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Archaeology of Ancient Greek Music

From Reconstructing Instruments to Deconstructing Concepts

Ellen Van Keer

ZUSAMMENFASSUNG pre-historic contexts. Taking material culture as the

point of departure expands the information
In diesem Artikel geht es um den Beitrag, den die beyond that traditionally derived from texts alone.
Archäologie zum Verständnis der antiken grie- It extends furthermore the perception beyond that
chischen Musik leisten kann. Aus althistorischer imposed by historiography, which places ancient
und altphilologischer Sicht befasst sich Musikar- Greece at the beginnings of western written art
chäologie im Wesentlichen mit (a) der organologi- music. Ethnographic analogies and critical theories
schen Untersuchung der Überreste von Musikin- confirm that this concept of ‘ancient Greek music’
strumenten und (b) der Untersuchung musik- carries with it important modern and ethnocentric
relevanter Funde oder Darstellungen aus prä- assumptions. Comparative notions and methods
historischem Kontext. Durch die Untersuchung der are more adequate here and archaeology of music is
materiellen Hinterlassenschaften erweitert sich das well-disposed at their implementation. It supports
Wissen gegenüber den schriftlichen Quellen be- both ultimate ambitions of (a) ‘reconstructing’ the
trächtlich. Damit öffnet sich der Weg für eine musical instruments and the actual sounds of
Wahrnehmung, die nicht mehr das antike Grie- ancient Greek music and of (b) ‘deconstructing’ the
chenland an den Beginn der westlichen Kunstmusik modern ethnocentric assumptions shaping the his-
stellt. Ethnographische Analogien und kritische torical concept of music we use and thus the
Theorien bestätigen, dass dieses Konzept der anti- knowledge about ‘ancient Greek music’ we pro-
ken griechischen Musik mit wichtigen modernen duce. It promotes a ‘new’ and more adequate
und ethnozentrischen Hypothesen befrachtet ist. understanding of the music of ancient Greece from
Komparative Ansätze und Methoden der Musik the empirical to the epistemological level.
sowie der Archäologie sind vielversprechender im
Ansatz, sie fördern beide Ziele, nämlich (a) die
Rekonstruktion der Musikinstrumente sowie eines 2 ARCHAEOLOGY OF MUSIC
möglichst authentischen Klanges der antiken grie-
chischen Musik und (b) die Dekonstruktion moder- 2.1 ARCHAEOLOGY
ner ethnozentrischer Hypothesen, die das histori-
sche Musikkonzept, das wir benutzen, und somit Archaeology is usually defined as the study of the
die Kenntnis über die antike griechische Musik, die past through material culture. This includes not
wir produzieren, prägen. Dies fördert ein angemes- only ‘high’ art objects (sculpture, painting…), but
seneres Verständnis der Musik, sowohl auf empiri- any kind of artifact (tools, constructions…) or
scher als auch auf erkenntnistheoretischer Ebene. physical remains (vegetal traces, animal bones…)
from past human behavior. The discipline embraces
the study (logos) of past things (arkhaia) in a general
1 INTRODUCTION sense. Interest in archaeology arose during the
Renaissance, when the antiquities of Greek and
This paper explores the plethora of implications, Roman culture were rediscovered and collected.
archaeology can carry in view of our knowledge Archaeological excavations started in 18th-century
about ancient Greek music. In the ‘classical’ histor- Italy in the Roman cities of Pompeii and Hercula-
ical-philological perspective, archaeology of music neum. In the 19th century, the beginnings of Greek,
mainly involves (a) the organological study of Egyptian and Mesopotamian archaeology fol-
remains of musical instruments and (b) the study of lowed. Archaeology of the Americas, prehistoric
musical finds or representations from proto- and archaeology, and the scientific method of archae-
226 Ellen Van Keer

ology are later successes of the 19th century. The controlled by the historical-philological perspec-
principal development of the 20th century has been tive and subsumed by the discipline of music his-
a shift of focus from the practice of collecting and tory more specifically. This studies ‘ancient Greek
classifying antiquities and ‘objects’ towards inves- music’ as a first form of music in the western fine
tigating more complex cultural and environmental art tradition and concentrates on musical text and
problems and ‘contexts’. Contemporary archae- documents and on the accomplishments of music
ology studies traces from any place or time and theory, and on Athens most particularly6. It is an
adopts practices and theories from a variety of cul- extremely technical and specialist branch of
tural and natural sciences. It has been described as advanced philological scholarship that other classi-
“anthropology in the past sense” to indicate that it cists generally ignore7.
