Thursday, January 22, 2015


Angela Bellia (ed.), Musica, culti e riti nell'Occidente greco. Telestes: studi e ricerche di archeologia musicale nel Mediterraneo, 1. Pisa; Roma: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2014. Pp. 336. ISBN 9788881474387. €68.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Frederick G. Naerebout, Leiden University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Under review is a volume of collected articles, the first in a new series titled 'Telestes. Studi e richerche di archeologia musicale nel Mediterraneo', edited by the indefatigable Angela Bellia. Bellia on her own has done more for the study of music and musical culture in Magna Graecia and Sicily than all other scholars put together, so it comes as no big surprise that this first volume deals with that same part of the Mediterranean world.1 This multilingual (Italian, English, French, Spanish) publication contains 24 papers and a substantial introduction by Bellia. Some of these papers emanate from a 2013 conference organized at Agrigento by MOISA International Society for the Study of Greek and Roman Music and its Cultural Heritage. Amongst the contributors we find both renowned scholars as Andrew Barker, Claude Calame, Monica de Cesare, Elisa Chiara Portale, Stelios Psaroudakis, and Daniela Castaldo, and also less established names. Altogether the line-up is quite impressive – as also reflected in the superior quality of the book itself: proof-reading, paper, printing, illustrations, it is all excellent. The papers are divided across four sections: one about singer-songwriters, one about musical instruments, one about the iconography, and one about music in context, more specifically as an element in religious ritual. In listing the sections I have changed the order: to have three sections dealing with textual sources, archaeological artifacts and iconography, followed by a section of a more synthetic nature, seems to make sense and I will discuss the different contributions in that sequence.

Bellia's introduction offers a conspectus of cultic activity in Magna Graecia and on Sicily, focusing on divinities, most importantly Apollo, Hera, Demeter, Artemis and Dionysos. For each divinity, she lists the most important sanctuaries, for instance Zankle/Messana, Rhegion, Lokroi and Taras in the case of Apollo, and discusses the written and archaeological evidence concerning the cultic activities at each locality. This is quite informative, though when it comes to the music and dance, much appears to be hypothetical . To quote from just three pages (21-23): "non si via esplicito riferimento", "non può escludersi", "suggeriscono" and "potrebbero richiamare", together with a sprinkling of "forse" and "probabilmente" – all of which can be summarized as: "there might have been music and dance but we cannot be sure". In fact, I think Bellia, however commendable her reticence in the face of the fragmentary evidence, could have been more confident: the available sources for the Greek world, and that includes the Greek West, make more than clear that music and dance were an element of practically every ritual occasion of some importance and scope. It would be the suggestion that this could be different in Magna Graecia and on Sicily that would need explaining, not the suggestion that the Greeks of those areas are as appreciative of music and dance as their relatives in the motherland. Indeed, Bellia stresses, and rightly so, the intimate connections between the performative traditions of the one and the other.

Despite the value of her general overview, there are some issues that Bellia could have addressed here. Bellia refers to some of these, but discusses none of them in any depth: the relationship between motherland, Greek colonies and indigenous communities and what this meant in terms of cultural change (there is a single mention of "acculturazione religiosa", p. 29); and especially the relationship between the sources and ritual practice. The sources "call to mind", "may be the reflection of" and so on. In the one instance, this carries conviction – though still the ineluctable gap between the imagery and the real might have been addressed more explicitly – in the other, one may readily doubt. Dionysiac imagery is a case in point; omnipresent and repeated across centuries, how easy is it to link this imagery to actual ritual? With the written sources, too, there are questions to be asked: when Bellia in a single passage (pp. 27-28) builds up her argument with elements culled from the works of Aristoxenos, Theokritos, Probus, Lucian, Pollux, Athenaios and Diomedes, I cannot help noting that there are over seven centuries between the date of the first and the last author, and that four authors date to the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. while their pronouncements are referred to in order to say something about the classical and/or early Hellenistic period(s) (I think: Bellia is not given to precise dating – even when she specifies "in origine" we are never told where on a time-scale these origins are to be situated). Still, these shortcomings may well be overlooked, and I for one would be quite willing to do so, considering the helpfulness of Bellia's conspectus; and besides, in the study of music and dance, where everyone is confronted by scarce and unruly evidence, there are far worse offenders.

