The Quadrivium


In ancient times, the arts were divided into three groups. The useful mechanical and industrial arts, also known as trades, were those which involved the manual use of hands and body. The fine arts, as we still know them, involved using creativity and imagination for making wonderful pieces of art, such as sculptures and paintings. The liberal arts, considered the highest form of art, were formed by seven disciplines: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. All seven liberal arts became the basis for higher education at the time and they were also the basis for the specialization studies developed over time, with the core responsibility of seeking the truth and sharing it.


Taught in the medieval university, the liberal arts were split into two main groups: The Trivium was the lower division and covered grammar, logic and rhetoric, while the Quadrivium was the higher division that focused on arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. In other words, the Trivium focused on studying the art of words, while the Quadrivium focused on studying the actual physical world. Both divisions, however, share the same goal of preparing students to go out and share their knowledge or move on to further specialized studies.


At the time, the Quadrivium was considered as an essential preparatory course for students, which allowed them a smoother transition toward the higher studies of philosophy, theology, or medicine. The Quadrivium consisted mainly of the study of two subjects: quantity and magnitude. Through arithmetic, students would learn about quantities, number comparisons and basic arithmetic operations. Through geometry, they would study the art of magnitude at rest, and learn about basic forms. Through music, they learned about harmonics, and the correlation of quantities and their movement through time. They would study this relationship between music intervals using a monochord instrument. And through astronomy they studied magnitude in movement, learning about the universe and how it affected their lives in general.


In the modern version of the liberal arts, the Quadrivium is studied a bit differently. Students will learn arithmetic, pure stationary geometry, music as applied numbers and astronomy as a moving science. Nonetheless, it still adapts the idea proposed by the medieval university of sharing and expanding the universal knowledge to others. Thus, modern liberal arts remain true to training students, who are in sincere pursuit of truth and knowledge, using a comprehensive method with the aim of honing them into better persons.


The valuable knowledge that students can gain from the Quadrivium will set them on a more secure path toward whatever field of study they wish to pursue. They could go on to become doctors, philosophers, or professors. Although in the modern world we have lost parts of this education wherein students needed to learn the basics of the general world before moving on to specific subjects, the inspiration behind the creation of both the Trivium and Quadrivium remains. Today, universities around the world continue to maintain the highest levels of education in their campuses, always striving to train the best professionals to send out into the world for the sake of spreading truth, knowledge, and enlightenment.