BMCR 2013.08.41

Il canto delle Vergini locresi: la musica a Locri Epizefirii nelle fonti scritte e nella documentazione archeologica (secoli VI-III a. C.). Nuovi saggi, 116

Angela Bellia, Il canto delle Vergini locresi: la musica a Locri Epizefirii nelle fonti scritte e nella documentazione archeologica (secoli VI-III a. C.). Nuovi saggi, 116. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2012. 197. ISBN 9788862275422 €42.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

The aim of this book is to draw a picture of the musical culture of Locri Epizephyrii, the city founded on the Ionian sea at the end of VII century by a group of colonists coming from the Greek region of Locris. The book is innovative because for the first time the author presents several texts and archaeological evidence (fragments of musical instruments, sonorous objects, and images) found in the city and systematically analyzes and studies them from a musicological perspective. The interpretation of these data based on archaeological context and use, following the approach of recent musical archaeology research [[ 1]] enables the author to reconstruct the role of music both in the sacred ceremonies in honor of the divinities worshipped at Locri, and in the daily life of their inhabitants, especially as a meaningful element of aristocratic lifestyle.

In Chapter One (‘La musica a Locri Epizefiri: il quadro storico’), Angela Bellia starts from literary sources ( mostly reported in Appendix I) ‘ in order to reconstruct a picture of the most significant musical performances in the religious and public life of Locri. Great attention is given to the poet and musician Xenocritus, who lived first in Locri and then in Sparta in the middle of the VII century. Ancient authors ascribe to him the invention of the Locrian harmony, a few paeans in honor of Apollo to be performed with the accompaniment of the aulos and the Palinodia, a poem commemorating a Locrian military victory. Some musicians from Locri took part in the Pythian musical contests: among them a certain Eunomos is mentioned as the winner in the kitharodia, beating Ariston from Rhegion. This episode leads to a short excursus on the cicada’s song as the mythical antecedent of the musical competition between Locri and Rhegion (pp. 19-20). Among the musical events in the city were the songs sung by the ‘Locrian virgins’; it is not clear, however, what their features were and how they were performed. Probably these songs had religious connotations and included choreutical elements.

Chapter Two (‘La musica nella sfera del sacro’ focuses on the place and meaning of music in the sacred and ritual contexts of Locri and of its colonies of Hipponius and Medma, from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period (p. 26). The author analyzes the votive objects from Persephone’s sanctuary in ‘contrada Mannella’: they are mostly the famous clay pinakes depicting the feminine world. The scenes portrayed ( girls’ dances, capture of cicadas, processions and offerings inside the temple) are characterized by the more or less explicit presence of music or of sonorous items. Some of these iconographic themes concern the mythological cycle of Persephone, the fertility goddess: during the rites in her honor the Locrian girls dedicated these pinakes to the goddess, illustrating episodes of her life as a mythical metaphor of the transition from the status of a girl to that of an adult female and wife in real life. The aulos is the musical instrument most often portrayed in scenes of this kind, and a fragmentary specimen has also been found in the Persephoneion of Locri (p. 47). Other pinakes refer to ceremonies in honor of masculine divinities, such as the Dioscuri: in these scenes the presence of the lyre shows that the education of young aristocrats included music and song, in addition to athletic and military practices (pp. 51-52). The musical instrument often acquires a symbolic meaning, as in this case or when it is associated with Eros, referring to the power of music to seduce and to arouse erotic desire (pp. 58-59). Several other clay reliefs have been found in Aphrodite’s sacred area at ‘contrada Marasà-Centocamere’: they depict males reclining while banqueting and holding different objects, among which are musical instruments, such as lyres and auloi. This theme has been interpreted by the author as allusion to masculine religious rituals, perhaps connected to Aphrodite and the nuptial sphere (pp. 71-73). Instead, the finds from the built-up area in ‘contrada Centocamere’, mostly showing females playing auloi or tympana, document domestic cults or ritual events linked to the worlds of Dionysos and Aphrodite (pp. 83-91). The numerous clay statuettes from the rock shrine to the Nymphs in ‘Grotta Caruso’ are votives referring to the rites of feminine purification and fertility and date back to the V-III century BC. They represent females, alone or in groups, playing different musical instruments, such as auloi, tympana, cymbals, and lyres, and may allude to the musical and choreutic performances taking place during prenuptial rites, or to the purification ceremonies carried out after the wedding. The author connects the representations of dancing maenads and of Pan and Silen musicians with the agrarian and pastoral feasts in honor of Dionysos.

