Music (or mousike) to be an integral component of life in the old Greek world, and the term spanned not just music but also dance, lyrics, and the power of poetry. A wide range of tools was supplied to carry out music which to be played on every manner of occasions such as religious ceremonies, festivals, private drinking next (symposia), weddings, funerals, and also during athletic and also military activities. Music to be also an important element of education and Greek drama performances hosted in theatres such as plays, recitals, and also competitions.

Musical Origins

For the ancient Greeks, music was perceived as fairly literally a gift native the gods. The creation of details instruments is meeting to specific deities: Hermes the lyre, Pan the syrinx (panpipes) and also Athena the aulos (flute). In Greek mythology the Muses personified the various facets of music (in the wide Greek sense of the term) and were stated to entertain the god on Mt. Olympus with their magnificent music, dancing, and singing. Other mythical numbers strongly connected with music space the god of alcohol Dionysos and his pendant the Satyrs and also Maenads. Amphion and also Thamyres to be both well known for their an abilities playing the kithara (guitar) whilst Orpheus was commemorated as a splendid singer and lyre player.

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The oldest surviving Greek musical tools are bone auloi which day from the Neolithic age (7th-4th millennium BCE) and also were found in western Macedonia, Thessaly, and Mykonos. The three significant civilizations of the Bronze period in the Aegean (3000 to 1000 BCE), Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean Civilization, all administer physical evidence of the prominence of music in their respective cultures. Marble figurines from the Cyclades represent players of both the aulos and the harp. Cretan hieroglyphic script has actually three icons which space musical instruments - two species of harp and also a sistrum (or rattle, originally from Egypt). An alabaster lyre decorated v swan heads survives indigenous Knossos and also a fresco in ~ Akrotiri top top Thera depicts a blue monkey play a tiny triangular lyre. The Minoan "Harvester Vase" (1500-1450 BCE) indigenous Hagia Triada ~ above Crete depicts a sistrum player and also clay execution of the instrument have actually been uncovered in graves across Crete. Over there is additionally some proof that music may have actually been composed down as early on as the Bronze age if a Minoan straight A text on a wall in Hagia Triada is interpreted as such.

The combining of words and music, melodic and also scalar systems, and several the the most renowned musical instruments such as the aulos and also lyre probably acquired from the near East. However, the Greeks themselves considered the lyre, in particular, as a "Greek" instrument whilst the aulos is frequently represented in mythology together an inferior foreign competitor of eastern origin. Hence, the an excellent Greek god Apollo, who was believed to be the master of the lyre, defeated the Phrygian Satyr Marsyas and his aulos in a music competition judged by the Muses. The lyre was likewise the music instrument, above all others, which young Greeks had to learn in your schooling and was recommended therefore by Plato in his Republic.

Musical Instruments

Greek musical instruments contained stringed, wind, and also percussion. By much the most renowned were the lyre, aulos (usually double), and also syrinx. Other instruments, however, consisted of the rattle (sistrum and also seistron), cymbals (kymbala), etc (kithara), bagpipe (askaulos), conch and triton shells (kochlos), trumpet (salpinx), horn (keras), tambourine (rhoptron), shallow drum (tympanon), clappers (krotala), maracas (phormiskoi), xylophone (psithyra), various versions that the lyre such as the four-stringed lyre (phorminx) and the multi-stringed and elongated barbiton, and various species of harps, generally triangular shame (e.g. The psalterion). Two unusual tools were the rhombos (a wind instrument) which was a flat rhombus pierced v holes, strung ~ above a cord, and played by turn the cord. The second was the hydraulis, a sophisticated Hellenistic body organ which used compressed air and water pressure preserved by 2 pedals. Incidentally, stringed tools were always played v the finger or a plectrum quite than with a bow and also in the classical Period, stringed tools were favoured over wind as they enabled the player to also sing and, because that the Greeks, words to be considered an ext important 보다 musical sounds.


Music Theory

There is proof that the Greeks started to study music theory as beforehand as the 6th century BCE. This contained harmonic, acoustic, scalar, and also melody studies. The earliest enduring (but fragmentary) message on the subject is the Harmonic Elements through Aristoxenos, written in the 4th century BCE. Music additionally became an aspect of philosophical study, notably, by the followers of Pythagoras, who believed that music was a mathematical expression the the cosmic order. Music was also held come have particular therapeutic benefits, even medicinal powers over physical and mental illnesses.

In addition, one of the distinctive contributions the Greeks made come the background and advancement of music is the it have the right to have a moral and emotional result on the listener and his or she soul; in short, that music has actually an ethical function in society. Because that this reason, Plato, considering them rather decadent, prohibition instruments capable of producing all of the scales. Likewise, overcomplicated rhythms and music v too quick a tempo were thought about morally attention in the good philosopher"s ideal republic.

