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Antistrophe

Welcome to the second part of the three-piece puzzle that is the ancient Greek Pindaric ode. This one's an important one, too! Where would strophe be without antistrophe? No antistrophe to counter the strophe means no chance for the chorus to expand on ideas, no chance to engage in a heated dispute, and most importantly, no chance to dance! You simply can't have one without the other. After all, they do say that opposites attract.

Maybe the above paragraph makes sense to you; perhaps you think it all looks crazy. Either way, there's no need to worry. Let's start with the basics and learn about the meaning of antistrophe. We'll also examine the origin of the term, the antistrophe function, and its importance. Then, we'll look at some antistrophe examples to help you better understand the concept.

Antistrophe meaning

Before we look at the 'antistrophe' in more detail, we must define some preliminary concepts surrounding the topic. First, we need to know that the epode is one part of a traditional Greek ode.

The ode is a passionate, emotional form of poetry that traditionally honours a person, thing, or concept.

There are many variations of the ode. However, the Pindaric ode contains the epode we are looking at today.

The Pindaric ode is named after the ancient Greek poet Pindar (c. 518-443 BCE) and is characterised by its three distinct parts:

  • the strophe (known as the 'turn')
  • the antistrophe (known as the 'counter-turn')
  • the epode (known as the 'after-song')

Each section of the Pindaric ode usually consists of one poetic stanza, and the three combined parts make up a 'triad'. In ancient Greece, these odes were typically chanted aloud to an audience by a chorus.

The Greek chorus was a cohesive, collective group of performers who chanted and danced together in ancient Greek theatre. While reciting odes, the chorus often moved across the stage in unison. They typically wore masks to be perceived as one entity rather than as individuals.

The Greek chorus consisted of 12 to 50 people travelling across the stage, dancing and chanting in unison.

Did you know? When linguists studied the syllable patterns in the verses of the ancient Greek chorus, they found many of the syllables were drawn out for long periods. From this, they concluded the chorus was singing their verses rather than speaking them.

Now that we've gone through the basic concepts, let's tie them all together by looking at a definition of antistrophe:

An antistrophe (pronounced anti-strow-fee) is the second section of a traditional ancient Greek (700-480 BCE) ode. These odes would typically revere the achievements of outstanding individuals and celebrate victories in competition and battle. They were commonly recited by a chorus and often found in the opening ode of ancient Greek tragedies.

Antistrophe has a second definition. It can also be defined as 'the repetition of words at the end of consecutive sentences, phrases or paragraphs'. For example:

'Government of the people, for the people, by the people'.

However, this article will focus primarily on the antistrophe as a function of the Greek ode.

To consider what antistrophe means in relation to an ode's structure, let's begin by looking at the term's origin.

Antistrophe origin

The word 'antistrophe' derives from the Greek antistrophē, which means 'turning back'. The term originates from the choruses movement pattern during the Pindaric ode. This illustrates why antistrophe is often referred to as the 'counter-turn'.

When the chorus chants the strophe (the turn), they move from right to left across the stage. When they chant the antistrophe, they 'turn' and move back to the original side (left to right). Finally, the chorus stops in the centre of the stage to chant the final epode (after-song).

The chorus would also incorporate theatrics and dance moves into these movements for effect.

This diagram represents the Pindaric ode chorus route:

Antistrophe, Pindaric ode chorus route Antistrophe, StudySmarterThe chorus would begin at the right side of the stage before moving to the left (strophe) and then back to the original side (antistrophe). They would finish their movement by standing centre stage to perform a final chant (epode).

Depending on the number of available performers, some poets would arrange their chorus differently. For example, if the chorus was large, it could be split in two, with half on the right side of the stage reciting the strophe and half on the left reciting the antistrophe. The chorus could then join together to sing the epode in harmony.

In the Pindaric structure, the strophe and antistrophe are identical. This means that the lines' rhythm, meter, and length are the same in both stanzas. It doesn't matter which stylistic choices the poet makes for their verse as long as those choices are mirrored in both the strophe and antistrophe. In contrast, the epode always has a different metrical structure than the first two sections and is typically shorter.

Antistrophe function

Let's look at some of the critical functions of antistrophe over time.

Traditional Pindaric ode

As we know, the antistrophe, alongside the strophe and epode, makes up the Pindaric ode. When Pindar wrote his original ancient Greek odes, they functioned primarily to celebrate victorious athletes in major tournaments like the Olympian (now Olympic) games. Here's an excerpt from a translated version of Pindar's ode to Psaumis of Kamarina, the winner in the mule-chariot race.

