AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
By Bruce W. Holsinger. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001. xviii + 472 pp.
Toward the close of this book Bruce W. Holsinger quotes a story from the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. The lyre, Isidore reports, was discovered by the god Mercury when he came upon the body of a desiccated tortoise. The sinews of the animal still remained stretched across the bottom of the shell, and when the god plucked them, they gave out a sound. "After this pattern," Isidore goes on, "he made the lyre and transmitted it to Orpheus" (344).
This little legend stands for Holsinger as both epitome and epitaph for music in medieval culture. It exemplifies the ways in which the body, animal or human, is the site of musical performance. It reveals the link between artistic beauty and death ("These songs are rung upon a corpse," Holsinger summarizes ). And it subtly anticipates the horrid death of Orpheus himself, whose mutilated body would remain a sign of music's terrifying power and whose disembodied yet still singing head would float down rivers to move future listeners to tears.
Such tortured bodies lie at the heart of this book. In dialogue with the whole range of recent studies of the body in society (undertaken by scholars from Caroline Walker Bynum to Carolyn Dinshaw, from Peter Brown to Miri Rubin), Holsinger's project is to write a history of medieval culture through the metaphorics of the sonant self. To this end, he interweaves three distinct yet related narratives designed to illustrate the centrality of musical and bodily imagery to the intellectual and artistic life of the premodern West.
First, Holsinger offers a review of medieval music theory and practice that is centered on …