‘Training the soul in excellence’: musical theory and practice in Plato's dialogues, between ethics and aesthetics

Title‘Training the soul in excellence’: musical theory and practice in Plato's dialogues, between ethics and aesthetics
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsLynch, T
Ancient AuthorsPlato Phil. (TLG 0059)
UniversitySt Andrews

This thesis offers a technically informed examination of Plato’s pervasive, though not innocent, use of musical theory, practice and musical concepts more generally within the ambitious ethical project outlined in many of his dialogues: fostering the ‘excellence’ of the soul. Starting from Republic 3, Chapter 1 will focus specifically on music stricto sensu in order to assess Plato’s interpretation of the basic ‘building blocks’ of musical performances, creating a core repertoire of musical concepts that will prepare the way to analyse Plato’s use of musical terms or categories in areas that, at first sight, do not appear to be immediately connected to this art, such as politics, ethics and psychology. Chapter 2 examines a selection of passages from Laws 2 concerning the concept of musical beauty and its role in ethical education, demonstrating how Plato’s definition is far from being moralistic and, instead, pays close attention to the technical performative aspects of dramatic musical representations. Chapter 3 looks first at the harmonic characterisation of the two central virtues of the ideal city, sophrosyne and dikaiosyne, showing how their musical depictions are not purely metaphoric: on the contrary, Plato exploited their cultural implications to emphasise the characteristics and the functions of these virtues in the ideal constitution. The second half of Chapter 3 analyses the Platonic portrayal of musical παρανομία, studying both its educational and psychological repercussions in the dialogue and in relations to contemporary Athenian musical practices. Chapter 4 looks at how different types of music may be used to create an inner harmonic order of passions in the soul in different contexts: the musical-mimetic education outlined in the Republic, the musical enhancement of the psychological energies in the members of the Chorus of Dionysus in the Laws, and finally the role of the aulos in the Symposium. [http://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/handle/10023/4290]


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