30 melodies or fragments of melodies come down to us a couple are passed down through the medieval tradition

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30 melodies

  • 30 melodies or fragments of melodies come down to us
  • A couple are passed down through the medieval tradition
  • Five are preserved on stone inscriptions
  • The rest, however, survive on the waste paper of antiquity -- papyrus

Musical Papirus

  • Among the many extraordinary treasures that have been dug from the sands of Egypt are the musical papyri: scraps of papyrus (the ancient equivalent of paper) containing musical notation.
  • Most are very fragmentary, preserving only a few notes here, a couple of phrases there
  • P. Yale CtYBR inv. 4510
  • the sort of musical notation sometimes used
  • by professional singers in antiquity


  • the notation is represented by an ancient Greek alphabet
  • ancient musicians had two separate systems of musical notation, the one meant for voice, and the other for instruments

P. Mich. 1205r

  • This Roman era papyrus contains the sort of musical notation used by instrumental musicians in antiquity.
  • The papyrus is a fragment from what was probably a collection of melodies for performance, perhaps intended for the ancient aulos, a woodwind not unlike a modern oboe; or, less likely, the ancient kithara, the performance version of a lyre.
  • P. Mich. 1205r,

Papirus on internet

  • http://classics.uc.edu/music/index.html


  • In order to have a musical system, scales were discovered, and from these foundations the musical systems of all nations have sprung.
  • The scales differed greatly.

Chinese pentatonic system

  • The Chinese, for instance, had a scale known to us as the pentatonic, or five-toned scale, which sounded very much like this:

Chinese note names

  • To each of these notes they gave a name, thus: "emperor", "prime minister", "subject people", "state affairs", and "picture of the universe".


  • Ancient Greek theorists and composers thought not so much in terms of octaves, as in terms of sequences of fourths, which they called "tetrachords".

Combinations of tetrachords

  • the melody seems to move among a series of closely related tetrachords

Pythagoras and tetrachord

  • Pythagoras invented a system of four tones known as the tetrachord (or series of four notes), which led to the first scale of one octave. The following are tetrachords:

Disjunct or conjunct

  • When two tetrachords are disjunct, that is, when the top note of one is separated by a tone from the bottom note of the next, the two combine to form an octave
  • When two tetrachords are conjunct, that is, when the top note of one overlaps with the bottom note of another, two tetrachords combine to form a seventh--whence the famous seven-toned lyre

Lydian notation-key (disjunt: form an octave)

A conjunct tetracord: a seventh

  • I. Dorian mode (scale), resembling the scale of D minor

Mathematical mysticism

  • System of 4 (tetrachord, kosmos)
  • 4 wind (N, S, W, E)
  • 4 forces (earth, wind, water, fire)
  • System of 7 (notes, 7 modes, planets, days)
  • System of 8 (octave, 8 modes, 4x2 = infinite, perfection)

Pytagoras of Samos

  • Pythagoras of Samos is a semimythical Philosopher (late sixth century B.C.)
  • He left no writings
  • his followers (Pithagoreans) were in the habit of ascribing all sort of their own ideas to him

The Pythagoras Theorem

    • It was known to the Babylonians centuries before Pythagoras!

Daemons of the gong

  • For the Pithagoreans, the sound made when a bronze gong is struck was the voice of one of the demons imprisoned in the bronze

Mystic numbers

  • Pithagoras was a sort of ancient guru, who beguilled his followers with exotic doctrine of the trasmigration of the souls
  • The interest in number of the pitagoreans was more mystical than mathematics
  • The number was the key to the universe

Musical concords

  • Pithagora is credited by Diogenes Laërtius with having discovered that the basic musical concords, the octave, the fifth, and the forth, corresponded to numerical ratios: 1:2, 2:3 and 3:4 respectly

Aristotle (Metaphysica A 5 986a)

  • The Pithagoreans “saw that the modifications and the ratios of the musical scales were expressible in numbers;
  • since, then, all other things seemed in their whole nature to be modelled in numbers, and numbers seemed to be the first things in the whole of nature,
  • they supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements of all things, and the whole heaven to be a scale (music) and a number

Numerical-musical universe

  • Since numbers were for the Pithagoreans not abstractions but quantities with real, spatial, existence,
  • the discovery of numerical musical laws governing the whole of creation, and especially the starry universe,
  • was an intoxicating one!

Musical Planets

  • According to the doxographer Hippolytus, Pythagoras is said to have taught that
  • the universe is put together by means of harmonic laws and so produces, through the motion of the seven planets, rhythm and melody (see Diels, Doxographi Graeci [1879], p. 555).

