One of the important considerations of the philosopher Plato has to do with art and music. He discusses the basics which should be employed in the education and inspiration of those who are to become guardians in society; that is those who are to be the pattern, the paradigm of what all should become in a given society.

What are the basic elements of music? Notes, rhythm, style, timing, harmony, lyrics (words).

All of these are recognized by Plato. They are also acknowledged by our Creator in that He built into Creation rhythm, lyrics, harmony, timing, and the notes of expression. God has also given us lyrics (words) in the Psalms and other poetic expressions in both the Old and the New Testaments. The basic elements of music are embedded in the very fabric of what exists. Music comes from the very being and nature of God. It is expressed in fundamental ways throughout Creation and in the creativity and expression of both men and women; human and animal realms.

In Book III of The Republic, Plato indicated that “beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity, – I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.” Music is part of the whole in Creation. Nature sings. There are the noises that form part of the natural world—birds that chirp, the wind in the trees rustling the leaves; the other miscellaneous sounds of animals and plants in nature; the noises of the other elements in nature and the heavens above; the many noises of which we are not even aware. All of these are part of the music in creation, what is sometimes termed “the music of the spheres.”

God’s creation rejoices in harmony, rhythm and expressiveness. Music touches us in manifold ways.

Music not only touches us intellectually, it affects us emotionally and spiritually also. There is a triune impact from this important media that touches us—intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Music moves us in these three ways. Music either inspires us or depresses us. It either motivates us or distracts us.

This is one of the reasons young people find pleasure or preoccupation with music. Music can dull our feelings or enthuse our thinking.

This is the very reason that Plato advocated that the Guardians be careful in regards to the music that they embraced and enjoyed.

Music can be a great friend or a terrible foe in our productive lives. It can keep us from being better or depress us into the state that we do little positive, if anything good at all.

The primitive education at Athens consisted of two major branches of study—gymnastics for the body and music for the mind. Music comprehended from the beginning everything associated with the realm of the nine Muses; not merely learning the use of the lyre or how to contribute a part in chorus, but also the hearing, learning, and repeating of poetical compositions, as well as the practice of exact and elegant pronunciation — which latter accomplishment, in a language like Greek, with long words, measured syllables, and great diversity of accentuation between one word and another, must have been far more difficult to acquire than it is in modern European language. As the range of ideas enlarged, so the words music and musical teachers acquired an expanded meaning, so as to comprehend matters of instruction at once ampler and more diversified.

It was during the middle of the fifth century B.C. in Athens that there emerged many musical teachers having distinguished abilities and greatly eminent musical expressions,

indeed masters of all learning and accomplishments of that age; men teaching Astronomy, Geography, Physics, as well as Music. These intellectuals were capable of holding discussions with pupils upon a variety of problems confronting intellectuals in that age. Among this number was the Philosopher Plato.

Plato was very involved in the explanation and application of what we call today “music.” Music has always been more than just sound, instruments, lyrics and singing. Music speaks to the inner person, the deeper nature and soul of man. Music is a language that speaks to the spirit and soul of man. It is a language that not only speaks to the mind, but also to the heart of man. Music is the language of inspiration.

Plato felt that music was something very important in society, and even advocated banning certain music or art if it did not work for the society as a whole.

In our more recent time, musical “artists” have been frowned upon for the kind of music they feed the youth and others.

Plato’s alarm regarding this was an early attempt to protect the citizenry against the pernicious influence that this powerful language of the spirit can have in the inner being of those who listen to it. Plato’s idealism goes much farther in dealing with music.

Plato envisioned a just and equitable city-state containing all the elements acting harmoniously and melodically together to produce wise and honorable and brave and courageous citizens. Music, Plato argued in his various concerns for this artistry, was a primary force that would bring one to behave justly, equitably and harmoniously. It is this “music of the spheres” that links all creation, including us, to the God of all harmony and to the lyrics of His eternal Word.

There are many things that we need to do as citizens. We need to encourage artistic expression, support musical performances and celebrate creative expressions of music. We have an important part in both rewarding and enjoying the artists and musicians who bless us and inspire us with their artistry and creative expressions. Let me hear from you on what you think about art and music in our community. What do you think?

— Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a retired history professor.