Music and Morality
"Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world." This famous Robert Kennedy quote reminds us of how influential our predecessors were to us in many different facets, including music. Throughout history, we see how dearly important music and the morality of music were for many societies. As early as 400 B.C.E, during the time of philosophers like Socrates and Plato, music (although much different from what it is today) greatly influenced the mores of society. In the earliest times it was deemed inappropriate and unlawful for music to have an inhibitory affect on the mores of society. As history unfolds itself however, we come to see how greatly this changes. In the days of the above Greek philosophers, society had the ultimate say in the influence of moral content in music. However, in the course of time, even up to present day, societies influence decreases as music makers continuously take more liberties in the practice of their art.
In the early 400's B.C.E., Socrates, a well-known Athenian citizen, spent the majority of his time expounding his philosophy of life in the streets of Greece to anyone who cared to listen. His mission, which he explains in the Apology, was to expose the ignorance of those who thought themselves wise and to try to convince his fellow citizens that every man is responsible for his own moral attitudes. The earliest dialogues of Plato, of which Euthyphro is one of the best examples, show him seeking to define ethical terms and asking awkward questions (Ross 2001).
In Plato's Euthyphro, Socrates goes on a long, confusing tirade at this point in his conversation about piety. Basically he is explaining that something is "not pious because the gods love it, but rather the gods love what is pious because it is pious" (Plato 9-12). The thing that is particularly ironic about this part of the Socratic Dialogue is that there was a Daedalus statue (one made of wood) nearby the king-archon's court where this conversation is happening. Daedalus statues, according to Greek mythology, have the ability to move themselves when something "magical" or "beautiful" happens (Plato 13). It was at this point in the dialogue that the Daedalus tree was moved with beauty, the beauty stemming from Socrates' melodic responses to Euthyphro's questioning. It was almost rather musical and rhyming; so musical that the wooden statue was moved. This is probably one of the earliest accounts of music and its dynamic impact on society; a wooden statue was moved emotionally and physically (as almost in dance) to the sound of Socrates' melodic responses.
The Greek term hosion means "the knowledge of the proper ritual in prayer and sacrifice, and its performance" (Plato 5). Socrates was ultimately accused of lack of hosion. He was under indictment by king Meletus for corrupting the youth of the city and not...