Leanna York

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)

First Advisor

Nicholas Johnson

Second Advisor

Sophie Benn

Third Advisor

Lynn Kvapil


Since Antiquity, elements of Greek mythology and Hebraic history have intersected in many forms of literary and visual art. Renaissance philosophers, moved by skepticism, struggled to reconcile the historical and theological contradictions of these ancient sources, and scholars of European history Arthur Ferguson and Jean Seznec recognize resulting trends of mythological interpretation among authors of diverse disciplines. My research investigates ways in which London university professors John Taverner, John Case and an anonymous Oxford author utilized these interpretive methods in their music treatises of the early modern period and discusses the intersection of Protestant theology and Greek mythology in these authors’ defense of communal music.

In 1611, Taverner claimed to follow St. Augustine’s example “to gather out of the writings of profane authors, that so taking the good and true from those unjust owners, we might reduce them to their proper and primary use.” Unlike some Protestants who waged literary war on the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, Taverner and others employed “writings of profane authors” as an integral part of their rhetorical content, placing Apollo, Jupiter, and Mercury alongside Biblical figures as authoritative proof of music’s intrinsic virtue and appropriate usefulness. I contend that these authors sought to maintain Christian theological ideals while defending music’s rightful place in civil and ecclesiastical contexts by channeling their mythological sources through culturally acceptable lenses of historical and allegorical interpretation.

A comparison of these treatises with histographies and mythographies circulating in early modern England reveals a hierarchy of source material achieved by filtering mythological references through subjective interpretative techniques. The investigation of literary authorities and rhetorical devices used in these treatises affords a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between ancient tradition and emerging rationalism and offers additional perspective on the philosophical discourse surrounding English Renaissance music.

Included in

Musicology Commons