Chronicle 11. “MUSIC IS THRACIAN AND ASIAN”
/ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ/ Χρονικό 11. “ΘΡᾼΚΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΑΣΙΑΤΙΣ Η ΜΟΥΣΙΚΗ”
● “Barbarian” Contribution to Hellenic Instrument Making and Playing ● Antiquarianism and Ancestor Worship ● Multi-String Instruments, Psalteries ● Diapason, Harmony, Polyphony
● Music, Poetry, Nation ● Folk
and Erudite Music ● Hydraulis
● Crusades ● Strabo on Music
“… and all music is considered to be Thracian and Asian.” (Strabo)
SUCH AN APOPHTHEGM by Strabo, the famous historian and geographer, on the prevailing opinion in his time (64 BCE – 24 CE) about the Thracian and Asian origin of all music – hence also of its instruments – recurs again and again like a leitmotiv, but also as a reminder to all Hellenes who start from the Thracian Orpheus’ lyre, and end up to General Makryiannes’ tambourás.
“In Tsakoniá one comes upon the most ancient Tsakonian dance that is characterized by its Apollonian paeonic rhythm of five beats, the snake-like cycling, circling, folding and unfolding of the dance company, with their coryphaeus [leader] dancing around them and sometimes opposite the second dancer, reminding us of a Pythic nomos [Pythian ‘law’ or canon] of dance and music (Apollo’s battle against Python),(1) and not of Theseus and Ariadne’s imaginary thread, as it is usually proclaimed thoughtlessly and irresponsibly by Athenian dance companies.”
- (1) Nomos was the most important type of musical composition and interpretation in ancient Hellas. The Pythian or Pythic nomos, played on the homonymous aulos, was created by Sakadas and won him the first prize of auletic art in the Pythian Games in 586 BCE. Its purpose was to describe the battle between Apollo and Python. Thus, it has been the first known example of the so-called program music – the one describing a theme, in contrast with the absolute or abstract or pure music (see also Chronicle 16, footnote 9, and Chronicle 21, footnote 5, with the text above).
As long as one is preoccupied with “antiquarianism”, that is, as long as he is just a… carrier of the “virus”, there is no big problem. What happens, however, if he becomes symptomatic and possessed by “ancestor worship”? The result is more than obvious in the above citation from a record with Songs of the Peloponnese, issued by the Society for the Dissemination of National Music – a text written by Simon Karás himself, despite his contribution on this domain that has certainly been immense and invaluable.
Such were the fantasies put forward in all seriousness from both sides, as if it mattered much whether the Tsakonian dance reminds us of a Pythic nomos, or if, on the contrary, it reenacts, faithfully or not, the escape from the Labyrinth, when we know that the… Minotaur is anything but dead, and Karás pointed his finger at him immediately afterwards:
“In the once resounding with musical instruments Peloponnese”, he complained, “we have a problem if we try to find musical instruments worthy of their names. Much labour and effort was needed on our part in order to find a clarino [folk clarinet], a violin, or a laouto [folk lute] in entire prefectures, and on many occasions to transport musicians many kilometres away so that they could match with others and form a company.”
This “Pythic nomos” mentality made Karás claim that almost all folk instruments played today, or allegedly used in the past, in Greece are Hellenic in origin. In a similar text on a record with Songs of Constantinople and the Sea of Marmara, he wrote:
“The psaltery qanun together with the ancient Greek and Byzantine thambura [the tambur], thanks to the former’s many latches [or mandals] and the latter’s many tied frets, were the instruments used in teaching the theory of musical modes (echoe) and intervals in the past.”
The term psaltery was general in ancient Hellas and not related to the religious Byzantine psalms, as it referred to all string instruments that were played directly with the fingers without a plectrum. This category included, among others, the nabla, simicium and trígonon (harp). They were multi-string instruments as a rule, some of them not “psalteries”, played with a plectrum. The most impressive of the latter was most probably the sambuca (sambycē), more than one metre high and looking like a homonymous siege engine.
