previous next


*Te/rpandros), of Lesbos, was the father of Greek music, and through it of lyric poetry, although his own poetical compositions were few and in extremely simple rhythms.

Muller, whose account of Terpander is so excellent, that it is necessary to follow him to a great extent, has justly remarked that, setting aside the mythological traditions about early minstrels, such as Orpheus, Philammon, Chrysothemis, and others, the history of Greek music begins with Terpander. But Müller, and other scholars, have pointed out the fact, that Terpander may be connected with one of the most interesting and important of those traditions. The beautiful fable, which told how the head and lyre of Orpheus, cast upon the waves by the Thracian Maenads, were borne to Lesbos, and there received with religious honours, was doubtless an allegory, signifying the transference of the art of music to that island from Pieria, which the ancients afterwards confounded with Thrace; a transference which is confirmed by the undoubted tradition, that Lesbos was colonised by the Aeolians of Boeotia, who were of the same race as the Pierians, and who had among them one of the earliest seats of the worship of the Muses, upon Mount Helicon. [ORPHEUS.] Now the very town in Lesbos, at which the grave of Orpheus was shown, and where the nightingales were said to sing most sweetly, Antissa, was the birthplace of Terpander. The presumption that he belonged to one of those families in which, according to the Greek custom, the art was handed down from father to son, is strengthened by the significancy of his name; and this significant name, again, finds numerous parallels in the early history of other arts as well as music [CHEIRISOPHUS; EUCHEIRUS; EUGRAMMUS]. It is not unreasonable to suppose, further, that the race of musicians, from which Terpander was descended, preserved traditions and rules which they had originally derived from the Pierian bards. The tradition which made him a decendant of Hesiod (Suid. s. v.) furnishes incidentally a certain degree of confirmation of these views. What Terpander himself effected for the art is thus described by Müller: -- " Terpander appears to have been properly the founder of Greek music. He first reduced to rule the different modes of singing which prevailed in different countries, and formed, out of these rude strains, a connected system, from which the Greek music never departed throughout all the improvements and refinements of later ages. Though endowed with an inventive mind, and the commencer of a new era of music, he attempted no more than to systematize the musical styles which existed in the tunes of Greece and Asia Minor." (Hist. of the Lit. of Anc. Greece, vol. i. p. 149.)

His father's name is said to have been Derdeneus (Marm. Par. Ep. 34), while another account made him the son of Boeus, the son of Phoceus, the son of Homer. (Suid. s. v.) There can be no doubt that he was a Lesbian, and that Antissa was his native town. (Pind. apud Ath. xiv. p. 635d.; Marm. Par. l.c. ; Plut. de Mus. 30, p. 1141c.; Clem. Alex. Strom. vol. i. p. 309; Steph. Byz. s. v. Ἄντισσα; Suid. s. vv. Τέρπανδρος, Μετὰ Λέσ-βιον ᾠδόν.) The other accounts, preserved by Suidas (s. v.), which made him a native either of Arne in Boeotia, or of Cyme in Aeolis, are easily explained, and are connected with what has been already said in an interesting manner. Both Arne and Cyme were among the Aeolian cities which were said to have sent colonies to Lesbos, and both might therefore have claimed to reckon Terpander among their citizens, on the general principle by which the natives of Grecian colonies were regarded as citizens of the parent state; and, besides this, the tradition connecting him with Arne, one of the oldest cities of Boeotia, is another indication of his descent from the Pierians, while the claim of Cyme is probably connected with the traditions which derived his genealogy from Homer or from Hesiod. (See Plehn, Lesbiaca, pp. 140-142.) The statement of Diodorus (6.28, apud Tzetz. Chil. 1.16) that he was a native of Methymna, must be regarded as simply a mistake.

