|fresco from Pompeii|
Music played an important if not crucial role in the ancient Greek life. According to Plato's Republic, during a young boy’s education, the two most important subjects to be taught were music and gymnastics. Boys learned music to discipline their minds and gymnastics to discipline their bodies. However, the subjects had to be taught in exact equal amounts because too much music would cause effeminate behavior and too much gymnastics would cause aggression. (This probably also explains Aristotle’s aversion, discussed in Politics, to the growing popularity of professional musicians and even some of the first documented virtuosos that arose during his lifetime.)
The type of music also contributed to a boy’s scholastic development because certain types of music would foster different characteristics. For example, someone being trained to govern would be encouraged to listen to melodies in the Dorian or Phrygian mode because they encouraged a calm demeanor and temperance. They would be discouraged from listening to anything in the Mixolydian mode, however, because it was considered sad and depressing. (The modes are not something I am going to explain in this post, but STAY TUNED because I might satisfy your curiosity in a future entry, either here or on my own blog, Frozen Socks. Suffice to say, the musical modes are something that were adopted by musicians in the early Christian church and survive in almost all Western Music still being composed to this day.)
But music’s influence was not limited to the education of ancient Greek children. Music could cure the sick, purify the body, work miracles, control the relationships between people and even explain the movement of planets in space. Even literature in ancient Greece was considered a form of music. In fact, the ancient Greek language had no single word for a poem or prose that would be performed without a musical accompaniment. Why is this? How could something so nebulous, so fleeting have such an important and material influence on this society, particularly since they apparently did not bother to record it as they did their dramas and epic poetry?
That will have to wait for another day! In the meantime, enjoy this chorus from Euripides’ Orestes that was found on a scrap of parchment dated from 408 B.C.E.