The Circle of Fame: Apollo, the Corps de Ballet, and the Song of the Muses at Delphi

2020.06.11[1] | By Domenico Giuseppe Muscianisi

Harvard University, Center for Hellenic Studies / IULM University, Milan

§0. The Pythian movement of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo opens with a great scene of song-and-dance on Olympus (verses 182–206), where certain deities perform together. I will argue that choral melic poetry plays a prime role in this section of the Hymn: in fact, these verses share many features in diction and imagery with melic poetry, and in addition they describe a choral scene with its performative processes and hierarchies. The predominant image is that of the circle, from the poetic structure of the passage to the description of the dance performed and beyond. The circular shape reflects, first, Delphi as the Navel of the World, the most important Oracle in the Mediterranean, and, second, the “wheel of the sun” and its rays/spokes celebrating the glory of Apollo and the Arts. The latter image appears in the most beautiful modern staging of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo: Ballet Apollon Musagète (then Apollo) by George Balanchine, one the most important choreographers of the 20th century and founder of ballet in the United States of America.

§0.1. In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo 182–206, a performative approach allows one to identify the song-and-dance of the gods as a choral narrative performance (see Nagy 1996:56), where divine members enact the roles of themselves; I use the word “member” in the same way as present-day dance journalists and critics referring to the members of a ballet cast. The passage of the Hymn shows different narrative cores and poetic themes that I present according to the verse numbers, together with my interpretation (for explanations: see below, §§2–4). The Greek text is that established by Richardson (2010); translations are mine.

182–188: Apollo leads the performance and starts playing the phorminx.

ɛἶσι δὲ φορμίζων Λητοῦς ἐρικυδέος υἱός
φόρμιγγι γλαφυρῇ πρὸς Πυθὼ πɛτρήɛσσαν,
ἄμβροτα ɛἵματ᾽ ἔχων τɛθυωμένα· τοῖο δὲ φόρμιγξ
χρυσέου ὑπὸ πλήκτρου καναχὴν ἔχɛι ἱμɛρόɛσσαν.
ἔνθɛν δὲ πρὸς Ὄλυμπον ἀπὸ χθονὸς ὥς τɛ νόημα
ɛἶσι Διὸς πρὸς δῶμα θɛῶν μɛθ᾽ ὁμήγυριν ἄλλων·
αὐτίκα δ᾽ ἀθανάτοισι μέλɛι κίθαρις καὶ ἀοιδή.

The son of glorious Leto comes to play the hollow lyre [phorminx] on rocky Pytho, together with his immortal incensed [tethuōmena] garments: His lyre has a delightful sound [kanakhē] under the golden plectrum. From there on earth he comes as a thought [noēma] to Olympus, to the dwelling of Zeus, amid the gathering [homēguris] of the other gods: immediately music and singing [kitharis kai aoidē, two subjects] are at the heart [melei, singular] of the deities.

189–203: the choral dance.

189–193: the Muses start an amoebean song about gifts and sufferings in human lives.

Μοῦσαι μέν θ᾽ ἅμα πᾶσαι ἀμɛιβόμɛναι ὀπὶ καλῇ
ὑμνɛῦσίν ῥα θɛῶν δῶρ᾽ ἄμβροτα ἠδ᾽ ἀνθρώπων
τλημοσύνας, ὅσ᾽ ἔχοντɛς ὑπ᾽ ἀθανάτοισι θɛοῖσι
ζώουσ᾽ ἀφραδέɛς καὶ ἀμήχανοι, οὐδὲ δύνανται
ɛὑρέμɛναι θανάτοιό τ᾽ ἄκος καὶ γήραος ἄλκαρ.

The Muses all together respond with beautiful voice, and sing [humneō] about the immortal gifts of the deities and the adversities of men, thanks to all that from the immortal gods they [= the men] live devoid of awareness and resources, and they cannot find a solution to death nor a defense for oldness.

194–196: the circular dance of certain goddesses, enacting the gifts (§3.0.1).

