Music in History

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ancient Greece

Ancient Greece-Introduction

According to M.L. West, the ancient Greek civilization was steeped in music. "Probably no other people have ever been reported so often in music and musical activities through literature and art ."
Written sources ( such as literature, myths, treatises, philosophical texts ) and a  large number of archaeological data collected ( such as vases, sculptures, etc. ) are  to support this opinion. Greeks were  people of music. However our knowledge on this subject offers us a rather  indirect and descriptive understanding of their music. Few we know  about the music itself,  how it sounded.


From ancient Greek music, a production of about 1000 years, only a few dozen samples have survived . But even these samples are fragmented and scattered with a long distance of time between them. Even fewer of them  are in a such a state that it is possible for scientists  to study and to extract some certain conclusions . Such samples are for example a) an fragment from the  tragedy "Orestes" by Euripides, verses 338-344 (Vienna Papyrus G 2315), and  b) the song of Seikilos, the oldest surviving example of a complete ancient musical composition known  today .
On  the other hand, there are various representations on vases depicting scenes of music, music lessons, concerts, dances, celebrations. Angiographies provide important information about  the instruments of those times.

                                              the song of Seikilos

Pythagoras (c 570-495 BC) refers to some specific terms and characteristics concerning music of his time. However  he seems not to have aimed so much to talk about the music itself: he rather use music to describe how the universe was constructed, from a mathematical -philosophical point of view.  The concept of "music of the spheres" (musica universalis) refers to the allocation and movements of celestial bodies as musical form.  Pythagoras had a general impact on philosophical thought until renaissance. No texts of him are known to have survived.
However some treatises  survive till nowadays. For example,  Aristoxenus of Tarentum ( 4th century BC: elements of Harmony) analyzes some basic rules of music as he knew it. Plato (Phaedo/ on the soul, the republic) and Aristotle (Poetics, metaphysics
, politics-book viii)  have also  left Observations on the music of their era.

During the archaic and classical  greek period a poet  was also composer, so the term "music" included the music and text. Meters of  Lyric and choral poetry   provide rhythmic patterns of music which were close to speech and words.

Some meters of the ancient Greek poetry

Hexameter: It consists of foots (- υ υ). In this how the Homeric epics were written
Iambic trimeter. It is consisted of iambic units (x - υ)
Trochaic tetrameter (υ - x).
A great part of ancient greek drama were written in  iambic trimeter and trochaic tetrameter

The influence of the Greeks in later European music

Late 12th- early 13th century, school of Notre Dame. Greek poetic meters were applied on church music notation of that time, by musicians . These Rhythmic modes substituted the obscure, even unmeasured, rhythm of liturgical hymns.
Much later, in the late 16th century, Florentine  camerata tried to revive the music and drama of ancient Greeks. Those people contributed to the creation of opera, a musical genre that dominated the musical life of Europe until the 20th century, before the emergence of cinema.

                                    "Orestes" by Euripides, verses 338-344


. Albin Lesky, Ιστορία της αρχαίας ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας, μετάφραση Αγαπητού Τσοπανάκη, β' έκδοση, Θεσσαλονίκη 1990
. Μ.L West, Αρχαία ελληνική μουσική, μετάφραση Στάθης Κομνηνός, εκδόσεις Παπαδήμα 1999
3. Willi Apel, Ηarvard dictionary of music, second edition, eighth printing 1974
4. Suidae Lexicon, Immanuelis Bekkeri, Berolini 1854
5. Νικόλαος Ασπιώτης
, Αρχαίοι Έλληνες μουσικοί και σωζόμενα αποσπάσματα, εκδόσεις Δαυλός
6. Δ. Λυπουρλής, αρχαία ελληνική μετρική. μια πρώτη προσέγγιση, εκδόσεις επίκεντρο
The Ancient Rhythm of Love

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