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Bad Horse

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the revolution will be inscribed in cuneiform · 10:12pm Apr 23rd, 2017

The stylus is mightier than the spear, comrade!

The accepted story of modernism goes something like this:

Once upon a time, ignorant Europeans believed in Truth, Progress, and the European Way. Then Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud turned everything they believed on their heads--Marx by saying that ideas did not determine society, but society determined ideas (1840s); Darwin by saying humans evolved from animals (On the Origin of Species, 1859); Nietzsche by saying (among other things) that our morality was a crock, and that we should worship Dionysus rather than Apollo (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872); and Freud by saying that people were controlled not by reason but by subconscious impulses and biases (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899).

Therefore, everything we know is wrong, and we must rebuild culture without using rational and empirical Enlightenment principles.

Not to diminish the importance of the aforementioned men, but this narrative is too short and simple. I think it has to be short and simple, because the conquest of modernism was a short thing--we could trace it back to Baudelaire's poetry in the 1840s, or early romanticism circa the French Revolution, but hardly farther than that. I'm not aware that the artistic avant garde existed until impressionism in the 1870s. By 1925, modernism was triumphant among the trendsetters.

But I don't think it's a good explanation. For one thing, the ideas of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud weren’t really new; certainly not new on the level of Marco Polo, Giotto, Galileo, Hutton, or Newton. For another, people have been turning society on its head since society learned to walk. For this theory--set of new discoveries overturns conventional wisdom, leading to rejection of belief in progress and reason--to be a good explanation of why modernism gelled into something solid around 1910, it doesn’t just have to make a good story for “why 1910?” It has to also make a good story for “why not 1800?” and “why not 1350?” But it doesn’t.

I'm not a historian, but I'll list other revolutionary events from European & American history that told people everything they knew was wrong. Probably there were many more that I'm not aware of. Please add candidates in the comments, or argue against these ones.

~~800 B.C.: Homer's philosophy in The Iliad presages Nietzsche’s views of morality.

~~585 B.C.: Thales invents math and logic, maybe. He tells the Greeks that solar eclipses are natural events caused by the Moon passing before the Sun, not produced at will by the gods. He proves it by predicting a solar eclipse. Maybe (Panchenko 1994).

~~530 B.C.: Pythagoras discovers that the degree of harmoniousness of musical notes, which had been regarded as a deep spiritual mystery, is predicted by how simple the ratio is between the lengths of strings plucked to produce them. I’m often struck by how little people today seem to appreciate how astonishing this discovery is, and how conclusive it is as evidence against non-materialism.

479 B.C.: Greeks defeat vastly superior invading Persian army.

~~475 B.C.: Hippasus of Metapontum (maybe) proves irrational numbers must exist. Killed by a mob of angry mathematicians. Greeks studiously ignore non-integers for the next 600 years.

360 B.C.: Plato invents both Platonism and Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and superego in The Republic.

~323 B.C.: Alexander the Great conquers "the known world".

146 B.C.: Barbaric Romans conquer sophisticated Greeks.

27 B.C.: Roman Republic overthrown, Roman Empire established. Rome horrified. Democratic tradition and basis of Roman pride flushed down the toilet. (That's a joke. Because the Romans had toilets.)

~29 A.D.: Jesus crucified, after founding a religion which contrasted sharply with the Greco-Roman world by glorifying the weak above the strong. Not taken any notice of at the time, if it even happened. Turned out to be kind of a big deal later.

313 A.D.: Western Roman Emperor Constantine and Eastern Roman Emperor Licinius sign the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to everyone in the Roman Empire. Constantine declares himself a Christian. Rome horrified.

410 A.D.: Visigoths sack Rome. Rome horrified again.

622–750 A.D.: Muslims conquer about 4 times as much territory as Alexander the Great had, including all of Rome’s African territories, Spain, and parts of southern Italy and Greece. Christians confronted with their first serious competitor religion.

800 A.D.: Charlemagne crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope. Romans (in Byzantium) horrified. Charlemagne had by this time created a new center of learning at Aachen, which revived classical arts and scholarship. This event reversed the grim fatalism of the past 500 years, which taught that everything everywhere was always getting worse (like in a Tolkien novel), and proved that things still could get better again.

800-900: Vikings conquer half of England and raid the entire northern half of Europe.

845: Vikings occupy Paris.

9th century: Crude musical notation developed.

~900: After 100 years of constant raids by Vikings and Muslims, the Holy Roman Empire suddenly disintegrates.

~900: Musical polyphony (music with two different simultaneous parts) invented in Germany [8].

1000: Jesus fails to return. Date adjusted to be 1000 years after his death rather than his birth. (The Church never said he would return in 1000 AD, but it was a popular expectation.)

1009: The Muslim Caliph Al-Hakim has Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem obliterated. [10]

1033: Jesus fails to return again.

1054: The Catholic Church splits into the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

1066: French Vikings finally conquer England.

1202: Fibonacci introduces Arabic numerals and the concept of zero to Europe.

1206-1279: Mongols conquer about twice as much land as the Arabs did, creating the largest empire in human history. Europe is spared because the Mongols mostly ignore it and attack Muslims instead.

1277: Many writings by Aristotle, Plato, and other ancients were recovered from the Muslims and from Byzantium from 1150-1250, leading to a crisis in conflict between Christian theology and pagan philosophy. In 1277, Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, prohibited teaching or listening to 219 doctrines he said were being taught by the faculty, many based on Aristotle. Archbishop Robert Kilwardby at Oxford made similar prohibitions in the same year. [3]

~1296: For the first time since about 400 A.D., Europeans thought it was useful for maps to match the territory they represented. Before 1300, maps were usually drawn to depict their underlying symbolic, Platonic reality. The Hereford Mappa Mundi (1300), for instance, was drawn with the Mediterranean packed full of large islands, because empty spaces were considered insignificant and philosophically and theologically repulsive. Jerusalem was always shown as being at the center of the world, even after people understood the Earth’s surface had no center, with Asia at the top of the map so that the border between Asia, Africa, and Europe formed a T centered on Jerusalem, symbolizing the centrality of Christ’s crucifixion to the world.

