Symposiacs, by Plutarch

Book IX

This ninth book, Sossius Senecio, contains the discourses we held at Athens at the Muses feast, for this number nine is agreeable to the number of the Muses. Nor must you wonder when you find more than ten questions (which number I have observed in my other books) in it; for we ought to give the Muses all that belongs to them, and be as careful of robbing them as of a temple, since we owe them much more and much better things than these.


Concerning Verses Seasonably and Unseasonably Applied.


Ammonius, captain of the militia at Athens, would show Diogenianus the proficiency of those youths that learned grammar, geometry, rhetoric, and music; and invited the chief masters of the town to supper. There were a great many scholars at the feast, and almost all his acquaintance. Achilles invited only the single combatants to his feast, intending (as the story goes) that, if in the heat of the encounter they had conceived any anger or ill-will against one another, they might then lay it aside, being made partakers of one common entertainment. But the contrary happened to Ammonius, for the contentions of the masters increased and grew more sharp midst their cups and merriment; and all was disorder and confused babbling.

Therefore Ammonius commanded Erato to sing to his harp, and he sang some part of Hesiod’s Works beginning thus,

Contention to one sort is not confined;
(“Works and Days,” 11.)

and I commended him for choosing so apposite a song. Then he began to discourse about the seasonable use of verse, that it was not only pleasant but profitable. And straight every one’s mouth was full of that poet who began Ptolemy’s epithalamium (when he married his sister, a wicked and abominable match) thus,

Jove Juno called his sister and his wife;
(“Iliad,” xviii. 356.)

and another, who refused to sing after supper to Demetrius the king, but after he sent him his young son Philip to be educated sang thus,

Breed thou the boy as doth become
Both Hercules’s race and us;

and Anaxarchus who, being pelted with apples by Alexander at supper, rose up and said,

Some god shall wounded be by mortal hand.
(Euripides, “Orestes,” 271.)

But that Corinthian captive boy excelled all, who, when the city was destroyed, and Mummius, taking a survey of all the free-born children that understood letters, commanded each to write a verse, wrote thus:—

Thrice, four times blest, the happy Greeks that fell.
(“Odyssey,” v. 306.)

For they say that Mummius was affected with it, wept and gave all the free-born children that were allied to the boy their liberty. And some mentioned the wife of Theodorus the tragedian, who refused his embraces a little before he contended for the prize; but, when he was conqueror and came in unto her, clasped him and said,

Now, Agamemnon’s son, you freely may
(Sophocles “Electra,” 2.)

After this a great many sayings were mentioned as unseasonably spoken, it being fit that we should know such and avoid them; — as that to Pompey the Great, to whom, upon his return from a dangerous war, the schoolmaster brought his little daughter, and, to show him what a proficient she was, called for a book, and bade her begin at this line,

Returned from war; but hadst thou there been slain,
My wish had been complete;
(“Iliad,” iii. 428.)

and that to Cassius Longinus, to whom a flying report of his son’s dying abroad being brought, and he no ways appearing either to know the certain truth or to clear the doubt, an old senator came and said: Longinus, will you not despise the flying uncertain rumor, as if you did not know nor had read this line,

For no report is wholly false?
(Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 763.)

And he that at Rhodes, to a grammarian demanding a line upon which he might show his skill in the theatre, proposed this,

Fly from the island, worst of all mankind,
(“Odyssey,” x. 72.)

either slyly put a trick upon him, or unwittingly blundered. And this discourse quieted the tumult.


What is the Reason that Alpha is Placed First in the Alphabet, and What is the Proportion Between the Number of Vowels And Semi-Vowels?


It being the custom of the Muses’ feast to draw lots, and those that were matched to propose curious questions to one another, Ammonius, fearing that two of the same profession might be matched together, ordered, without drawing lots, a geometrician to propose questions to a grammarian, and a master of music to a rhetorician.

First, therefore, Hermeas the geometrician demanded of Protogenes the grammarian a reason why Alpha was the first letter of the alphabet. And he returned the common answer of the schools, that it was fit the vowels should be set before the mutes and semi-vowels. And of the vowels, some being long, some short, some both long and short, it is just that the latter should be most esteemed. And of these that are long and short, that is to be set first which is usually placed before the other two, but never after either; and that is Alpha. For that put after either Iota or Upsilon will not be pronounced, will not make one syllable with them, but as it were resenting the affront and angry at the position, seeks the first as its proper place. But if you place Alpha before either of those, they are obedient, and quietly join in one syllable, as in these words, [Greek omitted] and a thousand others. In these three respects therefore, as the conquerors in all the five exercises, it claims the precedence — that of most other letters by being a vowel, that of other vowels by being dichronous, and lastly, that of these double-timed vowels themselves because it is its nature to go before and never after them.