encompasses the study of the human past in its Historiography tends to reduce the past to
totality1. what has been preserved in texts. However, suc-
Archaeology is paramount in the study of cesses and criticisms produced in other directions
‘proto’- and ‘pre’-historic phases of cultures that and disciplines have urged historical studies to
have left only material and environmental evidence. open up to other sources (e. g., oral), methodologies
Conversely, ‘historical’ cultures that left textual (e. g., iconology), regions (e. g., Africa) and view-
evidence are traditionally the province of the discip- points (e. g., gender and feminism). Pluralism is the
line and perspective of historiography. Material mainstay in contemporary historiography, ancient
evidence typically takes a secondary place here and history included8. Music history, concurrently,
is moreover primarily understood in the literary developed into ‘historical musicology’ and inte-
context. ‘Classical’ archaeology is an exemplary grates sources and approaches from philology and
victim of this kind of obstacles and criticisms. The historiography as well as from iconography, pale-
term ‘classical’ does not merely correspond here to ography, epigraphy, etc. Musicology furthermore
the geographic period on which the archaeological expanded its scope beyond the history of western
research concentrates. It also involves a paradigm art music to include the study of music in non-
where the focus has remained on the antiquities to western cultures (i. e., ethnomusicology) as well as
which the discipline owed its origins and where of non-historical aspects of music (i. e., systematic
privilege is furthermore given to the texts to which musicology). A general shift of focus has occurred
Greek antiquity owes the established reputation of away from the unique ‘product’ of art music and
being the first ‘historical’ society. The paradigm of towards ‘processes’ of musical performance taking
Hellenism has been granted the superiority to the place within larger natural and cultural environ-
disciplines of classical philology and ancient history. ments. Interdisciplinary cross-fertilizations with
It also encouraged a bifurcated development of modern disciplines such as psychology, anthropol-
classical studies and archaeology that has isolated ogy, and sociology have played a fundamental role
‘classical’ archaeology. The Greek world has
become a backwater for other archaeologists2.

1 Renfrew/Bahn 1991, 11–41. The notion of archaeology as

2.2 HISTORY OF MUSIC anthropology is characteristic of what is called ‘new’
archaeology in the Anglo-American world.
2 Snodgrass 1987; Morris 1994; Shanks 1996 pioneered this
The modern perception of history is principally criticism arguing against the subordination of Greek
engrafted on texts3. This is not different in view of archaeology to ancient history and insisting on the cooper-
music. The history of music developed as a form of ation of ‘classical’ archaeology with the more general discip-
historiography specifically concerned with the lines of ‘prehistoric’ and ‘world’ archaeology as well as
taking up the methodological and theoretical insights that
western written tradition of music4. It shares the recently revolutionized ‘new’ archaeology (and history), cf.
basic task of textual source criticism with the his- Johnson 1999, esp. 12–23. The ‘great divide’ between theory
torical disciplines. It furthermore displays the trait and practice is a general criticism of classics and ancient his-
tory, cf. Morley 2004, 1–32.
specific to art histories of arranging formal, stylis- 3 I. e., it is a recent development to investigate ‘oral’ history.
tic and aesthetic developments according to 4 I. e., it is a recent development to investigate non-written
epochs, styles, periods, or artists. Peculiar to it is a musical traditions in the west as well as the history of non-
concern for matters of musical practice, instrumen- western musical traditions.