We will turn now to the different sections, which I will largely discuss as a whole because there is no room to review all 24 papers on their own. The singer-songwriter section consists of 5 papers taking up some 50 pages. Over one-third of these pages are claimed by the paper by Calame which is a wide-ranging examination of Greek 'song-culture' in the Greek colonies and the mainland, focusing on Stesichoros. The wide range of this contribution may be born of a sense of despair: if Calame's and the other papers are mostly disappointing, this is not because of the quality of what they have to offer. They are all excellent, but they seem without point or aim because there is so very little evidence to go by. Even if there is something worthwhile here on Stesichoros, Pythagoras, Empedokles and Architas, there is little on the composition and performance of song. Also, here – and at many other instances throughout the volume, but I will not be repeating it – one may readily ask what actually is specific about the culture of the Western Greeks: so much reference is made to the Greek motherland in order to eke out the meagre sources. The specificity of Magna Graecia and Sicily ought to be a major theme of this collection of papers; however, although it is by no means completely absent, it rarely takes centre-stage.

The instruments section, also consisting of 5 papers, another 50 pages, is, unsurprisingly, the most technical part of the volume. Especially the three papers on archaeologically attested auloi, well-documented and well-illustrated, will make the heart of those who are organologically interested beat a bit faster. All papers here present mostly new evidence, and their importance cannot be doubted – the more casual reader, however, will probably move on quickly to a less technical section and leave this to the specialists. For the non-specialist who wonders about the sound of the ancient instruments, I may refer to the concert-lecture that Stefan Hagel of the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften gave in the context of the Agrigento conference and which is available on YouTube.

The iconography section consists of 8 papers, taking up some 100 pages. Of course, there are a number of papers in the other sections that would have fitted this section too, especially the papers by Terranova and Liveri and part of Bellia's introduction. The papers in the iconography section are short – not counting the images – and do not delve very deep: one is presented with a handful of dance or music imagery, and that is it. Albertocchi tries to do rather more than that, but with its seven pages her paper too gives only a tantalizing glimpse of what she might have come up with given enough space (she departs from an impressive bibliography and asks interesting questions). For the section as a whole, it is not always clear what contribution the visual material presented here is supposed to make to our general understanding of the musical culture of Magna Graecia. Here again, as was the case with the first section, a relative dearth of relevant sources seems to undermine the authors' intentions and efforts.

The section of most value to those interested in mousikē as a societal phenomenon, studied in context (and I admit to being one of those), would seem to be the one on "musica e rito": music in a religious setting (and dance – but that word is lacking from the book's title too; the individual authors are more careful about their choice of words). In this section there are 6 papers, another 100 pages, and one could add here the general introduction by Bellia. Alas, I found this section again disappointing. There are some papers here that hold promise: De Cesare's view of music (and probably dance too) as an intercultural lingua franca, Terranova on the development of the tympanon into a symbol of death and afterlife, and Liveri explicitly addressing the issue of western Greek specificity. But it was all quite inconclusive. There are other papers that seem superfluous, out of place or hard to understand. All in all, again every author seems to have struggled with the effort to make something out of very little.

Summing up: we have here a number of valuable contributions –especially the more technical organological papers will undoubtedly find their way to the right audience. Also, despite the criticism voiced above, I want to stress that the whole of this volume is rather more than the sum of the constituent parts. If you read through the whole book and piece it all together, you do know more about the musical life of Greek communities in the West. Therefore nobody interested in that specific musical (and religious) history can afford to disregard this volume; anyone with such an interest should at the very least read Bellia's introduction and have a closer look at the archaeological material scattered throughout this book. Nevertheless, it remains that this volume seems to be making a lot of song and dance about very meagre sources – leading to attempts to squeeze even the last little drop of information out of small text fragments or equally small assemblages of terracotta statuettes. Even if we find this procedure at all acceptable, what are we left with? With proof, or with a more or less reliable hypothesis, that music and dance were part of many different cultic events at many sanctuaries across Magna Graecia and Sicily. As I already said: this is unsurprising, and it would be very strange (and quite exciting) if it were otherwise. I would have hazarded to hypothesize as much, or even to make a statement of fact, and that without knowledge of any of the material presented here. This is not likely to be completely satisfactory to anyone. So what do we really want? Bellia is actually quite clear about that: we want to know what kind of music and dance were performed, and how this was related to particular cults, to the history, identity and social structure of individual communities, and to the relationships between those communities (pp.13, 32: "coesione sociale", "dialogo interetnico", "l'evolversi storico e politico", and so on). Yes, we would like that. But, apart from a hint here and there, we do not get it. And we will never get it, on the basis of the ancient evidence – as the present volume clearly illustrates. Still, although some evidential problems will always remain, there is a way out, a way forward, towards answering some of the questions asked by Bellia. That way is comparative research within a social science framework. The anthropology of music and dance can be very helpful: however, not a single such anthropological study is referred to in this volume. 2 So bring out your dead, so neatly laid out here, and have them revived by an infusion of comparative work and social science.

