Archaeology of Ancient Greek Music: from reconstructing instruments to deconstructing concepts

TitleArchaeology of Ancient Greek Music: from reconstructing instruments to deconstructing concepts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsVan Keer, E
JournalStudies in Music Archaeology

This paper explores the contribution of archaeological approaches to our knowledge of ancient Greek music. In the ‘classical’ historical-philological perspective, archaeology of music principally involves (a) the organological study of remains of musical instruments and (b) the study of musical finds or representations from proto- and pre-historic contexts. Taking material culture as point of departure has greatly expanded the information beyond what is traditionally derived from texts alone. It has furthermore extended the perception of music in ancient Greece beyond the traditional definition as the beginnings of western written art music. Ethnographic analogies and critical theories confirm that the classical music historical concept of ‘ancient Greek music’ carries with it important modern and ethnocentric assumptions and limitations. Indeed, comparative notions and methods are adequate in the Greek context, and archaeology of music is well disposed at their implementation. In particular, it supports both ultimate ambitions of "new" anthropological approaches: (a) ‘reconstructing’ the musical instruments and the actual sounds of ancient Greek music and (b) ‘deconstructing’ the modern assumptions shaping the historical concept of music we use and thus the knowledge about ‘ancient Greek music’ we produce. Hence, music archaeology opens an important new perspective to study the culture of Mousikè in ancient Greece all the way from the empirical to the epistemological level. [Ellen Van Keer]


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