A Sophist “in disguise”: a reconstruction of Damon of Oa and his role in Plato’s Dialogues

TitleA Sophist “in disguise”: a reconstruction of Damon of Oa and his role in Plato’s Dialogues
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsLynch, T
Ancient AuthorsDamon Mus. (TLG 2232), Plato Phil. (TLG 0059)
JournalÉtudes Platoniciennes

This article presents a new examination of the Platonic passages that feature Damon of Oa, the famous musical theorist who was exiled from Athens apparently because of his close relationship with Pericles. The interpretation presented in this article contrasts sharply with the mainstream scholarly representation of Damon as a conservative musicologist with some vague ‘Pythagoreanising’ leaning, who allegedly personified in Plato’s view the ‘ideal’ authority with regard to musical matters. This representation does not seem to stand up to a close reading of the Platonic texts if all the extant evidence is taken into account, without preconceptions based on the supposedly ‘real’ meaning of the relevant passages of the Republic (3.400a-c, 4.424b-d).
Instead, a complete examination of the Platonic passages mentioning Damon shows that he is consistently characterised as a ‘sophistic’ type of intellectual: an attractive companion for young men, capable of teaching them very useful linguistic and musical skills. But, as the texts show, his sophistic intellectual activity did not entail only educational practices: on the contrary, this research led him to achieve true expertise in the classification of musical means and their psychagogic effects. However, given that Damon’s ‘scientific’ approach to the question did not aim at determining a stable hierarchy of ethical value, in the Republic Plato could not merely take his results as a ready-made solution for the music-related educational needs of the ideal city. Instead Plato seems to select some modes and rhythms from the whole set of results obtained by Damon, on the basis of the ethical stimuli that he deemed appropriate for the children of kallipolis.
Plato seems to follow the same approach also in Book 4 of the Republic, where Socrates quotes Damon’s aphorism concerning the mutual correlation of musical and political nomoi. Differently from what is often stated by the interpreters, Damon’s words do not imply the complex argument presented by Socrates in the previous sections of the text, and especially not the indictment of musical innovation: Damon’s expression reflects simply a psycho-sociological observation. All the additional ethical implications stated by Socrates, which derive from the idea that musical and political changes imply some kind of dangerous modifications in the city and the souls that inhabit it, are nothing else than the result of Plato’s use of Damon’s theories. [http://etudesplatoniciennes.revues.org/378]


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