In a recent post about Robert Fludd’s Temple of Music engraving, illustrator John Coulthart made the following observation:
It’s only very recently I’ve paid much attention to the writings of people such as Fludd and Kircher, in the past I’ve been more interested in the illustrations from their books, inevitably when they’ve been used so often for completely frivolous reasons. Looking through the Utriusque Cosmi it’s immediately evident what an astonishing work it is; anyone with that breadth of knowledge is going to make some interesting connections.
It’s a shame that Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi, his encyclopaedic masterwork, has not yet been fully translated into English – for while the engravings are beautiful, they belong to a textually dense work of more than 1,000 pages in length, providing an overview of subjects as diverse as the creation of the universe, music, optics, chemistry, ars memoria, geometry, warfare, geomancy, surveying, drawing and cabala, all unified by an overarching Hermetic worldview that bridges the heritage of Renaissance neoplatonism with 17th century natural philosophy.
I have mentioned the famous Temple of Music diagram in an earlier post, along with the criticism leveled at it by some historians of music that the presentation of music given here was ‘old-fashioned’ and grounded in medieval musical theories. I was pleased to recently discover the work of Peter Hauge, who has not only translated and commented upon Fludd’s Temple of Music, but has also written a paper that goes some way to vindicating Fludd’s grasp of musical theory by studying it in the context of a number of contemporary treatises.
Another striking illustration from Fludd’s opus is his diagram of the mental faculties, from the second (far briefer) tome of his work, which deals with the microcosm, or world of man. Like the Temple of Music, it has been reproduced countless times, but usually with little in the way of commentary, which is something I’d like to explore in this post.
This peculiar image is published by Fludd as part of his discussion three types of ‘vision’ associated with parts of the soul (anima): corporeal, spiritual, and intellectual. Much like his musical theories, this psychological image owes much to medieval science, but is augmented by Fludd’s mystical philosophy. Broadly this diagram owes much to the ‘ventricular’ theory often attributed to Galen and best known in the medieval world through the account of Avicenna.
According to ventricular theory, information from the physical world (mundus sensibilis) is perceived by the five external senses and imprinted on the foremost part of the front ventricle, denoted by sensitiva in Fludd’s diagram. At the rear part of the front ventricle is placed the representative faculty, or imaginitiva, with which is associated a corresponding internal, ‘shadow’ representation of the external world, the mundus imaginabilis. The rational faculties are associated with the central ventricle, which consist of thought (cogitativa) and the estimative faculty, by which inferences are made from sensory perceptions (in the example of Avicenna, this faculty judges that “the wolf is to be avoided, or the child to be loved”). Finally to the rear ventricle are given the retentive faculties associated with memory, and the motivic faculties.
It is the faculties of the middle ventricle that are most important to Fludd, however. In a fascinating article in the Journal of the Warburg and Coultard Institutes, C. T. Josten outlines Fludd’s theory of divination and helps illuminate some of the esoteric implications in Fludd’s engraving. The anima intellectualis located in the central ventricle is in possession of further qualities known as ratio, intellectus and mens (mind). The mens, being of the same nature of the divine mind is a mysterious and potentially powerful agent. For Fludd:
Geomancy is an act of the anima intellectualis […] Mens rules over intellectus and ratio as a king over his subjects, or a master over his servants. Intellectus and ratio in turn convey the impulses (impressiones) of mens to the region of imaginatio. In their service imaginatio operates as a vehicle. It is drawn by the senses (sensus) as a chariot is drawn by horses. Thus it is the action of the senses that ultimately delivers the remote impulses of mens, the king and master, to the visible world.
The servant (intellectus and ratio), in carrying out his master’s command, does not know what the intentions and secret motives of the master are. Ratio, imaginatio, and sensus will be as ignorant thereof as the servant, the chariot, and the horses. Yet ratio is far better equipped to make conjectures, than imaginatio or the senses. Like a servant, ratio may indeed sometimes, as it were, presume or guess the idea prevailing in the master’s mind, though never with absolute certainty.
