food for souls
“And what, Socrates,” Plato asks rhetorically in Protagoras “is the food of the soul? Surely, knowledge is the food of the soul.”
Knowledge, yes, knowledge is indeed food for the soul. There is an old proverb saying that a ”house that has a library in it has a soul.” However true it may be that a library is full of knowledge and that souls are made and remade in the interaction with other texts, in the meeting with other subjectivities, in the meeting with that which is Other, the saying reflects the primacy of the word - of logos - in western thought.
As we all know, Plato speaks as a man of reason, and of ideas, of an ideal transcendental world where truth and perfection reside. But, as he says in The Republic, music is a good companion in cultivating and aligning the ”soul from earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason” (Book IV). But, it is music in its simplest, most harmonious forms and only a few instruments like the lyre are considered to work for the temperance and education of children, for the cultivation of their harmonious and virtuous soul as,
musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful (ibid).
While the soul here is presupposed to exist prior to being exposed to a library, to books and to knowledge, it can nevertheless be refined and made graceful. The soul is neither self-contained, nor unchanging. It is malleable. What must be shunned then is that which leads astray from the “beauty of reason,” and when the child has grown up there should be no ”new kind of song” (ibid). No, there should be no “new kind of song” as music could prove to be disruptive to society as a whole since “any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State” (ibid). Thus, music in Plato’s view is highly political by its very nature.
What’s a soul without music,
the rhythm of being, and of the body?
A soul famined, maybe.
As an African proverb says:
“Music is food for the soul”