The Cyclops’ Revenge

Aelius Aristides on Plato, Philoxenus, and New Music

In: Greek and Roman Musical Studies
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  • 1 King’s College London
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Taking issue with the Gorgias and its dismissal of fifth-century Athenian rhetoricians and statesmen, in his Reply to Plato in Defence of the Four (Or. 3) the imperial sophist Aelius Aristides finds himself dealing with Plato’s condemnation of New Music, which in the Gorgias had gone hand in hand with the censure of rhetoric. In a brilliant display of new musical ‘revisionism’ so far ignored by scholars, Aristides presents in a positive light the notorious new dithyrambist Philoxenus of Cythera, so that Plato’s influential criticism of New Music, and especially of its political implications, backfires. This paper provides a close analysis of Aristides’ new musical discussion, concentrating both on the sophist’s engagement with Platonic musical critique and on his use of anecdotal traditions about Philoxenus circulating under the Empire. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the history of New Music and its ancient, not always predictable, reception.

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