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Enchanted Bodies: Reframing the Culture of Greek Aulos Performance

Simone, Caleb

The double-pipe reed woodwind known as the aulos was the most pervasive instrument in ancient Greek life. Despite recent attention to affect and the senses and advancements in ancient musicology, there remains no comprehensive study of this cultural phenomenon. Bringing the burgeoning field of sound studies to bear on the diverse range of evidence, this dissertation offers the first cultural history of aulos performance, focusing on a crucial period of its activity spanning the sixth through fourth centuries BCE. I propose an interpretive model that works across textual and material sources to account for the ineffable, affective ways in which the instrument acts upon the embodied listener. When we consider the aulos as a sonic medium that works beyond the structural and semantic boundaries of music and language, we can identify how the instrument communicates across contexts through certain structures of feeling its sound. By exploring the world-building capacities of the instrument’s sound effects and harmonics, I chart the history of these embodied ways of knowing its sound. I argue that the aulos operates through a culturally conditioned interface with the body, exerting an agency that impacts social and civic identity, drives musical innovation, and poses a cultural threat to discursive ways of knowing and rational persuasion. The five chapters identify the interplay of tradition and innovation across the contexts of aulos performance, between musical and theatrical genres as well as civic practices involving corporate movement. Meanwhile, with the rise of prose, the emerging critical discourse on the aulos analyzes its effect on the body specifically and aims to expose how the listener is tricked into the “enchanting” soundworlds it constructs. This interdisciplinary media-based approach to ancient Greek performance thus presents a new register of meaning-making that articulates unexplored aspects of the artistic, literary, and philosophical works that preserve this culture.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Classics
Thesis Advisors
Worman, Nancy
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 24, 2020