Today, I would like to present musical fragment from the first stasimon of Orestes by Euripides. It was found in 1892, among a number of papyri from Hermopolis, Egypt, in the collection of Archduke Rainer Ferdinand of Austria. It was published by papyrologist Karl Wessely. The fragment was somewhat mutilated when found, but contained a passage of the famous play with musical notation, allowing modern composers and artists to perform the passage in a way that is at least close to the way Euripides intended it.

Whether this fragment represents the original music Euripides composed in 408 BC is an open question, as we have no 5th century BC musical inscriptions to compare it to (the papyrus is dated to the 3rd century BC). Nevertheless, Plutarch credit Euripides and Agathon with many of the rythm and modes used in this fragment, and Aristophanes described Euripides' work as musically complex.

The rhythm of the song is Dochmius and the mode Lydian in chromatic genus. To those unfamiliar with musical terms--like me--I'll attempt to clarify this. The time it takes to pronounce a syllable in ancient Greek and Latin poetry and verse is called a 'mora'. The time it takes to pronounce a long mora is roughly the time it takes to pronounce two short ones. The shortest musical metrical unit is called a 'foot'; a Dochmius is a foot of five syllables, first and fourth being short and the second, third, and fifth long.

In Hellenic music theory, there was a Lydian scale which described a set of pitches. The technical Lydian scale--originating in Lydia in Anatolia--was equivalent to C D E F G A B C, and C Chalf sharp Ehalf sharp F Fhalf sharp Ahalf sharp Bhalf sharp C, respectively where "half sharp" signifies raising the pitch by approximately a quarter tone. Personally, I have no clue what that means but as I am not well versed in music theory, I can't offer a better explanation in that.

Moving on to something I do know about; the arrangement of the fragmentary text differs from the traditional editions. The setting in the Orestes is the story of Orestes himself, who slays his mother after he slays his father and is hunted down by the Erinyes until he happens upon the temple of Apollon (who told him to kill his mother), who then tells him to let Athena and the people of Athens decide his fate, which they do, in favor of Orestes. this whole epic is laid out in many plays by many authors. The Orestes focusses on Orestes' guilt for murderig his mother--an event not part of the play--and his sister Elektra's continued struggle to keep Orestes sane and alive as the leading political faction of Argos wants to put Orestes to death.

The fragment is set at the moment Orestes wakes up after his first bout of madness inspired by the vengeful Erinyes. He is still tormented by them, and realizes suddenly that his act will lead to his death, and the death of his sister Elektra as she refuses to leave his side. The ancient text begins with materos haima (mother's blood) and katolophyromai appears after brotois (mortals). One translated version goes as follows, as sung by the chorus:

"What deadly struggle is here at hand, hurrying thee on o'er thy path of woe, a victim on whom some fiend is heaping tribulation, by bringing on thy house thy mother's bloodshed which drives thee raving mad? I weep for thee, for thee I weep. Great prosperity abideth not amongst mankind; but some power divine, shaking it to and fro like the sail of a swift galley, plunges it deep in the waves of grievous affliction, boisterous and deadly as the waves of the sea."

In the fragment, the text is as follows:

"κατολοφύρομαι κατολοφύρομαι ματέρος αἷμα σᾶς, ὅ σ’ ἀναβακχεύει, ὁ μέγας ὄλβος οὐ μόνιμος ἐν βροτοῖς, ἀνὰ δὲ λαῖφος ὥς τις ἀκάτου θοᾶς τινάξας δαίμων κατέκλυσεν δεινῶν πόνων ὡς πόντου
λάβροις ὀλεθρίοισιν ἐν κύμασιν."

"I cry, I cry, your mother's blood that drives you mad, great happiness in mortals never lasting, but like a sail of a swift ship, which a god shook up and plunged it with terrible troubles into the greedy and deadly waves of sea."

This version of the fragment is performed by the modern Greek band Daemonia Nymphe (Δαιμονια Νυμφη), live in Graz Austria Helmut-List-Halle on 20 Mar h, 2008. The music was arranged by Spyros Giasafakis and Evi Stergiou. The session musicians were Maria Stergiou, Eleni Efthymiou, Vaggelis Paschalides, and Thodoris Chytiris, and the ancient Hellenic instruments were reproduced by Nikolaos Brass.

I love listening to this. It gives me chills every time. If this was the style of the whole of the play, it must have been a sight to behold. Not only is it visually gripping and the story intense, but the music adds a whole new layer to it, where you can almost feel Orestes' madness. I hope you can appreciate it as well.