Maximus Tyrius-Whether The Liberal Disciplines Contribute Anything To Virtue

Dietrich Meyer (1572-1658), ‘ The Seven Liberal Arts’.


And today we resume our sharings from the Blue House of HYGEIA:With an extract from Dissertation XXI of Maximus Tyrius: ‘Whether the liberal disciplines contribute anything to Virtue.’ Translation by Thomas Taylor. Original 1804 edition.


‘SOCRATES, in the Piraeum, discoursing with political characters, fashions in words, as in a drama, an image of a good city and polity. He also establishes laws, educates children, and appoints guardians for the city, and delivers over both the bodies and souls of the citizens to music and gymnastic; for this purpose, appointing good preceptors and select judges of both these disciplines, as being the leaders of the flock, and denominating these leaders guardians ; thus forming a city in a dream and not in reality, as it will appear to some one of a more rustic genius. This, however, was the manner of the ancient philosophy, which was similar to oracles. But, if you please, we will dismiss Socrates, and call on the Athenian guest to answer us : for I heard him discoursing in Crete, in the cavern of Dictaean Jupiter, to Megillus the Lacedaemonian, and Clinias the Cnossian, and establishing laws for a Doric city, in order that the Cretans might be persuaded to introduce music into the study of fortitude, and thus mitigate the ferocity of anger by melody, lest virtue among them should become mutilated or imperfect in consequence of preparing themselves to act valiantly, endure labours, and die without deserting their station in battle, but imparting no remedy against the sedition in the souls of their citizens.


What then do you say, O Attic guest? Is good so narrow, grovelling, difficult to be obtained, immanifest, and replete with molestation, that we cannot obtain it without singing, and drawing geometrical lines, and consuming our time in these as if it were our intention to become something else, and not to be good men? Though divine virtue, indeed, according to its use, is sublime and great, and near to everyone, but, according ta its possession, is not difficult to him who but once wishes to be obedient to the beautiful in conduct, and to oppose whatever is base. The Athenian guest, however, will answer, that this, which is called the law of the city, without the obedience of those that use it, is promulgated in vain, and that it is necessary the people should submit to it voluntarily ; but the people in the soul are numerous and foolish, who, nevertheless, when they once yield their assent to the law, and follow where it commands, produce the most excellent polity in the soul, and which men denominate philosophy. Come, then, let philosophy approach after the manner of a legislator, adorning: the disorderly and wandering soul as if it were the people in a city.


Let her also call as her coadjutors other arts; not such as are sordid by Jupiter, nor such as require manual operation, nor such as contribute to procure us things little and vile; but let one of these be that art which prepares the body to be subservient, as a prompt and robust vehicle, to the mandates of the soul, and which is denominated gymnastic. Let another art be that which is the angel of the conceptions of the soul, and which is called rhetoric ; another, that which is the nurse and tutor of the juvenile mind, and which is denominated poetry; another that which is the leader of the nature of numbers, and which is called arithmetic ; and another that which is the teacher of computation, and is called logistic. Let geometry, also, and music follow, who are the associates of philosophy and conscious of her arcana, and to each of which she distributes a portion of her labour.


And of her labours, indeed, perhaps we may discourse hereafter ; but let us now assert what is reasonable about music, the most ancient of all the studies in the soul ; that it is a pursuit, beautiful indeed to a man, and again, that it is also beautiful to a city and to the whole human race, by which, through the destiny of the gods, it is studied. I do not speak of that music which proceeds into the soul through flutes and singing, through choirs and dancing, unaccompanied with words, and which is honoured for the delight it procures to the ears: for human error, it seems, embraced this in consequence of pursuing the apparently pleasant, and through this love adulterating the accuracy of music. Indeed this accuracy is now no longer to be found: but the music which we have at present, abandoning its sane and ancient beauty, deceives us like doves, by exhibiting a counterfeit and not a native flower ; and thus, associating with nothing but an image of music, we ignorantly think that it is the true Heliconian muse, which was the friend of Homer, the preceptor of Hesiod, and the mother of Orpheus, neither possessing this, nor having any knowledge of it. The illegitimate usurpation, however, gradually insinuating itself into the soul, drew it into this misfortune both privately and publicly. For when the Dorians, who inhabit Sicily, leaving at home that mountain and simple music which they used among their herds and flocks, became enamoured of Sybaritic pipes, and studied such dancing as the Ionian flute excites, then, to speak the most favourably, they became less wise, but, to speak most truly, they became more intemperate. But the ancient Athenian muse consisted of choirs of boys and men; and the husbandmen being collected in tribes, who had not yet wiped away the dust which they had collected in the field from the harvest and sowing, poured forth the extemporaneous song.


This muse, however, gradually declining into the art of insatiable grace in the scene and in theatres, became the source to the Athenians of political error. But the true harmony which the choir of the muses sings, and of which Apollo Musagetes is the leader, saves the soul, saves a house, saves a city, saves a ship, saves an army…’

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