Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scholar Claims to Have Unlocked 'The Plato Code'

Original Story here LONDON (June 30) -- A scholar unlocks a code buried within ancient Greek texts to discover secret messages left by a long-dead philosopher. This isn't the plot of the next Dan Brown novel, but the result of an English academic's five-year-long study of Plato.

Jay Kennedy of the University of Manchester claims that Plato (who died around 347 B.C.) wove a complex musical and mathematical cipher into the text of famed dialogues like "The Republic." According to Kennedy's research, which is published in this month's edition of the respected classics journal Apeiron, that code was used to hide the fact that the Athenian was a secret follower of the philosopher Pythagoras and shared his belief that the key to understanding the universe lay in numbers and math.

"Plato's books played a major role in founding Western culture, but they are mysterious and end in riddles," says Kennedy, a historian and philosopher of science. "In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but modern scholars rejected this. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato."

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English scholar Jay Kennedy claims to have unlocked secret messages in texts written by Greek philosopher Plato.

Other academics aren't quite so certain that hidden meanings lurk beneath Plato's ponderings. "It's not impossible in principle, but I think I would need further persuasion," says Dr. James Warren, an expert in early Greek philosophy at Cambridge University's Corpus Christi College. "The question is, why should it be there? And what difference does it make to our understanding Plato's dialogues?"

Kennedy says he unwrapped the Platonic puzzle using stichometry, measuring the number of lines in the original text. Using a computer program, he was able to convert the most accurate contemporary versions of Plato's manuscripts into their original form, which would have consisted of lines of 35 Greek characters, with no spaces or punctuation. He found that the restored texts followed a curious pattern and had line lengths involving multiples of the number 12. "The Apology," for example, has 1,200 lines, "The Symposium" has 2,400 and "The Republic" has 12,000.

He doesn't believe this is a coincidence, as most educated people in ancient Athens would have been aware of the importance of line counts. Scribes were often paid by the line, and, as authors often chose not to give their manuscripts titles, librarians would have labeled them according to the number of lines.

The recurring pattern, Kennedy says, chimes with the 12-note Greek musical scale, supposedly pioneered by Pythagoras. And after dividing the texts into equal 12ths, the Manchester academic found that "major turns in the argument and major concepts" matched the spacings of musical notes. In every 1,000 lines in the 12,000-line "Republic," for example, Kennedy observed that Plato turned to the theme associated with the relevant note on the scale. Musings on love or laughter appear at the third, fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth "notes," which were considered harmonious by the ancient Greeks. At the more dissonant fifth, seventh, 10th and 11th "notes," meanwhile, the philosopher engaged with matters of war or death.

"As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale," Kennedy says. "Plato plays his readers like musical instruments."

But the ancient Athenian wasn't just laying down a merry tune. Kennedy argues that the code also kept him out of trouble with the Zeus-worshipping authorities. "After [Plato's teacher] Socrates was executed for sowing doubts about Greek religion, Plato had every reason to hide his commitment to a scientific view of the cosmos," Kennedy says.

Cambridge's Warren, though, casts doubt on that motivation, noting that Plato frequently hinted that he thought the universe was mathematically structured. In his dialogue "Timaeus," for example, he assigns a geometric shape to the tiny particles that make up each element, claiming fire is comprised of tetrahedrons and air of octahedrons.

"My other thought," Warren says, "is that I don't quite know why this belief would need to be coded, if indeed it is coded. Lots of people in Plato's time (and before and after) had surprising views about what the world was made of and didn't all feel the need hide it." The philosopher Epicurus, who was born around 341 B.C., argued that the gods of Olympus didn't punish or reward humans and that the world was little more than the movement of atoms flying through an empty void.

Kennedy, though, is certain that more musical and mathematical secrets lay within the texts, and he intends to keep delving and deciphering. "'This is the beginning of something big," he says, noting that he has some 2,000 pages of Plato to work through. "It will take a generation to work out the implications."

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