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“It appears, I said, that as the eyes are designed to look up at the stars, so are the ears to hear harmonious motions…” Socrates in Plato’s Republic

They normally escape notice in my morning glance in the mirror. Face shaved, hair (the increasingly lonely hold-outs) reasonably in place. All clear in teeth and nose.

Ears don’t even get a glance. They’re just there; doing their thing.

What exactly are they for anyway? As with other significant parts of the body, there is an amazing combination of the mundane and the sublime. They have a rather pedestrian purpose while also they can really come alive–when doing what they’re most about. So there is hearing, and then there is hearing. It is good to hear that the shower is running, or that the ice I’m skating on is cracking.

Then there is Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Socrates seems to think that our ears are actually designed to be able to appreciate great music. He also thinks such appreciation requires cultivation and discipline. Having ears does not assure that I hear.

But there is more. A four year old’s gratitude: “Thank you, Daddy!” A student’s crossing the boundary of confusion and insight: “Now I understand!” Or a spouse’s gentle correction and encouragement… Herein deep harmonies, beyond full expression, are put into words. They ring like great music in our ears. The more we have learned to listen, the more our ears give us a window into the homeland of our soul.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.

Image: Annibale Carracci (16th c.), Self-Portrait in Profile

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