What exactly is Pandēmos Mousikē?
|February 12, 2011||Posted by Karin Schlapbach under Blog, Language/Literature|
Plutarch’s teacher Ammonius concludes his analysis of dance, which I mentioned in my last blog, on a rather pessimistic note: “But today, nothing enjoys the benefits of bad taste so much as dancing” (Table Talks 9.15, mor. 748C: ἀλλ’ οὐδὲν οὕτωϲ τὸ νῦν ἀπολέλαυκε τῆϲ κακομουσίαϲ ὡϲ ἡ ὄρχησιϲ). The reason is, he continues, that unlike ancient dance, contemporary dance has associated itself with bad poetry. The adjectives Ammonius uses to characterize good and bad poetry, οὐράνιοϲ and πάνδημοϲ (748D), recall the idea of the two Aphrodites, Heavenly and Common, familiar from Plato’s Symposium (180d ff.) and Xenophon’s Symposium (8.9f.). The motif of the two Aphrodites seems to underlie the discourse on the arts elsewhere too: A quote from Aristoxenus in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae likewise describes modern μουσική as πάνδημοϲ:
ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὰ θέατρα ἐκβεβαρβάρωται καὶ εἰϲ μεγάλην διαφθορὰν προελήλυθεν ἡ πάνδημοϲ αὕτη μουσική, καθ’ αὑτοὺϲ γενόμενοι ὀλίγοι ἀναμιμνησκόμεθα οἵα ἦν ἡ μουσική (“now that our theatres have become utterly barbarized and this artless music has moved on into a state of grave corruption, we will get together by ourselves, few though we be, and recall what the art of music used to be”, Athen. 14, 632b = Aristox. fr. 124 Wehrli).
It seems to me that in order to understand the use of pandēmos (and ouranios) in the context of mousikē, we should not look to Plato’s Symposium, as is usually suggested, but much rather to Xenophon’s work of the same title. For while in Plato’s Symposium the aulos-players are sent away at the beginning of the celebration, professional entertainers play a prominent role in Xenophon’s Symposium throughout; it is therefore Xenophon who prepares the association of Aphrodite’s attribute pandēmos with musical entertainment. A better grasp of this background allows us perhaps to catch further nuances of the attribute, beyond the meanings of “common” and “erotic”.
Even a quick look at the structure of Xenophon’s Symposium shows that the final scene (9.2-7) illustrates “common” or bodily love (Aphroditē Pandēmos) through a mimetic dance representing the amorous encounter of Dionysos and Ariadne. This scene is mirrored, at the opening of the Symposium, by the spectacle of Autolycus’ beauty, which illustrates heavenly love (1.9f.). Both scenes stage the interplay of love, viewing, and mimetic appropriation on the part of the spectators: at the sight of Autolycus, they spontaneously fall silent and adapt their posture (schēma), whereas on watching Dionysus and Ariadne’s danced embraces (schēmata) they end up hurrying home in excitement to join their wives. More importantly, it emerges that mimetic appropriation takes place only when the spectacle is perceived as true. This is naturally the case in the opening scene, but the situation is more complex in the final dance: at first the spectators appreciate the aesthetic quality of the performance and cheer at the dancers, but they subsequently lose their awareness that they are witnessing a staged enactment and are instead persuaded that the young dancers (not the characters they represent!) are truly in love with each other. The narrator, however, makes it clear that this is how the audience perceives the scene, not the objective truth.
Given the careful organization of Xenophon’s Symposium and the central role of theatrical entertainments in its educational discourse, it is quite likely that ancient readers took the scene not only as an elucidation of the theme of love, but read it also in a self-referential way, i.e. as an exemplification of a certain type of powerful musical spectacle involving mimetic dance, which creates a perfect illusion of reality that overwhelms the spectators. On the grounds of to the association with Aphrodite such a spectacle could now be labelled as pandēmos. That this was indeed the case is suggested by the above mentioned passage from Aristoxenus in Athenaeus 14. 632b. The context in Athenaeus is a discussion of dance, so that it is reasonable to assume that Aristoxenus was indeed addressing spectacles involving dance when he used the expression pandēmos mousikē. The fact that the quote comes from a work dedicated to sympotic questions (Symmikta sympotika) further strengthens the hypothesis that it was the final scene in Xenophon’s Symposium that prompted him to refer the attribute pandēmos to mousikē. If this is so, it may be argued that the negative connotation the expression has in Aristoxenus is not simply due to the supposed eroticism of pandēmos mousikē, but also, and more importantly, to its misleading realism, which draws the spectators’ attention to the performers, at the expense of the myth that is represented.
If my argument makes any sense, we may conclude that ancient readers were well aware of Xenophon’s contribution to the discussion of mousikē, and that it made an impact on subsequent thought on the topic – whether or not it was the one intended by him is a different question.