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Greek music and the Greek Gods

The musical culture of ancient Greece is known more through literary references than through preserved musical documents. About 20 fragments of music are extant written in a relatively late Greek notational system, but references to music performed at various rites and social occasions abound in the works of ancient Greek authors. Consequently, most modern discussions of Greek music either speculate about the sound of the music itself, or deal with the role and nature of music in that society.

Dance, poetry, rite, and music seem inseparably associated in the early history of music in ancient Greece. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey report vintners' songs, dirges, and hymns of praise to Apollo (paeans). Music was described as an art exerting great power (ethos) over human beings, and certain musical styles came to be associated with particular peoples and deities. The KITHARA, a plucked string instrument, came to be linked with Apollo, the god of the Sun and reason, while the aulos, a loud double-reed instrument, came to be identified with Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstatic revelry. The most important of mythic musicians in ancient Greek culture was ORPHEUS, whose music had the power to cause inanimate objects to move and even influence the forces of Hades.

Among the earliest Greek musicians whose existence and accomplishments seem to be rooted in reality as well as legend are Terpander of Lesbos (7th century BC), the founder of lyric kithara performance, PINDAR of Thebes (6th-5th century BC), whose odes represent the rise of Greek choral music, and Timotheus of Miletus (5th-4th century BC), a virtuoso performer on the kithara whose inventions contributed to his infamy as well as his fame. The musical and lyrical tradition represented by these personalities reached its apex in the Athenian drama of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, a dramatic tradition in which solo and choral singing, instrumental music, and dance all played essential roles.

Although many names of musicians are recorded in ancient sources, none played a more important role in the development of Greek musical thought than the mathematician and philosopher PYTHAGORAS OF SAMOS (6th-5th century BC). According to legend, Pythagoras, by divine guidance, discovered the mathematical rationale of musical consonance from the weights of hammers used by smiths. He is thus given credit for discovering that the interval of an octave is rooted in the ratio 2:1, that of the fifth in 3:2, that of the fourth in 4:3, and that of the whole tone in 9:8. Followers of Pythagoras applied these ratios to lengths of a string on an instrument called a canon, or monochord, and thereby were able to determine mathematically the intonation of an entire musical system. The Pythagoreans saw these ratios as governing forces in the cosmos as well as in sounds, and Plato's Timaeus describes the soul of the world as structured according to these same musical ratios. (See section on Harmonic Accordance (this file uses analysis of the workings together of the Greek Gods which is much liked by Greek natives who have been brought up with the myths as their reality in the Parthenon Frieze tour and what we can do for school visits: educational possibilities. For the Pythagoreans, as well as for Plato, music consequently became a branch of mathematics as well as an art; this tradition of musical thought flourished throughout antiquity in such theorists as Nicomachus of Gerasa (2d century AD) and PTOLEMY (2d century AD) and was transmitted into the Middle Ages by BOETHIUS (6th century AD). The mathematics and intonation of the Pythagorean tradition consequently became a crucial influence in the development of music in medieval Europe. Followers of the peripatetic tradition, especially Aristoxenus (4th century BC), found the Pythagorean ratios too archaic and restrictive and began a more empirical tradition of ancient musical thought.

Although little of ancient Greek music survives, Greek musical thought has profoundly affected the manner in which Western culture has expressed itself in this art.

Calvin Bower

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Bibliography: Burkhalter, A. Louis, Ancient and Oriental Music (1968); Henderson, M. Isobel, "Ancient Greek Music," Ancient and Oriental Music, ed. by Egon Wellesz (1957); Hipkins, Alfred J., Greek Music (1930; repr. 1977); Lippman, Edward A., Musical Thought in Ancient Greece (1964; repr. 1975); Michaelides, Solon, The Music of Ancient Greece: An Encyclopedia (1978); Sachs, Curt, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World (1943); Williams, Charles F., Music in Ancient Greek Drama (1921; repr. 1977).