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Objective Art



The Musical Modes (Octave Structures) of Ancient Greece

In music, a mode is an ordered series of musical intervals. The music of ancient Greece described musical scales in the context of scalar modes containing eight notes called an octave; each octave had seven intervals between the notes. Only seven modes are known to have been in use by the Greeks of the classical era -- the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.  These modes or scales were named after the geographic region that had traditionally preferred that mode, i.e., Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, etc.  Each of the modes was associated with the celestial spheres of one of the seven planets (or wandering stars) of ancient astronomy/astrology.  By Roman times, an eighth mode, the Hypomixolydian, had been added; it was associated with the realm of the Fixed Stars.  These eight modes were now associated with the four elements and the four humors as well. Also, each mode was placed under the patronage of a Muse: Clio, Calliope, Terpsichore, Melpomene, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Urania (according to the Chaldean order).  The ninth Muse, Thalia, was assigned the Terrestrial Sphere and governed "Silence."  The god Apollo governed all the nine Muses, their celestial spheres, and their modes including "Silence."

The above correspondences, as used during the European Renaissance, are summarized by the following table:

Mode or Scale Celestial Sphere Day of Week Muse Element Humor   Musical Note    (Major Scale)
8. Hypomixolydian Fixed Stars   Urania Earth Melancholic ---
7. Mixolydian Saturn Saturday Polyhymnia Earth Melancholic D
6. Lydian Jupiter Thursday Euterpe Air Sanguine C
5. Phrygian Mars Tuesday Erato Fire Choleric B
4. Dorian Sun Sunday Melpomene Water Phlegmatic A
3. Hypolydian Venus Friday Terpsichore Air Sanguine G
2. Hypophrygian Mercury Wednesday Calliope Fire Choleric F
1. Hypodorian Moon Monday Clio Water Phlegmatic E


Earth   Thalia     Silence

To learn the order of the correspondences, you might memorize these verses written by the famous Renaissance occultist, Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) as follows:

Silent Thalia we to the Earth compare,
For She by music never doth ensnare;
After the Hypodorian Clio sings,
Persephone likewise doth strike the bass strings;
Calliope also doth chord second touch,
Using the Phrygian; Mercury as much:
Terpsichore strikes the third, and that rare,
The Lydian music makes so Venus fair.
Melpomene, and Titan do with a grace
The Dorian music use in the fourth place.
The fifth ascribed is to Mars the God
Of war, and Erato after the rare mode
Of the Phrygians, Euterpe doth also love
The Lydian, and sixth string; and so doth Jove.
Saturn the seventh doth use with Polyhymny,
And causeth the Mixed Lydian melody.
Urania also doth the eighth create,
And music Hypo-Lydian elevate.

The modes differ from each other in their respective patterns of tones and semitones; these differences were thought to determine the character of the mode and was of central importance in applying musical therapy to the individual soul. 

The following table describes the octave intervals for the original seven classical Greek scales (names are those used in Classical times) as compared to the modern-day, twelve semi-tone, equal temperament tuning measured in Cents.  The scale customarily used by the Pythagoreans in classical times was the Lydian scale.  It should be noted that each scale has two semi-tone "critical intervals," but they occur in different positions for each scale.  For the most part, modern music makes use of only two of these scales -- the Lydian (Major) and Aeolian (Minor).

Semi-Tones Cents Lydian Phrygian Dorian Syntolydian Ionian Aeolian Myxolydian
0 0 Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti
1 100     Fa       Do
2 200 Re Mi   Sol La Ti  
3 300   Fa Sol     Do Re
4 400 Mi     La Ti    
5 500 Fa Sol La   Do Re MI
6 600       Ti     Fa
7 700 Sol La Ti Do Re Mi  
8 800     Do     Fa Sol
9 900 La Ti   Re Mi    
10 1000   Do Re   Fa Sol La
11 1100 Ti     Mi      
12 1200 Do Re Me Fa Sol La Ti


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