The age at which Terpander flourished is generally considered one of the best ascertained dates of that remote period of chronology; although the still more important question of his relation, in point of time, to the other early musicians, Olympus and Clonas, and to the earliest iambic and elegiac poets, Archilochus and Callinus, and the lyric poets Tyrtaeus and Alcman, is allowed to present very great difficulties. As to the first point, C. O. Müller says that " it is one of the most certain dates of the more 1 ancient chronology, that in the 26th Olympiad (B. C. 676) musical contests were first introduced at the feast of Apollo Carneius [at Sparta], and at their first celebration Terpander was crowned victor." (Hist. Lit. Anc. Greece, vol. i. p. 150, vol. i. p. 268 of the German; comp. Dor. b. 4.6.1; and Mr. Grote echoes the statement, that " this is one of the best ascertained points among the obscure chronology of the seventh century " (Hist. of Greece, vol. iv. p. 102); and in the two great chronological works of Clinton and Fischer (s. a. 676), the date is laid down as certain.) The ancient authorities for this statement are Hellanicus (Athen. 14.635f., Fr. 122, ed. Car. Müller, Frag. Hist. vol. i. p. 627, in Didot's Bibliotheca), and Sosibius the Lacedaemonian (Ath. l.c., Fr. 3, ed. Müller, ibid. vol. ii. p. 625); of whom the former gives us only the fact, that Terpander was the first victor at the Carneia, without the date; and the latter gives us only the date of the institution of the Carneia, without mentioning the victory of Terpander : the combination of the two statements, on which the force of the chronological argument rests, is made by Athenaeus, whose only object, however, in making it is to prove that Terpander was older than Anacreon; and who, in the very same sentence, quotes the statement of Hieronymus (de Poetis), that Terpander was contemporary with Lycurgus. Mr. Grote says (p. 103, note), " That Terpander was victor at the Spartan festival of the Karneia, in 676, B. C., may well have been derived by Hellanikus from the Spartan registers; " and a similar meaning has been put upon the phrase used by Athenaeus, ὡς Ἑλλάνικος ἱστορεῖ, ἔν τε τοῖς ἐμμέτροις Καρνεονίκαις, κἀν τοῖς καταλογάδην : but, granting this supposition its full force, Hellanicus does not say that Terpander was victor " in 676, B. C.; " but he does give us, in another fragment, a date irreconcileable with this, namely, that Terpander flourished in the time of Midas. (Clem. Alex. Strom. vol. i. p. 398, Potter; Fr. 123, ed. Müller. l.c.) The date 676, B. C., for the institution of the Carneia, therefore, rests alone on the testimony of Sosibius, for it can hardly be doubted that the same date, as given by Africanus (Euseb. Chron. pars i. Ol. 26. p. 144, ed. Mai, vol. i. p. 285, ed. Aucher) was copied from the χρόνων ἀναγραφή of Sosibius. Still Sosibius alone would undoubtedly be a very high authority ; but, in addition to the caution which is required in dealing with indirect evidence, and in addition to the testimonies which assign a different date to Terpander, it may be questioned whether the date of Sosibius for the institution of the Carneia is to be understood literally, or whether it was not derived from some other epoch by a computation which, on a different chronological system, would have given a different result. There can be little doubt that the records of Sparta, which Sosibius "may well have" followed were kept, not by Olympiads, but by the reigns of the kings, and that, in turning the dates of those early kings into Olympiads, Sosibius computed from the date which he assumed for the Trojan War, namely B. C. 1180 ; and that, if he had taken a different date for the Trojan War, e. g. that of B. C. 1217, he would, by the same computation, have placed the institution of the Carneia at Ol. 16, a date which would agree well enough with that really given by Hellanicus. (See Car. Müller, Frag. Hist. vol. ii. p. 626.) On the whole, then, it seems probable that the date of B. C. 676 is not quite so certain as it has been represented.