Protogenes making a pause, Ammonius, speaking to me, said: What! have you, being a Boeotian, nothing to say for Cadmus, who (as the story goes) placed Alpha the first in order, because a cow is called Alpha by the Phoenicians, and they account it not the second or third (as Hesiod doth) but the first of their necessary things? Nothing at all, I replied, for it is just that, to the best of my power, I should rather assist my own than Bacchus’s grandfather. For Lamprias my grandfather said, that the first articulate sound that is made is Alpha; for the air in the mouth is formed and fashioned by the motion of the lips; now as soon as those are opened, that sound breaks forth, being very plain and simple, not requiring or depending upon the motion of the tongue, but gently breathed forth whilst that lies still. And therefore that is the first sound that children make. Thus [Greek omitted], TO HEAR, [Greek omitted], TO SING, [Greek omitted], TO PIPE, [Greek omitted], TO HOLLOW, begin with the letter Alpha; and I think that [Greek omitted], TO LIFT UP, and [Greek omitted], TO OPEN, were fitly taken from that opening and lifting up of the lips when his voice is uttered. Thus all the names of the mutes besides one have an Alpha, as it were a light to assist their blindness; for Pi alone wants it, and Phi and Chi are only Pi and Kappa with an aspirate.

Hermeas saying that he approved both reasons, why then (continued I) do not you explain the proportion, if there be any, of the number of the letters; for, in my opinion, there is; and I think so, because the number of mutes and semi-vowels, compared between themselves or with the vowels, doth not seem casual and undesigned, but to be according to the first proportion which you call arithmetical. For their number being nine, eight, and seven, the middle exceeds the last as much as it wants of the first. And the first number being compared with the last, hath the same proportion that the Muses have to Apollo; for nine is appropriated to them, and seven to him. And these two numbers tied together double the middle; and not without reason, since the semi-vowels partake the power of both.

And Hermeas replied: It is said that Mercury was the first god that discovered letters in Egypt; and therefore the Egyptians make the figure of an Ibis, a bird dedicated to Mercury, for the first letter. But it is not fit, in my opinion, to place an animal that makes no noise at the head of the letters. Amongst all the numbers the fourth is peculiarly dedicated to Mercury, because, as some say, the god was born on the fourth day of the month. And the first letters called Phoenician from Cadmus are four times four, or sixteen; and of those that were afterward added, Palamedes found four, and Simonides four more. Now amongst numbers, three is the first perfect, as consisting of a first, a middle, and a last; and after that six, as being equal the sum of its own divisors (1+2+3). Of these, six multiplied by four makes twenty-four; and also the first perfect number, three, multiplied by the first cube, eight, make the same.

Whilst he was discoursing thus, Zopyrion the grammarian sneered and muttered between his teeth; and, as soon as he had done, cried out that he most egregiously trifled; for it was mere chance, and not design, that gave such a number and order to the letters, as it was mere chance that the first and last verses of Homer’s Iliads have just as many syllables as the first and last of his Odysseys.


Which of Venus’s Hands Diomedes Wounded.


Hermeas would have replied to Zopyrion, but we desired him to hold; and Maximus the rhetorician proposed to him this far-fetched question out of Homer, Which of Venus’s hands Diomedes wounded. And Zopyrion presently asking him again, of which leg was Philip lame? — Maximus replied, It is a different case, for Demosthenes hath left us no foundation upon which we may build our conjecture. But if you confess your ignorance in this matter, others will show how the poet sufficiently intimates to an understanding man which hand it was. Zopyrion being at a stand, we all, since he made no reply, desired Maximus to tell us.

And he began: The verses running thus

Then Diomedes raised his mighty spear,
And leaping towards her just did graze her hand;
(“Iliad,” v. 335. It is evident from what follows that
Plutarch interprets [Greek omitted] in this passage HAVING

it is evident that, if he designed to wound her left hand, there had been no need of leaping, since her left hand was opposite to his right. Besides, it is probable that he would endeavor to wound the strongest hand, and that with which she drew away Aeneas; and which being wounded, it was likely she would let him go. But more, after she returned to Heaven, Minerva jeeringly said,

No doubt fair Venus won a Grecian dame,
To follow her beloved Trojan youths,
And as she gently stroked her with her hand,
Her golden buckler scratched this petty wound.
(“Iliad”, v. 422.)

