Musical instruments in ancient Greece: votive or ritual equipment (or both)?

Eleonora Colangelo is a PhD candidate in Ancient History and Classical Philology at the ANHIMA Centre (Anthropology and History of Ancient Worlds) in Paris and at the University of Pisa. Her research focuses on ancient Greek religion and aesthetics and she is working on a doctoral project exploring the evolution of Eros in ancient cosmetics/aesthetics. As part of this research, she has investigated the connection between Eros and musical instruments in Attic vase-painting and has recently written about the consecration of musical instruments as votive gifts by women in transition.

Music-religion relations are currently a hot topic in the humanities and the social sciences, and have consequently received a lot of attention in recent years by philologists, archaeologists and anthropologists (see e.g. Brulé and Vendries 2001 for a general overview of the Greek and Roman worlds; Furlay 2010, 117-119 for the relationship between hymns and religion; Bellia 2015 for the case study of Demeter’s cult). This renewed interest is the result of at least two interrelated developments: a) the growing studies in performance and performative aspects of music in ancient sacred contexts (Taplin 1999; Mylonopoulos 2006, 69-71; Naerebout 2006; Bellia 2018); and b) the increasing recognition among scholars of the aesthetic and multi-sensorial levels of ancient performances, involving olfactory, tactile and visual stimuli (see Bell 1997, 159-164 for a theoretical analysis).

In ancient Greece, performances contributed to the enactment of rituals (Bellia 2018, 89 and Marconi 2007, 28). Within this context, music and sound pleased the gods by reinforcing the efficacy of human epiclesis, “calling upon” or “invocation” (Papadopoulou 2004, 347). Ritual performance is therefore a human phenomenon based on principles of reciprocity bounding deities and worshippers: “I give so that you may give”, do ut des (Bremer 1998; Parker 1998; Bundrick 2018, 17-18). Anthropocentric perspectives have been predominant in scholarly work on the scope and nature of ritual performances. Nevertheless, the critique of the inherent anthropocentrism that has characterised much of the history of the social and cultural sciences has led to a rediscovery of the role of other environmental agents, including ritual gifts, or anathemata, aparchai and dekatai (for the terminology, see Patera 2012, 17-51). Musical instruments are part of this class of ritual devices and provide us with new evidence for individual experiences of “lived ancient religion” (for this formula, see Hughes 2017). By dedicating not only the text of a song (Parker 2004, 309), but also the musical instruments themselves, worshippers and musicians tried “to give a more lasting effect to their musical performance” (Papadopoulou 2004, 349).

A recent volume focuses on musical instruments as votive gifts in the ancient Greek world and highlights their peculiar agency during ritual actions (Bellia and Bundrick 2018). This volume shows how far an anthropocentric view of ritual performances might be complemented by an organological one: musical instruments are not regarded as objects acting with humans, but rather as agents in their own right, co-constituting the various aspects of human ritual acts. This original reconfiguration of musical instruments opens up a whole new array of perspectives on human performance and dedication in ancient Greece. Most importantly, this approach develops new analytical ways of re-inserting human agency into its wider context of communication with the divine through music, song and dance. If “sacred ritual bridges the gap between this world and the world beyond” (Marconi 2013, 428), the phenomenon of musical instruments as votive gifts “stood at the intersection of these various forms of communication” (Bundrick 2018, 21), since they represent the performance at which they had been used and the ritual of offering itself.

A variety of sources – archaeological findings, epigrams and temple inventories – can help us to access some of the motivations behind the offering of sound tools and musical instruments along with models of musicians: retirement at the end of a religious/professional career, the hope of  protection, health, transition, or the ambition to participate successfully in a contest. We hear how Ibycus exalted his musical genius by dedicating his lyre to Apollo (PMGF, fragment 343 = Himerius, Oration 69, 35-38), as Anacreon did with his lyre and Stesichorus with his phorminx (stringed musical instrument, intermediate between the lyre and the kithara). Equally, Alexander of Cithera used a large number of strings to perfect his psalterion (harp-like stringed instrument), which he later dedicated as an ingenious invention in the Ephesian temple of Artemis (Juba, FGrHist 275 F 83 = Athenaeus, Deipnosophists IV 183c). In several other epigrams as well, musical instruments act as personal extensions of the worshipper, a form of prosthesis which epitomises the donor’s talent.

A specific model seems to well describe such a devotional practice: the “vertical enactment” of ritual efficacy (cf. Prêtre 2009, 16) between deity, worshipper and the musical instrument itself. This ritual centered on the personal relationship between the object (a) and the donor (b), and the way that close relationship between (a) and (b) was then incorporated into an exchange with the deity. This is especially true for transitional moments celebrated or inaugurated by the offering of musical instruments.

