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Is the Idea of ‘Musical Emotion’ Present in Classical Antiquity?

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image of Greek and Roman Musical Studies

This article investigates to what degree the concept of ‘musical emotion,’ a term coined by contemporary psychology, can be traced in antiquity. Hence, it is necessary to begin by clearly defining ‘music’ and ‘emotion,’ in both ancient and modern understandings. The distinctions between ‘musically induced emotions’ and ‘musical emotions’ strictly speaking, and between the ‘referentialist’ and ‘absolutist’ (or ‘cognitivist’) school in music psychology structure the question. While most ancient theorists believe that the impact of music on the passions (παθήµατα) is of pedagogical or therapeutical relevance as it is able to create ethos in the human soul through mimēsis, others, similar to the cognitivists, limit its effect to (aesthetic) pleasure. Emotions unique to music are not explicitly discussed by the ancient theorists, although an indirect acknowledgment possibly exists in form of metaphorical descriptions of musical experiences, a certain notion of specifically musical pleasure, and the idea of music’s magical power.

Affiliations: 1: Legion of Christ College of Humanities 475 Oak Avenue, Cheshire, ct, 06410USA


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