18 March 2006

Non-Musical Attunements

I take it back about not posting again on the Affinity Argument. I have a question, and then a thought to share. Here's the question. It concerns 86c6-7, which, again, I just noticed. What do you think is the correct interpretation, and point, of the words I highlight?

Now if the soul is a harmony, it is clear that when the body is too much relaxed or is too tightly strung by diseases or other ills, the soul must of necessity perish, no matter how divine it is, like other harmonies in sounds and in all the works of artists...

ei) ou)=n tugxa/nei h( yuxh\ ou)=sa a(rmoni/a tij, dh=lon o(/ti, o(/tan xalasqh=| to\ sw=ma h(mw=n a)me/trwj h)\ e)pitaqh=| u(po\ no/swn kai\ a)/llwn kakw=n, th\n me\n yuxh\n a)na/gkh eu)qu\j u(pa/rxei a)polwle/nai, kai/per ou)=san qeiota/thn, w(/sper kai\ ai( a)/llai a(rmoni/ai ai(/ t' e)n toi=j fqo/ggoij kai\ e)n toi=j tw=n dhmiourgw=n e)/rgoij pa=si,

The words suggest that Simmias wants to extend the analogy: the soul is related to the body, not simply as an attunement is related to a musical instrument, but also in the way that the harmony and balance shown by any artefact is related to that thing of which it is a harmony and balance.

That's the plain meaning. But curiously Christopher Rowe denies this, in his commentary. He says the words should be interpreted: "the attunements found in the sphere of (musical) sound, and in all the instruments which produce it". In justification he says that the highlighted words are "usually taken as referring to artificial products generally; but a new metaphorical extension of a(rmoni/a here would be an unnecessary distraction from the argument."

So, what do you think? Do you think that the Greek may naturally take the sense that Rowe wishes to give it, and do you think that Rowe is correct, that it would be a distraction to understand those words as they are usually taken? (I have my thoughts, but I want to know what others think.)


Michael Pakaluk said...

Here are my thoughts on this matter.

On Rowe's interpretation, also, the notion of harmonia gets extended. Simmias introduces the notion at first to mean the appropriate tuning of the strings of a stringed instrument. On Rowe's interpretation, however, harmonia comes to mean also the due ordering of the musical pitches themselves (that's how Rowe understands harmonia en tois phthongois)--which is a new metaphorical extension.

Thus, what is at issue is which metaphorical extension Plato intends.

Apparently, according to LSJ, the original and primary meaning of harmonia is a method of joining and fastening (as for a ship). Thus if Plato were now 'extending' the notion of harmonia to apply to all artefacts, he would simply be adverting to the term's original and more basic meaning. This would hardly be a 'distraction', especially when he introduces that additional point simply to urge that a harmonia perishes when the artefact does.

Also, to me it seems unnatural to take pasi as Rowe's interpretion would require. Its scope, I think, gets restricted only by the clause that precedes it; but Rowe's interpretation requires that its scope also be limited by en tois phthongois in a distinct conjunct.

Michael Pakaluk said...

By the way, I forgot to add that I find this passage fascinating because, on the usual interpretation, it shows Plato flirting with the idea of "L'homme machine".

Could it be that Plato, with his dialectical mind, just as he speculates that human beings might be possessions (ktemata) of the gods (Phaedo, 62b), which are perhaps even artefacts of the gods--as Xenophon's Socrates argues--that Plato then entertains, as against this, the counterargument that, if we are such artefacts, then the soul would indeed be no more than a harmonia of bodily parts?