Dorian - Doric

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The Dorians were one of the groups or tribes into which the ancient Greeks (Hellenes) divided themselves. They were said to have migrated from a region known as Doris north of the country into central Greece "80 years after the Trojan War": the central part of Greece is also called Doris. Their best-known state was Sparta: they also colonized many Aegean islands, notably Crete after the fall of the Minoan civilization in the catastrophic eruption of the volcano on the island of Thera (Santorini) in the fifteenth century BCE.

The word Dorian can be used as a noun, to label one of the people associated with Doris, or the tribe, or its dialect, or as an adjective to describe the same, their perceived qualities or certain conventional relations (below). The adjective is more or less interchangeable with its form doric, but some usages are more usually linked with one form or the other.

  • The Doric dialect of ancient Greece was dominant in southern and western Greece and much of the archipelago in historic times, although it is supposed to have originated in the north-west of the country. As Greek literature was conservative, genres of poetry continued to be composed by all writers in the dialect in which they had first been written. Choral lyric poetry, for example, originated in a Doric-speaking region, and so even a Boeotian such as Pindar or a speaker of Ionic such as Bacchylides wrote such verse in a (literary) form of Doric; and, though Athenian tragedy was mostly written in Attic, the choruses were composed in Doric, where it became "a conventional means of enriching and ennobling the diction" (Birch, 2010).
    • Because of its use in pastoral, Doric came to be thought of as meaning 'rustic', at least in English, and was used from the 17th century to mean '[spoken in] local dialect'. The noun phrase The Doric has been used in Scotland, since before the time of Walter Scott, to mean '[spoken in] broad Scots'.
  • In art history, Doric (never 'Dorian') is one of the three orders of classical architecture, the other two being Ionic and Corinthian. It is characterized by comparative simplicity, the columns being thick and resting directly on the floor below, rather than a separate base; the capital is simple, formed of rings under a cushion-like 'echinus' and a flat square plain 'abacus'. (For more technical information, try 'Doric Order' in Curl, 2006.) In the 18th century, the 'Doric Revival' was an important part of the Greek revival in building styles - part of the neo-classical revolution.
  • In musical theory, the Dorian mode (never 'doric mode') was one of the modes, or scales, used by Greek musicians. The Dorian mode was felt to be particularly suited to the expression of firm resolve and noble feelings, as can be seen from Plato's (427-347 BCE) discussion of music in the education of the future rulers of his Ideal State (Republic, 398c-400c). The Dorian mode is the scale produced by playing an octave on the white notes of the piano beginning with D (i.e., there is an interval of a tone between the notes of the scale, except between the second and third notes and between the sixth and seventh notes, where there is an interval of a semitone). Along with the other modes the Dorian mode continued to be used by European musicians until the sixteenth century, when the modal system began to be less used in Europe.
    • The Toccata and Fugue in D minor by J.S. Bach (1685-1750) (BWV 538) is known as 'the Dorian' because the original copy of the work had no key signature, and so the opening bars of the Fugue seemed to be in the Dorian mode.
  • Oscar Wilde used Dorian as a forename, seemingly for the first time, for the eponymous hero of his novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1890 in Lippincott's Magazine and 1891 in book form): see further under Doris