Apollos Lyre: Greek Music and Music Theory in Antiquity and the Middle Ages

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In other accounts, Hermes gave his newly invented lyre to Amphion , a son of Zeus and a skilled musician. While she fled, she came upon an uncrossable river and prayed to her sisters to transform her so that she may escape Pan. Her Nymph sisters transformed Syrinx into a bundle of reeds which Pan found and fashioned an instrument out of, the pan pipe or syrinx. Aulos : According to Pindar 's Twelfth Pythian Ode , after Perseus beheaded Medusa , Athena 'found' or 'invented' the aulos in order to reproduce the lamentation of Medusa's sisters. Since the same Greek word is used for 'find' and 'invent', it is unclear; however, the writer Telestes in the 5th century states that Athena found the instrument in a thicket.

In Plutarch 's essay On the Restraint of Anger , he writes that Athena, after seeing her reflection while playing the aulos, threw the instrument away because it distorted her facial features when played. After which Marsyas a satyr , picked up her aulos and took it up as his own. Orpheus is a significant figure in the ancient Greek mythology of music. Orpheus was a legendary poet and musician, his lineage is unclear as some sources note him as the son of Apollo, the son of the Muse Calliope , or the son of mortal parents.

Orpheus was the pupil and brother of Linus. Linus by some accounts is the son of Apollo and the Muse Urania ; Linus was the first to be gifted the ability to sing by the Muses, which he passed to Orpheus. Other accounts state that Apollo gave Orpheus a golden lyre and taught him to play, while the muses taught Orpheus to sing. Orpheus was said to be such a skilled musician that he could charm inanimate objects. Orpheus was then able to travel to the underworld, and with music, softened the heart of Hades enough that he was allowed to return with his wife; however, under the condition that he must not set eyes upon his wife until they finished their travel out of the underworld.

Orpheus was unable to fulfill this condition and tragically, his wife vanished forever. According to Apollodorus in Bibliotheca , Marsyas the Phrygian satyr once boasted of his skills in the aulos, a musical contest between Marsyas and Apollo was then conducted, where the victor could do "whatever they wanted" to the loser. The first round was judged, by the muses, to be a draw. According to one account, Apollo then played his lyre upside down, which Marsyas could not do with the aulos.

In another account Apollo sang beautifully, which Marsyas could not do. In another account, Marsyas played out of tune and accepted defeat. In all accounts, Apollo then flayed Marsyas alive for losing.

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Pindar recounts a similar myth but instead of Marsyas, it was Pan who contests Apollo and the judge was Midas. This myth can be considered a testament of Apollo's skill but also a myth of caution towards pride. The lyre, kithara, aulos, hydraulis, and salpinx all found their way into the music of ancient Rome. The enigmatic ancient Greek figure of Pythagoras with mathematical devotion laid the foundations of our knowledge of the study of harmonics —how strings and columns of air vibrate, how they produce overtones , how the overtones are related arithmetically to one another, etc.

Our music was once divided into its proper forms It was not permitted to exchange the melodic styles of these established forms and others.

THOMAS MATHIESEN, Apollo's Lyre

Knowledge and informed judgment penalized disobedience. There were no whistles, unmusical mob-noises, or clapping for applause.

The rule was to listen silently and learn; boys, teachers, and the crowd were kept in order by threat of the stick. But later, an unmusical anarchy was led by poets who had natural talent, but were ignorant of the laws of music Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong way in music, that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave. By their works and their theories they infected the masses with the presumption to think themselves adequate judges. So our theatres, once silent, grew vocal, and aristocracy of music gave way to a pernicious theatrocracy From his references to "established forms" and "laws of music" we can assume that at least some of the formality of the Pythagorean system of harmonics and consonance had taken hold of Greek music, at least as it was performed by professional musicians in public, and that Plato was complaining about the falling away from such principles into a "spirit of law-breaking".

Playing what "sounded good" violated the established ethos of modes that the Greeks had developed by the time of Plato: a complex system of relating certain emotional and spiritual characteristics to certain modes scales. The names for the various modes derived from the names of Greek tribes and peoples, the temperament and emotions of which were said to be characterized by the unique sound of each mode. Thus, Dorian modes were "harsh", Phrygian modes "sensual", and so forth.

In his Republic , [44] Plato talks about the proper use of various modes, the Dorian , Phrygian , Lydian , etc. It is difficult for the modern listener to relate to that concept of ethos in music except by comparing our own perceptions that a minor scale is used for melancholy and a major scale for virtually everything else, from happy to heroic music.

