Terpander and the grape….



The ancient Greeks adored Terpander. He was without doubt the most popular musician and lyricist of his time. Originally from Antissa, on the coast of Lesbos he had settled in Sparta, where he completely transformed the whole Greek musical system. He  added more strings to the lyre, changing it from four to seven and so opening up new melodic possibilities. Or maybe he changed the structure of a certain type of ode from four sections to seven; the sources are a little vague on this one. He seems to have invented some new types of musical rhythms, and most importantly, composed a good number of drinking songs; maybe that was why he was so popular !

His birth and death dates are unknown, but according to one story, he died in a most peculiar way: during a successful performance in Sparta, an audience member tossed a fig to him, presumably in appreciation (apparently there were no roses on hand). Terpander had opened his mouth in preparation for singing, where said fruit landed and lodged, and he promptly choked on it. Similar stories were told about Sophocles (who choked on a grape) and Anacreon (who choked on a grape seed), so it’s probably just an ancient urban legend. We have no record of what happened to the presumably mortified fan, but it probably wasn’t pretty. At the very least, his fan-club membership must have been revoked.

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