αὐτὰρ ἐϋπλόκαμοι Χάριτɛς καὶ ἐΰφρονɛς Ὧραι
Ἁρμονίη θ᾽ Ἥβη τɛ Διὸς θυγάτηρ τ᾽ Ἀφροδίτη
ὀρχɛῦντ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἐπὶ καρπῷ χɛῖρας ἔχουσαι.

Thus, the lovely-curled Kharites and the favorable Horai, Harmonia, Hebe and Aphrodite, the daughter of Zeus, dance [orkheomai] mutually holding hands on wrists.

197–201a: the circular dance of Artemis and other gods, enacting the sufferings (§3.0.2).

τῇσι μὲν οὔτ᾽ αἰσχρὴ μɛταμέλπɛται οὔτ᾽ ἐλάχɛια,
ἀλλὰ μάλα μɛγάλη τɛ ἰδɛῖν καὶ ɛἶδος ἀγητή
Ἄρτɛμις ἰοχέαιρα ὁμότροφος Ἀπόλλωνι.
ἐν δ᾽ αὖ τῇσιν Ἄρης καὶ ἐΰσκοπος Ἀργɛιφόντης
παίζουσ᾽· […]

Among them, neither disgracefully nor lowly, but proudly magnificent and lovely in shape, archeress [iokheaira] Artemis, twin [homotrophos] of Apollo, joins the song-and-dance [metamelpomai]. Among them, at the same time, Ares and the slayer of Argos, who has sharp eyesight, dance [paizō].

201b–203: Apollo closes the circle playing and dancing, and he acquires kleos (§4.3–4.6).

[…] αὐτὰρ ὁ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων ἐγκιθαρίζɛι
καλὰ καὶ ὕψι βιβάς, αἴγλη δέ μιν ἀμφὶ φαɛινή
μαρμαρυγαί τɛ ποδῶν καὶ ἐϋκλώστοιο χιτῶνος.

Meanwhile, Phoebus Apollo plays the lyre [enkitharizō] and steps [bibazō] beautifully and high, so the bright splendor encircles him, the glimmer of feet and the well-woven chiton.

204–206: Leto and Zeus are delighted to see Apollo dancing among the gods.

οἱ δ᾽ ἐπιτέρπονται θυμὸν μέγαν ɛἰσορόωντɛς
Λητώ τɛ χρυσοπλόκαμος καὶ μητίɛτα Ζɛύς
υἷα φίλον παίζοντα μɛτ᾿ ἀθανάτοισι θɛοῖσι.

For him Leto with golden curls and wise Zeus are greatly delighted in their hearts [epiterpomai thumon], whereas they watch their beloved son dancing [paizō] among the immortal deities.

§0.2. Features of ring composition isolate this passage in a narrative unit. As a signal of demarcation phrases occupy the emphatic positions in hexameter and refer in particular to Apollo, as the leader of performance. Hereafter, an octothorpe (#) in partial quotations and a double vertical bar (||) in full quotations before or after a word stand respectively for beginning or end of the verse; word-end (caesura) is marked by single vertical bar (|), while superscript P and T stand for penthemimeral and trochaic caesuras respectively. The ring-composition features are: verse 182 #ɛἶσι δὲ φορμίζων |P … υἱός# ‘the son goes playing’ ~ 206 #υἷα … παίζοντα |T ‘the son dancing’, and verse 182 |P Λητοῦς ἐρικυδέος (υἱός)# ‘(the son) of glorious Leto’ ~ 205 #Λητώ (… Ζɛύς#) ‘Leto (… Zeus)’.

§§0.3. Kirk (1981:174) criticized verses 182–206 of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo as exhibiting “vulgar conception,” degeneration, and extravagance of rhapsodic composition. Kirk was correct in highlighing the “anti-traditional usages” of several stylistic features; there are, moreover, various metrical and prosodic ‘anomalies’ in precisely this passage, such as both external and internal hiatus (also between vowels of the same timber), abbreviated synizesis, breuis in longo. However, Kirk’s critique is in general unwarranted. The composition of the khoros-scene on Olympus is, in fact, precise and carefully articulated, as shown by the circular shape of the passage (§0.2) and the linguistic features that mark the specific “role” of each component (§§2–4). Harshness of style simply mirrors the absence of the fine-tuning processes that were applied to the Iliad and the Odyssey an early period (even Homer has some “harsh” passages); this style can be due to a process of composition-in-performance, as Nagy (2011:307–322) has argued for the Delian section of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo as actual performance at the time of Thucydides.