5 Cf. Stanley 2001.
tation, composition, notation, theory, philosophy, 6 I. e., many scholarly accounts make no clear distinction
aesthetics, pedagogy, etc5. Again, classical Greece is between ‘history’ and ‘theory’ of Greek music, e. g., Win-
placed at the beginnings of all this. Not only did it nington-Igram 1980; Mathiesen 2001. Older accounts often
produce the ‘first’ literary and historical texts, it is even deal with theory mainly, e. g., Macran 1928. For this
criticism, e. g., Restani 1997, 1, who turns to the neglected
widely reputed to have fostered the beginnings of category of ‘myth’, instead.
scientific writing about music as well as of written 7 West 1992, 1.
documents with musical notation. The research is Most recently, e. g. Erskine 2009.
Archaeology of Ancient Greek Music 227

in these developments. New methods and theories theory12. Archaeology of music can be described as
are being developed and adopted in musicology anthropology of music in the past tense to indicate
this way up to the present time (e. g., bio-music- that it encompasses the scientific study of the
ology, semiotics of music). Music is a virtually end- music of the past in its totality13.
less subject and its study is potentially interlocked
with countless scientific approaches and branches9.
Amongst the various sources, methodologies and
approaches that researchers currently adopt in the Archaeology of music, as can be expected, is para-
study of music are those from archaeology. There mount in the study of ‘proto’- and ‘pre’-historic
have always been scholars who have shown an musical cultures. Conversely, in the study of music
interest in the material evidence of music, and in in ancient Greece, reputedly the first ‘historical’
the remains of musical instruments most specifically. culture, the textual sources take the central place,
But archaeology of music as a distinct scholarly the philological-historical approach prevails, and
activity, partaking in musicology and archaeology the material evidence is primarily studied from this
and specialized in the scientific study of the mater- perspective, too. This is my second reason for
ial evidence of music, is a relatively young phe- sticking to the denomination of “archaeology of
nomenon and one that is still in development10. In music” here. In the study of ancient Greek music,
keeping with the individual goals and wide scopes archaeology is largely commensurate with history
of its constitutive disciplines, archaeology of music and specifies basically the integration of material
encompasses many and multiple implementations evidence and of proto- and prehistoric periods into
with two natural limits. On the one extreme, it will the inquiry. It is especially consequential in view of
consist of applying methodologies of musicology the study of organology and music prehistory.
to the study of archaeological objects (e. g.,
organology). This line is essentially a musicological
line of inquiry. On the other extreme, it will consist 3.1.1 Organology
of applying archaeological methodologies to the Remains of musical instruments are paramount in
study of music (e. g., excavation). This is principally the study of ancient Greek music. Besides docu-
an archaeological line of inquiry. The hybrid and ments with notation they are the most direct mu-
ambivalent nature of the branch is also reflected in sical sources at our disposal. Musical instruments
the loose and interchangeable use of different are the area of expertise of organology. This branch
denominations such as “archaeo-musicology” or of musicology focuses on formal and technical
“music archaeology”, etc11. characteristics and produces classifications of
Typically and ideally, the interdisciplinary musical instruments14. Traditionally, we derive our
cross-fertilizations between musicology and organological knowledge of ancient Greek musical
archaeology will proceed equally in both directions instruments primarily from descriptions found in
and result in different accents at most. This is my writings from antiquity15. The information has
first reason for sticking to the more generic and been supplemented by countless representations
open designation of “archaeology of music” here. found in classical art and iconography16. Discovery
It complies moreover with a fundamental element
of profound ambiguity in that archaeology special-
izes in empirical study of material objects while the
product of music is intrinsically immaterial. Mu- 9 Cf. Duckles et al. 2001.
sical instruments are its most direct and widely I. e., Duckles et al. 2001, 492–507, II “Disciplines of music-
ology” describes a dozen branches including iconography
preserved materializations. The core activity in
(II.3), socio-musicology (II.9), etc. Archaeology is not yet
archaeology of music is hence the practice of excav- one of them. Yet, Hickmann 2001 offers a first reference
ating, identifying, dating, examining and classifying article on the subject.
11 E. g., Hickmann 2001, 848, defines “Archaeomusicology”
material remains and visual representations of
with „Musikarchäologie“ i. e., “Music Archaeology”, as its
ancient musical instruments. But the research can German counterpart. But in the bibliography she also
start with the discovery of any physical trace of makes reference to English work on “Music Archaeology”.
musical behavior and it can lead all the way to 12 The goal and the program of the present conference will
investigating symbolism and cognition of music in suffice to prove this.
13 I. e., Lund 1980, 1: „Vorgeschichtsmusikanthropologie“.
specific geographic periods, or cross-culturally. It 14 Cf. Libin 2001.
also includes other sources when available (i. e., 15 Cf. Di Giglio 2000.
texts) and it deals with issues of methodology and Cf. Paquette 1984.
228 Ellen Van Keer

and organological study of archaeological remains The distinctive contribution from archaeology is
of musical instruments have further advanced the generally limited to information about dates and
inquiry in a variety of ways. They have expanded functions derived from finding contexts (graves,
our empirical knowledge about the types and var- temples...). A problem is that many of the finds of
iety, the formal-technical and melodic properties, antiquity are without archaeological contexts.
the scales and harmonies of the range of musical Moreover, Greek archaeology remains in itself pri-
instruments17. The material evidence also helped to marily an archaeology of ‘objects’ rather than of
put into perspective the limitations of the other contexts. It still mainly takes on the form and
categories of sources as well as of older interpret- frame of history of ‘art’27.
ations that were based on a more limited corpus of Nevertheless, the rediscovery of the prehistory
material18. of ancient Greek music succeeded, albeit slowly, in
However, the archaeological evidence poses shifting the traditional scholarly emphasis away
problems of its own. One is that many materials from the texts and Athens. It furthermore extended
are perishable and usually preserve badly or some- the perception beyond that imposed by the historio-
times not at all19. Another problem is that the iden- graphical perspective, which only placed ‘ancient
tification of archaeological finds specifically as cer- Greek music’ at the beginnings of western written
tain musical instruments is particularly difficult art music. Music prehistory revealed a strong con-
when additional sources are lacking and especially tinuity and extensive interactions between the
when textual descriptions remain unavailable, music of ancient Greece and that of earlier Bronze
which is commonly the case in archaeological Age civilizations in the Mediterranean East28. The
research. Moreover, many artifacts allow for generic paradigm of historicism had previously bestowed
and multiple usages that can be potentially musical, upon ancient Greece a unique position, but it
too20. Hence, archaeologists of prehistoric music
have developed wider systems of classification than
those used in organology and musicology. As 17 E. g., attempts have been made to infer from the disposition
opposed to studying musical instruments in the of the holes in surviving examples of ancient Greek auloi
narrow sense they set out to investigate any “double flutes” the notes and the intervals that they were
“sound-producing device” in specific and cross- designed to play, e. g., Hagel 2004.
18 E. g., the theory of Schlesinger (1939) explaining the rise of
cultural contexts21. This enlarged perception is a
the Greek harmonies on account of the form, position and
major implication and special merit of archaeology number of finger-holes in auloi is not consistent with the
of music. In view of ancient Greek music, however, archaeological data discovered since, cf. West 1992, 96–101.
research tends to concentrate on musical instru- The material is, however, also inconsistent with the imagery.
Finger holes are rarely depicted in detail and when they are,
ments in an organological sense and to adopt the
accuracy is not compulsory.
form and perspective mainly of historical music- 19 E. g., the reeds in the mouthpieces of auloi and in the pipes
ology22. of the syrinx (‘panflute’).
20 I. e., the class of percussion instruments is highly problematic
in this respect.
