It was therefore believed that the temperament could be affected by composing pieces of music in the suitable mode (e.g. the Hypodorian mode was believed to have the ability to weaken the phlegmatic humour, as signified by the -P), and it can be assumed that by censoring music appropriately, a balance in the humours was what Plato hoped to achieve. As Plato goes on to say at 518d, “That’s what education should be…the art of orientation. Educators should devise the simplest and most effective methods of turning minds around. It shouldn’t be the art of implanting sight in the organ, but should proceed on the understanding that the organ already has the capacity, but is improperly aligned and isn’t facing the right way.”
The mind must be realigned, then, not just by proper musical education but also by gymnastic and mathematical education, working in conjunction with one another in order to produce noble citizens. There are problems here as well, though: Plato acknowledged that while there is a perfection in mathematics that cannot be paralleled in this world, and while he duly consulted Pythagorean theory (530e), he also realised that there were irrationalities present which (in the context of Greek mathematical advancement) couldn’t be reconciled10. In particular, the Greeks were deeply disturbed by the problem of infinities and wanted to ensure that youths did not become caught up “about learning any pointless aspects of music…Don’t you realise that people get music wrong too? They laboriously measure the interrelations between audible concords and sounds…some of them claim to be able to detect a further intermediate resonance and maintain that they’ve found the smallest possible interval” (531a-c).
In this derision of meticulous picking apart of musical mathematics, though, Plato contradicts himself yet again, for in the Timaeus particularly he spends a great deal of time on how the Demiurge mathematically constructs the diatonic scale, the range of which has been fixed by mathematical and physical considerations. However, Plato’s focus throughout all of this is the nature of the soul. He does, it is true, commence the illustration of the diatonic scale by using the tetractys11 (arithmetical progression 1, 2, 3, 4, which adds up to the perfect number, 10).
It contains the numbers forming the ratios of perfect consonances (2:1, octave; 4:3, fourth; 3:2, fifth) and the Demiurge completes the sequence by inserting harmonic and arithmetic means between the numbers we already have (the double and triple intervals), the result of which is shown in Appendix A. However, in the progressions 1, 2, 4, 8 and 1, 3, 9, 27, he stops at 27 (three cubed) not so much for mathematical reasons but more because the cube represents the body in three dimensions. This suggests that the focus ought to be on the effects that are created by the approved forms rather than on their mechanics, despite the importance of mathematical education being emphasised by Plato throughout the Republic.
This emphasis on effects (and perhaps more importantly, these effects when put together) is further denoted by the use of the term (“muse-ish”), particularly in the Alcibiades (1.108c-d), where the answer to the question ‘what is’ manifests itself as ‘harp-playing, singing, and moving properly’. Plato also in the Laws uses to refer to the bodily expression of rhythm (thus supplementing the definition given in the Alcibiades), suggesting that music affects the body and the soul. In order for the pupils to feel these effects, and go some way to understanding them, thorough teaching (both physical and dialectic) is required – the merits of dialectic teaching in particular are discussed at length in the Republic from 531e onwards.
It has also been noted by modern scholars that “the power of music to move objects is exemplified by the stories of Orpheus, Apollo at Troy, and Amphion at Thebes” and it has been asserted that when Plato attacks the enchantments engendered by music and poetry, “he is not thinking of words on a page…but the infectious atmosphere of a popular festival”12. Awareness of the potential power of music and performance generally would have led to a desire to temper it, and it appears that this is one of the principal aims of the music education system in question.
Another aim would have tied in well with the theory of Forms. Socrates not only tells Glaucon that they must shield against any forms of learning that do not make “the naturally intelligent part of the soul useful instead of useless” (530e, recalling 530b-c); he also proscribes Pythagorean harmonics, contemporary mathematical astronomy, mathematical mechanics, and mathematical optics, all of which are demanding but keep the mind concentrated on corporeal things. This proves a problem, for under the theory of Forms, any science that cannot be redirected to an abstract level is excluded.