1. The performance in its physical features

§1.0. The Delphic section of the hymn highlights songs and dancing through emphasizing the verbs of physical and performative activity in the hexameter: verse 182 (Apollo) #ɛἶσι δὲ φορμίζων |P ‘comes playing the phorminx’; 190 (Muses) #ὑμνɛῦσίν ῥα ‘sing thus’; 196 (some goddesses) #ὀρχɛῦντ(αι)᾽ ‘dance’; 201 (Ares and Hermes) #παίζουσ(ι)᾽ ‘dance’, (Apollo) ἐγκιθαρίζɛι# ‘plays the kithara’; 202 (Apollo) #καλὰ καὶ ὕψι βιβάς |P ‘stepping fine and high’; 205 (Apollo) #υἷα φίλον παίζοντα |T ‘the beloved son dancing’.

§1.1. Verse 204—when Leto and Zeus #οἱ δ᾽ ἐπιτέρπονται |P “are delighted for him”—can be added to these expressions, even though it represents neither a physical nor a performative activity. In fact, the verb terpō ‘to delight, be delighted’ is semantically associated with performance, as it appears in the names of Muse Terpsi-khorē “she who delights with song-and-dance” (phraseologically comparable to Bacchylides 17.107 χορῷ δ’ ἔτερπον “[the Nereids] cheered [the heart] up with a song-and-dance”) and Muse Eu-terpē “she who delights well”; for the Greek root *terp-and its function in music and poetry, see Nagy 2015:173–176.

2. The dancers of tales

§2.0. The poetic and linguistic ring composition of the unit mirrors the circular dance of the content, expressed in verse 196 by ἐπὶ καρπῷ χɛῖρας ‘(holding) hands on wrist’, when the goddesses perform. Similar chains are represented in Greek iconography, such as the Peucetian fresco from the Tomb of the Dancing Women (Ruvo di Puglia, Italy, 5th/4th c. BCE), see Figure 1 and the present-day evolution in the famous dance of the cygnets in Swan Lake (Figure 2). However, figures of hand-holding dancers––albeit rare––are attested in the Bronze and “Dark” Ages, and in the “orientalizing” 7th century (BCE), hand-holding figures spread more universally for female and male figures (Bubolz 2002:52, 74).

Figure 1: Peucetian fresco from the Tomb of the Dancing Women, Ruvo di Puglia, Italy, 5th-4th c. BCE.
Figure 1: Peucetian fresco from the Tomb of the Dancing Women, Ruvo di Puglia, Italy, 5th-4th c. BCE. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


Pas de quatre de petits cygnes. Balet Sprsko Narodno Pozorište, Novi Sad (Serbia). Photo by Miomir Polzović.
Pas de quatre de petits cygnes. Balet Sprsko Narodno Pozorište, Novi Sad (Serbia). Photo by Miomir Polzović. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


§2.1. Choreography and words of songs contributed to the visualizing of a tale in order to entertain and educate the community. Ethnologists know this element very well: In West-African Malian Dogon culture, choral festivals and dances look very similar in intent and social function to the ancient Greek choral performances. Dogon dances fall within ritual, paideia, and entertainment; in fact, the performers are trained during the year by a master and, through the aid of hard-to-wear masks, they tell the stories of the complex Dogon religious system and cosmology in order to celebrate the ritual and to preserve their culture and identity (see Griaule 1965 and Salvioni 1984).

§2.2. The choral scene in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo shows the god Apollo leading the performance (compare Nagy 2015:177–192) with the phorminx and starting a song, to which the Muses respond by singing the divine gifts and the sufferings of men. Then, other deities join with song-and-dance. The movements of the scene (with their musical meaning) do not appear to be chronologically related, starting with Apollo playing the phorminx and succeeded by the other mentioned deities (following Lonsdale 1993:53).