In any case, it seems that the numerous instruments of this family, especially the ones with many strings, did not differ much – at least for the non-connoisseurs who naturally confused them. Some of them were played upright evolving into the harp, while others were placed horizontally and ended up as the qanun and santur. These instruments were known and in use in Greece before it became… Greece, i.e. since the (pre-Hellenic) early Bronze Age of the 3rd millennium BCE. The best example is the Harpist (Trígonon player) of Keros, a beautiful Cycladic figurine dating back to 2800-2300 BCE. The Cycladic islanders were very fond of the trígonon, as more such figurines of harpists have been recovered.
Despite the long history of these instruments in Greece, Plato, as well as other philosophers, criticized them as unmanly, while Aristotle‘s student, Aristoxenus of Tarentum, the so-called Musician, (a most important figure in ancient Hellas in the area of music theory, one of the pioneers of musicology as we would now say), described them as ἔκφυλα, that is alien – in the word’s literal sense and not the metaphorical that’s been left to the modern Greeks (i.e. degenerate).
What’s interesting here, οf course, is not a moral evaluation but the origin of the instruments. There is enough evidence, albeit unclear, that seems to point to an Asian or Thracian origin (what Strabo has said). Much more convincing are the archeological finds with a plethora of depicted harpists excavated in the Near East – mainly in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Harpist of Keros is unique, but only as an exquisite work of visual art.
The name of a similar instrument called phoenix, originating most probably in Phoenicia, points to the same direction. But the mentality peculiar to a good number of modern Greeks was also widespread in ancient Hellas. So, the Delian historian Semus, having in mind the well-known saying and established notion “there’s no place like home”, claimed that the phoenix was thus named because its arms were constructed of Delian “phoenix” (palm tree in Greek). What we get, indeed, out of this claim is that in his time Delos was not only inhabited and not barren as it is today, but it was covered instead with vegetation – or, at least, there were several palm trees!
Based on this “logic”, it was argued that the epigónion, another multi-string instrument, was named after its inventor, Epigonus of Ambracia, a musician of the 6th century BCE. It took an expert on musicology such as Curt Sachs to bring forth the apparent etymology of the word (ἐπὶ = on + γόνυ = knee), describing the way a musician placed the instrument on his/her knee(s).
Qanun, on the other hand, was the name of the monochord, an instrument with just one string, used mostly by music theorists to determine the mathematical relations of sounds (from κανών = rule in Greek). It was called Pythagorean qanun, because its invention was attributed to Pythagoras. The great Samian philosopher, mathematician and music theorist of the 6th century BCE, however, before going to the Occident to set up his school in Crotone, Magna Graecia, had travelled around a lot in the Orient and became familiar with the Egyptian and Assyro–Babylonian achievements in every domain.
Pollux, who instructed us about the origin of the tríchordon (pandura), wrote about the monochord that this simple instrument was invented by Arabs. On his part, Nicomachus of Gerasa, a Pythagorean mathematician and music theorist of the 2nd century CE, said that the monochord was very often called phánduros, i.e. pandura. In this way we have come full circle back to the tríchordon, the ancestor of the thambura, tanbur, and the rest of the long-necked lutes we have already seen (in Chronicle 9. The Celebrated Tríchordon).
“The santur, a multi-string pectis, is structured on tempered semitones”, Karas goes on… bombarding us while he presents the instruments accompanying the Songs of Constantinople and the Sea of Marmara. “The oud, a fretless medieval guitar, with its tuning based on the ‘sýstēma ametábolon’ of antiquity (a tone and three or four synēmména tetrachords), shows its Hellenic origin. The laouto, an ancient Grecian and Byzantine mágadis (its double strings conform to ‘diapason’), is tuned in fifths.”
The fact that the (“100-string”)(2) santur is performed with tempered intervals in Hellas, as in the rest of Europe – i.e. with “alien” and artificial intervals that meet the requirements of European polyphony and not of Greek “national music” – would be expected to at least frustrate Karás. But he just passed by… Note that in the instrument’s cradle, Iran, the santur is tuned according to the intervals of the relative modes the musician is going to perform.
- (2) The san-tur (cent, hundred, and tar, string): supposedly a 100-string instrument – although the classical Persian santur has “only” 72 strings.
The pectís and mágadis, which Karás identified with the santur and the laouto respectively, were two similar multi-string psalteries of Lydian or Thracian origin. If we trust Aristoxenus, “they were one and the same instrument”. The Lesbian Sappho (around 630-570 BCE) was said to be the first musician to use the pectís. Living in the 4th century BCE, in the same culture that had brought forth these instruments, Aristoxenus had not only reliable information but also a “legitimate right” to identify these instruments. Where did Karás of the 20th century CE find this right (in his effort to defend the so-called Hellenic “national interest”)?
