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The Relationship Between Neoplatonic Aesthetics and Early Medieval Music Theory

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  The Relationship between Neoplatonic Aesthetics and Early Medieval Music Theory: The Ascent to the One (Part 1)   by Glen Wegge  The writing of the Neoplatonists of the third through the ninth centuries, C.E. is one of the most important founts of western aesthetic inquiry. Many issues that concerned the philosophers and music theorists of this time were still of special significance in nineteenth-century Germany and even concern some today. Therefore, I will discuss aesthetics from the perspective of the writings of western philosophers and music theorists, occasionally referring to philosophers such a Plato in order to help clarify certain aspects of this survey.   The main non-musical sources that I will use in this discussion are Edgar de Bruyne's The Esthetics of the Middle Ages, [1] Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz's History of Aesthetics  ,[2] vol. 2, and Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages  .[3] Most of the sources I studied quoted de Bruyne, Tatarkiewicz, and Eco as authorities. My objective in this study of medieval aesthetics is to pull together sources that illustrate the impact of the notion of the ascent to the One—the ascent of the soul to an ideal state. A brief background of the srcin of medieval aesthetics will be presented, then topics will be discussed in the following order: a definition of Neoplatonism; the srcin of beauty as it relates to the One; the ascent of the soul; the role of music in this ascent; the ideas of harmony, number, and proportion; and mimesis, ethos, paideia, and the artist's role in helping facilitate the ascent to the One. De Bruyne claims that there are four main sources for medieval aesthetics: the Bible, the writings of philosophers, technical handbooks, and the writings of the Fathers both Greek and Latin. Tatarkiewicz claims five main categories of influence: the Bible, the writings of the Greek Fathers (i.e.  John Chrysostom, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Eusebius to name a few), the writings of Dionysius, Byzantine aesthetics, and the writings of Augustine. Broadly speaking, the two main cultural sources that contributed to the development of medieval aesthetics were Ancient Greek philosophers and medieval Christian theologians. Tatarkiewicz suggests that medieval Christian theologians acted as mediators to meld Greek and Hebrew concepts of beauty, thus creating medieval aesthetics.[4] Both de Bruyne and Tatarkiewicz claim that the main philosophical influence on the aesthetics of the Middle Ages was the philosophy of Plato in the form of Neoplatonism. The interaction of Ancient Greek and Christian sources may be explained in at least two ways. De Bruyne suggests that technical handbooks were a means for the communication of ideas that helped to form Medieval aesthetics.[5] These handbooks show music as a part of the Quadrivium, that is, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy, and that the Quadrivium was a particularly important structure for education in the Middle Ages. Neoplatonism modified and systematized Platonism in later antiquity to accord with Aristotelianism, post-Aristotelianism, and Oriental conceptions of the world as emanation of the One, with which the soul can be reunited in a trance or ecstasy after much intellectual reflection. Neoplatonism particularly modified the Platonist concept of Forms. Plato held that the visible world is a reflection of a higher, non-physical, perfect realm of Forms. Neoplatonists proclaimed that one Form predominates, referring to it as the One. For Neoplatonists, the One is the srcin of everything. All things are derived from the One by a series of emanations or outpourings. These emanations are seen as a series of descents, departing from the One to the world. The One emanates Nous  , or Intellect, which in turn emanates Logos  , or Universal Soul. Logos  , then emanates the visible world. The One, Nous  , and Logos   are  referred to as the Three Hypostases. A soul may reascend toward the One by means of morality and philosophy, and mystic union with the One occurs in a leap after a climax of thought. These important notions of Neoplatonism provide the basis for a discussion of the Neoplatonic view of the srcin of beauty.[6] Many medieval authors believe that Beauty is found in the One. Dionysius exemplifies this view. But the Superessential Beautiful is called Beauty because of that quality which It imparts to all things severally according to their nature, and because It is the Cause of the harmony and splendour in all things, flashing forth upon them all, like light, the beautifying communications of Its srcinating ray; and because It summons all things to fare [sic] unto Itself (from whence It hath the name Fairness ), and because It draws all things together in a state of mutual interpenetration.[7] Numerous similar quotations can be found in the writings of the Neoplatonists. My experience derived from an exhaustive reading of the sources indicates that virtually every philosopher and music theorist writing between the third and the ninth centuries addressed this issue. Where Dionysius used Superessential Beautiful and Beauty , other Neoplatonists used other names—One, God, etc.—depending on the point of view they were trying to assert. Medieval theorists believed that Beauty was in the One, but they also believed that the Beauty of the One was equated with moral harmony or Goodness.[8] Eco states that the beauty and the goodness of a thing are the same, because they are both grounded in form…. [9] Lippman goes further, positing that Beauty, Truth, and Goodness are perceived at once and vary in accordance with a fixed mathematical relationship. He also demonstrates a connection between Beauty and Love ( Eros  ); thus Beauty, Truth, Goodness, and Love are tightly related.[10]    In the Middle Ages, there were two other aspects of the ideal of beauty: the concept of usefulness, and the concept that all things contain the Beauty of the One. Both concepts are illustrated in the following statement by Basil of Caesarea. And God saw that his work was beautiful. This does not mean that the work pleased his sight and that its beauty affected him as it affects us; but that is beautiful which, in accordance with the principles of art, is completed and serves its purpose well.[11] While Dionysius states that the One is Beauty, Basil implies that beauty comes from One; and thus, all beauty may be viewed as a theophany.[12] Furthermore, the early writers believed that there were two kinds of beauty—one human, the other divine. Human beauty is superficial and subjective, while divine beauty is real and objective.[13] Early writers maintain that human beauty emanates from the divine, and this emanation is suggested in the Dionysius quotation. Neoplatonists believed that beauty was the same in all things--the body, health, nature, the soul, and the universe because everything was on the same chain of being. [14] Beauty is the same in all things because all beauty reflects the One. The Church was very important in the development of the concept of beauty in the Middle Ages. Because of its influence, spiritual and eternal beauty predominated over temporal and physical beauty, and moral beauty over any other good.[15] As a result the criterion of value of art no longer consisted in conformity with nature. It became internal: conformity with the idea of a perfect, suprasensual and spiritual beauty. [16] Because of the preoccupation of the Church with spiritual and eternal beauty, art could not concern itself only with physical beauty; it also had to concern itself with what the physical beauty represented, namely Goodness and Truth. Accordingly, the expectation that art should consist of representations of spirituality and

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Jul 29, 2017
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