Harmony has assumed a central role in many strains of thought since antiquity. As a way of understanding the multiplicity and unity of phenomena, it has been an essential concept not just in music, but in mathematics, astronomy, metaphysics, and political order. We invite those interested in this wide-ranging notion of harmonics to read both primary and secondary literature on the subject as it arises in antiquity. This reading group will meet once a month (four times throughout the semester) for a discussion focused on close reading and collective elucidation of problematic and ambiguous parts of the texts. We hope as well to hear the text through the participants’ ears, accommodating the specific research interests of the participants and listening for the resonances which modern disciplinary divides do not allow us to detect in the ancient concept of harmonics.

This reading group is discontinued for Spring 2023.


Schedule for Fall 2022:

In person (hybrid also possible)

Session 1 (September 26, 7:00 pm)

Heller-Roazen, Daniel. The Fifth Hammer: Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World. New York: Zone Books, 2011.

Session 2 (October 24, 4:30 pm)

Mathiesen, Thomas J. “Greek Music Theory.” In The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, edited by Thomas Christensen, 109–35. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 

Session 3 (November 21. 4:30 pm)

Aristoxenus. Elementa Harmonica. In Greek Musical Writings II: Harmonic and Acoustic Theory, edited by Andrew Barker, 119–89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Session 4 (December 19, 4:30 pm)

Ptolemy. Harmonics. In Greek Musical Writings II: Harmonic and Acoustic Theory, edited by Andrew Barker, 270–391. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

In the Fall semester, we will first concentrate on secondary literature providing an introduction to the Greek science of harmonics. Then, we will turn to reading two seminal works: Aristoxenus’s Elementa Harmonica and Ptolemy’s Harmonics. Daniel Heller-Roazen’s monograph on Pythagoras will frame our discussion from the outset.


John Ahern (Music department, G6) [email protected]

Marcel Camprubí (Music department, G6) [email protected]