A Paradox of the Ancients, in Respect to Mannersby Montesquieu
Polybius was a judicious writer. He informs us that music was necessary to soften the manners of the Arcadians who lived in a cold gloomy country.
The inhabitants of Cynete slighted music and were the cruellest of all the Greeks. No other town was so immersed in luxury and debauch.
Plato affirms that a change in music can only be done by changing the frame of government. Aristotle seems to have written his politics only to contradict Plato.
He agrees with him in the power and influence of music over the manners of the people. This was also the opinion of Theophrastus, Plutarch, and of all the ancients.
It is an opinion grounded on mature reflection being one of the principles of their polity. Thus it was with music that they enacted laws, and how they required cities should be governed.*
*Superphysics Note: Music here is not audible music, but philosophy-religion-worship (poetry), feeling, and mentality.
In the Greek cities, especially those whose principal object was war, all lucrative arts and professions were considered as unworthy of a freeman.
Aristotle says that it was only by the corruption of some democracies that artisans became freemen. He maintains that a well-regulated republic will never give them the right and freedom of the city.
Agriculture was, likewise, a servile profession. It was done by the inhabitants of conquered countries such as the Helotes, Spartans, Periecians, Cretans, Penestes, Thessalians, etc.
Every kind of low commerce was infamous among the Greeks as it obliged a citizen to serve and wait on a slave, a lodger, or a foreigner. This notion clashed with the spirit of Greek liberty. Hence Plato, in his laws, orders a citizen to be punished if he attempted to concern himself with trade.
Thus, in the Greek republics, the magistrates were extremely embarrassed. They would not have the citizens apply themselves to trade, to agriculture, or to the arts, and yet they would not have them idle. They found, therefore, employment for them in gymnic and military exercises and none else were allowed by their institution.
Hence, the Greeks are a society of wrestlers and boxers. Now, these exercises having a natural tendency to render people hardy and fierce, there was a necessity for tempering them with others that might soften their manners.
For this purpose, music, which influences the mind by means of the corporeal organs, was extremely proper. It is a kind of medium between manly exercises, which harden the body, and speculative sciences, which are apt to render us unsociable and sour. It cannot be said that music inspired virtue, for this would be inconceivable; but it prevented the effects of a savage institution, and enabled the soul to have such a share in the education as it could never have had without the assistance of harmony.
Let us suppose, among ourselves, a society of men, so passionately fond of hunting as to make it their sole employment= they would, doubtless, contract thereby a kind of rusticity and fierceness=
but, if they happen to imbibe a taste for music, we should quickly perceive a sensible difference in their customs and manners. In short, the exercises used by the Greeks could raise only one kind of passions, viz. fierceness, indignation, and cruelty= but music excites all these, and is, likewise, able to inspire the soul with a sense of pity, lenity, tenderness, and love. Our moral writers, who declaim so vehemently against the stage, sufficiently demonstrate the power of music over the mind.
If the society abovementioned were to have no other music than that of drums and the sound of the trumpet, would it not be more difficult to accomplish this end than by the more melting tones of softer harmony? The ancients were, therefore, in the right, when, under particular circumstances, they preferred one mode to another, in regard to manners.
Music is pitched on preferable to any other entertainment because, of all sensible pleasures, there is none that less corrupts the soul. We blush to read, in Plutarch, that the Thebans, in order to soften the manners of their youth, authorised, by law, a passion which should be proscribed by all nations.