Fragments of Ancient Greek Songs from the Early Empire:
P. Yale CtYBR inv. 4510

William A. Johnson

Department of Classical Studies, Duke University

This early ii AD papyrus contains the sort of musical notation sometimes used by professional singers in antiquity. In between the lines of Greek text can be seen symbols which resemble ancient Greek letters but which are in fact vocal musical notation. The papyrus is a fragment from what was apparently a collection of songs for performance, intended for a baritone voice with a wide range.

The purpose of this site is to provide an accessible rendition of the music, as a companion to the print publication.Full details in: William A. Johnson, "Musical Evenings in the Early Empire: New Evidence from a Greek Papyrus with Musical Notation," Journal of Hellenic Studies 120 (2000) 57-85.

CLICK any line in the image below to hear a rendition -- necessarily approximate -- of how the songs would have sounded. (Or click on "Song A" or "Song B" to hear the complete fragments for a given song.)

Sung by Christopher Brunelle, currently a professor of Classics at St. Olaf College.

[If you do not hear music,click here for help.]

In the print publication, and in the version notes here, I use the conventional equivalents for the ancient musical notation. Musicologists (with unanimity unusual among scholars) agree that the conventional notation is too high by about a minor third. Prof. Brunelle has therefore transposed the melody down a minor third, in order to reproduce as accurately as is possible what we believe the ancient notation to represent.

Link to another musical papyrus, of ancient instrumental music.

Link to an introduction and short bibliography on ancient Greek music

Site developed and maintained by William A. Johnson (click to e-mail comments & suggestions)