The invention or importation of the compass around 1200 meant that you could know what direction you were moving in accurately enough that you could use an accurate map. The first accurate maps, called portolani, were made for navigating the Mediterranean. The oldest that still exists was made around 1296.

1297-1299: Marco Polo dictates The Description of the World to Rustichello da Pisa, describing Polo’s travels throughout China from 1271-1295. Europeans are shocked to learn of China’s size and sophistication, and many dismiss it as fantasy.

~1300: Invention of the gradated ruler, mechanical clock, precise musical notation, perspective, and scholars theorize about measuring motion, heat, light, and color. The first realizations that reality could be measured and recorded quantitatively. (Crosby, throughout)

~1300: Music theorists such as Johannes de Grocheo begin for the first time to study music. Previous medieval music theorists, like today’s literary theorists, had reasoned about music from first principles, or studied Pythagorus, Aristotle, or Boethius, without referring to any actual music or attempting to write music themselves. (Crosby p. 153)

1303: The centuries-long battle between kings and popes for supremacy is finally resolved when Pope Boniface VIII declares that even kings must obey him, and King Philip IV of France marches troops to Rome and takes the Pope captive. The Pope dies a few weeks after the King releases him. [11] The cardinals elect a French pope, who moves the papacy from Italy to France so the Romans don’t kill him. The resulting weakening of the Church’s power in Italy helps lead to the Italian Renaissance.

1306: Giotto paints a smiling camel in a nativity scene. This was the first time in over 400 years that a European painted anyone other than demons or Jews smiling. Smiling was changing from being bad (because it was emotional and thus impure) to being good, and people were changing from wanting only kitschy paintings of idealized perfection, to wanting paintings that had something to do with life.

Giotto also developed perspective, realism, emotions, portrayal of the mundane, and most of the other principles of Renaissance painting.

1300-1500: The beginning of the Renaissance. A much bigger mental shift than modernism, but in the opposite direction.

1320: Ars nova and Ars nove musice, two treatises on the new style of music being written in Paris, advocate making deliberate changes in how things are done (in music) in order to make them better--possibly the first time anyone has proposed that idea in the past thousand years. Later, in 1355, Johannes Boen claims medieval singing is more advanced than that of the ancient Greeks. (Crosby p. 154-5)

1320s: Gunpowder introduced to Europe.

~1330: A French ship driven off the coast of Africa in a storm discovers the Canary Islands sometime during 1326-1334 (Glas p. 1), and/or the Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello landed there in 1312 but did not return to the mainland to report his discovery until the 1330s. This was the first time since the fall of Western Rome that Europeans had discovered lands not on their maps [2], and they were fascinated, as they had been by Marco Polo, by the idea that the world was not known, and that they could themselves discover things which the ancient Greeks had not.

1347-1350: The Black Death. About one-third of everybody in Europe and neighboring lands dies. Prayers fail. Many convents and monasteries depopulated, giving a convincing demonstration that God does not help anybody in this world.

1350s: The English poem Wynnere and Wastoure represents the bitter struggle and moral debate in the 1350s between the old fighting nobility (“Wastoure”, waster) and the rising merchant middle class (“Wynnere”, winner).

~1350, 1370: Jean Buridan and Nicole Oresme write (correctly, as Einstein later showed) that there is no real answer to the question whether the Sun moves around the Earth, or the Earth moves around the Sun.

1378-1417: The Western Papal Schism: 2 to 3 different men claim to be Pope of the Roman Catholic Church during this time period. Each excommunicates the others. As priests ultimately derive their authority from the Pope, this eventually means that half of Europe is damned--but no one knows which half. Guess we’ll find out in Heaven. (Or in Hell.)

1415: 6,000 men under King Henry V of England, nearly all archers, crush an army of 20-30,000 French, including 2000 mounted knights, at the Battle of Agincourt. The literally unchivalrous behavior of the English in using archers, and in particular tactics in this battle including killing prisoners who had surrendered, and also throughout most of the war, from the Black Prince to Henry V, plus just plain killing off perhaps most of France’s knights in one day, marked the end of chivalry and the introduction of total war. The English soldiers fought not for personal gain and glory, as the French did, but for national victory at all costs. They not only disregarded the chivalric rules of engagement, but murdered peasantry to damage the enemy economically (Bartlett chapter 6; also see BBC History Extra). The French didn’t grasp that war wasn’t going to be fun anymore until after Agincourt.

1437-1453: A newfangled device called a “cannon” enables the French to kick the English out of France, from Castelnau-de-Cernès (1437) to Castillon (1450), ending the Hundred Years’ War and making castles across Europe useless, just like in Sid Meier’s Civilization. (Cannons had been in use in Europe since about 1350, but earlier cannons were smaller and mostly used against troops.)

1453: Constantinople captured by Muslim Sultan Mehmed II. Roman Empire falls. Romans horrified for the last time. The Muslims were able to breach the walls of Constantinople thanks to one very large cannon (Freely 2009 chapter 3) [9].

1454: Johannes Gutenberg prints indulgences for the Church with a movable-type printing press.

1461-4: By a combination of translations from different sources (including Ptolemy) and possibly original work, Regiomontanus introduces algebra and trigonometry to Western Europe.

1492: Columbus discovers there's another world between Europe and China.

1517: Martin Luther nails 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle church door.

1521: Dead Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet sails all the way around the world.

1532: Dead Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince introduces honesty to political theory. All Europe claims to be shocked and horrified. Quickly banned by Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches.

1543: Dead Copernicus claims the Earth goes around the Sun. Because the stars’ positions don’t change as the Earth goes around the Sun, Copernicus’ theory requires the stars to be very, very far away--making the volume of the universe at least 400,000 times larger than previously believed (Crosby p. 104).