With respect to the other testimonies, that of Hellanicus, already referred to, is rendered some-what indefinite by the, at least partly, mythological character of Midas; but, if the date has any historical value at all, it would place Terpander at least as high as Ol. 20, B. C. 700, the date of the death of Midas, according to Eusebius. confirmed by Herodotus (1.14), who makes Midas a little older than Gyges. To the same effect is the testimony of the Lydian historian Xanthus, who lived before Hellanicus, and who placed Terpander at Ol. 18, B. C. 708 (Clem. Alex. Strom. vol. i. p. 398, Potter). Glaucus of Rhegium also, who lived not long after Hellanicus, stated that Terpander was older than Archilochus, and that he came next after those who first composed aulodic music, meaning perhaps Olympus and Clonas; and Plutarch, who quotes this statement (de Mus. iv. p. 1132e.) introduces it with the remark, καὶ τοῖς χρόνοις δὲ σφόδρα παλαιός ἐστι, and presently afterwards (5, p. 1133a) he adds, as a general historical tradition (παραδίδοται) that Archilochus flourished after Terpander and Clonas. Mr. Grote accepts these testimonies; but draws from them the inference, that Archilochus should be placed lower than he usually is, about B. C. 670 instead of 700. The statement of Hieronymus (Ath. l.c.) that Terpander was contemporary with Lycurgus, is perhaps only another form of the tradition that the laws of Lycurgus were aided by the music and poetry of Terpander and Tyrtaeus, which has evidently no chronological significance. On the other hand, Phanias made Terpander later than Archilochus (Clem. Alex. l.c.), and the chronologers place his musical reform at Ol. 33, 2, B. C. 647 (Euseb.) or Ol. 34. 1, B. C. 644. (Marm. Par. Ep. 34). Lastly, we are told that Terpander was victorious in the musical contest at four successive Pythian festivals ; but there is abundance of evidence to prove that these Pythian musical contests were not those established by the Amphictyons in Ol. 48. 3, but some which had existed long before, and which were celebrated, according to Müller, every eight years, a circumstance which throws doubt on the number of Terpander's victories. (See Müller, Dor. b. 4.6.2; Grote, Hist. of Greece. vol. iv. p. 103, note). These discrepancies will show the great uncertainty attending the chronology of so early a period, and the danger of resting even upon an apparently definite date; although in the present case, the general comparison of the testimonies makes it far from improbable that the date first assigned is about the right one. All that can be said, with any approach to certainty, is that Terpander flourished somewhere between B. C. 700 and 650, and that his career may possibly have extended either a little above the higher, or, less probably, a little below the lower, of those dates.

Fortunately, we have clearer information respecting the scene and the nature of his artistic labours. From motives which were variously stated by tradition, he removed from Lesbos to Sparta, and there introduced his new system of music, and established the first musical school or system (κατάστασις) that existed in Greece. (Plut. de Mus. 9, p. 1134c. : the other authorities respecting the migration of Terpander, the powerful effect of his music on the Spartans, and the honour in which they held him, during his life and after his death, are collected by Plehn, Lesbiaca, p. 147.)

In order to explain fully the musical improvements introduced by Terpander, it would be necessary to enter into the subject of Greek music at greater length than is consistent with the limits of this article, or the plan of the work. A full account of the subject will be found in the Dictionary of Antiquities, art. Musica, in Müller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece, 100.12, and in Böckh (de Metr. Pind. 3.7), It will be enough here to state that Terpander enlarged the compass of the lyre from a tetrachord to an octave; but in a peculiar manner. The old lyre had four strings, which were so tuned that the extreme notes had to one another the relation called by the Greeks διὰ τεσσάρων, the fourth, and the two intermediate notes were such, according to the most ancient genus of music, namely, the diatonic, and the prevailing mode, the Dorian, that the intervals were (ascending) semitone, tone, tone, that is: --

To this tetrachord Terpander added another, the lowest note of which was one tone above the highest of the other, and the intervals of which the same as those of the former that is: --

But, in combining these two tetrachords, he omitted the third string, reckoning from the highest, so that he intervals (ascending) were 1/2, 1, 1, 1, 11/2, 1 2, that is : --

The interval between the extreme notes is an octave, or, as the Greeks called it, διὰ πασῶν. Plutarch (de Mus. 19) adduces arguments to prove that the omission of the third string was intentional; but whether the reason was, the opinion that it could well be dispensed with, or some theoretical preference for the number 7, we are not informed. It was afterwards restored, so that the lyre had eight strings. The following table (from Plehn) shows the names of the strings, and the intervals between them, in the descending order, for each lyre: --

Heptachord. Octachord.
E νήτη E νήτη
  ----------- 1 tone.   ----------- 1 tone.
D παρανήτη D παρανήτη
      ----------- 1 “
  ----------- 11/2 “ C τρίτη
      ----------- 1/2 “
B τρίτη B παραμέση
  ----------- 1 “   ----------- 1 “
A μέση A μέση
  ----------- 1 “   ----------- 1 “
G λιχανός G λιχανός
  ----------- 1 “   ----------- 1 “
F παρυπάτη F παρυπάτη
  ----------- 1/2 “   ----------- 1/2 “
E ὑπάτη E ὑπάτη