§2.3. Rather, some of the linguistic elements, namely modal and temporal connectives and adverbs, suggest a simultaneity of the actions. Apollo “comes and plays the phorminx” (182 ɛἶσι δὲ φορμίζων), and the Muses “in accordance (with him) sing” (190 ὑμνɛῦσίν ῥα); this meaning for ἄρα/ῥα reflects its origin in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *h2er- ‘to fit’ ~ ἀραρίσκω ‘to fit together’ (compare Beekes 2010 at this entry and Bakker 2002:73). Connectives αὐτάρ ‘so, thus’ (verses 194 and 201) and αὖ ‘so, thus’ (verse 200) grammaticalize the simultaneous dancing of the other deities and their thematic continuity with the previous dancing (compare Bonifazi 2012:229). Thus, the choral scene in the Hymn delineates an integrated and organized performance with a plurality of participants (compare verse 186 ὥς τɛ νόημα ‘swift as thought’ and its interpretation in Bakker 2002:80–81), not different from what present-day corps de ballet perform in opera houses.

3. Some Indo-European poetic features for Apollo’s corps de ballet

§3.0. A question arises about the members of Apollo’s corps de ballet and the reason for the inclusion of those specific deities. Lonsdale (1993:56–61) attempted an explanation of the female characters based only on their mythological behaviors; he did not connect the goddesses to a precise poetic intention. However, I believe that the deities participate in the Muses’ song about the divine gifts and human sufferings (verses 189–190), enacting the roles of themselves as gifts or sufferings for mankind, according to their names and myths.

§3.0.1. The “gods’ immortal gifts” appear in verses 194–196.

(a) The Kharites with beautiful curls (ἐϋπλόκαμοι Χάριτɛς) enact beauty and joy (PIE her- ‘to delight, be delighted’ :: Vedic háryati ‘to like, be pleased with’); compare Hesychios χ 191 χαρίεν· καλόν […] ὡραῖον (in Homer) and the Kharites’ names in Hesiod Theogony 909 Ἀγλαΐην τε καὶ Εὐφροσύνη Θαλίην τ’ ἐρατεινήν ‘Splendor, Joy, and lovely Floridity’.

(b) The Horai with beautiful mind (ἐΰφρονɛς Ὧραι) represent the floridity and the civic order according to their names in Hesiod Theogony 902 Εὐνομίην τε Δίκην τε καὶ Εἰρήνην τεθαλυῖαν ‘Good-Order, Justice, and thriving Peace’ (Lonsdale 1993:60, compare Nagy 1990a:270–271).

(c) The name of Harmonia derives from PIE *h2er- ‘to fit’, which is attested in Vedic r̥tá- (neuter) ‘cosmic fixed order, law’ and Latin rītus ‘ritual’ (compare the connection with Greek dikē ‘justice’ in Watkins 1979:183–189); in Greek harmonia is a technical musical term for rhythmic melody, which philosophers, including those of the Pythagorean and Aristotelean schools, use for describing the order of universe (see Barker 1989:33). Thus, from a comparative perspective, in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo Harmonia might represent the cosmic order.

(d) Hebe enacts the vigor of youth, as her name is probably the outcome of PIE *(H)i̯ēg-eh2– > Greek ἥβη ‘youth,’ Lithuanian jėgà ‘power, strength’ (compare DELG2 and Beekes 2010 at this entry; for a mythological parallel of Hebe ‘youth’ as wife of Herakles ‘strength’ and their mutual characteristics, see Barker and Christiansen 2019:98–100).

(e) Aphrodite enacts the gift of love, her usual quality from Greek religion, mythology, and literature.

