Plato's Myth of Er as the founding myth of the tradition of the Harmony of the Spheres
Plato's Myth of Er, at the very end of his Republic, tells the story of the Pamphylian soldier Er, who is apparently killed in battle, but instead goes through a near-death-experience in which he follows the souls of the dead in their epic voyage through the realms of the afterlife. Among his various experiences, during the souls' ascent out of the Solar System he hears the sounds produced by the spirits of the planets during their revolutions around the Sun. Ten days after his death, Er wakes up in his very own funeral pyre, and tells his astonished comrades of his experiences traversing the path to the afterlife. The story eventually finds its way to Socrates' entourage, and Plato (perhaps disconcertingly) uses it to wrap-up his long set of dialogues centred on human society, ethics, government and politics.
The Myth of Er is the first written account we have in the West of the prevalent idea of the Harmony or music Spheres, which was destined to generate a long tradition that continued uninterrupted until the time of Kepler, and which has seen a revival since the second post-war period, albeit at the fringes of musicology and "harmonic theory" (distinct from "musical harmony"). This paper wishes to present the myth to the audience (with special detail on the musical component), and to speculate on why would the tale of a near-death-experience crown a series of dialogues on society, politics and statesmanship.
Johann Hasler is a Colombian composer, musicologist and university lecturer. He studied composition at the National Univeristy in Bogotá (Colombia), and obtained a PhD in music form Newcastle University in 2011. He is currently Assistant Professor of Music at the Universidad de Antioquia (Medellín-Colombia), where he chairs music composition.