Harmonia, Melos and Rhythmos: Aristotle on Musical Education

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Harmonia, Melos and Rhythmos: Aristotle on Musical Education Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi 1 [Uncorrected Draft, please don t quote without permission] In this paper, I reconstruct the reasons why Aristotle thinks
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Harmonia, Melos and Rhythmos: Aristotle on Musical Education Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi 1 [Uncorrected Draft, please don t quote without permission] In this paper, I reconstruct the reasons why Aristotle thinks that musical education is important for moral education. Musical education teaches us to appropriately enjoy and to recognize fine melodies and rhythms. Fine melodies and rhythms are similar to the kind of movements fine actions consist in and fine characters display. By teaching us to appropriately enjoy and to recognise fine melodies and rhythms, musical education can thus train us to perceptually recognise and appropriately enjoy fine actions and characters. This is how musical education leads us, up to a point, toward the actions and character dispositions a virtuous life requires. Word Count: 8663 Keywords Aristotle, Musical Education, Moral Education, Action, Character, Perception. Introduction Aristotle believes that music is very important for the formation of character. Musical education can lead us toward virtue when we are still young and unable to understand what virtue and happiness are, and why they matter (see Pol. viii 1340a1 ff. and NE x 1179b20 ff.). In Classical Greece, the beneficial effects of musical education were to a large 1 This paper would not have been written without the help and comments of my advisors Ursula Coope and Jessica Moss. I am very grateful to them and David Charles, Michael Coxhead, Ana Laura Edelhoff, Susanne Herrmann-Sinai, Brad Inwood, Terry Irwin, Harvey Lederman, Giles Pearson, Damien Storey, two anonymous referees and the participants to the Oxford Workshop in Ancient Philosophy for their helpful comments and advice on earlier drafts. I also owe a great intellectual debt to Andrew Barker s work on Ancient Greek music in general and on the structural similarity between musical movements and actions in particular. The responsibility for the remaining mistakes is mine. 1 extent taken for granted. 2 Understanding Ancient Greek views on the moral effects of musical education is especially difficult for us because they often seem to amount to an unreflective acceptance of a traditional belief. In this paper, I look at Aristotle s theory of musical education as we find it in the Politics viii and in the Problems xix. Starting from Aristotle s focus on melody and rhythm, I argue that he does provide his theory of musical education with solid philosophical grounding. In his view, musical education does not rely on the blind transmission of emotions, but it is a kind of perceptual training. This training teaches us to perceptually recognise fine actions and characters and to enjoy and pursue them for their own sake. Melody and Rhythm Aristotle mentions harmonia in his account of musical education (Pol. viii 1340a40 and Pol. viii 1341b34 ff.), but he is mostly interested in melody (melos) and rhythm (rhythmos): We see that music is made of melodies and rhythms, and we should know what influence each of these has on education... 3 This specific interest in melody and rhythm can guide us in interpreting his theory. One of the difficulties of trying to understand Ancient Greek accounts of musical education stems from the semantic breadth of the term mousikē. Mousikē can include poetry, storytelling, the combination of dancing, singing and acting that we find in Greek tragedies as well as music strictly speaking, that is, merely instrumental and vocal music. Aristotle s focus on melody and rhythm helps us to overcome this interpretive difficulty. It clearly indicates that he is especially interested in the educational powers of music in the strict sense, and not merely as an accompaniment to poetry or theatrical representations. This doesn t of course mean that Aristotle is not at all interested in the educational power of 2 Plato discusses musical education in the Rep. iii and Laws ii and vii, and probably takes his cue from and develops the views already exposed by Damon (Rep. iii 400b-c) and the Pythagoreans. The relationship between Plato, Damon and the Pythagoreans is a wide and controversial topic, and the following list of representative sources is far from being exhaustive: on Damon see Aristides Quintilianus, De Musica, 2.14 and on the difficulty of reconstructing the analogies and differences between Damon and the Pythagoreans see Woerther 2008, 93 fn. 19. It is doubtful whether Damon proposed a fully worked out theory of the benefits of musical education (see Barker 2007, and 252 fn. 29 and Wallace 2004). 