1577: Tycho Brahe measures a lower bound on the distance to a Great Comet as 4-6 times the distance to the Moon, establishing that comets reside in the heavens rather than in the atmosphere. Its orbit is squashed rather than a perfect circle, and it cuts across the orbits of the planets. This proves that the heavens are changing rather than constant, that objects in the heavens don’t move in perfect circles and therefore are imperfect, and that the crystal spheres demarcating the planets’ orbits don’t exist (Crosby p. 107-108). This destroys a large part of classical, medieval, and even contemporary philosophy.

1600, or possibly ~1350: Musical accompaniment (a voice and an instrument playing different notes at the same time) invented [7, 8].

~1610: The development of new tuning methods lead to the use of the harmonic triad (what we today call a “chord”) [5], on which all Western music since has been based [6]. (Some of these new tunings had been based on the “harmony of the spheres” cosmology that Brahe destroyed in 1577 (Prins 2014).)

1649: English King Charles executed; English monarchy (temporarily) abolished.

1676: Antony Van Leeuwenhoek discovers we are surrounded and inhabited by unimaginable numbers of microscopic single-celled organisms.

1687: Newton's Principia reveals that the world operates according to simple laws, but also introduces a force called “gravity”. Many religious people were disturbed by the use of math to govern reality; the less-religious were disturbed by the introduction of mystical action-at-a-distance, called “gravity”, into philosophy.

1689: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke. This one book accomplished more in cognitive science--the materialist explanation of thought--than the entire human race had up to this point, providing the first convincing argument that there is no need for a concept of a soul, a spiritual world, or even of “life” except as shorthand for “very complicated material stuff”.

1712: Thomas Newcomen's steam engine begins the third (and so far, the last) energy revolution, from water power to fossil fuels. [4]

1755: In Lisbon, Portugal, on the morning of All Saints’ Day, an earthquake and following tsunami kill up to 20% of the city’s population and obliterate its buildings in less than an hour, causing Voltaire and others to doubt the justice of God.

1759: Edmund Burke re-introduces the notion of the sublime to Western thought. This is the first time since Pseudo-Longinus in 47 B.C. that a Western theorist has proposed that art has an aesthetic quality other than attractiveness (prettiness, loudness, brightness, shininess) or cleverness. It will lead shortly to the Gothic novel, horror, the picturesque, the English garden, Romanticism, the debate over sense versus sensibility, and an appreciation of Bach, and begins the re-expansion of the conception of "art", constricted since the Romans, to more than propaganda and pretty things.

1772: Phyllis Wheatley of Boston is interviewed by 18 of the most-prominent men in Boston, including the governor of Massachusetts, about some then-popular poems which she claimed to have written. Wheatley is black, so this is obviously impossible. The interviewers conclude that Wheatley did in fact write the poems, shocking Boston.

1785: James Hutton publishes research on sedimentation which concludes that the Earth is not 6000 years old as the Bible suggests, but millions of years old.

1789: The US Constitution creates a representative democracy effective for large nations, which will soon prove that large, stable governments don't need kings and a simple, inherently abusive hierarchy of power. The US example invalidates 2500 years of political theory. (This political theory had already been disproven 2000 years earlier by the Roman Republic, which everybody forgot about because the Roman Empire had cooler uniforms and bigger buildings and killed Jesus.)

The Iroquois Confederacy, which had occupied most of what is now New York State, had by then been a representative democracy for 200 to 500 years. (Ben Franklin is the only Founding Father who we know was aware of this.) So the birthplace of democracy in America is actually Ganondagan [1].

1791: Luigi Galvani seems to prove that the motive force of animals is not a soul, but electricity, which is then termed the "spark of life".

~1790-1800: Early Romantic poets say we should worship Dionysus rather than Apollo.

1793: French King Louis the 16th executed during the French Revolution.

1824: William Buckland, a crank who doesn't believe in the literal truth of Genesis, writes the first description of a dinosaur skeleton, proving that the Earth had once contained large animals now extinct. Critics object that God would not create and destroy species pointlessly. (Species that don't interact with humans are pointless in Christian teleology.)

1828: Friedrich Wöhler synthesizes urea, a component of urine, from chemicals, showing that organic life may operate via the same chemistry as inorganic matter.

1839: The painter Louis Daguerre shows the French Académie des Sciences his photographs, accidentally transforming realism in painting from fine art to not being art at all.

1858: First transatlantic cable laid, reducing the time to communicate news across the Atlantic from weeks to minutes. The cable only worked for two weeks, and it couldn't be replaced until 1866.

1859: Darwin’s Origin of Species

1887: Michelson & Morley prove that the speed of light always appears to be the same, breaking Newtonian physics by making the laws of physics seem to depend on the observer.

1892: Dmitry Ivanovsky shows that something much smaller than a bacteria causes disease. Viruses discovered, proving that “life” is not a valid concept.

1905: Albert Einstein fixes the problem raised by Michelson & Morley, and shows that the laws of physics are not relative or subjective, but are the same for all observers in all reference frames.

1912: Alfred Wegener argues that the continents drift around the Earth.

1914: World War I begins.

1945: The world discovers what happened in Nazi death camps.

1945: Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

1969: Humans walk on the moon.

1980: Smallpox eradicated, the first time a disease has been eliminated.

It isn't obvious why the four examples that are always trotted out as having suddenly shocked a complacent Enlightenment world into modernism were chosen, rather than some other examples from the list. Nor can the standard story explain the timing of modernism any more.

And why is it always Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud? I think photography, unlike Marxism, evolution, or Freudian psychology, was partly responsible for modern art's non-representationalism. The discovery of the antiquity of the Earth took the wind out of the sails of both religion and imminent eschatons (including Marxism's). And the discovery of viruses showed that the concept of life itself is based on false premises; there is no clear border between life and not-life. So why not Hutton, Galvani, Buckland, Daguerre, & Ivanovsky?