§3.0.2. The “human sufferings” are included in verses 197–201a. I select these verses as a thematic core, on the ground of the syntactic parallel construction of verse 197 τῇσι μέν ‘among them on one hand’ and verse 200 ἐν δ᾽ αὖ τῇσιν ‘simultaneously among them on the other hand’. The thematic core involves Artemis, Ares, and Hermes in a further Indo-European poetic feature: Behaghel’s Law, according to which an ornamental epithet will be attached to the last member of a list. As in the above-mentioned verses from Hesiod Theogony 902 Εὐνομίην τε Δίκην τε καὶ Εἰρήνην τεθαλυῖαν and 909 Ἀγλαΐην τε καὶ Εὐφροσύνη Θαλίην τ’ ἐρατεινήν, Homeric Hymn to Apollo 195 Ἁρμονίη θ᾽ Ἥβη τɛ Διὸς θυγάτηρ τ᾽ Ἀφροδίτη ‘Harmonia, Hebe and Aphrodite, the daughter of Zeus’, and from choral poetry, Alcman PMGF 1.75–76 Φίλλυλα || Δαμαρ[έ]τα τ’ ἐρατά τε Ϝιανθεμίς ‘Phillula, Dāmaretā. and lovely Wianthemis’, the structure is the same for the elements, such as [A – B – epithet C]. This is a very common stylistic feature in Indo-European that does not belong only to catalogic poetry and name-enumerations, but also to more complex phrases in thematic continuity, where in a generally tripartite sequence like [(epithet(s)) A – (epithet(s)) B – epithet C] the last element “obligatorily” has an epithet (see Behaghel 1909:122). This is the scenario of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo197–201a, where A = Artemis + two epithets, B = Ares and C = Hermes + epithet.

(a) Artemis is presented as archer (199 ἰοχέαιρα) and twin of Apollo (ὁμότροφος Ἀπόλλωνι); Leto’s twins are generally responsible for sudden deaths of women and men respectively. Myth uses the image of the shooting of invisible arrows of disease; compare the myth of Niobe and the mirror-image repetition with which Odysseus asks his mother Antikleia if she died of sickness or after Artemis iokheaira smote her (Odyssey 11.171–173). Thus, in this song-and-dance scene of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Artemis iokheaira activates her killing feature of disease.

(b) Ares represents the violence of war, as usual with his generally stable features from religion and literature.

(c) Hermes is mentioned with a common formula in the Homeric Hymns and elsewhere as ἐΰσκοπος Ἀργɛιφόντης ‘keen-sighted slayer of Argos’ (verse 200). The meaning “slayer of Argos” is synchronically recognizable among the Greeks (see Nagy 2017 on Odyssey 17.292); however, Watkins (1995:383–385, and before him Davis 1953) has demonstrated the historical linguistic inefficacy of this meaning and has found the inherited Indo-European meaning of “Serpent-slayer” already attested in an anonymous tragic fragment (TrGF 2.199 ἀργῆν ἔπεφνεν ‘he slew a serpent’) and in Eustathius (183.12 on Iliad 2.104 ἀργεϊφόντης· ὁ ὀφιοκτόνος). In Indo-European and Greek religion serpents are associated with evil power, as the autochthonous guardians of sacred spaces, such as the cosmic serpent Vr̥tra who twisted the cosmic waters captive and was then slain by Indra in R̥gveda 1.32 (compare Oberlies 2012:49–50, 198–200). Furthermore, the Delphic Apollo, who kills the she-serpent Pytho in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo 300–304, is called Argeiphontes in Sophocles TrGF 4.1024. In Greece and Rome serpents are often associated with chthonian deities of death (see DAGR 2/1.408b for the sources), and Hermes has a funerary duty as psukhopompos. Thus, in the choral scene of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Hermes might enact the evils of the world, such as death and old age (verse 193).

4. The role of Delphi and Apollo’s prophetic fame

§4.0. Even before grounding his sanctuary, during the episode with the spring Telphousa while searching for the ideal place, Apollo already knows that Delphi will be the most important oracle among humans (Homeric Hymn to Apollo 247–253). In fact, during the entire history of the Greek city-states, the Delphic Oracle played a major role in the course of events; only as the institution of the polis started its decline, after Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, did Delphi too come to see its own (slower) decline, without completely losing prestige or activity until the Theodosian edict closing all oracles and divination places in 391 CE (compare PW 1:288–290).

