Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Audio: What Ancient Greek Music Actually Sounded Like

Between 750 BC and 400 BC, the Ancient Greeks composed songs meant to be accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments. More than 2,000 years later, modern scholars have figured out how to reconstruct and perform these songs. New revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words. The Greeks had worked out the mathematical ratios of musical intervals – an octave is 2:1, a fifth 3:2, a fourth 4:3, and so on. The notation gives an accurate indication of relative pitch.

On this audio link, listen to David Creese, a classicist from the University of Newcastle, playing an ancient Greek song taken from stone inscriptions constructed on an eight-string ‘canon’ (a zither-like instrument) with movable bridges. The tune is credited to Seikilos.

To learn more about Ancient Greek music, see the BBC webpage How Did Ancient Music Sound?

For a discussion of the role of music in Ancient Greek culture, see LyrAvalos.

To hear more music from Ancient Greece, go to Atrium Musicae.

singerkithara

Depiction of a poet with a kithara, an ancient stringed instrument.

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2015 by in Music, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , .
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