The English word “ethics” has its root in the Greek word, “ethos.” In Greek “ethos” means “character” and is also frequently used to describe the power that music has to influence us. The myth of Orpheus is one example of how the ancient Greeks felt about music’s importance. We’re still influenced by the ancient Greek ideas about music today. The names of the modes (ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aolian, and locrian) are named after Greek city-states.
In spite of this influence, we really know very little about what ancient Greek music actually sounded like. Some scholars, however, have been coming up with some interesting insights into the study of ancient Greek music and deciphering what it may have actually sounded like. Reporting for the BBC, Armand D’Angour writes:
But isn’t the music lost beyond recovery? The answer is no. The rhythms – perhaps the most important aspect of music – are preserved in the words themselves, in the patterns of long and short syllables.
The instruments are known from descriptions, paintings and archaeological remains, which allow us to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.
And now, new revelations about ancient Greek music have emerged from a few dozen ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of the Greek words.
To listen to a short excerpt of a song found on a stone inscription performed with a zither-like instrument accompanying follow this link to the article.