Metre, rhythm and music in Greek poetry - an interdisciplinary approach (2019/2020)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Tosca Lynch
Tosca Lynch
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
Sem 1A, Sem 1B

Lesson timetable

Go to lesson schedule

Learning outcomes

The course offers a comprehensive insight of the metres and the rhythms of the Greek poetic tradition, with specific attention to:
(a) the relation existing between metrics and textual interpretation;
(b) the literary analysis of the texts.
The course focuses on:
- Prosody
- Greek lyric metre
- The textual transmission of poetry and its philological and exegetical tradition
- The ancient sources on metrics
- Ancient Greek music and rhythms.
Students will become familiar with the specific vocabulary of the discipline, and will apply it to the textual and metrical analysis. They will also be able to recognize the main poetical forms, considered under a critical perspective and placed within the frame of the history of the discipline on a case-by-case basis (with special reference to companions, monographs, essays, and lexica focused on the topic).
Knowledge of Greek language is mandatory.


[Please see below for an updated version of the prerequisites and learning outcomes for Dr Lynch's course]


The present course will offer an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the study of ancient Greek metre and rhythm, rooted in the awareness that ancient Mousikē – ‘the arts of the Muses’ – did not cover only music, poetry or any other individual form of expression but was intrinsically multimedia in nature.
The approach to ancient metre and rhythm that will be presented in this course will therefore combine traditional philological and literary elements with musical as well as philosophical approaches, in keeping with the latest research insights and methods developed in the study of ancient Greek music.

Ancient Greece was a ‘song culture’, and our work will be constantly informed by the awareness that Archaic and Classical Greek poetry was not simply read/recited, but was primarily composed to be sung, and at times also danced.

Hence we will examine metrical forms in the light of the specific kinds of performances they were traditionally associated with (e.g. dactylic hexameters in the performance context of Homeric poetry, and in the light of the metrical and rhythmical evidence preserved by Aristides Quintilianus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus; dochmiacs in the light of their use in tragedy as well as the ethical/aesthetic features that are associated with them in ancient scholarship,and their appearance in one of the most famous Greek musical fragments that have survived to date, which comes from Euripides’ Orestes; and so on for other kinds of metres).

Given that Greek metre was explicitly conceptualized as a component of musical rhythm at least from Classical times, we will integrate metrical notions with rhythmical ones. We will therefore look at some basic aspects of ancient rhythmics as well as the aesthetic characterization and perception of different rhythms and their basic elements.

Our work will be based on original sources as much as possible, starting from English translations offered in the books listed as essential in the bibliography given below (point 1a). Students who have prior knowledge of ancient Greek should consult also the critical editions listed under 1b.

Further texts and English translations will be circulated in class; handbooks and other reference works will be mentioned whenever relevant, and will be useful for further independent study (see point 2 below).


All lectures and tutorials will be delivered in English, but Dr Lynch is bilingual in English and Italian and will therefore be able to answer questions in Italian too, addressing any unclear aspects if necessary.

The tutorial elements of this course will feature a ‘hands-on’ approach, including basic training in metrical scansion. Therefore attendance is strongly recommended; students who cannot attend in person, but are still interested in taking the exam, can contact Dr Lynch to make individual arrangements.

Lectures will begin on October 1st 2019 and will run until mid-December.
We will have two lectures per week, with the exception of the second week of October and the first week of December.

The final timetable will be confirmed as soon as possible.


Prior knowledge of Ancient Greek will be required only for students reading 'Tradizione e interpretazione dei testi letterari' (see the bibliography detailed below; further details will be given in class).

The course is however open also to students reading other subjects, or coming from different backgrounds, who do not have prior knowledge of ancient Greek but are interested in the topics we will discuss.

They are warmly invited to join the course too – as clarified above, we will work primarily on English translations of ancient sources on metre and rhythm; and other basic aspects of Greek prosody and metre will be explained in terms accessible to students who know how to read the Greek alphabet.
Greekless students will therefore need to learn the alphabet and practice reading elementary Greek sentences on their own (even if they won’t be able to translate them): these skills can be easily acquired by consulting the pronunciation guide and practice exercises given on Mastronarde's excellent website
Said students would also greatly benefit from attending the 'Laboratory of Ancient Greek' that will start in the first semester, taught by Dr Dino Piovan. More advanced metrical/rhythmical skills will be acquired in class, and will be assessed in the final exam in keeping with the students' prior acquaintance with ancient languages.

Hence the only absolute prerequisite to attend and profit from this course is having an interest in interdisciplinary approaches to ancient literature and music, and a willingness to engage with ancient texts in a fresh way.


The primary aim of this course is for students to become familiar with the terminology and concepts that characterized the ancient Greek study of metrics and rhythmics as components of the wider study of musical performances.

They will also acquire basic knowledge of the prosodic features of the ancient Greek language, and of the main families of lyric metres employed in Archaic and Classical poetry, with special emphasis on tragic metre.

