Philodamus, Aristonous & Isyllus: Paeans

The paean was an ancient form of Greek poetry, used in the worship of gods. The best known examples were the Paeans of Pindar, written in the 5th century B.C.; some fragments of these have been discovered in Egyptian papyri ( ). It was probably in the 4th century B.C. that Ariphron of Sicyon composed a famous paean to Hygieia, which is quoted by Athenaeus ( 15.702 ) and other authors. Some other notable paeans from the 4th-2nd centuries B.C. have been preserved in inscriptions; and six of them are translated here.


Traditionally, paeans were addressed either to Apollo or to Asclepius. This paean of Philodamus, which was was found in an inscription at Delphi, may have been one of the first to be addressed to Dionysus. At the end of the inscription there is part of a decree of Delphi, in honour of "Philodamus of Scarpheia, the son of Aenesidamus", passed when Etymondas was archon (probably 340/39 B.C.); the decree states that the paean to Dionysus was composed by Philodamus and his brothers.

Adapted from the translation by E.L.Bowie, "Hymnic Narrative and the Narratology of Greek Hymns", pp.101-105. The Greek text is available in the PHI database of inscriptions ( BCH_19(1895).393 ). For some comments on the paean to Dionysus, see a M.Fantuzzi in "A Companion to Hellenistic Literature", pp.189-192 ( Google Books ).

Come here lord, Dithyrambus, Bacchus greeted with "hail", bull, ivy-tressed, Roarer, come in these spring times that are holy - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - whom in Thebes once, where "hail" is cried, Thyone of fair children bore to Zeus, and all the immortals danced, and all mortals rejoiced 10 at your birth, O Bacchian. Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.

Lo, on that day there was Bacchic dance in the mighty-famed land of Cadmus, and the vale of the Minyans, and (?) Euboea fair in crops - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - and 20 all Delphi's holy, blessed land was dancing, brimming with hymns.† And you yourself, your starry body displaying, with Delphian girls took your place on the folds of Parnassus. Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.† †

And in your hand brandishing your night-lighting flame, with god-possessed frenzy you went to the vales of Eleusis 30 rich in flowers - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - where the whole people of Hellas' land, alongside your own native witnesses of the holy mysteries, calls upon you as Iacchus : for mortals from their pains you have opened a haven without toils. Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.

40 In all-night festivals and dances . . . †
. . .† 50 Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.

From that prosperous land you voyaged to Thessaly's cities and to the holy precinct of Olympus and Pieria the renowned - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - and the Muses forthwith, the maidens, crowned themselves with ivy and in a circle 60 danced and sang around you: they hymned "immortal forever Paean and renowned" with their voices; and Apollo led their song.† Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.

* * *†

The god commands the Amphictyons to bring the work to completion with speed, so the Far-shooter may restrain his wrath - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - 110 and to present this hymn for his brother in the annual welcoming of the gods, the holy family, and to present a sacrifice together with prosperous Hellas' collective supplications. Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.

O blessed and prosperous is that generation of mortals, which will 120 establish an unageing, unpollutable temple for the lord Phoebus - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - golden with golden images [where] the goddesses encircle (?) Paean . . . his hair gleaming in ivory and with an indigenous wreath. Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city 130 with a blessed era of prosperity.

And for the five-yearly Pythian Festival he has ordered his ministers that a sacrifice shall be performed to Bacchus and a cyclic competition for many choruses - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - and like the rays of the rising sun, a delicate statue of Bacchus in a chariot drawn by lions shall be set up, and a suitable grotto for the most godly 140 god shall be created. Hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.

Come then, welcome the Bacchants' Dionysus and in the streets, together with choruses with ivy in their tresses, call upon him - O io Bacchus, O hail Paean - throughout all of prosperous Hellas 150 . . .† Hail lord of health, hail Paean, come, saviour, kindly preserve this city with a blessed era of prosperity.


The inscription that contains this paean is dated to c. 334/3 B.C., and it also contains a hymn to Hestia, although that is not in the form of a paean.

Adapted from the translation by W.D.Furley & J.M.Bremer, "Greek Hymns: The texts in translation", p.119. † The decree of Delphi in honour of Aristonous, together with the hymn to Hestia, can be found in Syll_449.

Permanent occupant of the holy Pythian oracle, founded by gods on the mountain flanking Delphi Apollo - O hail Paean - Apollo, pride and joy of Leto, Coeus' daughter, and by the will of Zeus, supreme among the gods - O Paean.

