The Aristoxenian Theory of Soul as Harmony

Anna Maria Laskowska

Aristoxenus of Tarentum (c. 360 — 300) was one of the most talented Aristotle’s students. He is known mainly as the greatest musicologist of Ancient Greece, author of Elementa harmonica and Elementa rhythmica, the oldest preserved treatises on music. The aim of this article is to reconstruct of his theory of the soul that survived to our times in the form of synoptic remarks of Cicero and Lactantius. In these fragments it is clearly stated that Aristoxenus considered soul as harmony. Th is vision seems to echo an old concept, mentioned already in Platonic dialogue Phaedo that soul is like harmony in the musical instrument and in consequence it is mortal. But it can be shown that the Aristoxenian theory of soul is diff erent from the Platonic exposition. Th e misinterpretation of Aristoxenus’ thought by Cicero and then by Lactantius is based on a sort of simplifi cation or/and misunderstanding of the vocabulary used by Aristoxenus, especially of the term harmony. Aristoxenus in his theory of music is not using the term ἁρμονία in the sense of a perfect joining of  the opposites as was Plato, but applies it only for denoting a type of musical scale (next to the diatonic and chromatic one). The word that corresponds to the idea of harmony in music was τὸ ἡρμοσμένον, (to hermosmenon), i.e. what is harmonized. By showing the signifi cance of this term it can be demonstrated that Aristoxenus, against the opinion of Cicero and Lactantius, developed a doctrine of the soul  different from Plato.


Keywords: Aristoxenus · Cicero · Phaedo · soul · harmony · hermosmenon · form

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