For the same reasons – i.e. in order to demonstrate the “unbroken continuity” between ancient and modern Greece – he identified the oud with the medieval guitar. The Asian (Assyrian) cithara (kithara) is already familiar to us, as well as its genealogical tree (see Chronicle 7). The sad truth is that, in the sense that Karás wished for, neither the cithara (guitar), nor the oud or laouto were Hellenic. In fact, the last two, etymologically and organologically, come from the Arabic oud (al oud > laúd) – which in turn also originates in Persia.(3)
- (3) The most typical instrument of the Arabs, the oud, originates in Persia, where it is called barbat or barbud. The same is likely true of the most typical instrument of the Indians, the sitar (see last footnote in Chronicle 7). And as it turns out, the world’s first bowed string instrument also appeared in Iran c. 10th century CE. In addition, Persian classical music is, to me, the superb of its kind in the Orient. I once remarked in jest: “Iranians are the only ones who can look in the eye Ludwig” (van Beethoven)!
Claiming that this instrument had a Greek character (and thus denying that this character was Arabo-Persian), Karás invoked its “tuning based on the ‘sýstēma ametábolon’ [with] synēmména tetrachords” –(4) i.e. presenting the reader with something impressively grandiose and sufficiently incomprehensible! Personally, I think that these systems confuse, rather than enlighten, the average music lovers. Therefore, I suggest that we pass them by. But the same does not apply to diapasōn.
- (4) The tetrachords of the sýstēma téleion ametábolon can be either synēmmena (attached) or diezeugmena (“divorced”, detached).
The mágadis, as well as other multi-string instruments, had its strings in double courses tuned in octaves (e.g. D-d) that the ancients called “διὰ πασῶν” (dià pasōn). The verb “μαγαδίζειν” (to perform mágadis style) denoted a technique of producing a melody in octaves. This is how the Arabs play the qanun nowadays. According to several writers, the term mágadis (which also defined a kind of aulos) came from the word magás, meaning the “bridge” of a string instrument. However, the historian Duris attributed it to a Thracian musician called Magdis.
The ancient Hellenic musical term diapasōn is just one of those the Westerners adopted to give prestige and develop their music. Once the most delightful daughter of the Muses, the Greek Μουσική, became… cosmopolitan, passing to so many languages of the world, it was natural that she would be accompanied by her terminology – but with the original meaning of the terms altered more or less. A well-known “victim” of this adoption is ἁρμονία (harmony). Consulting a musical dictionary you are about to read:
“Harmony: two or more notes sounding together;(5) the vertical dimension of music. It appears around the 9th century CE, when we have the first polyphonic compositions. Until then music is monophonic, that is, based on a melody with no harmony at all…”!
- (5) It should have been “three or more notes”, because if only two notes sound together, there’s “no [Occidental] harmony at all”! The human beings e.g. have always sung “mágadis style”, in octaves, because men’s voices sound in a lower register than those of women and children. Even if it is monophony, it’s still “two notes sounding together” (heterophony). The same happens if we add a drone or ison to the main melody. Note that the traditional polyphony worldwide is much more ancient than the erudite West European.
How come, you wonder, that the ancient Hellenes invented a term for something they did not have?(!) Searching for some answer, you conclude that harmony for them was any of the various arrangements of notes within an octave, in a system where its parts were connected in such a way as to form a perfect whole (hence harmony) – i.e. it was the mode, echos, “route”, maqam, dastgāh, raga. Therefore, harmony in modal music is not about notes sounding together, but refers to the relationship of any note with those that have preceded and the others that follow, in a system structured dynamically and horizontally, rather than statically and vertically.
Harmony: any arrangement of notes of an octave; the relationship
of any note with those that preceded and the others that follow.
Polyphony appears whenever there is no space for microtones.
