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An Inquiry Into tlzc Tcmpoml and tlzc Eternal Background
c~f tlzc Rise c~f Alodcnz Civilization

Jeremi \Vasiutyi1ski

Solum FurlaotOslo 2003

[21] The Birth and Infancy of a Hero in Giorgionesque Art


[22] The Search for the Lost Soul in Giorgione's Work


[23] Giorgione's and Copernicus' Social Contacts in Venice and Padua


[24] Zodiaci J\tlystici Virgo


[25] The Development of Giorgionistic Painting,

and the Hermetic Circles of North Italy


[26] The T\venty-Seven Years of Becoming of Copernicus' System of the \Vorld


[27] The Cycle of Copernicus' Personal Transformation, ca. i529-1541


[28] Rheticus and the Publication of De revolutionibus


[29] Copernicus as a Seer Exposed to the Mockery of the Mob


[30] Copernicus and the Healing of the World



Copernicus' Reading and His Venetian Book Acquisitions


Copernicus' Supposed Portraits


3 TI1e Authentic Title of Copernicus' Major Work


Ancient and Copernican Cosmical Physics as

Projections of the Laws of Creative Self-Realization



5 Copernicus' Supposed Solarization of the Christian Mysteries


6 Alexander von Suchten, Alchemist and Physician, Copernicus' Protcge



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reproduce in mythical form the basic experiences of the Culture Hero in following the
example of the Sun, vanquishing the Powers of Darkness, and by being reborn as a true
embodiment of the Solar Logos. However, the primary mythical manifestation of the
Solar Logos was cosmogonical. Both the individual and the social act (or process) of rebirth and creation, following, as a rule, upon a period of confusion and disintcgrat ion,
have been conceived on the model of the transformation of the primeval chaos in to a
cosmos. Well-known examples are the Egyptian and the Babylonian myths of creation, in
which the creation of the state is projected on that of the cosmos, both being by-products
of the liberation of the Sun-god from the social, respectively universal, chaos - a 1i bcration which serves as a model to the true Man, the king. The integrati\e transformation
of the personality in which man was, from a certain age on, identified with the Sun, was
commonly designated as the object of the 'Royal Art'.
But since neither the liberation of consciousness from the bonds of matter and from
the chaotic principle which is inherent in it, nor the associated integration of the personality, the society, or any other organic unit of life, can be absolute if not carried through
on a universal, i.e. cosmic plane, every such limited product of integration must ha\c
had a finite life-time.1l1e manifestation of the Solar Logos in the minds of members of a
society, bound by common mythical and ritual traditions, would become steadily weaker
in the course of socio-cultural evolution.
In the history of most civilizations there is one epoch only, but one of such cruc ia I i 111portance, in which the Solar Logos, and the entire psycho-mental substratum from which
the civilized life has sprung forth, is subject to a striking revival. TI1is is the epoch in which
the centre of gravity of the interests of the spiritual elite of the society shifts from the goal
of salvation, i.e. integration of the personality, a goal whose pursuit often has external creations as by-products, over to external creativeness for its mvn sake or for the sake ot' its
products. This extroversion of the mental attitude of the creative minority, if not cou n tcrbalanced and kept in check by an extensive practice of introvcrsivc spiritual exercises (as
this has been the case in India and China), entails a spectacular cultural blossoming, paralleled by progressive dissolution of the society, because of the latter's insufficient contact
with its integrative Logos. Tims this critical epoch of re-activation of the basic ideas and
myths of the civilization (its archetypes) assumes in the eyes of the following general ions
the appearance of an exuberant 'renaissance', although the accompanying ext rovers ion of
consciousness gives this reactivation a quite new meaning, and the ensuing blossom leads
unavoidably to efflorescence. Introversivc endeavours of spiritually strong individuals to
prevent or check such development are also characteristic of the 'renaissance' epochs and,
even if not quite successful and not rightly appreciated by the extroverted collectiVL may
constitute their highest achievements. If the collective extroversive tendencies prevail,
the Solar Logos, that Saviour of civilizations and individuals, is more or less repressed,
to the benefit of fascination by the mere physical phenomenon of the Sun. 1 he (/J>J>circ11/
Sun, like other vehicles of archetypal ideas and imaginations, is then made an object of
worship, philosophical speculation or scientific enquiry, although it sometimes seem.., di fficult indeed to formally distinguish Solar idolatry from Logos worship.
In the history of Egyptian civilization, the extrnversive 'renaissance' tendencies were
represented by the attempt of Amenophis IV ( Akhenaton ), the celebrated pharaoh oft lw
i8th dynasty (the first dynasty of the largely extroverted New Kingdom), t() int n 1du1...-L'
the worship of the solar disc as the only c;od. 'Jhis profane reformation "tranded c.lgai11..,l
the firm resistance of the priesthood, to which the Egyptian civili1at i()n \\'a.., proh;othh in


