Plato (428 BC-347 BC)
Greece 1925 (12-18-1998)
Plato in Search of Confucius
Emmelia: the Dance of Peace
Peter Y. Chou
Confucius (551 BC-479 BC)
China 741 (8-27-1947)
Plato (428 BC-347 BC) wrote
The Laws a few years before his death, and it was
the last book he wrote. In his earlier books, Plato quotes Protagoras that "man is
the measure of all things" (Cratylus
But in his old age, Plato's vision is crystally clear as he declares: "Now it is God who is, for you and me,
the measure of all things" (Laws IV:716c). Plato then reveals his "grandest and truest" rule of conduct: "For
the good man it is the most glorious, good and profitable to happiness of life, to do sacrifice and be ever in
communion with heaven through prayer and offerings, for the good man is pure of soul." (Laws IV:716d).
Later, Plato describes two types of dances: the dance of war for the valiant soul in battle, and the dance
of peace for the continent soul in a state of prosperity.
"We should give credit to the inventor, whoever he may|
have been, for the truth and musical taste of the names,
and the philosophical insight shown by designating fine
dancing as a whole emmelia and proceeding to distingishing
two kinds, each with its fitting and proper name Pyrrhic,
the war dance, and Emmelia, the dance of peace."
Who was the insightful inventor Plato had in mind? Was the Greek sage in mindful communion with the Chinese
sage Confucius (551 BC-479 BC)? In Analects III:25 (Arthur Waley translation, 1938), we find the following:
"Confucius spoke of the Succession Dance (mimed the peaceful
accession of the legendary Emperor Shun) as being perfectly
beautiful and also perfectly good; he spoke of th War Dance
(mimed the accession by conquest of Emperor Wu, who overthrew
the Yin) as being perfectly beautiful, but not perfectly good."
Had Plato known this, he would have given credit to Confucius for the philosophical insight in discerning
these two types of dancing, the Dance of War & the Dance of Peace. After Confucius heard the Succession Song
in Ch'i, he did not know the taste of meat for three months, saying "I did not think that music could reach such
perfection as this" (Analects VII:13). Plato understood this ecstasy when he wrote: "Our songs are really spells
for souls, earnestly directed to the production of concordant experiences" (Laws II:659e). Confucius' instruction
(Analects VIII:8): "Let a man be perfected by music" may be viewed as a tripartite education for the whole man.
Our emotions are inspired by the rhyme of poetry, our mind established by the rules of conduct, and our soul
perfected by the rhythm of music. We find Plato's education of youth to be similar: "He who best blends
gymnastics with music and applies them most suitably to the soul is the most perfect and harmonious musician"
(Republic III:412a) and "The music masters familiarizes children's minds with rhythms and melodies, thus making
them more civilized, more balanced, better adjusted in themselves, and more capable in whatever they say or do,
for rhythm and harmony are essential to the whole of life" (Protagoras 326b). Thus, for both sages, music and dance are important vehicles in cultivating the soul for the attainment of spiritual harmony.
Plato would have been heartened to read Confucius' viewpoint on prayer. When the Master was ill,
Tzu-lu quotes the Eulogies: "Prayer has been made for thee to the spirits of the upper and lower worlds."
Confucius replied: My praying has been for a long time" (Analects VII:34). Since Confucius and Plato were
both pure of soul, they knew the value of prayer in their constant communion with heaven the Cosmic Mind.
Hence the wisdom of their words shine brightly even after 2500 years, for their source is the Eternal. May we follow the wise counsel of these two sages in our daily life, and find the Center of Peace while we work and
dance and pray.
Peter Y. Chou, Palo Alto, 8-5-1985
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