Friday, January 2, 7480

Boethius (c. 480-524) - Music of the Spheres

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480–524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius, was consul in 487 after Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Boethius himself was consul in 510 in the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. In 522 he saw his two sons become consuls.

Boethius was executed by King Theodoric the Great (454-526), who suspected him of conspiring with the Byzantine Empire.

The exact birthdate of Boethius is unknown. It is generally located at around AD 480, the same year of birth as St. Benedict. Boethius was born to a patrician family which had been Christian for about a century. His father's line included two popes, and both parents counted Roman emperors among their ancestors.

It is unknown where Boethius received his formidable education in Greek. Historical documents are ambiguous on the subject, but Boethius may have studied in Athens, and perhaps Alexandria. Since the elder Boethius is recorded as proctor of a school in Alexandria circa AD 470, the younger Boethius may have received some grounding in the classics from his father or a close relative. In any case, his accomplishment in Greek, though traditional for his class, was remarkable given the reduced knowledge which accompanied the end of the empire.

As a result of his increasingly rare education and experience, Boethius entered the service of Theodoric the Great, who commissioned the young Boethius to perform many roles.

By 520, at the age of about forty, Boethius had risen to the position of magister officiorum, the head of all the government and court services. Afterwards, his two sons were both appointed consuls, reflecting their father's prestige.

In 523, however, Theodoric ordered Boethius arrested on charges of treason, possibly for a suspected plot with the Byzantine Emperor Justin I, whose religious orthodoxy (in contrast to Theodoric's Arian opinions) increased their political rivalry. Boethius himself attributes his arrest to the slander of his rivals. Whatever the cause, Boethius found himself stripped of his title and wealth and imprisoned in Pavia, awaiting an execution that took place in 524 the following year.

Boethius's most popular work is The Consolation of Philosophy, which he wrote in prison while awaiting his execution, but his lifelong project was a deliberate attempt to preserve ancient classical knowledge, particularly philosophy. He intended to translate all the works of Aristotle and Plato from the original Greek into Latin. His completed translations of Aristotle's works on logic were the only significant portions of Aristotle available in Europe until the 12th century. However, some of his translations (such as his treatment of the topoi in The Topics) were mixed with his own commentary, which reflected both Aristotelian and Platonic concepts.

Boethius also wrote a commentary on the Isagoge by Porphyry, which highlighted the existence of the problem of universals: whether these concepts are subsistent entities which would exist whether anyone thought of them, or whether they only exist as ideas. This topic concerning the ontological nature of universal ideas was one of the most vocal controversies in medieval philosophy.

Besides these advanced philosophical works, Boethius is also reported to have translated important Greek texts for the topics of the quadrivium.

His loose translation of Nicomachus's treatise on arithmetic (De institutione arithmetica libri duo) and his textbook on music (De institutione musica libri quinque, unfinished) contributed to medieval education. His translations of Euclid on geometry and Ptolemy on astronomy, if they were completed, no longer survive.

Boethius introduced the threefold classification of music:

1.Musica universalis or Musica mundana (universal music, or music of the spheres)

2. Musica humana - harmony of human body and spiritual harmony

3. Musica instrumentalis - instrumental music (including the human voice, i.e. audible/real music)

Boethius also wrote theological treatises, which generally involve support for the orthodox position against Arian ideas and other contemporary religious debates. His authorship was periodically disputed because of the secular nature of his other work, until the 19th century discovery of a biography by his contemporary Cassiodorus which mentioned his writing on the subject.

Boethius has been called by Lorenzo Valla the last of the Romans and the first of the scholastic philosophers. Despite the use of his mathematical texts in the early universities, it is his final work, the Consolation of Philosophy, that assured his legacy in the Middle Ages and beyond.

This work is cast as a dialogue between Boethius himself, at first bitter and despairing over his imprisonment, and the spirit of philosophy, depicted as a woman of wisdom and compassion. Alternately composed in prose and verse, the Consolation teaches acceptance of hardship in a spirit of philosophical detachment from misfortune. Parts of the work are reminiscent of the Socratic method of Plato's dialogues, as the spirit of philosophy questions Boethius and challenges his emotional reactions to adversity. The work was translated into Old English by King Alfred, and into later English by Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth; many manuscripts survive and it was extensively edited, translated and printed throughout Europe from the late 15th century onwards. Many commentaries on it were compiled and it has been one of the most influential books in European culture. No complete bibliography has ever been assembled but it would run into thousands of items.

"The Boethian Wheel" (or "The Wheel of Fortune") was a concept, stretching back at least to Cicero, that Boethius uses frequently in the Consolation; it remained very popular throughout the Middle Ages, and is still often seen today. As the wheel turns those that have power and wealth will turn to dust; men may rise from poverty and hunger to greatness, while those who are great may fall with the turn of the wheel. It was represented in the Middle Ages in many relics of art depicting the rise and fall of man.

He is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, with a feast day of October 23.

"Those musicians dedicated to instruments, and who spend their efforts upon them such as players of the cithera and those who show their skill on the organ and other musical instruments, are exiled from the true understanding of musical science and are of servile condition, nor do they bear anything of reason, as has been said, for they are wholly destitute of inquiry into scientific theory."

De Institutione Musicace


Musica universalis (literally, universal music, or music of the spheres) is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies -- the Sun, Moon, and planets -- as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin name for music). This "music" is not literally audible, but simply a harmonic and/or mathematical concept. The Greek mathematician and astronomer Pythagoras is frequently credited with originating the concept, which stemmed from his semi-mystical, semi-mathematical philosophy and its associated system of numerology of Pythagoreanism. According to Johannes Kepler, the connection between geometry (and sacred geometry), cosmology, astrology, harmonics, and music is through musica universalis.

[George Crumb (b. 1929) - Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos, Volume 3): V. Music of the Starry Night (1974)]

At the time, the Sun, Moon, and planets were thought to revolve around Earth in their proper spheres. The most thorough and imaginative description of the concept can be found in Dante's Divine Comedy. The spheres were thought to be related by the whole-number ratios of pure musical intervals, creating musical harmony. Johannes Kepler used the concept of the music of the spheres in his Harmonice Mundi in 1619, relating astrology (especially the astrological aspects) and harmonics.

The three branches of the Medieval concept of musica were presented by Boethius in his book De Musica:

musica universalis (sometimes referred to as musica mundana)

musica humana (the internal music of the human body)

musica instrumentalis (sounds made by singers and instrumentalists)

In 2006, an experiment conducted by Greg Fox divided the orbital periods of the planets in half again and again until they were literally audible. The resultant piece was "Carmen [Song] of the Spheres." The principle of octaves in music states that whenever a sound-wave is doubled or halved in frequency, it yields another pitch similar in 'flavor' to the original one. This can be applied (through very large octave shifts) to any periodic cycle, including the orbits of celestial bodies.

Some Surat Shabda Yoga Satgurus considered the music of the spheres to be a term synonymous with the Shabda (also known as the Audible Life Stream) in that tradition, because they considered Pythagoras to be a Satguru.

According to Max Heindel's Rosicrucian writings, the heavenly "music of the spheres" is heard in the Region of Concrete Thought, the lower region of the World of Thought, which is an ocean of harmony. It is also referred in Esoteric Christianity that this is the place where it occurs the state of consciousness called the "Second Heaven."

[7500 Australia / 7480 Boethius]