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May 15, 2008
Abstract The musical structure of Plato’s Symposium is illustrated with a series of pictures, diagrams, and graphs. Various, easily measurable kinds of evidence for the existence of a musical scale embedded in the dialogue are presented visually, so that patterns that stretch over the course of the dialogue can be surveyed at a glance.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the following series of pictures and diagrams illustrates the arguments of a companion essay,1 and is an expanded version of some slides prepared for a talk on its central ﬁndings. The diagrams aim to convey the sometimes subtle evidence of the essay in a concise and readily accessible way. The essay laid out the textual and historical evidence for the surprising claim that Plato’s dialogues were organised around a musical scale, and that certain symbols and keywords were introduced into his narratives to mark out the regular intervals of that scale. Plato’s Symposium is particularly suitable for introducing and displaying these musical structures. The series of speeches, from Phaedrus to Alcibiades, breaks the text into discrete and objectively distinguished parts whose lengths reveal further evidence for the underlying musical scale. To say that Plato organised his dialogue around a twelve-part scale is, in the ﬁrst place, to say no more than that he made a twelve-part outline of this text and allocated the same number of lines to each part. The essay reviewed evidence that the lines in classical texts were counted in ways perhaps similar to the way we count words or pages. As before, this essay concentrates on exhibiting the evidence and avoids references to later theories of allegory and literary symbolism. It is important to make a clean case for the existence of the musical organisation before entering into debates about its ideology. It is clear, however, that the notion of forms beneath appearances is a thoroughly Platonic idea, and that the notion of an imperceptible musical and mathematical structure comports well with the kind of Pythagoreanism on display in the Timaeus.
∗ Draft. Comments and criticism but not quotes are welcome. Prepared for blind review. I would like to thank .... I would like to acknowledge the support of ... This is an expanded version of illustrations prepared for a seminar at the University of ....
detail) Bears a Diagram of the Pythagorean.Figure 1: Pythagoras’s Slate in the Foreground of Raphael’s School of Athens (left. The diagram above illustrates the Pythagorean association between the principle notes in a musical scale and the integers up to twelve. [In this draft. regularly spaced notes was surveyed in the companion essay. some large gaps have been left at the bottom of pages.] 2 . This was known to the Renaissance through works like Ficino’s translation of Theon’s On the Mathematics Useful for Understanding Plato. Six-to-Twelve Musical Scale (right) 1 The Twelve-Note Scale The historical background of a scale with twelve.
Corresponding to a TwelveNote Musical Scale As the above ﬁgure shows.12 11 10 Octave. Socrates begins to speak. the philosophical hero of the dialogue. In a dialogue devoted to love. Figure 2: The Symposium is Divided into Twelve Parts. loud approval. a procession. The centre of the Symposium is emphatically marked. At the centre of the Symposium. Socrates. begins to speak at the centre. Beginning of the dialogue. with Note 1 near the beginning of the text. the conclusion of Agathon’s speech with its rousing rhetorical ﬁreworks in praise of Eros ﬂanks one side of the centre. 3 . a 6:12 or 1:2 ratio 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 End of the dialogue. the scale divides the text of the dialogues into twelve equal parts. the climax of Agathon’s speech: lyrical praise of Eros.
therefore. 4 . Another form of evidence shows a consistent connection between the stichometric organisation and a musical scale. 5 Aristophanes’ speech ﬁlls the fourth twelfth. or short cross-examinations. The location of each note is marked by a passage with certain key. symbolic terms (see below). The lengths of speeches can be easily and objectively measured. 4 Eryximachus’ speech ﬁlls the third twelfth. but do not in themselves show that the twelve-part structure is a musical scale. Measured End to End The lengths of the speeches in the ﬁrst half of the Symposium strikingly show how the underlying musical scale has been used to organise the dialogue.6 Agathon’s speech ﬁlls the ﬁfth twelfth. tends to stop just before or just after a note. The speeches after the centre of the dialogue have lengths longer than one-twelfth (see below). from narrative and argument to key symbols and deﬁnitions. 3 Pausanias’ speech ﬁlls the second twelfth. A later section explores the ﬁne structure of this banter. 2 Harmonic and Disharmonic Notes Measurements of length provide some evidence that Plato was counting lines when composing his dialogues. 2 Figure 3: Lengths of Speeches. A speech. and this ﬁgure treats all such banter as part of the following speech. The ﬁgure shows simple and objective measurements of the interval from the end of one speech to the end of the following speech. repartee. and shows that it too has lengths determined by the underlying musical scale. A careful reading of the dialogues will show that many of their features. depending upon whether it contains the marking passage or not. and therefore are the focus here. have been organised around the musical scale. The speeches are surrounded by comments.