Not even polyphony originated in the Occident. We have seen that polyphony is not only one. Just think of how many kinds of polyphony are still practiced in the area centered on the Balkans, e.g. in Epirus or Albania, in Thrace (of Greece, Bulgaria, or Turkey), on the Caucasus (the area around Georgia), or in Corsica and Sardinia, and many other places. Polyphony appears whenever there is no space for microtones. It’s inconceivable in Anatolian music due to the diversity of its intervals, but natural in Epirotic music, and any other based on the pentatonic – the most ancient of the scales, with five degrees (instead of seven) and whole tones without semitones.
Diapasōn, as a term, is related to harmony and derives from the phrase “ἡ διὰ πασῶν τῶν χορδῶν συμφωνία” (the concord through all the notes). Thus, it was the eighth, “ἡ καλλίστη συμφωνία” (the best concord), according to Aristoxenus. Later on, the term diapasōn replaced that of harmony. For the Byzantines it was “ἡ διαοκτὼ ἤ δι’ ὀγδόης ἁρμονία” (the harmony through the octave). Diapasōn nowadays is also a tuning fork, or any standard pitch used for tuning. A full, rich outpouring of harmonious sound is another, more general, meaning.
Nevertheless, it’s true that not even the concept of music remained unchanged – indeed, this development took place in ancient times. In the 5th century BCE, the term music appeared for the first time in Pindar’s Olympian Victory Odes and Hymns, and later in Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ Histories. For a long time this term denoted the combined spiritual and mental performance especially in art and literature. As Plato says in the Republic, the body needs exercise while the soul requires music. A “narrower” definition of the term was lyric poetry, that is, poetry with music, melos (melody). Besides, at that time poetry without music was unthinkable, inconceivable.
The two arts became independent in the 4th century BCE. It was then that the two terms acquired their current meanings. Previously, poetry denoted creation, construction (ποιεῖν = to create, to make). With the special meaning of artistic creation, it was first used by Simonides of Ceos (6th – 5th century); a poet was thought to be a composer of music. The word music was perhaps invented by Lasus of Hermione (6th century), one of the first artists that combined qualities of a musician and a musicologist, dealing with both the art and science of music.
As for the perception of music, there were two schools: the Pythagorean and the Aristoxenian. Pythagoras disapproved of the appraisal of music through the senses (hearing). The virtue of this art, he used to say, is that we can perceive it through the intellect (mind). Aristoxenus, on his part, supported a dual scientific principle: on the one hand, he based himself on the sense of hearing to perceive and appraise the pitch, intervals, etc.; and on the other hand, he relied on the intellect in order to distinguish the mechanisms of sounds.
After all these “digressions” (which were, in part, the… purpose of this Chronicle), let’s see some of the instruments that Karás rejected outright. Surprisingly, he turned against the cümbüş, or “djimbisi”, as he “Hellenized” it,(6) describing it as a “mixobarbarian [i.e. half-barbarian] combination of an Occidental banjo, laouto and oud”, and complaining because “it’s been replacing the oud (the medieval, ancient-style guitar)”… Yet, the single Occidental feature on the cümbüş is its soundboard (the metallic soundboard of the banjo). But why should we bother about how the sound of an instrument is amplified? Its basic part is the “neck” and the intervals produced by the fingerboard – and the cümbüş is normally fretless: that is, even subtle variations in pitch are possible, as if we play an oud, or a violin. So, why such fury?
- (6) The word cümbüş, according to some (far-fetched) claims, comes from the word symposium!
Not to mention the way Karás filled up the table of contents on a record with Songs of Thasos, Lemnos and Samothrace, renaming the (distasteful to him) bouzouki as… tambourás. Ironically, the producers of a disc with Cretan songs have done exactly the opposite for commercial reasons, renaming Stelios Foustalieris’ tambourás, his bulgarí, as… bouzouki! Why this masquerade? Can we safeguard any “Greekness” with such… “transvestite” disguises?
Since the cümbüş, according to Karás, is “mixobarbarian” (half-barbarian), I can’t help but remember that in ancient Hellas, only one out of the four basic modes, or “harmonies”, was Greek in origin: it was the Dorian. Two of them, the Lydian and the Phrygian, were “barbarian” by birth (originating in Lydia and Phrygia), while the fourth was… “mixobarbarian”: the Mixolydian – a creation, according to Aristoxenus, of Sappho, from whom the tragedians received it, as the pathos of this harmony was appropriate to their plays. As Plutarch commented: “the mixolydian is pathetic, in harmony with the tragedies”.
