Was Plato a secret Pythagorean?

plato1How did I miss this? Jay Kennedy, an historian and philosopher of science at the University of Manchester, claims to have made an unusual discovery in the works of Plato. In short, he argues that the philosopher was a closet Pythagorean, and that he left numerous textual clues to that effect.

[Kennedy] used a computer to restore the most accurate contemporary versions of Plato’s manuscripts to their original form, which would consist of lines of 35 characters, with no spaces or punctuation. What he found was that within a margin of error of just 1 or 2 per cent, many of Plato’s dialogues had line lengths based on round multiples of 1200. The Apology has 1200 lines; Protagoras, Cratylus, Philebus and The Symposium each have 2400 lines; Gorgias 3600; The Republic 12,200; and Laws 14,400. This is no accident, Dr Kennedy says.

”We know that scribes were paid by the number of lines, library catalogues had the total number of lines, so everyone was counting lines,” he said. He believes Plato was organising his texts according to a 12-note musical scale, attributed to Pythagoras….

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Knowing how he did so “unlocks the gate to the labyrinth of symbolic messages in Plato.”

Believing this pattern corresponds to the 12-note musical scale widely used by Pythagoreans, Dr Kennedy divided the texts into equal 12ths and found that “significant concepts and narrative turns” within the dialogues are generally located at their junctures.

So if this is true, what was Plato trying to communicate?

As far as Kennedy can tell, Plato’s message was one of solidarity simply by acknowledging the relationship between music and mathematics, but he suspects there’s more to it. “Perhaps some scholar will find that — in The Republic, at least — that there is something like a melody or a score embedded in the text,” he says.

I’m suspicious; conspiracy theories almost never pan out. Still, Kennedy’s work is being taken seriously, with this current study appearing in the new issue of Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science.

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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