Musical Theory and Philosophy: The Case of Archestratus

In: Phronesis
Author: Andrew Barker1
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  • 1 University of Birmingham, Institute of Archaeology & Antiquity, Arts Building, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

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Little is known about the harmonic theorist Archestratus (probably early 3rd century BC). Our only substantial information comes from Porphyry, who quotes a brief comment by a certain Didymus on his epistemological stance, and seeks to justify it through reflection on a rather startling technical doctrine which Archestratus propounded; and from Philodemus, who comments scathingly on his view of the relation between harmonic theory and philosophy. Neither passage is easy to interpret; this paper tries to make sense of them, and to set them in an intelligible relation to one another. It argues that the doctrine recorded by Porphyry becomes comprehensible when it is placed against the background of Aristoxenus' work in harmonics, and it discusses Porphyry's inferences about the way in which his epistemological position diverged from that of Aristoxenus. It argues that Philodemus' report gives evidence of Archestratus' interest in issues of central concern to philosophy and in particular of an engagement with Aristotelian thought; it tries to identify some specific questions which attracted his attention, and to explain how he seems to have answered them, and why. It suggests that the two reports can be brought together as elements in a single, though fragmentary picture, and finally that Archestratus can be assigned an interesting though minor role in the history of Peripatetic philosophy and science.

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