The Power and Value of Music

Its Effect and Ethos in Classical Authors and Contemporary Music Theory

by Andreas Kramarz (Author)
©2016 Monographs XXII, 612 Pages
Series: Medieval Interventions, Volume 1


Nobody doubts that music has a special, somewhat mysterious power. Less clear is how we can evaluate that power. What makes music good or bad? Are there objective criteria for such a distinction? What impact can or should music have on individuals and on society as a whole? What are the factors responsible for the effect of music? This book summarizes and discusses how authors of classical antiquity addressed these questions on musical «ethos» and how they can be approached from a modern-day perspective.
After systematically assembling and assessing the value-carrying characterizations of music in poetic literature, the author reviews all noteworthy Greek and Latin writings which enlighten musical «ethos» from the theoretical-philosophical perspective. He then carries the intuitions of the ancients into our time by proposing a coherent model to explain the relationship between music, ethos, and emotions based on the results of contemporary research in the disciplines of music psychology and philosophy. The concept of harmony, understood as the appropriate measure or as the balance of opposites and so central to the reflections of the ancient authors, plays a key role in shedding light on the value and impact, both positive and negative, of music in human existence.
This book provides the most comprehensive overview available about the effect and ethos of music in antiquity and discusses many related questions of scholarly interest. It includes numerous references provided in the original language with translation, ample empirical material for further research, and an extensive bibliography.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The Power and Value of Music
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter One. Introduction
  • Good and Bad Music—An Old and New Debate
  • Challenges to Explain the Power of Music
  • Terminological Clarifications About the Value of Music
  • Music
  • Purpose and Function
  • The Value of Music
  • “Good” and “Bad”
  • Musical Ethos
  • Summary
  • Reasons for Studying Greek and Roman Sources
  • Recent Interest and Progress in Understanding the Power of Music
  • The Prospective of the Present Work
  • Chapter Two. The Effect of Music in Greek and Latin Literature
  • What Music Does—Phenomenological Survey
  • The Place of Music in Greek and Roman Culture
  • When, How, and to What Effect Music Is Used
  • The Iliad and the Odyssey
  • The Iliad
  • The Odyssey
  • Antiquity in General
  • Festivities
  • Death and Drama
  • Social Settings
  • Work and War
  • Music for Change
  • Aesthetics?
  • Summary
  • Characterizing Music
  • Parameters for the Term Survey
  • Characteristics of Positive or Neutral Value
  • Good and Beautiful
  • Graceful and Lovely
  • Pleasant and Sweet
  • Soft, Fine, Delicate
  • Learned and Skilfull
  • Orderly, Harmonious, Noble
  • Divine and Devout
  • Splendid, Marvelous, and New
  • Clear, Shrill, Resounding, and Loud
  • Happy and Joyful
  • Rousing and Wild
  • Varia
  • Music Images
  • Conclusion
  • Characteristics of Negative Value
  • Bad, Immoral, and Immoderate
  • Sad, Mournful, and Miserable
  • Destructive and Terrible
  • Piercing, Harsh, and Shrill
  • Loud
  • Ignorant and Discordant
  • Dangerous
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Three. The Impact and Value of Music According to Ancient Theorists
  • Introduction
  • Prefatory Remarks
  • Preliminary Survey of Authors and Currents
  • The Debate About Musical Decadence
  • The Emergence of “New Music”
  • Aristophanes
  • Hellenism
  • Pseudo-Plutarch
  • Athenaeus
  • Development in Roman Times
  • Conclusion
  • Music and Cosmos—Musical Ethos in Education and Therapy
  • The Pythagoreans
  • Damon
  • Plato
  • The “Ethical Triangle” in Plato’s Educational System
  • The Proper Measure
  • Conservatism to Foster Order in Soul and State
  • Good Music and How to Achieve It; Bad Music
  • Mimēsis
  • Music, Cosmos, and the Soul
  • Conclusions and Questions
  • Plutarch
  • Music Excesses at Symposia
  • The Spartan Tradition
  • Moderation and Mimēsis
  • Strabo
  • Nicomachus
  • Ptolemy
  • Plotinus
  • Empirical Approach to Musical Ethos
  • Aristotle
  • Functions and Ethos of Music
  • Good and Bad Music
  • Pitch and Timbre Evaluated
  • Summary
  • The Pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata
  • Ethos in Movement
  • Why Music Is Enjoyable: Order, Balance, Appropriateness
  • Theophrastus
  • Aristoxenus
  • Polybius
  • Dio Chrysostom
  • Cleonides
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus
  • Hippocrates
  • Philostratus
  • Musical Ethos Questioned
  • The Hibeh Papyrus
  • Philodemus
  • Diogenes of Babylon About the Usefulness of Music, as Presented by Philodemus
  • Philodemus About the Uselessness of Music, Except for Pleasure
  • The Question Whether Music Has Value
  • Sextus Empiricus
  • Conclusion
  • Musical Effect and Ethos in the Latin Tradition
  • Cicero
  • Seneca
  • Quintilian
  • Censorinus
  • Aphthonius
  • Calcidius
  • Favonius
  • Macrobius
  • Ethos and Cosmos Revisited
  • Aristides Quintilianus
  • Importance and Usefulness of Music—General Considerations
  • Music, Ethos, and Pathos—Education and Therapy
  • Musical Ethos—Its Inner Workings
  • Cosmic Order Through Music
  • Evaluation
  • Metaphysics of Ethos
  • Male-Female
  • Conclusion
  • Martianus Capella
  • Boethius
  • Early Christian Contributions on Musical Ethos
  • Clement of Alexandria
  • The New Song
  • Musical Ethos in Christian Education
  • Basil of Caesarea
  • John Chrysostom
  • Augustine
  • Aequalitas—Music as a Path to God
  • Dangers and Benefits From Musical Delights
  • Cassiodorus
  • A Compendium of Musical Lore
  • The Blessings of Music
  • Isidore
  • Christian Music Practice and Criticism
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Four. The Value of Music in Systematic Analysis
  • Philosophical and Psychological Considerations
  • Basic Questions
  • Music
  • Ethos
  • Human and Non-Human Ethos
  • Ethos Formation
  • Ethos and Ethics
  • Musical Ethos
  • Collective Ethos
  • Factors Modifying the Impact of Music
  • Musical Event
  • Recipient
  • Environment
  • The Impact of Music on the Human Person
  • Music and the Body
  • Music and Intellect
  • Music and Emotions
  • Emotions
  • Musically Induced Emotions
  • Mechanisms to Induce Emotion
  • Conditions for Creating Musical Ethos
  • Creating Musical Ethos
  • Musical Emotions
  • Musical and Ordinary Emotions
  • Emotional Contagion or Attraction
  • Aesthetic Experience as a Musical Emotion Beyond Ethos
  • The Whole of Emotion in Music
  • Human Ethos Through Musical Emotion
  • Summary
  • Music and Pleasure
  • Value Judgments on Musical Ethos
  • Good and Bad Emotions
  • Judging Musical Ethos
  • Intrinsically Good or Bad Music?
  • Conditions for Intrinsic Value
  • Consonance vs. Dissonance
  • The Central Place of Harmony
  • The Harmonic Triangle
  • The Prominence of Music Through Harmony
  • Contributions From Music Therapy
  • Origins
  • Music Therapy and the Question of Good and Bad Music
  • Chapter Five. Conclusion
  • Appendix: Synoptic Tables of References
  • Good Effects in Music (English)
  • Good Effects in Music (Original Language)
  • Bad Effects in Music (English)
  • Bad Effects in Music (Original Language)
  • Bibliography
  • General Works of Reference
  • Primary Texts of Classical Authors
  • Secondary Texts on Antiquity
  • Contemporary Publications
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Subjects
  • Series index

