Greek Esoteric Music Theory

The Seven Harmoniai

Harmonia C-Maj.
Planet Day Parallel Guardian
BVII MercuryWednesday CancerHermes
CI VenusFriday Leo
DII SunSunday Virgo
EIII MarsTuesday Libra
FIV JupiterThursday Scorpius
GV SaturnSaturday Sagittarius
aVI MoonMonday CapricornHestia

  1. The chart uses the Ancient Greek names of the Harmoniai (roughly, "modes"). Here we use the Greek forms of the names to distinguish them from the more familiar Eight Modes of the Middle Ages, which use the same names but in different ways. For example, medieval Dorian = ancient Phrygisti (Phrygian). (See The Eight Modes for the correspondence.) The Greek names are pronounced with the accent on the final "i."

  2. A Harmonia is a scale structure (a structure of harmonic ratios): an ordering of tones and semitones (or "remainders"); its absolute pitch is not significant. However the structure of any particular (diatonic) Harmonia may be described by the octave founded on a corresponding pitch in a modern major scale.

  3. Each of the Dôristi, Phrygisti and Lydisti Harmoniai comprises a lower Fourth (two tones and a semitone) and an upper Fifth (three tones and a semitone). In the corresponding Hypodôristi, Hypophrygisti and Hypolydisti Harmoniai, the Fourth and Fifth are reversed. For example, STT+TSTT (EFGabcd) in Dôristi becomes TSTT+STT in Hypodôristi (abcdefg).

  4. C-Major Degree gives the lowest pitch or Foundation Note of the Harmonia in the modern C-major scale. Thus the Dôristi Harmonia has the structure EFGabcd. The interval structure (STT T STT for Dôristi) is all that matters; the absolute pitch is irrelevant.

  5. Relative Degree indicates where the Harmonia begins relative to any major scale. For example, Dôristi begins at E in C-major and at F# in D-major.

  6. The Day for a "Hypo" Harmonia precedes the Day of the basic Harmonia; thus Hypodôristi on Monday precedes Dôristi on Tuesday. For the "Hypo" Harmoniai, the Planets are three away (i.e. a musical Fourth) from the corresponding basic Harmoniai (e.g. Saturn for Hypophrygisti is three above the Sun for Phrygisti). Likewise their Foundation Note is a fourth higher.

  7. The correspondence between the Harmoniai, scale Degrees and Planets are given by Aristides Quintilianus (I.8, III.22), and are based on the Planet corresponding to the Foundation Note of the Harmonia as given in the Greater Perfect System. For example, Mars is associated with E, which is the Foundation Note of the Dôristi Harmonia.

  8. The practice of singing of hymn in a different mode on each day can be traced back to Sumerian and Babylonian times (Werner 223-4, 244-5; Wellesz 152).

  9. Therefore, on each Day of the week play or improvise a melody in the Harmonia corresponding to that day. Notice that the Foundation Notes of the Harmoniai of successive Days (Monday to Monday) proceed by the Circle of Fifths (AEBFCGDA). (See also the Planetary Heptagram.)

  10. There are many undertainties about ancient Greek melodic structure, but the following may suffice for esoteric purposes. (For a discussion see Barker II.316nn3, 20; 336n78; Pole 122; Winnington-Ingram 4-9, 34-40, 46.)

  11. The melody should emphasize or focus on the Dynamic Middle (which functions somewhat like the tonic of tonal music or the dominant of modal music). The Dynamic Middle always corresponds to the note A (think "Apollo") when a Harmonia is transposed to a step of the C-major scale. Thus it is "a" within the E-d range of Dôristi, and within the D-c of Phrygisti; it is the lowest note (Foundation Note) of Hypodôristi (a-g). For instruments whose primary major scale is not C, the Dynamic Middle is the sixth degree of its primary major scale (e.g. B on a D-instrument).

