‘Without Timotheus, Much of Our Melopoiia Would not Exist; But without Phrynis, There Wouldn’t Have Been Timotheus’

Pherecrates’ Twelve Strings, the Strobilos and the Harmonic Paranomia of the New Music

in Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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In this paper, I offer a close discussion of the musical innovations attributed to Phrynis, Timotheus and other ‘New Musicians’ mentioned in a famous fragment of Pherecrates’ Chiron, interpreting this fascinating passage in the light of the extant evidence about ancient harmonic theory and practice, as well as the latest research findings. More specifically, I shall advance a new hypothesis concerning the nature of Phrynis’ innovative ‘twister’ (strobilos): producing a special bending (kampē) of a semitone, this gadget allowed Phrynis to combine five different harmoniai (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Iastian and ‘Loose Lydian’) in one and the same twelve-string tuning. Making a subtle modification to this device, Timotheus further expanded the harmonic palette of his twelve-string kithara, introducing the lamenting aulos-mode par excellence, the Mixolydian, into the realm of lyre music. Philoxenus increased this system by adding an extra string, reaching the 13-step arrangement that is at the heart of Aristoxenian harmonic theory.



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  • The Aristides scales as aulos modes (selection of Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian; half sharp sign ≠ indicates quarter-tone intervals)
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  • The stable framework of lyre harmoniai
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  • The lyre-based, diatonic species of the octave (Cleon. 198-9 Jan, Aristid. Quint. 15.8-20; mesē marked in bold and underlined, St in small caps)
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  • Melanippides’ twelve-string tuning
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  • Phrynis’ Ionian harmonia
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  • Leucas’ tuning mechanisms (Pöhlmann 2011, 128)
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  • Detail of a modern folk harp with sharping levers on C and F strings
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  • E.g. drawings of the strobilos as sharping lever and its holder, based on the Leucas findings and Elgin yoke (diameter ca. 1.7 cm—Bélis 1985)
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  • Details from the Asteas bell krater, Museo Provinciale Pc 1812—pictures courtesy of Gaetano Guida, Settore Musei, Biblioteche e Pinacoteche, Provincia di Salerno
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  • The Asteas bell krater, Museo Provinciale di Salerno Pc 1812—Picture courtesy of Settore Musei, Biblioteche e Pinacoteche, Provincia di Salerno
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  • Phrynis’ strobilos as a modulating key and its movements. 9A: The strobilos starts from its ‘neutral’ position, inserted into the yoke, and is then shifted out of the horizontal groove); 9B: it is subsequently rotated, thereby raising the pitch of the string; 9C: it is inserted again into the vertical groove, securing it in place.
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  • Hellenistic tuning pegs, Dardanos lyre (Byrne 1993)
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  • Phrynis’ strobilos bending the Ionian mode
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  • ‘Loose’ Lydian vs Lydian harmonia
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  • Timotheus’ ‘illegal’ modulation from Dorian to Mixolydian
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  • The ‘hyperbolic’ tetrachord
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  • Philoxenus’ ‘hyperbolic’ harmonia: Hypermixolydian and Hypodorian/Locrian
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