Lament for Linus
B Mode

The song "Lament for Linus" on the Seven Modes CD is a melody devised specifically to illustrate the B mode. This tuning, which is rarely used, has a diminished fifth between the root and fifth note of its scale. Such a musically weak interval prevents the song from resolving in a true cadence at the end, and has a particularly sad and mournful effect. Only the name of the song comes to us from out of history, as discussed below.
Apollo playing a lyre

Apollo and box lyre

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“The Linus song,” seems to have been persistenly popular in ancient times around the Mediterranean Sea. Herodotus, famed Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., claims to have heard it in many different countries on his travels. We do not know the words or melody to the original song, but below are some instances of where the Linus song may have some connections to Egypt and to a Greek myth, giving us at least some contextual background.

A huge Egyptian lyre being played by two people.

Note three horizontal lyres being played also

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Herodotus "The Histories," Book 2, Ch. 79, on the Egyptians:

They keep the customs of their forefathers. Among other notable customs of theirs is this, that they have one song, the Linus-song, which is sung in Phoenicia and Cyprus and elsewhere; each nation has a name of its own for this, but it happens to be the same song that the Greeks sing, and call Linus; so that of many things in Egypt that amaze me, one is: where did the Egyptians get Linus? Plainly they have always sung this song; but in Egyptian Linus [the song] is called Maneros. The Egyptians told me that Maneros was the only son of their first king, who died prematurely, and this dirge was sung by the Egyptians in his honor; and this, they said, was their earliest and their only chant.

Greek youth carrying grape baskets

Greek youth carrying grapes

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Another reference to the Linus Song occurs in the wonderfully imaginative passage in Homer’s Iliad where strong-armed Hephaestus, blacksmith to the gods, fashions a set of armor for Athena’s son, Achilles. On this fabulous shield, (which incidentally contains live action with sounds and dialogue, rivers flowing, and dogs barking, men quarreling, a wedding, etc.) one scene takes place in a beautiful vineyard:

He wrought also a vineyard, golden and fair to see, and the vines were loaded with grapes. The bunches overhead were black, but the vines were trained on poles of silver. He ran a ditch of dark metal all round it, and fenced it with a fence of tin; there was only one path to it, and by this the vintagers went when they would gather the vintage. Youths and maidens all blithe and full of glee, carried the luscious fruit in plaited baskets; and with them there went a boy who made sweet music with his lyre, and sang the Linus-song with his clear boyish voice.

THE ILIAD by Homer
Book XIII translated by Samuel Butler

Niobe's tragedy is from another myth, but the picture tells its own story of a mother about to lose a child.

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One last reference, in Greek mythology, is the tale “The Lamentation for Linus,” The story goes that in the land of the Argives, (Argos) Linus was born, son of the god Apollo and Psamathe the daughter of an unnamed king. Fearing the wrath of her kingly father, Psamathe leaves the infant boy out on a mountain, where Linus is raised among the lambs by shepherds. The young boy, alas, is torn to pieces by dogs in early childhood, while the grieving Psamathe is turned out of her father’s house.
When Apollo sees how badly things are going for his little earthly family, he is enraged, and sends a monster that devours the children of Argos for an entire season, until the monster is slain by a local hero. Still fearing vengeance from Apollo, the town erects a shrine to appease the angry god. At this shrine, halfway between Argos and Delphi, grieving mothers traditionally then “bewailed in melancholy lays” the sad fates of Linus and his mother, and their own losses of loved ones.

The Linus song became connected with the passing of spring as the heat of summer became oppressive and especially dangerous to children and young animals, although in some texts, the passing of youth is also given as a possible interpretation. Variations of the explanation include the passing of early summer, and the passing of a slain youth. The Semitic refrain ai lenu, “alas for us,” becomes in Greek ailinos, “woe is me." This probably accounts for the Greek spelling of Linos, which in Latin becomes Linus.

The very name of Linus is taken from the refrain ai-linon, or “woe is me,” of the lament anciently sung by the country people when thus afflicted by the unhealthy heats, because of which the crops fail and the dogs go mad and tear the little lambs to pieces…”

Gayley, Charles, The Classic Myths, 1911, p 103

Three of the line drawings used on this page (##1,3,4) are from the Gayley Classical Myths. 1911, based on line drawings from earlier works done from classical sculptures and statues.

1. The Palatine Apollo, (Ancient Marble in the Vatican) in Gayley, p.110 Fig. 66.Color added.
2. Musicians at Akhenaten's court, from Donald Redford,"Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times." Right half of bas relief showing two musicians playing a huge upright lyre.
3. A Rustic (from a wall painting in Herculaneum) Galey, p.195, Fig. 110.Color added.
4. Niobe and her Youngest Daughter: (Ancient marble, Florence)
From a different myth, in Gayley p.102, Fig. 62 Color added..

1. Berber Wedding Song
2. The Music Class
3. Twilight on the Water
4. Hurrian Moonrise
5. Ninkasi’s Dance
6. Lament for Linus
7. Solitary Theme
8. Long Ago Lullaby
9. Fortune-Telling Song
10. Hurrian Moonset
11. Ea, the Creator
12. The Queen of Sheba
13. Hal Libba Marya


©Bella Roma Music 2002