Instruments and Empiricism in Aristoxenus' Elementa harmonica (2012)

Author(s): Creese D

    Abstract: This paper concerns the methodological implications of an influential musicological argument proposed by the Peripatetic Aristoxenus (late fourth century BC). In a passage near the end of what now survives as book 2 of his Elementa harmonica, Aristoxenus sets out a procedure designed to settle a controversy over the measurement of an important musical interval (the perfect fourth) by others smaller than it. The procedure cannot be done without an instrument, but Aristoxenus does not mention this; and yet since the participation of the reader's perception is both an explicit and essential component of the method, the omission carries serious consequences: an instrument is needed to provide evidence for perception to judge. The purpose of this paper is to address the problems caused by this omission, to suggest some possible reasons for it, and in the process to define more clearly the role of instruments as tools of persuasion in Aristoxenus' harmonics.

      • Book Title: Aristoxenus of Tarentum: Discussion
      • Volume: XVII
      • Pages: 29-63
      • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
      • Publication type: Book chapter
      • Bibliographic status: Published

        Keywords: Aristoxenus of Tarentum; musical intervals; empiricism; ancient Greek harmonic science.


        Dr David Creese
        Lecturer in Classics; Head of Classics & Ancient History