/11troductio11 and Sun'C)'

men. If th is 'boy :\icholas' (pucr .Vicolaus), as he was called by Call imachus' friends, is
identical \\'ith ~icolaus Copernicus, many startling facts of essential importance for tht'
problem of Copernicus' imoln~nwnt in the Italian csoterism of that time would become
easy to explain.
In the sumnwr of q.S.S :\icholas is already back in the Commomvealth, and that
samL' summer Callimachus meets, probably during a visit to his friend, the Cuiavian
bishop Piotr ( Pl'ler) of Bnin, a man to his liking: Nicolaus Abstemius (Polish: \\'l)dka) of
K\\'id1,yn, a Bolonian doctor of medicine and lcctor of astronomy. Abstcmius was possibly
already at that time canon of \'ladislavia (Polish: \\'loclawek), similarly to Copernicus'
u111.,-lc, Lucas \\'atzenrodt?, but - contrary to the latter - spent, in that case, much of his
time at the chapter, as a plwsician in ordinan to bishop Piotr. Common astrolouical and
other d i\i natory interests, 'e\idenced by Ab~tem ius' prognosis of the den:-lopn~ent and
final do\\'nfall of the Ottoman power, and by Callimachus' Pn1t.:fi1tio to the So11111it?rium of
Leo Tuscus, seem to h<l\'e brought these two nwn repeatedly into contact with each othLr
in the follo\\'ing years. But pucr Sicolaus \anishL'S, from that time on, from Callimachus'
L() r !"L'S ~1() 11lie11Ce.
For this and other reasons it appears probable that the much debated hypothesis of
Copernicus' so,iourn in the years q89-q90 as a scholar at the Vladisla\ian chapter's
studiu111 purtidtlilrc and, espL'Cially, as a pupil of Abstemius, is correct. Indeed, who could
better prepare Copernicus for his university studies than Abstcmius, the son of Royal
Prussia and a Craco\\' stuLknt, who had held in Bologna the chair of astronomy, latt_r to
he lKcupied by DornL'nico J\laria No\'ara, Copernicus' teacher and collaborator? It is also
sign i II cant that .Absll'mi us had spent somL' years in Hungary, at that ti me an El Dorado
uf Platonism, celebrated for the allluence of humanists and astronomers attracted by the
gennosity of king ;\Jatthias Coninus (\\'ho \\'as said to be on the \'t'rge of introducing
Apollo \\'orship to his country). ~either should \\'C omit to mention that one of the notes
that slipped from Absternius' pen on thL' margins of astrological manuscripts L-ontains a
startling phrase - apparently dra\\'n from Plcthon's secret doctrine.
At \'lad isl<l\'ia Cupern icus would haw been in contact with the Platon izi ng ci rclc
of bishop Piotr and his friend Callimachus. Herc he could han' heard for the f}rst ti mt'
from 1\bsll'mius, of the attempts directed at the reformation of astronomy that had
been undcrtaktn by ( ~corgc Peurbach and his disciple, the great Regionwntanus, \\'hom
Ab-.,ll'111ius 111ight ha\e met in Hungary. I krc he might han' lisll'ned to an acL-ount uf the
act i\'it ies of Pict hon and his disciple in astrology and mathematics, t hL' cdehrall'd card i11a I l~cssarion, \\'ho had L'\lwrtcd RLgionwntanus to studies of the original and unspnikd
ll'\t ()( tl1L' c ;real Sys tern' of Claudius Ptolemy. If it is trut'. a-., is cnmeyed h~, a local tradit io 11, t hat ( :n pt' rn icu-.,, i o i n t Iy \\'it h 'so m c o t h c r as t ro no 111
in q l) o L-o n st r u c tc d a sun d ia I
on tlw \\'all of tlw \'ladisl,l\ian cathLdral, this lllight h<l\'L' IWL'll a sylllbolic act. Sundiab
\\'L'rl' already i11 antiquity regankd as symhub of human integration and cmhkms nl till'
I>lat( >nil- :\cadenl\'.
I~, it h (:all i mat-hu-., <ll1d :\h-.tclll iu-. mu-.t han' t'\t'rt-iSt'd ,1 la-.t i ng .rnd prnfound i ntlut'llt-t'
<>n ( :opt'rlliLL1-.' mind. Iii-. l<tll'r inll'rl'Sh in astral dell'r1nination
hi-.toriL-.d l'\'l'nl.'> (a-.
l'l'llt'tkd in tliL \\Tilings ol, IZhctiL"t1s), drL'llm interprl'l<ttion and Turkish politit-s, <ts \\'t'll
,1-., hi..., gerwral PlatoniL- attitulk and, last hut not least, his i'<lst-inat1nn \\ith tht .\hstt'n nf
tlw "'u~1 and his esnterit- n111tad-. \\'ith Italian hurnani-.h <tnd arti-.ts, must han l~ccn t,lue,
tu ...,(>fllt' dtgrt't' at lc,1...,t. tn tlw suggt''itin11-.. in1.,trudiori...., ,lJld ren1mnwnd,1ti()Ih nl tht'"e
I\\'(> Illl'n. ( 1llim,1cllll'> \\'<l'i, nl tUllf'"L" h\ I.tr tlil 1111irc i11111nrt<llll uf tlit' l\\'n. ( u11t'rllllll...,








