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μουσική, sc. τέχνη, “art of the Muses”). A term which included among the Greeks everything that belonged to a higher intellectual and artistic education. Plato (Rep. p. 136), while discussing education, speaks of “gymnastic for the body and music for the soul,” and ranks literature under the head of music. Music in the narrower sense was regarded by the Greeks both as an agreeable amusement and as one of the most effective means of cultivating the feelings and the character. The great importance they attached to music is also shown by their idea that it was of divine origin; Hermes or Apollo is said to have invented the lyre, Athené the simple flute, Pan the shepherd's pipe. Besides these gods and the Muses, Dionysus also was connected with music. Numerous myths, as, for instance, those concerning Amphion and Orpheus, tell of its mighty power, and testify to the Greeks having cultivated music at a very early epoch. It was always intimately allied to poetry. Originally epic poems were also sung to the accompaniment of the cithara, and the old masters of poetry, such as Orpheus and Musaeus, are at the same time masters of music, just as in historical times the lyric and dramatic poets were at the same time the composers of their works. It was not until the Alexandrian Age that the poet ceased to be also a musician. Owing to its connection with poetry, music developed in the same proportion and flourished at the same period as lyric and dramatic poetry. Of the Greek races, the Dorians and Aeolians had a special genius and capacity for music, and among both are found the first traces of its development as an art.

The actual foundation of the classical music of the Greeks is ascribed to Terpander (q.v.), of the Aeolian island of Lesbos, who, in Dorian Sparta (about B.C. 675), first gave a truly artistic form to song accompanied by the cithara, and especially to the citharodic νόμος. In the Peloponnesian school of the Terpandridae, who followed his teaching and formed a closely united guild, κιθαρῳδική received its further artistic development. What Terpander had done for κιθαρῳδική was done not long afterwards by Clonas of Thebes or Tegea for αὐλῳδική, or song accompanied by the flute. The artistic flute-playing which had been elaborated by the Phrygian Olympus in Asia, was introduced by Clonas into the Peloponnesus, which long remained the principal seat of all musical art. Of the two kinds of independent instrumental music, which throughout presupposes the development of vocal music and always adapts itself to this as its model, the earlier is the music on the flute (αὐλητική), which was especially brought into favourable notice by Sacadas of Argos (about B.C. 580), while the music on stringed instruments (κιθαριστική) is later. Music was much promoted by the contests at the public festivals, above all by those at the Pythian Games. Its highest point of development was attained in the time of the Persian Wars, which seems to have seen the completion of the ancient system as it had been elaborated by the tradition of the schools. The lyric poets of this time, as Pindar and Simonides, the dramatists, as Phrynichus and Aeschylus, were held by the critics to be unsurpassable models. What was added in subsequent times can hardly be called a new development of the art. Athens in her golden age was the central city where professional musicians met one another— Athens the home of Greek dramatic poetry. At this time vocal combined with instrumental music largely prevailed over instrumental music alone. The latter was chiefly limited to solo performances.

Ancient vocal music is distinguished in one important point from ours: throughout classical times part-singing was unknown. There was at most a difference of octaves, and that only when men and boys sang in the same choir. Theoretically, however, the Greeks were acquainted with some of the effects upon which harmonic systems are based, though in practice the nature of their harmonics was extremely simple, with no sure trace of chords or groups of more than two notes. Again, in classical times, the music was subordinate to the words, and was therefore necessarily much simpler than it is now. It is only in this way that we can explain the fact that an ancient audience could follow the musical representation of the often intricate language of the odes, even when the odes were sung by the whole choir. Critics regarded it as a decline of art when, at the end of the Peloponnesian War, the music began to be the important element instead of the poetry. This change took place at first in single branches of the art, as in the solos (μονῳδίαι) in tragedy and in the dithyrambic choruses. Thenceforward ancient music, like modern music, raised itself more and more to a free and independent position beside that of poetry.

The first place among the various kinds of music was assigned to the indigenous citharodic art, which was connected with the first development of the musical art; and, indeed, stringed instruments were always more esteemed than wind instruments, in part on account of the greater technical difficulties which had to be overcome, and which led to musicians giving particular attention to them. Moreover, playing on the flute

Greek musical scale.

was limited to certain occasions, as its sound seemed to the ancients to arouse enthusiasm and passion (Polit. viii. 3). There is evidence that, on the one hand, the ancient theory of singing and of instrumentation, in spite of the primitive nature of the instruments, was brought to a high degree of perfection; and that, on the other hand, the public must have possessed a severely critical judgment in matters of music. The characteristic feature of ancient music is the great clearness of its form, resulting, above all, from the extreme precision of the rhythmic treatment.

