Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reasoning/Spiritied: A Second Addendum to the Barbara Kowalzig Post

The Oxford Classical Dictionary 
The Oxford Classical Dictionary sheds (some minimal) new light on "new music." I ended my last post with a question about the dramatic date of Plato's Laws (that was proposed by Zuckert) in light of Kowalzig's argument about new music. My question was, if "new music" (the experimenting with meters of dithyrambic choruses) was contemporary with Plato (as an author) rather than with Zuckert's proposed dramatic date (460-450), then must we discard the dramatic date she proposes. Alternatively, could the Athenian Stranger and be discussing early "new music" or something which sounds like a description of "new music" but actually is something different? So I decided to research the date of "new music" to see if it began c. 450 or whether it was a much later invention.

I have not been able to find much, but I managed to get access to an online version of the Oxford Classical Dictionary. Although there is no specific date for the beginning of "new music," this entry seems to me to create a beginning date of about 430, but this is just an estimate from the names on the list and their careers. Other than the transliterated Greek words, all italics are mine (in order to establish emphasis on the particular sections that are important).
"Choral lyric, an indissoluble blend of poetry, melody, accompaniment and, dance, was already an admired art in the 7th cent., notably in Sparta and at the Delian festivals; competition was endemic and essential in this genre too (see particularly Alcman fr. 1 Poetae Melici Graeci, and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo). We hear of many types: the story of the two that later achieved highest status, dithyramb and tragedy , cannot be retold here. Both originated in the singing and dancing of choruses to the auloi, which always remained the accompanying instrument: the dialogue of drama perhaps grew out of interchanges between the chorus and its leader. Other choral genres, such as paeans, maiden-songs, and victory-songs, were often accompanied by a kithara, sometimes by aulos and kithara together (but the question whether Pindar's victory-songs were indeed choral, or were solo pieces prefacing choral singing, is now the subject of lively dispute). Poet-composers of the late 6th and early 5th cents.— Lasus , Pratinas , Pindar , Simonides , and others—were often self-consciously reflective about their art: traces of various musical controversies survive, and Lasus is said to have written the first treatise on music. Pindar repeatedly proclaims himself a musical innovator (e.g. Olympian Odes 3. 4–6, fr. 61 B. Snell and H. Maehler ). But to moralists from Aristophanes (1) onwards, their period marks the pinnacle of the ancient, simple, educative, and edifying style: afterwards there is nothing but decline into theatricality and populism. As the 5th cent. progressed, melodies came to be embroidered with ornaments and turns, both in the vocal line and independently in its accompaniment. Modulations between scale-systems, facilitated by developments in instruments (more finger-holes on auloi, added strings on the kithera) became common, undermining old links between genre and musical structure. Traditionally distinct genres, such as kitharidia and choral dithyramb, began to merge into new and indeterminate forms. Technical expertise and startling dramatic effect were untiringly pursued: star instrumentalists and singers were idolized by the public, and like their modern counterparts enhanced their musical acts with striking costumes and histrionic bodily movements. Whereas previously the sense, rhythm, and cadence of the words had dictated their musical interpretation, now they were progressively subordinated to musical ideas worked out in their own terms and for their own sake. These developments spelled the downfall of an integrated art closely allied to religion and civic tradition; but it also meant the emancipation of pure music from ritual and, crucially, from poetry, which came gradually to be seen as a separate art. This musical revolution went hand in hand with the radical political and social changes of the later 5th cent., and with the individualistic, questioning modes of thought exemplified in the sophists and Socrates. The main names associated with it are Phrynis, Melanippides (2) , Cinesias , Philoxenus (1) , and especially Timotheus (1) : Cinesias and other purveyors of the ‘new music’, including Agathon and Euripides, are regularly pilloried by Aristophanes (1) . The Theban school of auletes (see Thebes (1) ), notably Pronomus and Antigenidas, achieved astonishing new levels of technical virtuosity and emotional expression.

The new music met with resistance not only from Aristophanes and Plato. A 4th-cent. source paraphrased at [ Plutarch ] De musica 1137–8 lists a string of musicians who deliberately rejected the elaborate styles and theatrical tricks of Timotheus in favour of older and severer forms. But as always in musical history, the new music gradually became old hat. The subtle nuances of intonation and the complex modulations characteristic of Timothean music came to seem heavy and ‘classical’ in their turn, and were supplanted by straightforward diatonic progressions lightly flavoured with chromaticism." (Oxford Classical Dictionary, the entry on "music," section 4: history)
This evidence is problematic for the date of the that Zuckert proposes for Plato's Laws. However, this data is still inconclusive, as is the fact that Plato was talking about "new music" rather than some kind of precursor to that genre. Furthermore, if anyone has a anymore ideas about this, that would be lovely.


  1. About the date for Plato's Laws: it's important I think to distinguish between dramatic dates for dialogues and composition dates. The Laws was Plato's last dialogue and seems to have been left unfinished at this death in 347 BC. Even if we could fix a firm dramatic date for the dialogue, Plato was not infrequently anachronistic in his writing. Most scholars agree that he knew and disliked the new music of the late 5th century, and that there are disparaging references to it in the Laws. The earliest possible dramatic date for a Platonic dialogue is around 450 for the Parmenides (even though that was NOT when it was written). I am not familiar with Zuckert, but as far as I know the only reasonable dramatic date suggested for the Laws is around 408 (but again, remember that it is being written in the 350s and later).

  2. Thanks so much for your comment! It's really nice to hear from someone who has an interest in the classics. I started writing a response to your thoughts, but it started taking up so much space that I think I'm going to make it a separate blogpost. I will link it here when I finish with it.

    Just as a preliminary answer, I realize that there is an important distinction between dramatic date and composition date. I think both of these dates are vastly important for understanding the corpus as a whole, but I also think they should influence our understanding as readers in very different ways. I'm concerned specifically in the post above with dramatic date because Zuckert places the dramatic date of the Laws at approximately 450. I like the date, but think that New Music presents a problem for this date.

    Out of curiosity, where does the 408 dramatic date come from? I haven't heard that and I cannot think of anything in the dialogue that lends support to it (but I've only read the Laws 1.5 times). Is there a particular scholar who posits 408?

    Blogpost on dramatic and compositional dating in the Platonic Corpus coming soon.

  3. I have now posted the first portion of my arguments about dramatic and compositional date in this blogpost. Thanks for a great comment!