Students will also be aware of the interplay between metrical and rhythmical forms, and the possible transformations that metrical sequences underwent in rhythmical delivery (rhythmopoiia), as described in ancient sources.

Finally, students will be acquainted with some ancient Greek musical fragments, and will understand the criteria that inform their transcription into modern musical notation.


1a. Essential for all students

Primary sources (in translation)

• Barker, A. 1989. Greek Musical Writings 2. Cambridge. (esp. pp. 392–494, Aristides Quintilianus, Books I and II; and pp. 185–189, Aristoxenus’ Elementa Rhythmica).
• Pearson, L. 1990. Aristoxenus, Elementa rhythmica. Oxford. (extracts)
• Kovacs, D. 1994 Euripides. Cyclops. Alcestis. Medea (Loeb Classical Library 12). Harvard.

Secondary literature

• West. M. L. 1987. Introduction to Greek Metre. Oxford.
• West, M. L. 1992/1994. Ancient Greek Music. Oxford. (esp. pp. 129–159, ‘Rhythm and Tempo’)
• Silva Barris, J. 2010. Metre and Rhythm in Greek Verse. Vienna.
• Lynch, T. 2016. ‘Arsis and Thesis in Ancient Rhythmics and Metrics: a New Approach’, Classical Quarterly 66.2, pp. 491–513.

1b. Critical editions/commentaries to be consulted by students who have prior knowledge of ancient Greek ('Tradizione')

• Winnington-Ingram, R. P. 1963. Aristidis Quintiliani De musica libri tres (Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum Et Romanorum Teubneriana). Leipzig.
• Pearson, L. 1990. Aristoxenus, Elementa rhythmica. Oxford. (Greek texts)
• Najock, D. 1975. Anonyma de musica scripta Bellermanniana (Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum Et Romanorum Teubneriana). Leipzig.
• Jan, C. von. 1895. Musici scriptores Graeci (Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum Et Romanorum Teubneriana). Leipzig.
• Mastronarde, D. 2002. Euripides: Medea (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics). Cambridge.

2. General reference works, handbooks and companions

• West, M. L. 1982. Greek Metre. Oxford.
• Pöhlmann, E. & West, M. L. 2001. Documents of Ancient Greek Music. Oxford.
• Martinelli, M.M. 1995. Gli strumenti del poeta. Elementi di metrica greca. Bologna
• Ercoles, M. 2016. ‘La Metrica Greca Oggi: Principali Tendenze; Aggionamento’, in Maas, P. La Metrica Greca, Cesena, 201–265. ( )
• Budelmann, F. 2009. The Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric. Cambridge. (esp. chapters 7–15)
• Lourenço, F. 2011. The Lyric Metres of Euripidean Drama. Coimbra.
• Gentili, B., and Lomiento, L. 2003. Metrica e ritmica. Storia delle forme poetiche nella Grecia antica. Milano.

Further secondary literature will be mentioned in class.

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
West, M. L. Ancient Greek Music Oxford 1994 (esp. pp. 129–159, ‘Rhythm and Tempo’)
Pearson, L. Aristoxenus, Elementa rhythmica. the Fragments of Book II and the additional evidence for Aristoxenean rhythmic theory. Oxford 1990 (extracts)
Lynch, T. 'Arsis and Thesis in Ancient Rhythmics and Metrics: a New Approach’ Classical Quarterly 66.2, pp. 491–513 2016
Kovacs, D. Euripides. Cyclops. Alcestis. Medea (Loeb Classical Library 12) Harvard 1994 (Introduction and English translation of Euripides' Medea)
Barker, A. Greek Musical Writings 2 Cambridge 1989 (esp. pp. 392–494, Aristides Quintilianus, Books I and II; and pp. 185–189, Aristoxenus’ Elementa Rhythmica)
West. M. L. Introduction to Greek Metre Oxford 1987
Silva Barris, J. Metre and Rhythm in Greek Verse OEAW, Vienna 2010

Assessment methods and criteria

Oral examinations will assess the students’ knowledge and understanding of the basic issues, sources and topics discussed in class. These examinations will cover at least the following topics/skills:

1. the importance and methodological implications of an interdisciplinary study of ancient Greek metre and rhythm; the historical, literary and philological developments of these studies in the last decades; the most important reference works, methods and tools to be employed in the study of Greek and Roman music.
2. the student's knowledge of the basic concepts and categories developed by the ancients in connection with the study of metrics and rhythmics;
3. the student’s familiarity with basic kinds of lyric metres, and some specialised questions concerning tragic forms; in addition, students reading 'Tradizione' will be asked to read and scan a few extracts from Greek texts that we will have discussed in class.
4. Extra marks will be awarded to students who will examine the metrical/rhythmical form of one of the ancient Greek musical documents that they will be free to choose from Pöhlmann, E. & West, M. L. 2001. Documents of Ancient Greek Music. Oxford.

Knowledge of general methodological issues, basic concepts/categories concerning Greek rhythm and metre, and more specialised issues concerning tragedy and metrical scansion will all contribute to the final mark (out of 30). Distinction may also be awarded to excellent candidates.