Music and Memory in the Ancient Mediterranean

June 2017

Scholars from across ancient literary, historical, and archaeological studies convene through this exploratory seminar to explore a central question about musical experience: how it intersects with the inheritance, transmission, and transformation of memory. Any study of musical cultures within the ancient Mediterranean relies on memories and reconstruction—on records and reenactments rather than live performance—and yet there has been little discussion of memory as an overarching framework within which to understand these cultures’ musical lives and the connections between them. The seminar has three primary research goals. First, with the help of colleagues in (ethno)musicology, we examine both the part music plays in the construction of individual and collective memory in the ancient Mediterranean and the links between musical memory and social, cultural, and technological change. Second, we bring together for the first time scholars of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern musical culture to address the extent to which different areas of the ancient Mediterranean shared conceptions of the musical past. Finally, we examine our own scholarly practice through the concept of memory to turn a self-conscious gaze upon ourselves as scholars of musical cultures for which the music itself is largely lost.

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