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by Archaeology Newsroom

Music and ancient Greek speech

The relationship speech has to music is a well known fact. Both speech and music are based on musical “formations” produced in order to transmit a certain “meaning” either to the producer of the sound or to another person. Both are vehicles of expression and communication that have in common the element of sound and are composed of tone combinations. However, these tone combinations differ from Music to Speech. Aristoxenos the Tarantine, calls «λογώδες μέλος» (melody of speech) the musical diagram of Speech, and thoroughly distinguishes the “perpetual movement” of voice present in Speech from the “movement in intervals”, characteristic of Music. In Ancient Greece, Speech, the «λογώδες μέλος», had an objective substance of its own. It was the product of the musical scheme of each word that possessed various “tonic pitches” and duration of syllables. This scheme could be transformed by the change of the “case” of a noun (nominative, genitive, etc), of the “tense” of a verb (present, past, etc.), by the adjacency to other words, etc. These transformations were dictated by an objective aesthetic prevailing in the Greek language and not by the personal, subjective expressive need of the speaker. Thus, the typical musical schemes of ancient Greek Speech were a most suitable and facile material for music composition, since the melody set to this Speech remained for long a mere repetition of its diagrams. One had simply to transfer them from the perpetual movement of Speech to the “movement of intervals” of Music. Up to the early years of Christianity, the relationship of music to Greek speech recurs: it is emancipated from its function“subordinate” to speech and then again it resumes to play a subservient role.