Reviewed Elsewhere: Jacomien Prins and Maude Vanhaelen, eds. Sing Aloud Harmonious Spheres: Renaissance Conceptions of Cosmic Harmony.

Lars Fischer's picture

Jacomien Prins and Maude Vanhaelen, eds. Sing Aloud Harmonious Spheres: Renaissance Conceptions of Cosmic Harmony. London: Routledge, 2018. xii + 294 pp. £110.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-13806-346-4.

The music of the spheres, first described by Plato, had an enormous influence on the history of science, arts, literature, and philosophy. Leo Spitzer devoted his magisterial "Classical and Christian Ideas of World Harmony" (1944) to this exalted theme, which has been addressed by numerous articles and chapters but no single collection of essays—until this volume. Of the thirteen essays, five treat ancient and medieval works, four those from the Renaissance, and four the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Francesco Pelosi begins with a fine summary of the Platonic and Neoplatonic sources for cosmic harmony, as well as Aristotle's critical response. ... Charles Burnett then describes the ways sympathetic vibration was used to explain the effects of the heavens on the earth. ... Gabriela Currie addresses the ancient paradox of sounding yet inaudible cosmic music, making telling use of astronomical arguments by Eriugena and Oresme. ...

Leen Spruit ... describes how Francesco Giorgi followed Ficino and Pico but ran afoul of Catholic censorship because his notions of universal harmony drew too strongly on heterodox views, especially cabalistic and astrological. ... Grantley McDonald presents the reception of Ficino's ideas in Germany, especially by Cornelius Agrippa, leading to their influence on Athanasius Kircher and Johannes Kepler.

In the final section, Concetta Pennuto shows the continued interest in cosmic harmony in the seventeenth century ... Turning back to the old, Benjamin Wardhaugh gives a helpful account of the treatment of the music of the spheres in English musical mathematics from 1650 to 1750, including Isaac Newton, John Birchensha, and Robert Boyle. ...

This superb collection is a great contribution, a treasure trove of helpful information, lucidly and concisely presented. Thanks to the editorial efforts of Prins and Vanhaelen, we can now better appreciate the whole sweep of cosmic harmony to the early eighteenth century, in texts that range the world and disclose the continuing variations on this ancient theme.

Peter Pesic. Renaissance Quarterly 72, 1 (2019), 357–359.