Plato Knew Music

February 19, 2008 on 8:21 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Stories | 2 Comments

I came across this quote recently; it comes from Book III of Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic.  It speaks to the fraternity of musicians, and, of course, the fraternity of pipers.  It makes a person feel good about a lifetime study of music.  Like a perfectly tuned low A against a vintage set of sonorous MacDougalls: it resonates: 

“And therefore, I said, Glaucon [Socrate’s friend, with whom he is conversing], musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightfully educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.”  

Just a few poncie words for another cold February day.



  1. Plato believed music was important, but dangerous. He followed Pythagoras in thinking that there were ratios in music that corresponded to divine truths, and that exposure to these ratios could elevate the soul by changing its resonance. The danger, though, lay in the fact that the wrong kinds of music could cause ones soul to resonate in the wrong sort of way, thereby corrupting it and drawing one away from the truth and the good life.

    There is a lesson in this, I think, for all of us. If Plato is right about the power of music, and the dangers that power entails, shouldn’t we all be a little more careful about the sorts of music we expose ourselves too? And given the volume and raw presence of the highland pipe, shouldn’t pipers be particularly cautious? Should we really allow impressionable students to be exposed to ‘Scratchy Fingers’ or the ‘Banjo Crackdown’? Should we be so cavalier about playing the ‘Marine Song’ on Parade? Should we not promote more ‘Coppermill’ and less ‘Coppertone in Fergus’, more of ‘the Immigrant’s Suite’, and less of ‘Brogue Covered Feet’? I think so. Something should be done. The PBSO, the RSPBA – someone should legislate something about this. We can’t really afford to be wrong. Can we?

    Thank you for brining this to our attention Michael. I agree with you completely.

    Comment by jamsie an t-sealgair — March 13, 2008 #

  2. Great and mostly interesting note, Jamsie! Me, you and Plato: a veritable triumverate of insightful poncitude. M

    Comment by mike — March 13, 2008 #

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