more Bible-code bullshit?

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When I first read Julian Baggini's Guardian piece on stichometry (using standard line lengths to measure ancient texts) in the study of Plato, the thematic structure in twelfths (and the relation to Pythagorean harmonies) piqued my interest but also set off my Bible-code bullshit detector. There a good summary at Science Daily:

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato's writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text -- at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato's entire symbolic system.

The University of Manchester press release claims that "Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure - it was for his own safety:"

Plato's ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato's own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

This reminded me of Straussian esoteric/exoteric textual analysis, but I was intrigued enough to wonder if perhaps there's something there. The paper in question, "Plato's Forms, Pythagorean Mathematics, and Stichometry" (PDF), is indeed interesting, with as much tentativeness as triumphalism:

All this suggests the need to re-evaluate the scant remains of these early Neo-Pythagoreans. There is at least a prima facie case that they recognised the musical structure of the dialogues. [...] Though the evidence reported here will need to be verified and debated, it does clarify, in a surprising way, Aristotle's once puzzling view that Plato was a Pythagorean.

With that caveat, here's Kennedy via Julian Baggini:

"We've got some 2,000 pages of Plato. We now know that underneath all of those genuine dialogues there's another layer of symbolic meaning. This is the beginning of a big debate. It will take years to make sense of all this."

Well, it's taken 2500 years so far...


links:
Kennedy blogs here

Rogue Classicist ponders Kennedy's work here

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on July 11, 2010 11:53 AM.

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