Instrumental 'nomos': some considerations

TitleInstrumental 'nomos': some considerations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsAlmazova, N
Ancient AuthorsPindarus Lyr. (TLG 0033)

In the twelfth Pythian ode, Pindar elaborates the Perseus myth, the same subject most probably performed by Midas the aulos-player. One infers from the text that the invention made by Athena as she heard the wailing of the Gorgons is not that of an aulos in general but rather that of a particular kind of aulos music, namely polykephalos nomos. We may assume that Midas won the victory at the Pythian games playing precisely this kind of nomos described by Pindar. The scene depicting the murder of the Gorgon is full of discordant sounds, such as shrieks of the Gorgons and hissing of the snakes. Similar sounds imitating the odontismos of Python being killed by Apollo were required while performing an instrumental nomos Pythikos at the Pythian games. Mimetic features were valued by the Greeks in all kinds of art, even in music. One who played a nomos at the Pythian games had to perform a vivid, recognizable, dramatic scene representing a combat with a monster.

If we suppose that Midas played the nomos polykephalos and represented the Perseus myth, then we have to reconcile this assumption with the information that the nomos Pythikos, which represented the struggle with Python, was the subject of the Pythian musical contest. One can either identify the Pythian nomos with the “multi-headed” one and assume that its content could be more variable than suggested by our sources, or infer that by the time of Pindar the Pythian games could include the performance of nomoi of kinds other than the Pythikos. The scholiast’s story about the broken reed that did not prevent Midas from gaining victory may be an attempt to explain the great number of monstrous sounds mentioned by Pindar, which were an integral part of the instrumental nomoi played at the Pythian games. [Nina Almazova]


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