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530C - 531C Next will come the science which is sister to Astronomy, viz. Harmonics. For particulars we will refer to the Pythagoreans, taking care, however, to maintain our leading principles intact. We may ignore the good people who try to determine a minimum interval and unit of measurement by the ear; but the Pythagoreans are also wrong, for it is the numerical ratios of audible consonances which they study. They ought to ascend to problems and examine which numbers are consonant, which not, and why. The science of Harmonics is useless for our purpose if otherwise pursued.

ff. With the science of Harmonics we reach the end of Plato's προπαιδεία. Plato's conception of Harmonics is in all respects analogous to his view of Astronomy. We have seen that the visible movements of the celestial bodies are only imperfect copies of those mathematical movements which true Astronomy seeks to apprehend. In like manner, the audible movements which produce audible consonances are imperfect reproductions of those mathematical movements from which result mathematical consonances, and it is these true consonances which the ἁρμονικός should study. The methods of pure mathematics are to be employed in Harmonics as well as in Astronomy, and observation and experiment are forbidden. If we criticise Plato from the standpoint of acoustical science, we must allow that he falls into the same error as before, but the emphasis, however exaggerated, which he lays on the mathematical and theoretical element in Harmonics, is not without importance in the history of the science; and we must remember that the study of Harmonics is valuable to Plato only as a preparation for Dialectic. The poetical affinities of the Platonic science of Harmonics are worthy of remark, though this chapter refrains from any allusion to them. It is altogether in harmony with Plato's theory to hold that ‘the solemn and divine harmonies of music, heard or learned,’ appeal to us so powerfully because they are one expression of those ‘unheard harmonies’ which are also expressed in the sister souls of Nature and of Man (Tim. 35 A ff.), and although there is much in Browning's Abt Vogler to which Plato would demur, the idea which inspires that noble poem has its philosophical basis in some such theory as Plato here suggests.

“But here is the finger of God, a flash of the will that can, Existent behind all laws, that made them and lo they are! And I know not, if, save in this, such gift be allowed to man, That out of three sounds he frame, not a fourth sound, but a star. Consider it well: each tone of our scale in itself is nought; It is everywhere in the world—loud, soft, and all is said: Give it to me to use! I mix it with two in my thought; And there! ye have heard and seen: consider and bow the head!”

It is perhaps because he believed that the Soul of the Universe no less than that of Man is attuned to these eternal harmonies, as well as for other reasons, that Plato makes his προπαιδεία culminate in Harmonics. See also App. II.

ἀλλὰ γὰρ κτλ. Socrates means: If you criticise my curriculum (as in πολλαπλάσιονπροστάττεις), you are doubtless ready with suggestions of your own: hence I appeal to you: ‘what suitable study can you suggest?’ ‘I cannot,’ says Glauco, ‘make any suggestion straight off.’ ἀλλὰ γάρ (‘however’ as in Theaet. 144 B, Symp. 220 E) goes closely with the previous sentence; if it were otherwise, Plato would have added ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ or the like. The reading ἀλλὰ γάρ τι (q Vind. F, Hermann etc.) can hardly stand; nor is Steinhart's ἄλλο γάρ τι κτλ., or Richards' ἀλλὰ γὰρ <ἄλλο> τι (or ἀλλὰ γὰρ <ἔτι> τι) pleasing or probable. I formerly suggested ἀλλὰ γάρ τι ἔχεις <σὺ> ὑπομνῆσαι κτλ., the other subjects having all been suggested by Socrates and not Glauco, with the partial exception of geometry 526 C; but now believe (with Schneider) that the text is sound.

πλείω κτλ . φορά is (according to both Plato and Aristotle) a specific variety of κίνησις, being in fact, κατὰ τόπον κίνησις. Of the genus κίνησις Plato enumerates ten varieties in Laws 893 B ff.; of φορά in particular some specific εἴδη are mentioned by Arist. Eth. Nic. X 3 1174^{a} 30 ff.

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hide References (3 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (3):
    • Plato, Theaetetus, 144b
    • Plato, Symposium, 220e
    • Plato, Timaeus, 35a
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