This was not the only point in which ancient music differed from modern music; it also differed from it in the number of its modes. The modes were distinguished from one another by the place of the semitones in the octave. While modern music has only two modes, the major and the minor, the Greek had seven. These seven modes, the names of which are taken from the three great Greek races and the neighbouring Asiatic nations (Dorian, Aeolian or Hypodorian, Ionian or Hypophrygian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Hypolydian), were all employed at some time in the classical period, though they did not all of them come into use at the same date. It is significant of the distinction between ancient and modern music that of these modes the Dorian, which was the oldest and the lowest in pitch, and is described as dignified, severe, and grave, was most extensively used in all kinds of music.

As the basis of every melodic series of sounds the ancients had the tetrachord, a scale of four notes, to which, according to tradition, the earliest music was limited. The heptachord was certainly in use before Terpander, who is said to have given the lyre seven strings instead of four (Strabo, p. 618); but Pausanias (iii. 12.10) states with greater accuracy that he added four strings to the previously existing seven. The heptachord consisted of two tetrachords, as the central note was at once the highest of the first and the lowest of the second tetrachord.

Next came the octachord or octave, and at last, after various additions, the following scale of notes was formed:

From the lowest b on ward, this scale was divided into tetrachords in such a way that the fourth note was always also regarded as the first of the following tetrachord; the intervals between the sounds of the tetrachord were, in ascending order, semitone, tone, tone. This sequence was called the “diatonic genus.” Besides this there was also the “chromatic,” the tetrachords of which were as follows: b c d e f g a (the intervals in this case were semitone, semitone, tone and a half). Thirdly, there was the “enharmonic,” the tetrachord of which had for its intervals 1/4 tone, 1/4 tone, 2 tones, and accordingly cannot be expressed in modern notation.

The musical notation (σημασία) of the Greeks consisted of two distinct systems of signs—one for the voice, the other for the instrument. The vocal signs are taken from the common or Ionic alphabet. The notes of the middle part of the scale are denoted by the letters in their usual order; those of the lower part by an alphabet of inverted or otherwise altered letters; the upper notes are distinguished by accents—an accent signifying that the note is an octave higher than that of the unaccented letter. The following is a brief summary of Westphal's discoveries:


The instrumental notation was derived from the first fourteen letters of a Peloponnesian alphabet, possessing digamma, ϝ, the old form of iota, , and two forms of lambda, and . In a few cases the forms of the letters have been modified: thus alpha (originally ) appears as , beta as , delta as , theta as , my (originally ) as , iota as . By treating the two forms of lambda as distinct characters the number is raised to fifteen.


These characters are applied to denote a scale of two octaves, as follows:

Greek scale of two octaves.

The arrangement of the letters is worth notice. The inventor began by taking alpha for the highest note of his scale. Then he took the other characters in pairs, , and made each pair stand for the extreme notes of an octave. This scale may be regarded as the framework of the system of notation.


A character may be varied by being reversed —i. e. written from right to left (ἀπεστραμμένον), or by being turned half round backward (ἀνεστραμμένον, ὕπτιον). When reversed, it denotes a note half a tone higher; when half reversed, it denotes a note a quarter of a tone higher. The combination of the two varieties evidently gives an Enharmonic πυκνόν, or group obtained by dividing a semitone—e. g. if we take the four “stable” notes of the central octave, , we complete the scale in the Enharmonic genus by inserting the varieties of and , thus obtaining .

In some cases this method of varying the letters is impracticable—e. g. reversed does not change; half-reversed becomes , and vice versa. Other modifications are accordingly employed, and we have the groups , and .


In the Diatonic genus the second lowest note of a tetrachord is not represented, as we should expect, by the reversed letter, but by the halfreversed one, the same character as the second lowest Enharmonic note.


In the Chromatic genus the characters used are the same as in the Enharmonic, but the reversed letter is distinguished by an accent. Thus the Chromatic tetrachord e f f #a is written or (in the upper octave) .


The system was enlarged by the addition of two tones, each with the corresponding πυκνόν, at the lower end of the scale, and an octave, except the highest note, at the upper end. The two groups were denoted by the characters and ,

Fragment found at Delphi in 1893 with part of a Hymn to Apollo in musical notation.

which are evidently invented on the analogy of the letters already in use. The new upper notes were denoted by accented letters, to , repeating the scale from to an octave higher.