Parabolic hearing!

  • The very enthusiastic Neo-Pythagorean Iamblichus went so far as to claim that Pythagoras could actually hear the cosmic music inaudible to other mortals!

Plato ”Republic”

  • Er the Pamphylian, a hero slain in battle, was given the privilege of seeing the next world and then returning to life to describe what he had seen.

Singing planets

  • The vision of Er includes a model of the universe, a set of concentric rings or whorls—the planets—hung on the spindle of Necessity.
  • on the upper surface of each circle (planet) is a siren, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note.
  • The eight circles together form one harmony (melody, octave)

Harmony of the sphere as music

  • Thus for Plato the universe was designed according to harmonious proportions, and this intellectual harmony could be described, in the metaphoric language of a dream-vision, as sounding music.

Cicero's Somnium Scipionis

  • For Cicero it is the motion of the spheres that produces the “great and pleasing sound” of the universe.
  • Mortal beings, accustomed from birth to the sound of the cosmos (!), cannot ordinarily hear it!
  • only in a vision, or after death, does its sublime harmony, of which terrestrial music is an imitation, reveal itself.

All is music!

  • But the sublunary world also partook of this musical harmony: the elements of fire, air, water, and earth (4)
  • the seasons; the days of the week (7)
  • the flow of rivers and the tides of the sea;
  • the direction of winds (4);
  • the growth of plants.


  • The soul has circuits and revolution analogous to those of the heavenly bodies
  • The music, the soul and the whole universe were governed by the same mathematical order and proportion

Musical Macrocosm-Microcosm

  • An elaborate set of these correspondences is given by the late Greek theorist Aristides Quintilianus.
  • Man, the microcosm, shares in this harmony: everything from the gestation period of the human embryo and bodily proportions to the smallest details of human behavior is governed by analogy with, or dependence upon, celestial (musical) harmony.

Music to heal the soul

  • Also the ”human” music could alter the disposition of the hearers
  • Theories about the moral and emotional effect of different musical modes, rhytms, instruments

Music to purifying the soul

  • The Pythagoreans use ”medicine to purify the body, music to purifying the soul
  • Pythagoras used to sing to his disciples, accompaining himself on the lyre, to bring them in a serene mood.
  • For example, special melodies were used at night to calm their minds and to ensure peaceful sleep and good (and prophetic) dreams
  • others were used in the morning to bring alertness

Musical burning

  • In one case, a young man was about to burn down the house of an unfaithful girlfriend
  • Pythagoras realized that he was being agitated excessively by the music played nearby, and so he told the musician to play in a different mode, which immediately calmed the young man.   


  • Some musical patterns would shape a boy’s caracter, or bring out a man’s latent trait
  • Some rythms expressed agression
  • He addressed his essay to the Council of the Aeropagus: he was seriuosly proposing some sort of state control over music as a public health measure

Plato (Timaeus)

  • The right melody is an aid
  • ”to bringing our soul circuit,
  • when it has got out of tune (!),
  • into order and armony with itself”


  • Used instrumental music to cure hysterics


  • Dorian (lyre):
  • steady, dignified, without frills (preferred by the Pithagoreans and Aristotle)
  • Phrigian (aulos):
  • emotional, cathartic

Phrigian - aulos

  • The dancing overcomes the wild internal jerkings of the soul and creates order and calm (Plato)
  • Aulos could cure: panic, epilepsy, sciatica, snakebites
  • The performance made the ”painful placespalpitate, as dancing in response to the music, and the pain had gone away


  • The hymn Pean was associated with the purification from injourios element
  • When Sparta suffered from a plague, Thaletas delivered the city from the pestilence by means of his music
  • The performance of 720 peans released the women of Locri from madness

A long tradition

  • For the Church Fathers Pythagorean beliefs were acceptable as long as biblical parallels could be found for them
  • The great revival of Neo-Platonism among fifteenth-century humanists led to some imaginative restatements of Pythagorean cosmic belief by such men as Giorgio Anselmi of Parma (Dialoghi, 1434) and Marsilio Ficino

The Modal Glyph


  • First consider the Heptagram, the star of seven points connected by red arrows.  Around these points are the letters C-B, which represent notes in a C-major scale (CDEFGAB)

Note, planet, day, mode

  • Each note is corresponds to a day of the week and to the corresponding planet
  • each planet (note, day) corresponds to a mode (scale)
  • each mode (note, day, planets) corresponds to one or more astrological symbols
  • The signs are also associated with parts of the body


  • The planets have powers , and are connected to the 4 elemets (fire, earth, water, air)
  • the qualities or powers of the planets -- warm, moist, etc. - are given by Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos

Eight mode: fixed stars

  • In later times an eighth mode was added:
  • the Hypomixolydian, corresponds to the Fixed Stars
  • Octagon

Muses and modes

  • Each mode is under the patronage of a Muse: Clio, Calliope, Terpsichore, Melpomene, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Urania
  • The ninth Muse, Thalia is assigned the Terrestrial Sphere and governs Silence
  • "Thalia remains silent, like the Earth."

