"Elamite Orchestra": Relief from the palace of Assurbanipal, Nineveh (British Museum)

The Invention of Music
in the Orientalizing Period


PhD Dissertation, Classics
University College London 2002

Richard Janko (London)

Nick Lowe (London)
Walter Burkert (Zürich)


9/2005 I have now broken the links to many chapters of my dissertation. I have modified many of my earlier views, while those that remain are expressed more clearly and accurately in my subsequent publications, to which I provide directions below. The chapters which deal with the Archaic Greek heptachord, its epicentric string structure, and the important function of the central string—the Middle Muse—are also somewhat dated in my mind, but as I have not treated these subjects elsewhere I shall keep them available for the time being. I have also left the chapter which relates the reconstruction of the Mesopotamian tuning cycle as being a useful introduction to the subject. The index locorum and bibliography may also be of use.

8/2004 N.B. I have noticed that a number of websites have now linked to this page, citing it as an authority for various reasons. I hasten to point out, therefore, that the following abstract has been reproduced verbatim from my 2002 UCL dissertation, but that two years of further research and discussion with colleagues has caused me to modify my views somewhat. In the book I am preparing, I still defend the thesis that the Greek evidence preserves vestiges of the Old Babylonian (< Ur Dynastic III, Sumerian) version of diatonic music with its practical and theoretical emphasis on a central string. I am no longer certain, however, that the system's transmission took place in the Orientalizing Period; I am now convinced that the seven-stringed lyre survived in Cyprus and those areas of the Aegean where Bronze Age Achaean culture persisted, such as Athens, Euboea, Lesbos, Arcadia, Crete, Smyrna. The question then becomes whether the Mesopotamian approach to diatony was known in the Minoan and Mycenaean palaces -- as the Ugaritic evidence might suggest -- or whether it revitalized a Bronze Age Aegean tradition during the Orientalizing period, via Phoenician or Neo-Assyrian influence (as Cypriot and Lydian evidence might suggest). See further the abstract for my book-in-progress.


The legend that Terpander rejected "four voiced song" in favor of new songs on the seven-stringed lyre (fragment 4 Gostoli) epitomizes an encounter between two musical traditions during the Greek Orientalizing period (c. 750-650 B.C.), catalyzed by the westward expansion of the Assyrian empire. The seven-stringed lyre answers clearly to the heptatony which was widely practiced in the ancient Near East, as known from the diatonic tuning system documented in the cuneiform musical tablets. "Four voiced song" must be understood as describing the inherited melodic practice of the Greek epic singer. The syncretism of these two traditions may be deduced from the later Greek theorists and musicographers. Though diatonic scales were also known in Greece, even the late theorists remembered that pride of place was given to other forms of heptatony—the chromatic and enharmonic genera, tone structures which cannot be established solely through the resonant intervals of the diatonic method. Nevertheless, these tunings were consistently seen as modifications of the diatonic—which Aristoxenus believed to be the "oldest and most natural" of the genera—and were required to conform to minimum conditions of diatony. Thus the Greek tone structures represent the overlay of native musical inflections on a borrowed diatonic substrate, and the creation of a distinctly Hellenized form of heptatonic music. More specific points of contact are found in the string nomenclatures, which in both traditions are arranged to emphasize a central string. There is extensive Greek evidence relating this "epicentric" structure to musical function, with the middle string a sort of tonal center of constant pitch, while the other strings could change from tuning to tuning. So too in the Mesopotamian system the central string remained constant throughout the diatonic tuning cycle.

I realise that there are infelicities, errors and omissions in the dissertation. Revisions are under way, and I welcome any comments, corrections, and other criticism which will improve the work for its eventual publication as The Middle Muse: Mesopotamian Echoes in Early Greek Music.


Prefatory Material (Title Page, Abstract, Table of Contents, Abbreviations, Acknowledgements)

1. Introduction


2. Terpander’s Lyre: The Orientalizing Period in Greek Music (see now here and here)
3. Homer’s Lyre: The Indo-European Music-stream (see now here)
4. The Lyre of Orpheus: Palatial Music in the Bronze Age (see now here)
5. The Lyre of Hermes: The Invention of Music (see now here)


6. The Babylonian Tuning Cycle
7. The Diatonic Genus (see now here, here and here)
8. Quaestio Errorum Plena: The Archaic Heptachord
9. The Epicentric Strings
10. The Symphonic Circle in Greece

APPENDIX A: The Etymology of Harmonia
APPENDIX B: Cuneiform Texts: U3011 - CBS 10996 - UET 7/74 - Graphic Representation of Tuning Cycle
Index Locorum



Or, I will be happy to burn a CD of the entire thesis and send it to you for $ 5.00 to cover expenses. It will come in the following attractitve package: