Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything.
This is one of those quotations attributed to “Plato” that have spread through the Internet like airborne viruses. You’ll notice that, in the thousands of times it appears on the Web, it’s never referred to an actual Platonic dialogue. There’s no way now to discover who said it first, but we can be sure it wasn’t Plato. His own view of music was extremely circumscribed and selective: only certain types of music were suitable for the public — those that trained citizens toward virtue and self-discipline. For a taste of Plato’s views on the relationship of music to moral education, have a look at Book II of his Laws
(Jowett’s English translation is readily available on the ‘Net).
Plato’s Socrates would have given a very uncomfortable afternoon to anyone who declared to him that “Music … gives a soul to the universe … and life to everything.” (Unless he was able to spin it somehow into an allusion to Timaeus' "harmony of the spheres.") His highest praise of music actually occurs in Book III of the Republic
, para. 401d-402a:Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognise and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.
For what it’s worth to you, here’s the first sentence of the above (down to the semicolon) in the original Greek:Κυριωτάτη ἐν μουσικῇ τροφή, ὄτι μάλιστα καταδύεται εἰς τὸ ἐντὸς τῆς ψυχῆς ὄ τε ῥυθμὸς καὶ ἁρμονία, καὶ ἐρρωμενέστατα ἅπτεται αὐτῆς φέροντα τὴν εὐσχημοσύνην, καὶ ποιεῖ εὐσχήμονα, ἐάν τις ὀρθῶς τραφῇ, εἰ δὲ μή, τοὐναντίον.
Ιf, in your other readings of the actual works of Plato, you come across something worth having in the original Greek, we’d be more than happy to provide it — just give us chapter and verse!
And happy New Year to you, too!