Monday, February 25, 2013


Sarah Reason
Honors 201

As in current Western culture, music played an immense role in the daily life of Ancient Greeks. Music played roles in history, theatre, religion, and societal behaviors. Ingalls (1999) summarizes that the role that music played in this culture with “Greece culture was a song culture. Poetry, either recited or sung, was the medium through which history was related, political realities and social status were affirmed, social sanctions were taught and upheld, and religious meaning was thought to be found” (372). Ideally, music embodied dance, poetry, and melody. Overall, music played the role of a backbone to many of the Ancient Greek customs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, tells that most of our current knowledge of the role of music comes from fragments of scores, references to music in literature, (ex. The bards in the Odyssey) and in paintings found on pottery. From observations of these fragments of art and literature, the role of musicians in daily life, of music in philosophy, and music in religion are seen.
The Greeks experienced music in their daily festivities no matter the social class. Shepherds played pipes to herd their flock of sheep, women were known to sing in their homes, and in occupations such as oarsmen, music was used to keep rhythm (Hemingway). Music was representative of the entire society and their beliefs. Men were trained to play an instrument and taught to sing and perform choral dances. Women were educated about moral behavior especially with music. Other than education, music was most often apart of Greek celebration and festivals. Hemmingway explains that the music was the pattern and texture of festivals for religion, marriage and funerals, and banquet gatherings.  Greek music reflected myths and ideology about the roots of their society. The story of Amphion and Zethus, the children of Zeus, are attributed to building the city of Thebes with Amphion’s music played by a lyre. (Merriam-Webster). Music played a role not only in pleasing gods and goddesses, but also telling the tales of them.

The most common embodiment of music in Ancient Greece was the Greek chorus. According to Ingalls (1999), the chorus sang during plays and poetry, for religious rights, and other festivities. Choral groups were often formed of aristocrats, especially men but with some women. They are described as the “surrogate for the community as a whole” (372), especially since not everyone could sing and dance. The role of these choruses  was to project the society’s values such as religion, in addition to evoking various powers through emotion.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Greek philosophy behind the chorus and music in general was that music was a divine and healing process. Pythagoras is said to have believed that music and math, when joined, ultimately created a harmony of the cosmos. It is said that music “inspires souls.” This concept played out further through the works of Plato and Aristotle. The idea that music created the “ideal Greek City-State” was a common principle of these two philosophers. Music was the basis of purity and moral actions, and was a direct gift from gods. . It created a certain harmony with the universe, specifically in its relationship to deities. Pythagoras defined harmony with music as the cause of “calmness” for a complete whole. The influence music had on the society, was most greatly on the ethos, or character of an individual. In Greek society, individuals were thought to be shaped, by the rhythmic, balance, flow, words, and actions that came with Greek Music. As we’ve seen with the Odyssey and other Greek Myths, the bards can bring humans to tears, sirens sing shipmen to their deaths, and the oral tradition to pass stories was held as sacred. Music, as a whole, influenced the minds, actions, and beliefs of the Ancient Greek city-states. Most eloquently, a translation of Sophocles’ work entitle Music explains “Power there is in songs,/ What great happiness/ That can make bearable this/ Short narrow channel of life!” (Gibbons, 2007). Music reflected the deities, the culture, and the moral expectations of Ancient Greece.

“Lekythos” 480 B.C.  Brygos Painter Image of aulos (clarinet) from ancient Greece.

Hemingway, C & Hemingway S. (2001). Music in Ancient Greece. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  New york: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ingalls, W.B. (1999). Traditional Greek Choruses and the Education of Girls. History of Education. 28(4). EBSCOhost.

Lippman, E.A. (1964). Musical Thought in Ancient Greece. New York: Columbia University Press.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary. “Amphion and Zethura.” Retreived February 17, 2013.

