Music and creativity in Ancient Greece – Tim Hansen

 

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We live in a society
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obsessed with music.
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We use music to worship,
00:12
tell stories,
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to celebrate,
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to work,
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exercise,
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declare our love
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and sometimes our hatred,
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and, arguably most importantly,
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to dance.
00:25
And, of course, we play music ourselves
00:27
because, well, it’s a pleasant thing to do.
00:30
Thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece,
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when it came to music,
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things weren’t much different.
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They might have had lyres and tunics
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instead of MP3 players and jeans,
00:41
but the Ancient Greeks were just as obsessed
00:43
with music as we are today.
00:45
In fact, music was such an important part
00:47
of Ancient Greek society
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that it makes us seem tame by comparison.
00:51
To really understand just how integral music was
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to the Ancient Greeks,
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let’s begin by acquainting ourselves
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with a bit of their mythology.
00:59
In Ancient Greek mythology,
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it was believed that human creativity
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was the result of divine inspiration
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from a group of goddesses known as the Muses.
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While scholars have argued over the years
01:11
that there are anything between 3 and 13 Muses,
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the standard number accepted today is 9.
01:17
Each Muse oversees her own specific area
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of artistic expertise,
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ranging from song and dance
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to history and astronomy.
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It might seem strange to categorize
01:27
history and astronomy as creative pursuits,
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but the Ancient Greeks saw these disciplines
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as more than just school subjects.
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These were the hallmarks of civilization
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in what, to their eyes,
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was a pretty barbaric world.
01:40
An educated, civilized person
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was expected to be proficient
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in all aspects of creative thought
01:46
inspired by the Muses,
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and the common medium
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through which these disciplines were taught,
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studied,
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and disseminated
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was music.
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You see, it’s no coincidence
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that the word Muse is very similar
01:58
to the word music.
02:00
It’s where the word originates.
02:02
Poetry, be it a love poem
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or an epic poem about a dragon-slaying hero,
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was sung with a musical accompaniment.
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Dancing and singing, obviously,
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were accompanied by music.
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Theater was always a combination
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of spoken word and music.
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History was recounted through song.
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Even the study of astronomy
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was linked to the same physical principles
02:24
as musical harmony,
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such as the belief held by many Greek thinkers
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that each of the planets and stars
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created their own unique sound
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as they traveled through the cosmos,
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thrumming like an enormous guitar string
02:35
light-years long.
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However, music pervaded more aspects of their lives
02:39
than just education.
02:41
Ancient Greeks considered music
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to be the basis for understanding
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the fundamental interconnectedness
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of all things in the universe.
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This concept of connectivity
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is known as harmonia,
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and it’s where we get the word harmony.
02:54
Music was used as a form of medicine
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to treat illnesses and physical complaints,
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as a vital accompaniment to sporting contests,
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and as a means to keep workers in time
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as they toiled away on monotonous or menial tasks.
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One of the most important applications
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of music in Ancient Greek society
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is found in the belief
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that music can affect a person’s ethos.
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A word we still use today,
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ethos is a person’s guiding beliefs
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or personal ethics,
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the way that one behaves
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towards oneself and others.
03:24
The Greek philosopher Plato,
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one of the most famous
03:27
and influential Greek thinkers of the time,
03:29
asserted that music had a direct effect
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on a person’s ethos.
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Certain kinds of music
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could incite a person to violence
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while others could placate a person
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into a benign, unthinking stupor.
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According to Plato,
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only very specific types of music
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were beneficial to a person’s ethos.
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One should only listen to music
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that promotes intelligence,
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self-discipline,
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and courage,
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and all other kinds of music must be avoided.
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Furthermore, Plato fervently denounced
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any music that deviated
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from established musical conventions,
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fearing that doing so
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would lead to the degradation
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of the standards of civilization,
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the corruption of youth,
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and eventually complete and utter anarchy.
04:12
While Plato’s fears can seem extreme,
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this argument has appeared in modern times
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to condemn musical trends
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such as jazz or punk or rap.
04:20
What do you think Plato would say
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about the music you listen to?
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Is it beneficial to your ethos,
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or will it degenerate you
04:27
into a gibbering, amoral barbarian?

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