The predicament posed by the presence of the ideal and the world of Forms is one that plagues Plato’s relationship with the arts. Plato viewed works of art as “at best entertainment, and at worst a dangerous delusion”, and this is further complicated when the question is posed: “what if the artist is somehow able to make a truer copy of the Forms than our ordinary experience offers?”13 Clowney further propones that:
“This theory actually appears in Plato’s short early dialogue, the Ion. Socrates is questioning a poet named Ion, who recites Homer’s poetry brilliantly but is no good at reciting anything else. Socrates is puzzled by this: it seems to him that if Ion has an art, or skill, of reciting poetry, he should be able to apply his skilled knowledge to other poets as well. He concludes that Ion doesn’t really possess skilled knowledge. Rather, when he recites Homer, he must be inspired by a god.”
However, it has been argued that Plato argued this sardonically rather than sincerely, even though the theme of the artist being inspired also pervades the Symposium, in which Plato portrays an ascent from sexual love to the true Form of Beauty itself. This predicament of the artist being ‘inspired’, and what such an ‘inspired’ person was (or considered themselves to be) capable of, was precisely what worried Plato, and in the creation of the hypothetical community, was enough reason to keep a rein on art’s power to influence people.
John Curtis Franklin reflects on the fact that “Plato’s entire elaborate theory of musical morality rests on the circular logic that ‘the best music is that which delights the best, and best educated, men’14, a statement which very much reveals what it was hoped would be achieved by the relevant controlling of music. However, the contradiction that the Republic’s assessment of music faces from other philosophers’ works (aforementioned) suggests that perhaps this approach was overly elitist and far from being unanimously shared. For Plato’s purposes, though (i.e. the creation of a utopia), elitism is surely what is needed. Further to this, in the Phaedrus he continues to be selective, dubbing the mimetic aspects of the dithyramb as being overly emotional and generally bad for the soul – bar Socrates’ admission where he does not openly scorn but rather acknowledges their effects15:
Socrates: “Well, my dear Phaedrus, does it seem to you, as it does to me, that I am inspired?” Phaedrus: “Certainly, Socrates, you have an unusual fluency.” Socrates: “Then listen to me in silence; for truly the place seems filled with a divine presence; so do not be surprised if I often seem to be in a frenzy as my discourse progresses, for I am already almost uttering dithyrambics.” At times, Socrates even felt that Plato’s style was too colourful16, implying that perhaps Plato did not always fully believe in the precepts he transcribed, which would correlate well with the Republic purely being hypothetical (rather than being representational of what people thought).
The fluctuating nature and sometimes-contradictory moments of the music education as described in the Republic can mean that to an extent, the intentions of those hypothesising about this imaginary state can be unclear. However, a certain amount can be deduced. The system entails the highest quality of teaching to the most deserving of citizens, in order to create a noble, sophisticated and highly intelligent race of people, whether this be physical, dialectic, or purely conveyed on the basis of imitation. In censoring music and the way it is taught (and other forms of media, for that matter), it is hoped that this will condition the minds of the people in order to trigger the effects detailed above.
To deduce the aims of the Republic (even if we use the system of music education as some sort of microcosm) is more elusive, since its aims and objectives are a little ambiguous (i.e., is the text political, psychological or something else?). However, what can be said almost certainly is that the system was never intended to be realistically implemented and is certainly not a government manifesto of radical change; therefore discussion of what it is hoped would be achieved by the censorship and direction of musical education is perhaps a moot point, since as a hypothetical text it can engineer very little in the way of physical change, no matter how much people’s minds are changed by it.
In terms of the system of music education, though, we can be a little more conclusive. The lack of resemblance of Ancient Greek music to Western music means that Plato’s aims can be difficult for the modern reader to comprehend. The language and music must be dealt with together in a way that cannot be achieved in Western arts (Georgiades 69)17. Consequently, Plato’s fusion of his approaches to censorship of language and of music (i.e., working with the two forms of performance together rather than separately) is probably the clearest and most realistic vision painted of achieving the desired result of a ‘perfect’ community.
It is plain how the idea of creating this community came about, more so if the Allegory of the Cave is put into a 21st-century context18: if a person is tied to the settee, and their only view of the outside world is through media (perhaps more specifically, the television), it becomes clear that those images and myths are more than powerful enough to shape our picture of ourselves and the world. Plays and public oratory were the media and propaganda of Plato’s day, and painting, statuary and music often served similar ends. However one assesses the Republic’s solution to the problem, and whatever kind of text it is, this is one of the problems that elicited his suggestion of such harsh bowdlerisation of the arts he so clearly adored and had been schooled in. The resolution may not appeal, but the problem almost certainly exists.