Quadrivium is a word derived from the Latin roots quad and via, which translates roughly as “a crossing of four roads.” The idea of quadrivium can be traced back to the time of Pythagoras (around 500 BC) with the emphasis on the study of four fundamental subjects: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. It eventually formed the basis of the European education structure later known as the seven liberal arts.
The quadrivium subjects are, of course, connected by mathematics: arithmetic is the study of numbers and their relationship to each other; geometry is the examination of how numbers relate to each other spatially; music is study of the relationship of numbers temporally; and astronomy is the study of numbers in both space and time. The mastery of the quadrivium was a prerequisite for anyone interested in the study of philosophy and theology.
After we posted the article on Leonardo da Vinci, a few readers suggested that we might find the book Quadrivium interesting. We were reminded of it again when we happened upon a copy of it at the Harvard Coop last December while shopping for holiday presents. A quick flip through it and we were hooked. The main reason is we are always searching for ideas and design inspirations for future projects. Tesselations and spiralsare great patterns for projects. We have used them for windows, jewelry boxes, and other stained glass projects, and the Quadrivium was packed full of them.
While we were first drawn to the Quadrivium by the pretty pictures, the fascinating content (magic squares, Fibonacci series, Platonic Solids, Archimedean Solids, Chladni patterns, etc…) kept us reading.
Quadrivium is a modern book which brings together the four ancient subjects and makes their fascinating interconnectedness accessible to those interested. Much of the knowledge in Quadrivium has been known for hundreds, some even thousands of years.
Occassionally, the information would be suppressed or lost and rediscovered centuries later. This is because some of it was kept secret and shared only with trusted colleagues and students. The reasons—power, prejudice—varied, but the results—ignorance, fear—were the same. This was especially true of knowledge about the heavens. The Church especially feared discoveries which contradicted their particular world view.
Reading this book made us happy that we were born at a time when knowledge is freely available and disseminated. However, even with all of the means available to us today, we must take care and not take this freedom for granted. We hope we won’t ever slip back to a time where access to knowledge is limited and ignorance is the norm.