§4.1. Religion and belief at Delphi were equally important in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, as in verse 184 Apollo comes to Olympus with ἄμβροτα εἵματα … τεθυωμένα ‘immortal incensed garments’, where thuos ‘incense’ recalls the sacrality of poetry, together with that of ritual and priesthood. Pausanias (Description of Greece 10 on Delphi and Phocis) and Plutarch (The E at Delphi and The Oracles at Delphi) described the immense quantity and quality of treasures and offerings from all over the Greek and even the Hellenized world that reveal the prestige and reliability of the sanctuary.

§4.2. People came to Delphi to ask remedy and solution to their problems of various topics from private to political ones; see Fontenrose 1978:24–35 and, specifically for the archaic period, Muscianisi 2012:XX–XXV. The choral performance in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo 182–206 describes all together the “role” of Delphi among mankind: Delphi was consulted for issues concerning the city-state order considered both internally and in connection with other city-states, either in the good sense (Horai and Harmonia) or the bad sense (Ares); how to ‘please’ (khairō) deities with sacrifices and cult foundations (Kharites); furthermore, about marriages and sex relationships (Aphrodite), or about pestilential diseases, deaths, and punishments (Artemis and Hermes).

§4.3. The song-and-dance of deities on Olympus ends with the splendor (aiglē phaeinē) of Apollo and his clothing (verses 201b–203). The same concept of brightness (selas) appears when Apollo and the Cretans dock at Krisa (verses 440–443), before they reach the site of Delphi dancing all together a paean (verses 513–523) at the very end of the Pythian section of the hymn and the hymn in general. This “splendor” and “brightness” represents glory and fame (kleos), according to an image from choral poetry.

§4.4. In fact, in choral poetry fame shines its rays as does the sun, such as in Pindar Olympian Odes 1.23 λάμπει … κλέος, Pythian Odes 11.45 δόξ’ ἐπιφλέγει. In general, the lexicon of “light, brightness” is shared between the sun and moon and fame, designating the radiance of kleos. For a literary and archaeological insight, see Neer and Kurke 2019:99–101, and for a comparative poetic perspective, see Meusel 2020:398–415, 559–566.

§4.5. Once the Pythian choral scene in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is interpreted as a visualization of the Delphic Oracle and its activity, Apollo’s kleos takes the shape of his prophecy and poetry, the splendor of which illuminates the world as sun-rays. This image is perfectly visualized in one of the most beautiful interpretations of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo: Ballet Apollon Musagète (1928) by George Balanchine, restaged in the United States as Apollo in 1937 (see Balanchine and Mason 1975:11–16 and Goldner 2015).

§4.6. Balanchine founded two of the still most prominent dance institutions in the United States and in the World, the School of American Ballet and its associated company, the New York City Ballet, whose repertoire still mainly consists of Balanchine’s choreographies and ballets. Just like the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Balanchine’s Apollo tells the story of the birth of the god in Delos, after which he moved to Delphi/Parnassus and chose his favorite Muse. For performative purposes, the Muses are only three, whose names and competences are conventionally synthesized in Calliope (poetry), Polyhymnia (mime), and Terpsichore (dance and music): of course, Terpsichore becomes the prime Muse, and Apollo as Moisāgetās/Mousēgetēs ‘guide of the Muses’ shines in glory. I have found in Bacchylides 17.103–105 ἀπὸ γὰρ ἀγλα||ῶν λάμπε γυίων σέλας || ὧτε πυρός ‘from the splendid limbs brightness shined as of fire [~ kleos, sun]’ a perfect description of the final scene of Balanchine’s Apollo, where the four characters create a complex shape of the solar wheel with the dancers’ limbs as the sun-rays in order to express the radiance of glory, see Figure 3.

Shape of the solar wheel formed by the limbs of the dancers.
North Carolina Dance Theatre: from left, Traci Gilchrest (Terspichore), David Ingram (Apollo), Anna Gerberich and Alessandra Ball (Calliope, Polyhymnia). Photo by Peter Zay (2010). Image via Flickr, under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.


