Music and Difference in Ancient Greece
002 LEC
Days and Time: 
TTh 12:30-1:59P
Griffith, Mark
Course Description: 

In this course, we will look at ancient Greek ideas and practices concerning the nature, sources, psychological effects, and social functions of music (including singing, instrumental music, and dance), during the Archaic and Classical periods (ca. 800-350 BCE).  Taking an ethnomusicological approach, we will examine Greek musical culture as a whole, focusing especially on differences of gender, ethnicity, regionalism, class/status (e.g., free vs slave), and even species – since the Greeks recognized that some animals are very musical, as of course are several of the gods and goddesses – to see what different kinds of music were played by the various performers, and at what kinds of occasions.  Particular topics to be investigated will include:  what counts as “music” (as distinct from other kinds of sound/noise)?  What mental, spiritual and physical effects does music have, and how are these effects brought about?  (We will look at some medical and magical texts, as well as more obvious descriptions of musical performance and dance.)  What were the social functions of Greek choruses and of other kinds of institutionalized musical/dance performances, and what different theories were advanced by ancient philosophers, doctors, educators and scientists about the moral, educational, therapeutic, or inspirational effects of listening to or performing music of different kinds?  How do bird- and animal-“songs” compare with and/or relate to human music?  What different effects and value were the various musical tunings, modes/scales, instruments, and rhythms believed to have, and why?  What was the “harmony of the spheres”?  Was music (for the Greeks) regarded as being intrinsically gendered “feminine” in its origins (hence the Muses, Sirens, etc.), and if so, why?  And above all:  why are humans so musical?  What difference does music make in culture, ancient and modern, and what good does music do for the human species?  (We’ll sample some recent publications in evolutionary biology and in neuroscience and animal studies, for modern theories about these on-going questions.)

Readings (all in English) will include a number of short texts and excerpts (mostly collected in a Course Reader and/or on bCourses) from Homer, Hesiod, and other Classical poets, together with excerpts from Plato’s Republic, Laws and Timaeus; Aristotle’s Poetics, On the Soul and Politics; pseudo-Plutarch On Music; Boethius Principles of Music; some medical and magical writings; as well as three or four Greek dramas.  We will also look at a good number of visual images, mainly vase-paintings. Students will be encouraged to bring into the discussion their own musical interests and tastes, for comparison with the wide range of “differences” that we encounter in the ancient Greek context. We will consider too comparative material drawn from other societies (both ancient and modern), in which music has been variously defined and in which musical practices, institutions, and attitudes have differed considerably.  Some modern scholarly analyses (aesthetic, cognitive, biological, ethnomusicological) will be assigned as well, to help us formulate our own approach and methods of investigation.