Aristides Quintilianus and the Theory of Mode in Antiquity


The subject of the present article is a small fragment from “De musica” by Aristides Quintilianus (3rd century A. D.), which immediately relates to the doctrine of musical mode in Antiquity. It reveals how the formation of ancient Greek modes was conceptualized: the point of departure constituted the basic two-octave Perfect System (systema teleion), on which then the so-called “octave species” of diverse intervallic structure have been superimposed. As a result there arose multiple “harmoniai” (according to Aristides’ vocabulary which followed here the earlier tradition), or “tonoi”: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc. The importance of the studied fragment comes out from the scarcity of our knowledge of ancient modes, of which a little evidence is preserved. Also this excerpt correlates to Ptolemy’s music theory (the only source in Antiquity where a discipline of musical harmony has been treated systematically), and makes a relevant addition to it.



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