Moments of life transition (or rites de passage, such as coming of age, marriage and reaching old age) provided meaningful occasions of consecration for both men and women (for men, see the aforementioned examples in poetry and the inscription at Athens, National Archaeological Museum 10870, which quotes a man named Mikylos who offered his bronze kymbala to Asklepios at Epidauros). Nevertheless, two crucial themes emerge from an in-depth study of musical instruments as votive gifts: the importance of female agency (during the Archaic period female dedicators were more numerous than men) and the predominance of sound tools in the worship of female deities. In fact, bone auloi or their fragments have been discovered in sacred areas linked to Hera (Samos, Chios, Perachora, Poseidona-Paestum, Velia), Artemis (Sparta, Brauron, Aegina, Ephesus), Athena (Lindos) and Persephone (Locri Epizefirii). Divine onomastics seem to confirm the close relationship between female deities and musical votives, since some names or epithets are related to musical instruments: for example, Athena Salpinx and Artemis Chelytis (see Liveri 2018, 40). On the human side as well, a large number of epigrams testify to the importance of women in this kind of consecration. For example, in the Greek Anthology (VI 118), it is said that Sosis, Phila and Polycrates (one woman, two men) dedicate their instruments to Phoebus. More precisely, the archer dedicates his horn bow, the hunter his nets, “but she, the lyrode (ha de lurodos)” (line 3) dedicates her tortoise-shell lyre (tan chelun) in order to be a supreme player (lines 5-6). In the same way, Melo and Satyra, “professionals of the Muses” (Mouson ergatides), dedicate their musical instruments to the Pimpleian Muses on account of their advanced age: Melo her auloi and box-wood aulos-case, and Satyra her wax-joined pipe (Greek Anthology V 206). In this case, transition is synonymous with professional retirement.

In other epigrams, female transition can equally mean a passage from one divine sphere to another. This is the case with Eurynome, who was ready to join Aphrodite’s revels and to abandon the Dionysian dances: “Forgive me Dionysus, if I turn away from your choral dances, more attracted / by the bacchanals of Aphrodite” (Greek Anthology VI 74). With these words, and by offering her tambourine (rhoptron), the ex-bacchant makes her status of cultual and/or biological transition explicit: “To you, god of the Bacchae, I dedicate this tambourine/that I will never touch again”. Eurynome thus detaches herself from her rhoptron and delivers her whole previous life to the new god through a peculiar kind of reciprocity: do quia mutavi, “I give because I changed” (Colangelo 2018, 64-65 concerning this formula and the status of rhoptron as musical instrument in antiquity).

All these textual records find echoes in archaeological findings. Many engraved cymbals were consecrated during the Archaic period in Hera’s sanctuary at Argos, and in Athena’s and Artemis’ sanctuaries at Lindos and Lousoi (Papadopoulou 2004, 353, no. 70). Six findings in particular deserve to be mentioned here:

a) two bronze cymbals from Dimitsana, now in Athens, dating from the first years of the 5th century BC and dedicated by Kamo to Kore (Athens, National Archaeological Museum 7959);

b) a bronze cymbal dating from 500-475 BC offered by Lysilla to Athena, as stated by the engraved formula (Athens, Acropolis Museum 5905 = IG I3 425 with Papadopoulou 2004, 353, no. 69. See Figure 1);

c) some bronze cymbals from the 6th century BC dedicated by Prianthis and Hoporis to Artemis Limnatis (Berlin, Antikensammlung 7458 = IG V 1, 1497 + Archaeological Museum of Messenia, M39. See Figure 2);

d) two partially preserved thin bronze plaques in the shape of miniature phorminges or lyres from the sanctuary of Athena Alea at Tegea in Arcadia (Voyatzis 1990, 201-202, 264, 338-339, nos. B200, B201, pls. 143 below, 144 upper. See Figure 3 a-b; Figure 3c-d);

e) plectra (“instrument for striking the lyre, plectrum”, from between the 8th and the 6th centuries BC: Figure 4) and aulos fragments (end of the 7th century BC), two of which bear votive inscriptions: i) tai Orthia (FIG. ) and ii) Achradatos (FIG.), referring to the goddess and to the dedicator respectively (Figure 5a, Figure 5b);

f) a thin bronze plaque in the shape of a miniaturized phorminx or lyre from the sanctuary of Artemis Knakeatis in Mavriki, south of Tegea, dated in the Geometric period (Papadopoulou 2004, 345-355, no. 78. See Figure 6).

Figure 1: bronze cymbal with inscription from the Athenian Akropolis (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. X 17525, by F. Falalis. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 2: a bronze inscribed cymbal, 6th-5th century BC, for Artemis Limnatis. Archaeological Museum of Messenia, M39. Photo by S. Koursoumis.

