Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.5.17


Bruno Gentili and Franca Perusino, Mousike. Metrica, Ritmica e Musica Greca in Memoria di Giovanni Comotti. Pisa: Instituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1995. Pp. 380. ISBN 88-8147-060-8 (pb).


Reviewed by Thomas Cole, Yale University.

It is a truism that mousike for the Greeks was a complex art in which words, melody and rhythm were inextricably linked -- sometimes in equally close conjunction with spectacle, dance and instrumental accompaniment as well, but always in the context of an oral performance. Perhaps the greatest virtue of the present collection of essays is that -- unlike so many contemporary works ostensibly devoted to mousike -- it pays more than lip-service to that truism. Its contributors, while recognizing the formidable difficulties that arise as soon as one attempts to move beyond words and rhythms (usually all that survives from a given piece of ancient mousike) to form an idea of the larger whole of which they once formed a part, are determined -- by and large -- to make the move; and they make it -- by and large -- successfully.

The volume begins with four essays which in various ways help us to realize that the extensive body of musical theory which survives from antiquity cannot be ignored by anyone who wishes to understand and appreciate ancient poetry as fully as possible. Robert Wallace's clear and convincing disentangling (pp. 17-40) of what might be called the "theoretical," "empirical" and "ethical" traditions in 4th-century musicology shows that the discipline cannot be, as is too often assumed by non-specialists, an essentially Hellenistic or post-Hellenistic phenomenon, but rather a body of doctrine already familiar to -- and respected by -- men whose musical memories must have reached back to the original performances of the works of Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. The musical texts studied by Bruno Gentili (pp. 61-76) and Egert Pöhlmann (pp. 3-16) are a timely reminder of the degree to which musical considerations could determine the time values assigned to a given syllable in poetic performances, and Andrew Barker advances reasons (pp. 41-60) for believing that even a characteristically modern musical procedure -- harmony as the term is now understood -- was not so completely excluded from ancient performance as is usually assumed. The degree to which music penetrated all aspects of Greek consciousness is strikingly illustrated by Donatella Restani's fascinating study (pp. 93-110) "The Sounds of the Loom," which suggests that the frequent ancient comparison of poetry and weaving has less to do with the mind's perception of a formal analogy between combining words and combining lengths of yarn or thread than with the ear's registering of the actual sound which the weaver's instruments -- notably the kerkis -- made when struck against the taut strands of the warp; and the power of mousike to have her way even in quarters that one might think unsusceptible to her charms is plausibly invoked to help us understand Plato's unexpected tolerance (Republic 3.399bc) for the Phrygian mode: a concession, Antonietta Gostoli argues (pp. 133-44), to its use in traditional religious observances with whose continued existence Plato did not wish to interfere. Turning to another branch of mousike, one should call attention to P. Angeli Bernardini's contribution (pp. 287-93), a brief essay which, along with the work of Lucian (De saltatione) that inspired it, ought to be required reading for anyone whose views of pantomime in the imperial period are heavily influenced -- as those of most Classicists are -- by the disdain for the art and its practitioners expressed in ancient and modern histories of Roman drama. It is appropriate that the volume should close with two essays devoted to the most successful of modern efforts to create some sort of analogue to the all-embracing art of ancient mousike. In the longest piece in the whole collection (pp. 297-348) Francesco Luisi finds a hitherto neglected antecedent to the earliest "true" operas in the intermedi and musicalized scenes which were occasionally interpolated into performances of pastoral drama in the late 16th century, and Alberto Zedda, giving mousike its widest possible definition, adds as a kind of coda (pp. 349-53) reflections on the way not only operatic performance but the actual physical presence of opera -- in the form of the opera house, usually located on a central piazza at the hub of a community's social, political and economic life -- may be regarded as maintaining, down into the opening years of our own century, an important element of continuity between ancient and modern polis.

