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Published December 14, 2021 | Version 2023a
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Unlocking the Riddles of Imperial Greek Melodies I: the 'Lydian' metamorphosis of the Classical harmonic system

  • 1. University of Oxford



This article builds upon the evidence discussed in Lynch 2022a and 2022b, and sheds light on the metamorphosis that turned the Classical Dorian-based harmonic system into the Lydian-based system employed in Imperial Greek scores. Unlike previous hypotheses, the solution set out in this article entails a shift of a mere semitone between the tonal centre of the Classical harmonic system (Dorian mésē F3) and its counterpart in the Imperial harmonic system (Hypolydian mésē E3, which corresponded to the Classical mode Lydistí). This semitone shift is akin to a small adjustment in chamber pitch that has occurred repeatedly in the history of Western music but had wide-ranging implications for the organisation of the Imperial harmonic system as a whole, undermining the structural role of that fourths had in the Classical system and introducing a new focus on thirds and fifths. Together with Lynch 2022a and 2022b, this article and its sequel offer the first comprehensive account of the use of notation keys (tónoi) in the extant ancient Greek scores that is fully consistent with the available evidence about ancient harmonic theory and its practical use. This solution also bridges the gap between the harmonic systems employed in Hellenistic and Imperial scores, outlining for the first time a continuous, if evolving, tradition that stretches from the earliest musical documents to late antiquity.



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Barker, A. (2020). ‘Harmonics’ in Lynch, T. A.C. and Rocconi, E. (eds) A Companion to ancient Greek and Roman Music, Malden: Blackwell, 257–274.

DAGM = Pöhlmann, E. and West, M.L. (2001). Documents of Ancient Greek Music: The Extant Melodies and Fragments. Oxford.

dDAGM = Lynch, T.A.C. (2021). Database ‘Documents of Ancient Greek Music’. Version 1.1 Zenodo: 

Hagel, S. (2010). Ancient Greek Music – A New Technical History. Cambridge

Lynch, T. (2018). ‘ “Without Timotheus, much of our melopoiia would not exist; but without Phrynis, there wouldn’t have been Timotheus”: Pherecrates’ twelve strings, the strobilos and the harmonic paranomia of the New Music’, Greek and Roman Musical Studies 6.2, 290–327.

Lynch, T. A.C. (2020). ‘Tuning the Lyre, Tuning the Soul: Harmonía and the koś mos of the Soul in Plato’s Republic and Timaeus’, Greek and Roman Musical Studies 8.1, 111–55.

Lynch, T . A.C. (2022a). ‘Unlocking the Riddles of Classical Greek Melodies I: Dorian Keys to the Harmonic Revolution of the New Music and the Hellenistic Musical Documents’ Greek and Roman Musical Studies 10.2 [preprint:]

Lynch, T. A.C. (2022b). ‘Unlocking the Riddles of Classical Greek Melodies II: the Revolution of the New Music in the Ashmolean Papyri (DAGM 5–6) and Athenaeus’ Paean (DAGM 20)’, Greek and Roman Musical Studies 10.2. [preprint:].

Martinelli, M.C. (2020). ‘Documenting Music’, in Lynch, T. A.C. and Rocconi, E. (eds) A Companion to ancient Greek and Roman Music, Malden: Blackwell, 103–115.

West, M.L. (1994). Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: OUP.



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