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Riddle time! I am part of both a poem and a performance. I am included in a song and accompanied by dance. I took part in some of the earliest Olympic games and played a key role in some important English literary movements. What am I?

The strophe, of course!

Together with its partners, the antistrophe and the epode, the strophe has a deep, exciting history as part of the legendary Pindaric ode. This elaborate lyrical poem has roots in ancient Greece, where it was used to celebrate incredible victories and commemorate outstanding individuals. It even had a role within the ancient Greek chorus! But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's learn a basic strophe definition, figure out the difference between strophe and antistrophe and comprehend why it's important. We'll then look at some examples of strophe to make sure we master the ancient Greek choral ode in no time!

Strophe definition

Before looking at 'strophe' more closely, let's define some basic concepts surrounding the topic. First, we need to know that the strophe 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, it is the Pindaric ode that 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 (group of lines), 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.

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

A strophe (pronounced strow-fee) is the first stanza in a traditional ancient Greek (700-480BC) ode. These odes were recited by a chorus and were used to celebrate victories, the natural world, and the achievements of extraordinary people. They were also commonly found in the opening ode of ancient Greek tragedy plays.

The meaning of the term 'strophe' has been extended in modern times; it can now refer to a series of lines that form a section of a poem. The term is often used interchangeably with the word 'stanza'. However, this article will refer primarily to the traditional strophe and its function as part of the Greek choral ode.

Before we look in more detail at the differences between the strophe, antistrophe and epode, let's look at their purpose as part of the Pindaric ode.

Strophe purpose

Within Pindar's traditional odes, the primary purpose of the strophe, alongside the antistrophe and epode, was to celebrate triumphs and victories.

In particular, Pindar created several odes honouring competitors of the Olympian (now Olympic) games. Here's an excerpt from an ode dedicated to Herodotos of Thebes1, celebrating his victory in a chariot race.

'But I for Herodotos' praise am fain to do honour unto his four-horsed car, and to marry to the strain of Kastoreian or Iolaic song the fame that he hath earned, handling his reins in his own and no helping hand.'

Pindar praises Herodotos, claiming he has earned fame by handling his reigns without assistance. What's important here is the celebratory tone that he adopts. This is a common theme throughout all of Pindar's works, so much so that they are collectively referred to as the 'victory odes'. These poems were rich with emotion and metaphorical language and would have been performed alongside music.

The Pindaric ode was also popular in ancient Greek tragedies but served a slightly different function within them. The chorus functioned in tragedies to provide context, pass judgements, summarise backstories and, at times, change the course of the narrative. This meant that the tone of these odes varied frequently.

Some playwrights used the strophe and antistrophe to present conflicting arguments about the events of the play. These arguments could optionally be resolved in the epode or could be left open for the audience to form their opinion.

However, the performance in Greek tragedies would have closely resembled that of Pindar's original odes. In both cases, the chorus moved across the stage in unison, chanting the three different sections aloud to the audience.

In England, during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, many poets began writing a new, loose, irregular style of ode. These odes came to be known as the 'Pindarics' and were named after Pindar's original odes. However, this name is actually based on a misconception, because these poems didn't actually resemble Pindar's odes at all! The English odes were inconsistent with meter and length, contrasting with the classic victory odes, which were very strict in their three-part structure.

There were two English poets who were notable exceptions to this. Thomas Gray (1716-1771) and Ben Jonson (1572-1637) strived to create influential poems which stuck to the strict Pindaric structure. While the content and tone of these poems varied greatly, the form of the poems reflected that of Pindar's, showing how the Pindaric structure can be adapted to serve different functions.

Strophe, Greek Chorus, StudySmarterFig 1 - Masks were often used to hide the identities of the performers in the chorus. This is because the chorus typically acted as a collective, unified voice rather than as a group of individuals.

Now that we understand how the strophe functions as part of the Pindaric ode, let's look in more detail at the difference between the three distinct sections.

Strophe and antistrophe

As previously established, the three parts of the Pindaric ode are the strophe, known as the 'turn', the antistrophe, known as the 'counter-turn', and the epode, known as the 'stand'. The name of these sections corresponds to the movements of the chorus on stage.

