But now, near the end, he realized that by music, the dream may actually have meant music. In an autobiography entitled Killing Time completed shortly before his death, the iconoclastic Austrian philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend came to an even more rueful conclusion. By doing philosophy he had neglected his true life passion: opera singing.
In the course of Plato's epic utopia, The Republic, Socrates and his interlocutor, Glaucon, set out to develop an ideal curriculum of musical education for the warrior guardian class of the just city. Socrates asks for Glaucon's help in determining which of the musical modes are fit for soldiers.
Socrates: And which are the harmonies expressive of sorrow? You are musical, and can tell me.
Glaucon: The harmonies which you mean are the mixed or tenor Lydian, and the full-toned or bass Lydian, and such like.
S: These then, I said, must be banished; even to women who have a character to maintain they are of no use, and much less to men. Certainly.
In the next place, drunkenness and softness and indolence are utterly unbecoming the character of our guardians.
And which are the soft or drinking harmonies?
The Ionian, he replied, and the Lydian; they are termed 'relaxed.'
Well, and are these of any military use?
Quite the reverse, he replied; and if so the Dorian and the Phrygian are the only ones which you have left.
I answered: Of the harmonies I know nothing, but I want to have one warlike, to sound the note or accent which a brave man utters in the hour of danger and stern resolve, or when his cause is failing, and he is going to wounds or death or is overtaken by some other evil, and at every such crisis meets the blows of fortune with firm step and a determination to endure; and another to be used by him in times of peace and freedom of action, when there is no pressure of necessity, and he is seeking to persuade God by prayer, or man by instruction and admonition, or on the other hand, when he is expressing his willingness to yield to persuasion or entreaty or admonition, and which represents him when by prudent conduct he has attained his end, not carried away by his success, but acting moderately and wisely under the circumstances, and acquiescing in the event.
These two harmonies I ask you to leave; the strain of necessity and the strain of freedom, the strain of the unfortunate and the strain of the fortunate, the strain of courage, and the strain of temperance; these, I say, leave.
To discourage the dissolute sounds, the distribution of musical instruments would have to be controlled, for certain designs make them all too easy to produce.
Then, I said, if these and these only are to be used in our songs and melodies, we shall not want multiplicity of notes or a panharmonic scale?
I suppose not.
Then we shall not maintain the artificers of lyres with three corners and complex scales, or the makers of any other many-stringed curiously-harmonised instruments?
But what do you say to flute-makers and flute-players? Would you admit them into our State when you reflect that in this composite use of harmony the flute is worse than all the stringed instruments put together; even the panharmonic music is only an imitation of the flute?
There remain then only the lyre and the harp for use in the city, and the shepherds may have a pipe in the country.
That is surely the conclusion to be drawn from the argument.
The "harp" is not a harp but a kithara--the largest of the lyre family, a virtuoso instrument from which derives the name of the chordophone that eventually conquered the world--the guitar. And the "flute" that Plato singles out is in fact not a flute at all, but an ancient reed instrument called the aulos.
Auloi were constructed of mouthpieces set in resonating pipes of reed, wood, ivory, horn, or the bone of deer, eagle, or vulture (according to sources collected in Thomas Mathiesen's Apollo's lyre: Greek music and music theory in antiquity and the Middle Ages). What apparently worried Plato was their ability to produce multiple modes in the space of the same performance.
He was not alone in his lack of enthusiasm for the aulos. Aristotle, in his Politics, also prohibits it on pedagogical grounds. What explains this animus, and the preference for simple stringed instruments?
The aulos already had the aura of the foreign, having been introduced to the Greeks from the peoples of Asia Minor. In the Illiad, Agamemnon hears the "high calls of the auloi" carrying from the camps of the Trojans. In myth, Athena takes up the aulos but renounces it after glimpsing, in her reflection in a river, how its playing distorts her face, saying "Away, shameful things, an affront to my body. I do not give myself to ugliness!" The instrument is picked up by the satyr Marsyas, an ethnic Phrygian and devotee of Dionysus who challenges Apollo and his lyre--a gift from Hermes--to a musical show-down. The Muses judge Apollo to be winner, and Marsyas is flayed alive.
Many scholars of music history have therefore assimilated the clash between kithara and aulos to the struggle between Apollo and Dionysus, reason and order versus ecstasy and excess. Concluding his exchange with Glaucon, Socrates notes, "We are not innovating, my friend, in preferring Apollo and the instruments of Apollo to Marsyas and his instruments." The German historian Hermann Abert argued in 1899 that the kithara-aulos opposition was essential to classical education in ethics.
A more materialist interpretation is offered by James McKinnon, who maintains that the attitudes of Plato and Aristotle had more to do with the disdain of Athenian "free men" for professionalism and technical skill of all kinds. The well-bred would be gentleman amateurs, not performers. This could explain why Aristotle prefers the simple lyre even to the kithara: "the aulos must not be admitted into education nor any other professional (technikos) instrument like the kithara."
Interestingly, Aristotle also noted that playing the aulos "prevents the employment of speech." While it was regularly used to accompany choral singing, unlike the lyre one could not play it and sing at the same time. The point of the story about Athena, Apollo, and Marsyas, Aristotle concluded, is that training on the aulos "has no effect on the intelligence, whereas we attribute science and art to Athena."
Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades gives this account of why the charismatic statesman shunned the pipes from his youth:
At school, he usually paid due heed to his teachers, but he refused to play the aulos, holding it to be an ignoble and illiberal thing. The use of the plectrum and the lyre, he argued, wrought no havoc with the bearing and appearance which were becoming to a gentleman; but let a man go to blowing on an aulos, and even his own kinsmen could scarcely recognize his features. Moreover, the lyre blended its tones with the voice or song of its master, whereas the aulos dosed and barricaded the mouth, robbing its master both of voice and speech.While the lyre supports songs and texts with meanings intended by an author, the aulos literally takes the place of a person's voice, transmuting mouth to mouthpiece, and breath to wordless sound. Were the Muses right to give the victory to Apollo? According to at least one account of the contest, Apollo did not best Marsyas in musical merit but with cheap stagecraft. Apollo turned his lyre upside and kept plucking, a stunt that could not be replicated on the pipes, connected as they must be to the body.