Should 'Troy' Have Been A Musical? Finding Melodies In The Classics

It's probably for the best that Brad Pitt didn't sing his lines in Troy — but the source material, Homer's Iliad, is one of many ancient Greek works that were written to be sung. i i

hide captionIt's probably for the best that Brad Pitt didn't sing his lines in Troy — but the source material, Homer's Iliad, is one of many ancient Greek works that were written to be sung.

Warner Bros. Pictures
It's probably for the best that Brad Pitt didn't sing his lines in Troy — but the source material, Homer's Iliad, is one of many ancient Greek works that were written to be sung.

It's probably for the best that Brad Pitt didn't sing his lines in Troy — but the source material, Homer's Iliad, is one of many ancient Greek works that were written to be sung.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The ancient classics of Western literature — Homer, Sophocles, Euripides — were written to be sung. But what does Greek music from 2,500 years ago actually sound like? And how could a modern reader possibly deduce those melodies with only the text for reference?

Armand D'Angour, a musician and professor at Jesus College in Oxford, England, has been researching the topic, and says he can sing you a few bars of Homer if you ask.

"It's a reconstruction, based on the fact that the ancient Greek language has a tonal nature," Dangour says, explaining that each word was composed not only of syllables, but also distinct changes in pitch.

D'Angour spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon about the process of matching those tonal variations to musical notes. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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