3 τὴν μὲν μουσικὴν ὁρῶμεν διὰ μελοποιίας καὶ ῥυθμῶν οὖσαν, τούτων δ ἑκάτερον οὐ δεῖ λεληθέναι τίνα δύναμιν ἔχει πρὸς παιδείαν... Pol.viii 1341b Translations of the Politics are based, sometimes loosely, on Kraut For the specific interest in melody and rhythm see Pol. viii 1340a39 and Pol. viii 1340a music as an accompaniment of tragedy or poetry. It just suggests that this kind of music is not the main focus of the Politics viii (see also Pol. viii 1340a14-b26, Brüllmann 2013, , Ford 2004, 316 ff.). In this respect, Aristotle s Politics viii is similar to Plato s Rep. iii 398c-403c and different from Plato s Laws ii 665a-c, where the focus is on Mousikē as including chōreia, the art of dancing and singing (on the Republic see Schofield 2010 and Barker 2005, 19-57, and on Republic and the Laws see Pelosi 2010). The focus on melody and rhythm also implies that Aristotle is especially interested in the progressive nature of music as a movement (see Barker 2005, 108 ff.). 4 Harmonia, melody and rhythm are the three fundamental components of an Ancient Greek musical piece. Harmonia means first and foremost tuning, the different tension and organization that we can give to strings of a lyre or kithara depending on the piece we have to play. Harmonia also has a secondary use, whereby it means mode. A mode is a set of distinctive intervals in a scale, upon which different melodies can be constructed (see West 1992, 178 ff. and Barker 2005, 21 ff.). Harmonia, in both cases, furnishes the static structure upon which the composer or the performer can base their composition or execution. Unlike harmonia, melody is a movement which can be descending, ascending, jumpy or following the scale step by step. Melody has a progressive feature which harmonia lacks (see West 1992, 190 ff and Aristides Quintilianus De Musica ii, 21, cf , , 130.2, Ptolemy Harmonics ii.12. Barker 1990, 2:341 n. 96, 418, 430 ff., 483, 531). Ancient Greek rhythm generally drew upon the metric of verses, and was based on the binary opposition between short and long syllables. The division between the two was probably very well defined, with the long duration lasting twice as long as the short one (West 1992, 129 ff.). Ancient Greek metric and rhythmic where however distinct, and some of the most important sources, including Aristoxenus, do not discuss metrical analysis at length. In some cases, rhythmicians and metricians used a completely different terminology and classification for the same measures (see Aristides Quintilianus De Musica i, 38. 5, West 1992, 137 ff. and Pearson 1990 for Aristoxenus Elementa Rhythmica). Thus rhythm, like harmonia, gives a fixed structure to the otherwise confused movements of the melody (Aristides Quintilianus, De Musica i, , trans. Barker 1990, 2:434). Yet, unlike harmonia, Ancient Greek rhythm has a progressive, as well as a static, aspect. Not only can it structure the pattern of the movement and determine the proportion of long and short notes, but it can also determine the tempo (West 1992, 158 ff. and Problems xix. 38). Their distinctive progressive nature explains why Aristotle is especially interested in melody and rhythm, as opposed to harmonia. In light of this clarification concerning the 4 My argument in this paper is indebted to Barker s analysis of the similarity between the temporal development of actions and melodies, and differs from his view in so far as it focuses on the fact that what matters for Aristotle is that actions, characters and music are called fine for similar reasons. 3 relevance of the progressive aspects of music in the Politics, we can return to Aristotle s account of musical education. Musical Education and Emotion Transmission Musical education is certainly not meant to lead us all the way toward the acquisition of virtue. 5 Nevertheless, it is reasonable to think that musical education, as it is described in the Politics, is at least capable of contributing to moral education as it is described in the Nicomachean Ethics. Both treatises rely on the same educational principles and employ similar expressions. For example, they stress the importance of habituating moral trainees to feel pleasure and pain correctly, or as one should (NE ii 1104b11-12, NE x 1179b24-26 and Pol. viii 1340a15-17). Aristotle concentrates on the contribution of musical education to moral education in Pol. viii 1340a10-b20. Lines a15-17 summarise how musical education is meant to work: Since then it happens that music is a pleasure, and virtue happens to be about rejoicing and loving and hating rightly, it is clear that there is nothing that we should learn and to which we should habituate ourselves more than correctly distinguishing and rejoicing at good characters and fine actions. 6 It is easy to see why, as this passage suggests, we need both to learn how to discriminate correctly fine actions and characters and also to habituate ourselves to rejoice at fine actions and characters. As we know from the Nicomachean Ethics, in order to become virtuous we need both to learn to recognize what is good and fine, and also to habituate ourselves to rejoice at it (see NE ii, and inter alia Burnyeat 1980, Broadie 1991, 103 ff., Sherman 1989, 157 ff.). But why should music have anything to do with virtue, and more specifically with learning and habituation? The only information this passage gives us is that music is pleasant, and not much appears to follow from that. In the following lines, Aristotle adds some details to his account. First, he suggests that melodies and rhythms can be educational because in them we find likenesses (homoiōmata) or imitations (mimēmata) of characters and emotions (Pol. viii 1340a I thank an anonymous referee for pressing this point. 6 ἐπεὶ δὲ συμβέβηκεν εἶναι τὴν μουσικὴν τῶν ἡδέων, τὴν δ ἀρετὴν περὶ τὸ χαίρειν ὀρθῶς καὶ φιλεῖν καὶ μισεῖν, δεῖ δηλονότι μανθάνειν καὶ συνεθίζεσθαι μηθὲν οὕτως ὡς τὸ κρίνειν ὀρθῶς καὶ τὸ χαίρειν τοῖς ἐπιεικέσιν ἤθεσι καὶ ταῖς καλαῖς πράξεσιν Pol. viii 1340a See the Platonic parallel at Rep. iii 401b-402c. 4 and 1340a39). 7 Second, he argues that music, unlike paintings and sculptures, has a special status, for in melodies themselves we find a true likeness or mimēsis of character (Pol. viii 1340a27-39). Third, he demonstrates that melodies affect us differently depending on the harmonia they are based on: In the melodies themselves there are imitations of character, and this is clear. For the nature of the harmoniai is simply different, and as a result listeners are put into different dispositions and do not have the same way of reacting to each of them. The reaction to some (the one called Mixolydian, for example) is more mournful and grave; but to some others (the more relaxed harmoniai, for example) they react by weakening their intellect... this applies in the same way to rhythms. For some of them have a steadier character, others a dynamic one, and among them some have more constrained movements, others have movements more fit for the free. 8 Music s affective powers are, for Aristotle, a sign that we can find imitations and likenesses of character in melodies. The different emotional reactions to a piece of music are a result of the different nature of its harmonia or its rhythm. Some interpreters take their cue from this passage to argue that music s affective powers are more than a sign of its mimetic nature. They argue that music s affective powers are able to explain its educational powers too (see Woodruff 1992, 91, Woerther 2008, 100, Barker 2005, 103-5). 9 It is however unlikely that Aristotle associated music s educational 7 Throughout the Politics viii, Aristotle writes either that we find likenesses (or imitations) of character in melodies and rhythms or that melodies and rhythms have likenesses of character. As I argue below, these are two ways of saying the same thing, i.e. that music is in some way similar to character. 8 ἐν δὲ τοῖς μέλεσιν αὐτοῖς ἔστι μιμήματα τῶν ἠθῶν (καὶ τοῦτ ἐστὶ φανερόν εὐθὺς γὰρ ἡ τῶν ἁρμονιῶν διέστηκε φύσις, ὥστε ἀκούοντας ἄλλως διατίθεσθαι καὶ μὴ τὸν αὐτὸν ἔχειν τρόπον πρὸς ἑκάστην αὐτῶν, ἀλλὰ πρὸς μὲν ἐνίας ὀδυρτικωτέρως καὶ συνεστηκότως μᾶλλον, οἷον πρὸς τὴν μιξολυδιστὶ καλουμένην, πρὸς δὲ τὰς μαλακωτέρως τὴν διάνοιαν, οἷον πρὸς τὰς ἀνειμένας,... τὸν αὐτὸν δὲ τρόπον ἔχει καὶ τὰ περὶ τοὺς ῥυθμούς (οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἦθος ἔχουσι στασιμώτερον οἱ δὲ κινητικόν, καὶ τούτων οἱ μὲν φορτικωτέρας ἔχουσι τὰς κινήσεις οἱ δὲ ἐλευθεριωτέρας). Pol. viii 1340a40-b10 Aristotle s use of the term harmonia suggests that harmonia is used here a synonymous with melody, for it is what is listened to (i.e., it is the object of akouontas). On this point see Kraut 1997, According to Brüllmann 2013, 365 ff., music s affective powers explain why music contains likenessess of characters, but do not explain why it is educational. According to Woodruff 1992 and Woerther 2008, 100, music s affective powers explain both why music s is a likeness or mimesis of certain emotions and why it is educational. According to Barker 2005, music s affective powers explain its educational function, but not its special mimetic nature (Barker 2005, 103-5). 