Regarding written music, 52 pieces of Greek music survive, albeit in a fragmentary form. Because that example, a music excerpt indigenous Euripedes" beat Orestes survives, together does an inscription of music from the Athenian Treasury in ~ Delphi. The most finish surviving item of Greek music is the track of Seikilos native a second century BCE tombstone uncovered at Tralleis close to Ephesus.

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Bronze Aulos Player Figurine


Greek musician were an extremely often the composers and also lyricists the the music they performed. Well-known as the "makers of songs" or melopoioi, they developed melos: a composition of words, tune, and rhythm. There is evidence that musicians appreciated an elevated status in society as suggested by their details robes and also presence ~ above royal family members staff lists. There was also a certain symbol because that musicians in the Cretan hieroglyphic script and also the later on Linear B. Professional musicians to be male, although an exception were the courtesans or hetairai that performed at symposia. However, there are depictions in arts of woman musicians, notably the clay dancing lyre football player from Palaikastro. Other professional musicians included the trieraules who collection the beat for the rowers in triremes and also trumpet players and choral singers who accompanied marching soldiers.

Music & Religion

Music and also dancing add processions ~ above special spiritual occasions in miscellaneous Greek urban and, amongst the most famed in the Greek world, were the Panathenaia and an excellent Dionysia festivals that Athens. Certain religious practices were normally performed come music, for example, sacrifices and the pouring of libations. Hymns (parabomia) and prayers (kateuches) were likewise sung during processions and at the altar itself. These were detailed by choral teams of experienced musicians, significantly aulos players, frequently attached to details sanctuaries, for example, the paeanists in Athens and the aoidoi and epispondorchestai in the sanctuary the Asclepius at Epidaurus.

Music, dance, poetry and drama recitals were additionally a competitive activity in events such as the pan-Hellenic festivals held at Isthmia, Delphi and Nemea. However, just like the athletic competitions, the music contests to be of a spiritual nature in the excellence was offered to honour the gods. There were two varieties of such musical contest: stephanites (sacred through a symbolic wreath as the prize) and chrematites or thematikoi (with much more tangible prizes such as money or priceless goods). Sparta, Argos, and Paros held the earliest such competitions native the 7th century BCE. In Hellenistic times, musical festivals and competitions became so common that musicians and performing artists started to organise themselves into guilds or Koina.

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Aulos Player

Music & Education

Plato educates us that the very first schools devoted to musical education were produced by the Cretans. However, the heyday of music in the classroom was throughout the sixth and fifth centuries BCE as soon as schools that music were established in Athens where pupils aged in between 13 and also 16 to be taught come play the lyre and also kithara and also to sing, accompanied by their teacher on the aulos. Music taught discipline and order and allowed the education to better appreciate music performance. Athletics and also other sporting activities, another significant element of the Greek education, were additionally done accompanied come music, specifically in bespeak to rise synchronization.

Music for Pleasure

Music to be a staple facet of the symposium or all-male drinking party. ~ eating, the guys each sang a track (skolia) with an aulos, lyre, or barbiton giving backing music. Regularly they sang funny satirical songs (silloi). Finally, in ~ the end of the evening, it was common for the group to take to the roadways as a komos (band that revellers) and also sing and dance their method through the town.

Women too might enjoy music in the privacy of your homes. Normally women play stringed instruments and recited city to music. In addition, family members chores such together weaving and also baking were excellent to music. Children too sang songs (agermos) at people"s doors come receive small change and sweets just as carol-singers carry out today.

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Theatre that Segesta
Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

In the theatre, performances that Greek tragedy, comedy, and drama were every accompanied by music, and singing was detailed by a designated chorus which included as plenty of as 24 singers in Greek theatre performances of the fifth century BCE.

Music in Art

Musicians and musical tools were a popular subject on frescoes, in sculpture, and on Greek pottery, specifically in the geometric, black-figure and also red-figure styles. Aside from all of the major figures the Greek Mythology previously mentioned, a notable enhancement to the topic of music ~ above Greek ceramic is the biggest of heroes Hercules. Late Archaic and Early Attic pottery regularly portray the hero with a kithara, and also perhaps this symbolizes the association in between physical and musical exercise which are necessary for a properly well balanced education. Other good heroes such together Achilles, Theseus, and Paris are also sometimes portrayed playing a musical instrument (usually a lyre), as soon as again reinforcing the twin aims of one aristocratic education and the virtue the music. Also, countless school scenes on 5th-century BCE ceramic depict students v both a lyre and also a book-roll, portraying once again the prestige of music in education. Finally, Lekythoi, slim jars because that holding perfumes, are typically found in dig contexts and also often have music as the topic of your decoration, probably in an attempt to ensure the the deceased to be accompanied by music on your journey right into the following life.

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Editorial ReviewThis write-up has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and also adherence to academic standards before publication.


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Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His special interests encompass pottery, architecture, civilization mythology and discovering the concepts that all civilizations share in common. That holds an MA in politics Philosophy and is the posting Director at WHE.