In Hellas only one out of the four basic modes was Greek in origin: the Dorian. The Lydian and Phrygian were “barbarian” by birth, while the
fourth was… “mixobarbarian” (half-barbarian): it was the Mixolydian.
Anyway, all the above are “details” when speaking of Karás, whom I was lucky to enjoy at work during the third and (unfortunately) last musicological symposium at Delphi in 1988. I assure you, he was an excellent teacher; a real master, not at all… yalancı (fake), like those of “tambourás”, who might have been his students (see Chronicle 9). That’s why I insist on my criticism, targeting them rather than him. Indeed, he’s been a “nestor” in the field of the Greek traditional music – which, however, has never been “national”, as he declared in the title of his society (and I don’t think he meant… ethnic music!). So, let’s have a look in brief at the relationship between music and nation.
Music and Nation
MUSIC IS AS OLD AS WE ARE: it’s innate in humans. The birth of nations, on the other hand, is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of mankind. Their purpose is not to satisfy some human needs, as music does, but rather to serve economic and political aims. Of course, I refer to nation states and not to ethnicities that are something different, derived since ancient times from various clans and tribes. Thus: there are no national characteristics in music. In essence, there is no Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish etc. music. Using national attributes, we simply mean that a piece has e.g. Hellenic lyrics, if it is a song, or that its composer is Greek. In fact, far too many “Hellenic” songs have actually nothing to do with local traditional music (they can be described as rock, tango, mambo, pop, etc.), no matter if they have Greek lyrics or composers.
There’s no national music. Folk music is ethnic, not national.
Erudite music is multinational (but never international).
Folk music is born as an idiom in areas smaller than the present nation states, under conditions of agricultural natural economy – regions which are generally divided now among neighbouring nation states (Thrace is divided into three). The pace of its development, or the inflow of foreign elements, is determined by the geography of each area. That’s how separate musical idioms are articulated. A “problem” arises due to the lack of racial “purity” in these places, as they are inhabited by people of various ethnicities, each one with its own peculiarities. All these special characteristics are gradually digested, forming a common idiom, though they keep their autonomy to a certain degree. And as we have seen (in Chronicle 6), the more the ethnicities, the richer the idiom. As a result, folk music is ethnic, not national.
Erudite music, on the other hand, has been a collective effort of élite musicians streaming into the metropolises of multinational empires. The involvement of artists from several ethnicities or nationalities, each with another background, makes this music multinational (or transnational, but never international). This also applies to the European classical music, though broadly speaking, national borders had been already drawn there before the period of its great acme. How can we define e.g. Händel’s music? Is it German or English? Or Beethoven’s? Is it German or Austrian? Or Chopin’s? Polish or French? Or when Bach transcribes Vivaldi? Is the transcription German or Italian music? Or even Kurt Weill’s music? Is it German, American, or… Jewish?
“National schools”, in addition, appear much later, employing ethnic sound colours, but also erudite music forms. Therefore, there is no national character even there. A good example is Modest Mussorgsky’s celebrated suite Pictures at an Exhibition, one of the masterpieces of Russian “national school”: the suite was orchestrated in an exemplary fashion by Maurice Ravel, one of the pioneers of French “national school”, and in this version it became a favourite all over the world. Moreover, the half-Basque Ravel, born in a town near Spain, composed many works based on Spanish “national school” – as did composers from other, even faraway, countries, as well, such as Russia, or the USA.
In the final analysis, why should we care about the alleged national character or origin of music, or even its instruments? Such thoughts distract our attention from the essence of the matter, which is music itself. After all, who can trace its evolution? Who indeed was the first human who noticed that a tense bowstring produces a sound? Or that the sound (pitch) changes depending on where he touches the string? Or that it is amplified if we use something hollow to function as a soundboard? Such findings came one after the other…
These discoveries are as old as man; which means they should have taken place in Africa, the alleged cradle of human race (see another approach in Chronicle 3). What does this mean? That music and its instruments are African-born? Not at all! It just means that in various periods of time, in several areas of the world, very similar instruments have emerged, based on the same natural laws.
In various times and spaces, very similar instruments
have emerged, based on the same natural laws.