5. The circular hierarchy of performance

§5.0. The prophetic glory of the Delphic Oracle mirrors the poetic glory of Apollo. In fact, during the age of the polis, Pythian priestesses from the aduton of the temple gave oracles that were versified in hexameters or iambic trimeters by an intermediary person for the enquirer (see Nagy 1990b:162–163). Depending on the hierarchy and experience of the mediators, either the prophētēs ‘spokesman’ or the theōroi (that is, the delegates sent to Delphi for the city-state), the verses do not generally show correctness in meter or diction. For the composition of the response made impromptu by a Delphic priest, see Rossi 1981; and for archaic metrical and diction anomalies, see Muscianisi 2012:XXV–XXXI.

§5.1. Poetic and choral performances join within the same occasion at Delphi (and elsewhere), concerning a plurality of arts. In fact, the musical and performative Greek lexicon does not clearly distinguish the specific arts that belong to a more inclusive mousikē tekhnē ‘art of the Muse(s)’, consisting of a combined play of music, dance, and words (verse 188 ἀθανάτοισι μέλɛι κίθαρις καὶ ἀοιδή ‘music and singing [two subjects] are at the heart [verb singular] of the deities’). A similar performative tripartition can be found in Indian classical theater, according to the Nāṭyaśāstra(Treatise on the Arts) and other musical writings (compare Schwartz 2004:21–36): Sanskrit nāṭya- ‘dramatic art’ (~ Greek kitharis kai aoidē) and, in particular, dance drama (nr̥tya- ~ Greek metamelpomai) are a dense combination of vocal singing (gīta- ~ Greek ops kalē, humneō), instrumental accompaniment (vādya- ~ Greek phorminx, kanakhē himeroessa, enkitharizō), and body movement and gesture (nr̥tta- ~ Greek orkheomai, paizō, bibazō).

§5.2. All the Greek words and expressions in brackets belong to the dance-scene in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo182–206 (§0.1); moreover, a similar description can be found in the Delian festival scene closing the first part of the Hymn (verses 147–178). This Indic and Greek tripartite unity of performance offers a suggestion about an Indo-European (and maybe much anthropologically prehistoric) all-embracing performance, just like the present-day dances of the West-African Dogon peoples mentioned above (§2.1).

§5.3. Like every present-day performance in theaters, orchestras, and corps de ballet, there is a hierarchy that handles the performance. However, unlike nowadays, the hierarchy in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo is not vertical, but circular. The round hierarchy of performance expresses the unity, mutual support, and interdependence among the members and their roles. Here, the hierarchy consists of three parts: (1) a leader, (2) the dancers or singers, and (3) the “poet.” Its circular “shape” is lexically delineated because at the same time each member is defined as “leader” of somebody and “attendant” of somebody else. Investigation will involve the entire Homeric Hymn to Apollo, especially the three festival scenes, at Delos (verses 147–178), on Olympus (verses 182–206), and at Krisa and Delphi (verses 513–523).

§5.4. The leadership is expressed by the verb arkhō ‘to lead’ (verse 514) when Apollo begins to play the music (515 φόρμιγγ’ ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχων, ἀγατὸν κιθαρίζων ‘holding the phorminx in his hands and playing lovely’ ~ 182 ɛἶσι δὲ φορμίζων ‘he comes playing the phorminx’). The verb arkhō is also attested in Iliad 18.606 (exarkhō), where a poet ‘leads’ a khoros in a molpē (see Nagy 2015:177–179), and it is semantically close to (an)agō ‘to lead, conduct’, mostly used in poetry for expressing the leading of the performance, such as in Alcman PMGF 1.44 (Agido) khorāgos ‘dance-leader’, Pindar F 94c Maehler (Apollon) Moisāgetās ‘leader of the Muses’, and Euripides Troades 326 (Phoibos) anage khoron ‘lead the song-and-dance!’, a fact that phraseologically explains Bacchylides 29a (Mousai) anaxikhoroi ‘dance-leaders’ and similar compounds with an initial member anaxi°.