There is a general agreement that World War I was the triggering event--yet the essentials of modern art were developed, and already splintered into many different theories movements, before the war.

Wikipedia says "Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking." Yet modernists such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were every bit as certain of their conclusions as Enlightenment thinkers were of theirs, and with less evidence. Eliot and Pound both wrote essay after essay making grand, sometimes surprising assertions--sometimes brilliant, sometimes (in the case of Pound's economic theories) insane--with no supporting evidence.

More importantly, the events cited as having triggered modernism--Darwin, Freud, etc., plus changing social conditions--are the same kinds of events as those said to have triggered the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. We can identify four Modernism-like events, where a cluster of discoveries that overturned previous thinking triggered a new mood in Western civilization:
the Athenian miracle starting around 500 B.C., the start of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century, the start of the Enlightenment around 1700, and the start of Modernism around 1900.

Why would a continuation of the same processes (social disruption and the discovery that the world is not as we thought) trigger an optimistic, progressive movement in the first three cases, and a pessimistic movement against progress in the third?

I don't know what the right explanation is, but the standard story ain’t it.

[1] I visited Ganondagan once in the 1990s. I knew it was obscure, but what with the American religious devotion to democracy, I thought the birthplace of democracy in America would rate some visitors. The Iroquois were pushing its historical importance back then, so I figured some of them would show up if nobody else did. But I was the only visitor all day, and it was so quiet that the wind rustling the grass seemed loud. I felt like a fool for having taken words seriously.

[2] It turned out that Pliny the Elder had in 77-79 A.D. cited a now-lost report by King Juba II of exploring the Canary Islands around 50 A.D. (book 6 chapter 37), but the only record we have of it is in Pliny, Pliny did not know their location, and reports of sea voyages in the ancient world were more mythological than factual. Browsing the web, you’ll find allegations that other sailors from various nations landed there in ancient times, and even that the Vikings discovered it, but my attempts to track down the sources only led to fabulous stories about monsters and mythical islands of indeterminate location such as Atlantis, the Hesperides, or the Fortunate Isles.

[3] These and many other lists of prohibited teachings were collected in the Parisian Articles, which had to be expanded into a second volume in the 14th century.

Before starting to lecture on [Peter Lombard's] Sentences, a bachelor of theology was required to swear: "that he shall not say, hold or dogmatize anything in his 'principia' and lectures, nor in any of his other actions whatsoever that are against the catholic faith, or against a decision of the holy mother church, or against good morals, or in favor of articles that have been condemned at the Roman Curia or in Paris, or that sounds offensive in the ears of his audience, but that he will hold and dogmatize sound doctrine." In addition, the bachelor swore "that if he has heard or knows of a bachelor, or someone else, who acts against this [oath], he shall reveal this to the lord bishop or the chancellor in office at that time, within seven days from the time he came to know these facts."
--Thijssen 1998 p. 9

(Duham 1913) argued that this condemnation marked the birth of modern science, because it forced scholars of intellectual integrity to develop ways of working outside the Church's restriction. However, Duham made his claim at the tail end of a desperate, failed attempt by medieval scholars to show that medieval scholastics led to the development of science, and even Duham's claim for this indirect influence is now regarded as wrong (Steneck 1985 p. 21).

[4] The first great energy revolution was animal domestication. The second was the water wheel, invented around 200 B.C., but rarely used by the Romans (Gies & Gies p. 32-36), possibly because slaves were so cheap. The Germanic “barbarians” built many more, starting in the 6th century (Gies & Gies p. 48-49), and water mills were widespread in Western Europe by 1300, where they were used for grinding grain, raising water, making rope, blowing bellows, pressing wine, and fulling (pounding) wool for cloth (Gies & Gies p. 113-117).

[5] The rediscovery in the 12-15th century of Ptolemy’s tuning scale lead Gioseffo Zarlino to advocate a new musical tuning scale in 1558. This new tuning emphasized the interval of a third, which had previously been discordant with Pythagorean tuning. Other similar new tunings, called mean, just, well, or equal temperament, were required due to the invention of the harpsichord. (There were no machines capable of measuring frequencies, so tuning was in practice done by ear and not always the same.) They also made the third more consonant. Doing so made the fifth, on which harmony had previously been based, less consonant, so it was seldom used on its own any more, but usually in combination with a third, producing a triad. Also see (Prins 2014) for astrological reasons for prioritizing the interval of a third.

[6] Unless you count the stuff Schoenberg, Berg, Ferneyhough, etc., created as music.

[7] (Leech-Wilkinson 2002) contains extensive discussion of different theories about when musical accompaniment was invented, which dated it from 1300 to 1600 A.D.. The key dispute appears to be over whether whatever troubadours did with their lutes counts as “accompaniment”, or if they even sang at all. See also (Hagopian 1981 p. 17, 31, 40).

[8] “Ancient Greek music, in common with European music in general before the Middle Ages, was monophonic, consisting of a single melodic line (Neubecker 1977: 97-98). That melodic line could be enhanced by a further musical accompaniment, but there is no evidence that the accompaniment was anything other than a support for, or at most an elaboration of, the basic melody (Barker 1995; West 1992: 205-7). Polyphony in the modern sense of a composition in which two or more “voices” sound simultaneously to the ancient Greeks.” -- (Sansone 2012) chapter 4. (Sorry; no page numbers in e-books.)

[9] The cannon’s builder had first tried to sell it to Constantinople, but they said no.

[10] He planned to destroy churches and synagogues all across Syria, but decided not to in case the Christians destroyed mosques in their lands in retaliation.

[11] In 1301, King Philip IV of France arrested a Papal legate for insurrection. Pope Boniface VIII demanded churchmen be tried by Church courts, and declared in 1302 that even kings must obey him. King Philip refused. The Pope excommunicated people interfering with his orders on the matter, which happened to include King Philip. The King marched on Rome and captured the Pope in 1303, then released him 3 days later. The Pope died a few weeks later.

