Analogues of antiquity: World cultures, Ancient Greek music, and comparative anthropologies, 1500–1800

When early modern Europeans encountered and described peoples around the world, they frequently invoked cultures of antiquity â€" especially Greece â€" as a touchstone for comparison. Some of these comparisons have been interpreted as forms of empathetic ethnography, since they used intercultural analogies to emphasise common humanity and the universality of certain cultural traits. Yet it cannot be assumed that cultures of pre-Christian antiquity were always implied as a representation of the European Self. Another discourse can be seen to operate at a deeper level: the idea that European music represented ‘modernity’, as opposed to the perceived ‘antiquity’ of the rest of the world. In eighteenth-century analogies between ancient Greek music and world cultures, the alterity of ‘modern’ Western European musical identity â€" and its distance from both sides of these analogies â€" was implicitly reinforced, even though intercultural comparisons suggested degrees of universalism in the idea of human musical practice. Moreover, ancient music’s fabled powers were widely considered lost, and some writers heightened the sense of European difference by denying Greece (and the Ottoman Empire) any continuity with the ancient past, thus creating a clearly circumscribed musical geography of Western Europe. This paper aims to consider the role of Greek antiquity in European writers’ development of Ancientâ€"Other analogies, and to critique the reflexive process by which eighteenth-century Europe asserted its cultural ‘modernity’ in direct relation to ethnographic observation around the world.