The music of ancient Greece, could we hear it, would sound hopelessly foreign to us. We mostly cannot hear it; bits have been speculatively reconstructed, however, and the results do indeed make for strange listening. Unlike Greek civilization’s more enduring achievements—literature, philosophy, art, theater, architecture, politics—this music cannot really be considered Western in the typical sense. Greek music favored unison melody without accompanying chords, harmonic progressions, or counterpoint. Some tunings used quarter tones, as in Indian classical music. Even when Greek appears in Western musical vocabulary—in the names of the Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian modes, for instance, or even the word “harmony”—the terms no longer carry their ancient meanings.

Yet, as Mark Twain recognized, there is more to music than just how it sounds. However...


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