August 16, 2013

Muses, Modes and the Music of the Spheres

This will be a rather odd (and long-ish) post about a picture called "Music of the Spheres" that was published in 1496 in Francinus Gafurius's Practica musice. This picture gives us some interesting insights into how the people of the Renaissance super-imposed Greek myth onto music theory. My views on the musical elements, mythological ideas and metaphysical ideas that can be seen in this picture are influenced by (but not the same as) Joseph Campbell's essay "The Muses Nine" (can be found in The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987) which I encourage you to read. (Even though he got the names of the two modes that are the same wrong-he was a mythology expert, not a musician.)

File:The music of the spheres.jpg

"Music of the Spheres" from Francinus Gafurius's Practica musice published in 1496-public domain.
(Yes, this picture uses a pre-Copernican order for the planets and is geocentric.) 

What is shown in this picure
-The Latin scroll at the top reads "The Apollonian mind moves the Muses everywhere." 
-Apollo is seated at the top playing a large lute. The little flying monkeys in the corners (I know they are supposed to be angels or cupids but they look like flying monkeys to me) are playing a smaller lute and a viola da gamba. Both lutes and viola da gambas were often used instead of lyres in the Renaissance pictures of mythological characters.
-Three Graces dance next to Apollo.
    1 Euphrosyne "Mirth, Good Cheer"
    2 Aglaia "Splendor, Beauty"
    3 Thalia "Blooming, Abundance"
-Nine Muses are matched up with the nine planetary spheres and the modes/scales. In between each planet is the word tonus (whole-step) or semitonium (half-step) to show the distance between each note. To hear the different modes/scales, you can follow the whole and half steps starting on any note. Or, on a piano, play only the white key between the notes in the parenthesis below.
    1 Urania “Heavenly one”---Stars---Hypermixolydian (A to A; Aeolian or minor) 
    2 Polyhymnia “Many hymns”---Saturn---Mixolydian (G to G)
    3 Euterpe “Giver of joy”---Jupiter---Lydian (F to F)
    4 Erato “Awakener of desire”---Mars---Phrygian (E to E)
    5 Melpomene “The singer”---Sun---Dorian (D to D)
    6 Terpsicore “Enjoys dance”---Venus---Hypolydian (C to C; Ionian or major) 
    7 Caliope “Beautiful voice”---Mercury---Hypophrygian (B to B; Locrian) 
    8 Clio “Giver of fame”---Moon---Hypodorian (A to A; Aeolian or minor) 
    9 Thalia “Festive, blooming”---Earth---no note or mode
    (Note: These are not the current standard spellings for the names of the Muses.)
-The Greek words next to each Muse (Mese, Lychanosme, Meson etc.) are names for notes that mostly indicate the order of notes in a scale. They basically mean 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.
-A Three Headed Serpent in the center connects the Grace Thalia (top) to the Muse Thalia (bottom.) The really was both a Grace and a Muse named Thalia in some of the less well known Greek myths.
-The Elements-Fire (ignis) Air (aer), and Water (aqua) surround the Earth (terra) and the Muse Thalia.
I have yet to find any explanation of the vase of plants next to Apollo. I say it represents the blossoming of the earth creating spirit. 

Musical Ideas I See in this Picture
As a group, the Graces create the movement and speed of the sound waves; pitch.
The Grace Thalia shapes the type of sound being heard; timbre. I would tentatively give volume and rhythm to the other two Graces.
The Muses are the organization of the different vibrations/pitches; the notes and scales.
Since Muse Thalia (within the Earth) is not given a note or scale, she becomes not only the substance used to create music (air, wood, reed, string, metal) but also the sounding board or the part of the instrument/voice that reverberates and amplifies the sounds just as she amplifies our connection to spirit.
The whole-steps (tonus) and half-steps (semitonium) between each planet form an ascending minor scale from bottom to top though different scales are formed by starting on different notes/planets. The name of a Greek scale or mode is assigned to each Muse and planet. Hypermixolydian and Hypodorian are functionally the same scale pattern according to the picture. (Not, as Campbell says, Hypermixolydian and Dorian.)
A bit of trivia; the picture itself does not actually use Ancient Greek scales. Renaissance authors didn’t know how the Greek scales really worked and assigned the Greek names to their own scales somewhat randomly. (The Greek scales started on different notes, used different intervals between scale steps and often placed the tonic in the middle of the scale.) However, these ARE the scale patterns and mode names as they are paired off today. They just have nothing to do with the older Greek scales, aside from their names.

