rhythmical implementation of various metrical schemes, as well as possible interfaces along which rhythmical modulation takes place.

As a by-product, the database will allow to address as well the question of typical metrical patterns from a purely quantitative perspective, thus gaining a viewpoint that is unbiased by a tradition of metrical handbooks from late antiquity until modern times. Finally, it will be possible to address on a broad basis the question of strict melodic responsion between rhythmically responding portions, which is now generally, and I believe rightly asserted; however, claims to the contrary (e.g. Wahlström 1970) need to be assessed with larger samples.

Wherever possible, this approach will be complemented by philological studies, in an endeavour to establish connections between explicit and implicit associations connected to the texts within their cultural background and the probable rhythms in which they were likely to be performed. Here it is to be hoped that a rhythmical supergrouping of what has often seemed a confusing metrical variety will enhance our understanding of the musical and textual characteristics of Greek lyrical compositions. Special attention will be given to the later fifth century, an era that is particular notorious for the Athenian discourse on matters of musical innovation.

Finally, the proposed research will also consider the wider context of the development of rhythmical theory (and notation) in classical Greece, from the era of the ‘sophists’, most famously reflected in Plato’s allusions to Damon of Oa’s teaching, up to and beyond Aristoxenus’ codification. Rhythmical evidence from the surviving musical documents will in many cases provide invaluable evidence (cf. West 1992; Pöhlmann/West 2001; Silva 2011); since these are however almost invariably of a later date, the possibility of later re-rhythmisation of older texts and traditional metrical structures must be discussed from case to case.