The Backbone of Night

(Brooklyn, Greece, Philosophy of Science)
by Carl Sagan
A Personal Voyage
13 episodes
See below for
DVD purchasing options
(Carl Sagan's Cosmos episode no. 7)
  • written by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan & Steven Soter
  • series director & executive producer Adrian Malone
  • New York sequences directed by David Kennard

  • Main Title Theme by Vangelis
  • Music by Vangelis, Claude Debussy & Isao Tomita, Louis Armstrong,
    Andrzej Panufnik, Erik Satie, Brian Eno, and others...
  • 1 documentary @ 59 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

Episode Seven of "Cosmos" can be considered the sleeping gem of the series. The bulk of it will be spent digging through the ancient history of Greece to find the origins of scientific thought and what might be considered to be its opposition.

The reason I say that this gem is sleeping is because of the "wet" and possibly uninspiring way that the episode meanders through its opening sections. For quite some time, it appears that Carl Sagan is merely being self-indulgent, revisiting his old haunts in Brooklyn, sharing his awesome Voyager photos of the moons of Jupiter with the new kids in his old Grade 6 classroom. One gets the feeling that he isn't quite sure where to take this series after the great excitement of episode six, and we are instead trying to re-live past glories.

Participants include:

Dr. Carl Sagan

Astronomer, host, narrator
Voyager imaging team

Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences,
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

We also get quite a cheesy impersonation of a "primitive tribesman" from the first age of fire, trying to figure out what the stars are - who suspiciously thinks quite like Sagan in ways that I'm not quite willing to buy.

Hopefully, these sections won't whittle the audience down too much, because the episode actually gets to be quite fascinating after that. Sagan goes to many historically important places in Greece, recounting what he knows of many of the figures who were important in shaping science and, more importantly, the philosophy of what constitutes good science and an effective means of learning how the universe ticks.

Perhaps this episode could have additionally "woken up" with some actual re-enactments by actors in costume, as has happened often in other episodes, because Sagan tells the stories of about 10 or 11 different Greek figures as he goes along, most with difficult-to-pronounce names that sound a bit too similar to each other. At the end of the day, it's easy to get one or two of them confused, or to not be able to really remember who did what. However, the odd mentions of Kepler and Huygens are accompanied by reused footage from the episodes where their stories were re-enacted, and they pop out so much easier and remain so much more memorable.

But it seems to me that the philosophies recounted here are the true heart of what "Cosmos" is really all about - the heart of what Sagan and his colleagues hold so dear. It would be a shame if this episode were upstaged by other more flashy episodes of the series. Let's hold this gem up to the light.

Some of the Greek figures talked about here like Pythagoras or Plato are quite famous in our culture, most noticeably for their most enduring achievements. But Sagan digs deeper to uncover more than we usually hear about, and we see some of the darker, less enlightened, more oppressive sides of their characters. Whether or not the research of Sagan and his colleagues is pinpoint accurate or not may be beside the point. The story that emerges is one where great discovery and advancement exists side-by-side with the desire to see only what one wants to see, and we contrast scientific methods emphasizing observations and experiments with pure theory, pure thought, and revelation in a kind of sensory-isolation. I think that's a great story to tell, and Sagan does it here with a lot of fascinating depth, although sadly, it's mostly just in dialogue, with the support of some of the actual locations (very beautifully photographed I must add) and a number of quite intriguing props.

And I find this episode becomes more intriguing with time, as we learn more about things that have been hidden on our world for a long time. As in episode 1, the theme of science being lost as civilizations collapse is brought up again, and we gain some rare insights into a cyclical facet to Human progress. Indeed, one wonders if some of the figures mentioned here were not so much the discoverers of the things we attribute to them, but rather the ambassadors of those discoveries, as they bring them back to us from unseen masters in some hidden political control structure. It may just be the answer that makes the most sense of their "enlightened" discoveries coexisting with their "unenlightened" philosophies of embracing a slave society and various other control-happy notions, as we defeat the control systems still imposed on us today and uncover the deeper and darker history those systems have had on us during our entire time on this planet.

For me, one of the great mysteries of "Cosmos" is how this episode can be reconciled with the next. Here, Sagan and friends obviously favour observation and highly doubt the accuracy of pure thought and revelation. However, it is curious that their presentation of Einstein's theories in the next episode makes it seem as if Einstein derived his most famous material almost entirely from the revelation of experiments of pure thought alone. Quite the apparent contradiction. On closer inspection, I'm not sure Sagan or his colleagues realized that they were giving off that impression.

The final portions of the episode, where we return to the classroom, continue to be excellent and inspiring. Cosmos truly is rich in prophecy here, as many of the predictions Sagan makes about the discoveries of planets of other star systems have now come true, using the methods he describes to the sixth grade classroom in Brooklyn. Very nice sequence.

Episode Seven bows out on a high, and remains one of my most favourite episodes of the series.

