Bryan Carr This paper will require (and doubtless test) patience, partly from the material (which is notdifficult in itself, but is quite disparate) and partly from my own limitations. Our familiarity withOedipus notwithstanding, from Sophocles to Freud is a long way; and indeed my net is cast verywide and has hauled in, willy-nilly, King Midas and King Arthur, ancient Greek tuning systems,an allegedly Neolithic calendar from Lascaux, Hebrew gematria and Norse myth, a horoscope for the beginning of the world, and the last supper of Jesus and his disciples. All of this is placedagainst a more or less continual dialectic between Plato’s dialogues and Herodotus’
. I believe there is enough substantial thematic continuity to warrant the frequent refocusing I ask of the reader, shifting between different eras, different subjects, different disciplines. Eventually, Ihope, the suspicion will take root that not all of this continuity is the creature of my own
.Read this, then, in the spirit in which one would explore Herodotus himself, as he turns fromPersian engineering to Egyptian religion to the proclivities of fate, gods, and mortals.It is Herodotus who has preserved Solon’s remark for us, in a conversation between Solon andCroesus, the tyrant of Lydia. If one reads carefully, one perceives that, far from haphazardlyslapping his sources together, Herodotus
knows what he is doing
Herodotus specificallyunderlines that his project is to trace the
of the conflict between the Hellenes and thePersians, and after a brief mythic preamble, Croesus is the place he begins. He's like an oldstoryteller telling you to pull up a seat if you've a notion to hear the tale. "Well," he says, "
it all started
with Croesus, the tyrant of Lydia..."
Who is most fortunate?
Croesus, at one time among the most wealthy and successful of ancient rulers, entered into a war
In this assertion, both an axiom and a conclusion, I am guided by, among other things, a number of findings made byErnest McClain, whose patient decoding of Plato and other ancients has revealed a very particular musical grammar,hinging on a careful correlation between the matter at hand (justice, the story of Atlantis, the myth of Er) and musicaltuning, with special attention to the gap where any tuning system founders. My general approach as regards McClain’swork is usually to stipulate his findings, not argue for them (though I do try to establish a
case for considering the approach). I am not able to make any original contributions to ancient musicology, and I cannot pretendto decode any of the ancients' texts on any deep level. What I am interested in, above all, is the question of
. In this,I've followed the lead of Leo Strauss, and of Giorgio de Santillana. McClain has taught me to be on the lookout for jestsand tell-tale inconsistencies which point beyond the context of a work to a cosmology shaped by music, but alsoastronomy, metrics, and mathematics in general. Strauss (and Voegelin) taught me to be suspicious of the reduction of Plato to the chaser-after-ideas-in-the-sky to which he is stupidly reduced, and to read closely whenever something puzzles me. De Santillana taught me to be always aware of the mythic backdrop-- an intertext which not only Platoassumes. The question I always am asking is: given the resonances McClain or de Santillana and von Dechend pointout, what does it mean? Why did the ancients write like this? McClain once mentioned that Gilbert Ryle told him, Platowould never have planted "all that musicology for you to find." And surely Ryle was right, if by this he meant that Platowas not playing hide-and-seek games with his readers. But since the numbers are there on the surface of the text-- theTyrant and the "greater and lesser births" in the
are only the most obvious examples-- we are not entitled todismiss them as games. By the same token, though, we ought not to disregard the fact that Plato is writing about justice,the city, understanding, realization. Music somehow fits into all of this, illustrates it, provides a partial grammar for it.My contention is that these authors made use of mathematics partly as a dependable code which could be relied upon tokeep its meaning; but they used it to stimulate realizations that went beyond mathematics, partly by making use of short-cuts, double-entendres, and lapses meant to stimulate independent reflection. This paper will investigate moreclosely a few examples and suggestions.
It is important to note that Herodotus specifically calls Croesus a Tyrant and not just a ruler. It would take us quite far afield to undertake a close investigation of the attitude in Herodotus towards tyrants, for instance the house of Pisistratus, once allied to Solon and later opposed by him. However, his general antipathy is well-established anduncontroversial. It is not too much to say that between Herodotus and Plato the shift of 'tyrant' as a term withoutopprobrium to one loaded with moral disapprobation becomes complete; and Plato will use the term in a specificmusico-mathematical way in the