There from your prophetic seat 10 waving fresh-cut laurel sprigs, you pursue the art of prophecy - O hail Paean - from the awesome inner temple: the sacred course of the future with oracles and melodious chords on the lyre - O Paean.

Purged in the Vale of Tempe by the will of Zeus on high, helped by Pallas on your way 20 to Pytho - O hail Paean - you talked Gaia, the flower-nurse, and Themis of the lovely hair, into giving you the perfumed seat of power - O Paean.

So, as gods know gratidtue, you grant Athena pride of place at the threshold of your holy temple - O hail Paean - you thank her for her kindness, 30 the kindness she showed long ago you remember always: sumptuous is her honour - O Paean.

The gods make generous donations: Poseidon a most religious site, the Nymphs a grotto called Corycian - O hail Paean - Dionysus torch-lit mountain revels.† Stern Artemis patrols the land with her well-trained pack 40 of guard-dogs - O Paean.

So you who beautify your body in the gushing waters of Castalia from the slopes of Mount Parnassus, I beseech you - O hail Paean - receive with grace the hymn we sing, grant us wealth with decency for ever, protect us with your presence - O Paean.


This poem - a strange mixture of religious hymn and political tract - was inscribed on a wall of the temple of Asclepius in Epidaurus, along with two statements in prose (A and E). Nothing else is known of Isyllus, who either composed or commissioned it. The poem was written in a variety of different metres; there is a commentary by M.Fantuzzi in "A Companion to Hellenistic Literature", pp.183-188 ( Google Books ).

The translation is adapted from E. & L.Edelstein, "Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies" (T.296, T.516, T.594, T.295). The Greek text is available in the PHI database of inscriptions ( IG_4.1.128 ).

[A]   Isyllus of Epidaurus, the son of Socrates, dedicated this to Apollo Maleatas and to Asclepius.

[B]   If the city properly educates men for aristocracy, it becomes itself mightier, for it is raised up by manly virtue. But if one who is properly educated sets his course back, falling again into baseness, then the city will be safer in chastising him. This opinion I held before and I pronounced it and I pronounce it now. I vowed to inscribe it in stone if our law which I introduced would confirm that opinion. This came about not without the help of the gods.

[C]   10 This law, sacred by divine Fate, Isyllus composed, an imperishable, everlasting gift to the immortal gods; and all the people, lifting their hands to the wide heaven, to the blessed gods, set it up as a binding rule of our fatherland : to select and to summon by tribes whichever men may be best in this city of Epidaurus, those who have in their hearts virtue and reverence that safeguard the city; to summon them and to have them lead a procession to lord Phoebus and to his son Asclepius, the physician , dressed in white raiment and with flowing hair; to lead a solemn procession to the temple of Apollo bearing garlands of laurel 20 and then to the temple of Asclepius bearing branches of tender olive shoots ; to pray them to grant forever to all citizens and to their children fair health and to grant that the noble character of the men of Epidaurus always prevail, together with good order and peace and blameless wealth from season to season so long as they reverence this law. So may Zeus the far-seeing spare us.

[D]   Malus first built the altar of Apollo Maleatas and made the precinct splendid with sacrifices. Not even in Thessalian Tricca would you attempt 30 to go down into the adyton of Asclepius unless you first sacrifice on the holy altar of Apollo Maleatas.

[E]   Isyllus bade Astylaïdas consult the oracle in Delphi for him concerning the paean which he composed in honour of Apollo and Asclepius, whether it would be better for him to inscribe the paean on stone. The oracle replied: "It would be better for him to inscribe it on stone both for the present time and for days to come."

[F]   O people, praise the god to whom "Hail, Paean" is sung, you who dwell in this sacred Epidaurus. For thus the message came to the ears of our forefathers, O Phoebus Apollo. 40 Zeus the Father is said to have given the Muse Erato to Malus as his bride in holy wedlock. Then Phlegyas, who dealt in Epidaurus, his fatherland, married the daughter of Malus whom Erato, her mother, bore, and her name was Cleophema. By Phlegyas then a child was begotten, and she was named Aeglē ; this was her name, but because of her beauty she was also called Coronis. Then Phoebus of the golden bow, beholding her in the palace of Malus, ended her maidenhood. You went into her lovely bed, O golden-haired son of Leto. I revere you. Then in the perfumed temple Aeglē bore a child, and the son of Zeus, 50 together with the Fates and Lachesis, the noble midwife, eased her birth pains. Apollo named him Asclepius from his motherís name, Aeglē the reliever of illness, the granter of health, great boon to mankind. Hail Paean, hail Paean. Asclepius, increase your maternal city of Epidaurus, send bright health to our hearts and bodies, hail Paean, hail Paean