A pair of notes an octave apart. are produced by strings whose lengths have a one-to-two ratio. for example. 2 and 12. The successive pairs – 1 and 12. 9 Disharmonious Notes: 1. 5. The Pythagoreans noticed that pairs of notes which sound well together are produced by pairs of strings whose lengths stand in simple. and so on – are ranked according to whether they are more or less harmonious. Two notes an octave apart. The Pythagoreans went further and found ways to rank notes according to whether they were more or less harmonious when paired with some ﬁxed note. 11 Here. 4. 10. 3.Figure 4: Two Strings Struck to Test Harmony Some pairs of notes sound better together than other pairs. 6. The series of notes on a twelve-note scale can all be separated into two classes as follows: Harmonious Notes: 2. 8. the twelfth note is used as a ﬁxed standard of comparison. 7. 5 . for example. and each note is played together with this standard. ‘harmonise’ with each other. whole-number ratios like one-to-two or three-to-four.
healing powers Pausanias’s concluding praise of heavenly Eros: leads to virtue Pausanias: all gods must be praised. 2/12. procession. As a general tendency. the more harmonious the note. This ﬁgure shows that important concepts or passages within the dialogue are carefully lodged at the locations of notes (at 1/12. It is located at a note: the harmonious ninth note. and so on. Plato’s dialogues are full of value-judgements: philosophy is valued over other pursuits. loud approval. dialectics over mere disputatiousness. truth over falsity.).12 11 10 The top of Diotima’s ladder at note: her vision of the Form of the One Diotima describes the Form of Beauty in itself at the note 9 8 7 Agathon’s peroration: praise of Eros. The coloured bars show the locations of the harmonious notes: the longer the bar. the soul over the body. common Eros 6 5 4 3 2 1 Harmonic Notes Figure 5: Harmonious Passages at Harmonious Notes The twelve-note musical scale and the theory of relative harmony provide a key to the structure of Plato’s dialogues. heavenly vs. The top of Diotima’s Ladder where the Form of the One is described is a philosophically key passage in the Symposium. 6 . or by praise of the god of love. The harmonious notes are marked either by descriptions of the forms. the locations of harmonious notes contain passages with positively valued concepts. and that more ‘harmonious’ concepts are located at more harmonious notes. Socrates Aristophanes begins with praise of Eros: philanthropic. etc. perhaps the most highly valued concepts in Platonism.
in contrast. the disharmonic notes are marked by shame.12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Hangovers from the previous night. These instances of verbal or social harmony and disharmony mark the notes. pipe-playing Satyr Disharmonic Notes Figure 6: Disharmonious Passages at Disharmonic Notes There is a dramatic contrast between the passages at the locations of the harmonic and disharmonic notes. Eryximachus condemns drunkenness. the positive concepts at harmonic notes are part of passages in which language is used to promote social harmony: agreements. Alcibiades’ shame and anguish after being rejected and dishonoured by Socrates Alcibiades calls Socrates an hubristees. praise. Instead of the forms or praise of Eros. As will be discussed below. Aristophanes asks not to be mocked: Socrates’ fear and aporia before speaking. 7 . insults. The negative concepts at disharmonic notes are. compares him to an ugly. associated with language which produces social disharmony. and hangovers. contradictions. Diotima’s elenchus of the young Socrates: Eros is not a god. mockery. etc.