When the chorus recites the strophe, they move from right to left across the stage (turn). While chanting the antistrophe, they head in the opposite direction, back to the original side (counter-turn). The strophe and antistrophe can repeat multiple times as the chorus moves back and forth. When the ode is set to end, the chorus stops in the centre of the stage and stands still, chanting the final epode (after-song).

Strophe, Pindaric ode chorus route, StudySmarterFig 2 - The chorus would start at the right of the stage, move to the left (strophe) and then back to the right (antistrophe) before finishing in centre stage for the epode.

Having the chorus move across the stage was not the only way of representing the strophe and antistrophe. Some poets would split their chorus into two, with half positioned on the right of the stage and half on the left. The chorus on the right side would begin by reciting the strophe; the chorus on the left would perform the antistrophe. Both choruses would then sing the epode together in harmony.

You'd be forgiven for believing that strophe and antistrophe are direct opposites to each other, but this isn't wholly true. Both parts are written using exactly the same structure. The poet can choose whichever meter, rhyme pattern and length they like, but they must mirror these features across both the strophe and antistrophe.

In contrast, the epode uses a new metrical structure and tends to be much shorter in length. Think of the epode as the conclusion, where the poet summarises what he has previously said and ends the ode in a nice, neat way.

The classical Greek chorus often consisted of up to 50 people who would sing and chant in unison! Can you imagine the amount of practice required to perform in sync?

Now let's look at the importance of the strophe in more detail.

Strophe importance

The next questions to be asked are: what importance does the strophe have as a separate entity from the antistrophe and the epode? Why split the ode into three sections at all?

The most straightforward answer here is: for theatrical effect. Greek odes were traditionally set to music and were sung rather than spoken to the audience. Splitting the ode into three parts gave the chorus cues to move around the stage in a rhythmic, lively way. The result was an intense, exciting dance designed to mesmerise and entertain the audience. Without the strophe, there would be no antistrophe and thus no opportunity for stage movement in the style that the ancient Greeks perfected.

The strophe can also set up ideas and themes upon which the antistrophe will either expand upon, as in the case of traditional odes, or conflict against, as in the case of some Greek tragedies. For example, if the strophe was celebrating the achievements of an individual, the antistrophe may describe the adversity they faced. If the strophe in a Greek tragedy described an attack launched on a city, the antistrophe could detail the rebuttal to this.

Examples of strophe

Let's look in more detail at an example of a strophe from ancient Greek theatre. We'll then explore one of Thomas Gray's reinterpretations of the Pindaric ode.

Sophocles - Antigone

Let's start by looking at a classic example of the strophe in Greek tragedy. This is the English translation of a strophe from the Parados (first song) in Sophocles (496BC-406BC) Antigone (441BC). Choragos refers to the 'leader of the chorus', meaning that the second half of the strophe is spoken by one person.


Now the long blade of the sun, lying [Strophe 1]

Level east to west, touches with glory

Thebes of the Seven Gates. Open, unlidded

Eye of golden day! O marching light

Across the eddy and rush of Dirce's stream,

Striking the white shields of the enemy

Thrown headlong backward from the blaze of morning!

CHORAGOS: Polyneices their commander

Roused them with windy phrases

He the wild eagle screaming Insults above our land

His wings their shields of snow,

His crest their marshaled helms.

In this strophe, the chorus rejoices at the end of a long skirmish, observing that the sun has returned now that the battle is over. They also give important details about the central conflict of the narrative.

While the celebratory nature of this verse closely resembles that of the traditional Pindaric ode, the information provided shows us the dual purpose of many odes in Greek tragedy –⁠ to provide essential context for the audience and to help them understand the narrative.

Thomas Gray - The Bard: A Pindaric Ode

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) is one of the poets regularly credited with reinterpreting the Pindaric Ode structure for the English language. This is the first strophe from 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' (1757)


Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!

Confusion on thy banners wait,

Tho' fann'd by Conquest's crimson wing

They mock the air with idle state.

Helm, nor hauberk's twisted mail,

Nor even thy virtues, tyrant, shall avail

To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,

From Cambria's curse, from Cambria's tears!"

Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested pride

Of the first Edward scatter'd wild dismay,

As down the steep of Snowdon's shaggy side

He wound with toilsome march his long array.

Stout Glo'ster stood aghast in speechless trance;

To arms! cried Mortimer, and couch'd his quiv'ring lance.

