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Correcting ēthos and Purifying the Body. Musical Therapy in Iamblichus’ De vita pythagorica


The tradition relating to the Pythagoreans and music therapy is most widely attested in two Neoplatonic works, Porphyry’s The Life of Pythagoras, and Iamblichus’ On the Pythagorean Way of Life. Although the consistent chronological distance from the early Pythagoreans makes their accounts controversial, they offer interesting evidence on the beneficial effects of music. Iamblichus, whose work will be focused on in this paper, describes the effects of music on health through the notion of ca-tharsis, that he often links with musical ēthos. Actually the latter is not attested before Plato, but Iamblichus, presenting Py-thagoras in Platonic terms, emphasizes the importance he gives to the improvement of the individual’s character and life by means of music, that is used as a proper pharmakon. In such respect, Iamblichus’ work shows some similarities with Aristides Quintilianus’ De Musica, especially for what concerns the “mixture” of melodies as if they were medicines.