lies in the next most disharmonic region. which Socrates criticised for lacking truth. The speech of the notorious Alcibiades lies in the most disharmonic region of the dialogue. resolution. They sometimes seem meandering or disjointed. More speciﬁcally. the philosophical peaks of Diotima’s speech and the marvelous mirth of Aristophanes’ speech occupy harmonic regions. Remarkably. Careful study of the dialogues shows that a region in the musical scale near a harmonic note is dominated by more positive concepts and. seventh note is approached. 8 . Form of One Diotima: Form of Beauty 7 Diotima: elenchus. (For example. the sequence of topics in his dialogues does conform to this Pythagorean theory of relative harmony. and Regions near Disharmonic Notes have Negative Themes The over-arching structures of Plato’s dialogues have been much debated.’ nor build slowly to a concluding climax. war Alcibiades: Satyr. shame ethics Disharmonic Intervals Harmonic Intervals Figure 7: Regions near Harmonic Notes have Positive Themes.) This is strikingly illustrated by the Symposium. similarly. On the other hand. Similarly. Socrates’ elenchus of Agathon occurs as the disharmonic. They do not follow common shapes like ‘development. seduction 9 8 11 10 Diotima: Ladder. myth of sex and seduction among gods 6 Socrates: the nature of eros Agathon’s peroration 5 Agathon: arty rhetoric 4 3 2 Aristophanes: myth of true love Eryximachus: erotic harmony Puasanias: love and pederasty 1 Phaedrus: myths. crisis. the region stretching from a little before a note in the scale almost to the next note generally shares the earlier note’s degree of harmony. a region near a disharmonic note is more negative.12 Alcibiades: rejected. however. Agathon’s suspect speech.
This pattern is remarkably consistent across the dialogues. forms Recollection. evil. Although there may be some uncertainty about the precise locations of the notes. On the other hand. describe the forms.’ follows the disharmonic seventh note. body Disharmonic Intervals Harmonic Intervals Figure 8: In the Phaedo. soul is immortal Form of Beauty. 9 . In the Phaedo. forms Death as liberation. Regions near Harmonic Notes have Positive Themes. The argument that the soul is not a harmony. the region around the last two disharmonic notes describes Hell and the ﬁlthy River Styx. studying the ‘harmonic’ character of these longer passages in the regions between notes does not depend upon any precise measurement of locations within the text. doubt 4 3 2 Proof of immortality. the regions after the eighth and ninth notes. as in the Symposium. in the Symposium. Similarly. hypotheses 7 Disharmony. River Styx Geography of the Underworld 9 8 11 10 Forms. Eryximachus’ discussion of erotic ‘harmony’ followed a harmonic note. and Regions near Disharmonic Notes have Negative Themes Study of the other dialogues conﬁrms this correlation between positive or negative concepts and the series of regions between the notes. soul is not a harmony 6 Socrates’ equanimity 5 Vices. virtues 1 Suicide. which explicitly mentions ‘disharmony.12 Tartarus.
6% of the way through the text that the philosopher is at the mean or in the middle between ignorance and wisdom. just as explicitly occurs in Aristotle. the other dialogues also seem to allude to the Golden Mean at the same point. Remarkably. In contrast. has been a theme in later Pythagoreanism as well as among cranks and numerologists up to the present day.618 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Rep. he says at 61. Socrates asserts that neither the ignorant nor the wise are philosophers. This associates the notion of a philosophical or ethical mean with the mathematical notion of a mean. Parm.618.12 11 10 9 8 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0. a passage echoes Euclid’s geometric deﬁnition of the Golden Mean. It is surprising to ﬁnd the passage in the Republic near 61. this passages begins 61. At the parallel location in the Parmenides. This is quite strong evidence for the underlying musical scale. On the one hand. the passages at similar locations in other dialogues consistently refer to mathematical or ethical means. a mathematically signiﬁcant number approximately equal to 0.7%. Figure 9: Passages Alluding to the Golden Mean One way of conﬁrming the relevance of the Pythagorean theory of harmony is to show that other Pythagorean concepts appear in the Symposium.7% of the way through that dialogue. Even more remarkably. Symp. On the other hand. 10 . In the Symposium. Several scholars have interpreted the Divided Line passage in the Republic as an allusion to the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean. since both are perhaps content with their condition. a number of scholars have argued for the possible or probable link between the Divided Line and the Golden Mean.