[G]   And of your power, Asclepius, you gave this example in the days when Philip, wishing to destroy the royal authority, led his army against Sparta. 60 To them from Epidaurus Asclepius came as a helper, honouring the race of Heracles, which consequently Zeus spared. He came at the time when the sick boy came from Bosporus. Shining in your golden armour, you met him as he approached Asclepius; and when the boy beheld you, he drew near to you, stretching forth his hand and entreated you in suppliant words : "I have no share in your gifts, Asclepius Paean ; have pity on me." Then you addressed these words to me clearly : "Take heart, for I shall come to you in due time - just wait here - after I have rescued the Lacedaemonians from grievous doom 70 because they justly guard the precepts of Apollo which Lycurgus ordained for the city, after he had consulted the oracle." And so he went to Sparta. But my thoughts stirred me to announce the divinity's advent to the Lacedaemonians, everything in exact order. They listened to me as I spoke the message of safety, Asclepius, and you saved them. And they called upon all to welcome you with honours due a guest, proclaiming you the Saviour of spacious Lacedaemon. These words, O far the best of all the gods, Isyllus set up for you, honouring your power, O Lord, as is seemly.


This paean was found in an inscription at Erythrae, which appears to have been written c.380-360 B.C. This paean remained in use for many centuries, and later copies of it have been found in Athens, Macedonia and Egypt.

Adapted from the translation by P.A.LeVen, in "The Many-Headed Muse", pp.286-293 ( Google Books ). The Greek text is available in the PHI database of inscriptions ( Erythrai_1 , lines 56-76 ). In the space after the end of this copy of the paean, a new paean to king Seleucus was added, probably in 281 B.C.; only the first two lines have survived.

Sing, young men, Paean famous for his skill, the far-darting son of Leto - hail Paean - he who engendered a great delight for mortals, after mingling in love with Coronis in the land of Phlegyas - hail Paean, Asclepius, most famous divinity, hail Paean.

From him descend also Machaon and Podaleirius and Iaso {"Healer"}, hail Paean - and fair-eyed Aegle {"Radiance"} and Panacea {"Cure-all"}, children of Epione {"Sweetness"}, along with shining Hygieia {"Health"}, the all-famous - hail Paean, Asclepius, most famous divinity, hail Paean.

Hail, in your kindness come to my large-plained city - hail Paean - and give us to delight in seeing the light of the sun, esteemed in the company of shining Hygieia, the all-famous - hail Paean, Asclepius, most famous divinity, hail Paean.

Over the libations, sing of Seleucus, son of dark-haired Apollo, whom the god of the golden lyre himself begot . . .

The paean to Asclepius was combined with a paean to Apollo in an Athenian inscription, probably of the first century B.C., which has been translated by J.D.Mikalson in "Religion in Hellenistic Athens", pp.267-8 ( Google Books ). The Greek text of this is available in the PHI database of inscriptions ( IG_2.4473 & SEG_23.126 ).

Sing of the well-quivered, silver-bowed Delian son of Zeus
  with an eager heart and a fair sounding tongue. Hail Paean.
Put in your hand the beautiful olive branch of a suppliant
  and the glorious bough, young men of Athens. Hail Paean.
And may a faultless hymn sing of the son of Leto
  [ . . . . . . Hail Paean. ]
Who once begot the helper against diseases and human misery,
  Asclepius, an eager young man. Hail Paean.
On the peaks of Pelion a centaur taught him the craft
  and wisdom that ward off pains for mortals.
He is the child of Coronis, gentle to men, a most revered deity.
From him were begotten the young men Podaleirius and Machaon,
  two healers of the spear's wounds for Greeks, [hail Paean],
and Iaso, Arceso, Aegle, and Panacea, the daughters
  of Epione, together with the very distinguished Hygieia. Hail Paean.
Hail, great benefit to mortals, most famous deity, [hail Paean],
Asclepius, and grant that we, singing of your wisdom, always flourish
  in life with most pleasant Hygieia. Hail Paean.
May you always come and save the Attic city of Cecrops. Hail Paean.
Be gentle, blessed one, and keep away hated diseases. Hail Paean.