Figure 2: a bronze inscribed cymbal, 6th-5th century BC, for Artemis Limnatis. Archaeological Museum of Messenia, M39. Photo by S. Koursoumis.

Figure 3a-b; Figure 3c-d: thin bronze plaque in the shape of a miniature phorminx or lyre from Athena Alea’s sanctuary in Tegea: surface and backside (Archaeological Museum of Tegea, no. 789 and 790; © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Ephorate of Antiquities of Arcadia).

Figure 3a-b; Figure 3c-d: thin bronze plaque in the shape of a miniature phorminx or lyre from Athena Alea’s sanctuary in Tegea: surface and backside (Archaeological Museum of Tegea, no. 789 and 790; © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Ephorate of Antiquities of Arcadia).

Figure 4: plektra from the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, nos. A15808, A 15806, A15807, photo by E. Miari. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 4: plektra from the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, nos. A15808, A 15806, A15807, photo by E. Miari. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 5a: fragment of an aulos with corrupted inscription (tai Orthia?) for Artemis (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. A 15343. Photo by E. Galanopoulos. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 5a: fragment of an aulos with corrupted inscription (tai Orthia?) for Artemis (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. A 15343. Photo by E. Galanopoulos. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 5b: fragment of an aulos with inscription (Achradatos) for Artemis (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. A15342. Photo by E. Galanopoulos. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 5b: fragment of an aulos with inscription (Achradatos) for Artemis (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, no. A15342. Photo by E. Galanopoulos. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports).

Figure 6: a thin bronze plaque in the shape of a miniaturized phorminx from the sanctuary of Artemis Knakeatis in Mavriki (Arcaheological Museum of Tegea, no. 78. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Ephorate of Antiquities of Arcadia).

Figure 6: a thin bronze plaque in the shape of a miniaturized phorminx from the sanctuary of Artemis Knakeatis in Mavriki (Arcaheological Museum of Tegea, no. 78. © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Ephorate of Antiquities of Arcadia).

 

Another famous case is a fragmentary bone aulos from the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron, outside Athens (6th– early 5thcenturies BC), which is likely to be a votive offering similar to the “bronze mirrors, rings, gems, scarabs, statuettes and vases”, discovered at the same site (Papadimitriou 1963, 113). A bronze mirror with a votive inscription – “Hippylla, Onetor’s daughter, dedicated it to Artemis in Brauron” – suggests that girls and women were the main donors in a place traditionally known for transitional rituals linked to Artemis. Furthermore, the accounts of the epistatai of Brauronionmention a lyre and a rhombos as votive gifts for the same goddess (Papadopoulou 2004, 352, nos. 63, 65).

In addition to this gendered dimension of the ritual, another aspect deserves to be mentioned. Since the proto-classical period, musical instruments are consecrated together with other cosmetic objects and, more specifically, “recycled” or “non-purpose-made” votives (for this definition in relation to illness and healing offerings, see Hughes 2017 with her pre-publication version here). In both archaeological and textual sources, musical devices were often associated with the kosmos (ornament or ornamental equipment). Later epigrams corroborate this ancient association. The closest example is given by the Greek Anthology (VI 280), in which the poet describes how one girls consecrated her kettledrums (tympana) to Artemis Limnatis before her marriage, along with her ball (sphaira) and a hair net (kekruphalos) All these votive gifts were from Timareta, who at that point was still pais or unmarried (see Calame 2001, 106 and Brulé 2007, 71). Inscribed temple inventories confirm the association in the votive practices between musical instruments or sound tools and cosmetic items. Delian inscriptions mention rhoptra (“noise makers” or “clappers” in this case) as part of several rich deposits. They are listed together with other gifts of Stesileos, namely wooden tablets (pinaka xulinon, IDélos 1426, l. 18, 156/5-145/4 BC), two bronze shield-like figurines (aspidiskas khalkas duo, l. 18) and another female figurine (allon gunaikeion, line 19). Another list from Delos (IDélos 1414, fragment a. col. II.1, l. 13, 166-157/156 BC) quotes arhoptron together with other votive objects offered by Exenikes, Stesileos and Eudora in the Aphrodision pronaos and in the Asklepieion. Once again, these were comprised of wooden tablets (pinaka xulinon), two bronze shield-like figurines (aspidiskas duo) and a white woollen chiton, personal property of the priestess Eudora. The rhoptron here is a noise maker or a sound tool which would have embellished the exterior walls of the new Delian Aphrodision, together with pinakes, aspidiskoi, gunaikeia and chitons inside. Sound devices as well as garments and figurines are part of a rich deposit reinforcing the importance and the wealth of Delian sanctuaries (for auloi players and auloi dedications in Delos, see Angliker 2018, 28-30).