§5.5. The dependence is expressed by words such as “attendant” or concepts of “following.” The dancers and singers are serving the leader (verse 157 κοῦραι Δηλιάδες Ἑκατηβελέταο θεράπναι ‘the Delian girls, attendants of the Far-shooter [= Apollo]’ ~ 516 οἱ δὲ ῥήσσοντες ἕποντο || Κρῆτες ‘and the Cretans keeping the rhythm followed him’); the structure is comparable to Hesiod Shield 280 αἱ δ’ ὑπὸ φορμίγγων ἄνογον χορόν ‘the girls led a dance to the sound of phorminx’ (§5.4). For the Delian Maidens within the frame of choral performance, see Peponi 2009 and Nagy 2013.

§5.6. Dancers and singers, in turn, have their “attendants, helpers, supporters”: they are the poets or, in general, whoever composes the hymn and tale. In fact, in the Delphic oracular responses (PW 2:4), the poet Archilochus is addressed as Μουσάων θεράπων ‘attendant of the Muses’, parallel to Hesiod Theogony 100 (see Nagy 1990a:46–49). The hierarchy reestablishes its circular “shape” because, conversely, in choral poetry poets invoke the leaders as their “supporters,” such as Timotheus PMG 791.204 ἐμοῖς ἔλθ’ ἐπίκουρος ὕμ||νοις ‘[O Apollo,] come as helper for my hymns’ (compare LeVen 2014:219). Furthermore, Pindar (Olympian Odes 2.1) claims ἀναξιφόρμιγγες ὕμνοι ‘O hymns, who lead the phorminx’, expressing the idea that the words and the one who composed them, named as “supporter,” are now leaders themselves of the music, with which the performance begins (§5.4).

§5.7. Even though in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo this last element of the poet’s “supporters” of song and dance and “leaders” of music is reconstructed after attaching importance to the last mention of Apollo playing the kithara (verse 201 ὁ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων ἐγκιθαρίζɛι), as this was a ring-composition allusion to the circular hierarchy. The wheel-image of the performance appears through Delphic oracular poetry and through choral poetry, whose influence on the dance-scene in the Hymn has been widely shown (see also Nagy 2013:233–235).

6. Conclusion

§6.0. In conclusion, verses 182–206 from the Homeric Hymn to Apollo at the beginning of the Pythian section of the hymn are an enclosed section, highlighted by the poetic feature of ring composition (§0.2). Thematic cores describe a complex choral moment, where Apollo has been shown as the khorāgos ‘leader of song-and-dance’, the Muses have been shown as the singers of a tale about the blessings and the evils of mankind (verse 190 “immortal gifts of the gods” and “sufferings of the men”), and certain deities join the performance dancing as the khoros and enacting the roles of themselves in the Muses song (§§2–3).

§6.1. Comparative Indo-European linguistics and poetics have helped in delineating the roles of the dancing deities, through research into their onomastic and mythical significances (§3). This research leads us to define the deities’ roles as the main requests by mankind to the Delphic Oracle, within a precise poetic intention to celebrate Delphi (§4). Additionally, a performative approach has shown the importance of the performance itself (§1) with the delineation of a hierarchy, exactly like in present-day performing arts where each member supports and contributes to the show (§5). The predominant image in the whole scene is the circle: The composition of the verse-section is circular, the performative hierarchy is circular, the Navel of the World is circular, and the glory of Delphi and Apollo is circular, just like the sun and its rays (§4.3–4.6).

§6.2. The circle of fame is an image that has had so much prominence from the time of the composition of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and choral poetry through the centuries, that it has been reused in the twentieth century in Balanchine’s Apollo, where the solar wheel of Apollo and the Muses shining in their glory iconically closes the worldwide acclaimed ballet. Delphi, once again, has regained its ancient brightness through the dancing festival of Apollo and the Muses.



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[1] I am extremely grateful to Gregory Nagy (Harvard University and Director of Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies) for his helpful and inspiring comments for this contribution to the Delphic Preview: Festival of the Muses. Thanks to Michael Strickland (Christendom College / Harvard University, Center for Hellenic Studies), who had the kind patience to polish my English in the whole paper, and to the editorial board of Classical Inquiries. It is understood that the responsibility for the essay is, of course, entirely mine.