Summarized Beauty: The Microcosm-Macrcosm analogy and Islamic aesthetics
AbstractIn this article, I will examine the connection of aesthetics with the microcosm-
macrocosm analogy in a tenth century encyclopedic work, the Rasā ʾil Ikhwān
aṣ-Ṣafā ʾ. In Islamic medieval thought, the microcosm-macrocosm analogy was
most extensively developed by the Ikhwān. Although they did not treat aesthetics
as a separate branch of science, themes concerning the criterion for beauty and
philosophy of arts appear in different contexts in the Rasā ʾil. The microcosm-
macrocosm analogy in Islamic medieval aesthetics (especially in the writings
of the Ikhwān) and its influence on later aesthetic thought will be addressed in
three ways. First I will consider an Islamic version of the Pythagorean defini-
tion of music, which provides an example of the correspondence between the
universe and the material world. While the bodily aspect of man is already seen
in the context of music when the position of the lute as microcosm is explored,
I will examine the idea of human being as the microcosm more profoundly in
the section focusing on the proportionality of the human body and its relation to
the microcosm-macrocosm analogy. In the final section, my concentration is on
the creative role of an artist; I will approach the idea of microcosm as an analogy
between human being and God as the Creator. In addition to its contribution
to study of the Ikhwān and Islamic aesthetic theory, this article suggests some
broader perspectives for the examination of the microcosm-macrocosm analogy
in the study of intellectual history.
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