Thursday, August 6, 2009

Concerning Pitch


Pitch is the resonance of a musical sound. The resonance of height is shown by the acute accent. The resonance of leveling is shown by the grave accent. The resonance of a change in direction is shown by the circumflex accent.

[Greek Text]


  • Dionysius (I am constantly wanting to type Dionysios) describes pitch as basically how the musical sound (or voice) sounds.
  • This next section is very difficult for me. I am still not certain as to how it should be translated. It was not so much the grammar that caused problems as figuring out what the words meant. Here is the section in Greek: ἡ κατὰ ἀνάτασιν ἐν τῇ ὀξείᾳ, ἡ κατὰ ὁμαλισμὸν ἐν τῇ βαρείᾳ, ἡ κατά περίκλασιν ἐν τῇ περισπωμένῃ. This section is made up of three smaller sections each with three parts: (1) ἡ (2) κατὰ followed by a noun (3) ἐν τῇ followed by an adjective
    • The first issue is to what does ἡ refer. The feminine gender points to either ἀπήχησις (resonance, sounding) or φωνῆς (sound, voice). The more natural choice seems to be ἀπήχησις due to its significance to the previous sentence.
    • The next two parts gave me the most fun. There are six words which can be divided into two groups: the nouns following κατὰ and the adjectives following ἐν. These can be divided into three sections: those referring to the acute accent, those referring to the grave accent, and those referring to the circumflex accent.
      • When I looked up the nouns, the most relevant meaning I found was when following κατὰ they mean "of the acute accent" (ἀνάτασις), "of the grave accent" (or "without a rise in tone" ὁμαλισμός), and "of the circumflex accent" (περίκλασις). On their own, however, they mean "height," "leveling," and "change in direction," respectively (there are of course other meanings, but these seem to be the next most relevant).
      • The adjectives I had seen before and knew that they refer to the accents as well (though I did learn that this happens when they are in the feminine gender): ὀξεία – acute, βαρεία – grave, and περισπωμένη – circumflex. Their basic meanings are "high," "low (or unaccented)," and "being wheeled about."
    • The question arose in my mind: which of these words refer explicitly to the accent and which refer to their basic meaning? It seemed to me that both the noun and the adjective could not explicitly mean the accent. Woodenly, that might look something like: the resonance of the acute accent is by (in, with?) the acute accent. That doesn't really explain anything which seems to be Dionysius' purpose, so I figure that one set refers to the accent and the other set explains the accent. I eventually decided on the way translated above because the adjective group is the group I have seen before in reference to accents. I realize that isn't the strongest reason, but I couldn't see a better way with the resources I have.
    • Whichever group names the accents, they both offer insight into how the accents sound. The acute accent has a high sound. The grave accent seems to be a level sound. Ὁμαλισμός refers to a leveling, like that which one might do to the ground, and βαρύς can either refer to a low sound or a unaccented sound. The circumflex accent has a sound that changes (wheels about, twists).

Any comments or advice as to how this passage should be translated would be appreciated. Do you think I am correct or should I have translated it another way?

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