The Music of Sparta

Or The Scandal of the Strings

Here is your completely random and amusing historical tidbit for today. The topic is that warrior haven of Sparta and its take on music during the 7th century before Christ. From Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization, Vol. 2: The Life of Greece (Simon & Schuster 1966):

In that dim past before Lycurgus came, Sparta was a Greek city like the rest, and blossomed out in song and art as it would never do after him. Music above all was popular there, and rivaled man’s antiquity; for as far back as we can delve we find the Greeks singing. In Sparta, so frequently at war, music took a martial turn – the strong and simple “Doric mode”; and not only were other styles discouraged, but any deviation from this Doric style was punishable by law. Even Terpander, though he had quelled a sedition by his songs, was fined by the ephors, and his lyre nailed mute to the wall, because to suit his voice, he had dared to add another string to the instrument; and in a later generation Timotheus, who had expanded Terpander’s seven strings to eleven, was not allowed to compete at Sparta until the ephors had removed from his lyre the scandalously extra strings.

As humorous as the scandal of the strings is to us 21st century types, it seems that Sparta was a very musical city, even if that music served national (i.e. milataristic) purpose. I don’t know about you, but I find this highly fascinating! Durant continues:

Sparta, like England, had great composers when she imported them. Towards 670 [B.C.], supposedly at the behest of the Delphi oracle, Terpander was brought in from Lesbos to prepare a contest in choral sining at the festival of the Carneia. Likewise, Thaletas was summoned from Crete about 620; and soon after came Tyrtaeus, Alcman, and Polymnestus. Their labors went mostly to composing patriotic music and training choruses to sing it. Music was seldom taught to individual Spartans; as in revolutionary Russia, the communal spirit was so strong that music took a corporate form, and group competed with group in magnificent festivals of song and dance. Such choral singing gave the Spartans another opportunity for discipline and mass formations, for every voice was subject to the leader. At the feast of the Hyacinthia King Agesilaus sang obediently in the place and time assigned to him by the choral master; and at the festival of the Gymnopedia the whole body of Spartans, of every age and sex, joined in massive exercises of harmonious dance and antistrophal song. Such occasions must have provided a powerful stimulus and outlet to the patriotic sentiment.

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3 Responses to “The Music of Sparta”


  1. 1 Adriene June 3, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Nice blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make
    my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your
    theme. Cheers

  2. 2 John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) July 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Reblogged this on The Music of the Bible Revealed and commented:
    The scandal of the extra strings!

  3. 3 2embracethelight July 14, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    I had no idea you had this if it is to be more permanent , I think it is a worthwhile blog. I had no idea this history existed. Fascinating. Thanks for the history lesson.
    Yisraela


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