The Seven Liberal Arts By Andrew Fleming West, Professor at Princeton College
Originally published in Alcuin And the Rise of the Christian Schools by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912
Edited by Christopher A. Perrin, Ph.D. Copyright 2010 Classical Academic Press
The Seven Liberal Arts
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In this essay, Andrew West traces the origin of the seven liberal arts that comprised the three arts of the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music) and describes their evolution and consolidation up to the time of Alcuin (c. AD 740–804), the educational reformer under Charlemagne. West pays special attention to those thinkers who shaped the development of the liberal arts, such as Augustine, Martianus Capella, Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Isidore of Seville. This essay will present the reader with a fundamental understanding of the seven liberal arts that formed the foundation for classical education then and now.
Mark Passio - The Trivium
The Trivium is a systematic method of critical thinking used to derive factual certainty from information perceived with the traditional five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. In the medieval university, the trivium was the lower division of the seven liberal arts, and comprised grammar, logic, and rhetoric (input, process, and output).
Etymologically, the Latin word trivium means "the place where three roads meet" (tri + via); hence, the subjects of the trivium are the foundation for the quadrivium, the upper division of the medieval education in the liberal arts, which comprised arithmetic (number), geometry (number in space), music (number in time), and astronomy (number in space and time).
Educationally, the trivium and the quadrivium imparted to the student the seven liberal arts of classical antiquity.
The trivium is implicit in the De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ("On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury"), by Martianus Capella, although the term was not used until the Carolingian Renaissance, when the term was coined, in imitation of the earlier quadrivium.
Grammar, logic, and rhetoric were essential to a classical education, as explained in Plato's dialogues.
Together, the three subjects were included to and denoted by the word "trivium" during the Middle Ages, but the tradition of first learning those three subjects was established in ancient Greece.
Contemporary iterations have taken various forms, including those found in certain British and American universities (some being part of the Classical education movement) and at the independent Oundle School, in the United Kingdom.
The quadrivium (plural: quadrivia) are the four subjects, or arts, taught after teaching the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" (or a "place where four roads meet"), and its use for the four subjects has been attributed to Boethius or Cassiodorus in the 6th century. Together, the trivium and the quadrivium comprised the seven liberal arts (based on thinking skills), as opposed to the practical arts (such as medicine and architecture).
The quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These followed the preparatory work of the trivium made up of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. In turn, the quadrivium was considered preparatory work for the serious study of philosophy (sometimes called the "liberal art par excellence") and theology.
These four studies compose the secondary part of the curriculum outlined by Plato in The Republic, and are described in the seventh book of that work (in the order Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music.)
The quadrivium is implicit in early Pythagorean writings and in the De nuptiis of Martianus Capella, although the term "quadrivium" was not used until Boethius early in the sixth century.
As Proclus wrote:
The Pythagoreans considered all mathematical science to be divided into four parts: one half they marked off as concerned with quantity, the other half with magnitude; and each of these they posited as twofold. A quantity can be considered in regard to its character by itself or in its relation to another quantity, magnitudes as either stationary or in motion. Arithmetic, then, studies quantities as such, music the relations between quantities, geometry magnitude at rest, spherics [astronomy] magnitude inherently moving.
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