  12. The melody often begins on the Dynamic Middle, which is therefore called Beginning (Arkhê) or Leader (Hêgemôn). It typically ends on the lowest note of the Harmonia (the Foundation Note), which is therefore called the End (Teleutê) or Final Note (similar to a modal final cadence). Thus it will end on E for Dôristi, D for Phrygisti.

  13. The Dynamic Middle occupies the same position within the scale structure of each Harmonia: below the Tone of Disjunction between the Tetrachords Mesôn and Diezeugmenôn (see The Greater Perfect System). This is the Sphere of the Sun, as we can see in the Planetary Heptachord, and represents the power of Apollo.

  14. Each Harmonia rotates the Planetary Heptachord so that a different Planetary Pitch becomes the Foundation Note. This becomes the End (Teleutê) at which the melody is directed. The initial sounding of the Dynamic Middle, and every repetition of it, invokes the Power of Apollo and directs it to the End, for example, at the Moon in the Hypodôristi Harmonia, and at the Sun itself in the Phrygisti. The melody creates a pattern of invocation of the Planetary Powers as it visits their notes.

  15. Finally, observe that the Dynamic Middle occupies successively higher degrees in each of the Harmoniai: it is the Foundation in the Hypodôristi, II in Hypophrygisti, and so on up to VII in Mixolydisti. These seven positions correspond approximately to the Planetary Heptachord (sometimes they are off by a semitone). Thus the Dynamic Middle on I in the Hypodôristi activates the Moon, on IV in Dôristi activates the Sun, on V in Phrygisti activates Mars, and on VII in Mixolydisti activates Saturn. Therefore, especially in these Harmoniai, there is a complex interaction between the Dynamical Middle, the End, and the other Planetary Pitches. Each Harmonia has an individual character that must be discovered through exploration.

  16. The Elemental Sequences may also be used for constructing melodies.

  17. Ptolemy (III.12) associates the Harmoniai with the Seven Parallels defined by the Zodiac. The northernmost reach of the Zodiac defines the Tropic of Cancer and the southernmost the Tropic of Capricorn. Two Signs lie on each of the other five Parallels. Libra and Aries, marking the Equinoxes, lie on the Celestial Equater, which corresponds to the Dôristi Harmonia. Each of a pair of Signs are called Observers (Videntia) of each other.

  18. We have placed Hypodoristi at the bottom of the chart because it corresponds to the southernmost Sign. However, since absolute pitch is irrelevant, it may put also at the top of the chart, which preserves the order of the Planets and their Pitches (A-G).

  19. Cancer and Capricorn are called the Gates of the Sun; Cancer is the Northern Gate, Capricorn the Southern. More specifically, Cancer is the Gate of the Moon (and Cancer is its House), the path of moist generation, through which souls descend into incarnation, just as Capricorn is the Gate of the Sun by which they ascend to bright Olympus. When a soul is born into earthly life, it descends through the Signs Cancer, Leo, ..., Capricorn; on death it ascends through Capricorn, Aquarius, ..., Cancer. Thus the soul visits the Signs in the same sequence as the Sun; in each case it passes through the Seven Planetary Spheres. (See Porphyry On the Cave of the Nymphs, ch. 10-13, and Macrobius' Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, ch. 12.)

  20. A particular Harmonia might be used for esoteric musical work when the Sun is in the corresponding Sign (thus, in Lydisti when the Sun is in Leo).

  21. Each Harmonia has an Ethos (Character). The Greeks considered the Dôristi Harmonia to be primary because of its nobility and courageousness. The Phrygisti was commonly associated with the ecstasies of Dionysus and Cybele. The Lydisti was considered sad, but it and the Hypolydisti were also associated with laxity and indulgence. (See Jeans, Science & Music 180; compare also the Humors and Effects associated with the Eight Modes.)

  22. The Guardians (Tutores) of the Zodiacal Signs are given, for example, in Manilius' Astronomica (2.433-52). They are different from the Planetary Houses, which can be found in any astrology text.

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Last updated: Sun May 9 23:06:47 EDT 1999