All such “national” claims have ulterior motives, because music is also older than ownership, not only nations. Besides, things are very simple, provided that we’ve got rid of the blinders of “ancestor worship”, and common sense has prevailed:
“We say that a musical instrument belongs to the folk tradition of a country only when its people have sung with this instrument their aspirations and sorrows, especially in times-watersheds in their history,” writes Phoebus Anogeianakis with simplicity and clarity, cutting the… “Gordian Knot”, and bringing us down to earth from the nebulae of “antiquarianism”, while he gives us the key to go deeper into the subject.
“Musicology classifies an instrument as part of the folk tradition of a country based on this criterion. What we are mainly interested in is if this musical instrument has been loved and used widely by the people of this country, and also made by local craftsmen or by the local folk musicians themselves – no matter if this instrument has come from outside, from another country, nearby or distant.”
Hydraulis (Pipe Organ)
ONLY BASED ON THE ABOVE APPROACH, we can say that the lyre and cithara, or bárbitos and phorminx, were Grecian instruments. Because, in truth, all instruments used in ancient Hellas were imported from the Orient – except one: an instrument we know for sure that was invented by the Greeks, not in Classical times, but during the Hellenistic period and, moreover, outside Greece, in Alexandria, Egypt, the largest centre of Hellenism in the post-classical era. Ironically, this unique instrument with a Greek patent is not played in Hellas anymore and has since been glorified in the hands of some Westerners – prominently those of Johann Sebastian Bach…
All instruments in Hellas were from the Orient – except the hydraulis.
This instrument was the hydraulis, the water organ, today’s pipe organ, in its embryonic form. It was invented by the Alexandrian engineer Ctesibius, in the 3rd century BCE. Some attribute the invention to his contemporary, Archimedes; his contribution though should have been indirect, through the achievements of his ingenious mind, as he was the most renowned figure in the realm of science in the ancient world. Quite rightly, these Greek scientists are thought of as the spiritual fathers of Leonardo da Vinci, and many other inventive minds of Europe from the Renaissance onwards.
Ctesibius apparently based himself on the Syracusan’s hydraulic inventions and applications, mainly on hydraulic clocks – a device that is also attributed to both. Along with hydraulics, Ctesibius studied pneumatics – the science dealing with pneuma, that is, the air, and its several applications.(7) In fact, he is considered as the “pneumatic” (spiritual) father of this science, as he studied in depth an earlier observation: that invisible air, gas, is something material.
- (7) Hydraulics and pneumatics are sister sciences, dealing with liquids and gases respectively.
Let me say en passant that the rapid decline of the Greek language, due to the decline of Hellenism, in parallel with the imposition of Christianism, has brought about a decline also in the semantics of ancient terms such as pneuma (breath), where only connotations contrasting with matter (i.e. mind, intellect, spirit) have survived. The ancient spirit (pneuma), you see, was lost as soon as it turned into… “Holy Spirit” (Ghost)! Despite all the treatises on pneumatics by the Alexandrians, there is no such entry in Modern Greek dictionaries.(8)
- (8) Although Hellenic is the world’s oldest recorded living language, the original meaning of the word pneumatic (of or relating to air, breath) was lost in Modern Greek, except in the case of the pneumatic tools (using air pressure). Note that e.g. in Romance languages we can find the same word (Italian pneumatico, French and Portuguese pneu, Spanish neumático) meaning pneumatic tire. In Modern Greek, on the other hand, the relevant term inner tube is called sambrela, which is a loan from French (chambre à air). Thus, for the same thing more or less, some “barbarians” use a Hellenic word; the Greeks have a “barbarian” (French) loan instead!
Well, what pneumatics anyway? After all, no work of Ctesibius has survived. The opposite is true of a later engineer whose work is partly extant – although he remains similarly inconspicuous among the Hellenes. He was an Alexandrian, as well, called Hero(n), and most probably lived in the 1st century CE. Apart from his numerous wonderful inventions – his aeolipile or steam engine, a windwheel, and also gates that opened automatically – he perfected Ctesibius’ water organ based on the principles of pneumatics. But if the Modern Greeks hear his name by chance and wish to learn more about his work, they are obliged to consult foreign publications, since his treatises have never been published in Hellas…
The Alexandrian engineers could not go unnoticed in Rome or Constantinople that were great powers. Byzantine scientists admired mainly Hero’s “automata” and perfected them. There were several such mechanisms in the palaces (golden plane trees with singing birds, lions and other wild animals roaring while turning their necks, griffins flapping their wings, etc.) in order to impress foreign visitors.