In this strophe, the English King Edward I (1239-1307) returns from a victorious battle in Wales. In the antistrophe which follows, the King meets a Welsh bard who curses him and invokes three shades who were victims of the King.

Strophe, The Bard, StudySmarter Fig 3 - This painting, The Bard (1817) by John Martin (1789-1854), is based on Thomas Gray's poem of the same name. It depicts the Welsh bard standing high above the King and invoking a curse upon him.

The contrast between the celebratory strophe and the malicious curse of the bard in the antistrophe shows us how the parallel structure of the two sections can be used to present conflicting ideas.

Other writers who have taken inspiration from Greek odes are John Keats (1795-1821), William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and John Dryden (1631-1700). However, none of these poets wrote in the traditional Pindaric structure featuring the strophe, antistrophe and epode.

Strophe - Key takeaways

  • A strophe is the first of three stanzas in a traditional Pindaric ode, which originated in ancient Greece in the 5th century BC.
  • The other two parts of the Pindaric ode are the antistrophe and the epode.
  • The main purpose of the Pindaric ode was to celebrate victory and triumph, but they were also used regularly in Greek tragedies.
  • The different sections of the Pindaric ode correspond with the movements of the chorus on stage.
  • Some examples of strophe can be found in Sophocles' (496BC-406BC) Antigone (441BC) and Oedipus Rex (429BC), and Thomas Gray's (1716-1771) 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' (1757).


  1. Pindar. 'For Herodotos of Thebes. Winner in the Chariot Race'. Translated by Ernest Myers, M.A. 1904. First Edition printed 1874.

Frequently Asked Questions about Strophe

An example of a strophe can be seen in Thomas Gray's 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode'.

The word 'strophe' derives from the Ancient Greek word strophḗ, meaning 'a turn, bend, twist'.

Within Pindar's traditional odes, the main function of the strophe, alongside the antistrophe and epode, was to celebrate triumphs and victories.  

Using strophe's broader modern definition, it can be difficult to distinguish between the terms as they are both terms that refer to how lines are grouped in poetry.

A strophe (pronounced strow-fee) is the first stanza in a traditional ancient Greek ode.  

Final Strophe Quiz

Strophe Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


What is a strophe?

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A strophe (pronounced strow-fee) is the first stanza in a traditional ancient Greek ode.

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In what genre of ancient Greek play would you be most likely to find a strophe?

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A tragedy play.

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Strophe is often used interchangeably with the word 'stanza'. Is this true or false?

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What is the Pindaric ode?

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The Pindaric ode is a ceremonious ode named after the ancient Greek poet Pindar (518-443BC). These odes typically consist of a melodically identical strophe and antistrophe, and a unique epode. They were often used to celebrate victors in Olympic games and other ancient Greek sporting events.

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What was the Greek chorus?

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The Greek chorus was a large, non-individual group of theatre performers that sang, chanted and commentated as a collective voice. 

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Odes were often recited by a chorus. Is this true or false?

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Show question


What was the main purpose of the strophe within Pindar's traditional odes?

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Within Pindar's traditional odes, the main purpose of the strophe, alongside the antistrophe and epode, was to celebrate triumphs and victories. 

Show question


How were odes used in ancient Greek tragedies?

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The chorus function in tragedies was to provide context, pass judgements, summarise backstories and, at times, change the course of the narrative.  

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In which direction do the chorus move when they recite the strophe?

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When the chorus recities the strophe, they move from right to left across the stage.

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In which direction do the chorus move when they recite the antistrophe?

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While chanting the antistrophe they move left to right across the stage.

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The strophe and antistrophe cannot repeat multiple times - they only occur once. Is this true or false?

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Aside from having the chorus move across stage, how might some poets choose to represent their chorus?

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Some poets would split their chorus into two, with half positioned on the right of the stage and half on the left. The chorus on the right side would begin by reciting the strophe; the chorus on the left would perform the antistrophe.

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Strophe and antistrophe are direct opposites to each other. Is this true or false? 

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Show question


'The Bard' (1757) was created by which poet?

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Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

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The epode and the strophe are structurally identical. True or false?

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False. The antistrophe and the strophe and structurally identical, but the epode has a new metrical structure.

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