For the Pythagoreans: “the soul is harmony”; for Plato: “the soul has harmony”.


Due to its complex and dexterous character, music has been a special subject of study since ancient times. In his Politics, Aristotle speaks of different states of mind provoked by the effect of Greek musical scales, when used during musical practice. These scales, or modes, take their names from different City-States of ancient Greece, giving origin to the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian modes, among others. Let’s think about folk music nowadays; we speak of repertoires preserved in determined geographical areas, styles born from traditions of the place and from certain circumstances, such as the types of musical instruments available. The attention towards Greek modes is reborn in the modern era, preserving a classification of geographical character; however, the Greek musical scales are not born from the people, as it happens with folk music of different times, but descend directly from the gods

Regarding Mixolydian mode, for example, Aristotle remarks in his Politics that, among the listeners who hear it, “some feel sorrowful and more serious”. To Dorian he attributes “an equidistant and retrospective mood”, and to the Phrygian, a mode which “inspires enthusiasm”. He also notes that: “It is clear that we should employ all the harmonies, yet not employ them all in the same way, but use the most ethical ones for education, and the active and passionate kinds for listening to when others are performing” (Politics, 1342a1-5).

For Aristotle, Dorian will be the most ethical, by having the solemnity of the sonorous register: “for education… one must use ethical melodies and musical modes of the same nature; such is the dorian mode” (Politics, 1342a30). He also points out that: “Regarding the dorian mode, everyone recognizes that it is the most serious mode and is the one that best expresses the manly character” (Politics, 1342b10). Now, we know that the modes were associated to strict social codes in certain regions, and that they were not to be altered by the interpreters:


“The laws of Sparta, for example, ordered that the music listened by their citizens should adhere to the Dorian mode. Terpander, a poet of the 18th century B.C., defied these rules and added a string to his lyre…. despite having rendered a valuable service to the city, he was not forgiven for having transgressed the law and was therefore fined for having infringed the sobriety of the Dorian mode.”  (Zagal, H., Open Insight, Volume X, N.19, May-August 2019, pp. 151.)


From the description given above it is inferred that music has the capability of bursting certain qualities of the soul, and that if this is so, then it’s necessary for young people to receive a musical education. 

It’s interesting to mention that during the Middle Ages, churchly chants used a system of scales similar to the Greek. These scales are known as “ecclesiastical modes”, or “Gregorian modes”, not Greek, in honor of St. Gregory, compiler of this repertoire. Among these, the most used is known as “Protus authenticus”. The reason for this affinity refers to the regularity of its internal structure, that is, to the arrangement between its notes, which is symmetrical: re, mi, fa, sol, and la, si, do, re. It consists of seven notes (the one at the beginning repeats at the end) that are separated at a distance of: tone, semitone, tone and again: tone, semitone, tone.  It is most likely that the Dorian mode of ancient Greeks was also the object of predilection, not only for its solemnity of register, but for its “harmonious” structure; that being more regular than others, turned out to be more aesthetic.

The eighth book of the Politics remains incomplete, but seems to find an adequate end in concluding that: “It is clear, then, that we must establish in education these three limits: the middle term, what is possible and what is convenient”. (Politics, 1342b32-33).