Medieval and Modern Tides – Light Up Poole Festival 2019

Last weekend, on Saturday February 23rd, Ordered Universe members Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper took part in the Light Up Poole Festival, on the UK’s south coast, in Dorset. We gave a talk to the public on the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste, in particular his thinking on the element of water, and his explanation of tides, in keeping with the tidal theme of the Festival. The talk also included Ross Ashton and Karen Monid of the Projection Studio, talking about the the light projections made in collaboration with Ordered Universe research, and, in particular, Horizon and Zenith, showing as part of the festival on St James’s Church. These are the sixth and seventh projections we have collaborated on after World Machine, Spiritus, Spiritus: Light and Dark, I See, and Northern Lights.

The talk, given in the Lighthouse Arts Centre at Poole took the audience through modern understanding of tides, and ancient and medieval theories, from Ancient China, India, Greek and Roman thinking on the subject, the experiments carried out by Bede on the North East coasts of England, the advances made especially by Abu Ma’shar, the observations of Gerald of Wales on the tides in Ireland and Wales, and then Grosseteste himself, the inheritor by the 1220s of a considerable body of thought on the matter. Grosseteste’s tidal musings take place in the treatise On the Nature of Places and in some of his Dicta. To these we added consideration of On the Flux and Reflux of the Tides long thought to be by Grosseteste but identified now as not his work, but, probably that of his pupil Adam of Exeter (the cases made by Richard Southern and Cecilia Panti). We finished with a summary of later medieval, and Early Modern, theories of tide, before broadening to gravitational tides and galaxy formation.

In presenting Grosseteste’s remarks on tides the interconnections of different parts of his scientific thought-world came into play. To understand how moon rays affect the ocean, and the power of the moon in mediating the light of the sun, we took a tour through Grosseteste’s cosmology, the geo-centric model with two regions – sub and super lunary, above and below the moon, the influence of the planets on what happens below them, the importance and function of light in his universe, and, at the same time his understanding of the moon, and of the elements (in the anicent and medieval context – fire, air, water and earth) especially water. Using On the Liberal Arts, On the Sphere, On the Impressions of the Elements, the Dicta, On the Nature of Places and On Lines and Angles, we brought all of these aspects to our audience at Poole.

Karen and Ross then completed our afternoon of Ordered Universe talks with a presentation of their work with the project, and in particular Horizon and Zenith, recieving their European and World premieres respectively at the Festival. The process of integrating images and sound, and how the inspiration for the script, in the case of Horizon, arose, was a fascinating insight into the world of projection art, and the continuing inspiration from how past thinkers encountered and explained natural phenomena.

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