Sandwiched between the heavily musicological opening and closing sections of the volume are seven essays with a rather more compartmentalized approach, devoted as they are to specific passages from drama or, in two instances, archaic lyric. But in almost every instance direction and emphasis tend to be broadly "contextual" rather than narrowly textual: focussed on elucidating the aesthetic architecture of a whole poem or series of scenes (Jean Irigoin on Pythian 9 [pp. 173-82], Helmut Seng on the closing half of the Heracles [219-52], Maria Grazia Fileni on the first, third and fourth stasima of the Heracleidai [pp. 185-218]), or on the relation of a scene to its surroundings (Franca Perusino on Hecuba's lament in the Troades [pp. 253-64]), or the poet's response to the specific political context in which his play was performed or revived (Carlo Prato on Thesmophoriazusai 325-71 [pp. 277-86]).

Inevitably, given the determination on the part of contributors to recover as much of a given piece of ancient mousike as possible, there will be many points that call for demur or disagreement. I am not sure, for example, that the texts from which Wallace would deduce an interest on the part of fourth-century Pythagoreans in Damon's "ethical" musicology are any more reliable than those which report a Pythagorean experiment to determine the quantitative basis for the musical octave, fifth and fourth -- an experiment whose impossibility is well demonstrated by Angelo Meriani in a later essay (pp. 77-92); Pöhlmann and Barker do not seem to me to allow sufficiently for the possibility -- often recognized in earlier scholarship -- that the phenomena to which they call attention are the result of fourth-century or Hellenistic innovations in the Greek musical tradition (an outgrowth of the increasing technical sophistication and professionalism whose importance is well stressed by Alina Veneri in her discussion [pp. 111-32] of changing attitudes toward the appropriateness of lyre-playing as an avocation for heroes); recognition of the formal structures posited by Seng and Irigoin requires acceptance of the unproved (and, it seems to me, unlikely) assumptions that the sequence - u u - u u - - in dactylo-epitritic is rhythmically equivalent to a trochaic - u - x - u (where x = anceps) rather than, say, - u - x - u - x, and that a dochmiac is always equivalent to half of an iambic trimeter (18 prôtoi chronoi) rather than, as "inner" responsion often suggests, a single anapest (8 prôtoi chronoi); though Roberto Pretagostini is completely convincing when he insists (p. 265 ff.) -- against Schroeder, Prato and others -- that the strange anapestic pentameter at Acharnians 285=336 is unlikely to be the durational equivalent of the cretic pentameter (294-5=342) with which it stands in internal responsion, he does not consider the reverse possibility: that the cretic pentameter was given an allegro delivery which converted it into the durational equivalent (20 prôtoi chronoi) both of the anapestic pentameter and of the tetrameters found everywhere else in the cretic portions of the passage (285-346); though persuaded by Giuseppe Morelli's vindication (p. 159 ff.) to Archilochus of the catalectic trochaic trimeter cited by Hephaestion at Ench. 6.2, I am much more skeptical than he is of of the dactylic tetrameter + hypodochmiac identified as Archilochean at GL VI 122.23 (quite possibly based on nothing more than an incorrect scansion of the undoubtedly Archilochean hemiepes + iambic dimeter that Aphthonius cites to illustrate it); nor can I agree with Perusino in accepting the unparalleled verbal synapheia of iambic metron and anapestic metron found in the transmitted text of Troades 141. The widely accepted deletion of KOURA=| CURH/KEI has the advantage of yielding a sequence ( anapestic dimeter + anapestic monometer + "prosodiac" [- - - - - - ]), which occurs twice more in the passage: at 143-44 and (dividing , as sense demands, before and after) and 146-48.

Another reader would doubtless come up with another set of queries and reservations, but neither set would be likely to affect seriously the value of the volume as a whole: a stimulating specimen of the sort of "holistic" approach to mousike which one hopes will become more frequent, and a worthy tribute to the commitment, enthusiasm and wide-ranging interests (cf. pp. viii-xiii) of the scholar to whose memory it is dedicated.