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Aristoxenus (Greek: Ἀριστόξενος; fl. 335 BC) of Tarentum was a Greek Peripatetic philosopher, and a pupil of Aristotle. Most of his writings, which dealt with philosophy, ethics and music, have been lost, but one musical treatise, Elements of Harmony, survives incomplete, as well as some fragments concerning rhythm and meter.



Aristoxenus was born at Tarentum, and was the son of a learned musician named Spintharus (otherwise Mnesias).[1] He learned music from his father, and having then been instructed by Lamprus of Erythrae and Xenophilus the Pythagorean, he finally became a pupil of Aristotle,[2] whom he appears to have rivaled in the variety of his studies. According to the Suda,[3] he heaped insults on Aristotle after his death, because Aristotle had designated Theophrastus as the next head of the Peripatetic school, a position which Aristoxenus himself had coveted having achieved great distinction as a pupil of Aristotle. This story is, however, contradicted by Aristocles,[4] who asserts that he never mentioned Aristotle but with the greatest respect.

Overview of his works

His writings, said to have consisted of four hundred and fifty-three books,[3] were in the style of Aristotle, and dealt with philosophy, ethics and music. The only work of his that has come down to us is the three books of the Elements of Harmony, an incomplete musical treatise. Aristoxenus' theory had an empirical tendency; in music he held that the notes of the scale are to be judged, not as the Pythagoreans held, by mathematical ratio, but by the ear. Vitruvius in his De architectura[5] paraphrases the writings of Aristoxenus on music. His ideas were responded to and developed by some later theorists such as Archestratus, and his place in the methodological debate between rationalists and empiricists was commented upon by such writers as Ptolemais of Cyrene.

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