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What Is an Epode?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 23, 2024
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An epode may have one of two definitions. It can be a type of lyrical poetry comprised of rhyming couplets. The first line in each of these couplets is usually longer than the second line, and the second line may support or subvert the first line. This term is also used when referring to choral verse, such as that in a Greek play. When the word is used in this way, an epode is the third verse of an ode, usually summing up the juxtaposed meanings of the two verses that preceded it.

Both kinds of epode were born and gained popularity in Greece. Epodes used in choral verse were generally sung by the chorus, or background players, in plays and theatrical productions. The strophe and antistrophe always came before the epode in these verses, often contradicting and pressing against each other.

In these verses, the strophe was like the topic sentence of a paragraph, it usually explained what the ode was about and named some of its virtues. The chorus also usually marched or danced stage while chanting the strophe, underscoring the movement of the production. The antistrophe came next. This verse usually disproved or rebutted the strophe. Often, the antistrophe simply pointed out the unpleasant side of whatever the strophe was describing, so the chorus usually danced or marched stage left while singing the antistrophe.

When singing the epode, the chorus usually stood still in the center of the stage. This third part of the ode was often a summary and conclusion of the story, giving a truncated version of everything that happened in the above two verses. Epodes were usually written in lines containing six to eight syllables each and spoken very rhythmically. Choral epodes usually rhymed, but this was not a requirement.

An example of the subjects in an ode might be ordered this way: The strophe might begin by exclaiming the virtues and righteousness of Demeter, goddess of the spring, the hearth, and women. The antistrophe might then talk about how her daughter, Persephone, was taken by Hades, causing Demeter to create winter. The epode in this ode would probably recount Demeter’s grace and her sorrow. It might also talk about the compromise Hades and Demeter agreed to for sharing Persephone between them.

An epode in lyrical poetry isn’t usually quite as complicated because it is only comprised of two lines at a time. Each couplet in a lyrical poem is an epode. The longer line, or topic sentence, in each couplet usually explains what the couplet is about. The shorter second line usually underscores the first line by adding information. The second line often shows another facet of the subject from the first line. For instance, the first line of the couplet might talk about the beauty of an angel’s face, while the second line tells the audience that the angel is crying.

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