I spent a pleasant morning, Saturday, browsing through the works of Plato, hunting for the source of a quotation I saw on Facebook, today.* I did several textual searches for words, phrases and quotes on sites that offer his collected works, along with other works by classical authors.
Now I must admit that in my reading, I have not read everything Plato wrote. I’ve read several dialogues, and then mostly pieces from his works. Reading the entire Republic has, sadly, defeated me, but I have it available for another try when I retire.
Despite my unfamiliarity with his full canon, when I saw this quotation today, I knew it could not be from Plato:
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
And while the sentiment is good, the flowery quote wasn’t by the Greek philosopher.
I took some time to look at what the various “quotation” sites offer as words from Plato, related especially to music.** Here is another quote commonly, but erroneously, attributed to Plato online (and available on T-shirt, mugs, etc.):
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. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.
This one is actually listed in the Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations (1991, p. 45; proof that the printed word is not free of such mistakes), but is is incorrect as others before me have also found. Not even the Quote Investigator has tackled this quote and found the source, but it isn’t from Plato.
Here are more lines attributed to Plato on various sites***:
Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.
“Philosophy is the highest music.
“What a poor appearance the tales of poets make when stripped of the colors which music puts upon them, and recited in simple prose.
“Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.
“Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.
“Give me the music of a nation; I will change a nation’s mind.
“If you want to measure the spiritual depth of society, make sure to mark it’s music.
“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”
Now while most are misattributions, others may be paraphrases or even differences in translation. I decided to check through the collected works of Plato (online at MIT and the Perseus Digital Library)
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