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Women and Music in Ancient Greece


Hetaera plays a lyre made of a tortise shell and the horns of a goatHetaera with a lyre

Music was very important to the ancient Greeks. They realised
the geometrical nature of musical notes and did much for the development of music. Music was an important subject in education and even more important for the education of young women. Music was one of the arts that women participated in actively. The lyre and the flute were the most important instruments.

In the Theogony of Hesiod with the first lines the importance of music is documented:

“Let us begin to sing from the Heliconian Muses, who possess the great and holy monutain of Helicon and dance on their soft feet around the violet-dark fountain and the altar of Cronus’ mighty son. And after they have washed their tender skin in Permessus or Hippocrene or holy Olmeius, they perform choral dances on highest Helicon, beautiful, lovely ones, and move nimbly with their feet.”

Of course these are goddesses who dance but there can be little doubt that this is a description of an idealization of real maidens. Homer, in the Iliad makes a reference to a scene in which Ariadne leads mortals in song and dance when he describes the Shield of Achilles (Book XVIII), line 590: “Furthermore he wrought a green, like that which Daedalus once made in Cnossus for lovely Ariadne. Hereon there danced youths and maidens whom all would woo, with their hands on one another’s wrists. The maidens wore robes of light linen, and the youths well woven shirts that were slightly oiled. The girls were crowned with garlands, while the young men had daggers of gold that hung by silver baldrics; sometimes they would dance deftly in a ring with merry twinkling feet, as it were a potter sitting at his work and making trial of his wheel to see whether it will run, and sometimes they would go all in line with one another, and much people was gathered joyously about the green. There was a bard also to sing to them and play his lyre, while two tumblers went about performing in the midst of them when the man struck up with his tune.”

In this last passage a bard is mentioned but the presenance of a bard is only implied by the fact that chanting seems to lead the dance. This assumpition is supported by the fact that the mythical stories that have come down to us were sung or at least chanted. The derivation is not plain but the relation between music, myth, and muse should be noted with the realization that these words probably have a common ancestor which may be peculiarly Greek.

In the Symposium of Plato, page 175e music is part of the formality of the party that the Greeks called a Symposium:

“So Socrates drew up and had his dinner with thte rest of them, and then, after the libation and the usual hymn and so forth, they began to turn theeir attention to the wine.”

The regular nature of such a party also includes music as indicated witn the following, page 176e, “…I also propose that we dispense with the services of the flute girl who has just come in, and let her go and play to herself or to the women inside there, whichever she prefers,…”. Plato relates the further importance of music in worship generally when he states, page 177a, “Is it not, he asks me, an extraordinary thing that, for all the hymns an anthems that have been addressed to the other deities, not one single poet has ever sung a song of praise of so ancient and so powerful a god as Love?”.

A number of pictures follow with women involved with music:

Women Important in the Ancient Greek Music:

  • fl 600 BCE/Megalostrata/Composer and poet
  • 6th c. BCE/Nanno/Flautist
  • fl. 450 BCE/Praxilla/Lyric poet and composer
  • 4th c. BCE/Lamia/Flautist

In addition many hetaera were skilled at music.

A web page on the history of ancient Greek music is at:
Click here


  • West, M. L.; West, M.L., “Ancient Greek Music”, ISBN: 0198149751 / Paperback / 4/1/1994
  • Pohlmann, Egert/ West, Martin L. “Documents of Ancient Greek Music”,
    Oxford University Press, August 2001, Dimensions: 11.24″ x 8.97″ x 0.99″,
    Hardcover ISBN: 019815223X.
  • History and evolution of dance

Questions and Answers

Women and Music in Ancient Greece

Question: the anciant greek music during Hellenistic Period:

Answer: The Greeks were the first to develop a theoretical base of music. Music was an important part of their lives. The instruments that they used were the flute and the lyre. During the Hellenistic period Greek culture spread over the area conquered by Alexander, and in some cases it mixed with the local culture.

Question: how were the ancient musicians paid?

Answer: In coin, in kind, or with a returned favor.

Question: goddess of music

Answer: Apollo is the god of music, but the Muses are the nine goddeses of music. Until the Roman period the Muses were undifferentiated.

Question: responsibilities women had in ancient greece

Answer: Wives were involved with bearing children, raising children, weaving fabric for clothes, performing in a chorus for religious festivals. Women slaves ground grain, carried water, cleaned, opened and closed doors, cooked, served food, and performed music.

Question: who where the two teams at the trojan war?

Answer: Aphrodite, Ares, Apollo, and Artemis, fought with the Trojans and their allies. Hera, and Athena, fought with the Mycenaeans, Spartans, and their Allies. These were called Achaeans.

Question: what was life like in corinth for women such as medea

Answer: Click here.

Question: what is the role of women in the trojan war?

Answer: Click here

Question: What is the relationship between odyessus’s journey and
the women in the odyssey

Answer: Click here

Question: Where can I get pictures of Chariots from ancient

Answer: Click here

Question: Archimedian screw

Answer: This is a pump invented by the Hellenistic Greek Archimedes, but still used. The connection to music is slight, but might involve its use in a water organ which is an instrument available to the ancient Greeks.