Psaumis, who, crowned with Pisan olive, hasteth to raise up glory for Kamarina. May God be gracious to our prayers for what shall be! For I praise him as a man most zealous in the rearing of horses, and delighting in ever-open hospitality, and bent on peace and on the welfare of his city, with guileless soul.1

You'll first notice Pindar revering Psaumis, claiming he is zealous, hospitable, and guileless. This tone of admiration is present across all of Pindar's odes. He often compares the subject to classic mythology and uses intense metaphorical imagery, making the athlete seem extraordinary and otherworldly.

Pindar only wrote his verses about the winners of athletic events. For this reason, the surviving odes available today are collectively referred to as the 'victory odes'.

Greek tragedy

The Pindaric ode was also customary within the parodos (opening song) of Greek tragedies. The chorus would perform the ode in much the same way as Pindar's traditional victory odes, moving across the stage in different directions as they recited the three sections.

Within Greek tragedies, the chorus functioned primarily to provide context to the audience and pass judgements on the play's action. For this reason, the tone of Pindaric odes within Greek tragedies often deviated from Pindar's traditional celebratory style. The strophe and antistrophe often present conflicting viewpoints; the epode could then optionally be used to pass a judgement on the dispute.

English 'Pindarics'

Throughout the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, several English poets began to produce irregular odes loosely based upon the Pindaric structure. While these poems were named based on Pindar, it is a common misconception that they closely resemble Pindar's traditional victory odes. The form, meter and structure vary wildly, and the length of the verse is rarely consistent.

It was the looseness of the 'Pindarics' structure that attracted many seventeenth-century poets, like Alexander Pope (1688-1744), John Dryden (1631-1700) and Aphra Behn (1640-1689), to try their hand at the ode. In contrast, Pindar's odes strictly adhered to their three-part structure.

Some English poets did manage to produce authentic reinterpretations of the Pindaric ode. In particular, Thomas Gray (1716-1771) and Ben Jonson (1572-1637) created well-received poetry that remained faithful to the traditional three-part structure.

Antistrophe importance

You may be asking: if the strophe and the antistrophe mirror each other structurally, why do the terms need to be separate at all?

The simple answer is that it's all about the movement. The antistrophe allowed the action to happen; without it, the performance would be disjointed and static. It's important to remember that Greek odes were a performance. They were sung, accompanied by dance, and traditionally set to music. What resulted was a lively, theatrical stage performance which would excite and entertain the audience.

You could compare the strophe and antistrophe to a dance routine, where different cues are provided to help keep the performers in sync.

The antistrophe is also structurally significant. Within traditional odes, it expands upon the themes, imagery and concepts present in the strophe. Within Greek tragedies, the antistrophe acts as the strophe's counter; if the strophe suggests one idea, the antistrophe may argue against that idea. The epode could then optionally resolve the argument in the closing lines.

Antistrophe examples

Let's look at two examples of the antistrophe: one from the tragedies of ancient Greece, one from eighteenth-century England.

Sophocles - Oedipus Rex

Sophocles' (496BC-406BC) Oedipus Rex (429BC) shows us a classic example of the Pindaric ode within Greek tragedy. In the strophe preceding this excerpt, the chorus expresses their fear of the disease plaguing the city of Thebes. In the extract here, we see the antistrophe that follows.

First I call on you, Athena the immortal,

daughter of Zeus, and on your sister, too,

Artemis, who guards our land and sits

on her glorious round throne in our market place,

and on Phoebus, who shoots from far away.

O you three guardians against death,

appear to me!

Here the chorus calls upon Athena, Artemis and Phoebus to save them from the disease. We can see how the strophe and antistrophe within Greek tragedy often conflict with one another. If the strophe expresses fear at a situation, the antistrophe offers a solution; if the strophe argues one viewpoint, the antistrophe argues another.

The ancient Greeks believed in their Gods and accepted that they had control over human destinies, so praying to Gods like Athena and Artemis was perceived as a reasonable solution for tragedies like natural disasters or plagues.

Thomas Gray - 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode'

One influential English poet who authentically replicated the Pindaric structure within his work was Thomas Gray. In 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' (1757), Gray tells the story of King Edward travelling home through the Welsh mountains after a victorious battle. In the strophe, the King's celebrations give the passage an optimistic tone. All of this changes when they encounter a Welsh bard perched high upon the mountain:

I.2.