We now have only seven pieces of ancient music whose authenticity is practically undisputed—the beginning of the First Pythian Ode of Pindar (see Boeckh's Pindar, De Metris Pindari, iii. 12); two hymns to Calliopé and Apollo, ascribed to one Dionysius (q. v. 4); a papyrus fragment of the music of a chorus of Euripides (Orestes, 338-344); an inscription found at Tralles in 1883, giving a musical setting to four short gnomes; a hymn of Mesomedes (q.v.) of the second century after Christ, published, with fac-similes, in Bellermann's Hymnen des Dionysius und Mesomedes (Berlin, 1840); and the fragments of a hymn found inscribed at Delphi in 1893. This last appears to be composed in a mood identical with the modern minor. It was composed after the repulse of the Gauls from Delphi in B.C. 279 and was first published in the Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, xvii. 569-610. The fragments of this hymn are fourteen in number; and from them various reconstructions of the piece reduced to the modern system of notation have been published, one of which was performed before the king of Greece at Athens not long after the discovery of the inscription. See the work by Monro cited at the end of the article.

Besides the pieces cited above there are also a few passages in the nature of short instrumental exercises; and a hymn to Demeter, first published by the Venetian composer Marcello, but regarded by Gevaert and other scholars as of very doubtful authenticity.

With regard to the musical instruments it may be mentioned that only stringed instruments (see especially Cithara and Lyra) and the flute, which closely resembled our clarionet, were employed in music proper (see Tibia); and that the other instruments, such as trumpets (see Salpinx), Pan's pipes (see Syrinx), cymbals (cymbala), and kettledrums (see Tympanum), were not included within its province.

In proportion to the amount of attention paid to music by the Greeks, it early became the subject of learned research and literary treatment. The philosopher Pythagoras occupied himself with musical acoustics; he succeeded in representing numerically the relations of the octave, the fifth, and the fourth. For representing the symphonic relations the Pythagorean School invented the monochord or canon, a string stretched over a soundingboard and with a movable bridge, by means of which the string could be divided into different lengths; it was on this account known as the school of the Canonici as opposed to the Harmonici, who opposed this innovation and continued to be satisfied with a system of scales (“harmonics”) sung by the sole guidance of the ear. Among the Canonici were philosophers such as Philolaüs, Archytas, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle. Lasus of Hermioné, the master of Pindar, is mentioned as the first author of a theoretical work on music. The “harmonic” Aristoxenus (q.v.) Tarentum, a pupil of Aristotle, was held by the ancients to be the greatest authority on music; from his numerous works was drawn the greatest part of subsequent musical literature. Of other writers on music we may mention the well-known mathematician Euclid, and the great astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus, who perfected musical acoustics.

Among the Romans a native development of music was completely wanting. They had, indeed, an ancient indigenous musical instrument, the short and slender Latin flute with four holes; but their national art of flute-playing was, at an early period, thrown into the background by the Etruscan, which was practised as a profession by foreigners, freedmen, and people of the lowest classes of the Roman population. Among the nine old guilds, said to have been instituted by King Numa, there was one of fluteplayers (tibicines), who assisted at public sacrifices. With the Greek drama, Greek dramatic music was also introduced; it was, however, limited to fluteplaying. Stringed instruments were not originally known at Rome, and were not frequently employed till after the Second Punic War. Indeed, as Greek usages and manners in general gained ground with the beginning of the second century, so also did Greek music. Greek dances and musical entertainments became common at the meals of aristocratic families, and the younger members of respectable households received instruction in music as in dancing. Though it was afterwards one of the subjects of higher education, it was never considered a real and effective means of training. Entertainments like our concerts became frequent towards the end of the Republic, and formed part of the musical contests instituted by Nero, a great lover of music, in A.D. 60, on the model of the Greek contests. Domitian had an “Odeum” built on the Campus Martius for the musical entertainments of the Agon Capitolinus, instituted by him in A.D. 86, and celebrated at intervals of four years to the end of the classical period. Passages bearing on music in Roman literature have no independent value, as they are entirely drawn from Greek sources, as in the writings of Martianus Capella and Boetius. See the general histories of music by Naumann, 2 vols. (London, 1882-86); Ambros (2d ed. Leipzig, 1880-81); and Fétis (5 vols. unfinished, Paris, 1868-76). Also Westphal, Die Musik des griechischen Alterthums (Leipzig, 1883); Fortlage, Das musikalische System der Griechen (Leipzig, 1847); Chappell, History of Music (1874); Paul, Boetius und die griechische Harmonik (Leipzig, 1872); Engel, The Music of the Most Ancient Nations (London, 1864); Gevaert, Histoire et Théorie de la Musique dans l'Antiquité (Ghent, 1881); and Monro, Modes of Ancient Greek Music (Oxford, 1894).

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