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/11troductio11 and Su1TC)'

became the meeting-place of the pious wing of the Academy. According to Plethon, ,,ho
remained the secret, but powerful, source of inspiration for the Italian academics, the
most ancient and the greatest of the known exponents of the perennial wisdom was
Zoroaster (placed by him in a m)thical, pre-historic past), the founder of the fraternity of
the'( :haldean' 1\lagi. 1 he Renaissance esoteric is ts, cager as most of them were to reconcile
heathen wisdom ~ith Christian it\, thcrcfort' consid~rcd Epiphanv as the \'en s\mbol of
this reconciliation and of till' L'tl'rnalh recurrent divine renewal of teITL'Strial life. TI1e
leading Florentine Pia ton is ts, especially I\ larsilio Ficino, were engaged in studies and disputations concerning the Stcllt1 .\lt7gon1111. 1he urgent purification of the Church and the
approaching fulfilment of Plethon 's prophecy as to the unification of the world in a single
religion were, at the same timL\ a constant theme of discussions of the Academicians at
the \'ilia Careggi.
1 hL' expectations of a Church reform \\'ere no less intense and striking in \'enice, that
othcr pole of Callimachus' humanistic and family connections. Somt' of the most important cent res of act iv it y concerning the propheciL'S on the future of the papacy were tht.' two
nwnaslL'ries: that oft hL' Benedictines (San Giorgio ~ laggiorl') on the island of GiuLkcca,
whcre the\ were centred around St. LorL'llZO c;iustiniani (d. 1456), and the Camaldule
monastcq: of San Ivlatteo on the island of l\lurano, which was probably an inspiration for
the Blessed Paolo c;iustiniani, Copernicus' colleague at Padua. Roth these centres ,,ere in
the \'ici nit v of possessions of Calli machus' famih" (the Buonaccorsi ). Daring discussions
on thL' fut~1re of Christianity and tht.' entire world took place at Padua, as ~~roved by the
( u npu hi ished) frilllogus 'f c rebus Ji1t 11 ris c11111uru 111 .\.\ proxi11wru 111.
1 hL' astrological prognoses of tlw L'Xpectl'd uitical e\ents \\'ere mostly based on
conju1Ktions of fupiter and Saturn, i.e. on the same kind of pht.'nomena as those which
\\'l'rl' associatl'd \\'ith thL' birth of Christ. Such conjunctions - cloSL' or, mostly, loose - occur L'\cry t\\"L'11ty years, and it \\as espL'Lially tl1L' onL' expected in 0.'mernhLr qS4 (In