Table of Contents

Abbreviazioni 9
Angela Bellia, Uno sguardo sulla musica nei culti e nei riti della Magna Graecia e della Sicilia 13
I. Poeti e musici
Claude Calame, La tragédie chorale et le nome citharodique: de la Grande Grèce à Athènes 49
Marco Ercoles, Stesicoro e i culti di Imera 67
Antonietta Provenza, Pitagora e le Muse. Per una lettura di Timeo, F 131 FGrHist 79
Andrew Barker, Empedocles Mousikos 87
Massimo Raffa, Acustica e divulgazione in Archita di Taranto: il fr. 1 Huffman come "Protrettico alla scienza" 95
II. Strumenti musicali
Clemente Marconi, Two New Aulos Fragments from Selinunte: Cult, Music and Spectacle in the Main Urban Sanctuary of a Greek Colony in the West 105
Stelios Psaroudakēs, The Aulos of Poseidonia 117
Chiara Michelini, Auloi da Entella: note di archeologia musicale 131
Maria Clara Martinelli, Uno strumento musicale in bronzo nelle collezioni del Museo Archeologico "Luigi Bernabò Brea" a Lipari 145
Giovanni Distefano, Camarina. La tomba 446 con crepitacoli della necropoli arcaica 151
III. Musica e rito
Monica de Cesare, Musica e rito nei contesti anellenici della Sicilia di VI-V secolo a.C. 159
Claudia Lupo, Aspetti della pratica musicale pitagorica a Crotone e a Taranto 175
Chiara Terranova, Funzione rituale dei tympana nei culti femminili della Sicilia antica 185
Angeliki Liveri, Music, Singing and Dancing at Wedding Rites in Megale Hellas 195
Lucio Melazzo, Music and Phonetics in Magna Graecia 207
Sebastian Klotz, Mousiké, harmonics and the symmetrical culture of Western Greece 219
IV. Iconografia
Marina Albertocchi, Musica e danza nell'Occidente greco: figurine fittili di danzatrici di epoca arcaica e classica 237
Antonella Pautasso, Il suonatore di lyra. Breve nota su alcune statuette siceliote 249
Lucia Lepore, Dei, Demoni ed Eroi della musica nella cultura figurativa dei Greci d'Occidente 257
María Isabel Rodríguez López, Música y matrimonio: iconografía y fuentes escritas 273
Elisa Chiara Portale, Musica e danza nell'iconografia funeraria centuripina 287
Giulia Corrente, Aspetti della 'nuova musica' nelle raffigurazioni vascolari fliaciche 305
Daniela Castaldo, Iside sulle sponde del Tevere. Presenze africane nella musica di età romana 315
Simone Rambaldi, Musica e felicità ultraterrena: considerazioni in margine a un sarcofago romano di Palermo 325


1.   Bellia published in quick succession: Coroplastica con raffigurazioni musicali nella Sicilia greca (secoli vi-iii a. C.). Biblioteca di "Sicilia antiqua" 3. Pisa/Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2009 BMCR 2010.06.11; Scene musicali della ceramica attica in Sicilia. Roma: De Luca. Editori d'Arte, 2010; Strumenti musicali e oggetti sonori nell'Italia meridionale e in Sicilia (VI-III sec. a.C.): funzioni rituali e contesti. Aglaia 4. Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2012 BMCR 2013.07.25 and Il canto delle Vergini locresi: la musica a Locri Epizefirii nelle fonti scritte e nella documentazione archeologica (secoli VI-III a. C.). Nuovi saggi, 116. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2012 BMCR 2013.08.41. For a full listing of her work, see the website of the Società Italiana di Musicologia.
2.   Claude Calame in his paper refers to Victor Turner and Richard Schechner but this is in the context of the rise of 'performance studies'. Marina Albertocchi refers to publications on ancient dance which do make use of anthropology, such as those by Calame, Lonsdale and Naerebout.

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