Greek Esoteric Music Theory

The Eight Modes

Mode Element Humor Change Effect Planet Found.
IDorian Water Phlegmatic
more awake Sun D Phrygisti
IIHypodorian less asleep Moon A Hypodôristi
IIIPhrygian Fire Choloric
(Yellow Bile)
more anger Mars E Dôristi
IVHypophrygian less flattery Mercury B Mixolydisti
VLydian Air Sanguine
more happy Jupiter F Hypolydisti
VIHypolydian less sad Venus C Lydisti
VIIMixolydian Earth Melancholic
(Black Bile)
more melanch. Saturn G Hypophrygisti
VIIIHypermixolydian less beauty Stars a

  1. Henricus Glareanus (1547) is generally credited with rearranging the names of the Seven Harmoniai of ancient Greece to name the medieval Modes defined by Pope Gregory (c.540-604). In this chart the medieval names and numbering are used because they better reflect the relation of the Modes to the Elements and Humors: Phlegmatic (Phlegm), Choloric (Yellow Bile), Sanguine (Blood) and Melancholic (Black Bile). For the same reason the (non-classical, Gregorian) Eighth Mode, the Hypermixolydian has been included. The C-major Foundation Note and ancient Greek name (Harmonia) have been included to facilitate correlation with the Seven Harmoniai.

  2. The odd-numbered Modes are Authentic and increase the corresponding Humor (as indicated under Change); the even-numbered are Plagal and decrease it. (Odd and Even Numbers are respectively Male and Female, according to the Pythagoreans. Compare also the Planets with the Numbers of their Modes.)

  3. The compass of a Plagal Mode is a fourth lower than the corresponding Authentic Mode. The exception in this chart is the Hypermixolydian, whose pitch duplicates that of the Moon but in a higher octave, as specified by Ramis [see below] and others. The more familiar Eighth Mode is the Hypomixolydian, whose Foundation Note D is indeed a fourth lower than the Mixolydian's.

  4. Except for the VIII Mode, the Foundation Notes follow a Circle of Fifths. (If VIII is taken to be Hypomixolydian then there is no exception.)

  5. In medieval usage of the Modes, the focus is the Dominant (at step V) for Authentic Modes, and degree VI for Plagal Modes. The melody ends on the Final, which is the Foundation Note for an Authentic Mode, and the Final of the corresponding Authentic for a Plagal Mode. (See Oxf. Comp. Music s.v. Modes.)

  6. The correspondences between the Modes and the Changes in the Humors and the resulting Effects are given by Ramis de Pareja (1482). (Godwin HS, 171-3)

  7. Modes I and II correspond to the Element Water and the Phlegmatic Humor. The Effects are of the Lamps of Day and Night: to awaken or to put to sleep.

  8. Modes III and IV correspond to the Element Fire and the Choleric Humor. The Effects are Martial, for fighters wound with weapons, or Mercurial, for flatterers wound with words.

  9. Modes V and VI correspond to the Element Air and the Sanguine Humor. The Effects are Jovial happiness or Erotic sadness.

  10. Modes VII and VIII correspond to the Element Earth and the Melancholic Humor. The Effects are Saturnine melancholy or Celestial bliss.

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Last updated: Sun May 9 23:08:23 EDT 1999