W. B. Bartlett 2015. Agincourt: Henry V, the Man at Arms & the Archer. Amberley Publishing.

Alfred Crosby 1997. The Measure of Reality: Quantification and western society, 1250-1600. Cambridge U. Press.

Pierre Duhem 1906-1913. Etudes sur Leonard de Vinci, Vol. I.

John Freely 2009. The Grand Turk: Sultan Mehmet II-Conqueror of Constantinople and Master of an Empire. Overlook Press. Also UK: London: I.B Tauris.

Frances & Joseph Gies 1994. Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages. Harper Perennial.

George Glas 1764. The History of the Discovery and Conquest of the Canary Islands. A translation of “a Spanish manuscript, lately found in the island of Palma,” author uncredited; presumably Juan de Abreu Galindo’s The History of the Discovery and Conquest of the Canary Islands (1764).

Pamela King 2011. Medieval Literature 1300-1500. Edinburgh U Press.

Viola Luther Hagopian 1981. Italian Ars Nova Music. Univ of California.

Daniel Leech-Wilkinson 2002. The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance. Cambridge U Press.

Dimitri Panchenko 1994.“Thales's Prediction of a Solar Eclipse.” Journal for the History of Astronomy, Nov. 1994, p.275.

Jacomien Prins 2014. Echoes of an Invisible World: Marsilio Ficino and Francesco Patrizi on Cosmic Order and Music Theory. Brill.

Rustichello da Pisa 1299. Based on interviews with Marco Polo 1298-1299. The Description of the World. Also known as The Travels of Marco Polo, Book of the Marvels of the World, The Million, and by other titles as well. “There is no authentic original manuscript, and even if there were, it would likely not represent what Polo dictated since Rustichello asserted his own personality and familiar phraseology, especially in the standardized description of battles. Polo also seems to have made emendations himself on various copies of the work during the last 20 years or so of his life… there are some 140 different manuscript versions of the text in three manuscript groups, in a dozen different languages and dialects—an immensely complex and controversial body of material representing one of the most obdurate philological problems inherited from the Middle Ages.” --Encyclopedia Brittanica online

David Sansone 2012. Greek Drama and the Invention of Rhetoric. Wiley.

Nicholas Steneck 1985. "The relevance of the Middle Ages to the history of science and technology." In Pamela Long, ed., Science and Technology in Medieval Society, Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences vol. 441, p. 21-27.

J. M. M. H. Thijssen 1998. Censure and Heresy at the University of Paris, 1200-1400. U Penn Press.

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Comments ( 36 )

These essays are always a delight to read. Thank you for all the time and effort you must put into them.

I think photography, unlike Marxism, evolution, or Freudian psychology, was partly responsible for modern art's non-representationalism.

I've got an "art history 101" level of education about this sort of thing, but I thought that was completely self-evident. Are you saying that people argue otherwise? Or that people simply ignore the role of photography? Because if so, said people should maybe be slapped upside the head for being contrarian and/or idiotic.


These essays are always a delight to read. Thank you for all the time and effort you must put into them.

I second this opinion verbatim.

Cuneiform? Heck, I'm still waiting for the return of the card readers.

The punch cards shall rise again! Immune to EMP, virus-proof and do not deteriorate over a single decade to unreadable status like many magnetic media. (Of course, having to carry a semi-truck full of equipment to run your iPhone will be a minor inconvenience....)

4507513 I haven't seen anyone argue against the importance of photography, but it's never listed as one of the big 4 (or sometimes 5) causes of modernism in general. I guess I think the ability to record things--photos, phonographs, movies, plastic casting--all combined to devalue the representational more generally than just in painting.

This was a specially interesting post, and I'm gonna write some well thought stuff after.

But for now, I just want to point out that each time I saw this:

Rome horrified again

I keep imaginating Rarity on a toga. :raritycry:

And this just leaves me to an all world of positibilites. Applejack would be the visigoths? Twilight the greeks (or the arabs)?

Anyway, yeah, great post, thanks for your effort BH.

Punched tape. Better than cards for portability, but you do have to re-print the whole thing (or do literal cut-and-paste) to edit it.

You have some broken url tags on 1557, 1772, 1789, and [5].

Anyway, I have to wonder why you didn't include things such as the French Revolution, the rise of modern totalitarianism in Europe, or the multiple changes in economical systems.

4507630 Thanks for the catches! I represented the French Rev. by the King's execution. I just added some words to clarify that. I think the changes in economic systems mostly happened too slowly to shock people, but I added an entry for a 1350s poem about the first middle class. Modern totalitarianism didn't shock everybody; a sizable fraction of people everywhere were in favor of it.

4507642 ...due to the mistaken opinion of the general population that *they* would be part of the people in control of the rest of the people.


That is one long-ass list of history.

I occasionally read one of these for entertainment value, but I take them more as persuasive writing than informational, because for all the citation and structured argument, they still contain a lot of the personal agenda and unsupported opinions as the material you're trying to decry.

I'm not sure what the premise here is. Are you limiting things to European development? I haven't delved into all of the world's music, but as usual, music is where I'll disagree with the points you're making.

9th century: Crude musical notation developed.

To be fair, you don't say it's the first musical notation, so I really have no idea what you're talking about. There's some debate over Egyptian musical notation, but some scholars think they had a system developed much earlier than this. There's an example of some from the 5th-7th centuries documented in Musicologie Pharaonique by Hans Hickmann, and if so, it likely existed for even hundreds of years earlier. But we're not counting that if you're specifically referring to European music only. Yet you do discuss Greece and Rome quite a bit and seem to be taking them as European civilizations, and reasonably so. Examples of Greek musical notation exist at least 700 years before the 9th century (the Delphic Hymns, for example), and possibly earlier. The Romans likely adopted the Greek notational system.