Today, one might look at the system of scales known as ragas in India for a better comparison, [ original research? The sounds of scales vary depending on the placement of tones. Modern Western scales use the placement of whole tones, such as C to D on a modern piano keyboard, and half tones, such as C to C-sharp, but not quarter-tones "in the cracks" on a modern keyboard at all. This limit on tone types creates relatively few kinds of scales in modern Western music compared to that of the Greeks, who used the placement of whole-tones, half-tones, and even quarter-tones or still smaller intervals to develop a large repertoire of scales, each with a unique ethos.

The Greek concepts of scales including the names found its way into later Roman music and then the European Middle Ages to the extent that one can find references to, for example, a "Lydian church mode ", although name is simply a historical reference with no relationship to the original Greek sound or ethos. It is a commonplace of musicology to say that harmony, in the sense of a developed system of composition, in which many tones at once contribute to the listener's expectation of resolution, was invented in the European Middle Ages and that ancient cultures had no developed system of harmony—that is, for example, playing the third and seventh above the dominant, in order to create the expectation for the listener that the tritone will resolve to the third.

Plato's Republic notes that Greek musicians sometimes played more than one note at a time, although this was apparently considered an advanced technique. The Orestes fragment of Euripides seems to clearly call for more than one note to be sounded at once. All we can say from the available evidence is that, while Greek musicians clearly employed the technique of sounding more than one note at the same time, the most basic, common texture of Greek music was monophonic.

The lyre should be used together with the voices Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.

Home FAQ Contact. Music of ancient Greece Wikipedia open wikipedia design. Main article: Pythagorean tuning. Music in Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford Music Online.

Oxford University Press. Douris and the Painters of Greek Vases. Alfred Szendrei. Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity. Translated by Boniface Ramsay, O.

Music, Greece and Rome

Washington, D. Edinburgh University Press. Three Homeric Hymns. Cambridge University Press. Glossary of technical literary terms. Reading Ovid. With an Introduction". The Classical World. International Journal of the Classical Tradition. Nehamas, P. The offering of libations were often accompanied by a special libation melody called the spondeion, which was often accompanied by an aulos player. Music occupied an important role in the Greek sacrificial ceremonies. The sarcophagus of Hagia Triada shows that the aulos was present during sacrifices as early as BC.

Music along with intoxication of potions, fasting, and honey was also integral in preparation and catalyzing divination, as music would often induce prophets into religious ecstasy and revelation, so much so that the expression for "making music" and "prophesying" were identical in ancient Greek.

Instruments were also present in war time, though it may not have been considered music entirely. Specific notes of the trumpet were played to dictate commands to soldiers on the battlefield. The aulos and percussion instruments also accompanied the verbal commands given to oarsmen by the boatswain. The instruments were used mainly to help keep the oarsmen in time with one another. Paean : most commonly sung in honor or worship of Apollo as well as Athena , they usually solemnly expressed the hope for deliverance from a peril, or were sung in thanksgiving after a victory or escape.

Prosodion : a type of hymn or processional that invoked or praised a god.


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Prosodions were usually sung on the road to an altar or shrine, and usually preceded or were followed by a paean. Dithyrambs : usually merrily sung in celebration at festivals, performed especially in dedication to Dionysus the god of wine. Dithyrambs featured choirs choros of men and boys who were accompanied by an aulos player. Whether or not long narrative poetry, or epic poetry like those of Homer , were sung is not entirely known. As in Plato's dialogue Ion, Socrates uses both the words "sing" and "speak" in connection with the Homeric epics, [17] however there are heavy implications that they maybe have been at least recited unaccompanied by instruments, in a sing-song chant.

Music was also present in ancient Greek lyric poetry , which by definition is poetry or a song accompanied by a lyre. Lyric poetry eventually branched into two paths, monodic lyric which were performed by a singular person, and choral lyric which were sung and sometimes danced by a group of people choros. Famous lyric poets include Alkaios and Sappho from the Island of Lesbos , Sappho being one of the few woman who's poetry has been preserved.

Music was also heavily prevalent in ancient Greek Drama. In his Poetics , Aristotle links the origins of tragic drama to dithyrambs. Aristotle implies that this relationship between a single person and a group began the tragic drama, which in its earliest stages had a single actor who played all the parts through either song or speech.

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The single actor engaged in dialogue with the choros. The choros narrated most of the story through song and dance. In ancient Greece, the playwright was expected to not only write the script but also expected to compose the music and dance moves.