Book ID: CBB778475268

Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos (2017)


Hicks, Andrew (Author)

Oxford University Press

Publication Date: 2017
Physical Details: pp. 344
Language: English

"We can hear the universe!" This was the triumphant proclamation at a February 2016 press conference announcing that the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory (LIGO) had detected a "transient gravitational-wave signal." What LIGO heard in the morning hours of September 14, 2015 was the vibration of cosmic forces unleashed with mind-boggling power across a cosmic medium of equally mind-boggling expansiveness: the transient ripple of two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago. The confirmation of gravitational waves sent tremors through the scientific community, but the public imagination was more captivated by the sonic translation of the cosmic signal, a sound detectable only through an act of carefully attuned listening. As astrophysicist Szabolcs Marka remarked, "Until this moment, we had our eyes on the sky and we couldn't hear the music. The skies will never be the same."Taking in hand this current "discovery" that we can listen to the cosmos, Andrew Hicks argues that sound--and the harmonious coordination of sounds, sources, and listeners--has always been an integral part of the history of studying the cosmos. Composing the World charts one constellation of musical metaphors, analogies, and expressive modalities embedded within a late-ancient and medieval cosmological discourse: that of a cosmos animated and choreographed according to a specifically musical aesthetic. The specific historical terrain of Hicks' discussion centers upon the world of twelfth-century philosophy, and from there he offers a new intellectual history of the role of harmony in medieval cosmological discourse, a discourse which itself focused on the reception and development of Platonism. Hicks illuminates how a cosmological aesthetics based on the "music of the spheres" both governed the moral, physical, and psychic equilibrium of the human, and assured the coherence of the universe as a whole. With a rare convergence of musicological, philosophical, and philological rigor, Hicks presents a narrative tour through medieval cosmology with reflections on important philosophical movements along the way, raising connections to Cartesian dualism, Uexküll's theoretical biology, and Deleuze and Guattari's musically inspired language of milieus and (de)territorialization. Hicks ultimately suggests that the models of musical cosmology popular in late antiquity and the twelfth century are relevant to our modern philosophical and scientific undertakings. Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Composing the World will resonate with a variety of readers, and it encourages us to rethink the role of music and sound within our greater understanding of the universe.

Reviewed By

Review Jacomien Prins (2019) Review of "Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos". Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences (pp. 159-160). unapi

Review Jacomien Prins (2019) Review of "Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos". Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences (pp. 159-160). unapi

Review Penelope Gouk (2017) Review of "Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos". British Journal for the History of Science (pp. 545-547). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Boccadoro, Brenno
Charrak, André
Pérez Martín, Inmaculada
Barker, Andrew D.
Brindley, Erica Fox
Siegert, Bernhard
Micrologus: Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies
Bruniana & Campanelliana: Ricerche Filosofiche e Materiali Storico-testuali
MHNH (Revista Internacional de Investigación sobre Magia y Astrología Antiguas)
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
J. Vrin
Cambridge University Press
State University of New York Press
Pavia University Press
Harmony (music theory)
Kepler, Johannes
Ptolemy, Claudius
Timaeus of Locri
Gregoras, Nicephorus
Time Periods
Early modern
16th century
17th century
Florence (Italy)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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