The invention of the seven-stringed lyre, or heptachord, is not only ascribed to Terpander by several ancient writers, but it is also referred to in two verses of his own still extant (Eucl. Introd. Harm. p. 19; Strab. xiii. p.618): --

Σοὶ δ᾽ ἡμεῖς τετράγηρυν ἀποστέρξαντες ἀοιδάν
ἑπτατόνῳ φόρμιγγι νέους κελαδήσομεν ὕμνους

It remained in use even as late as the time of Pindar (Pind. P. 2.70, Ncm. 5.22). The invention of the barbiton or magadis, an instrument of greater compass than an octave, is ascribed to Terpander by Pindar, but probably erroneously (Pind. apud Ath. xiv. p. 635d.; Plehn, Lesb. p. 153). It is impossible here to enter on the question whether the lyre of Terpander could be adapted, by tuning its strings differently, to the different modes and genera of Greek music; and whether his own compositions were in any other mode than the Dorian. (See Dict. of Ant. art. Musica.

While Terpander thus enlarged the compass of the lyre, he appears to have been the first who regularly set poetry to music. (Clem. Alex. Strom. vol. i. p. 364b.) Plutarch (de Mus. 3) tells us that he set his own verses and those of Homer to certain citharoedic nomes, and sang them in the musical contests; and that he was the first who gave names to the various citharoedic nomes. These nomes were simple tunes, from which others could be derived by slight variations; and these latter were called μέλη. That the nomes of Terpander were entirely of his own composition, is not very probable, and indeed there is evidence to prove that some of them were derived from old tunes, ascribed to the ancient bards, and others from national melodies. Neither were they all adapted to the rhythm of the heroic hexameter; for among them we find mention made of Trochaic nomes and of Orthian nomes, which consisted in a great extension of certain feet; and there is still extant a fragment of Terpander, which affords a good specimen of those Spondaic hymns which were sung at festivals of peculiar solemnity, and the music of which would of course be in keeping with the gravity of the rhythm and of the meaning (Clem. Al. Strom. vi. p. 784):

Ζεῦ, πάντων ἀρχά, πάντων ἀγήτωρ,
Ζεῦ, σοι πέμπω ταύταν ὕμνων ἀρχάν.

The question, whether any of Terpander's nomes were aulodic, cannot be decided with absolute certainty. Nearly all that we know of him is any connection with citharoedic music; and the arguments adduced to prove that he also used the flute are by no means conclusive; while, on the other hand, the improvement of that species of music is expressly ascribed to other composers, as Olympus and Clonas, who stand in much the same relation to aulodic music as Terpander does to that of the lyre. It is also uncertain whether his nomes were embodied in any written system of musical notation, or whether they were handed down by tradition in the school which he founded. Be this as it may, they remained for a very long period the standard melodies used at religious festivals, and the school of Terpander flourished for many generations at Sparta, and in Lesbos, and throughout Greece. At the festival of the Carneia, where Terpander had been the first to obtain a victory, the prize for lyric music was gained in regular succession by members of his school down to PERICLEITUS, about B. C. 550. Respecting the improvements in citharoedic music after the time of Terpander, see THALETAS.

The remains of Terpander's poetry, which no doubt consisted entirely of religious hymns, are comprised in the two fragments already quoted, and in two others, the one of one hexameter verse (Schol. Aristoph. Cl. 591), and the other of one and a half (Plut. Lyc. 21), and one reference. (Böckh, Plehn, and Müller, as above quoted; Ulrici, Gesch. d. Hellen Dichtk. vol. ii. pp. 341, foll.; Bode, vol. ii. passim; Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. pp. 537, 538.)


1 * Der ältern Chronologie, not, as the English translator gives it, ancient chronology, as if Müllen meant the whole range of ancient chronology.

2 * In Müller, two of these figures are transposed, p. 152, n. He gives the intervals (descending) 1, 1, 11/2, 1, 1, 1/2; they should be 1, 11/2, 1, 1, 1, 1/2. Also in the text, 1. 4, the deficient string is said to have been in the lower tetrachord; it should be the upper.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
700 BC (2)
676 BC (2)
708 BC (1)
670 BC (1)
647 BC (1)
644 BC (1)
550 BC (1)
1217 BC (1)
1180 BC (1)
hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.14
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 591
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: