Chapter 2

Proper Music


Sad Music Should not be Promoted by the State


A song or ode has 3 parts:

  • the words
  • the melody
  • the rhythm

There is no difference between words set to music and those not set to music. Both will conform to the same laws. The melody and rhythm will depend on the words.

We had no need of lamentation. The harmonies which express sorrow are the mixed or tenor Lydian, and the full-toned or bass Lydian, and those similar. These must be banished. Even to women who have a character to maintain they are of no use, and much less to men.


Drunkenness, softness, and indolence are also unbecoming of the character of our guardians. The Ionian, and Lydian are the soft or drinking harmonies and are called ‘relaxed.’ They do not have any military use.

The Dorian and the Phrygian are the only ones left. I know nothing of these harmonies. 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.

At such crisis, he meets the blows of fortune with a firm step and a determination to endure. I want him to use another harmony in times of peace and freedom:

  • when there is no pressure of necessity, and he is persuading God by prayer, or man by admonition, or
  • when he is willing to yield to the persuasion of others.

This represents his prudence in not being carried away by his success, but acting wisely under the circumstances, and acquiescing in the event. These two harmonies, the Dorian and Phrygian, 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.

If only these are to be used in our songs and melodies, we shall want more notes or a panharmonic scale. Our lyres and stringed instruments will have 3 corners and complex scales.


But what about the flute-makers and flute-players?

Should we admit them into our State when, 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. The shepherds may have a pipe in the country.

The preferring of Apollo and his instruments to Marsyas and his instruments is not at all strange.

The State Should Promote Harmonious Music


So, by the dog of Egypt, we have been unconsciously purging the State, which not long ago we termed luxurious. Let us now finish the purgation.

Rhythms will naturally follow after harmonies. They should be subject to the same rules, for we should not seek out complex systems of metre, or metres of every kind, but rather to discover what rhythms are the expressions of a courageous and harmonious life.

When we have found them, we shall adapt the foot and the melody to words having a like spirit, not the words to the foot and melody.

Glaucon It is your duty to teach these rhythms as you have already taught me the harmonies.

But I only know that there are some 3 principles of rhythm out of which metrical systems are framed, just as in sounds there are 4 notes (i.e. the 4 notes of the tetrachord) out of which all the harmonies are composed.

But I am unable to say of what sort of lives they imitate. We must ask Damon. He will tell us:

  • what rhythms are expressive of meanness, or insolence, or fury, or other unworthiness, and
  • what are to be reserved for the expression of opposite feelings.

I remember him mentioning a complex Cretic rhythm, also a dactylic or heroic.

He arranged them in a way which I do not understand. He made the rhythms equal in the rise and fall of the foot, long and short alternating. He spoke of an iambic as well as of a trochaic rhythm, and assigned to them short and long quantities. In some cases, he appeared to praise or censure the movement of the foot quite as much as the rhythm, or a combination of the two. We should ask these to Damon himself because this analysis would be difficult.

  • In the first part of the sentence, he speaks of paeonic rhythms which are in the ratio of 3/2.
  • In the second part, of dactylic and anapaestic rhythms, which are in the ratio of 1/1.
  • In the last clause, of iambic and trochaic rhythms, which are in the ratio of 1/2 or 2/1.)

But there is no difficulty in seeing that grace or the absence of grace is an effect of good or bad rhythm. Good and bad rhythms naturally assimilate to a good and bad style. Harmony and discord in like manner follow style, for our principle is that rhythm and harmony are regulated by the words, and not the words by them. The words and the character of the style depend on the temper of the soul.

Everything else depends on the style. Then 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 an euphemism for folly. Our youth must make these graces and harmonies their perpetual aim.


The art of the painter and every other creative and constructive art are full of them:

  • weaving
  • embroidery
  • architecture
  • every kind of manufacture

In all of the following, there is grace or the absence of grace:

  • nature
  • animal
  • vegetable

Ugliness, discord, and inharmonious motion are nearly allied to ill words and ill nature, as grace and harmony are the twins of goodness and virtue and bear their likeness.

But will we only require the poets only to express the image of the good in their works, on pain, if they do anything else, of expulsion from our State? Or is the same control to be extended to other artists?

Are they also to be prohibited from exhibiting the opposite forms of vice and intemperance and meanness and indecency in sculpture and building and the other creative arts?

Should we prevent a person who cannot conform to this rule of ours from practising his art in our State, lest the taste of our citizens be corrupted by him?


We should not let our guardians grow up amid images of moral ugliness. They might feed on a baneful herb day by day, little by little, until a festering mass of corruption emerges in their own soul.

Our artists should instead be those who are gifted to discern the true nature of the beautiful and graceful. Then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything. Beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region.

It will insensibly draw the soul from earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason. There can be no nobler training than that.


Therefore, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul. They will mightily:

  • fasten on these places,
  • impart grace,
  • make the educated soul graceful, or
  • make the uneducated soul ungraceful.

He who has received this true education of the inner being will:

  • most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and
  • with a true taste, he becomes noble and good while he praises and receives into his soul the good
  • will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he knows why

When reason comes, he will recognise and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar. Just as in learning to read, we were satisfied when we knew the letters of the alphabet, which are very few, in all their recurring sizes and combinations.

The same art and study giving us the knowledge of both:


Neither we nor our guardians can ever become musical until we and they:

  • know the essential forms of temperance, courage, liberality, magnificence, and their kindred and contrary forms, in all their combinations
  • can recognise them anywhere.

A beautiful soul that harmonizes with a beautiful form, and the two are cast in one mould, is the fairest of sights to one who has an eye to see it. The man who has the spirit of harmony will be most in love with the loveliest. But he will not love a person who has an inharmonious soul.

Glaucon Yes if the deficiency is in his soul. But if the deficiency is from a mere bodily defect, then he will be patient it and will love all the same.
Socrates I agree. I perceive that you have or have had experiences of this sort. Does the excess of pleasure have any affinity to temperance?
Glaucon How can that be? Pleasure deprives a man of the use of his faculties quite as much as pain. The excess of pleasure has no affinity to virtue and the greatest affinity to wantonness and intemperance.

Sensual love is the greatest or keener pleasure. True love is a love of beauty and order—temperate and harmonious. No intemperance or madness should be allowed to approach true love. Mad or intemperate pleasure must never be allowed to come near the lover and his beloved.

In the city which we are founding, you would make a law that a friend should use no other familiarity to his love than a father would use to his son, and then only for a noble purpose, and he must first have the other’s consent.


This rule is to limit him in all his intercourse. He is never to be seen going further, or, if he exceeds, he is to be deemed guilty of coarseness and bad taste.

Our youth are first trained in music and then gymnastic. Gymnastics and music should begin in early years and should continue through life. I think that bodily excellence does not improve the soul. Rather, the good soul, by her own excellence, improves the body as far as this may be possible.

When the mind is adequately trained, more particular care of the body can be handed over. A guardian should be the last to get drunk.

Glaucon Yes, a guardian requiring another guardian to take care of him is ridiculous.


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