Avery D Andrews
School of Language Studies
The Australian National University

Homeric Recitation

These pages are intended to present a technique for reciting the Homeric poems, based largely on the work of A.M. Devine and L.D. Stephens (1994). Here is a short sample, the beginning of Odyssey book 11 (O's voyage to the Land of the Dead) with a translation synchronized mostly by half-lines (to the best extent I've managed so far):

(Direct Link in case the above is a problem)

As you can hear, this is quite sing-songy; the reason is that Ancient Greek had what is called a 'pitch accent' system whereby each word had a tune, different from its rhythm, so that when a string of words is formed into a line, the word-tunes fit together to make a line-tune. This is quite different from what happens in English and other familiar European languages, and also Latin, where words have rhythm, but not individual tunes, and the 'pitch contour' (that is, tune) of a sentence is determined by meaning and grammar, and a reciter of poetry has much more latitude.

For more samples, mostly only audio, see Samples section (I'm working on upgrading these to include synchronized translation and technically better audio).

The Homeric poems and their antecedents were performed in at least two different styles, that of the `aoidoi', who sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument, providing dinnertime entertainment to aristocrats, and that of the `rhapsodes', who performed without accompaniment (but holding a staff) at religious festivals and other public venues. This site presents a hypothetical rhapsodic style. Danek and Hagel have worked out a plausible-sounding aoidic style.

Trying to recite Homer in anything vaguely resembling either of the original styles raises a host of issues; some of them are discussed in the Styles, Pitch and Rhythm sections of this site. Additional (currently older) samples are provided in the Samples A word of warning for Homeric beginners: these poems have been under study for at least 2500 years and probably longer, from many points of view, and virtually every idea that can be formulated semi-coherently has been proposed, and passionately advanced by some people and equally passionately opposed by others, and the answers to the most interesting questions will never been known for certain. So opinions and conjectures can be more or less defensible, but not right or wrong. Another thing to remember is that these poems and their antecedents were performed for well over a thousand years years, in at least two major styles and probably many variants. There may be many different techniques which can display their inherent beauty; just because one sounds good to us does not mean that it is very similar to anything that was actually done in Ancient Greece.

Created by: Avery Andrews
Maintained by: Avery Andrews
Last modified: 4 April 2021