A fourth volume in the bilingual Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’) series, a joint venture between the IIS and Oxford University Press (OUP) is now available.
In this fresh translation of the fifth epistle, On Music, Professor of Musicology of the Middle East at SOAS, Owen Wright contextualises the theory of music and explains the technical aspects of the treatise, such as Arabic terminology, and related philosophical notions, like the effect of music on the four humours. Utilising extensive annotations to the English translation, alongside his detailed introduction, Professor Wright has rendered the text more accessible to the modern reader.
In classical education, as originally outlined by Plato in the seventh book of the Republic, the four subjects of the quadrivium prescribed were arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Music was considered foundational to the further study of philosophy and theology because it was believed to illustrate the underlying mathematical structure of existence. In fact, the epistle On Music figures prominently in the first section of the corpus, which addresses Mathematics.
Whilst there is much to be found in common with contemporary works on music by al-Kindi and al-Farabi, as well as drawing from Arab, Persian, and Greek sources, the Ikhwan’s focus on Arab instruments and prosody is particularly influenced by a Pythagorean approach which emphasises the harmony of the cosmos as expressed through numerical proportions.
Those familiar with the work will be aware of an existing English translation by Amnon Shiloah, which has paved the way for further work in this area. This latest IIS-OUP publication features the first critical edition of the Arabic text, on which the translation is based.
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