The hydraulis was equally impressive; thus the musical instrument ended up as… diplomatic. In the 8th century, the Byzantine emperor Constantine V, the so-called… Copronymus,(9) offered an organ to the Frankish king Pepin the… Short, and what followed is common knowledge more or less (the instrument is now known all over the world by the Greek term organ, meaning instrument among other things). We can see the potential impact of gifts exchanged between “blue bloods” on history, especially that of music. No matter if diplomacy has never promoted culture, politics has an impact on civilization – mostly negative now…
- (9) Copronymus, meaning dung-christened! Obviously, he was… “rewarded” with this epithet by ecclesiastical circles because he was an iconoclast. They said that he supposedly… stooled in the font when he was baptized! The usual Christian venom…
THIS IS OBVIOUS in the political history. Despite the gifts to the Europeans, the underlying Schism among Christians was formalized, the “Holy See” declared a “holy war” against all the “infidels” (under the sound of… pipe organs most probably!), and that’s how the Crusades began,(10) leading to the first fall of Constantinople, as soon as the Orthodox Christians were included among the “infidels” – or else among the “heretics”, who are always… worse than the “infidels”! The control of the Orient necessitated the overthrow of “Romanía” (the Byzantine Empire), and the division of the booty between the crusaders.
- (10) How is it possible a ballyhooed “religion of love” to be plagued by an avalanche of schisms and (“holy” or “unholy”) wars? As usual, Christianism emerges as the champion in this field, as well, followed by the other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam.
● The Crusades, initiated by the popes, aimed at violently imposing Catholicism all over Europe and western Asia during the early 2nd millennium CE. (On the violent imposition of Christianism during the 1st millennium CE, see Chronicles 23-24: The Genocide of the Hellenes, and The Triumph of Cretinism). They were directed against either Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the Orient, or “pagans”, “heretics”, and “excommunicated” people in the Occident, for various politico-economic and/or religious reasons. Prominent among them were the Northern or Baltic, the Albigensian or Cathar, and the Aragonese Crusades, as well as the Iberian Reconquista. The Northern Crusades (13th century) were colonization campaigns of Christianization mainly against the pagan Baltic, Finnic and West Slavic peoples of the Baltic Sea, but also against Orthodox Christian East Slavs. The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was a 20-year campaign to eliminate Catharism in southern France. The Cathars were a Christian sect thriving in Southern Europe between the 12th and 14th centuries. The Aragonese Crusade had no religious pretense whatsoever. It was undertaken in 1284-1285, because Aragon conquered Sicily, defying the “Holy See”. The Reconquista spanned 780 years, from the Arab conquest of Iberia in 711, to the fall of the last Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492.
● There were far more “holy wars” declared by the “Holy See”: in the 13th century, pope Gregory IV declared war on… black cats, describing them as “instruments of Satan”! So, he ordered their extermination all over Europe. But the “Cat Crusade” backfired, as it resulted in an increase in the population of plague-carrying rats…
That crucial turning point was the beginning of the end, leaving its indelible stamp on the history of not only the Mediterranean, or even Europe, but also of the whole world, because since then everything changed. It was the end of the era that began in the Near East during the Neolithic period, with the birth of civilization, and the Mediterranean as the epicentre of historic developments. Mare nostrum was de facto marginalized. Its fortunes would since be governed by non-Mediterranean powers.
As is normal in their routine, the perpetrators made sure of their “absolution” through their propaganda that even their victims reproduce – perhaps because perpetrators and victims are now “allies”, “partners”. Whitewashing first became grotesque (with all those highly hypocritical… “crusades for peace”), and then macabre – as soon as bombs started falling in the first… “humanitarian war” in history, even without the United Nations’ consent!
Crusaders: “liberators” of Jerusalem, “conquerors” of Constantinople!
Whitewashing became grotesque (with all those “crusades for peace”),
then macabre – as bombs started falling in the first “humanitarian war”!
