AskDefine | Define paean

Dictionary Definition



1 a formal expression of praise [syn: encomium, eulogy, panegyric, pean]
2 (ancient Greece) a hymn of praise (especially one sung in ancient Greece to invoke or thank a deity) [syn: pean]

User Contributed Dictionary



From παιάν.


  1. Any loud and joyous song; a song of triumph.
  2. An enthusiastic expression of praise.


any loud and joyous song; a song of triumph
  • Hungarian: diadalének, hálaének
an enthusiastic expression of praise

Extensive Definition

Paean (pronounced as the last two syllables of "European", ) is a term used to describe a type of song. It comes from the ancient Greek use of the term, which was also used as the name of the healer of the gods.

Ancient Greek Paean

In Homer, Paean was the Greek physician of the gods. In other writers the word is a mere epithet of Apollo in his capacity as a god of healing, but it is not known whether Paean was originally a separate Deity or merely an aspect of Apollo.
Homer leaves the question unanswered. Hesiod definitely separates the two, and in later poetry Paean is invoked independently as a health god. It is equally difficult to discover the relation between Paean or Paeon in the sense of "healer" and Paean in the sense of "song." Farnell refers to the ancient association between the healing craft and the singing of spells, and says that it is impossible to decide which is the original sense. At all events the meaning of "healer" gradually gave place to that of "hymn," from the phrase Ιή Παιάν.
Such songs were originally addressed to Apollo, and afterwards to other gods, Dionysus, Helios, Asclepius. About the 4th century the paean became merely a formula of adulation; its object was either to implore protection against disease and misfortune, or to offer thanks after such protection had been rendered. Its connection with Apollo as the slayer of the Python led to its association with battle and victory; hence it became the custom for a paean to be sung by an army on the march and before entering into battle, when a fleet left the harbour, and also after a victory had been won.
The most famous paeans are those of Bacchylides and Pindar. Paeans were sung at the festivals of Apollo (especially the Hyacinthia), at banquets, and later even at public funerals. In later times they were addressed not only to the gods, but to human beings. In this manner the Rhodians celebrated Ptolemy I of Egypt, the Samians Lysander of Sparta, the Athenians Demetrius, the Delphians Craterus of Macedon.
Musically, the paean was a choral ode, and originally had an antiphonal character, in which a leader sang in a monodic style, with the chorus responding with a simple, informal phrase; however, later in its development, the paean was an entirely choral form. Typically the paean was in the Dorian mode (note that the Ancient Greek Dorian was different from the modern Dorian mode; see musical mode), and was accompanied by the kithara, which was Apollo's instrument. Paeans meant to be sung on the battlefield were accompanied by aulos and kithara.
Two musical fragments of paeans survive from late antiquity: one by Limenius of Athens, and another anonymous. The fragment by Limenius has been dated to 128 BC.

Modern usage

Paean is now usually used to mean an expression of praise or exultation (such as its coining in the tautological expression "paeans of praise").


paean in German: Paian
paean in Spanish: Peán
paean in French: Péan
paean in Italian: Peana
paean in Japanese: ピーアン
paean in Lithuanian: Pajanas
paean in Polish: Pean (muzyka)
paean in Russian: Пеан
paean in Finnish: Paiaani
paean in Ukrainian: Пеан

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Agnus Dei, Benedicite, Gloria, Gloria Patri, Gloria in Excelsis, Introit, Magnificat, Miserere, Negro spiritual, Nunc Dimittis, Te Deum, Trisagion, Vedic hymn, accolade, acknowledgment, adulation, alleluia, answer, anthem, antiphon, antiphony, apotheosis, applause, benediction, bepraisement, cantata, canticle, chant, cheer, chorale, chorus of cheers, church music, cognizance, congratulation, credit, crediting, cry, deification, doxology, eloge, encomium, eulogium, eulogy, exaltation, excessive praise, flattery, glorification, glory, gospel, gospel music, grace, hallelujah, hero worship, homage, hommage, honor, hooray, hosanna, hurrah, hurray, huzzah, hymn, hymn of praise, hymn-tune, hymnody, hymnography, hymnology, idolatry, idolizing, introit, kudos, laud, laudation, lionizing, magnification, mantra, mass, meed of praise, motet, offertory, offertory sentence, oratorio, overpraise, panegyric, passion, praise, prayer of thanks, prosodion, psalm, psalmody, rah, recessional, recognition, report, requiem, requiem mass, response, responsory, sacred music, shout, spiritual, thank offering, thank-you, thanks, thanksgiving, tribute, versicle, white spiritual, yell, yippee
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