Question: what influence did ares have

Answer: Many ancient Greeks spent their lives defeating Ares, both in themselves and in their opponents.

Question: petitioner

Answer: This term may be more relevant to medieval music. This may also describe a person who comes to a temple for help from the deity of that temple. A person who prays at a temple can be considered a petitioner of the deity of that temple.

Question: What type of music do the corinthans listen to or do the
Corinthans even have music back then and i need to know what
instructments are most common in Corinth???????

Answer: The lyre and the flute were the common instruments. But their flute was a reeded instrument that may have sounded more like an oboe. Their music was monophonic rather than polyphonic. They did not understand harmony very well. But they did important work in the theory of music and provided the basis for polyphonic music.

Question: what scientific revolutions or discoveries took place in 776

Answer: This was the period of the Homeric age, the so-called dark age of Greece during which little is recorded and little happened. As for science it is well after Asclepius, the doctor, and Daedalus, the engineer of myth and before Thales the physicist of history. This turns out to be the date of the first Greek Olympics. Science is supposed to have begun with Thales in 624 BCE. This date is closely associated with the adoption by the Greeks of the Greek alphabet from the Phoenicians.

Question: hwen was the hydraulic music organ invented

Answer: About 200 BCE see: Click Here

Question: Is there any evidence as to what the Aphrodite
hierodules might have worn or done to thier bodies. Did they
do something to their hair or face or maybe wore something
unique that made them stand out?

Answer: ‘hierodule’ is Greek for “sacred servant” and was a name for the priestesses of Aphrodite, particularly the ones that performed sacred prostitution. What they did different was to appear in public. But in that context they wore the same clothes as other women but they wore the best that they could afford. They did shave off their body hair. There is good reason to believe that their outfits were diaphanous and revealing if possible. For more information

Question: women heros?

Answer: Amazons, Atalanta, Medea, Penelope.

Question: Who is a famous Greek Scientist?

Answer: Science.

Question: what did athens girls learn for school

Answer: Singing, dancing, or how to play an instrument, either the
lyre or the oulos.

Question: i need info on a great invention from the ancient greeks.

Answer: The ancient Greeks invented a musical organ that was powered by water.

Question: greek advisor at Troy

Answer: Odysseus of course, but also Nestor and Phoenix. But there is the troublesome priest Calchas, for whom there was no rival.

Question: What is the name of the play about women who stop having sex with their husbands in order to stop a war?

Answer: Lysistrata.

Question: Alcmaeon’s Picture

Answer: According to Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.10.1 A statue of Alcmaeon, one of the Epigoni, was set up by the Argives at Delphi. Also FUSELI, John Henry … The Erinyes Drive Alcmaeon from the Corpse of his Mother, Eriphyle, Whom He Has Killed, 1828, SwZK

Question: Who are the godesses od Art?,

Answer: The Muses are the goddesses of most arts, but Athena is the goddess of visual arts and crafts and Apollo is the god of music.

Question: did wemon play instruments and get paid for it?

Answer: Yes.

Question: wat did the wemon do with the instrument

Answer: Women played either the flute or lyre.

Question: What is the ancient catapult?

Answer: It was a weapon of war. During a battle some of the stronger warriors would heave a stone as in the shot put. A catapult was a lever device that allowed larger stones to be heaved farther. During the Roman period catapults were built that heaved stones of many tons that destroyed fortifications. But they were not that important during the Greek period. The Greek Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse, who was looking to develop a new type of weapon, invented the catapult about 400 BCE

Question: what famous people were from Corinth?


  • Aristeus, son of Adeimantus
  • Cypselus, Tyrant of Corinth c. 657-627 BCE
  • Periander, Tyrant of Corinth c. 625-585 BCE
  • Aristoxenus, A philosopher and music theorist
  • Dionysius II, Tyrant of Syracuse
  • Jason and Medea fled to Corinth

Question: how did aphrodite cause the trojan war

Answer: She did not cause the Trojan war, but one of her acts contributed to its cause. She promised the most beautiful woman in the world to Paris if he would declare her the most beautiful. But Helen had been bound to Menelaus with a defense pact so her woers would defend Menelaus against anyone who took her away from him. This incident is part of the Judgement of

Question: Where did the word music come from

Answer: It comes to us from the Greek and means art of the Muses.

Question: what was the role of music?

Answer: In addition to providing rhythm for song and dance music provided pleasure to the deities and was provided in many religious activities. Music was also an important educational subject. It provided the conviction that number was the basis of understanding in the universe. Aristotle also recognized that music could change attitudes.

Question: Can you tell me about the wives of the trojan war, and the emotional hardships they had to go through?

Answer: you learn this by reading Iliad of Homer. There is also the drama of Euripides called The Trojan Women

Question: ok can you answer this fast, was Artemis in the trojan war, or was she conectied to it in any way????

Answer: Yes she was. You can read about Artemis in the Iliad.

Question: did ancient greece invent anything after 500 b.c?

Answer: Many things. Their musical contribution was the water powered organ. Athens was the center of learning for the world for about 1000 years.

