The deeper one penetrates into the history of the Greek people, the greater appears to have been the place occupied by music in public and private life. There was no act or event of urban or rural existence (funerals, weddings, harvests, reaping, etc.) that did not involve or explicitly did not require a more or less developed musical element. Religious ceremonies (libations, sacrifices, processions, collective prayers, etc.) were characterized and solemnized by various forms of songs accompanied by instruments. The competitions, organized on the occasion of celebrations and religious holidays, attracted enormous crowds, and the dramatic performances, which originated from them, and the great choral performances were closely linked to these ceremonies.
Music was considered by the ancient Greeks, at the same time, as the most emotional and the most abstract of the arts. Legislators and philosophers saw in it a powerful means of excitement and disturbance of the senses, which had to be rigorously disciplined and directed to educational purposes. Theorists made it an object of abstract speculations, in which it was analyzed and resolved in mathematical relationships. Nor were there lacking some singularly versatile and understanding thinkers, who, synthesizing this double aspect of music, which made it from time to time the art of sensation and the art of number, attributing to it a meaning and a value that placed it at the opposite poles of life moral and sentimental, they believed they saw in it the expression of a cosmic law and raised it to a metaphysical principle. Thus the Pythagorean teaching unites music with astronomy. The planetary spheres vibrate like the strings of the lyre. The sound harmony makes an image of cosmic harmony.
According to shoefrantics, the origins of Greek music are popular and legendary. Orpheus, Museum, Lino, Anfione embody the power attributed by the people to the sound of instruments in luminous myths. In very ancient times, prior to the Homeric cycles, the shepherds of Thrace, of Arcadia, of Boeotia sang songs, supported by unison accompaniments and contained within a few notes, very likely within the limits of the fourth interval, which is one leaps immediately suggested by nature and is found at the beginning of a large number of popular songs. Those very ancient melodies determined the first chord of the lyre, which became the supreme regulator of the musical language of the Greeks.
In the classical era of Hellenic art, poetry and music always went hand in hand and their divorce was a sign of decline. Rhythmic and metric formed a single organism and were molded in the same expressive mold. Thus the dactyl hexameter, the verse of Homer and Hesiod, attests that, at the time in which it was created, epic poetry fashioned its periods on melodies of perfect symmetry.
The Iliad and the Odyssey mention several kinds of songs, accompanied by dance and performed to the sound of instruments: some of a popular pace (wedding and funeral songs), others reserved for the service of worship (hymns and paeans). The aedo and the rhapsode, professional singers similar to medieval troubadours and troubadours, punctuated the narrative verse with a monotonous syllabic cantillation, before the meetings of kings and warriors. The accompanying instrumental part, performed on the zither (ϕόρμιγξ), served only to intone and support the song and to grant, by means of short interludes, a few pauses to the singer.
From its remote origins, up to the time of Aristoxenus, Greek music appears to us divided into two different branches, both in terms of origin as well as spirits and forms. There is a national music, marked by the Doric way and by an instrument which is the lyre. It is the music of serene calm, of inner equilibrium, of Olympic vengeance: Apollonian music. And there is an exotic music, of Asian origin, in which the Phrygian and Lydian modes dominate with the nuances of the chromatic genre, which makes use of a favorite instrument which is the flute (αὐλός). It is the music of tumultuous intoxication, of enthusiasm, of passionate and orgiastic exaltation: Dionysian music. From the first comes the nómos citarodico and the choral lyric; from the second the aulodic nómos and the tragic dithyramb, the germinal nucleus of the tragedy.
Since time immemorial, the Greeks called “nómos” (νόμος) a composition of austere character which, roughly, can be compared to modern aria. The nómos could have been for zither alone, and was called citharistic, or for zither and song, and was called citharodic. Similarly, for aulós solo (nómos auletico) or for aulós and canto (nómos aulodico). Creators and perfectioners of the citarodia were: Terpander of Lesbos (seventh century BC), Lysander of Sicyon (sixth century BC), Phrynides of Mytilene (fifth century BC), Timothy of Miletus (4th century BC), and others. Auletics was imported from Phrygia, indicated by the ancients as the cradle of instrumental music. The first names that tradition presents to us are: Eumolpo, Iagnide and Olimpo. But his first great masters were Polimnesto di Colofone, of Ionian origin (seventh century BC).