The internal organisation of the speeches. and central concepts are often lodged one. two. musical concept and shows how it gives the speeches a more ﬁne-grained structure. in this dialogue reveals this further. Aristoxenus.C. and was sometimes understood to be the smallest unit by which musical scales should be measured. and others. shifts between speakers. c. Aristotle. One theme in the debates over musical theory in Plato’s time and long afterwards was the question of whether there were ‘quarternotes’ or smaller intervals between the usual notes of a musical scale. or three fourths of the way between the whole notes. The intervals between the twelve ‘whole’ notes in the Symposium are further organised around a structure of quarternotes.) 3 The Quarternote Structure This section introduces a further. That is.E. ﬁne-grained structure. 470 B. 11 .Figure 10: A Classical Symposium (from the Tomb of the Diver. both shorter and longer.2 The concept of a quarternote was discussed by Plato. major turns in arguments. Paestum.
This suggests that the distance of one-quarter of the length between successive whole notes plays a role in the organisation of the Symposium. these speeches as well as the banter and repartee before them stop and start at quarternotes. The lengths of Agathon’s speech is a multiple of the quarter-interval. Thus both the lengths and the locations are evidence for the role of quarternotes. Length: 1/4 Socrates’ Speech. 12 . Length: 1/4 Figure 11: Some Speeches Stop and Start at Quarter-Intervals This ﬁgure shows two sorts of simple evidence for the role of quarternotes.1q Note 9 3q 2q 1q Note 8 3q 2q 1q Note 6 3q 2q 1q Note 5 Agathon’s Speech. Moreover. Length: 3 Banter. and the lengths of the banter before the two speeches extend through one-quarter interval. Length: 3/4 Note 7 3q 2q 1q Note 6 Banter.
for the role of quarternotes.. The scholarship on 13 .. then I will cut them in two all over again [i. into quarters]. [measure] audible concords and sounds one against each other . however limited here. so that they will go about hopping on one leg [instead of four].... the dialogues sometimes refer to three near the third note.. The passages in the ﬁgure show at least that Plato discussed smaller intervals between the main notes in a musical scale and add another kind of evidence.e.3 The Symposium refers to cutting into quarters at the location a quarternote. giving the smallest possible interval.Note 9 3q . This limited evidence cannot in itself be convincing. Their brevity makes puns hard to interpret in rigourous ways. but such puns are common in the dialogues. The Republic refers to quarternotes at the location of a quarternote on its embedded scale. For example. [each is] a note in between. (Cornford’s translation: 530d8 – 531a7) Republic 2q 1q Note 8 Note 5 3q Symposium 2q Aristophanes makes Zeus say: ‘And if they still appear licentious and will not behave quietly.. which ought to be taken as the unit of measurement... or four near the fourth note. the Pythagoreans . (190d4-6) 1q Note 4 Figure 12: Passages Alluding to Quarters at the Locations of Quarternotes The ﬁgure above gives two examples of a kind of punning reference in Plato’s dialogues to the musical structure. [Others] talk of ‘groups of quarter-tones’ . and so on.
Ovid. 14 .’ Both rhythm and harmony are thus types of blending or ‘agreement’ between opposites. (664e8-a2) An uptempo or fast rhythm. It involves two combinations of opposites: of fast and slow.puns in classical or later literatures generally depends upon an argument from coherence. by examining many examples and drawing on explicit discussions of punning. Examining ﬁrst the theory and then the passages marking the opening quarternotes in the dialogue will reveal much about Plato’s symbolic techniques. Plato succinctly o summarised this view of music in the Laws: . rhythm is the name for the order of the motion and harmony is the name for the order of the sound.. by implanting eros and homonoia. secure interpretation of puns in individual cases can be reached. and of high and low. where the pattern is rather heavy-handedly established. for example. or love and like-mindedness. That is.. and music is a science: the ‘erotics’ of rhythm and harmony. During the last generation. Aristophanes. The ﬁgure summarises the ﬁrst four such passages in the dialogue.4 Sedley. a substantial literature on puns in Homer.).5 This theory of music is the key to the symbolism that Plato uses to mark the notes in the Symposium. Plato uses a subtle scheme for marking the locations of musical notes at regular whole and quarter intervals in the Symposium. The theory of his marking scheme is given in the Symposium itself. Eros is therefore a mediating force which reconciles disagreeing elements. in particular has argued that Plato’s Cratylus should be read as evidence for a serious interest on Plato’s part in etymological puns. according to Eryximachus. and Virgil has clariﬁed the various motivations for punning in classical literature. We might call these ‘tempo’ and ‘pitch. in Eryximachus’ speech.’ but for Plato the ﬁrst is ‘rhythm’ and the second is ‘harmony’ or ‘consonance’ (symph¯ nia). an explicit theory of the nature of music (187a1 ff.6 Careful examination shows that there is a deﬁnite similarity between passages lodged at the locations of the notes through the musical scale. or of motion and sound. and allegory in related writings. The following ﬁgure introduces yet another kind of evidence for quarternotes and requires some introduction. etymology. Music establishes such agreements. is one in which the mixture of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ is dominated by ‘fast. The Symposium contains.
