The harmony of the spheres

Ancients believed that planets moved according fixed ratios as musical notes do: the pure mute music planets emitted was called “music of the spheres”.

Plato mentions the music of the spheres in the last book of the Republic, when he talks about Er, when he describes Ananke’s spindle. Each of the sirens of the eight circles of the spindle played a note, that together made an harmony  on which the three Moires sing of the past, the present and the future.

This is pierced by the spindle, which is driven home through the centre of the eighth. The first and outermost whorl has the rim broadest, and the seven inner whorls are narrower, in the following proportions –the sixth is next to the first in size, the fourth next to the sixth; then comes the eighth; the seventh is fifth, the fifth is sixth, the third is seventh, last and eighth comes the second. The largest (of fixed stars) is spangled, and the seventh (or sun) is brightest; the eighth (or moon) coloured by the reflected light of the seventh; the second and fifth (Saturn and Mercury) are in colour like one another, and yellower than the preceding; the third (Venus) has the whitest light; the fourth (Mars) is reddish; the sixth (Jupiter) is in whiteness second. Now the whole spindle has the same motion; but, as the whole revolves in one direction, the seven inner circles move slowly in the other, and of these the swiftest is the eighth; next in swiftness are the seventh, sixth, and fifth, which move together; third in swiftness appeared to move according to the law of this reversed motion the fourth; the third appeared fourth and the second fifth. The spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper surface of each circle is a siren, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes and have chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, who accompany with their voices the harmony of the sirens –Lachesis singing of the past, Clotho of the present, Atropos of the future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the whorl or spindle, and Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis laying hold of either in turn, first with one hand and then with the other. (( Plato, Republic, X ))

But it was Pythagoras, according the tradition, who discovered that there was a numerical order inside music and found them at the foundation of the whole cosmos. Better, the legend says that Pythagoras was the son of Hermes, who ran the world with his lyra .

Hermes - Siena
Hermes - Siena Cathedral

The wonderful Lyra of Hermes had seven chords, or nine like the Muses. The central place was occupied by the Sun – which is the origin and the foundation of our universe, while planets were arranged from Saturn corresponding to the higher level, to the Moon in the lower one.

planetary scales

Ptolemy thinks that as music derives from krasis of two sounds,  astrology derives from the union of two stars by body or ray, which describes in the chapter about planetary aspects

Of these configurations, the trine and the sextile are each called harmonious, because they are constituted between signs of the same kind; being formed between either all feminine or all masculine signs. The opposition and quartile are considered to be discordant, because they are configurations made between signs not of the same kind, but of different natures and sexes . (( Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, I, 16 ))

but especially in a work called Harmonics,  (( Ptolemy, translated by Jon Solomon. Ptolemy Harmonics: Translation and Commentary. Leiden: Brill, 2000. )) where he stated that harmonies and discordances in music can be associated to the zodiacal circle: the opposition was corresponding to an octave, the fifth to the trine, the fourth the square (being these ones the perfect intervals) and the tone to the dodecatemoria.

Between planets Mercury and Venus are associated with music.

Further, should it happen that two arbiters of employment may be found together, and provided they should be Mercury and Venus, they will then produce musicians, melodists, and persons engaged in music, poetry, and songs: they will also produce (especially if changed in their places)  mimics, actors, dealers in slaves, makers of musical instruments, choristers and musical performers, dancers, weavers, modellers in wax, and painters. ((Tetrabiblos, IV, 4))

The connection with Mercury is evident with a second thought, because in the same chapter we find that:

Mercury, for instance, produces writers, superintendents of business, accountants, teachers in the sciences, merchants and bankers: also, soothsayers, astrologers, and attendants on sacrifices, and, in short, all who live by the exercise of literature, and by furnishing explanation or interpretation.

Like magic, music is the art of WORD and it is linked with the planet Mercury, and the universe itself was created by the power of the word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (( John, I,1 ))

as the RIGHT word can change the reality,

A magic square
An ancient magic square

the same can do the RIGHT tune because as music is generated by the motion of the celestial spheres, music can modify planets’ influences. Orpheus/Thot who changes the world with his lyra – is the philosopher and the magician.

Orpheus tames animals with the sound of his music
Orpheus tames animals of the forest with the sound of his music

Greek astronomy and Chaldean astrology are mixed in Medieval astrological literature: the images of Barbarian sphere were reborn to a new life through Albumasar chapter of Great Introduction about paranatellonta circulated in Europe through a curious illustrated abridgement known as Liber Astrologiae.

The third facie of Gemini (Sloane 3983 )
The third facie of Gemini (Sloane 3983 )

According Liber Hermetis in fact in these degrees rises the star of Apollon- i.e Castor, alpha Gemini, Mercury nature.

Some become musicians and dancers, and they are hurt in their head, because the bright star which is in the head of the preceding Twin is rising. (( Hermes Trimegistus, Liber Hermetis : scritti astrologici (cura Pierre della Vigna) (Milano: Mimesis, 2001).  ))

While everybody knows as Kepler updated Ptolemy studies on the ratios of planets and harmony, (see video at the bottom) less known it is the turn that music took after Renaissance,  it became a sort of secret code, an art of combinations ( see Lullo studies for example) by which it could be possible reaching the perfection, in the same way Jew cabalists permuted the letters of Yahve name, because the right name could give them power on the universe.

In 1650 Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit who is at the centre of many interesting stories,  published the Musurgia Universalis, where he exposed  part of his method, so many of the most famous scientists and philosophers wrote him to ask explications and details: he was uncertain, postponing them to new books never published, so eventually we don’t know if he revealed his secret to someone.

