Was Dionysus a Music Therapist?: Therapeutic Musical Ecstasy in the Ancient Greco-Roman World

Date

2023-03-19

Authors

Hosie, Kiara

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Abstract

In the Ancient Greco-Roman world, Dionysus was the deity to call upon for all things relating to intoxication, madness, and religious ecstasy. But what if he was more than simply the god of parties? By applying both ancient and modern interpretations to close readings of Ancient Greco-Roman mythological texts, I propose the potential therapeutic value of Dionysian (ecstatic) music. Section one begins by defining Dionysian music against its more demonstrably therapeutic Apollonian counterpart. Writings by a variety of ancient sources are examined, including Euripides (c. 480 - 406 BCE) and Ovid (43 BCE - 17/18 CE). Despite the mythology’s focus on negative psychological effects, section two presents Orpheus as a key mythical figure who links Dionysus to Apollo and thus indicates the therapeutic potential of Dionysian music. Section three furthers this argument by demonstrating how Dionysian music can be reinterpreted by Plato (c. 428/427 or 424/423- 348/347 BCE), Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE), and modern psychologists as therapeutic due to its ability to both express and regulate emotions. I conclude that although Dionysus may not have been a music therapist in the modern sense, he and his ancient cult certainly highlight the therapeutic value of Dionysian musical ecstasy.

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Keywords

music psychology, music therapy, Ancient Greek philosophy, Roman mythology, Greek mythology

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