Music and Image in Classical Athens.
When I was studying Classics and Philosophy in Calvin College and Seminary nearly a century ago, it was the standard assumption that we knew virtually nothing about Greek music and were not even very certain that it played a significant role in that ancient culture. Now Bundrick has given us a remarkably lovely volume that solves that problem and regales us with a world of information about the marvelous details of the dominant role that music played in forming the character and style of Classical Society and humane Civilization in Greece from the seventh to the third century BCE.
Sheramy D. Bundrick is the professor of art history at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. She cut her scholarly teeth as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000-2001. She also received the Kress Foundation and Fulbright Foundation grants for her work in research and publication. The cultural psychology evident in this work on the history of ancient Greek music is fascinating and profoundly erudite. Bundrick launches her volume with a quote from Euripides treatise on Herakles: "Let me not live without music." From that emotive evocation of the Pythagorean vision of the mathematical and musical structure of the entire universe, she moves swiftly and with gratifying illumination through the centuries of Classical Greek psycho-social history. Her creative narrative paints a multicolored panorama of the heart, soul, psyche, aesthetic spirit, and craft of that wonderful ancient world. It is illumined by 110 plates depicting ancient musical instruments and typical musical performance settings. The entire import of this work is the assessment of the ways in which Greek music, its lyrics, instrumentation, and performance shaped the psyche of the ancient Greeks and their cultural character and style.
Bundrick's skillfully crafted volume has six sturdy chapters, a helpful Preface, 35 tightly packed pages of highly informative chapter notes, a useful glossary, nearly 300 select bibliographical entries, and a brief but adequate index. Her six chapter titles, in themselves, tell us an intriguing story about the trajectory of her quest to understand the lyrical spirit of the ancients upon whom we depend for so much of what we are today in Western Culture. Chapter 1 introduces the work with a dozen pages on "Music and Image in Fifth-Century Athens, Sixth-Century Music and Musical Imagery, The New Democracy, 'New Music', and New Musical Imagery." This is followed naturally by the second chapter of 30 pages "Representing Musical Instruments." It has three sections, as might be expected, treating stringed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. The first two are particularly interesting. Greek stringed instruments included the Chelys Lyre, Kithara, Barbitos, Phorminx, Thracian Kithara, and Harp. Wind instruments were mainly three, the Aulos, Syrinx, and Salpinx. Some of these instruments were unique while in others we can see the primordial forms of our own modern ones.
Chapter 3 offers us 45 pages on "Mousike The Art of the Muses." The questions that were important to the Greeks were 1) what it takes to become an Aner Mousikos, (a musician in a virtually mystical sense), 2) the lessons one can learn from the legendary Linos, 3) Mousike and Gymnastike (the musical arts and physical heroism or physical and psychological character development), 4) amateur and professional Mousike at the Symposia, and 5) "Women and Mousike." That exploration of the socio-cultural function of the musical arts and the socio-psychological function of music in all its settings and expression reveals a remarkable side to the nature of the Greek spirit in individuals and communal assemblies.
Chapter 4, entitled "Ethos and the Character of Musical Imagery," therefore, follows this exposition appropriately. Its subtopics are 1) Music on the Edge: Dionysos and His World, 2) Ethos and Pathos in the Imagery of Orpheus, 3) a specific psychological study entitled Thamyris: Music and Hubris, and 4) Marsyas, the Musical Satyr. There follows, in chapter 5, a global Pythagorean psycho-sociological dissertation on "Harmonia and the Life of the City." It includes 1) The Harmonia of Apollo Kitharoidos, 2) Music and Cult Ritual, 3) Contest and Victory, 4) Music and the Theater, 5) Harmonia and the Wedding, and 6) Harmonia as Personification. While Chapter 4 is 30 pages, chapter 5 is the weightiest and has 57 pages. The book is closed out with a final summary chapter of 7 pages on "Musical Revolutions in Classical Athens."
