You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece

Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece

Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Fordham University Press
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece
    Book Description:

    In the four centuries leading up to the death of Euripides, Greek singers, poets, and theorists delved deeply into auditory experience. They charted its capacity to develop topologies distinct from those of the other senses; contemplated its use as a communicator of information; calculated its power to express and cause extreme emotion. They made sound too, artfully and self-consciously creating songs and poems that reveled in sonorousness. Dissonance reveals the commonalities between ancient Greek auditory art and the concerns of contemporary sound studies, avant-garde music, and aesthetics, making the argument that "classical" Greek song and drama were, in fact, an early European avant-garde, a proto-exploration of the aesthetics of noise. The book thus develops an alternative to that romantic ideal which sees antiquity as a frozen and silent world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6967-9
    Subjects: Music
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  4. PROLOGUE (pp. 1-4)

    It is only silent at night.¹ The rising sun sets the air popping and sizzling,² and other voices rise in chorus with the ambient hum. Goats and sheep bleat,³ cows raise a clamor,⁴ bulls bellow,⁵ horses’ hooves thud⁶ and their nostrils snort,⁷ wild boars gnash their teeth and squeal,⁸ dogs bark⁹ and growl¹⁰ and whine,¹¹ pigs raise a ruckus.¹² Deer,¹³ lions,¹⁴ serpents,¹⁵ and bees¹⁶ make themselves heard. Cicadas sing,¹⁷ as do birds¹⁸: you can hear the cries of eagles,¹⁹ the song of the nightingale,²⁰ and the singing, shouting, and noise of cranes,²¹ herons,²² hawks,²³ crows,²⁴ falcons,²⁵ swallows,²⁶ owls,²⁷ cocks,²⁸ swans,²⁹...

  5. CAPO (pp. 5-26)

    In the four centuries leading up to the death of Euripides in 406 BCE, Greek poets, singers, and theorists tracked sound’s movement over wide expanses of space and time, contemplated its use as a communicator of information, calculated its power to express and cause extreme emotion, and explored its possibilities as a plastic material. Their Greece was loud—and hence radically estranged from what I suspect are widely held but rarely acknowledged assumptions. Only theology offers fantasies of purity and permanence as powerful as the classics. The classical age seems to be a frozen world, a world we can contemplate...

  6. 1 FIGURES (pp. 27-57)

    Years into a (so far) fruitless siege and just recovering from a devastating plague, the Achaean army at the beginning of theIliadis discontented, eager for home, and resentful of its generals. This gives them to uproar. They swarm together in assembly like bees from a hive, rife with rumor and making a din. Nine heralds try to shout them into silence, and only with difficulty cause them to cease their clamor.¹ When Agamemnon deceitfully commands them to load the ships and flee Troy, their shout rises to the sky; they are like the sea or a field of...

  7. 2 AFFECT (pp. 58-96)

    The fourth book of theOdysseyfinds Menelaus reminiscing about a wooden horse and an acoustic event that nearly killed the men concealed inside it. When the horse was brought within the walls of the Trojan citadel, he says, Helen suspected that armed Greeks were hidden inside. She tested her theory by walking around the device and speaking in the voices of all the Greek generals’ wives. Menelaus’s description of Helen’s remarkable vocal abilities invites a curious set of comparisons. On one hand, her virtuosity recalls the mastery of melody and dialect attributed to the chorus of maidens on the...

  8. 3 MUSIC (pp. 97-132)

    While writing theLaws, an aging Plato turned his ears to the musical sounds of the theater. He did not like what he heard. It seemed to him that modern music disobeyed ancient laws (vóμoι) that assigned a specific melodic form (μελoṽςεῗδoς) to each kind of song and prohibited hybrid or mixed-genre compositions. In the past, Plato imagined, experts who listened in silence judged music—and nonexperts were compelled to be silent too, threatened with violent punishment if they vocally expressed their uninformed opinions. Nowadays, however, unscrupulous musicians listened only to the demands made by popular pleasure, and they mixed...

  9. CODA (pp. 133-140)

    Let me recapitulate.

    A survey of the kinds of sounds represented in song and other writing makes it clear that sound was strongly (if not exclusively) associated with disruptive forces and presences. It is tempting to identify in this fact a clear structural opposition between noise and socially tempered sound, between the “raw” and the “cooked” in Lévi-Strauss’s formulation.¹ But the opposition is problematized by the evidence from which it is drawn, that is, by song itself, a “cooked” sound that revels in “raw” noise. Ancient auditory art was a profoundly social thing: it demanded teachers, time in the form...

  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. 141-142)
  11. NOTES (pp. 143-212)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 213-236)
  13. INDEX (pp. 237-240)
  14. Back Matter (pp. 241-246)