, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 17-29

Philosophy and Science of Music in Ancient Greece


Although the writings of the classical Greeks and their Roman and Arabic successors remain the foundation of Western philosophy and science of music, as well as their sometimes problematic applications to architecture and other constructive arts, there has been a steady renewal of interest in the old science of harmonics. It is recognized that much of the Greek theory and practice of harmonics was unquestionably derived from earlier cultures, the still shadowy predecessors of Pythagoras. Though hardly any modern writers would describe themselves as Pythagoreans, some of their ideas have important connections with the old tradition and all are symptomatic of a new era in the history of thought, when mechanistic and reductionist paradigms are giving way to a holistic and organic world-view. Modern scholarship has established that most of the doctrines traditionally ascribed to Pythagoras were really the contributions of the older high civilisations, particularly of Mespotamia and Egypt. The rise and dissemination of these perennially influential doctrines remains one of the most formidable problems for the historian of ideas.