This chapter investigates the timbral world of ancient Greece through a close analysis of particular types of sonic language in a selection of poetry and prose treatises, from Homeric epic to fifth-century BCE tragedy to the treatises of Aristotle and his school. By trying to locate this elusive category within accounts of music-making and sound more generally, it demonstrates not just the rich vocabulary for conveying different elements of an acoustic experience in the ancient Greek world, but the cultural valences of specific terms and images. In particular, the chapter shows how frequently the various auditory qualities that we might—however anachronistically—associate with timbre are as much social constructions as physical properties.
The Music of Tragedy offers a new approach to the study of classical Greek theater by examining the use of musical language, imagery, and performance in the late work of Euripides. Naomi Weiss demonstrates that Euripides’ allusions to music-making are not just metatheatrical flourishes or gestures towards musical and religious practices external to the drama but closely interwoven with the dramatic plot. Situating Euripides’ experimentation with the dramaturgical effects of mousike within a broader cultural context, she shows how much of his novelty lies in his reinvention of traditional lyric styles and motifs for the tragic stage. If we wish to understand better the trajectories of this most important ancient art form, The Music of Tragedy argues, we must pay closer attention to the role played by both music and text.
References to the syrinx are mostly absent from extant tragedy until the late fifth century BC, when the instrument suddenly starts appearing in Euripides’ plays, especially in the choral odes. This chapter demonstrates that the syrinx is almost always mentioned alongside the aulos, the double pipe that accompanied dramatic choreia, or in such a way that the aulos is strongly suggested, so that the one instrument is meant to be heard as the other. Such instrumental mimesis in Euripides’ tragedies does more than just show off his own skill and engagement with contemporary musical trends and discourse: it is also always used for a particular dramatic effect, thus providing evidence of his increasing experimentation towards the end of his career with the role(s) music could play within a tragedy.
This article examines how lament in Greek tragedy is conceptualized as both highly skillful song and inarticulate noise, and how the slippage between these two apparently contradictory characteristics could be exploited for dramatic effect. I demonstrate how the twofold nature of lament is bound up not just with its ritual practice (the combination of the góos wail and the more formal thrēnos) but with its association with birdsong and displays of extreme emotion by females and foreigners.
This paper argues that the interplay between the narrative and performance of Pindar’s eighth paean embeds it within the physical environment of Delphi, at the site of the Alcmaeonid temple for which it was composed. The use of choreographic and musical images to describe the temple’s mythical predecessors merges with the chorus’s own choreia, which thus has a doubling effect, visually and acoustically overlaying the Alcmaeonid temple with these older structures in a complex interaction of real and imagined space.