Greek Doctrine Of Ethos

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Greek Doctrine of Ethos

Greek Doctrine of Ethos

Thesis Statement

The ancient Greek 'doctrine of Ethos' encouraged a great change in the previous methods of music instruction. The doctrine is still relevant today.


The doctrine explored the influence of sound on human behavior, character, emotion and moral. The doctrine arranged music into separate scales that were stated to have specific influences on human behavior. Some evoked feelings of happiness, some sorrow, some rage, some mental concentration, some lethargy, and some other emotions. (Abeles, 1995).

The doctrine incited the exploration of sound vibrations on the human condition and new identifications of harmony. This was the beginning of western scales and chord progressions. The Doctrine of Ethos specifically talked about incorporating non-instrumental components into music and its effect on the mind and soul (Preview, 2006).


Greek Doctrine of Ethos is still relevant today for many reasons. “Aristotle, in his Politics, explains how the different kinds of music, imitating specific feelings (anger, kindness, love), can affect a human being with the same kind of feelings. Therefore, says Aristotle, someone who listens to the wrong kind of music will grow up to be a bad person, and vice-versa. Consequently, Aristotle (and also Plato) recommended the right kind of music in the education of young citizens”. (The Ancient, 2009)

For some composers the "union" of words and music may lay primarily in the search for a "correct rhythmic declamation of the text." Yet there is another, perhaps more far reaching implication of the Greek predilection for the word/music paradigm. The concept of music as a language which, like the spoken word, can exert influence over human thought and actions, gave rise to one of the most profound and significant doctrines of Greek musical thought -- the doctrine of ethos. With this understanding the Greeks believed that once an artist became aware of music's moral power there was an obligation to exercise that power with a certain moral responsibility. (Kay 2009)

Ethos was based on the dual convictions that music has an effect on moral and ethical behavior and that certain types of music affects people in different ways. The Greeks ascribed certain mythological characteristics to the basic character of music: Apollonian -- music that was considered classic, characterized by its clam, tranquil and uplifting qualities, and Dionysian -- music that was considered romantic, characterized by its excitement and enthusiasm.

The Ancient Greek doctrine of ethos attributed ethical powers to music and claimed that music could affect character. These ideas seem far-fetched or mystical if Greek music and culture are not understood. However, a short study of the nature and use of music in Greek culture reveals the roots of the doctrine of ethos. Music in Ancient Greece was an integrated art form that permeated society and embodied cultural values. Greek philosophers recognized the power and influence of music in their society and developed the doctrine of ethos. Although most of the major philosophers believed that this ethical influence was a reality, they disagreed over the process by which it worked and the ...
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