Motion Stops: interlocutor is really ‘doing nothing’ (d1). Invite/Agree/Harmony: invitation.’ the Symposium marks the interval between its initial quarternotes with a rhythmically repeated pattern of passages. there is a kind of rhythm (motion) and a kind of harmony (agreement) at the location of each note.). agree to attend the dinner (d3). two. Like a musician who rather emphatically begins with ‘ONE. arrives at Agathon’s (175c4). there are words indicating some sort of physical motion like walking. Socrates agrees to sit together (d3). Each passage also concludes with the cessation of motion. worldly pursuits (c3-5 ﬀ. Motion Stops: Socrates stops on the road (d5-6). Wise/Unwise: ‘wise’/phaulos. Motion and Harmony These four passages share a consistent set of features. A Platonist might conclude that. Invite/Agree/Harmony: agrees to recount the speeches (c2). d4). Wise/Unwise: young philosopher. since the forms are the reality beneath appearances. ignorant inquirer.3q Motion: Socrates’ starts again. there is at each note some sort of agreement – either assent to a request or acceptance of an invitation – between a student of philosophy and someone else. Wise/Unwise: Socrates’ ‘wisdom’ requested by dramatist Agathon (c8). four. Invite/Agree/Harmony: Agathon asks. of music mark the locations of the notes. departure (174c7.d2). 15 . (173c2-5. The concepts. 1q Motion: walking along the road to the city (173b9). Motion Stops: Socrates sits. Motion Stops: Apollodorus stops (a5). Figure 13: Similar Passages Mark the First Four Quarternotes: Each Contains the Elements of Music. At each note.7 In short. motion ceases again (d3). Socrates and Aristodemus (c7. Moreover. three. or perhaps the forms. there is real music at each note. 2q Motion: jokes about going to Agathon’s. Wise/Unwise: ‘philosophy’ vs. b8-c2) Invite/Agree/Harmony: he is asked to stop and does (a4). 0 Motion: Apollodorus was going to the city (172a2).
This was the ﬁrst evidence for the existence of the quarternotes. etc. chord. string. Careful study of the passages at the whole notes produced a list of these words. Tabulating the occurrences of a random list of words in the Republic would not have produced a regular structure. musical terms on my list. In that dialogue. once understood. Showing the Second and Third Musical Notes and Intervening Quarternotes This ﬁgure shows the results a novel investigation which. This chart shows the structure between the second and third whole notes. In an effort to show that these clusters occurred only at the locations of the whole notes. tone. provides powerful evidence for the existence of quarternote structure in the Republic. I proceeded mechanically through the entire dialogue recording and tabulating the locations of these key. and smaller peaks at the quarternotes. but the histogram beautifully shows the quarternote structure. harmony.Figure 14: A Tabulation of the Occurrence of Music-Related Words in the Republic. and constitute a strong. I was surprised to see smaller clusters of the key terms at three regular intervals between each pair of successive whole notes. There is a larger number of musical terms spread over a larger number of Stephanus pages at the whole notes.). the locations of the whole notes are marked by clusters of musical and music-related words (like lyre. 16 . noise. visual form of evidence for the presence of quarternotes. This led to a table giving the number of occurrences of these words in each Stephanus page. Thus my list of key terms and the graph reinforce each other.
