You almost certainly know that Plato is one of the most revered philosophers of all time, having invented pretty much all of Western thought while eating breakfast. Now, a new theory suggests he was secretly part of a crazy religious cult founded by the earlier thinker Pythagoras and math teachers like that whom all ended up getting arrested.
You should know from high school that Pythagoras was an absolute beast at figuring out the length of the slanty side of a right triangle. You may not know that he was also a creepy cult leader. The Pythagoreans were a pseudo-religious band of his followers who studied astronomy (first suggesting the Earth was round), believed numbers were divine, and thought the Universe made music. They were also probably into the hacky sack.
The Plato conspiracy theory kicked off when an expert from Manchester University discovered that Plato’s manuscripts seem to follow the 12-note Pythagorean chromatic scale, otherwise known as the foundation of all Western music that has ever been made. The Pythagoreans made a science out of music theory, and one of their ideas was that different bits of the chromatic scale elicited different emotional responses.
Knowing this, when scholars divided the works of Plato into 12 equal parts, they noticed that Plato used the chromatic scale as an outline. The Symposium, for example, has 2,400 lines that were divided into 12 sections of 200 lines each. The harmonic sections yammered on about love, beauty, healing, ascension, and Apollo the god of music. The dissonant sections talked about faulty logic, discourse, beauty without truth, debauchery, and shame. All classic elements of a great party!
Supposedly, the underlying meaning of this structure is that science, divinity, mathematics, and nature are all wrapped in the same burrito; that the laws of nature are defined mathematically, and that the scientific discovery of these laws, brings one closer to the Divine the way Pythagoras believed. Far out, man!
It was all kept secret because, of course, preaching these Pythagorean beliefs was a huge no-no in Athens at the time of Plato and was big part of the reason religious leaders fed Socrates a hemlock cocktail as they believed he was preaching the doctrine of false gods. And since Socrates was Plato’s sidekick, it’s understandable that they would harbor some resentment toward him, too.
While Plato took the whole “poison” thing pretty well, an added insult was that this whole business ended up making him sound kind of like a weirdo.