Music for the Gods

Judi Taylor

Stowe, United States

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Although many names of musicians are recorded in ancient sources, none played a more important role in the development of Greek musical thought than the mathematician and philosopher PYTHAGORAS OF SAMOS (6th-5th century BC). According to legend, Pythagoras, by divine guidance, discovered the mathematical rationale of musical consonance from the weights of hammers used by smiths. He is thus given credit for discovering that the interval of an octave is rooted in the ratio 2:1, that of the fifth in 3:2, that of the fourth in 4:3, and that of the whole tone in 9:8.

Followers of Pythagoras applied these ratios to lengths of a string on an instrument called a canon, or monochord, and thereby were able to determine mathematically the intonation of an entire musical system. The Pythagoreans saw these ratios as governing forces in the cosmos as well as in sounds, and Plato’s Timaeus describes the soul of the world as structured according to these same musical ratios.

For the Pythagoreans, as well as for Plato, music consequently became a branch of mathematics as well as an art; this tradition of musical thought flourished throughout antiquity in such theorists as Nicomachus of Gerasa (2d century AD) and PTOLEMY (2d century AD) and was transmitted into the Middle Ages by BOETHIUS (6th century AD).

The mathematics and intonation of the Pythagorean tradition consequently became a crucial influence in the development of music in medieval Europe. Followers of the peripatetic tradition, especially Aristoxenus (4th century BC), found the Pythagorean ratios too archaic and restrictive and began a more empirical tradition of ancient musical thought.

Although little of ancient Greek music survives, Greek musical thought has profoundly affected the manner in which Western culture has expressed itself in this art.

Calvin Bower

The Music of the Gods

Artwork Comments

  • Leon A.  Walker
  • Judi Taylor
  • Sensiworld
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  • Ginger  Barritt
  • Judi Taylor
  • Valerie Anne Kelly
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  • Keith Reesor
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  • velveteagle
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  • Syd Baker
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  • TeriLee
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  • JenLand
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