Question: The sufferings of the Trojan women after the sack of their city

Answer: This is a subject of plays that memorialize the the suffering of women in wars generally. Euripedes’ The Trojan Women is a specific example.
See Ancient Greek Women’s Laments

Question: Did they perform scientific experiments?

Answer: They were keen observers and very theoretical but they only laid the groundwork for science. Their work cannot be considered true science by our standards. In the music area they did make enough measurements to be convinced of the relation between music and number. This is an aesthetic judgement that had strong motivation for many future scientists.

Question: who and when did people play the “lyre”

Answer: A lyre is a stringed instrument of the harp family used to accompany a singer or reader of poetry. The performer can pluck a tune with a plectrum but the volume is fairly low. The instrument is most suitable for small groups or indoors. The lyre would be quite suitable in the context of a symposium.

Question: can you show me a water timer please


Question: What was the role of “the voice” an ancient greek music?

Answer: Again, the Greeks preferred the voice to instruments and although kithera and aulos were widely used, their primary purpose was for accompaniment. In other words the kithara and aulos were background music for the singer.Reference

Question: Did Alcmaeon document the first animal dissection for scientific purposes?

Answer: ‘One member of the Crotonian school, Alcmaeon, achieved great distinction in both anatomy and physiology. He first recognized the brain as the organ of the mind, and made careful dissections of the nerves, which he traced to the brain. He described the optic nerves and the Eustachian tubes, made correct observations upon vision, and refuted the common view that the sperma came from the spinal cord. He suggested the definition of health as the maintenance of equilibrium, or an “isonomy” in the material qualities of the body.’ Reference

Question: Archytas of Tarentum

Answer: Bio

Question: how did the make the insrtuments

Answer: The ancient Greek instruments were made of wood, metal, or ivory. Wood was joined with hide glue, pegged, or bound. The strings were made of animal gut. The flutes were made of metal, bone or wood. They used a double reed but it is not clear what the reed was made of. It had to be a strong, flexible material like ivory or bone. Simple wood working tools were used to make the instruments. These included saws, chisels, clamps, and sand-stone for smoothing. Finishes included oils and waxes. No solvent paints were available but some resins could be applied with heat.

Question: do the women play the harp

Answer: The ancient Greek women played instruments. There was the lyre, the barbiton and the kithara. The lyre was made of horns connected to a tortise shell while a cithara was of similar shaped but made of wood. Later the cithara became the guitar. The barbiton was similar to a lyre but came from Persia. The Harpa was an Egyptian instrument similar to the harp.

Question: when was the earlyest greek inventin made

Answer: The earliest inventions were attributed to gods and goddesses but no date was ever attached to these. For example Hermes invented the lyre and Athena invented weaving.

Question: What was the government of Corinth.

Answer: In the 7th century BC, a man called Kypselos overthrew the government of Corinth. He made himself ruler of the city state. This kind of leader is called a tyrant. When Kypselos died, his son Periander took over the role of tyrant. Soon after Periander’s death, Corinth was ruled by a council of 80 men. This type of government is called an oligarchy.

Question: How did the position of women in Troy change over the period of the Trojan Wars

Answer: In general, during the war they were free and at the end of the war they became slaves. But the fortunes of a woman depended upon the fortunes of her husband or father. If he should be killed her fortunes might change so dramatically that she would become a slave. She would be lucky to get a new husband. But a few did. In the end of Troy many women were killed. Many lost their husbands and were enslaved. Helen and Andromache both got new husbands. Aeneas escaped without Creusa, his wife. But she never left Troy. Aethra changed from slave to free. Cassandra became a slave. Hecuba became a slave but escaped slavery either by death or transformation. Polyxena was sacrificed on the grave of Achilles. Clymene went from being the handmaid of Helen to the handmaid of Aethra.

Question: what is the difference between ancient greek wemon and wemon today how have they changed.

Answer: Only their attitude, religion, and opportunities have changed Greek women were free of most taboos but they were not required to be educated. Even so they had many educational opportunities. Women in the west have asimilar situation but women in the rest of the world do not. Western women have better health care than the ladies of ancient Greece while many women in
the west of the world suffer poor health care. Slavery was present in ancient Greece and women were the primary slaves. Today slavery of women is rare. Women in ancient Greece lived in a very dynamic and passionate time and they benefited from this enthusiasm. Too many women today live lives of quiet desperation or are under the influence of drugs. Many people today focus on themselves and what they can get, unlike the more community minded Ancient

Question: what was the most common dance and music in Ancient Greece

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer as neither could be
easily recorded. There have been some efforts to reconstruct this but one usually guesses in term of current practice. Most guesses relate to belly dancing music. We can conclude however that they are nothing like the classical music that we are used to.

Question: Mythical Greek Lyre-player

Answer: Epameinondas was a lyre player but he was historical. Orpheus was a legendary lyre player from just before the Trojan war. Arion, friend of King Periannder and a lyre-player, was the first to compose the dithyramb. The god, Apollo, is also considered a lyre player.

Question: Give me any information about music

Answer: Music was very important to the ancient Greeks. They realized the rational basis of music and determined that music could be understood with numbers. This became the basis of polyphonic music notation.