chapter  1
21 Pages

The Musical, the Magical, and the Mathematical Soul


At the beginning of his treatise on the soul, Aristotle considers the opinions of his predecessors, his avowed purpose being to ‘profit by whatever is sound in their suggestions, and avoid their errors’ (De Anima, 403b 23-4).2 One such opinion is that ‘the soul is a kind of harmony’ (407b 30). This theory appears in Plato’s Phaedo, where the relation of soul to body is compared to the relation of a lyre’s harmony and its strings. What is said of soul can equally be said of the harmony, or attunement:

the attunement of a lyre and its strings is something unseen and incorporeal and very lovely and divine in the tuned lyre, while the lyre itself and its strings are corporeal bodies and composite and earthy … [S]omething of this sort is what we actually take the soul to be: our body is kept in tension, as it were, and held together by hot and cold, dry and wet, and the like, and our soul is a blending and attunement of these same things, when they’re blended with each other in due proportion.3