And I suppose, you sir, when you stroke any of your scholars, you use your right hand, and not your left; and it is likely that Venus, the most skilful of all the goddesses, soothed the heroines after the same manner.


Why Plato Says that Ajax’s Soul Came to Draw Her Lot in the Twentieth Place in Hell.


These discourses made all the other company merry; but Sospis the rhetorician, seeing Hylas the grammarian sit silent and discomposed (for he had not been very happy in his exercises), cried out,

But Ajax’s soul stood far apart;

and raising his voice repeated the rest to him,

But sit, draw near, and patiently attend,
Hear what I say, and tame, your violent rage.

To this Hylas, unable to contain, returned a scurvy answer saying that Ajax’s soul, taking her lot in the twentieth place in hell, changed her nature, according to Plato, for a lion’s; but, for his part, he could not but often think upon the saying of the old comedian,

’Tis better far to be an ass than see
Unworthwhile men in greater honor shine

At this Sospis, laughing heartily, said: But in the meantime, before we have the pack-saddles on, if you have any regard for Plato, tell us why he makes Ajax’s soul, after the lots drawn, to have the twentieth choice. Hylas, with great indignation, refused, thinking that this was a jeering reflection on his former miscarriage. And therefore my brother began thus: What, was not Ajax counted the second for beauty, strength, and courage, and the next to Achilles in the Grecian army? And twenty is the second ten, and ten is the chiefest of numbers, as Achilles of the Greeks. We laughing at this, Ammonius said: Well, Lamprias, let this suffice for a joke upon Hylas; but since you have voluntarily taken upon you to give an account of this matter, leave off jesting, and seriously proceed.

This startled Lamprias a little, but, after a short pause, he continued thus: Plato often tells merry stories under borrowed names, but when he puts any fable into a discourse concerning the soul, he hath some considerable meaning in it. The intelligent nature of the heavens he calls a flying chariot, intimating the harmonious whirl of the world. And here he introduceth one Er, the son of Harmonius, a Pamphylian, to tell what he had seen in hell; intimating that our souls are begotten according to harmony, and are agreeably united to our bodies, and that, when they are separated, they are from all parts carried together into the air, and from thence return to second generations. And what hinders but that [Greek omitted] twentieth should intimate that this was not a true story, but only probable and fictitious [Greek omitted], and that the lot fell casually [Greek omitted]. For Plato always toucheth upon three causes, he being the first and chiefest philosopher that knew how fate accords with fortune, and how our free-will is mixed and complicated with both. And now he hath admirably discovered what influence each hath upon our affairs. The choice of our life he hath left to our free-will, for virtue and vice are free. But that those who have made a good choice should live religiously, and those who have made an ill choice should lead a contrary life, he leaves to the necessity of fate. But the chances of lots thrown at a venture introduce fortune into the several conditions of life in which we are brought up, and which pre-occupates and perverts our own choice. Now consider whether it is not irrational to inquire after a cause of those things that are done by chance. For if the lot seems to be disposed of by design, it ceaseth to be chance and fortune, and becomes fate and providence.

Whilst Lamprias was speaking, Marcus the grammarian seemed to be counting to himself, and when he had done, he began thus: Amongst the souls which Homer mentions in his [Greek omitted], Elpenor’s is not to be reckoned as mixed with those in hell, but, his body being not buried, as wandering about the banks of the river Styx. Nor is it fit that we should reckon Tiresias’s soul amongst the rest —

On whom alone, when deep in hell beneath,
Wisdom Proserpina conferred,

to discourse and converse with the living even before he drank the sacrifice’s blood. Therefore, Lamprias, if you subtract these two, you will find that Ajax was the twentieth that Ulysses saw, and Plato merrily alludes to that place in Homer’s [Greek omitted].


What is Signified by the Fable About the Defeat of Neptune? And Also, Why Do the Athenians Omit the Second Day of the Month Boedromion?