Let’s open our dictionaries again: the Crusaders were “medieval warriors who took part in the campaigns of Western Christians against people of another faith mainly for the liberation of the Holy Land”! And who from? Who else but the “infidels”, the Muslims. The lexicographers et al. don’t seem to bother at all that these lands are equally holy for Islam, or that the “infidels” are perhaps more religious than the Christians. Sincerely, I cannot comprehend how come that Greek historians portray the Crusaders as “liberators” of Jerusalem in 1099, and at the same time as “conquerors” of Constantinople in 1204.
WE MAY HAVE DEVIATED FROM OUR PATH but essentially our subject was not so much the Thracian and Asian origin of all music, as the futility of antiquarianism or “ancestor worship” that are nothing but empty words. See, e.g., the hydraulis we were lucky to excavate at Dion:(11) It was initially announced that the instrument was polyphonic. Doesn’t this mean, too, that the music of late antiquity was polyphonic? Was there a thorough research in advance, or such a conclusion was reported lightheartedly? Was their aim to restore the instrument or to revamp it in the font of European polyphony?
- (11) A tomb stele with a depiction of nabla was also found at Dion.
Can we possibly assume that those ancient musicians we see so often depicted with diaulos (double aulos) played in… thirds?(12) Or that perhaps the multi-reed syrinx (Pan pipe) is another polyphonic instrument? I cannot conceive of the hydraulis as being suitable for… Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, the same way as a performance of modal music pieces on the pipe organ is equally impossible. Each instrument is made based on the specifications of the music genre which is prescribed for.
- (12) The now dominant two-note consonance, the third, was considered as dissonance and also a cacophony by ancient Hellenes and Byzantines alike.
“Big deal”, is the cynics’ answer. There are some… Jurassic Park enthusiasts who wish to make up for the water organ’s lost time, mastering the repertoire of the pipe organ, and also composing new music especially for the hydraulis. And we applaud and give the… cloners a big “hurrah”!
Music according to Strabo
Ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ μέλους καὶ τοῦ ῥυθμοῦ καὶ
τῶν οργάνων, καὶ ἡ μουσικὴ πᾶσα Θρᾳκία
καὶ Ἀσιᾶτις νενόμισται δῆλον δὲ ἔκ τε τῶν τόπων, ἐν οἷς αἱ Μοῦσαι τετίμηνται…
From its melody and rhythm and instruments, all music has been considered to be Thracian and Asian. And this is clear, first, from the places where the Muses have been worshipped, for Pieria and Olympus and Pimpleia and Leibethra were in ancient times Thracian places and mountains,(13) though they are now held by the Macedonians; and again, Helicon was consecrated to the Muses by the Thracians who settled in Boeotia, the same who consecrated the cave of the nymphs called Leibethrides. And again, those who devoted their attention to the music of early times are called Thracians; I mean Orpheus, and Musaeus, and Thamyris; and Eumolpus, too, got his name from there. And those writers who have consecrated the whole of Asia, as far as India, to Dionysus,(14) derive the greater part of music from there. And one writer says, “striking the Asiatic cithara”; another calls the aulos as “Berecyntian” and “Phrygian”;(15) and some of the instruments have been called by barbarian names, “nabla” [nevel], “sambycē” [sambuca], “bárbitos”, “mágadis”, and several others…
- (13) Pimpleia was a small town nearby Dion. It was famous in antiquity as Orpheus’ place of birth. Others insisted the great musician was born and buried by the Muses in the adjacent Leibethra. His tomb, where birds used to sing, was later destroyed by a flood. Still others say that Orpheus lived in Leibethra only temporarily.
- (14) See e.g. the Dionysiaca (5th century CE), Nonnus’ Hellenic epic poem in 48 books, the longest surviving poem from Graeco-Roman antiquity. In Homeric dialect and dactylic hexameters, its main subject is the life of Dionysus, his expedition to India and his triumphant return.
- (15) Berecyntian, from Berecyntus, a mountain on the banks of the Sangarius river, in Phrygia, that was sacred to (Berecyntian) Cybele.
Next Chronicle 12. “DO NOT MALTREAT OUR MUSIC!” ● “Golden Age” and “Decline” ● Modernists and Conservatives ● Script and Notation ● Musical Accent ● Odeon and Conservatory ● Folklore ● Collective and Individual Creation ● Democracy and Art