The Delian case, however, is not isolated. In Athens, musical instruments were offered as timemata or social markers of the worshipper (e. g. in MDAIA 85, 1970, 210, 114, ca. 260-240 BC). In some cases, they were explicitly mentioned as aparchai or votive offerings (e.g. the bronze kymbala or cymbals dedicated to Athena from a woman named Lysilla in the Athenian Acropolis: Acropolis Museum 5905 with Papadopoulou 2004, 353, no. 69). An interesting example is given by a 434/433 BC inventory in the Parthenon, which includes a gilded lyre, three ivory lyres and four wooden lyres (see Harris 1995, 26-27 and 96-97 for the individual entries). These objects are again catalogued in subsequent inventories with other lyres and auloi cases (Harris 1995, 96, no. IV.4/V.191) and, at some point, they were moved to the Hekatompedon (the building’s main cella: see Bundrick 2018, 18) along with an ivory lyrion and a plektron. In the 4thcentury inventories, many other instruments appear, including an ivory lyre with gold overlay on its leather case (Harris 1995, 149, no. V.193). Obviously, we cannot exclude the possibility that some of these instruments were not votives but part of ritual equipment.

In Attic inscriptions, too, musical instruments are mentioned together with cosmetic accessories and are offered by women. In IG II3 1533 (dating before 329/8), the aulos consecrated by a woman called Ias is mentioned in a long list of votive objects comprising iron rings (daktulioi sideroi, l. 27), crowns poor in silver (stephanoi hupokhalkoi, l. 28) and over-gilded eyes (ophthalmoi epikhrusoi, l. 30). We know that all these objects in the Athenian Asklepieion again come from two women, Clearete and Phanis, but no other information can be deduced about the offering modalities or the social status of the donors. We might simply imagine that the musical instruments, as well as the rings and crowns, manifest the probable economic status of Ias’ (or Clearete’s and Phanis’) father or husband. In any case, the contextual proximity with cosmetic objects in votive deposits reinforces the idea that musical instruments were often dedicated in tandem with other luxury votive objects.

To sum up, several epigrams, as well as archaeological findings and inscriptions, allow us to reconsider the consecration of musical instruments from a gendered perspective. Both textual and epigraphical sources mention “gender-regulated” performances, in which the musical instrument is strictly associated with the transitional steps or biological rhythms of a woman’s life (marriage, the abandoning of a poetic career, the investiture as priestess, etc.). In Maussanian terms (Mauss 2001), musical instruments are involved in special acts of offering and were mostly charged with an emotional rather than a commercial value. They were a form of artificial extension of the donor experience and their consecration was often motivated by a transition, summed up by the do quia mutavi pattern. We can also appreciate a certain number of analogies between musical instruments and other prestigious items such as jewels and garments. In fact, all these objects are privileged objects creating circular links (see Figure 7 taken from Högström Berntson and Lindgren Liljenstolpe 2018, 59) between gods and worshippers. In addition, real instruments, paired with literary and iconographic accounts, and thanks to their own materiality (gold, ivory, bronze, silver and wood), allow us to reconstruct the religious soundscape in antiquity in the micro-context of a given sanctuary (see, for this last topic, the extraordinary case of the bone aulos from the sanctuary of Malophoros, Selinunte, in Marconi 2014 and Bellia 2018). In fact, as we have seen previously, several inscriptions from Attica show a lexical technicality in describing the decorum of musical instruments (see e. g. IG I3 343, l.14). Within these inscriptions, it is of interest to note not only the sequence of the objects (musical instruments – lyres – plus other votive or cosmetic devices), but also the progression of their adjectives: i.e. katakhrusos, elephantinai and xulinai, in relation to gold, ivory and wood respectively. The materiality of musical instruments as votive gifts represents a very promising field of inquiry and greater analysis is needed in order to better understand ancient performance as well as the role of music, with its resonances and physical restitutions, in ancient Greek society (on this topic, see the forthcoming panel at the EAA Annual Conference in Budapest organised by A. Saura-Ziegelmeyer and D. Sánchez Muñoz, “Materializing Sound in Antiquity: materials as a bodily and symbolic component of sound objects”).

Figure 7: scheme showing the efficacy of the votive offerings. Effects of the votive gifts are represented by the big circles. The smaller ones are un-defined and represent other effects and sub-effects depending on situational factors.

Figure 7: scheme showing the efficacy of the votive offerings. Effects of the votive gifts are represented by the big circles. The smaller ones are undefined and represent other effects and sub-effects depending on situational factors.

 

 

By Eleonora Colangelo

 

References 

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