More Detail and Mythological Ideas
Apollo as the God of harmony helps people live in harmony with the world and spirit. Harmony can be created between different tones, different beings and different realities. In Greek myth, he was sometimes considered the leader of the Muses (after ousting Artemis.) 
The Graces are the first divisions, reflections or reverberations of spirit. They expand the possible ways of perceiving the divine mask, making it easier to approach. In myth, the Graces lived and traveled with the Muses. The Graces were sometimes considered a triad version of Aphrodite, who had ties to the Muses as well. There are several different sets of names for the Graces so don't worry too much if you haven't heard of this set before. Euphrosyne "Mirth, Festivity, Good Cheer" faces away from Apollo representing spirit moving out into the world. Aglaia "Splendor, Beauty, Triumph, Adornment" faces Apollo representing how the world feeds and seeks spirit. Thalia "Blooming, Abundance" faces the viewer creating a full circle.
The serpent descends through the planetary spheres and four elements (Campbell compares it to the Kundalini spirit descending the spinal column) and its three heads are in the earth with the Muse Thalia, connecting spirit with the physical world by linking the two Thalias. Three headed beings turn up in myth a great deal and often represent balancing our right and left energies (creative and analytical, spirit and body). This serpent helps us connect with or wake the Muse spirit within the earth and ourselves. 
The elements, earth, water, air and fire not only make up the world but are different forms of spirit within the world. The more aware we become of the various forms of spirit in the world around us, the more we experience the inspiration of the Muses. 
The Muses and the planets are the expansion of consciousness through the planetary spheres and different harmonies. Getting to know the Muses and their planetary spheres can be seen as the growing awareness that spirit exists in everything. And since all art, music and learning has its Muse, any art, learning or inspiration is a possible path to spirit.

Chakras and the Tree of Life
Campbell links the Muses to the chakras in his essay although he assigns three Muses to the heart chakra to make the numbers work. He describes encountering the different Muses as moving awareness up through the chakras in the body continuing the Kundalini idea.
Crown chakra----Urania/Stars
Brow chakra------Polyhymnia/Saturn
Throat chakra----Euterpe/Jupiter
                             Erato/Mars---Upper Heart, closer to spirit
Heart chakra-----Melpomene/Sun---Center Heart, balances earth and spirit
                             Terpsicore/Venus---Lower Heart, closer to earth
3rd chakra---------Caliope/Mercury
2nd chakra---------Clio/Moon
Root chakra------Thalia/Earth

Here is an alternative method of linking the Muses to the chakras that I came up with and think is less confusing. It uses two external chakras that are only present in some chakra systems (there are many.) Again, this is to make the numbers work.
External chakra above our heads----Urania/Stars
Crown chakra----------------------------------Polyhymnia/Saturn
Brow chakra------------------------------------Euterpe/Jupiter
Throat chakra----------------------------------EratoMars
Heart chakra------------------------------------Melpomene/Sun
3rd chakra----------------------------------------Terpsicore/Venus
2nd chakra---------------------------------------Caliope/Mercury

Root chakra-------------------------------------Clio/Moon
External chakra below the ground---Thalia/Earth 

This picture can also be used to place the Muses in the Tree of Life pattern. I don't know why Campbell didn't discuss this since the numbers match up better than with the chakras.
1 Kefer Crown/Source------------Apollo 
2 Chokmah Wisdom---------------Urania/Ourania
3 Binah Understanding-----------Polyhymnia
4 Chesed Love------------------------Euterpe
5 Gebunrah Strength--------------Erato
6 Tiphareth Beauty-----------------Melpomene
7 Netzach Victory-------------------Terpsicore/Terpshicore
8 Hod Glory----------------------------Caliope/Kalliope
9 Yesod Foundation----------------Clio/Klieo
10 Malkuth World/Universe-----Thalia
I think Mnemosyne “memory” would works just as well for the first station as Apollo since she is the mother of the Muses.
With that in mind, Lethe “forgetfulness” is a good choice for the 11th station, Daath, that is both there and not. 
If you would rather stick with images from the original picture, the serpent would be my next pick for the 11th station. It would also be possible to put the Graces here as a group. (For a short, clear and sane intro to the Tree of Life, I suggest Math for Mystic by Renna Shesso-she discusses it in one chapter.)
Qabalah Tree of Life and Muses

Keep in mind that this order of the Muses was created in the Renaissance and has no relation to anything in Greek mythology. You are in fact free to move them around anyway you want.

Summing Up
Connection to spirit comes from perceiving that the spirit is a part of the physical world and understanding that the physical itself creates the spirit. To deny the physical, the body, as holy in hopes of increasing spirit or connecting with divine is similar to looking at a water glass without drinking it when we are thirsty. Drinking the water is much simpler and far more effective. Not to mention more comfortable.
The Muses bring inspiration of all kinds into our lives and harmony to spirit and matter throughout the universe.

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