The Two Lutes

By Michael Cosser

A Chinese sage once said that if two lutes are tuned to identical pitch, then when one is played, the second will vibrate in synchrony if it is placed in another room but not too far away. This beautiful thought illustrates an important fact about the essence of humanness, and of interrelationships in nature. We respond according to our inner composition, seeing in other people, for example, whatever quality exists already in ourselves. What we project upon another might be true and undistorted, but more often it is a mirror-image -- reversed, exaggerated or reduced, so that we do not immediately recognize our reflection. How many of us first perceive in a working colleague or acquaintance the lower aspect of a quality without waiting for its higher pole to show, both being innate in ourselves as well?

Besides the Chinese, the Greeks provide us with many insight -- especially in their myth of the lyre of Orpheus, which was really the lute of Apollo and given to him as to a son. When Orpheus struck this lute it was said the stones could move, the plants were stirred to flower and all other living things were affected. I suggest that what caused the instrument to resound in this way was its ability to sing the song of Life.

The lute-lyre appeared in two forms in Greek usage, one was tetrachord or four-stringed, the other -- particularly associated with Apollo, god of light and music -- was heptachord, seven-stringed. A picture seen in the ruins of Herculaneum in Italy shows the lyre as a triangle.
Four strings across a triangle give the figure seven, and the symbolism of the seven-stringed variety of the instrument would present another aspect of a profound concept of man's constitution and also that of the cosmos.

Some accounts give Orpheus as the inventor of the seven-stringed lyre and others ascribe this to Pythagoras. Since both in the irrespective eras were founders of a system of training on the lines of what were called the Mystery schools, it seems more than likely that it was an inner meaning that sustained the myth and enabled it to transmute the 'rocky' or material face of human nature into the godlike. What could this inner meaning have been? (The Mystery schools were ancient long before the days of Pythagoras and Plato. Perhaps we can say they were the 'universities' of their time teaching academically and also giving practical instruction in the development of character and evocation of one's best potential. Whereas the schools in Greece were known, those in some other countries were not; however, cryptic expressions in their surviving literatures indicate their existence.)

We know that the Pythagoreans regarded the tetrachord as modeled on the figure of the four elements out of which the earth and its inhabitants were made. These elements were fire, air, water and earth -- not their physical forms that we know in our daily usage, but their essences. May we not say that these were represented by the four strings, and together with the three intervals between them added up to the seven -- universally used symbol for any manifested being, whether man or planet, for instance. But the stress here should be on the harmonious proportions of the setting.

The heptachord was the perfect glyph of the so-called harmony of the spheres, the Greeks believing that each of the heavenly bodies turning in their motions gave off a sound, a particular note with its relevant overtones. A myth claims that Pythagoras had actually heard this music of the spheres when he was "out of the body." This implies a soul experience when the body lay entranced under the care of other initiates.

Pythagoras was stated to have given some detail with regard to the harmony of the spheres, ascribing tones and halftones to and between the planets and the sun. This concept would surely refer not only to the music and sounds but also to the numerical and other relationships between the various members of the solar system.

All of these things have to do with the ''Soul of the World,'' or rather we should amplify by saying that in ancient days the whole cosmos was regarded as ensouled by consciousnesses in varying degrees of self-expression. In this context, we return to Orpheus, the divinely inspired musician, born in Thrace of Apollo, and of Calliope, muse of epic poetry. Orpheus took over and reformed the existing Mysteries of Dionysos, god of the "midnight sun''; and when he played upon the lute given him by his father, Apollo, he was expressing the melody of "the balanced harmony of the spheres'' in their evolution.

If we apply to ourselves this meaning of the Greek myth, with endeavor we may achieve an identic pitch with Apollo's lute and respond to its music. In other words, all the components of our nature will then harmonize together, and the effect of this is bound to be beneficial in our relations with others. The cruelties, wars and many kinds of exploitation disfiguring modern life would vanish like a mist in the morning sunshine. It is not sufficient to have an ideal in our
hearts; we need to try to resemble it.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, June/July, 1976 Copyright © 1976 Theosophical University Press)

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