On a rock, whose haughty brow

Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood,

Rob'd in the sable garb of woe,

With haggard eyes the poet stood;

(Loose his beard, and hoary hair

Stream'd, like a meteor, to the troubled air)

And with a master's hand, and prophet's fire,

Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre;

"Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,

Sighs to the torrent's awful voice beneath!

O'er thee, O King! their hundred arms they wave,

Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;

Vocal no more, since Cambria's fatal day,

To high-born Hoel's harp, or soft Llewellyn's lay.

In this antistrophe, the malicious bard curses the King, invoking the ghosts of three of his victims upon him. Language like 'foaming flood', 'haggard eyes', and 'deep sorrows of his lyre' makes the passage's tone dark and ominous.

Antistrophe, The Bard Antistrophe, StudySmarterThis 1778 painting by Benjamin West (1738-1820) depicts the Bard standing high above the cliffs looking down upon King Edward.

We see first-hand how the parallel structure of the strophe and antistrophe can be used to great effect. In this case, the poem's language and tone shift abruptly from celebration to fear and dread.

Antistrophe - Key takeaways

  • An antistrophe is the second section of a traditional ancient Greek ode.
  • The other parts of the Pindaric ode are the strophe and the epode.
  • Antistrophe has a second definition. It can also be defined as 'the repetition of words at the end of consecutive sentences, phrases or paragraphs.'
  • The 'antistrophe' term is based on the movement pattern of the Greek chorus as they recite the Pindaric ode.
  • The traditional Pindaric ode was used to celebrate victorious athletes, but they are also commonly found in Greek tragedies.

References

  1. Pindar. 'For Psaumis of Kamarina, Winner in the Mule-Chariot Race'. Translated by Ernest Myers, M.A. 1904. First Edition printed 1874.

Frequently Asked Questions about Antistrophe

An antistrophe is the second section of a traditional ancient Greek ode.

The word 'antistrophe' derives from the Greek antistrophē, which means 'turning back'. 

Some examples of the antistrophe can be found in Pindar's victory odes, Sophocles' Antigone (441BC) and Oedipus Rex, (429BC), and Thomas Gray's 'The Bard' (1757) and 'The Progress of Poesy' (1757).

The antistrophe in a Pindaric ode should be placed after the strophe, and should replicate its meter, form and length.

The primary function of the antistrophe, alongside the strophe and the epode, was to celebrate triumphs and victories as part of Pindar's odes. It also gave the chorus cues to move around the stage. Without the antistrophe, the performance of the chorus would have been static and boring.

Final Antistrophe Quiz

Question

What is an antistrophe?

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Answer

An antistrophe is the second section of a traditional ancient Greek (700-480BC) ode.

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Question

Antistrophe only has one meaning. Is this true or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

What is an ode?

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Answer

An ode is an elaborate form of lyrical poetry. It traditionally celebrates and honours a person or a concept.

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Question

What is the antistrophe known as in the Pindaric ode?

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Answer

Counter-turn.

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Question

Where does the word 'antistrophe' come from?

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Answer

The word 'antistrophe' derives from the Greek antistrophēwhich means 'a turning back'.

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Question

What happens when the chorus chants the antistrophe?

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Answer

When they chant the antistrophe they 'turn' and move back to the original side (left to right).

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Question

In the Pindaric structure, the strophe and antistrophe are identical. Is this true or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

What is the importance of antistrophe?

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Answer

The simple answer is that it's all about the movement. It's important to remember that Greek odes were all about the performance.

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Question

What is the Pindaric ode?

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Answer

The Pindaric Ode, named after the Greek poet Pindar (518-443BC), is an ode characterised by its three distinct sections.

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Question

What was the Pindaric ode traditionally used for?

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Answer

It was traditionally used to celebrate victories and admire extraordinary people.

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Question

Fill in the blanks - Strophe, antistrophe and epode were often found in the opening ode of ancient Greek _____. 

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Answer

tragedies.

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Question

How many people did the Greek chorus consist of?

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Answer

12-50.

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Question

In the Pindairic ode, the strophe and epode are metrically identical. True or false?

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Answer

False. The strophe and the antistrophe are structurally identical, but the epode is unique.

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Question

'The Bard' (1757) is a poem by which author?

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Answer

Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

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Question

An early example of the antistrophe can be seen in the ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex (429BC). Who wrote this play?

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Answer

Sophocles (497/6-406/5BC).

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