The Science of Harmonics and Music Theory in Ancient Greece

TitleThe Science of Harmonics and Music Theory in Ancient Greece
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsGibson, S
EditorIrby-Massie, GL
Ancient AuthorsAristoxenus Mus. (TLG 0088), Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus (OCD), Pythagoras Phil. (TLG 0632)
Book TitleA companion to science, technology, and medicine in ancient Greece and Rome
PublisherJohn Wiley

Music was the subject of much and varied technical discussion in ancient Greece, from the most abstruse to the abstract: the use of instruments, tuning of key scales, settings in tragedy and other forms of poetry, and its role in individual psychology, society and education. The science of harmonics had the more limited ambition of setting out the notes, intervals, and scales (harmoniai and tonoi) of melody, and in particular the precise tunings of the tetrachord in each genus. From early Pythagorean acoustics in the sixth century BCE to Boëthius in the sixth century CE, two basic approaches to music theory developed: the mathematical (Pythagorean) and broadly empirical (Aristoxenian). Later theorists relied heavily on these two streams, combining them with one another. They also often included the number mysticism and cosmology evident in early Pythagorean theorists, employing the significant numbers appearing in musical structures. []


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