| xiii →


Figure 1–1. Good and bad music—subdivisions
Figure 2–1. Functions of music within ancient culture
Figure 3–1. The ethical triangle
Figure 3–2. The ethical pyramid
Figure 3–3. The division of the human soul and the effect of music on it according to Aristides Quintilianus
Figure 4–1. Factors modifying the impact of music
Figure 4–2. The impact of music on the human person
Figure 4–3. The harmonic triangle

| xv →


Table 2–1. Usage of music in ancient Greece and Rome
Table 2–2. Terms of musical characterization—predominantly positive
Table 2–3. Terms of musical characterization—predominantly negative
Table 3–1. Ancient Greek and Latin authors and texts on the effect and value of music
Table 3–2. Benefits for soul and body in AQ 3.24 127.1–12
Table 4–1. Creating ethos and emotion in musical elements
Table App.–1. Positive effects of music—arranged by functions and effects
Table App.–2. Positive effects of music—arranged by original terms and expressions
Table App.–3. Negative effects of music—arranged by functions and effects
Table App.–4. Negative effects of music—arranged by original terms and expressions

| xvii →


The question of whether music could be considered “good” or “bad,” not just as a matter of taste but due to its powerful impact on the human psyche, has fascinated me for many years. In the course of my studies I realized that a respectable number of the ancient authors had elaborated on this issue. Many of these writers claimed that the effect of music on individuals and society stems from specific characteristics (also called “ethos”) of musical features. Unfortunately, the various positions and their underlying arguments were not easy to find but scattered throughout many different works. Excellent scholarship has explored individual authors, texts, and issues, but only a few monographs, the majority of them written decades ago, addressed the theme in a more comprehensive fashion. Even these, however, remained limited in the historical skope, and I found it difficult to gain from them a sufficiently clear and concise description of each author’s position and its implications. They also dealed little with the question of how the ancients’ observations would relate to modern-day considerations about the power and effect of music within music psychology and philosophy.