21 Core publications are Lund 1980; Lund 1981.
3.1.2 Prehistory of music 22 I. e., West 1992, 126: “Our concern being with music, it is
Archaeology of ancient Greek music first de- not necessary to discuss every kind of noise-making device.
veloped when scholars started to integrate icono- We need not linger over bells… or over bird-scarers, or
children’s rattles.” Both ancient and modern scholars have
graphical and material evidence into their inquiries hardly shown any interest in these vague types of instru-
of music history23. Historiography has a natural ments. Notable exceptions are, e. g., Villing 2002; Kolo-
fascination with ‘historic-genetic’ questions and tourou 2007.
23 E. g., Wegner 1949; Wegner 1963; Wegner 1968.
the material evidence notably allows a glimpse into 24 E. g. the suspected development of strings in lyres from
the music of the earliest periods, for which there is three or four in early times to seven or more from the time
no direct literary evidence. However, ancient of Terpander is not supported by material evidence: West
authors never hesitated to give opinions on the ori- 1992, 62.
25 I. e. imagery of dance is far more problematic in this respect.
gins and the development of music. The discovery 26 E. g. Aign 1967; Younger 1999. For this criticism, cf. Brand
and study of contemporary material evidence use- 1999, esp. 9–10, who shifts the focus from the instruments
fully qualifies the ‘literary’ picture of prehistory of to the musicians acting within a broader social and cultural
ancient Greek music24. The evidence consists most 27
Most textbooks make no clear distinction between ‘art’ and
abundantly of musical representations in art, and
‘archaeology’ and produce histories of Greek art from
the research primarily focuses on the information Minoan to Hellenistic times mainly, e. g. Biers 1996; Pedley
they supply about the types, functions and de- 2008. For this criticism, cf. Alcock/Osborne 2007, esp. 2–8,
velopments of musical instruments that are the stressing that this was the result of the impact of the ‘clas-
sical’ tradition and Hellenist ideology on scholarship.
principal defining features of music in imagery25. 28 Guillemin/Duchesne 1935 would claim that even the classic-
Organology and iconography typically take the ally ‘Greek’ kithara was derived from the Ancient Near
central place in ancient Greek music prehistory26. East.
Archaeology of Ancient Greek Music 229

turned out not to be so unparalleled in the com- Homeric studies as well as classics in general. It
parative perspective. The comparative approach first caused a shift of focus away from the genius of the
developed in the course of the 19th century in the author and the intrinsic value of literary texts
study of ancient Greek religion and myth, easily towards processes and contexts of their perform-
recognizable as belonging to an older and more ances and reception31. Furthermore, it incited a
‘primitive’ heritage that appeared indeed to be radical new perception of ancient Greek ‘literature’
rooted in a broader Indo-European tradition and – the essence of the ‘Greek’ primacy – as pertaining
was on occasion retraceable to Paleolithic times or to the vast category of ‘oral’, ‘ethnic’ or ‘folk’ cul-
had been preserved in modern ‘folk’ culture and ture and akin to the ‘pre-literate’ societies studied
was also recognized in living non-western ‘ethnic’ in anthropology, rather than to ‘literate’ civiliza-
cultures. The latter became the central focus of tion cultivated in philology and historiography.
