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In the Christian literature of the first centuries, notions such as those of harmonia, symphōnia and epōidē – just to mention a few – as well as many musical instruments and musical myths borrowed from pagan culture, appear, in an adequately reinterpreted form, in the description and explanation of fundamental aspects of Christian doctrine. The chapter examines some musical concepts and images in Clement of Alexandria’s and Origen’s works, with a specific focus on the Greek musical culture that lies in the background of this rich musical imagery. By analysing Clement’s and Origen’s strategy of reinterpretation and appropriation of fundamental figures and notions drawn from the Greek musical world – such as the figure of Orpheus and the notion of symphōnia – the chapter shows that the use of music stands out as a momentous feature in the apologetic and exegetical activities of these Christian writers, touching upon some crucial issues, such as the Christian attitude to pagan culture and the relationship between Christianity and philosophy.
Is music just matter of hearing and producing notes? And is it of interest just to musicians? By exploring different authors and philosophical trends of the Roman Empire, from Philo of Alexandria to Alexander of Aphrodisias, from the rebirth of Platonism with Plutarch to the last Neoplatonists, this book sheds light on different ways in which music and musical notions were made a crucial part of philosophical discourse. Far from being mere metaphors, notions such as harmony, concord and attunement became key philosophical tools in order to better grasp and conceptualise fundamental notions in philosophical debates from cosmology to ethics and from epistemology to theology. The volume is written by a distinguished international team of contributors.
If there is no doubt that the break-up of sound is the point ‘where everything ought to arrive’, (530e6) for the interlocutors of the Republic, it is not necessarily Plato's last word on music. I would like to consider taking a different route through the dialogues (in particular the Republic and the Timaeus), following sonority and endeavouring to define the features of the presence of music in the body and soul.
In the first part of the chapter, I will deal with the passages in which Plato treats the acoustic phenomena and their perception. Firstly, we will consider the literary aspect, which is also important when highlighting the attention that Plato dedicates to the dimensions of sound and hearing. Then we will tackle the analysis of two passages in the Timaeus that are fundamental to Plato's treatment of the reception of musical phenomena, but which are relatively problematic. We will evaluate these passages in relation to the theories of perception in the Timaeus and the ancient theories of music and acoustics.
Following on, in the second half of the chapter I will concentrate on the parts in which the psychē and the correct functioning of the psychē are described in musical and harmonic terms. Socrates rejects a theory of soul-harmony in the Phaedo, but we shall see that, through the dialogues, Plato retrieves and re-elaborates the idea of a harmonic order of the soul as he moves from the Republic to the Timaeus.
The main objective of this book has been to understand if and how the Platonic analysis of the musical phenomenon can throw light on Plato's ideas of the relationships between soul and body and of cognitive, emotive and perceptive processes. But it has also been necessary to confront general themes relative to ancient Greek music, in two areas in particular: the theories on the representative, expressive and formative possibilities of music; and the acoustic theories of the creation, diffusion and perception of sound.
With regard to the first of these areas, the analysis of musical paideia in Resp. ii–iii and Leg. ii and vii has brought to light a notion of mousikē with two distinct characteristics: (1) its ability to represent very precise contents and to impress them on the psychē; (2) the close interconnection between its components (words, harmony, rhythm and dance), according to precise hierarchical relationships. We should certainly not ignore the ideal and projective character of mousikē; nevertheless we can consider (1) and (2) typical aspects of ancient Greek music, at least to a certain extent and at a certain point. That which Plato attempts to invigorate, and ends up by transforming, is a traditional ideal of music.
The analysis undertaken in this study has offered lines of inquiry that lead to an understanding of the relationship between (1) and (2). When considering the representative and formative powers of mousikē we should bear in mind that it could count on various languages to communicate its contents.
Proceeding with the analysis of the ways in which music intervenes on rationality, we encounter a part of Plato's reflection on music that is as famous as it is debated: the treatment of harmonic science in Resp. vii. The condition in which music, as a science of harmony, is admitted into the curriculum preparatory to dialectic is that it represents a discipline of conversion from sensible to intelligible. In the first part of the chapter we will see that this condition is satisfied if the mathēmata train certain psychic processes; and we will see that a study with an empirical stamp represents a risk in the case of the first four disciplines, in particular as regards harmonics' ‘kindred’ science, astronomy. In the second part, I will concentrate on Resp. 530d–531c, where Plato distances himself from both empirical and Pythagorean harmonic science. Here we will endeavour to define the ideal science of harmony and the analysis to which Plato subjects the intelligible and sensible content of music in this context.
HARMONICS BEYOND SOUND
A deep divergence separates the two great reflections on music in the Republic: on the one hand, that on mousikē in a basic paideia for the formation of sensibility, on the other, the reflection on harmonics in a programme of instruction for the future dialectians with the objective of shaping rationality.
We have seen that Plato places great faith in the power of music to shape and condition the psychē in its components that are most connected to sensibility; but he seems to place as much faith in the power of music to intervene on the rational psychē. In this second chapter I will concentrate on one of the two places in which Plato tackles the musical treatment of reason. I refer to Tim. 47c–e, the passage where music first makes its appearance in the Timaeus, a dialogue that dedicates particular attention to musical arguments, as we shall see. I mean to consider the intervention of music on the rational soul from the perspective of the ontological affinity between the two realities, as emerges here and in other parts of the Timaeus. Then I will examine the processes – kinetic, cognitive, emotive and perceptive – on which the re-ordering intervention of music on rationality is based. The second part of the chapter I intend to dedicate, in particular, to the impact of music on the intellective and emotive functions.
THE ALLIANCE OF MUSIC AND SOUL
The first reference to music to be found in the Timaeus appears in a reflection on the profound use of hearing (47c4–e2) and takes up a significant part of it (47c7–e2): we find ourselves unexpectedly facing one of the most interesting and complex observations on music expressed by Plato in the dialogues.
In the Phaedo (60d–61b), Socrates confesses that throughout his life he had interpreted the oneiric warning: ‘practise and compose music’ (mousikēn poiei kai ergazou) as an invitation to practise the ‘greatest music’ (megistē mousikē) that is philosophy. Now, however, close to death, he decides to consider the words from his dream in a different light. Not without a certain unease, he engages in ‘popular music’ (dēmōdēs mousikē), which concerns poetry and myth, rather than philosophy and ‘arguments’ (logoi). So it is that the Phaedo opens with two entirely different meanings of music: music in the commonly accepted sense and music that, in the very uncommon sense, is identified with philosophy.
For anyone embarking on a discussion of music, soul and body in Plato, the dream scene gives some indication of what such an analysis involves. In the first place is the need to take on board, as far as possible, the meanings and value of a music that is no longer ‘popular’; in the second place, the need to find characteristics that are still less clear, of the highest form of music that is assimilated to philosophy. With these two tasks – finding the significance of mousikē, and the significance of mousikē that has undergone Platonic investigation – we get to the heart of the analysis that Plato dedicates to the musical phenomenon and its relationship with philosophy.