De Gruyter (2020) h/b 306pp £91 (ISBN 9783110668100)
P. has been a leading figure in the study of ancient Greek and Roman music for half a century. His contributions to scholarship in the area notably include his collaboration with the late Martin West to produce the superbly detailed and comprehensive Documents of Ancient Greek Music (OUP 2001). Since then, he has continued (now in his late 80s) to be admirably active presenting at conferences and producing articles for publication: this volume represents a collection of the latter, of which all but four have been published, from the years 2009 to 2019, a successor to a previous collection published in 2009 (mistakenly described in the book’s error-ridden preface as including ‘a list of the publications of Egert Pöhlmann until 2019’).
The collected papers are a mixed bag that do not justify the volume’s enticing title (let alone eye-wateringly high price), which will lead some to expect a fairly comprehensive or systematic account of ancient music—even beyond that of Greece and Rome—from early times through to late antiquity. Instead, the volume consists mainly of technical discussions of specific areas of concern for ancient Greek and Roman musical history and theory, most of which presuppose a close familiarity with those subjects; this is not a book for the general reader. While the discussions are of interest to those already working within the field, scholars will already have seen or heard several of the papers collected and have access to them online or in print. It would have made sense, therefore, for the publication of this volume to be used as a chance to bring the scholarship up to date, since in some areas of this fast-moving and increasingly popular academic field recent publications have already changed the picture considerably.
Unfortunately that opportunity has not been taken, and papers that were already published are printed here unchanged. The consequence is that there are some notable omissions, the most important of which, in my view, is that of Tosca Lynch’s brilliant demonstration in 2017 (since published in Greek and Roman Musical Studies 2018) that the strobilos mentioned by Pherecrates was a modulating key used by kitharists such as Phrynis and Timotheus to enable them to change their strings’ tunings into different modes. Whether or not P. accepts the argument (he attended the conference, as I did, where it was first presented), it is a great shame that it goes unmentioned. As a result, his chapter on the issue, which concludes ‘while appreciating the ingenious pun on στρόβιλοϛ (‘screwbolt’), we must not worry about the alleged twelve strings of Melanippides, Phrynis and Timotheus’, comes across as sadly inadequate. Similarly unfortunate is the failure to take into account, in a chapter on Pindar’s 12th Pythian Ode, the compelling arguments about that ode’s musical structure that were made by Tom Phillips in Classical Quarterly (2013). Connecting scholarly study to how the music actually sounded, and offering a comprehensible account of the kinds of effect it may have had on listeners in practice, are not among the author’s interests, despite the important advances that have been made in those areas in recent years.
Out of the fifteen chapters, one is in German (Antike Bildersprache im Kirchenlied). The other fourteen, in English, are riddled with unacceptable solecisms, errors of idiom, spelling mistakes, inconsistencies, and stylistic flaws. In the very first paragraph we read: ‘Therefore, even late [sic] musicologists know many details about succesful [sic] melodies of past times, especially the author of De Musica, attributed to Plutarch, together with his sources, as we shall see.’ Incorrectly formed or spelled words abound: ‘exemples’, ‘libertin’, ‘developped’,’phaenomenon’, ‘Pyrrhichic’, ‘jambic’, ‘roman’, ‘greek’, ‘parallell’, ‘solistic’, ‘immediatly’, ‘lycurgeian’. The spellings ‘Aristoxenos’ and ‘Aristoxenus’ are found within the same paragraph, ‘Timotheus’ and ‘Timotheos’ in the same sentence; also, more forgivably, ‘D’Angour’ and ‘d’Angour’. ‘Auloi’ jostles with ‘aulos’, ‘cithara’ with ‘kithara’. One chapter is actually entitled ‘The Regain [sic] of Ancient Greek Music and the contribution of Papyrology’. The publisher has done this distinguished scholar a grave disservice by not passing the text to a qualified English-speaker for rigorous copy-editing.
At the end of the volume is printed a selection of beautiful images, many in colour, showing ancient artefacts, papyri, and manuscripts relating to Greek and Roman musical history. The precious objects in marble and fragments of papyrus with ancient musical notation are a reminder of the invaluable scholarship that P. has brought to bear on elucidating such challenging and problematic texts for the benefit of students of the music of classical antiquity. Despite the shortcomings of this book, no one with an interest in ancient music can fail to admire and commend the decades of painstaking study and scholarly acumen that this collection of P.’s most recent papers demonstrates and celebrates.
Jesus College, Oxford