concern of the discipline of anthropology, which The dethronement of Athens and philology is a
emerged as the principal achievement and embodi- first major implication. The aim to relocate and
ment of the comparative perspective and approach. study ancient Greek culture within the complexity
The comparative methods and ethnographic tech- of its proper ethnographic characteristics and con-
niques also gave a forceful impetus on the develop- text is another. The paradigm of Hellenism had
ment and emancipation of both the branches of constructed the ancient Greeks – especially the
prehistoric/world archaeology and ethnomusicology. classical Athenians – as an extraordinary people
Ancient Greece, nevertheless, remained a priv- who ‘invented’ literature, philosophy, rationalism,
ileged area of ‘classical’ scholarship controlled by democracy, and many other achievements and values
the values and pursuits of philology and historiog- emblematic of European civilization. However,
raphy. Greek scholars have been extremely slow to even the rise to prominence of archaic and classical
adopt the comparative approach and methods, Greek culture proves to be heavily indebted to
especially in the study of music. They have long extensive interactions with the neighbors in the
remained disinclined to retrace elements of ancient east32. Ancient Greece is no first miracle of western
Greek music back to earlier Bronze Age civiliza- culture and this realization caused a ‘revolution’ in
tions29. Moreover, they have tended to abstain the classical paradigm33. The comparative method-
from ethnographic parallels between the noble ‘art’ ologies are constitutive of the ‘new’ paradigm and
of ancient Greek music and ‘folk’ traditions in they are gradually also taken up by modern scholars
modern Greece30. Musical analogies were first dis- of ancient Greek music. Two ultimate imple-
covered and most successfully applied by scholars mentations have a special association with archae-
of ancient Greek poetry and literature. This rad- ology of music. One is to produce playable recon-
ically changed the perception of ancient Greece, structions of the instruments and actual sounds of
and also the study of ancient Greek music funda- ancient Greek music. The other is to expose mod-
mentally started to change. ern and ethnocentric assumptions in the concept
and perception of ‘ancient Greek music’.


29 For this criticism, cf. Duchesne-Guillemin 1984, 130, find-
Until not so long ago, ancient Greek literature was ing that Guillemin/Duchesne 1935 has been largely neglected
the sole province of historical-philological scholar- amongst the scholars of Greek music, though not in
ship, which studies texts in their written form and musicology more generally.
30 For this criticism, cf. Hickmann 2001, 850, citing Willam-
focuses on editing manuscripts, producing transla-
owitz-Moellendorff (1921), the near-embodiment of Hel-
tions and writing commentaries on matters of resti- lenism, who claimed that comparison itself had proven that
tution, date, form, style, content, meaning, evolu- the music of the modern Greeks was in no way related to
tion, etc. In this view, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey the music of the ancient Greeks.
31 Cf. Nagy 1996. Archaic Greece and even classical Athens
enjoy the reputation of being the first realizations
have been recognized as ‘performance’ cultures rather than
of literature in the west. However, Milman Parry ‘literate’ societies, e. g., Goldhill/Osborne 1999.
and Albert Lord (1960) found parallels for the 32 Cf. Burkert 1992. The ‘miracle’ or ‘revolution’ of ancient
extensive use of fixed expressions characteristic of Greece has been recognized as a construct of scholarship
rather than a historical reality, e. g. Goldhill/Osborne 2006.
Homer’s poetry in contemporary Serbo-Croatian 33 It is the so-called ‘cultural’ or ‘anthropological’ turn in clas-
folk song. They elaborated the theory that Homeric sics and ancient history to study ancient Greece in its own
poetry, rather than a ‘literary’ achievement, was the right and ethnographic context rather than following the
result of enduring and extensive ‘oral’ compos- traditions of European civilization. In the process, many
foundational dichotomies of Hellenism have collapsed, e. g.,
itions and performances similar to those of the nar- literacy – orality, texts – images, historiography – anthro-
rative song traditions found in pre-literate soci- pology, ‘us’ – ‘them’, etc., cf. Morley 2004. It encourages
eties. The ‘oral-formulaic’ theory revolutionized interdisciplinary contextual scholarship, cf. Morris 2002.
