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Absolute MusicThe History of an Idea$
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Mark Evan Bonds

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199343638

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199343638.001.0001

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Orpheus and Pythagoras

Orpheus and Pythagoras

(p.19) 1 Orpheus and Pythagoras
Absolute Music

Mark Evan Bonds

Oxford University Press

The figures of Orpheus and Pythagoras embody two fundamentally different perspectives on music that together circumscribe the foundation of Western attitudes toward the art. As a musician, Orpheus demonstrated music’s effect; as a philosopher, Pythagoras explained its essence. Until at least the sixteenth century, and in many cases beyond, Pythagoras was credited with having discovered music’s essence—what it is—while Orpheus was hailed as the paradigmatic musician who demonstrated music’s effect—what it does. These contrasting figures were never perceived in opposition to each other, however, nor even as two sides of the same coin. Their relationship was understood as one of mutual reinforcement: Pythagoras’s explanation of music’s essence was at the same time an explanation of its effect, as realized through the hands of Orpheus.

Keywords:   Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, Boethius, Cosmology

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