Each mode have a different pattern

  • Each mode has a different Form, or pattern of tones and semitones, which determines the character of the mode and is of central importance in applying music to therapeia (cure and care) for the soul


  • The therapeia of the soul is based to is based on the influence that the modes have on the four humors:
  • the subtle fluids that influence our psychical and bodily state, and which must be in harmony for proper mental, spiritual, and bodily health.
  • Their state of balance determines one's temperament    

Ramis de Pareja

  • The mode-humor correspondences are given in
  • Ramis de Pareja, 1482. Musica Practica. Bologna.
  • A selection is translated in Godwin, Joscelyn, 1993. The Harmony of the Spheres: A Sourcebook of the Pythagorean Tradition in Music. Rochester: Inner Traditions.


  • Music in a particular mode amplifies or weakens a humor

Phlegmatic humor - water, cool and moist

  • Dorian imparts the fiery Solar power and thereby dries the watery Phlegm, which diminishes its tendency to lethargy
  • Hypodorian, in contrast, imparts the watery Lunar power, which reinforces the Phlegmatic tendency, encouraging sleep
  • The guardians associated with the Dorian mode are Demeter (Virgo) and Aphrodite (Taurus), but Hypodorian has only Hestia (Capricorn).

Dorian scale, resembling the scale of D minor

Hypo-dorian scale, resembling the A minor scale

Fire (warm, dry)

  • Choleric humor, exuberance, and passion
  • Phrygian invokes the power of Mars, which is warm and dry, and therefore magnifies the Choleric effects
  • Hypophrygian invokes the power of Mercury, which is neutral
  • The guardians associated with Phyrigian are Hephaistos (Libra) and Athena (Aries), but Hypophrygian has only Hermes (Cancer, the Gate of the Moon), which corresponds to its planet the Planet Mercury

Phrygian scale, resembling the scale of E minor

Hypo-phrygian mode, resembling the B minor scale

Air (moist, warm)

  • influence the Sanguine humor, which imparts good cheer, optimism, friendliness, and a tendency to laughter, love, and song. Astral body.
  • The Lydian mode invokes the power of Jupiter (moist, warm), which reinforces the Sanguine humor resulting in Jovial happiness
  • Hypolydian draws down the power of Venus, the results are Erotic sadness


  • The guardians associated with Lydian are Ares (Scorpio) and Poseidon (Pisces)
  • those with Hypolydian are Zeus (Leo) and Apollo (Gemini).

Lydian mode, resembling the scale of F sharp minor

Hypo-lydian scale, resembling the C sharp minor scale

Earth (dry, cool)

  • Melancholic humor, which is the most complex humor in its effects; it is associated with the physical body
  • Because of its earthy nature, the Melancholic humor imparts solidity, firmness, and steadfastness, but also therefore a certain indolence and tenacity


  • Mixolydian invokes the power of Saturn (dry, cool), which magnifies the effect of the humor, leading to Saturnine melancholy. This may lead to paralyzing depression, but, if well tempered, it may produce introspection, artistic genius, good memory, a love of scholarship, and the inclination to retire from the world and devote oneself to spiritual matters

Melancholia and genius

  • Melancholia has been recognized as the dominant humor in many people of exceptional ability, for it provides the sensibilities required to experience deeply, and thereby to transcend the ordinary

Mixolidian Guardians

  • The guardians associated with Mixolydian are Artemis (Sagittarius) and Hera (Aquarius)

Mixo-lydian mode, resembling the G minor scale


  • The Hypomixolydian mode is associated with the Celestial Sphere, which tempers the Melancholic humor
  • It represents the heavenly repose achieved when one has ascended the planetary spheres; it is the mode of Celestial bliss
  • "More than any other, this mode has an innate beauty and loveliness; it is free from all qualities and suitable for every use" (Ramis, op. cit.).

Hypomixolydian mode

Fixed Stars

  • since Hypomixolydian is the eighth mode, it has no specific associated signs or guardians, for it corresponds to all the Fixed Stars and to the Thirteen Olympians

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