230 Ellen Van Keer

3.2.1 Reconstructing Ancient Greek history and ethnomusicology are inadequate in the
Musical Instruments Greek context. Venturing beyond the pursuits and
Archaeology of music starts with musical finds and limitations of historiography, musicologists aspir-
aims at reconstructing past musical cultures. Its ing to a genuine ‘ethnomusicology’ of ancient
supreme ambition, responsible also for much of its Greece are now adopting not only its techniques
success and renown with the large public, lies in but also its models and concepts. Ancient Greek
producing material reconstructions of musical music is better understood as pertaining to the vast
instruments and reproducing the actual sounds of anthropological category of ‘ethnic’ music rather
the music of the past34. Archaeology of music as than to the historical category of ‘art’ music39. The
‘reconstruction’ of music is my third reason for new perspective usefully shifts the focus away
sticking to this denomination here. It is an imple- from musical aesthetics, philosophy, theory, nota-
mentation of experimental-participatory methods tion... and brings into view many previously
that are commonly used in ethnomusicology, the untouched problems such as regional musical tra-
branch of musicology that is primarily concerned ditions, interactions of Greek and Near Eastern
with observing music in living non-western and music, survivals in modern folk traditions, etc.40
pre-literate societies35. In historical contexts, Archaeology of music has much to offer to this
archaeological remains of musical instruments are ‘new’ kind of anthropology of music in the ethno-
paramount to the endeavor. Other ingredients are graphic Greek context. Renouncing the classical
ancient descriptions or representations and con- penchant for objects and rather taking ‘material
temporary parallels. The process of materially culture’ as their point of departure and venturing
reproducing ancient Greek instruments and per- beyond ‘classical’ archaeology of ancient Greek
forming on them adds a great deal to understand- music in narrowly seeking alliance with the more
ing their construction methods, playing tech- general branch of archaeology of ‘sound producing
niques, melodic capabilities, etc. The approach has behavior’, Greek archeologists are now developing
a unique capacity to allow us a glimpse into the a ‘new’ archaeology of music in ancient Greece in a
physical sound qualities of the music actually broader sense41. The future and potential of this
performed on instruments, which, by its very approach and line of inquiry is very promising.
nature, has been lost forever to our ears. Attempts
to reconstruct ancient Greek music are not new.
They started as soon as musical writings and text
fragments with musical notation from antiquity 34 Hickmann 2000, 1: „Hier setzt nun die Arbeit des Musik-
were rediscovered. Modern performances of archäologen ein: er identifiziert und klassifiziert das Arte-
fakt, vermißt und beschreibt es. Im günstigsten Fall ist das
reconstituted pieces on reconstructed instruments vormals klingende Objekt spielbar, doch gehen alle
are producing increasingly fine appropriations of Bemühungen dahin, ein Replikat anzufertigen, das dann auf
the compositions and songs preserved in the mu- Klangqualitäten hin weiter untersucht werden kann.“
sical documents36. Experimental performances also (“Here it is where the work of the music archaeologist
begins: he identifies and classifies the artifact, measures and
allow the reproduction of musical techniques and describes it. In the most favorable case the once sonorous
phenomena so far only known from ancient object can be played, but all efforts are aimed at fabricating
descriptions and depictions37. Modern techniques a replica whose tonal quality can then be investigated”).
35 Cf. Pegg et al. 2001.
even allow restitution of ancient poetic perform- 36 Cf. the research and website on Ancient Greek music by
ance techniques and finally give back to certain Stefan Hagel <>.
Greek literary ‘texts’ some of their fundamental 37 E. g., in aulos music, higher registers were used for the pur-
oral and aural qualities38. The approach opens an pose of a special effect called syrigmos: ‘whistling’. It was
important new perspective in the study of ancient used, e. g., to imitate the shrill sounds of the Python snake,
so texts say. We can appreciate this much better through
Greek music. sound examples produced, e. g., aulos fragment 4 by Stefan
Hagel produced on a reconstructed Hellenistic aulos cf.
<> (25 August, 2008).
3.2.2 Deconstructing the Concept of 38 Cf. the research and website on Homeric singing by Georg
‘Ancient Greek Music’ Danek and Stefan Hagel <>.
39 Italian classicists have been leading the way, e. g., Restani
The musical dimensions in ancient Greek culture 2006. Cf. also West 1992.
40 E. g., Franklin 2004, cf. the website of John Curtis Franklin
are far more extensive and fundamental than ever
realized before and than addressed in the history of 41 ‘Aegean’ archaeologists led the way by integrating
music alone. This perspective uses as its model approaches, methods and findings from prehistoric archae-
music in the western fine art tradition. However, ology and ethnomusicology in the study of music in Bronze
ethnographic parallels rather reveal structural simi- Age Greece, e. g., Kolotourou 2003; Kolotourou 2007.