Mens in man is of the same essentia as mens divina. On a smaller scale (in virtute minori) mens humana may, therefore, perform the same actions as mens divina. The verbum divinum is the centre of mens [humana et divina].
In geomancy mens, operating through the media of intellectus or ratio, imaginatio, and sensus, is made to exert its divine virtue, in the same way as mens operates more potently and openly in the act of prophecy. Whereas in prophecy mens [humana] is united to mens divina, whereby a multitude of radii superiores is introduced into the process, mens humana may by itself and without the aid of any divine radii infuse the geomantic process with a prophetical power whose effect can be apprehended by the senses.
Although Josten doesn’t cite Agrippa as an influence, there appears to be a great deal of overlap between Fludd’s model of the divining (or divine?) mind and Agrippa’s descriptions of prophecy in his Third Book of Occult Philosophy. To cite two instances from a multitude of examples:
Mans soul consisteth of a mind, reason and imagination; the mind illuminates reason, reason floweth into the imagination: All is one soul. Reason unless it be illuminated by the mind, is not free from errour: but the mind giveth not light to reason, unless God enlighten, viz. the first light; for the first light is in God very far exceeding all understanding: wherefore it cannot be called an intelligible light; but this when it is infused into the mind, is made intellectuall, and can be understood: then when it is infused by the mind to the reason, it is made rationall, and cannot only be understood but also considered: then when it is infused by the reason into the phantasie of the soul, it is made not only cogitable, but also imaginable; yet it is not as yet corporeall; but when from hence it goeth into the Celestiall vehicle of the soul; it is first made corporeall, yet not manifestly sensible till it hath passed into the elementall body, either simple and Aerial, or compound, in the which the light is made manifestly visible to the eye; The Chaldean Philosophers considering this progresse of light, declare a certain wonderfull power of our mind: viz. that it may come to passe, that our mind being firmly fixed on God, may be filled with the divine power; and being so replenished with light, its beams being diffused through all the media, even to this grosse, dark, heavy, mortall body, it may endow it with abundance of light, and make it like the Stars, and equally shining, and also by the plenty of its beams and lightness lift it on high, as straw lifted up by the flame of fire, and can presently carry the body as a spirit into remote parts. (III.xliii)
Our pure and divine soul being loosed from all hurtfull thoughts, and now freed by dreaming, is endowed with this divine spirit as an instrument, and doth receive those beams and representations which are darted down, and shine forth from the divine minde into it self; and as it were in a deifying glass, it doth far more certainly, clearly, and efficaciously behold all things, then by the Vulgar enquiry of the intellect, and by the discourse of reason; the divine power instructing the soul, being invited to their society by the opportunity of the nocturnal solitariness. (III.li)
Much of this type of thought can undoubtedly be traced back to Marsillio Ficino, particularly the Commentary on Plato’s Symposium, from which Agrippa freely borrows for his sections on divine ‘phrensy’. The action of the mens outlined by Agrippa and Fludd could almost be called the whole mechanism of magic and divination. It’s certainly a fascinating area, far beyond the scope of a single blog post, but one I hope to be able to explore further when time allows.
Ammann, PeterJ. 1967. ‘The Musical Theory and Philosophy of Robert Fludd’ in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 30, pp. 198-227.
Green, Christopher D. 2003. ‘Where Did the Ventricular Localization of Mental Faculties Come From?’ in Journal of History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 39(2), 131 – 142. [online] (- thanks to Dr. Simon Magus for referring me to this paper)
Hauge, Peter. 2008. ‘Robert Fludd (1574-1637): A Musical Charlatan? A Contextual Study of His “Temple of Music” (1617-18)’ in International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, vol. 39, no. 1, pp.8-39. [online]
Josten, C.H. 1964. ‘Robert Fludd’s Theory of Geomancy and His Experiences at Avignon in the Winter of 1601 to
1602′ in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 27, pp. 327-335.
I’ve been coming back to these etchings again and again as creative inspiration – interesting reading, thanks.
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