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Socratic Musical Ethos by Matt Christoph

Socratic Musical Ethos by Matt Christoph

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Published by Matt Christoph
The role of musicians in society and music in the individual, as discussed by Plato and/or Socrates.
The role of musicians in society and music in the individual, as discussed by Plato and/or Socrates.

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Published by: Matt Christoph on Dec 16, 2011
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The Socratic Musical Ethos
Matt ChristophDecember 1, 2008
While at times Socrates discussed music and its elementsspecifically, it is important to note that the Greek term
encompassed both what would presently be considered music proper aswell as the literary and oratory traditions of poetry andstorytelling. However, Socrates made it clear in his dialogues thatmusic and poetry, for his purposes, were inextricably tied to oneanother, comprised a singular discipline, and should intend to servethe same function. The philosopher sought to defin
e music’s proper
place in society and in the life of the individual, and attempted toestablish a clear set of standards and rules that every musician wouldbe bound to. According to Socrates,
was not only a crucialcomponent of education, but of a just and harmonious life, and thespiritual well-being of the individual and society at large. So inorder for poets, musicians, and storytellers to serve their properfunction in society, Socrates believed that they were required topractice their craft within certain limits, to be set by the lawmakersand enforced by the people or their guardians.Socrates claimed that the primary function of music was ineducation.
was the term for the systematic training ofchildren in liberal subjects, ideally drawing the youth towards virtueand reason, as judged by the eldest and best of the rulingaristocracy.
was one of two crucial disciplines that made upthe
, the other being
meaning physical training,dance, and athletics.
Warren D. Anderson.
Ethos and Education in Greek Music: The Evidence of Poetry and Philosophy.
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 92.
Many Ancient Greeks greatly esteemed the study of music and hadalready required it in the education of their youth. Vocal andinstrumental training was obligatory in a number of the Greek city-states. In Arcadia, the study of music began in early youth andcontinued for twenty to thirty years afterward. In Sparta,schoolchildren studied music before grammar or any sort of physicaltraining.
Likewise, Socrates advocated that musical training shouldbegin first, before physical training, and long before mathematics orany other intellectual field of study.In the
, Socrates discussed at great length thecurriculum necessary in educating his ideal society. The propercombination of musical and physical training would yield a balancedand harmonious nature within the student. This balanced educationwould make both the rational and spirited parts of the soul harmoniouswith one an
other, “stretching and nurtur
ing the rational part withfine words and learning, relaxing the other part through soothing
stories, and making it gentle by means of harmony and rhythm.”
But anexcess or lack of training in either discipline would yield an extremenature
either too hard and insensitive from excessive physicaltraining, or too soft and weak from an overemphasis on music andpoetry.
Curt Sachs.
The Rise of Music in the Ancient World: East and West.
(NewYork: W.W. Norton and Company, 1943), 254.
Ibid. 441.

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