While all were making a disturbance, Menephylus, a Peripatetic philosopher, addressing Hylas: You see, he said, how this investigation is no foolery nor insolence. But leave now, my dear fellow, that obstinate Ajax, whose name is ill-omened, as Sophocles says, and side with Poseidon, whom you yourself are wont to tell has often been overcome, once by Athene here, in Delphi by Apollo, in Argos by Here, in Aegina by Zeus, in Naxos by Bacchus, yet in his misfortunes has always been mild and amiable. Here at least he shares a temple in common with Athene, in which there is an altar dedicated to Lethe. And Hylas, as if he had become better tempered: One thing has escaped you, Menephylus, that we have given up the second day of September, not on account of the moon, but because on that day the gods seemed to have contended for the country. By all means, said Lamprias, by as much as Poseidon was more civilized than Thrasybulus, since not like him a winner but a loser. . . .

(The rest of this book to Question XIII is lost; with the exception of the titles that follow, and the fragment of Question XII.)


Why the Accords in Music are Separated Into Three.


Wherein the Intervals Melodious Differ From Those that are Harmonic.


What is the Cause of Accord? And Also, Why, When Two Accordant Strings are Touched Together, is the Melody Ascribed to The Base?


Why, When the Ecliptic Periods of the Sun and the Moon are Equal in Number, the Moon Appears Oftener Eclipsed Than the Sun.


That We Continue Not Always the Same, in Regard of the Deflux of Our Substance.


Is It More Probable that the Number of the Stars is Even or Odd?

Men must be cheated by oaths. And Glaucias said: I have heard this saying used against Polycrates the tyrant; probably too it was said against others: but why do you ask these questions? Because, by Zeus, said Sospis, I see the children playing odd and even with jackstones and the Academics with words. For such tempers as these differ in no way from those who ask whether they hold clutched in their hands odd or even. Then Protogenes stood up and called me by name: What is the matter with us that we allow these rhetoricians to he so conceited, and to laugh down others while they are asked nothing, and contribute nothing in the way of argument — unless they swear that they have no part in the wine as admirers and disciples of Demosthenes, a man who in his whole life never drank wine. That is not the cause of this, said I; but we have never asked them anything. But unless you have something more useful, I think I can put before them from Homer’s poetry a case of antinomy in rhetorical theses.


A Moot-Point Out of the Third Book of Homer’s Iliads.


What question will you put them, said Protogenes? I will tell you, continued I, and let them carefully attend. Paris makes his challenge in these express words:—

Let me and valiant Menelaus fight
For Helen, and for all the goods she brought;
And he that shall o’ercome, let him enjoy
The goods and woman; let them be his own.

And Hector afterwards publicly proclaiming this challenge in these plain words:—

He bids the Trojans and the valiant Greeks
To fix their arms upon the fruitful ground;
Let Menelaus and stout Paris fight
For all the goods; and he that beats have all.

Menelaus accepted the challenge, and the conditions were sworn to, Agamemnon dictating thus:—

If Paris valiant Menelaus kills,
Let him have Helen, and the goods possess;
If youthful Menelaus Paris kills,
The woman and the goods shall all be his.
(See “Iliad,” iii. 68, 88, 255, and 281.)

Now since Menelaus only overcame but did not kill Paris, each party hath somewhat to say for itself, and against the other. The one may demand restitution, because Paris was overcome; the other deny it, because he was not killed. Now how to determine this case and clear the seeming repugnancies doth not belong to philosophers or grammarians, but to rhetoricians, that are well skilled both in grammar and philosophy.

Then Sospis said: The challenger’s word decides; for the challenger proposed the conditions, and when they were accepted, the opposite party had no power to make additions. Now the condition proposed in this challenge was not killing, but overcoming; and there was reason that it should be so, for Helen ought to be the wife of the bravest. Now the bravest is he that overcomes; for it often happens that an excellent soldier might be killed by a coward, as is evident in what happened afterward, when Achilles was shot by Paris. For I do not believe that you will affirm, that Achilles was not so brave a man as Paris because he was killed by him, and that it should be called the victory, and not rather the unjust good fortune, of him that shot him. But Hector was overcome before he was killed by Achilles, because he would not stand, but trembled and fled at his approach. For he that refuseth the combat or flies cannot palliate his defeat, and plainly grants that his adversary is the better man. And therefore Iris tells Helen beforehand,

In single combat they shall fight for you,
And you shall be the glorious victor’s wife.
(2 Ibid. iii. 137.)

And Jupiter afterwards adjudges the victory to Menelaus in these words:

The conquest leans to Menelaus’s side.
(3 Ibid. iv. 13.)

