Monday, July 20, 2015


Requisites for the Good Life

M.L. West (1937-2015), Ancient Greek Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 13:
Beyond the North Wind there lies a paradise that no traveller can reach either by land or by sea. It is the country of the Hyperboreans, that blessed people whom Apollo loves and with whom he spends the winter months of every year. Untouched by illness or old age, in perpetual peace and ease, they adorn their heads with bright wreaths and spend their days in cheerful feasting,
and the Muse, in accord with their ways,
does not forsake that land: dance-choruses of girls
are everywhere, and the assertive voices
of lyres and resounding shawms are ever astir.
So the young Pindar imagined an ideal society; and in another song he described how the virtuous dead enjoy amenities far superior to those of the dim and eerie Homeric Hades, in a fragrant city set amid flowery meadows, forests, and amiable rivers, where they amuse themselves as they will,
some with horses and exercise, some with board-games,
some with lyres: in full blossom
their thriving fortune stands.1
Pindar was a professional musician. But most Greeks, we may be sure, would have agreed with him in putting music high on the list of requisites for the good life. Music, song, and dance were seen as being, together with orderly sacrifices to the gods and athletic facilities for men, the most characteristic manifestations of a civilized community in peacetime.2

1 Pind. Pyth. 10. 37 ff.; fr. 129. 6f.

2 Cf. Od. 8 (the Phaeacians, esp. ll. 97-103, 246-53); Hymn. Hom. 30. 7-16; 'Theog.' 757-64, 773-9, 789-94; Bacchyl. fr. 4.61-80; Aesch. Supp. 667-97; Pind. Pyth. 5.66; Ar. Ran. 729; Pl. Leg. 803 e.

Martin Litchfield West died a week ago, as I was told by Marc Addington. I have found no obituary in any major newspaper since then, although this sad event is more momentous than much of what passes for news these days.

Update—Obituaries will be added here as I become aware of them:

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