Sophocles (2007). Music. Poetry. 189(6). EBSCOhost.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Jessica Morrison
Honors 201

Greek Tragedy

Tragedy emerged first in the yearly spring festivals for Dionysus in sixth century BCE. At these festivals songs were sung about heroes of late and poems were read. Homer was the author of most of those poems and he had a huge influence on tragedy developing. It is thought that Thespis combined elements that already existed in the festival to form the structure of the performances of the first tragedies. (Scodel) Gilbert Norwood stated in his book “tragedy was born at the moment when, as tradition relates, Thespis of Icaria in Attica introduced the actor”. Thespis stepped away from being a part of a chorus and distinguished himself like a protagonist of a story. Eventually both tragedies and comedies became and integrated part of the festival. Each year three playwrights submitted three tragedies and one satire to compete against each other and at the end of the festival a winner was announced. Despite some controversy of exactly when and how tragedy truly emerged, it seems agreed upon that it blossomed from the festivals and Thespis, as well as Homer, was a great contributor in its development.

The first tragedian known to us was Phrynichus, but he is not well known in modern society. The three playwrights that still have tragedies surviving today are Aeshylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. At the Dionysus festival in 498 BCE Aeshylus won first prize in the competition, jump-starting his career as a playwright. Of the known 89 plays he wrote only 7 remain today. Sophocles, the author of Antigone, later beat Aeshylus in 468 BCE, but sadly only 7 of his plays survive as well. Euripides never actually won first place at the festivals, but he first began competing in 455 BCE. His plays were thought to have a prejudice against women as it seemed the men hated the women in his pays. Nineteen of Euripides’ scripts are still around today.  

There are several elements that set a tragedy apart from other genres of Greeks plays and also some mutual ones. In the sixth century BCE masks were used in all performances, but they were used to hide the actors’ face and not to show them as the identity of their character. Thespis again comes into play as evolving masks from simple paint, to leaves, to fabric. However, a huge shift in the use of masks was in the fifth century BCE when the emergence of female protagonists and masks began to be made with color and had the intent to evoke emotion. (Calme) For the aspects of a tragic script playwrights had a meter to follow and specifics about how their hero should be. The meter in Greek tragedy was not based on stressed and unstressed syllables, but on how long it took a person to say that syllable. Depending on the section of the play or who was talking the play could be written in iambic meter, trochaic tetrameter, or anapestic meter. There are many, many other rules about how exactly the meter worked in Greek texts, but I do not have the space to include it all. (Norwood). The hero of the story was also expected to be born of nobles and take their fate seriously. A misfortune happens to this character at some point in the play and is caused by a mistake they had previously made; this is also referred to as the tragic flaw of the hero. Aristotle makes the point that the misfortune cannot happen because the hero is a bad person, but must be because of the one mistake he/she did. (Scodel) Despite these “rules” for a Greek tragedy, there are some exceptions that do not include every aspect, but for the most part those elements are what depict a tragedy from other plays.

Despite the tremendous difference in time between now and when Greek tragedies were composed, they continue to be performed all around the world. “Since the turn of the 20th century, ancient Greek plays have become part of the repertoire of all modern theatres and, since the 1970s, there has been the most remarkable explosion of performances of Greek tragedy across the world – not just Europe and the USA, but also in Japan and Africa and Russia. In London, Paris and New York.” (Goldhill) These plays can still be related to and enjoyed in today’s society and I predict they will continue to be popular for many years to come.

Above is a Greek vase depicting a production of one of Euripides' plays

Works Cited
Calame, Claude. "Facing Otherness: The Tragic Mask in Ancient Greece." History of Religions 26.2 (1986): 125-142. JSOTR. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Cohen, Amy R.. "The Greek Play at Randolph College." Randolph College - A Private Liberal Arts and Sciences College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Randolph College, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <
Goldhill , Simon . "Greek tragedy: setting the stage today | University of Cambridge." Focus on | University of Cambridge. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <>.
Jastrow. Mask Youngster. N.d. Louve, Paris. Theater of Ancient Greece. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Norwood, Gilbert. Greek tragedy. New York: Hill and Wang, 1960. Print.
Scodel, Ruth. An introduction to Greek tragedy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.