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date: 25 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter investigates the timbral world of ancient Greece through a close analysis of particular types of sonic language in a selection of poetry and prose treatises, from Homeric epic to fifth-century BCE tragedy to the treatises of Aristotle and his school. By trying to locate this elusive category within accounts of music-making and sound more generally, it demonstrates not just the rich vocabulary for conveying different elements of an acoustic experience in the ancient Greek world, but the cultural valences of specific terms and images. In particular, the chapter shows how frequently the various auditory qualities that we might—however anachronistically—associate with timbre are as much social constructions as physical properties.

Keywords: timbre, ancient Greece, ancient Greek music, Aeschylus, Aristotle, Edonians, Seven Against Thebes, De Audibilibus

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