For musical accompaniment, I guess that depends on what exactly you consider to qualify under your definition. For thousands of years prior to this, people have been clapping along with singing, and clapping produces a pitch, even if it's not one that's actively controlled or even interpreted as such. Not much different is constructed percussion instruments, and they often are tuned to specific pitches, though like clapping, they have a pitch, even if it isn't an intended effect. As an example, the modern bass drum is usually tuned to a G, though you don't really perceive the pitch of it, and you don't notice when that pitch doesn't play well with the prevailing key. For that matter, the article you link on polyphony speaks to the second voice being an accompaniment, which predates what you note as the emergence of accompanied singing. I have recordings of music as early as the 11th century with instrumental accompaniment, though I haven't looked at it closely enough to see whether that may have been added later.

But alas, this is all I have the time to say tonight.

I'm pretty sure my high-school art history teacher listed it as the main reason for the rise of non-representational art. Even our book supported it.

No way I would remember what the book was, though. It was lost to entropy at least four movings (an a decade) ago.

The interviewers conclude that Wheatley did in fact write the poems, shocking Boston.

But at least she didn't horrify Rome.

I might add:
1755: In his "Poem on the Lisbon Earthquake," Voltaire, using neither evidence nor logic, conclusively refutes Leibniz and the conclusion that, as a direct logical consequence of God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, we exist in the best of all possible worlds.

4507958 Yeah, there was Greek notation. I should say re-developed. In fact now that I think about it, if the books from 500-800 AD are missing because they were written in Germanic languages, then we wouldn't expect to find any musical notation from that period even if lots of it had existed.

The musical entries are all very contentious.

>For musical accompaniment, I guess that depends on what exactly you consider to qualify under your definition.

I gave my definition as, "(a voice and an instrument playing different notes at the same time)," but I meant to imply by that that voice and instrument each play a separate melody. Percussion-and-voice songs are often the first thing a people do with musical instruments. There are also "singing plus a bass note" techniques that I didn't count.

>For that matter, the article you link on polyphony speaks to the second voice being an accompaniment, which predates what you note as the emergence of accompanied singing.

I said "a voice and an instrument". A voice and a voice is not a voice and an instrument. For whatever reason, it's conceptually different. There was lots of all-voice and all-instrumental music, but the Middle Ages didn't mix them early on. This was probably deliberate--some Church authorities put up a fight for hundreds of years against polyphony with voices, because they said having multiple voices obscured the words and made the music merely entertaining rather than instructive. (I don't see the point, since it was in Latin anyway and the congregation probably couldn't understand any of it.) Also, Latin and Italian lend themselves to vocal techniques like melisma that get stomped on by instruments. Also, a lot of instruments don't sound well in a church with lots of reverb.

> I have recordings of music as early as the 11th century with instrumental accompaniment, though I haven't looked at it closely enough to see whether that may have been added later.

You can look into the references I cited if you're interested. I probably spent almost an hour reading thru different references trying to figure out that one date, and there's just no agreement because troubadors didn't write down exactly what they did. One kind of evidence used is pictures. One reference claimed that pictures of musicians in the 14th century always show either all of them have instruments, or all of them are singing. Another debate is over the extent of a tradition in which "songs" were not sung but were recited, like poetry, to the strumming of a lute. Another is over whether lute players played improvisations as intro and outro only, or during singing. Another is whether someone singing and playing the lute would play notes different than he sang. I didn't find any mention of lute players playing more than one note at a time, tho John Dowland's music is for 7-string lute. I would think playing chords on a lute while singing should count as accompaniment.

Playing a harmony on a guitar while singing a melody is much more difficult than singing a melody and strumming chords. I could believe people just didn't do that. It isn't done much even today outside of folk music, AFAIK.

I’m often struck by how little people today seem to appreciate how astonishing this discovery is, and how conclusive it is as evidence against non-materialism.

Can I get an explanation for this line?

Back badly hurt. Typing is hard. Sorry re: brevity. Essay excellent.

[3] Aristotle etc. had to be recovered from the East because the Romans had never bothered translating most of Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, or anything else that didn’t have obvious immediate practical value (e.g., Gies & Gies p. 36). This complete lack of interest in the theoretical casts doubt on the standard narrative that Western culture traces a continuous path through Greek and Roman civilizations, and on the idea that the Germanic tribes were any more “barbarian” than the Romans.

Major issue with your point. Romans didn't translate bcos the height of education in Rome was knowledge of Attic Greek. No need to translate. Easy evidence: Satyricon of Petronius. Dialogue is in Greek. Even those not fluent in Attic probably spoke Koine. Latin becomes dominant only in the era of Augustine not before.

I felt like a fool for having taken words seriously.

Truth, hard-won: Foolishness feels like wisdom, and vice-versa. Consider, please.

(Edited to add: The paragraph I quoted has since been removed from the article.)

People interested in art history are also interested in philosophy. Also, to Christians, the universe revolves around Christ (and by extension, human history revolves around his Church). Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud are cited, in my opinion, because they represent the most widely convincing alternative worldview to the Christian. And philosophy is of course the root cause of everything else that happens in history, just because philosophy and theology are basically the same and theology is the root cause of everything else... Get it? Modernism in art comes from modernism in philosophy, and this is somehow self evident because everything comes from philosophy...

Fun fact, I once had a confessor who suggested I read Nietzsche. "Everything modern goes back to Nietzsche," he said, "he's a very important philosopher, some would even say a Christian philosopher..."

Needless to say I am unimpressed by your proofs against anti materialism but it would be an autistic derail to comment upon it so I will satisfy myself with a single self referential statement of disagreement

4508113 Aesthetic judgements of how well two musical tones go with each other are strongly affected by the ratio between their frequencies. The tones are perceived as more harmonious when the spectrum of their combination takes less information to specify. That suggests our music-appreciation operates not by a mysterious spiritual method, but by something like an electrical circuit that doesn't like being overloaded, clipped, or noisy.