For it would be ridiculous to call Menelaus a conqueror when he shot Podes, a man at a great distance, before he thought of or could provide against his danger, and yet not allow him the reward of conquest over him whom he made fly and sneak into the embraces of his wife, and whom he spoiled of his arms whilst he was yet alive, and who had himself offered the challenge, by the articles of which Menelaus now appeared to be the conqueror.

Glaucias subjoined: in all laws, decrees, contracts, and promises, those latest made are always accounted more valid than the former. Now the later contract was Agamemnon’s, the condition of which was killing, and not only overcoming. Besides the former was mere words, the latter confirmed by oath; and, by the consent of all, those were cursed that broke them; so that this latter was properly the contract, and the other a bare challenge. And this Priam at his going away, after he had sworn to the conditions, confirms by these words:—

But Jove and other gods alone do know,
Which is designed to see the shades below;
(“Iliad,” iii. 308.)

for he understood that to be the condition of the contract. And therefore a little after Hector says,

But Jove hath undetermined left our oaths,
(Ibid. vii. 69.)

for the combat had not its designed and indisputable determination, since neither of them fell. Therefore this question doth not seem to me to contain any contrariety of law, since the former contract is comprised and overruled by the latter; for he that kills certainly overcomes, but he that overcomes doth not always kill. But, in short, Agamemnon did not annul, but only explain the challenge proposed by Hector. He did not change anything, but only added the most principal part, placing victory in killing; for that is a complete conquest, but all others may be evaded or disputed, as this of Menelaus, who neither wounded nor pursued his adversary. Now as, where there are laws really contrary, the judges take that side which is plain and indisputable, and mind not that which is obscure; so in this case, let us admit that contract to be most valid which contained killing, as a known and undeniable evidence of victory. But (which is the greatest argument) he that seems to have had the victory, not being quiet, but running up and down the army, and searching all about,

To find neat Paris in the busy throng,
(Ibid. iii. 450.)

sufficiently testifies that he himself did not imagine that the conquest was perfect and complete. For when Paris had escaped he did not forget his own words:—

And which of us black fate and death design,
Let him be lost; the others cease from war.
(Iliad, iii. 101,)

Therefore it was necessary for him to seek after Paris, that he might kill him and complete the combat; but since he neither killed nor took him, he had no right to the prize. For he did not conquer him, if we may guess by what he said when he expostulated with Jove and bewailed his unsuccessful attempt:—

Jove, Heaven holds no more spiteful god than thou.
Now would I punish Paris for his crimes;
But oh! my sword is broke, my mighty spear,
Stretched out in vain, flies idly from my hand!
(Ibid. iii, 365.)

For in these words he confessed that it was to no purpose to pierce the shield or take the head-piece of his adversary, unless he likewise wounded or killed him.


Some Observations About the Number of the Muses, Not Commonly Known.


This discourse ended, we poured out our offerings to the Muses, and together with a hymn in honor of Apollo, the patron of the Muses, we sung with Erato, who played upon the harp, the generation of the Muses out of Hesiod. After the song was done, Herod the rhetorician said: Pray, sirs, hearken. Those that will not admit Calliope to be ours say that she keeps company with kings, not such, I suppose, as are busied in resolving syllogisms or disputing, but such who do those things that belong to rhetoricians and statesmen. But of the rest of the Muses, Clio abets encomiums, for praises are called [Greek omitted]; and Polymnia history, for her name signifies the remembrance of many things; and it is said that all the Muses were somewhere called Remembrances. And for my part, I think Euterpe hath some relation to us too, if (as Chrysippus says) her lot be agreeableness in discourse and pleasantness in conversation. For it belongs to an orator to converse, as well as plead or give advice; since it is his part to gain the favor of his auditors, and to defend or excuse his client. To praise or dispraise is the commonest theme; and if we manage this artfully, it will turn to considerable account; if unskilfully, we are lost. For that saying,

Gods! how he is honored and beloved by all,
(“Odyssey,” x. 38.)

chiefly, in my opinion, belongs to those men who have a pleasing and persuasive faculty in discourse.

Then said Ammonius to Herod: We have no reason to be angry with you for grasping all the Muses, since the goods that friends have are common, and Jove hath begotten a great many Muses, that every man may be plentifully supplied; for we do not all need skill in hunting, military arts, navigation, or any mechanical trades; but learning and instruction is necessary for every one that

Consumes the fruits of the spacious earth.
(From Simonides.)