Together with this sophisticated approach Kircher did not disdain the well known approach by sympathy and antipathy: music can be used according the primal four qualities and the derived temperaments: the choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic.

See for example Giovanbattista Della Porta in Natural Magick  (( XX. 7))

The Pythagoreans used some tunes,

“For sleep and waking,”

For when they would sleep overcome diverse cares, they played certain tunes, that easy and quiet sleep might come upon them.  And when they arose, so soon as they went out of their chambers, with some Music they would dispel all confusion and dullness of sleep, that they might set to their work.  It is said that the Aeolian Music does still the tempests of the mind, and rocks men asleep.  They provoked men to sleep with the Almond tree, or Vinetree wood, and they drove sleep off with Hellebore.

This in fact what Music can do:

The Harp has some properties in it, and things worthy to be observed, which I shall propound here.  First, I shall mention some wonderful effects that the ancients speak of.  Then how they may be done, or how the ancients did then.  Since Music is now more adorned and noble, then it was among the ancients (for then it was more rude and imperfect) and yet in our days it does not perform those operations.  It is certain that musical tunes can do much with men, and there is no heart so hard and cruel, but convenient and sweet harmony will make it yield.  And on the other side, harsh Music will vex and harden a man’s mind.  Musaus discovers, that verse and songs are a most delightful thing to a mortal man.  And the Platonists say, that all things living are charmed by Music.  And there are many effects observed of it.  Drums found in the wars to provoke those that are slow to fight.  And we read that the ancients did such like things.  One Timotheus, a musician, as often as he pleased would pay a Phrygian tune, and so enrage the mind of Alexander, that he ran presently to the wars.  And when he would do otherwise, he changed his tune, and took off all his courage making him lazy, and would then draw him being grown effeminate, to banquets and feasts.  And Plutarch says, that when he heard Antigenida playing melodies with a Pipe, that they called Harmatii, he was so inflamed, that he rose in his arms, and laid hold of him that sat next to him.  Cicero reports, that Pythagoras made a young man more calm by a flower tune, who was a Tancomonite, and was Whitled with Wine, and mad for a Whore, and spurred forward by a Phrygian tune.  For being a Corrival, he fought to set the house on fire where the Whore was.  And the same author says, if young men are provoked by the sound of flutes to commit any wickedness, if the piper plays but a flower tune, they are called off again.  For by the gravity of the Music their petulant fury is set aside.  Empedocles, when one sets upon his host, that provoked him with reproaches and ill language turned the burden of his song, and so assuaged the fury of his anger.  Theophrastus is reported to have used musical tunes to repress the passions of the mind.  And Agamemnon departing from his country to go to Troy, doubting of the Chastity of Clytemnestra, left a Harper, who with Music did so incite her to Continency and Chastity, that Egystus could not enjoy her till he had killed the Harper.  The Thracian Orpheus by the playing on his Harp, made barbarous nations civil who were as hard as stones to be softened.  Music charms the tender ears of children, and Rattles will make them quiet, and hold their peace when they cry.  Wherefore Chrysippus is reported to have written a peculiar song for Nurses.  Also wild beasts are tamed with musical tunes.  Arion the Harper made friends of the Dolphins that want reason, and they carried him safe to the shore, when he was cast into the sea.  Strabo says, the Elephants are allured with Drums.  Stags are held with sounds, and caught with sweet Music.  The Swans under the north wind are conquered by the Harp and musical tunes.  Little birds are enticed to the net with Pipes.  And the shepherds Pipe commands to the sheep, when they wander too far to field, to stand still.  In Mysia, when Horses back Mares, a man sings to them as it were a marriage song, and the mares are so taken with the Music, that they become great with foal, and they bring forth most gallant Colts.  Pythocaris, a musician, when he sang earnestly swift notes to his pipe, is said to have made Wolves become more tame.  And which is far more wonderful, antiquity cured wounds, diseases, and poisons by melody, as history relates.  Terpander and Aaron of Methymna, cured the men of Lesbos and Jonia of great diseases.  Asclepiades, a physician, cured deaf people by a Trumpet, and by singing he stilled the seditious people.  In time past there was great store of Spiders in Aquilia, which they commonly call Tarantula.  When the sun is extremely hot, they bite most pestilently, and venomously.  For this danger this healthful remedy is only found out.  That he that is bit must be charmed with much singing of musicians, and many musical instruments.  The sick, though he want all sense, so soon as he hears the Flute play, as if he rose from a dead sleep, arises from the earth, and dances with the Music.  And if the musicians cease to play, he presently faints and grows stupid and as the Music strikes up, so he does dance the more.  So to several diseases the ancients appointed several Music.  For the Dorick melody caused prudence, chastity, and learning.  The Phrygians made men to fight, and grow furious, which the Flute will do also.  Therefore Aristoxenus, in his plays, when he could not prevail with Dorick Music, he changed to Phrygian melody that agreed with them.  The Lydian harmony sharpens wit to those that are dull, and brings in a desire of heavenly things, upon those that are oppressed with a love of earthly things.  Aristotle in his Politicks, do we not read that the Lacedaemonians rejected that kind of Music called Chromaticum, because it made those that heard it too effeminate?  Whence I think it is not against reason, that the same may be done by the Lute or Harp alone, but what is done by art or cunning, is more to be wondered at, which none can deny.

The rest in the video:

Written by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member @ year 2009




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