5 function with its affective powers only. Music, especially if it is not accompanied by words, moves us emotionally without transmitting the intentional content of emotions. It can make us feel, say, angry and combative without making us think or imagine a slight and a pleasant revenge. But these contentless emotions cannot train us not to feel angry at the wrong time and towards the wrong people. Hence, they could not help us to acquire the correct character disposition, as Aristotle understands it, with regards to anger or any other emotion (see e.g. NE iv 5 and Brüllmann 2013, for the same critique). For similar reasons, the thesis that musical education provides us with representations or paradigms of fine actions and characters is implausible. Instrumental music, or music without words, seems unable to represent or mimic actions and characters in this way (contra Sherman 1989, 183 ff. and Hitz 2012, 298 ff.). One might object that musical education can work even if it is blind, provided it is suitably controlled. By exposing children to music that gives rise to good emotions and by keeping them away from music that gives rise to shameful emotions, we can help them to associate pleasure with good emotions. This simpler account of the contribution of music s affective powers to moral education, however, is still unconvincing. Although we might think that for Aristotle some emotions like paralysing panic or uncontrollable fury are shameful in all circumstances, there is no evidence that he took some others to be always good or fine. Joy, anger or fear are good in some circumstances, and inappropriate in others. Hence, it is hard to believe that he thought music capable of teaching us to associate pleasure blindly with some emotions which are always good or fine. Furthermore, Aristotle himself suggests that musical education doesn t merely transmit blind emotions, but addresses our recognitional faculties too. At Pol. viii 1340a15-17, Pol. viii 1340b20-25 and Pol. viii 1340b35-39, the point of musical education seems to be to train us to recognize fine melodies, fine actions and good characters as well as to rejoice at them. Hence, we have some good reasons to think that Aristotle s musical education is unlikely to work as blind emotion transmission. In order to explain music s educational powers, we need to look beyond its affective powers. Melodies, Rhythms, Actions and Characters The educational powers of music can be better understood if we focus on its progressive nature, which is especially evident in its melodic and rhythmic aspects. Music s progressive nature suggests that there are important similarities between melodies, rhythms, actions and characters. These similarities explain why in melodies and rhythms there are likenesses and imitations of characters and actions. First, melodies, rhythms, actions and characters are alike in their temporal development. Second, fine actions and 6 fine characters are similar to fine melodies and rhythms. Third, finely listening to a musical piece is similar to acting finely and to finely displaying a virtuous character state. In this section, I analyse these similarities in turn. In the final section, I argue that musical education can work as a morally relevant training precisely in virtue of these special similarities between music, actions and characters. Let us start from the similarities in temporal development. Music s progressive nature distinguishes it from statuary and painting. It explains why likenesses of actions and characters are found especially in music: It so happens that in the other objects of perception, as in the objects of touch and taste, there is no likeness of characters, although in the objects of vision there is a little (figures [sc. of statuary, but presumably paintings too] are of this kind, but only a little, and not everyone shares in this kind of perception. Furthermore, these resulting figures and colours of characters are not likenesses of characters, but more signs, and these signs are distinguishing marks for the emotions...) but in melodies themselves there are imitations of characters. 10 In this passage, the objects of auditory perception are compared with the objects of touch, taste and vision. We find likenesses of characters only in the objects of vision and hearing (contra Plato, who finds mimēmata of character in embroidery, weaving and architecture in Rep. iii 401a1 ff. See also Xenophon, Memorabilia iii.x 5). However, there is a difference between the objects of vision and the objects of hearing. Only the objects of hearing can truly be likenesses or imitations of character qualities. 11 In the objects of 10 συμβέβηκε δὲ τῶν αἰσθητῶν ἐν μὲν τοῖς ἄλλοις μηδὲν ὑπάρχειν ὁμοίωμα τοῖς ἤθεσιν, οἷον ἐν τοῖς ἁπτοῖς καὶ τοῖς γευστοῖς, ἀλλ ἐν τοῖς ὁρατοῖς ἠρέμα (σχήματα γὰρ ἔστι τοιαῦτα, ἀλλ ἐπὶ μικρόν, καὶ οὐ πάντες τῆς τοιαύτης αἰσθήσεως κοινωνοῦσιν ἔτι δὲ οὐκ ἔστι ταῦτα ὁμοιώματα τῶν ἠθῶν, ἀλλὰ σημεῖα μᾶλλον τὰ γιγνόμενα σχήματα καὶ χρώματα τῶν ἠθῶν, καὶ ταῦτ ἐστὶν ἐπίσημ
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