Scorpion), and, L'\'L'l1 nwrL', thl' 'Creal Conju1Ktion' which was dated to thl' 10th June
(12th 1\lay acLnrding to Copernicus, who was cloSL'r to till' truth) 1504 (in Canct'r) that
arnusLd tl1L' most alarming anticipations in all of Central and \\'L'SlL'rn Europe. It \\'as helil'\'L'd, however, that the Ltmsequcnces of each om.junction would bec0111L' appart'nt only
t\\'l'llt\ nars lalL'r. In accordanLe with this doctrine, the L'l1lcrgcnce of Luther in 151- and
tlw gradual dl'\'L'lopmcnt of his rLligious re,olution in till' follo\\'ing YL'ars \\"L're lalL'r put
in connection \\'ith thl' Creal Conjunction
of 15o~J. It was in a striking' conformitv' to tht.'
LT<i._,...,_ road characlL'r o( the RcnaissanLe, as thL' critical point of choiCL' hL'l\\"eL'n the \\'ay
()r integration and that of dis . . olution, that till' proplwt \\lwsc appL'aranCL' tlw cn11iu11ct i() 11 s \\'l' rl' s ll p I)( l\l'd t () p l"L'sagl' \\'as ass ll 11 l L'd h: S<) lll L' t() hl' a lwn l' Ii LL' 11 t () 11L', f< lll JHk r () r <l
Ill'\\'< ;01Lk11 :\gc. a Ill'\\' 'rLign <ll SaturnuS: while others s<l\\' in hirn a 'psL'udn-prnplwt: an
:\ntiLhri . . t, ,,hn ,,ould institute ,1 'nl'\\' ,\lld cursLd I"L'ligion'. ,\li1wr cn11iu111..tio11s of JupilL'r
and Saturn i11 <ktohLr <llld I kccmhLr 1503, <rnd. especially, thL' conjunctin11 of thL' l\\"\)
'111,ilLliLL'llt' pL111L'h .\l.1r . . <111d S;1turn in lkCL'l1llwr 15tq (in< llIKL'r), ,,erL' also lwliL'\'Cd to
lw "ignilic,rnt i11 thi . . Llllllll'Ltion.
< (,1)n11iLL1" Ill list h,1\.L' hL'L'Il, ,\l kasl fr<im tlw tin1L' nf hi-,< 'raL-\l\\ . . tudiL'", \\'L'll ,\L.
ljl1.1i11kd ,,itli thL' ,1st1il<1giL,il, ,1 . . trng11()-,tic. ,llld ..,ihyllini . . tic spL'LL1i,1tio11.., L'<lnCL'rning
tht "1g1h (ll tliL birth lil ( hri..,t. 111 l~lLI. ,ill nf thll'>L' nw11li1111L'd ,1hn\.L' ,,.L'rL' rq1orlL'd h\
\l.1g1 . . k1 .\l1L'1.1lI (ll \1,1t1 . . l,1\i,1 i11 hi . . IL'Lt11rL'" i11 the ''i111n <if ql)~. ,,1i1lh ( <1~1L'rllill 1 . .,
,lllll(l\f Ll'lt.1i111\ ,\llL'lhkd. ( )tJiLT ( l,lL\l\\ !)J"<llL'\'>(ll'\ ()I ,\\llOlltllll\, \LILii ,\\ j()Ji,1111h'\ \ll
( 1ll>g11\ J,l (\\l\tl ,tl\tl llh'Jlfi1llh'd fill' '>\lllh11liL,il '>lgJliliL.Jllll' Ill till' \ft'//,/ ( 1111,/I ,\\ \11il,\


