The seven liberal arts and sciences are separated by two divisions: the trivium and quadrivium. The trivium consists of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The quadrivium, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In antiquity, it was believed that you had to know these fields in order to participate actively in civic life (Castle).
The following information is largely taken from Daniel Sickel’s General Ahimon Rezon. It is a book written about the fraternity of Freemasonry, but its language is for everyone. The reason it is presented here is because a better, more eloquent description of the seven liberal arts is unknown. It’s been transformed as far as the removal of references to God and Freemasonry and the fixing of grammatical errors. To alter the descriptions provided further, as you’ll see, would lead to a failure in effectively illustrating the significance of the liberal arts. The work is in the public domain, and a link to the document in its entirety is provided below.
Grammar is the science which teaches us to express our ideas in appropriate words, which we may afterward beautify and adorn by means of rhetoric; while logic instructs us how to think and reason with propriety, and to make language subordinate to thought. arithmetic, which is the science of computing by numbers, is absolutely essential, not only to a thorough knowledge of all mathematical science but also to a proper pursuit of our daily avocations. Geometry, or the application of arithmetic to sensible quantities, is of all sciences the most important since by it we are enabled to measure and survey the globe that we inhabit. Its principles extend to other spheres; and, occupied in the contemplation and measurement of the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies, constitute the science of astronomy; and, lastly, when our minds are filled, and our thoughts enlarged, by the contemplation of all the wonders which these sciences open to our view, music comes forward, to soften our hearts and cultivate our affections by its soothing influences.
Is the key by which alone the door can be opened to the understanding of speech. It is grammar which reveals the admirable art of language, and unfolds its various constituent parts—its names, definitions, and respective offices; it unravels, as it were, the thread of which the web of speech is composed. These reflections seldom occur to anyone before their acquaintance with the art; yet it is most certain that, without a knowledge of grammar, it is very difficult to speak with propriety, precision, and purity.
It is by rhetoric that the art of speaking eloquently is acquired. To be an eloquent speaker, in the proper sense of the word, is far from being either a common or an easy attainment: it is the art of being persuasive and commanding; the art, not only of pleasing the fancy but of speaking both to the understanding and to the heart.
Is that science which directs us how to form clear and distinct ideas of things, and thereby prevents us from being misled by their similitude or resemblance. Of all the human sciences, that concerning man is certainly most worthy of the human mind, and the proper manner of conducting its several powers in the attainment of truth and knowledge. This science ought to be cultivated as the foundation or groundwork of our inquiries; particularly in the pursuit of those sublime principles which claim our attention as [people],
Is the art of numbering, or that part of the mathematics which considers the properties of numbers in general. We have but a very imperfect idea of things without quantity, and as imperfect of quantity itself, without the help of arithmetic. The greater advancement we make in the mathematical sciences, the more capable we shall be of considering such things as are the ordinary objects of our conceptions.
Treats of the powers and properties of magnitudes in general, where length, breadth, and thickness are considered—from a point to a line, from a line to a superficies, and from a superficies to a solid.
A point is the beginning of all geometrical matter.
A line is a continuation of the same.
A superficies is length and breadth, without a given thickness.
A solid is length and breadth, with a given thickness, which forms a cube, and comprehends the whole.
THE ADVANTAGES OF GEOMETRY.
By this science, the architect is enabled to construct his plans and execute his designs; the general, to arrange his soldiers; the engineer, to mark out grounds for encampments; the geographer, to give us the dimensions of the world, and all things therein contained; to delineate the extent of seas and specify the divisions of empires, kingdoms, and provinces. By it, also, the astronomer is enabled to make his observations and to fix the duration of times and seasons, years and cycles. In fine, geometry is the foundation of architecture and the root of the mathematics.
The contemplation of this science, in a moral and comprehensive view, fills the mind with rapture. To the true geometrician, the regions of matter with which he is surrounded afford ample scope for his admiration, while they open a sublime field for his inquiry and disquisition.
When he exalts his view to the more noble and elevated parts of Nature and surveys the celestial orbs, how much greater is his astonishment! If, on the principles of geometry and true philosophy, he contemplate the sun, the moon, the stars, and the whole concave of heaven, his pride will be humbled, while he is lost in awful admiration. The immense magnitude of those bodies, the regularity and velocity of their motions, and the inconceivable extent of space through which they move, are equally wonderful and incomprehensible, so as to baffle his most daring conceptions, while he labors in considering the immensity of the theme!
Is that elevated science which affects the passions by sound. There are few who have not felt its charms and acknowledged its expression to be intelligible to the heart. It is a language of delightful sensations, far more eloquent than words; it breathes to the ear the clearest intimations; it touches and gently agitates the agreeable and sublime passions; it wraps us in melancholy, and elevates us in joy; it dissolves and inflames; it melts us in tenderness, and excites us to war. This science is truly congenial to the nature of man; for by its powerful charms the most discordant passions may be harmonized and brought into perfect unison.
Assisted by astronomy, we ascertain the laws which govern the heavenly bodies, and by which their motions are directed; investigate the power by which they circulate in their orbs, discover their size, determine their distance, explain their various phenomena, and correct the fallacy of the senses by the light of truth.
E. B. Castle, Ancient Education and Today (1969) p. 59
Daniel Sickels, General Ahima Rezon (1868), http://www.sacred-texts.com/mas/gar/index.htm.
Francesco Pesellino and Workshop, Italy, Florence about 1422 – 1457 Florence [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons