Plato in Iran

I haven’t been in the classroom for years. But old habits persist. I can’t read the news without noticing stories appropriate for sharing with the undergraduates.

Here’s one from the obituary of Iranian singer Marzieh, who was famous for her “winding, sinuous” love songs (National Post October 29, 2010).

After the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 the mullahs banned solo female singers. To preserve her voice Marzieh would walk into the desert under the cover of darkness and sing alongside a roaring waterfall. “Nobody could hear me,” she recalled. “I sang to the stars and the rocks.” Eventually she went into exile.

It’s a perfect story for discussion in the class on Plato’s Republic. Winding, sensuous songs that focus on individual longings? Not recommended for the city that Socrates endorses! The city where everyone knows his place and keeps to it while thinking steadily about the good of the whole! Socrates would have banned flutes. And flute girls, and, I have no doubt, solo songstresses. He says: “Never are the ways of music moved without the greatest political laws being moved” (Republic, 424c).

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