And therefore Jove made but one Minerva, one Diana, one Vulcan, but many Muses. But why there should be nine, and no more nor less, pray acquaint us; for you, so great a lover of, and so well acquainted with, the Muses, must certainly have considered this matter. What difficulty is there in that? replied Herod. The number nine is in everybody’s mouth, as being the first square of the first odd number; and as doubly odd, since it may be divided into three equal odd numbers. Ammonius with a smile subjoined: Boldly said; and pray add, that this number is composed of the two first cubes, one and eight, and according to another composition of two triangles, three and six, each of which is itself perfect. But why should this belong to the Muses more than any other of the gods? For we have nine Muses, but not nine Cereses, nine Minervas or Dianas. For I do not believe that you take it for a good argument, that the Muses must be so many, because their mother’s name (Mnemosyne) consists of just so many letters. Herod smiling, and everybody being silent, Ammonius desired our opinions.

My brother said, that the ancients celebrated but three Muses, and that to bring proofs for this assertion would be pedantic and uncivil in such a company. The reason of this number was (not as some say) the three different sorts of music, the diatonic, the chromatic, and harmonic, nor those stops that make the intervals nete, mese, and hypate, though the Delphians gave the Muses this name erroneously, in my opinion, appropriating it to one science, or rather to a part of one single science, the harmoniac part of music. But, as I think, the ancients, reducing all arts and sciences which are executed and performed by reason or discourse to three heads, philosophy, rhetoric, and mathematics, accounted them the gifts of three gods, and named them the Muses. Afterwards, about Hesiod’s time, the sciences being better and more thoroughly looked into, and men subdividing them found that each science contained three different parts. In mathematics are comprehended music, arithmetic, and geometry; in philosophy are logic, ethics, and physics. In rhetoric, they say the first part was demonstrative or encomiastic, the second deliberative, the third judicial. None of all which they believed to be without a god or a Muse or some superior power for its patron, and did not, it is probable, make the Muses equal in number to these divisions, but found them to be so. Now, as you may divide nine into three threes, and each three into as many units; so there is but one rectitude of reason, which is employed about the highest truth, and which belongs to the whole in common, while each of the three kinds of science is assigned three Muses, and each of these has her distinct faculty assigned to her, which she disposes and orders. And I do not think the poets and astrologers will find fault with us for passing over their professions in silence, since they know, as well as we, that astrology is comprehended in geometry, and poetry in music.

As soon as he had said this, Trypho the physician subjoined: How hath our art offended you, that you have shut the Museum against us? And Dionysius of Melite added: Sir, you have a great many that will side with you in the accusation; for we farmers think Thalia to be ours, assigning her the care of springing and budding seeds and plants. But I interposing said: Your accusation is not just; for you have bountiful Ceres, and Bacchus who (as Pindar phraseth it) increaseth the trees, the chaste beauty of the fruits; and we know that Aesculapius is the patron of the Physicians, and they make their address to Apollo as Paean, but never as the Muses’ leader. All men (as Homer says) stand in need of the gods, but all stand not in need of all. But I wonder Lamprias did not mind what the Delphians say in this matter; for they affirm that the Muses amongst them were not named so either from the strings or sounds in music; but the universe being divided into three parts, the first portion was of the fixed stars, the second of the planets, the third of those things that are under the concave of the moon; and all these are ordered according to harmonical proportions, and of each portion a Muse takes care; Hypate of the first, Nete of the last, and Mese in the middle, combining as much as possible, and turning about mortal things with the gods and earthly with heavenly. And Plato intimates the same thing under the names of the Fates, calling one Atropos, the other Lachesis, and the other Clotho. For he hath committed the revolutions of the eight spheres to so many Sirens, and not Muses.

Then Menephylus the Peripatetic subjoined: The Delphians’ opinion hath indeed somewhat of probability in it; but Plato is absurd in committing the eternal and divine revolutions not to the Muses but to the Sirens, Daemons that neither love nor are benevolent to mankind, wholly passing by the Muses, or calling them by the names of the Fates, the daughters of Necessity. For Necessity is averse to the Muses; but Persuasion being more agreeable and better acquainted with them, in my opinion, than the grace of Empedocles,

Intolerable Necessity abhors.

