Theses Doctoral

Pythagoras in Baghdad: Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Urmawī and the Science of Music in the Medieval Islamic World

Ansari, Mohammad Sadegh

What can we learn about the Intellectual history of the pre-modern Islamic world by examining the science of music? This dissertation addresses how the science of music, as a body of knowledge, was appropriated from its Greek origins, how this science was then reproduced and disseminated throughout Islamic civilization, and how Muslim society situated it vis-à-vis Islamic tradition. Widely considered to be an art today, music in the medieval Islamic world was categorized as one of the four branches of the mathematical sciences, alongside arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy; indeed, some philosophers and scholars of music went as far as linking music with medicine and astrology as part of an interconnected web of cosmological knowledge. This dissertation examines the epistemological tools and techniques that contributed to the production of musical knowledge from the early medieval to the early modern period (9th–17th centuries CE). This knowledge was often produced through the patronage of both the ruling and the urban elite classes. Furthermore, this dissertation demonstrates how this science was preserved and subsequently transmitted by scholars of the mathematical disciplines through manuscripts. By studying the marginalia and super commentaries of these manuscripts, it demonstrates how scholars in the Islamic world understood and engaged the tradition of the science of music.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Saliba, George
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 15, 2020