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68 CURIOSITIES OF MUSIC.
expected to be able to improvise or at least to sing a good skolion.
There was certainly in the time of Pericles, music enough to choose from, for there is much evidence that the Athenians of that day possessed an extensive library of music;* and it was in this era, the early part of the fifth century b. c, that the social music reached its height.
Themistocles once being present at a banquet had the harp (kithara) presented to him, and was desired to sing his skolion; full of confusion and shame he was obliged to acknowledge his ignorance of music, and we can judge of the value in which the art was held, by the sneers and jests which were pointed at him. At last stung to the quick by the sharp witticisms, he retorted, " it is true I do not know how to play the kithara, but I know how to raise an insignificant city to a position of glory."
The skolion was a really poetical and worthy song, and must not be confounded with those lower and vulgar songs which were sung to the guests by hired jesters and buffoons.f
The subjects of the skolion were sometimes of rather a lofty style; praise of heroes,}: calls to the gods, rules of life, often joyous, sometimes sedate; but in all of them a less exact rhythm and style were allowed than in other compositions. A few have been preserved to our day; one
•Lloyd. Ages of Pericles, Vol. 2, p. 239.
f See Lucian. Lapithae.
t Ottfried Muller, V. I, p. 343.