If it were discovered today, instead of 2500 years ago, that the pleasingness of music depended in part on absolute, culture-invariant mathematical descriptions of its waveform, the discoverer would be hounded out of academia for being a cultural absolutist, unable to understand that all culture is socially constructed, and musicians everywhere would denounce it as science treading where it does not belong.


Romans didn't translate bcos the height of education in Rome was knowledge of Attic Greek. No need to translate.

Thank you--an important point I was not aware of. Wikipedia agrees. But--if the Romans read Aristotle's physics and Plato's dialogues, even in Greek, they would have made copies of them, and the medievals wouldn't have had to recover them from Byzantium.

Another possibility is that because after a point nobody could read them, nobody made an effort to preserve any copies that were made--or if they were parchment, not to scrape off the illegible glyphs for reuse. Similar in effect to the burning of Germanic books which may or may not have contained Arianism. Or just the loss of the library of Petrarch because nobody cared to pay to house it somewhere suitable for the preservation of books. (For that reason, it's not that hard to imagine him never coming across his copy of Homer a millennium after there was anyone to read it, and he had to search Western Europe to find someone who could give even a poor and partial translation.)

Well, I thing the Black Plague could be expanded on what it’s know as the crisis of the XIV century (called aparently Crisis of the Late Middle Ages on english). This includes not only the Black Plague but overall a demographic and productive crisis, that reduced enormously the population of europe, seriously damaged (probably in a irreparable way) feudal relations in society and paradoxically, send Europe afterwards in a wave of progress.
The process, characterized by the starvation of most of european peasants (If you don’t want to include the whole procces, you could mention at least the Great Famine which causes are discussed, it’s linked to the start of the Little Ice Age but was arguably more subtly related to nobles and an economy that demanded levels of production impossible to sustain with those climate conditions) produced the apparition of systematic peasant revolts, the loosening of noble power and correspondent strengthening of royal (state) power (to deal with those revolts), the apparition of rich pleasants and the the massive migration of people to cities in look of new opportunities.

I don’t know if so relevant, but I could also mention the Lisbon Earthquaque will I don’t know how true it is, I always heard that the destruction of 85% of Lisbon by an earthquake, a tsunamy, and uncontronable fires (Damn, someone had really something against that city) deeply pertubed philosophers in Europe. The fact that the destruction razed almost all the city’s churches but let the “red neighbours” (prostitutes area) intact was used as argument on Voltaire works, and apparently influenced several other thinkers of the time. The earthquake also noted the rise on power of the Marquis of Pombal which was a key figure in european enlighted monarchy, and apparently marked the beggining of modern sismiology.

More importantly, the events cited as having triggered modernism--Darwin, Freud, etc., plus changing social conditions--are the same kinds of events as those said to have triggered the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. We can identify four Modernism-like events, where a cluster of discoveries that overturned previous thinking triggered a new mood in Western civilization:
the Athenian miracle starting around 500 B.C., the start of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century, the start of the Enlightenment around 1700, and the start of Modernism around 1900.

Why would a continuation of the same processes (social disruption and the discovery that the world is not as we thought) trigger an optimistic, progressive movement in the first three cases, and a pessimistic movement against progress in the third?

It’s hard for me a this point to see what exactly falls inside modernism and what not. Before 1914 I think people strongly believed in the future, positivism thought that all was going to be better, the higher classes taught on the infinite continuation of progress, and even those who saw themselves as oppressed, like socialist and anarchist, believed on a future of hope and brightness that was soon to come. It’s interesting that even the big war was started with a wave of enthusiasm, and the famous massive conscription of volunteers in France, England and Germany.
I think it was precisely after and through First War World that modernism acquired it’s pessimist characteristics, which is maybe why it’s usually associated (according to your previous post) to the birth/climax of modernism.

I’d have to point out you that in your list of changes of historical periods (classical period, renaissance, enlightenment etc) you left out the fall of the roman empire and the start of medieval period, which also was a “social disruption and the discovery that the world is not as we thought” but that it produced an era of pessimism and look at the past.

Now, in your previous post, in which you mostly focused on the artistic aspects of modernism, you pointed out how modernism rolled back to a medieval way of thinking. Saying that modernism is against progress it’s a new statement though, and it leaves me really sceptical of it.
Progress it’s a vague term that can mean a lot of different things. Progress may be different concept for people on the renaissance or in the 60’s but doesn’t stop being the concept of progress. Medieval thinking was undoubtedly anti-progressist because it rejected change and wanted to come back to a certain status quo in the past that they thought ideal . Romanticism, which flourished between the 18th and 19thcentury, also was anti-progress. But I think it’s hard to apply that to most of the movements that were growth after 1870 (which it's a more estimated date of the period we have been talking about with modernism), when they almost had their minds and rhetoric put into the future.

Wikipedia says "Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking."

Funnily enough, wikipedia also says:

“More common, especially in the West, are those who see it as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology.[12] From this perspective, modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was 'holding back' progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end.”

It's also have a different approach about the political part of it. It states how totalitarian states rejected modernism, both stalinism and nazism repressed surrealist and other modernist styles, and the “socialist realism” and nazism monumentalism are much more closest to the art of the baroque period than to abstract art.

And at this point I’m just confused about what modernism is, as a current of thought, besides the obvious “crazy art” part. I think it’s always good as a methodology, to define as precisely as possible your subject of study before disserting about it, in this case it wouldn’t be bad to try to make a clear definition of what modernism is and what “exactly” includes.

Edit: After writing this, trying to read the Wikipedia article about Romanticism confused me even more. It claims romanticism as the point of rolling back to medieval thinking and rejection of enlightement. Yet it's vinculated to political liberal movements. (It made me remember the writer Esteban Echevarria, first argentinean poet who was one of the biggest latin american romantic authors and a furious liberal, writing against conservatives and reactionaries regimes.) and at the same time it's stated to happen as a reaction to modernism, but before what we have been talking as modernism.