Chapter Three (‘La musica nella sfera funeraria’) is devoted to the musical finds from the necropolis in ‘Contrada Lucifero’ , dating back to the VI-IV century BC. Following the works of Diego Elia and Lucia Lepore,2 the author points out that the most numerous fragments of musical instruments from a single town were found in Locri. These objects, mostly tortoise shells used as sound boxes for the lyre or barbitos (a type of lyre with longer arms than the common type),3 were included, in some cases together with auloi, among the grave goods of the richest tombs belonging to members of the élite. In fact, music and songs played a very important role during the aristocratic symposium. . If lyre and aulos clearly belong to the masculine world, the archaeological evidence concerning the feminine sphere is less defined. The author, again following the studies of Lepore and Elia, suggests that some metallic items found without a context belong to a ‘cradle kithara’ (pp. 140-141), and that this instrument alludes to the finishing education of aristocratic ladies, linking it with the mundus muliebris. For scholars interested in this field of musicology it is sometimes difficult to give musical identity to the images or the fragmentary instruments considered: see, for example, the term ‘tuning fork’ (‘diapason’, p.141, n.6) attributed to the object held by a personage on a vase of the socalled ‘Locri Group’. Similarly, the ‘ ‘kithara-shaped’ motif (‘motivo a lira’) engraved on some bronze mirrors found among funerary artifacts is interpreted by the author as depicting the kithara as a ‘feminine’ musical instrument, although I personally feel that it is just a decoration and has no intentional musical meaning (pp. 141, 151).

In Appendix II (‘Le raffigurazioni musicali nel Trono Ludovisi e nel Trono di Boston e la problematica relativa’) the author examines the scenes portrayed on both the Ludovisi and the Boston throne, linking them to the mythical and ritual cycle of Aphrodite worshipped at Locri. The aulos player portrayed on the first item is interpreted as a priestess of the goddess, perhaps connected to the commemoration of her birth from the sea or to the ceremonies linked to sacred prostitution. In the Boston throne, the author examines the lyre player represented on one side. From consideration of the shape of the instrument and the performance technique, Bellia is in favor of the throne’s authenticity and interprets the figure as the mythical Adonis, also linked to the cycle of Aphrodite.

In agreement with Donatella Restani in the ‘ Postfazione ’, I believe that this study is definitely original and innovative, especially if considered from the perspective of music history and the symbolic and anthropological value of the evidence. Thus Angela Bellia’s book greatly enhances our knowledge of the musical and sonorous events taking place in one of the most important towns of Magna Graecia.


1. Cf. E. Hickmann, s.v. ‘Archaeomusicology’, in The New Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2 nd ed., London-Oxford-New York 2001, I, pp. 848-854; A.A. Both, ‘Music Archaeology: Some methodological and theoretical considerations’, Yearbook for Traditional Music, 41 (2009), pp. 1-11.

2. D. Elia, Tombe con strumenti musicali nella necropoli di contrada Lucifero: aspetti del rituale e dell’ideologia funeraria a Locri Epizefiri, in L. Lepore, P. Turi (eds.), Caulonia tra Crotone e Locri, Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Firenze 2007), Firenze 2010, pp. 405-422; L. Lepore, Gli strumenti musicali locresi tra iconografia e realia, ibidem, pp. 423-458.

3. It seems difficult to interpret the carapaces as sound boxes for the lyre or barbitos because of their dimensions (p. 137).