Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
148. The Dodecahedron 150. The Central Fire

From Chapter VII., The Pythagoreans

149. The Soul as Harmony
The view that the soul is a "harmony," or rather an attunement, is intimately connected with the theory of the four elements. It cannot have belonged to the earliest form of Pythagoreanism; for, as shown in Plato's Phaedo, it is quite inconsistent with the idea that the soul can exist independently of the body. It is the very opposite of the belief that "any soul can enter any body."81 On the other hand, we are told in the Phaedo that it was accepted by Simmias and Kebes, who had heard Philolaos at Thebes, and by Echekrates of Phleious, who was the disciple of Philolaos and Eurytos.82 The account of the doctrine given by Plato is quite in accordance with the view that it was of medical origin. Simmias says: "Our body being, as it were, strung and held together by the warm and the cold, the dry and the moist, and things of that sort, our soul is a sort of temperament and attunement of these, when they are mingled with one another well and in due proportion. If, then, our soul is an attunement, it is clear that, when the body has been relaxed or strung up out of measure by diseases and other ills, the soul must necessarily perish at once."83 This is clearly an application of the theory of Alkmaion (§ 96), and is in accordance with the views of the Sicilian school. It completes the evidence that the Pythagoreanism of the end of the fifth century was an adaptation of the old doctrine to the new principles introduced by Empedokles.

It is further to be observed that, if the soul is regarded as an attunement in the Pythagorean sense, we should expect it to contain the three intervals then recognised, the fourth, the fifth and the octave, and this makes it extremely probable that Poseidonios was right in saying that the doctrine of the tripartite soul, as we know it from the Republic of Plato, was really Pythagorean. It is quite inconsistent with Plato's own view of the soul, but agrees admirably with that just explained.84

Burnet's Notes


81. Arist. De an. A, 3. 407 b 20 (R. P. 86 c).

82. Plato, Phaed. 85 e sqq.; and for Echekrates, ib. 88 d.

83. Plato, Phaed. 86 b7-c5.

84. See J. L. Stocks, Plato and the Tripartite Soul (Mind N.S., No. 94, 1915, pp. 207 sqq.). Plato himself points to the connexion in Rep. 443 d, 5 συναρμόσαντα τρία ὄντα, ὥσπερ ὅρους τρεῖς ἁρμονίας ἀτεχνῶς, νεάτης τε καὶ ὑπάτης καὶ μέσης, καὶ εἰ ἄλλα ἄττα μεταξὺ τυγχάνει ὄντα (i.e. the movable notes). Now there is good ground for believing that the statement of Aristides Quintilianus (ii. 2) that the θυμικόν is intermediate between the λογικόν and the ἄλογον comes from the musician Damon (Deiters, De Aristidis Quint. fontibus, 1870), the teacher of Perikles (p. 255, n. 2), to whom the Platonic Sokrates refers as his authority on musical matters, but who must have died when Plato was quite young. Moreover, Poseidonios (ap. Galen, De Hipp. et Plat. pp. 425 and 478) attributed the doctrine of the tripartite soul to Pythagoras, αὐτοῦ μὲν τοῦ Πυθαγόρου συγγράμματος οὐδενὸς εἰς ἡμᾶς διασῳζομένου, τεκμαιρόμενος δὲ ἐξ ὧν ἔνιοι τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ γεγράφασιν.

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