A paean (pron.: //) is a song or lyric poem expressing triumph or thanksgiving. In classical antiquity, it is usually performed by a chorus, but some examples seem intended for an individual voice (monody). It comes from the Greek παιάν (also παιήων or παιών), "song of triumph, any solemn song or chant." "Paeon" was also the name of a divine physician and an epithet of Apollo.
Ancient Greek Paean 
In Homer, Paeon was the Greek physician of the gods. In Iliad V he heals the wounded Ares and Hades with his herbal lore. In time Paeon (or Paean) became an epithet of Apollo as a god capable of bringing disease and propitiated as a god of healing. Hesiod identifies Paeon as a separate god, and in later poetry Paeon is invoked independently as a health god. Later, Paean becomes an epithet of Asclepius, another healer-god.
The earliest appearances of a paean or hymn of thanksgiving also appear in the Iliad. After the prayer to avert evil from the Achaeans, a paean is sung. In an almost identical line (X.391) that suggests a formulaic expression, Achilles tells the Myrmidons to sing the paean after the death of Hector.
To discover the relation between Paean or Paeon the healer-god and paean in the sense of "song" it is necessary to identify the connection between ritual chant and the shaman's healing arts. Martin Nilsson observed:
The curing of diseases everywhere plays an important part and among primitive peoples lies in the hands of sorcerers and priests. There was in earlier Greece a class of seers and purificatory priests which in all essentials fulfilled this function. The art of healing consisted in magical ceremonies and incantations. In later times these were usually called έπωδαί, charms, but in earlier days they were certainly called paeans (παιάν), for Homer speaks of the god, Paieon, who takes his name from them. With the charm was blended the name of the god, and thus the paean became a song of thanksgiving and eventually of victory. In later times Apollo has made the art of healing his own, and after him his son Asklepios took it over.
Previously, L. R. Farnell had referred to the ancient association between the healing craft and the singing of spells, but found it impossible to decide which was the original sense. At all events the meaning of "healer" gradually gave place to that of "hymn", from the phrase Ιή Παιάν.
Such songs were originally addressed to Apollo, and afterwards to other gods, Dionysus, Helios, Asclepius. About the 4th century the paean became merely a formula of adulation; its object was either to implore protection against disease and misfortune, or to offer thanks after such protection had been rendered. Its connection with Apollo as the slayer of the Python led to its association with battle and victory; hence it became the custom for a paean to be sung by an army on the march and before entering into battle, when a fleet left the harbour, and also after a victory had been won.
All the barbarians felt fear because they had been deprived of what they expected. The Greeks were singing the stately paean at that time not for flight, but because they were hastening into battle and were stout of heart.
A paean was sung before the resuming of the naval battle between the Corcyraeans and Corinthians in a war leading up to the Peloponnesian War, implying that it might have been a common practice. In addition, the paean is said to have been sung just before the start of various battles (including the Battle of Cunaxa) in Xenophon's "Anabasis" (or "Persian Expedition").
In Greek poetry and music 
The most famous paeans are those of Bacchylides and Pindar. Paeans were sung at the festivals of Apollo (especially the Hyacinthia), at banquets, and later even at public funerals. In later times they were addressed not only to the gods, but to human beings. In this manner the Rhodians celebrated Ptolemy I of Egypt, the Samians Lysander of Sparta, the Athenians Demetrius, the Delphians Craterus of Macedon.
Musically, the paean was a choral ode, and originally had an antiphonal character, in which a leader sang in a monodic style, with the chorus responding with a simple, informal phrase; however, later in its development, the paean was an entirely choral form. Typically the paean was in the Dorian mode (note that the Ancient Greek Dorian was different from the modern Dorian mode; see musical mode), and was accompanied by the kithara, which was Apollo's instrument. Paeans meant to be sung on the battlefield were accompanied by aulos and kithara.
Two musical fragments of paeans survive from late antiquity: one by Athénaios Athenaíou" (Athenios son of Athenios), the other by Limenius of Athens. The fragment by Limenius has been dated to 128 BC; the one by Athenaios may have been composed in the same year, or ten years earlier.
Modern usage 
Paean is now usually used to mean an expression of praise or exultation (such as its coining in the tautological expression "paeans of praise"). A song called "Paean" was used in a Chinese propaganda film called The East Is Red.
- Parts of this entry are originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Paean, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
- PA-JA-WO in Linear B at Mycenaean Knossos attests the name as an individual Mycenaean deity (John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World [Cambridge University Press] 1976, p. 88).
- Eustathius on Homer §1494; Virgil, Aeneid vii. 769.
- Both occasions are noted by Grace H. Macurdy, "The Derivation of the Greek Word Paean" Language 6, no. 4 (December 1930: 297-303), citation on 300.
- Grace H. Macurdy, "The Derivation of the Greek Word Paean" Language 6, no. 4 (December 1930: 297-303), written before the deciphering of Linear B, attributes an origin of paeon in the north of Greece, rather than Minoan Crete; she offered the quote from Nilsson, Greek Religion, p. 130.
- Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (Oxford University Press, 1896),[page needed].
- Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece—and Western Civilization (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004),[page needed].
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner, Penguin Books LTD. Pg. 65
- Xenophon, The Persian Expedition. Translated by Rex Warner, Penguin Books LTD. Pg. 49
- Annie Bélis (ed.). 1992. Corpus des inscriptions de Delphes, vol. 3: "Les Hymnes à Apollon" (Paris: De Boccard, 1992), 48–49, 53–54; Egert Pöhlmann and Martin L. West, Documents of Ancient Greek Music: The Extant Melodies and Fragments, edited and transcribed with commentary by Egert Pöhlmann and Martin L. West (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 71.
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