A voice and a voice is not a voice and an instrument.

There's actually disagreement over whether the human voice itself is considered an instrument, which is what I was getting at.


Have you ever seen a Business major accidently drop a three-foot stack of COBOL cards 24 hours before their Business Analysis 301 semester project is due?

You don't know. No one can know who hasn't lived through it. No one I say.

And that is why you run a diagonal stripe across the top, and make sure you label each section:


There's actually disagreement over whether the human voice itself is considered an instrument, which is what I was getting at.

I think the words "voice" and "instrument" were used to introduce that distinction. The medievals often used the word "organum", meaning "organ" or "instrument", which referred both to voice and to instruments. In fact "organum" as a noun in music meant both a type of choral singing, and a big instrument like an organ.

4509083 Except that to this day, some musicological texts will list the voice as an instrument, while others won't. Fwiw, wikipedia includes various vocal ranges and effects in its "list of Instruments" article. Not a definitive source, certainly, but I have seen scholarly texts on both sides of the question.

4508925 To this day, some of the Fortran engineering software I've used has numbers out beyond the 72-column limit. These are transcribed from when each line was an individual card, and there were numbers printed on them so that you could put them back in order if you dropped them. They even had machines to do so automatically. The card terminology has carried over. We still refer to some pieces of software or I/O files as "decks."

Another one: 1796: Jenner introduces the smallpox vaccine. Prospect of avoiding one of the great scourges of mankind.

I'm not aware that the artistic avant garde existed until impressionism in the 1870s. By 1925, modernism was triumphant among the trendsetters.

This brings to mind something I've been meaning to point out to you. Keep in mind that this is the same time period when mass culture is coming into being and growing rapidly. Over the course of the 19th century, art and literature fell out of the hands of the trendsetters/elites/educated, and into the lap of the middle and even lower classes. Currier and Ives prints are adorning people's walls, people are waiting at the docks to find out the fate of Little Nell, and Stephen Foster is distributing catchy tunes everyone can hum. By 1925, you have records and radio and movies in the mix.

If you're one of the elite who's supposed to be setting trends, what the hell do you do with this? Try to appeal to the masses?

Basically, I'm not sure if one of the reasons avant garde didn't exist before was that avant garde didn't need to exist before. Maybe all art[1] was "avant garde" until the unwashed masses started getting ahold of it?

[1] Obviously there's always been folk art and music, but it never really had an impact on the artistic community until it start making money in the 19th century.

Edit: To clarify, I'd been thinking of this because of a discussion on your blog a while ago, about how popular poetry "disappeared" by being absorbed into song lyrics, and people stopped paying attention to proper poetry.

Edit 2: Interesting quote from the Wikipedia article on Currier and Ives:

Currier & Ives prints were among the household decorations considered appropriate for a proper home by Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, authors of American Woman's Home (1869): "The great value of pictures for the home would be, after all, in their sentiment. They should express the sincere ideas and tastes of the household and not the tyrannical dicta of some art critic or neighbor."

4509157 I added an entry for smallpox eradication in 1980 instead. I'm not going to make entries for other medical advances; there were too many: antibiotics, surgery, anaesthesia, blood transfusions, etc. Not for tech improvements in general either. I should probably make one for the transatlantic cable, and maybe for radio and refrigeration, but not for inventions of lesser impact like the Internet.

4508773 4507989 Added an entry for the Lisbon earthquake. Thanks!

.....and what THIS wall of text was supposed to say? Like, why opposition to progress and sicense of today? May be because it really doesn't work as advertized? But yeah, both proponents and opponents {of such vague thing as 'modernity'} tend to degenerate {in their intra- and inte-r fightings long before they truely move anyone (us, ourselves..) somewhere.......

My point here was to show that the standard story of how "modernity" and "modernism" emerged, as a thing triggered by supposedly sudden catastrophic new intellectual ideas in the 19th century, is false. There was no sudden onslaught of new ideas to trigger modernity; humans have been subject to similarly new ideas at a similar rate at least back to the Reformation.

I believe that the purpose of the "modernity" myth is to portray modern Western society as having fallen, in the Platonic sense of the "Fall of Man", rather suddenly due to a turning away from medieval wisdom. It isn't modernism that emerged in the 19th century, but counter-modernity, the great "religious" movement opposing scientific, empiricist ideas, and calling for a return to classicism, rationalism, and its mystical ontology.

5085435 (Bad Horse)

Yeah, there are modern myths as how society supposed to function (and its history). Problem is - usually nearly everyone polarized into two opposing camps (science/religion, as example), and none willing to see problems shared by both (for example blind acceptance of authority - even if scientific ideas are more accurate - they usually still presented in same fashion as other ideas - hard, unchangable facts, and thinking at level of scientists/philosophers apparently not something they can taught masses in school/uni :/ )

5085582 I just finished an anthology/book, The Worst of Bad Horse , which is mostly short fanfiction stories, but uses them to illustrate the difference between rationalistic art and empiricist art. I see the "science / religion" divide as actually being over empiricist vs. rationalist metaphysics, with rationalist (Platonist) metaphysics being inherently religious because it requires the logos (roughly, "meaning") of real-world things to be acquired magically, from essences, rather than from structure.

The word "religion" is actually a bit of what I call "lexical imperialism", which means to impose your cultural views by getting people to use your words. "Religion" doesn't really mean anything other than "the things we Westerners want people to treat as religion". So for instance Buddhism, in its scholarly form, is a philosophy, not a religion at all (doesn't even have gods), yet we call it a religion; while Plato's "philosophy" is actually Christianity 1.0, and had more influence on Christianity 4.0 (what I call Pauline orthodoxy) than Jesus did (who gave us Christianity 2.0, the Jewish messianic apocalypticism of the Jerusalem church, which Paul overturned). (Platonism is also close to Hinduism, which I think it was influenced by.)

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