Music, Myth, and History in the Mediterranean:
Diaspora and the Return to Modernity

Philip Bohlman

1. Imagining the Mediterranean
   Illustration One: Greek Map
2. Diaspora and the Mediterranean
   Illustration Two: Mediterranean Trade Routes
3. Journey without End
4. Diaspora: Departure from the Mediterranean
5. Promised Lands on the Borders of Myth and History
6. Music and the Construction of Utopias
   Illustration Three: Physical Map
7. Return to Modernity's Contested Borders
8. Return to the Beginning of European Music History
   Illustration Four: Catlan Atlas



When I began work on the first version of this article, delivered as an opening address for a conference on "Musicians in the Mediterranean, History and Anthropology" (Bari, Italy, 27-30 June 1996), it was my explicit aim to distinguish anthropological approaches to the music of the Mediterranean that would complement the historical approaches discussed by the Neapolitan political historian, Giovanni Muto, in his opening address. The more I tried to separate the anthropological from the historical, the more they seemed to overlap. The contributions of others at the conference, among them Tullia Magrini, Svanibor Pettan, Amnon Shiloah, and Karl Signell, whose essays in this issue of Ethnomusicology OnLine grew from the conference, similarly blurred rather than sharpened the differences between anthropological and historical perspectives. In the course of the conference and the ensuing discussions, the blurring of boundaries between history and anthropology seemed to give shape to a theoretical terrain shared by the two disciplines, and it is this shared theoretical terrain that I examine in the present article.

There are several characteristics of the musical practices of the shared theoretical terrain. These characteristics do not separate out into neat schematic categories, but instead complicate the processes of musical transition and change. Past and present, for example, are not easily separable one from the other. The musicians who migrate within, emigrate from, or immigrate to the Mediterranean, as we see in the articles by Tullia Magrini and Karl Signell, are swept up in historical forces that have been part of Mediterranean history for centuries. The radical differences of seemingly related communities of musicians--nominally and nationally "Croats" in Svanibor Pettan's article--are normative rather than exceptional, making one ask if history has any bearing whatsoever on the shaping of national style. In Amnon Shiloah's comparative essay, the stylistic histories of Muslim and Jewish musicians have often followed parallel paths, and unexpected similarities challenge our modern tendency to drive historical wedges between Muslim and Jewish cultures in the Mediterranean.

History--music history--is not what it is supposed to be in this special issue of Ethnomusicology OnLine, and I use my essay to ask, Why? Fundamental to my answers to this question is my claim that myth is not a prehistorical stage in the Mediterranean, but rather it is one of the most persistent frameworks for musicians in the Mediterranean to ascribe identity and place. But identity and place are inevitably historical in the Mediterranean, and that is why music retains mythical dimensions. The Mediterranean's musicians, whether following historical routes of migration across North Africa or charting courses for empire during the Renaissance and Early Modern Era, rely on myth to connect the past to the present.

In this article I juxtapose quite different historical and musical examples, but I do so in order to establish the ways in which ethnomusicology, as a discipline that juxtaposes historical and anthropological perspectives, might fruitfully examine the longue durČe, "long duration" considered in centuries and millennia, as well as regionally and transnationally. Indeed, I choose this concept deliberately from the work of the French Annales school of historiography, whose quintessential theories brought about a reconceptualization of the Mediterranean (cf. Braudel 1980 and Breisach 1983: 370-78). The "musicians in the Mediterranean" that the authors in this issue of Ethnomusicology OnLine discuss are the agents of this music history, those who carry the myths of origin and return, of sacred journey and diaspora, with them in their displacements, travels, and migrations. Several themes and topoi occur again and again in this essay, providing connectives to the Mediterranean across vast expanses of time and place:

(1) Myth as a pan-Mediterranean source for musical and historical genres;
(2) Diaspora, both in mythological and historical forms;
(3) Sacred journey as a musical metaphor;
(4) Utopia as a mythological goal for migration and sacred journey;
(5) Promised lands as an historical goal for migration and sacred journey;
(6) Border crossing, both between myth and history, and between contested regions;
(7) Modernity as a product of myth and history;
(8) Moses, as a mythological figure who connects musical cultures with contrastive diasporas, yet common metaphorical origins in the Mediterranean.

The historical moments I choose and examine in this article lie at historical distances from each other, but each relies on music and musicians to connect myth and history, to connect a world ancient in the Mediterranean imagination to their present. In this sense, myth is always already modern in Mediterranean music history, no less in the Croatia (Pettan) and the Islamic Middle Ages (Shiloah) than in the diasporas and migrations of the twentieth century (Magrini and Signell). With so many disparate movements of musicians, musical instruments, and myths of music, the Mediterranean's historical frameworks are no less relevant for examining the ancient or Renaissance pasts than the transnational presents of a postmodern world.

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