the form of Beauty and the form of the One. the top of Diotima’s ladder is reached at the ninth note • disharmonious concepts are lodged at disharmonious notes. the River Styx at the eleventh note of the Phaedo • regions after harmonious notes are ﬁlled by speeches about the forms or with praise of Eros • regions after disharmonious notes are ﬁlled by speeches about shame. e. the Golden Mean Evidence for quarternotes between the twelve whole notes: • the lengths of Agathon’s speech and of some banter are multiples of the quarterinterval • the speeches of Agathon and Socrates each begin at a quarternote • an explicit discussion in the Republic of quarternotes is lodged at the location of a quarternote • a reference to quartering at the location of a quarternote in the Symposium • the four passages marking the Symposium’s ﬁrst four quarternotes are similar and contain references to motion and agreement.g.. e..4 Summary of the Evidence The preceding illustrations aimed to assemble a range of independent. Simple evidence for the twelve-note scale: • four speeches early in the Symposium are each about one-twelfth long • these four speeches each begin and end near a whole note • Socrates’ speech is three-twelfths of the entire text • highlights of Diotima’s speech. occur at successive notes. 17 ..e. to the elements of music • a tabulation of the music-related terms in the Republic clearly shows a regular series of peaks at the locations of whole and quarternotes. or arty rhetoric • a similar pattern of regions occurs in the Phaedo (and other dialogues). insults. yet mutually reinforcing lines of evidence for the musical scale in the Symposium. i.g. showing that this gives the general structure of Plato’s dialogues • the musical structure was tied to another Pythagorean concept. and thus are separated by one-twelfth • the rhetorical climax of the Symposium is located at its centre Evidence from the Pythagorean theory of relative harmony: • harmonious concepts are lodged at harmonious notes.
177c6. in the Symposium and not generally in other dialogues. 211b4. 217c7. 198a8. 216c5. Note 0: Note 1: Note 2: Note 3: Note 4: Note 5: Note 6: Note 7: Note 8: Note 9: Note 10: Note 11: Note 12: 172a1. 179d6. the measured locations of the musical notes on the Symposium’s musical scale are surprisingly accurate. 200b11. 213c3. 183a7. 193d8. 185b6. 206e1. 215c2. despite the changes the text may have undergone during its transmission. 210b1. 220d6. 180e3. 205d9. 189d5. 186c2. The Stephanus pages have signiﬁcantly variable lengths but. 190d6. 182a3. 192e1. 194e5. 184b1. 222e7. 202c7. 209a5. 219d6. 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 2q: 174c6. 203c7. 223d12 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 1q: 173c3. 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 3q: 175c5. the interval between quarternotes is coincidentally about one Stephanus page. 195e8. 187c8. 204d4. 221d8. 188d1. 214c1. 218d1. 18 . 201c4. 207e5. 178d2. 197a3. 176c5. 199b4. 191d7.5 Appendix: Locations of the Musical Notes As discussed in the companion essay. 212b8.
6. From the ﬁrst whole note until the advent of Alcibiades. Plato’s Forms. 4. Each of Plato’s dialogues uses a different general scheme to mark its notes. Barker. however. This passage (187c4-8) lies at the second quarternote after note 3. See the companion essay for references. is walking to town while reciting the speeches. the musical notes are marked with various species of homologia but not with explicit motion (Alcibiades appropriately reintroduces motion and disturbance). The concept and terminology for these smaller notes varied signiﬁcantly during antiquity. The narrator. but the scheme is usually explicitly (and obliquely) discussed in the dialogue. once the motion or tempo is established in the opening quarternotes. Pythagorean Mathematics. 19 . See West. Huffman. and Stichometry is under review. 3. Adam’s commentary discusses this passage. The difference between a musical ﬁfth and a third gave the basic interval of a tone (between note 8 and 9). That is. A quarternote would be one-fourth of this distance. Thus. etc. This passage has been much debated. each dialogue gives the theory needed for the interpretation of its symbolic scheme. it perhaps recedes into the background. 2. 5. I have used Cornford’s translation here. 7.Notes 1.
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