Breaking news about 2.5K-year-old-texts.

William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

Related Post Roulette

12 Responses

  1. gregiank says:

    This will just fuel the endless argument between originalists and those who believe in a living Plato.Report

  2. Paul B says:

    You don’t need to discover any cryptic messages to know that Plato was influenced by Pythagorean thought, but this guy is barking up the wrong tree since there was never any “12-note musical scale widely used by Pythagoreans.”

    Ancient Greek music was built from tetrachords, which could be stacked in various ways to form the different diatonic modes. Pythagoras or his followers identified the ratios involved in tuning these modes, but they certainly wouldn’t have tried to split the octave into 12 tones. If they had, they would have been distraught to discover the Pythagorean comma — remember, these are the people who drowned Hippasus at sea for proving that the square root of 2 is irrational!

    Modern equal temperment is an attempt to smooth out the dissonances inherent in Pythagorean tuning, so splitting the texts into 12 equal “intervals” is akin to arguing that Plato anticipated Bach!Report

  3. Jason Kuznicki says:

    This smells of the Bible Code to me.Report

  4. Fear and Loathing in Georgetown says:

    I doubt the secret musical code, but what astonishes me is the idea that Plato’s fascination with numbers was somehow secret.

    Book 7 of the Republic for example:
    “arithmetic has a very great and elevating effect, compelling the soul to reason about abstract number, and rebelling against the introduction of visible or tangible objects into the argument. You know how steadily the masters of the art repel and ridicule any one who attempts to divide absolute unity when he is calculating, and if you divide, they multiply, taking care that one shall continue one and not become lost in fractions.”

    The idea that something like Pi existed, exists, and always will exist, has properties but isn’t physical, wasn’t invented by man but discovered through reason all demonstrate the idea of the Forms. So, Plato’s fascination with math is neither surprising, nor secret.

    Kennedy, therefore, is partially stating the obvious, adding in craziness, and making outrageous exaggerations, none of which impresses.Report

    • @Fear and Loathing in Georgetown, all the “general public” stuff on Kennedy’s website is pretty much tripe. Clearly he’s milking this publicity for all it’s worth. The idea that his research is opens up some previously totally hidden layer of ideas is silly. But it doesn’t seem totally impossible that there’s a nifty explanation of literary/stylistic choices in here, especially given Plato’s math-love, of which I too thought everyone was already aware.

      At the very least, I’m curious about how the calculations worked.Report

  5. sam says:

    C’mon, guys, pretty obvious what’s going on here:

    The secrecy [about Plato’s “radical” Pythagoreanism] was because Plato’s was “a dangerous idea”, claims Kennedy. “It meant that mathematical law governed the universe and not Zeus.” Given that Plato’s teacher, Socrates, had been executed for sowing impiety among the youth he would have been “very cautious abut revealing doctrines that threaten the gods of Olympus”.

    We’ve got a Straussian with a math degree.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to sam says:


      “But still it adds up.”Report

    • Rufus in reply to sam says:

      @sam, That’s who I thinking of! Strauss! I couldn’t remember the name, but it strikes me as the same sort of, “pssst! If you read that using the decoder ring, it says this! Don’t tell anyone!” stuff. (I’ll have to look into it though.)

      Incidentally, one of my grad school mentors spent a summer in the archives in Paris at the same time as Strauss and they spent their lunches chatting. I asked him what he thought of Strauss, and he said, “He was a very intelligent man, but I often got the feeling that he was deeply unhappy about having to live in the modern world instead of ancient Athens.”Report

  6. Bob says:

    Have you seen this? It effectively debunks the musical element of Kennedy’s thesis that has been getting all the press.