No doubt, said Ammonius, as it is in us a violent and involuntary cause; but in the gods Necessity is not intolerable, uncontrollable, or violent, unless it be to the wicked; as the law in a commonwealth to the best man is its best gift, not to be violated or transgressed, not because they have no power, but because they have no will, to change it. And Homer’s Sirens give us no just reason to be afraid; for he in that fable rightly intimates the power of their music not to be hurtful to man, but delightfully charming, and detaining the souls which pass from hence thither and wander after death; working in them a love for heavenly and divine things, and a forgetfulness of everything on earth; and they extremely pleased follow and attend them. And from thence some imperfect sound, and as it were echo of that music, coming to us by the means of reason and good precepts, rouseth our souls, and restores the notice of those things to our minds, the greatest part of which lie encumbered with and entangled in disturbances of the flesh and distracting passions. But the generous soul hears and remembers, and her affection for those pleasures riseth up to the most ardent passion, whilst she eagerly desires but is not able to free herself from the body.

It is true, I do not approve what he says; but Plato seems to me, as he hath strangely and unaccountably called the axes spindles and distaffs, and the stars whirls, so to have named the Muses Sirens, as delivering divine things to the ghosts below, as Ulysses in Sophocles says of the Sirens,

I next to Phorcus’s daughters came,
Who fix the sullen laws below.

Eight of the Muses take care of the spheres, and one of all about the earth. The eight who govern the motions of the spheres maintain the agreement of the planets with the fixed stars and one another. But that one who looks after the place betwixt the earth and moon and takes care of mortal things, by means of discourse and song introduceth persuasion, aiding our natural consent to community and agreement, and giveth men as much harmony, grace, and order as is possible for them to take; introducing this persuasion to appease and quiet our disturbances, and as it were to recall our wandering desires out of the wrong way, and to set us in the right path. But, as Pindar says,

Whom Jove abhors, he starts to hear
The Muses sounding in his ear.
(Pindar, “Pythian,” i. 25.)

To this discourse Ammonius, as he used to do, subjoined that verse of Xenophanes,

This fine discourse seems near allied to truth,

and desired every one to deliver his opinion. And I after a short silence, said: As Plato thinks by the name, as it were by tracks, to discover the powers of the gods, so let us place in heaven and over heavenly things one of the Muses, Urania. And it is likely that those require no distracting variety of cares to govern them, since they have the same single nature for the cause of all their motions. But where are a great many irregularities and disorders, there we must place the eight Muses, that we may have one to correct each particular irregularity and miscarriage. There are two parts in a man’s life, the serious and the merry; and each must be regulated and methodized. The serious role, which instructs us in the knowledge and contemplation of the gods, Calliope, Clio, and Thalia appear chiefly to look after and direct. The other Muses govern our weak part, which changes presently into wantonness and folly; they do not neglect our brutish and violent passions and let them run their own course, but by appropriate dancing, music, song, and orderly motion mixed with reason, bring them down to a moderate temper and condition. For my part, since Plato admits two principles of every action, viz, the natural desire after pleasure, and acquired opinion which covets and wishes for the best, and calls one reason and the other passion, and since each of these is manifold, I think that each requires a considerable and, to speak the truth, a divine direction. For instance, one faculty of our reason is said to be political or imperial, over which Hesiod says Calliope presides; Clio’s province is the noble and aspiring; and Polymnia’s that faculty of the soul which inclines to attain and keep knowledge (and therefore the Sicyonians call one of their three Muses Polymathia); to Euterpe everybody allows the searches into nature and physical speculations, there being no greater, no sincerer pleasure belonging to any other sort of speculation in the world. The natural desire to meat and drink Thalia reduceth from brutish and uncivil to be sociable and friendly; and therefore we say [Greek omitted] of those that are friendly, merry, and sociable over their cups, and not of those that are quarrelsome and mad. Erato, together with Persuasion, that brings along with it reason and opportunity, presides over marriages; she takes away and extinguisheth all the violent fury of pleasure, and makes it tend to friendship, mutual confidence, and endearment, and not to effeminacy, lust, or discontent. The delight which the eye or ear receives is a sort of pleasure, either appropriate to reason or to passion, or common to them both. This the two other Muses, Terpsichore and Melpomene, so moderate, that the one may only tickle and not charm, the other only please and not bewitch.


That There are Three Parts in Dancing: [Greek omitted], Motion, [Greek omitted], Gesture, and [Greek omitted], Representation.

