In Aristotle's Politics 1290a, he writes:

of musical modes there are said to be two kinds, the Dorian and the Phrygian; the other arrangements of the scale are comprehended under one or other of these two.

What does he mean by this?

In 1342b, he writes:

All men agree that the Dorian music is the gravest and manliest.

Why did Aristotle think this?


Nobody knows what he meant.

Now I can't prove a negative, and I can't say for sure that somebody won't pop in with an answer based on recent research, but back when I was in college my music history professor and my Ancient Greek professor both told me that although we have some knowledge of ancient Greek music, and some songs that some scholars have reason to believe they know how to sing, we don't see whatever Plato and Aristotle saw in different modes that make the listener manly and warlike or soft and cowardly.

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    In fact, during the 20th century there was still active debate about what the Greek modes actually were, based on surviving archeological evidence, in particular wind instruments where the finger holes form a permanent record of the instrument's intonation. There is no conclusive evidence that the Greek modes were the same as the later "church modes" - unless you believe that the founding fathers of the church were infallible, of course. So we don't even know for sure what Aristotle was talking about, let alone why he thought one of his modes was more manly than another. – user19146 May 22 '17 at 1:23
  • «There is no conclusive evidence that the Greek modes were the same as the later "church modes"» What evidence is there? – Geremia May 22 '17 at 4:00
  • Some citations for your claims would be appreciated. thanks – Geremia May 22 '17 at 4:00
  • As far as I know, the connection between the Greek modes and the church modes is largely wishful thinking, because, for one thing, the Church flipped the order of the modes, probably because they misunderstood what "arrete" meant. It's the "highest" string on a kithera, but like a guitar (the word is the same) it's the lowest in pitch. But it's still not completely understood. – Scott Wallace May 22 '17 at 9:38
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    @ScottWallace - 'kithera' only comes up as a Greek island. Help! Found it. KITHARA. – Tim May 22 '17 at 12:43

It's impossible to say. It was probably his opinion, not necessarily that of 'everyone'. Adding to this, the Ancient Greek Dorian was, I think, the same as our Phrygian of today, and the old Phrygian similar to our Dorian. So that puts a whole new perspective on things! Just the opposite from the original! Also, they were played using Pythagorean tuning, which again makes a sonic difference.

The question is similar to 'why do minors sound sad?'...

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