Happy Twentieth: Woodland Aborigines Invent Music and Dance

Grandfather Nietzsche said that he could never worship–or even trust–a god that didn’t dance. Dance implies letting go, losing our inhibitions and releasing tension, being free. We regain our innocence, in some way, when we dance. Because of its trance-inducing powers, music also has the ability to help us regulate our moods. In Zarathustra, Nietzsche paints dance and laughter with the same stroke: they are no less than holy.

But how was dance invented? In the fifth chapter of On the Nature of Things, Lucretius narrates how he imagined primitive humans invented music, musical instruments, and later dance.

  But by the mouth
To imitate the liquid notes of birds
Was earlier far ‘mongst men than power to make,
By measured song, melodious verse and give
Delight to ears. And whistlings of the wind
Athrough the hollows of the reeds first taught
The peasantry to blow into the stalks
Of hollow hemlock-herb. Then bit by bit
They learned sweet plainings, such as pipe out-pours,
Beaten by finger-tips of singing men,
When heard through unpathed groves and forest deeps
And woodsy meadows, through the untrod haunts
Of shepherd folk and spots divinely still.
Thus time draws forward each and everything
Little by little unto the midst of men,
And reason uplifts it to the shores of light.
These tunes would soothe and glad the minds of mortals
When sated with food,- for songs are welcome then.
And often, lounging with friends in the soft grass
Beside a river of water, underneath
A big tree’s branches, merrily they’d refresh
Their frames, with no vast outlay- most of all
If the weather were smiling and the times of the year
Were painting the green of the grass around with flowers.
Then jokes, then talk, then peals of jollity
Would circle round; for then the rustic muse
Was in her glory; then would antic Mirth
Prompt them to garland head and shoulders about
With chaplets of intertwined flowers and leaves,
And to dance onward, out of tune, with limbs
Clownishly swaying, and with clownish foot
To beat our mother earth- from whence arose
Laughter and peals of jollity, for, lo,
Such frolic acts were in their glory then,
Being more new and strange. And wakeful men
Found solaces for their unsleeping hours
In drawing forth variety of notes,
In modulating melodies, in running
With puckered lips along the tuned reeds,
Whence, even in our day do the watchmen guard
These old traditions, and have learned well
To keep true measure. And yet they no whit
Do get a larger fruit of gladsomeness
Than got the woodland aborigines
In olden times.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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