Ancient Greece

By: Katelyn Manfre

MUSIC

The Basics

Music in everyday life for the ancient Greeks played an important role, although there is significant amounts we do not know about their music such as how exactly it sounded. What we do know is Greek people thought of music as a way of honoring the gods, and making the world a more human, civilized place and was seen as being able to heal the body and the soul. Musicians took roles in everyday life to play their music while doing things such as accompany the women while they were kneading, the workers during harvest, and even the soldiers on their way to battle. f you were able to go to events where music was played you were seen as living a much higher quality lifestyle. Greek music was monophonic, meaning It was played without an accompaniment. It was usually improvised or learned by ear, not read from notes on paper.

Instruments

Lyre- A small harp like instrument with 3-12 strings that sounded much like guitars used today. In Greek mythology it is said that the Lyre was made by Hermes and was given to Apollo. This instrument was made to not be not used in outdoor performances. The lyre is considered to be the most valuable instrument of the Greeks.
Pipes- This instrument was made from wood or reeds, with holes cut in them for your fingers to play the tune. Some were played vertically, like a clarinet, and some were played sideways as a flute. Pipes were played in a loud and cheerful manner for dancing, and people played this music when they were worshipping Dionysos, the god that represented wine and parties.
Chelys Lyra- This was made using a tortoise shell covered by leather. The Chelys Lyra was an instrument found at weddings, celebrations, and dances. It was usually played by woman who entertained.

Aulos- A wind instrument that was invented by Athena according to Mythology. It was typically made of cane, wood, or metal and had three or four finger holes. The Aulos was played in festivals, processions of births and deaths, athletic games, other social occasions, and performances of tragedy in theatre. It was associated with the god Dionysos like Pipes were.

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Today's Discoveries

  • Though we do not know the exact sound of how ancient Greeks played these instruments in music, through descriptions, paintings, and archaeologists findings, we have been able to predict how it might've been performed. Recently a few dozen ancient documents were found that had writings of vocal notation made around 450 BC that had alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words. These notations helped to find basic pitches that matched with it, similar to some folk music played today.
  • David Creese, a professor at the University of Newcastle was able to loosely perform a song from the ancient Greeks. The lyrics performed translated to:
  • The lyrics performed translated to:
While you're alive, shine:

never let your mood decline.

We've a brief span of life to spend:

Time necessitates an end.