International Titles:

Deutsch: Unser Kosmos - "Das Rückgrat der Nacht"

Español: Cosmos - "El espinazo de la noche"

Magyar: Kozmosz - "Ha leszáll az éj"

Русский: Космос - "Хребет ночи"

Français: "L'épine dorsale de la nuit"

Italiano: "La spina dorsale della notte"

The Music - Episode 7

(Anything written in green text represents a name I made up to help keep some music better identified in my own head.)
(Golden yellow backgrounds indicate selections that also appear on Voyager's Golden Record.)
Collectors' Edition 2000 (DVD) Original 1980
Composer/PerformerTitle 2000 Composer/PerformerTitle 1980Notes
VangelisSymphony to the Powers B, Movement Three
also known as "Theme from Cosmos"
Title Music
VangelisCreation Du Monde
Louis ArmstrongMelancholy Bluesfour excerpts
Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square", part A
VangelisCreation Du Monde
Alan HovhanessSymphony No. 19 - few seconds of tinkling Floating World - a few seconds of tinkling(two excerpts)
Melanesian Panpipes - Solomon
VangelisCreation Du Monde
Alan Hovhaness

Claude Debussy / Isao Tomita
Symphony No. 19 - few seconds of tinkling

The Engulfed Cathedral
Alan HovhanessFloating World
- bigger excerpt
Andrzej PanufnikSinfonia Sacra (several excerpts)
(classical moods, percussion, fanfares)
Alan HovhanessFloating World (fanfare bit)
(on top of previous cues)
@ 14:12
Claude Debussy / Isao TomitaThe Engulfed Cathedral
(very spacey electronic sound)
Jan GarbarekViddene (end)
Dick Walter

In The Taverna (Greek plucking music)
Entends Chiens #3 - Eye of Refuge
@ 18:55What's this?

(Christodoulos Halaris)
My Mountain

(Christodoulos Halaris)
from the album:
("Orchestrikon" which means orchestral or instrumental) 2 cues.
Andrzej PanufnikSinfonia Sacra (several excerpts merged)
J.S. BachAir on G (played on strings) J.S. Bach / J.P. RampalAir on G (played on flute)25:20
Claude Debussy / Isao TomitaFootprints in the Snow
The Engulfed Cathedral
(on top of previous cue)
Jan GarbarekDis (from middle)
Viddene (on top)
discovering air
?? local band???? unknown (Greek Café music)29:35 - 33:50
Keith MansfieldPercussion Link 1 & 2 (drum rolls
- partly overlapping each other)
Andrzej Panufnik

Alan Hovhaness

Sinfonia Sacra - drum rolls
Floating World
(2nd trombone wow)
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 3
(on flute, guitar, & harp)
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 1 (orchestra)35:00 - 36:10
Brian EnoEvents in Dense FogDodecahedron
36:20 - 37:37
38:10... again
VangelisEntends Chiens #2 - Ancient Angles
(tiny snippet from end)
Entends Chiens #10 - Libra Lullaby
What's this?
PendereckiDe Natura Sonoris #2
Brian EnoEvents in Dense Fog
??? unknown - (Greek Café music)
George CrumbBlack Angels, Movement 3 - Return(Kepler ...40:50)
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 3 (2nd half)
(on flute, guitar, & harp)
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 3 (orchestra)41:47...
Andrzej PanufnikSinfonia Sacra (drumming bits) PendereckiDe Natura Sonoris #242:15
Johann David HeinichenConcerto S233 for 2 Horns and 2 Flutes
in F Major
Movement 2 - Andante poco Allegro
J.S. Bach / J.P. RampalAir on G (played on flute)42:49
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 3 (reaches end)
(on flute, guitar, & harp)
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 2 (orchestra)
Wolfgang MozartClarinet Concerto K622 in A Major
Movement 1 (famous string opening)
Erik SatieGymnopedie No. 2
(2nd half, orchestra)

Dmitri ShostakovichSymph. 11 Mvmt. 1 - "The Palace Square", part Cback to Brooklyn
VangelisTheme from Cosmos55:00
Kids inspired
-> into credits
VangelisComet 1658:01 Collector's Edition 2000 Credits

Isao Tomita
Snowflakes are Dancing

Original music
composed by
Claude Debussy
and realized electronically
by Isao Tomita

Audio CD

Physical Audio CD:




Tomita - Snowflakes Are Dancing

All Tracks by Claude Debussy
and re-imagined by Isao Tomita
This album available on CD or MP3 download.

Track Listing:

1. Snowflakes Are Dancing (2:14)
2. Reverie (4:49)
3. Gardens in the Rain (3:46)
4. Clair de Lune (5:53)
5. Arabesque No. 1 (4:03)
6. The Engulfed Cathedral (6:23)
7. Suite bergamasque No. 4 - Passepied (3:23)
8. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (3:31)
9. Golliwogg's Cakewalk (2:55)
10. Footprints in the Snow (4:36)
11. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (10:18)

Mp3 Album:


Tomita - Snowflakes Are Dancing

All Tracks by Claude Debussy
and re-imagined by Isao Tomita
This album available on CD or MP3 download.

Track Listing:

1. Snowflakes Are Dancing (2:14)
2. Reverie (4:49)
3. Gardens in the Rain (3:46)
4. Clair de Lune (5:53)
5. Arabesque No. 1 (4:03)
6. The Engulfed Cathedral (6:23)
7. Suite bergamasque No. 4 - Passepied (3:23)
8. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (3:31)
9. Golliwogg's Cakewalk (2:55)
10. Footprints in the Snow (4:36)
11. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (10:18)

This documentary has become available on DVD.
Cosmos - by Carl Sagan: A Personal Voyage

13 hour-long episodes, 1980



Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the in-depth review for the next episode: "Journeys in Space and Time"

Home Page Site Map Sci-Fi Astronomy "The Universe" "Cosmos" Episode Guide Catalogue