Recently also ‘classical’ archaeologists started to develop a
larities between ancient Greece and the ‘pre-liter- ‘new’ archaeology of ‘contexts’ as opposed to ‘objects’ of
ate’ societies studied in anthropology and ethno- music in classical Greece, e. g., Bellia 2005 and her paper at
musicology. The boundaries between music this conference.
Archaeology of Ancient Greek Music 231

Since ancient Greece has been recognized as an gical foundations and problems involved in the
oral performance culture, classical scholarship has scholarly concept and perception of ‘ancient Greek
been confronted with the need to reassess and music’. Archaeology of music as critical ‘episte-
rethink also its perception of and approach to mology’ of the concept and the study of ‘ancient
music. Many highly valued aspects of ancient Greek music’ is my final reason for sticking to this
Greek culture possessed intricate musical qualities denomination here.
and pertained indeed to the wider category of
Mousike. This has escaped notice due to the
scholarly prerogative of the study of ‘ancient Greek 4 CONCLUSION
music’ in the narrow sense. The word ‘music’
derives from the Greek word Mousike, but we The approach of archaeology has fundamental
must not be misled. The segregation and the con- capacities leading beyond the pursuits and the limi-
cept of ‘music’ are entirely modern and moreover tations of the ‘classical’ historical perspective and
pernicious to properly understanding music in perception of ancient Greek music. Particularly
ancient Greece. The Mousike were the “the arts of disposed to adopt comparative and critical findings
the Muses”. These included intricate cultural prac- and theories, it can promote a ‘new’ understanding
tices (consisting of music, poetry, dance and others) of musical behavior in the ancient Greek ethno-
that were inseparable from the wider social context graphic context all the way from the empirical to
(politics, cult, myth). Breaking down the traditional the epistemological level, capturing moreover their
boundaries in scholarship, an increasingly wide intrinsic interrelatedness. Our knowledge of
range of ancient historians is now engaging in the ‘ancient Greek music’ depends on the sources and
study of music42 and investigating the history of the evidence as much as on the concepts and the
Mousike in the broad sense43. The approach from framework we use. Archaeology as anthropology
archaeology helps to advance this research on the of music is an approach with many and multiple
empirical as well as on the epistemological level. As prospects on various levels in the study of ancient
‘archaeology of knowledge’ it aims to expose the Greece.
cultural and scholarly assumptions shaping the
concept of music we use and thus the knowledge
about ancient Greek music we produce44. Hel-
lenists have long failed to appreciate the conceptual E. g. specialists in literary or religious history, cf. Pinault
and contingent element in scholarship. However, 2001; Brule/Vendries 2003.
43 Anglo-American scholarship has been leading the way, cf.
the impact of modern values is undeniable in clas- Murray/Wilson 2004; Bundrick 2005.
sical scholarship. The comparative findings and 44 ‘Archaeology of knowledge’ goes back to the French
approach have exposed the ethnocentric and reduc- philosopher and critical theorist Michel Foucault (1969). A
principal merit for historians has been to expose cultural
tive nature of the paradigm of Hellenism as well as
assumptions and linguistic complexities as actively shaping
of the specific concept of ‘ancient Greek music’45. all notions and concepts we (must) use and thus the scientific
It is a modern category of interpretation imposed knowledge we produce, cf. Munslow 2000, esp. 67–74. The
on the ancient world that does not correspond to associated ‘linguistic turn’ encouraged a growing concern
for theory and interpretation (i. e., epistemology) in the
ancient reality as such. The concept of ‘archaeology’ humanities, the writing of ancient history included, cf. Mor-
can be usefully elaborated to carry out a critical ley 1999; Morley 2004.
assessment of the interpretational and epistemolo- 45 More generally, cf. Nettl 2001.


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