Bundrick's book is a meticulous analysis of the way in which spiritual dynamics shape cultural changes, and how they in turn form the imperatives of politics; as well as the way in which exactly the reverse is equally true. There are many interesting stylistic aspects of her volume, e.g. she retains the authentic Greek spelling of all the major terms. This will be unfamiliar to the reader who is schooled in the Latinized rubrics of the English speaking world. It may be somewhat disruptive to such folk. I must say that it is quaint and lovely for this old Greek scholar. Secondly, as hinted above, the volume is filled with fine illustrative photos of artistic artifacts of every kind: the actual physical appearance of all the musical instruments, the furniture and tableware of the symposia, amphora with articulate presentations of the people and things of musical performances, Kraters of many special types for virtually every occasion, and the sculptures of the gods and humans associated with cultural aesthetics, musical events, and the life of the psyche and spirit.
Therefore, the author points out that her research depends, in part, upon the literary evidence that has survived, but that "is clearly a small pat of a much larger story. We can turn to the visual evidence to flesh out the picture with two strategic advantages: the plethora of representations available and the fact they are contemporary in time. Fifth-century Athens has been called a 'city of images,' and it is not surprising that many of the images..., from the Parthenon frieze to the thousands of vases... are connected with musical performance" (p. 2). Such images are documents to be read.
Athens became the international aesthetic center into which artists from all over the Mediterranean world streamed when the city rose to prominence because of her triumph in the Persian wars. By the last decades of the sixth century and throughout most of the fifth century the cross-fertilization that international community produced engendered a burgeoning creativity. The Neue Muzik this produced overwhelmed the orthodox traditions and shaped the politics, culture, and cult of the rich and enriching century that bridged the pregnant time from the Milesian philosophers to Plato and Aristotle.
Bundrick's volume is formed around three matters: "the discipline of mousike itself, the exploration of musical ethos, and the overarching ideal of harmonia" (p. 10), the chief principle of the Pythagorean philosophy that dominated Platonism. Pythagoras' Quadrivium included mathematics, music, medicine, and astronomy, conceived as a set of dynamics that were interconnected and produced the harmony (harmonia--unity and coherence) of all things in the material and spiritual universes--the grounding Pythagorean monism. Thus the educational value of mousike was highly esteemed and much of what we learn about Greek music from the images is derived from depictions of school room scenes featuring youth working with musical instruments. Greeks believed that a capacity to perform musically, love music, and internalize the mystical and psychological effects of music definitively shaped human character and behavior.
Lasos of Hermione is thought to have produced the first Greek treatise on music, but it was the student of this pioneer, Pindar, who "certainly acknowledged the psychological power of music in his works; the latter speaks in his Odes of the soothing qualities of music and its capabilities to tame the savage beast within" (p. 11). He was followed by Damon of Oa who formulated theories about the relationship between music and the soul (nous and psyche) in the individual and in society, influencing musical thought for many centuries, shaping musical ethos at least to the end of the Middle Ages. "Like ethos, harmonia had many associations, implying musical, social and political harmony [Pythagorean cosmological theory]. Originally having the literal meaning of 'joining together,' in the sixth century harmonia  began to describe musical notes united in a system of concord [Pythagorean numbers theory],  the act of tuning a musical instrument,  and the various musical modes such as the Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian modes" (11).
In the fifth century, harmonia could also refer to the stability and equilibrium of the polis... (11). Perikles appreciated this politically harmonizing perspective of Damon of Oa and remarked on this in his funeral oration for Damon, reminding his fellow citizens of "our love of what is beautiful" and "our love of things of the mind." He was alluding, among other things, to the concerts and orations performed in the towering aesthetic structures associated with the Acropolis. By the late fifth century Harmonia was personified as the incarnation or epitome of all of these principles. It functioned as the catalyst of Athenian democracy (63).
Mousike held a key place in education in Greek society. Professional musical skill was seen as inculcating into the student's character and personality the virtues of sophrosyne (moderation and upright behavior), rhythm, and harmony; producing the aner mousikos, honorable gentleman, unassailed by hubris. The turn from the fifth to the fourth century saw a revolutionary musical change in which the aner mousikos was no longer limited to the elite and wealthy. It became the educational and social medium for the common man. The outcome of mousike in democracy and education had finally come into its own. This led to a trivialization of music as less critical for the harmony of the virtuous psyche and polis, and more preoccupied with the superficial entertainments of the hoi polloi. We thought the collapse of idealism and civility occurred in the last half of the 20th century. Sell your bed and buy this book!
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|Author:||Ellens, J. Harold|
|Publication:||Journal of Psychology and Christianity|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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