The individual life was seen in the past as more than just a line leading to — what? Its shape had the qualities of a circle: in my end is my beginning, and in my beginning is my end. Like many complex and apparently paradoxical dispositions to the world, this belief is better expressed in music than in words. Guillaume de Machaut's rondeau Ma fin est mon commencement, et mon commencement ma fin, written in the mid-fourteenth century, is not only remarkable for its beauty, but images its spiritual meaning in the form of the piece, in that the second voice part is the reverse of the first part, and the third is a palindrome. Reverting to an earlier discussion, this is something that is not merely clever, but is appreciable by the listener and taken up (aufgehoben) into the whole, where it adds to the meaning. The text expresses a truth about life in this world as well as in the next, death being a gateway to life; for our relationship with the world leads us constantly back to what was already known, but never before by us understood, circling and searching our own origins.
This reflected the shape of the cosmos, the universe, and ultimately of the Divine. The idea that God is a sphere whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere has a long history. It as at least as early as the w, a body of early Christian texts from Hellenic Egypt dating back to the third century. After an interval of a thousand years, it was picked up by a thirteenth- century bishop, Alain de Lille, and is found throughout the Hermetic tradition in
the Renaissance, notably in Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century and Giordano Bruno in the sixteenth, who wrote of 'an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere', an idea that was given its most famous expression by Pascal in the seventeenth century'.44
Notwithstanding the last para. overhead, I still don't understand this medieval belief. I know that religion predominated the medieval era, but how'd even believers in the afterlife, believe that the end of their earthy life is the start of their spiritual life? These lives obviously happen in different realms and with different people (e.g. mortals on earth vs. angels in heaven).
Afterword: I first chanced on this phrase while reading p. 8 of the liner booklet to this CD:
These characteristics and preoccupations have certainly not vanished from his more recent orchestral works — on the contrary, his labyrinthine Exody (1997-98), composed during the upswing to the millennium, comprises his definitive realization of time as circular: 'In my end is my beginning, and in my beginning is my end,' as the medieval tag has it.