So I decided to combine my preparation in classical languages and philosophy on the one hand with my experience in music theory and practice on the other and began, at first as a doctoral thesis, to put together the book that I had been missing: a systematic study of what the ancient Greek or Latin texts have to say about musical ethos. In this work, which is now thoroughly revised and updated, the ← xvii | xviii → student of music in ancient Greece and Rome will find clearly defined concepts, a synthesis of the way how the power of music was experienced or imagined, an empirically grounded vocabulary survey of musical characteristics in poetic texts, and an exposition of all noteworthy individual contributions from ancient theorists on the effect and ethos of music, stretching over a period of roughly 1,200 years, from the Pythagoreans down to Isidore of Seville, and including many citations in the original language along with an English translation. For the advanced reader, the review of pertinent scholarly discussion regarding the issues most related to the general theme of this book, especially in the footnotes, updates the earlier studies and collects references to recent contributions. I also look at how the ancients’ pioneering intuitions about the effect of music on human beings fits with the recent developments in musicology and in the modern social and psychological sciences. In this context, I sketch out a possible way of explaining the impact of music, especially on the emotional level, that includes the empirical data contemporary science provides us with. Anyone interested in the key factors to be considered when speaking of the influence and ethical value of music can profit from exploring the ideas of the fathers of Western culture and bringing them in relation to the scientific investigations of our own age.

The admittedly ambitious project of assembling the contributions of all ancient key players in the discussion of musical ethos into one volume requires abridgment and omissions on other ends: my treatment of the literary and theoretical sources addresses historical, ideological, socio-political, or philological questions only to the degree necessary for extracting and understanding properly the relevant ideas and arguments. Also, an in-depth study of the ancients’ perspective of the ethos of individual musical parameters (melody, rhythm, instruments, etc.) or of concrete ancient musical fragments and performance cannot be provided here. The main focus remains on gathering what kinds of effects the ancients ascribed to music, how they tried to explain these effects, how they evaluated them, and what we are be able to say about all of this today.

In the course of the years, during which this book took shape, many people have directly or indirectly lent me support, for which my gratitude would have to extend to far more persons than can be mentioned here. I wish to thank, first and foremost, the Faculty of Classics at the University of Florida where most of my research was carried out, especially Dr. Jennifer Rea, Dr. Gonda Van Steen, and Dr. Konstantinos Kapparis, for all their help and advice with my dissertation project. I received much valuable counsel from experts in the field of ancient music and classics: Dr. Eleonora Rocconi (Pavia, Italy), Dr. John Franklin (Burlington, VT), and Dr. Charles Mercier (New Haven, CT). In a special way I would like to thank Prof. Andrew Barker (Birmingham, England) who was available for personal ← xviii | xix → consultation, provided me with the as yet unpublished English original of his work Psicomusicologia nella Grecia Antica, and made very valuable suggestions especially for the first two chapters. I also thank Dr. Stefan Hagel (Vienna, Austria) for providing me with the manuscript of an article before its official publication. Andrea Katzenburg (Langerwehe, Germany), Melanie Schmitz (Köln, Germany), and Dr. Peter Hoffmann (Bochum, Germany) assisted with information on music therapy. For any faults and errors in my work, none of the persons mentioned is responsible but solely the author.

I am also very grateful to all who have helped me with proofreading and made suggestions for improvement: Dr. Kathleen Marks who so generously added this task to her full schedule at St. John’s University New York, as well as Michael Luxbacher; further Joseph Houser, Jonathan Flemings, Eric Gilhooly, Sameer Advani, and Joseph A’Hearn, who each reviewed individual sections. Walker Pratt, Thomas White, and Matías Garmendia aided with much needed technical support, and I am greatly indebted to the librarians at the Inter Library Loan Office at the University of Florida who processed my many requests for materials so efficiently. Then there are my friends in Slatersville, RI, who allowed me to take refuge with them several times in order to be able to dedicate myself completely to the work in its most intense stages, and all my colleagues and collaborators at the Legion of Christ College of Humanities whom I thank for their support in so many ways, especially for generously filling in for me when my availability was limited. Last not least I thank the series editor Dr. Steven Nichols, Michelle Salyga, Jackie Pavlovic and the staff of Peter Lang Publishing for all their help in getting this book through its final stages and out to the public.

At first, I thought of dedicating this work to my father, Johannes Kramarz, who died in 2004; to him I owe in great part my love both for the classics and for music. I came to believe, though, that he himself would have preferred to see it dedicated to my students to whom I hope to transmit something of the wealth of cultural achievements, past and present, which can contribute to building a truly human civilization for the future.

Cheshire, November 22, 2015

Feast of Saint Caecilia, Patroness of Music

| xxi →


Anon. Bell. Anonymous Bellermann (= Anonymi scriptio de musica ed. F. Bellermann)
AQ Aristides Quintilianus, De Musica
Boeth. Boethius
c. century
CCC Catechism of the Catholic Church
Cens. Censorinus
cf. confer (compare with)
ch(s) chapter(s)
EB Encyclopædia Britannica
ed(s). edition/editor(s)
ff following (pages, lines, or numbers)
fr(s). fragment(s)
GL Grammatici Latini (Keil)
GMM The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
GMW Greek Musical Writings (followed by volume and page number)
HH Homeric Hymn (followed by the number, not by the name)
MSG Musici scriptores graeci (Jan 1895)
Mus. De musica (for all works with that title) ← xxi | xxii →
n./nn. footnote(s) or endnote(s)
OCD Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition (1996)
OED Oxford English Dictionary
OHME Oxford Handbook of Music and Emotion (2010)
OHMP Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology
OHPME Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Music Education
OLD Oxford Latin Dictionary
PG Patrologia Graeca (Migne)
PL Patrologia Latina (Migne)
p(p). page(s)
TML Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum (online)
tr. translation
vol. volume

All other abbreviations, especially for classical authors and their works, follow the standard of the OCD.

Biblical books, versions, or sections are abbreviated according to the shorter forms of The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 2010, sections 10.45–51 pp. 510–514.

For full bibliographic information of abbreviated titles, see the Bibliography.

| 1 →


There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur (…). And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. (…)

Then Ilúvatar said to them: “Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. (…) Ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme (…). But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.”

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, (…) and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void. (…)

But when they were come into the Void, Ilúvatar said to them: “Behold your Music!” And he showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them (…). And they saw with amazement the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, and the habitation that was prepared for them; and they perceived that they themselves in the labour of their music had been ← 1 | 2 → busy with the preparation of this dwelling, and yet knew not that it had any purpose beyond its own beauty.1

In solemn tone, weaving images of old into a new mythological language, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion commences with the “Music of the Ainur” forming the universe and molding its history.2 Why does Tolkien choose music as the bridge from void to creation in this contemporary epic?3 Seemingly it is based on the assumption that music possesses organizing principles and an intrinsic power analogous to those underlying the makeup of the world and guiding its unfolding; this idea is already contained in the theory of cosmic harmony found in the writings of ancient civilizations and reiterated throughout time.4

This parallelism is further advanced in the Silmarillion by introducing another musical phenomenon, which in the story line will then also mark the world in its own way:

But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself (…), and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered (…).

Then Ilúvatar arose, (…) and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of ← 2 | 3 → Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before (…).5

The story subsequently reaches its climax with a third theme:

And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from, which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice (…).6

Few literary texts describe music’s polyvalence so insightfully: apparently purposeless beauty, evoking joy; greatness in melodic and harmonic consonance as a communal experience; creative power and correspondence to other realities in the world; but then especially the duality of consonant and discordant (but not “dissonant”) character.7 Tolkien encapsulates the eternal battle between good and evil in musical terms, painting a suggestive picture of music based on its value and its power to move and create—or destroy. In this study we shall home in on the theme of the polyvalence of music and what meaning the terms “good” and “bad” could have in relation to it.

Good and Bad Music—An Old and New Debate

The classification of music as “good” or “bad,” independent of text that may be linked to it, is by no means of only academic interest (literary, historical, or philosophical). In past decades, a lot of adrenaline and ink have flowed in discussions ← 3 | 4 → about whether certain rock bands or pop stars have corrupted with their style not only music itself but also human life, morals, and even society in general.8 In his bestseller The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom’s pathology of post-sixties-students includes the following observations:

Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire—not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. (…). In alliance with some real art and a lot of pseudo-art, an enormous industry cultivates the taste for the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant flood of fresh material for voracious appetites. (…) The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it. Selfishness thus becomes indignation and then transforms itself into morality. The sexual revolution must overthrow all the forces of domination, the enemies of nature and happiness. From love comes hate, masquerading as social reform. A world-view is balanced on the sexual fulcrum. (…) Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux. There is room only for the intense, changing, crude and immediate.9

According to Bloom, this leads to emotional drain, irrationality, and the lost ability to engage in true human relationships, and further:


XXII, 612
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
greek latin roman classic music
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXII, 612 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Andreas Kramarz (Author)

Andreas Kramarz holds a PhD in classical civilization (University of Florida), an MA in philosophy (Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome), as well as an MA in German language and literature and an MA in Catholic theology (University of Münster). During the final year of writing his dissertation, he was awarded the Langadas Graduate Fellowship. At present, he is the Dean of Studies and teaches humanities at the Legion of Christ College of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut. For many years he has been involved in music as a pianist, organist, and director of various choral and instrumental ensembles.


Title: The Power and Value of Music
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