The Sound of Music

The Semantics of Noise in Early Greek Hexameter

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This paper examines the vocabulary of sound in the Theogony, the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes and focuses in particular on the words employed therein to describe superlative forms of music, terms that in different contexts denote clamorous or unpleasant sounds. By drawing attention to the sonic texture of musical performance in this way, each portrayal suggests that music is not ontologically distinct from noise, but emerges from the coalescence of discrete sounds that are not musical in and of themselves. Music and noise thus exist not in a hierarchical relation, but on the same spectrum. And this dynamic is reflected in the very language used to depict these performances, which combines re-workings of Homeric formulae with new or unusual acoustic terminology. Thus music, including lyrical language itself, may become perceptible as such from the skillful organization of sounds into intelligible and distinctive patterns.



BarkerA., Greek Musical Writings I, (Cambridge 1984).

BarkerA., 'Words for Sounds', in C. Tuplin and T.E. Rihll (eds), Science and Mathematics in Ancient Greek Culture, (Oxford 2002) 22-35.

BettiniM., Voci. Antropologia sonora del mondo antico, (Torino 2008).

ButlerS., The Ancient Phonograph, (New York 2015).

ChantraineP., Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Grecque. Histoire des Mots, (Paris 1968).

CookN., Music, Imagination, and Culture, (Oxford 1990).

D’AngourA., The Greeks and the New. Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience, (Cambridge 2011).

FranklinJ., 'The Language of Musical Technique in Greek Epic Diction' (2003) 7 Gaia: 295-307.

FurleyW., 'Homeric and Un-Homeric Hexameter Hymns: A Question of Type', in A. Faulkner (ed), The Homeric Hymns: Interpretative Essays, (Oxford 2011) 206-231.

GoddardM.HalliganB.HegartyP., 'Introduction', in M. Goddard, B. Halligan and P. Hegarty (eds), Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics of Noise, (London/New York 2012) 1-11.

GurdS., Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece. Idiom: Inventing Writing Theory, (New York 2016).

HalliwellS., The Aesthetics of Mimesis. Ancient Texts and Modern Problems, (Princeton 2002).

HunzingerC., 'L’étonnement et l’émerveillement chez Homère. Les mots de la famille de thauma' (1993) 106 reg: 506-508 pl. xvii-xix.

HunzingerC., 'Le plaisir esthétique dans l’épopée archaïque: les mots de la famille de θαῦµα' (1994) 1 bagb: 4-30.

HunzingerC., 'Thauma', in P. Destrée and P. Murray (eds), A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics, (Chichester 2015) 422-437.

JankoR., Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns. Diachronic Development in Epic Diction, (Cambridge 1982).

KaimioM., Characterization of Sound in Early Greek Literature, (Helsinki 1977).

KurkeL., 'Imagining Chorality: Wonder, Plato’s Puppets, and Moving Statues', in A.-E. Peponi (ed), Performance and Culture in Plato’s Laws, (Cambridge 2013) 123-170.

LatherA., 'Pindar’s Water Music: The Acoustics and Dynamics of the Kelados' (Forthcoming in CP) .

PeponiA.-E., Frontiers of Pleasure: Models of Aesthetic Response in Archaic and Classical Greek Thought, (Oxford 2012).

RichardsonN., Three Homeric Hymns, (Cambridge 2010).

RichardsonN., 'Reflections of Choral Song in Early Hexameter Poetry', in L. Athanassaki and E. Bowie (eds), Archaic and Classical Choral Song: Performance, Politics, and Dissemination, (Berlin/Boston 2011) 15-32.

StanfordW., The Sound of Greek. Studies in the Greek Theory and Practice of Euphony, (Berkeley/Los Angeles 1967).

StanfordW., 'The Lily Voice of the Cicadas (Iliad 3.152)' (1969) 23 Phoenix: 3-8.

StanfordW., 'Sound, Sense, and Music in Greek Poetry' (1981) 28 G&R: 127-140.

VareseE.Wen-chungC., 'The Liberation of Sound' (1966) 5 Perspectives of New Music: 11-19.

VergadosA., 'The Homeric Hymn to Hermes 51 and Antigonus of Carystus' (2007) 52 cq: 737-742.

VergadosA., The Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Introduction, Text and Commentary, (Berlin 2013).

WalshG., The Varieties of Enchantment: Early Greek Views of the Nature and Function of Poetry, (Chapel Hill 1984).

WestM.L., Ancient Greek Music, (Oxford 1992).

WestM.L., Homeric Hymns. Homeric Apocrypha. Lives of Homer, (Cambridge, MA 2003).


Varèse and Wen-chung 1966, 18.


Cf. Bettini (2008) who is similarly interested in the interaction between language and sound but concentrates primarily on animal voices. See also Cook (1990, 4) on the symbiosis between language and imagery on the one hand and music on the other, “a musical culture is, in essence, a repertoire of means for imagining music; it is the specific pattern of divergences between the experience of music on the one hand, and the images by means of which it is represented on the other, that gives a musical culture its identity”.


Cf. Richardson 2010, ad 488.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 7 7 3
Full Text Views 7 7 6
PDF Downloads 4 4 3
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0