Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 181

The relation of the notes of the musical scale to numbers, whereby harmony results from vibrations in equal times, and discord from the reverse, led Pythagoras to apply the word "harmony" to the visible creation, meaning by it the just adaptation of parts to each other. This is the idea which Dryden expresses in the beginning of his song for St. Cecilia's Day:

  "From harmony, from heavenly harmony
  This everlasting frame began;
  From harmony to harmony
  Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
  The Diapason closing full in Man."

In the centre of the universe (as Pythagoras taught) there was a central fire, the principle of life. The central fire was surrounded by the earth, the moon, the sun, and the five planets. The distances of the various heavenly bodies from one another were conceived to correspond to the proportions of the musical scale. The heavenly bodies, with the gods who inhabited them, were supposed to perform a choral dance round the central fire, "not without song." It is this doctrine which Shakespeare alludes to when he makes Lorenzo teach astronomy to Jessica in this fashion:

  "Sit, Jessica, look how the floor of heaven
  Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold!
  There's not the smallest orb that thou behold'st
  But in this motion like an angel sings,
  Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim;
  Such harmony is in immortal souls!
  But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
  Doth grossly close it in we cannot hear it."
  Merchant of Venice

The spheres were conceived to be crystalline or glassy fabrics arranged over one another like a nest of bowls reversed. In the substance of each sphere one or more of the heavenly bodies was supposed to be fixed, so as to move with it. As the spheres are transparent, we look through them, and see the heavenly bodies which they contain and carry round with them. But as these spheres cannot move on one another without friction, a sound is thereby produced which is of exquisite harmony, too fine for mortal ears to recognize. Milton, in his Hymn to the Nativity, thus alludes to the music of the spheres:

  "Ring out, ye crystal spheres!
  Once bless our human ears;
  (If ye have power to charm our senses so);
  And let your silver chime
  Move in melodious time,
  And let the base of Heaven's deep organ blow:
  And with your nine-fold harmony
  Make up full concert with the angelic symphony."

Pythagoras is said to have invented the lyre, of which other fables give the invention to Mercury. Our own poet, Longfellow, in Verses to a Child, thus relates the story:

  "As great Pythagoras of yore,
  Standing beside the blacksmith's door,
  And hearing the hammers as they smote
  The Anvils with a different note,
  Stole from the varying tones that hung
  Vibrant on every iron tongue,
 The secret of the sounding wire,
  A nd formed the seven-chorded lyre."

See also the same poet's Occultation of Orion:

"The Samian's great AEolian lyre."