What Each of Those is and What is Common to Both Poetry and Dancing.


After this, a match of dancing was proposed, and a cake was the prize. The judges were Meniscus the dancing-master, and my brother Lamprias; for he danced the Pyrrhic very well, and in the Palaestra none could match him for the graceful motion of his hands and arms in dancing. Now a great many dancing with more heat than art, some desired two of the company who seemed to be best skilled and took most care to observe their steps, to dance in the kind called [Greek omitted]. Upon this Thrasybulus, the son of Ammonius, demanded what [Greek omitted] signified, and gave Ammonius occasion to run over most of the parts of dancing.

He said they were three — [Greek omitted], [Greek omitted] and [Greek omitted]. For dancing is made up of motion and manner [Greek omitted] as a song of sounds and stops; stops are the ends of motion. Now the motions they call [Greek omitted], and the gestures and likeness to which the motions tend, and in which they end, they call [Greek omitted]: as, for instance, when by their own motions they represent the figure of Apollo, Pan, or any of the raging Bacchae. The third is [Greek omitted]; which is not an imitation, but a plain downright indication of the things represented. For as the poets, when they would speak of Achilles, Ulysses, the earth, or heaven, use their proper names, and such as the vulgar usually understand. But for the more lively representation, they use such words as by their very sound express some eminent quality in the thing, or metaphors; as when they say that streams do “babble and flash”; that arrows fly “desirous the flesh to wound”; or when they describe an equal battle by saying “the fight had equal heads.” They have likewise a great many significative compositions in their verses. Thus Euripides of Perseus,

He that Medusa slew, and flies in air;

and Pindar of a horse,

When by the smooth Alpheus’s banks
He ran the race, and never felt the spur;

and Homer of a race,

The chariots, overlaid with tin and brass,
By fiery horses drawn ran swiftly on.
(Euripedes, Frag. 975; Pindar, “Olympian,” i. 31;
“Iliad,” xxiii. 503.)

So in dancing, the [Greek omitted] represents the shape and figure, the [Greek omitted] shows some action, passion, or power; but by the [Greek omitted] are properly and significatively shown the things themselves, for instance, the heaven, earth, or the company. Which, being done in a certain order and method, resembles the proper names used in poetry, decently clothed and attended with suitable epithets. As in these lines,

Themis the venerable and admired,
And Venus beauteous with her bending brows,
Fair Dione, and June crowned with gold.
(Hesiod, “Theogony,” 16.)

And in these,

From Hellen kings renowned for giving laws,
Great Dorus and the mighty Xuthus sprang,
And Aeolus, whose chief delight was horse.

For if poets did not take this liberty, how mean, how grovelling and flat, would be their verse! As suppose they wrote thus,

From this sprung Hercules, from the other Iphitus.
Her father, husband, and her son were kings,
Her brother and forefathers were the same;
And she in Greece Olympias was called.

The same faults may be committed in that sort of dancing called [Greek omitted] unless the representation be lively and graceful, decent and unaffected. And, in short, we may aptly transfer what Simonides said of painting to dancing, and call dancing mute poetry, and poetry speaking dancing; for poesy doth not properly belong to painting, nor painting to poesy, neither do they any way make use of one another. But poesy and dancing share much in common especially in that type of song called Hyporchema, in which is the most lively representation imaginable, dancing doing it by gesture, and poesy by words. So that poesy may bear some resemblance to the colors in painting, while dancing is like the lines which mark out the features. And therefore he who was the most famous writer of Hyporchemes, who here even surpassed himself, sufficiently proveth that these two arts stand in need of one another he shows what tendency poetry hath to dancing; whilst the sound excites the hands and feet, or rather as it were by some cords distends and raiseth every member of the whole body; so that, whilst such songs are recited or sung, they cannot be quiet. But nowadays no sort of exercise hath such bad depraved music applied to it as dancing; and so it suffers that which Ibyeus as to his own concerns was fearful of, as appears by these lines,

I fear lest, losing fame amongst the gods,
I shall receive respect from men alone.

For having associated to itself a mean paltry sort of music, and falling from that divine sort of poetry with which it was formerly acquainted, it rules now and domineers amongst foolish and inconsiderate spectators, like a tyrant, it hath subjected nearly all music, but hath lost all its honor with excellent and wise men.

These, my Sossius Senecio, were almost the last discourses which we had at Ammonius’s house during the festival of the Muses.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24