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A paean (pronounced /ˈpiːən/, as in "European") is a song or lyric poem expressing triumph or thanksgiving. In classical antiquity, it is usually performed by a chorus, but some examples seem intended for an individual voice (monody). It comes from the Greek παιάν (also παιήων or παιών), "song of triumph, any solemn song or chant." "Paeon" was also the name of a divine physician and an epithet of Apollo.[1]


Ancient Greek Paean

In Homer, Paeon[2] was the Greek physician of the gods. In Iliad V he heals the wounded Ares and Hades with his herbal lore. In time Paeon (or Paean) became an epithet of Apollo as a god capable of bringing disease and propitiated as a god of healing. Hesiod identifies Paeon as a separate god, and in later poetry Paeon is invoked independently as a health god. Later, Paean becomes an epithet of Asclepius, another healer-god.[3]

The earliest appearances of a paean or hymn of thanksgiving also appear in the Iliad. After the prayer to avert evil from the Achaeans, a paean is sung. In an almost identical line (X.391) that suggests a formulaic expression, Achilles tells the Myrmidons to sing the paean after the death of Hector.[4]

To discover the relation between Paean or Paeon the healer-god and paean in the sense of "song" it is necessary to identify the connection between ritual chant and the shaman's healing arts.[5] Martin Nilsson observed:

The curing of diseases everywhere plays an important part and among primitive peoples lies in the hands of sorcerers and priests. There was in earlier Greece a class of seers and purificatory priests which in all essentials fulfilled this function. The art of healing consisted in magical ceremonies and incantations. In later times these were usually called έπωδαί, charms, but in earlier days they were certainly called paeans (παιάν), for Homer speaks of the god, Paieon, who takes his name from them. With the charm was blended the name of the god, and thus the paean became a song of thanksgiving and eventually of victory. In later times Apollo has made the art of healing his own, and after him his son Asklepios took it over.[citation needed]

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