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EXHIBITS    >    The musical instruments of ancient Greeks    >   


The culture of ancient Greeks (as of no other population) was permeated with music (which was inseparable from poetry and dancing).

Ancient Greek music used an enormous variety of many different modes (Mixolydian, Lydian, Phrygian, Dorian, Aeolian, Ionian, etc.) instead of the two (Major and Minor scales) of contemporary western music. The ancient modes reappeared in our days in Jazz with the same ancient Greek names.

Furthermore, it was richer with the "chromatic" and "henarmonic genus" (and their "colourings") which supplemented the "diatonic", used exclusively today.

Finally, it bequeathed to us the theory of "musical intervals" which have suffered, however, in modern European music, the "brutal" blending for the benefit of polyphony at the expense of the perfect natural musical intervals studied thoroughly by the ancient theorists of music (from Pythagoras and Aristoxenus to Ptolemy).

The multitude of artistic depictions and bibliographic references with the sporadic extant musical fragments in the ancient notation ("parasimantiki") allow us the reconstruction of numerous musical instruments and the revival of ancient Greek music.

The song of Seikilos

From the roughly 50 preserved musical texts of antiquity, the song of Seikilos constitutes the most ancient complete musical composition worldwide.

It is an inscription and a sensational song with a diachronic message, which Seikilos (a lyric poet and musician of the Hellenistic years) dedicated to Euterpe (presumably his wife). They were engraved on a small, round, marble tombstone dated from the 2nd century B.C.

The inscription
"I am an icon, not a stone
Seikilos placed me here
as a deathless remembrance
αn everlasting monument."

The song
"While you live, shine
feel no sorrow
life is short
and time demands the end."

The pillar was discovered in 1883, in Tralleis (near Ephesus) of Asia Minor. It was lost in 1922 during the Asia Minor destruction. It was accidentally found (broken at its base) in the garden of a woman who used it as a base for a flowerpot. Today it is exhibited in the National Museum of Denmark constituting an everlasting monument as Seikilos had wished.