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Ion of Chios and the politics of Polychordia

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Chapter Summary

This chapter considers a short poetic text that raises a number of intriguing questions about the changing social significance of the lyre in the later fifth century. It begins with one of Ion's own anecdotes that involves the symposium, the lyre and the assertion of élite distinction: the three elements central to author's discussion of 93 Leurini = 32 West. Polychordia indeed emerges in the conservative élite cultural criticism of the later fifth and fourth centuries as the most vivid emblem of the excesses of professional virtuoso performers, of the idiotic poikilia of the musical innovations that grew out of control under the vulgar theatrokratia of radical Athenian democracy. The criticisms of polychordia are numerous. A selection: in Pherecrates' well-known priamel of the New Music 'anti-canon', Timotheus' kithara with its "twelve strings" tops the list of the violent transgressions directed against a personified Mousike.

Keywords: élite cultural criticism; Athenian democracy; Ion of Chios; Ion's lyre; Mousike; polychordia



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