This paean is also known as the First Delphic Hymn, and is famous for containing one of the few examples of musical notation to have survived from antiquity. Both the name of the author and the date have been disputed, but it is now generally believed to have been written by a musician called Athenaeus in 128 B.C.   Adapted from the translation by J.G.Landels, in "Music in Ancient Greece and Rome", who also provides a transcription of the musical score ( pages 226-236 - PDF ). The Greek text is available in the PHI database of inscriptions ( FD_3.2.137 ).

Hear us, ye who are assigned to dwell on Helicon where the trees grow tall, fair-armed daughters of Zeus the Lord of Thunder; come, that you may delight with songs your brother Phoebus with the golden hair - he who comes with the far-famed nymphs of Delphi over the twin peaks of this Parnassian cliff, to visit the ever-flowing Castalian springs, and to preside over the oracular rock on the Delphic headland.

Behold, Attica with its great city {Athens} is at prayer, 10 dwellers on the unconquered land of the armed Tritonian goddess; and on the holy altars Hephaestus {i.e. fire} consumes the thighs of bull-calves; and together with the smoke, Arabian incense rises to the heavens. And the shrill, blaring aulos weaves a melody with fluttering notes, and the golden, sweet-voiced cithara blends with the song of praise.

And the entire crowd of musicians, dwellers in Attica, sing in your honour beside this snow-capped mountain, son of great Zeus, renowned [cithara-player]; 20 you who reveal to all mankind prophecies that never fail and are always true, now that you have captured the prophetic tripod [that the hostile serpent guarded] when [with your arrows] you wounded the dappled, squirming [beast, until the monster], uttering many a defiant hiss, [breathed his last].

. . . and as the aggression of the Galatians . . .


This paean, written in 128 B.C., is also known as the Second Delphic Hymn. It contains many similarities to the paean of Athenaeus, but is rather better preserved.   Adapted from the translation by J.G.Landels, in "Music in Ancient Greece and Rome", who also provides a transcription of the musical score ( pages 236-246 - PDF ). The Greek text is available in the PHI database of inscriptions ( FD_3.2.138 ).

Come ye to this twin-peaked slope of Parnassus with distant views, [where dancers are welcome], and [lead me in my songs], Pierian Goddesses who dwell on the snow-swept crags of Helicon. Sing in honour of Pythian Phoebus, golden-haired, skilled archer and musician, whom blessed Leto bore beside the celebrated marsh, grasping with her hands a sturdy branch of the grey-green olive tree in her time of travail.

And the whole vault of heaven rejoiced, [cloudless and bright] and the air subdued to calmness the swift rushing of winds, 10 and the [mighty] deep-thunderous swell of Nereus subsided, and great Oceanus who surrounds and embraces the earth with his waters. Then, leaving the island where Mount Cynthus stands, the god crossed over to the famed land of Attica where the first crops were grown, landing on the earth-peaked headland of the Tritonian goddess.

And the Libyan aulos, pouring forth a honey-sweet sound, sings forth, mingling its delightful voice with the trilling melodies [of the cithara]; and Echo, who lives among the rocks, cries forth ['Hail Paean, Hail Paeaní]. And he {Apollo} rejoiced, because he had received into his mind and understood the immortal thoughts of Zeus. And so, from that beginning we call on him as Healer {Paiōn}, all of us who have always lived in this land, 20 and the great, inspired holy crowd of the Artists of Dionysus, who dwell in the city of Cecrops.

But you, O god who owns the oracular tripod, come to this ridge of Parnassus where the gods tread, and where divine possession is welcomed. Weave a crown of bay about your wine-dark hair, and drawing with your hand . . . you encountered the monstrous child of Gaia . . .

But, O scion of Leto of the lovely eyelids, you slew the savage child of Gaia with your arrows, [and in the same way Tityus, because he] lusted after your mother . . . the beast you slew . . . 30 hissing from its lair . . . Then you guarded the shrine of Gaia, beside the navel-stone, O master, when the aggression of the barbarians, looting the hidden treasures, with no reverence for your oracular shrine, was destroyed in the whirling snow.

Prosodion:   But, O Phoebus, guard the city of Pallas Athena, founded by the gods, and its renowned people, and with him you, goddess Artemis, mistress of the Cretan bow and hounds, and glorious Leto: and at the same time watch over the folk who live in Delphi, their children and their livelihood. And come with kindly intent to the servants of Dionysus who have won holy victories; and may the Roman dominion, crowned with mighty force of arms, be ever increased, vigorous and ageless in glorious 40 victory.

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