!11trod11ctio11 and S111TC}'


and Florence disembarked, and it was \'cnice that cardinal fkssarion chose as the legatee
of his famous collection of Grt?t?k manuscripts. ll1e vt?ry situation of the cit\ amid;t the
waters of the lagoon was s\mbolical of a sitt? of integration, like the lotus serving as cradle
to tlw :\L'\\' Sun-.in Egyptia;1 and Indian myths of creation. Indeed, it was here pt:>~haps that
Pomponius Laetus, during his mysterious thrt?L'-ycar sojourn in the house of the mighty
Cornaros (and possibly in contact with the young Callimachus), concei,ed the idea of
his Roman Academy, and here also that he later in vain waitt?d for an occasion to start a
\'oyagc lo the fascinating East.
'I he broad background of the \'enctian probing into the unknown may h<.ffe bcL'n responsible for the fact that at thL' threshold of the 16th century there existt?d on \'enctian
territory SC\'L'ral more or less secret and humanistic associations. One of them \\as the
/\(/Ji1ch111it1 Prioli, named after the well-known patrician and 7\laecenas 0:'iccolo Prioli in
whose hmtSL' on the island of 7\lurano its members would gather (as attested for q95),
espL'Cially for literary discussions and poetic recitals. It receded into the shade before
the famous, but scholarly much nHH"L' exclusin' ~.\ldine Academy' or ':t\ew Acadt?my'
(Scc1((i1dcn1it1) which gathered in the house of thL' celebrated publisher Aldus .\lanutius.
Its cxclusi,ity was guaranll'cd by the prohibition of the use of any other languagL' than
Creek al the meetings. Finally, among the Venetian artists there existed many closed associations whose costumes, names, rules, and meeting halls had esoteric features.
I krmet ical or 'akhemistic' associations in the proper sense c.1rL' more difl1cult to
traCL\ hut they played an important role in that critical period of the Renaissance ...\II
gcn u inc' I krmet ical' \\'ork was assumed to bt? creat i\e, and as such L'Ssentially ind i\idual.
Hermetical meetings and disputes \\'L'rc newrthelcss held in \Vestcrn Europe already in
the !all' 7\,1 iddlc Ages, perhaps on the model of the ''I hird Pythagorean Synod' describt?d
in the cclchrall'd 'fiir/111 p/1ilosoplion1111. In the beginning of the 16th century SL'Crl'l alchL'mist iL- socil'lies, such as that joinL'd b~ ..\grippa ,on :'\ettcshcim at Paris in 1506, are
alrl'ad~ l'nL-(H!ntcrL'LL
( )11 \'l'netian ground, a particular rnk in the LkwlopmL'nt of hcrmetism \\'as played
hy Tre,isu, a little hut important town some twenty miles north of \'en ice. Ht'rl' was tht'
SL'at of (:ount Bernhard of Tn_,iso (qo6-q90), one of the mosl cl'lchrated \\'Cstcrn alchl'rnisls or all times, famous for his \\'orld-widc tranls in search of a hcrml'lic kc\', and
for hi:-. alleged final suL-CL'SS (in qS1) in making the J>hilosophLrs' StonL'. Ht'rL' \\'L'rL' tlw
famou:-. hnmctic paintings, L'XL'L-ulLd on the walls of the great hall of the bishop's palact'
a n d t Iw Log g ia d c' '.\: o h iI i a t Sa n i\ I iL-1 wk a t t h c o rd c r o f t h e k ad i n g \ 'e n ct ia n h u m a n ist,
Fr111ol<1<> l~arharo, at that tiillL' hislwp of Trc\iso. Picturing stages of lrnman i11lL'Pratin11
in tlw l<>rm <>f the hi1111!fi (\\'L'll-k1wwn since Petrarch's t~in1L' :llld i11lrL'a:-.ingly 1~1pular
a111<111g tlw painlL'r'-'), the~ combined it ,,ith the Lla:-.siL,1' symbol:-. of :-.lagcs in tlw snul's
i11 t LTL.< n11:-.L' ,,j th ( ;<>d p rL''.'>L'n kd by t hL' myth:-. of Fu rnpa, LLda and I )a naL\ l hat h,1d hL'L'll
hanLkd d()\\'n hy (hid i11 l\n imprc:-.sin poeticd gllrh. 1 hL'SL' pillurc:-., among otlwrs, in:-.pirLd thL' learned {)()minican friar i:i,rncc:-.L-o Colonna ,,hen he, illuminakd (ca. q6n)
thmugh t"ru . . tratL'd l<>\'L' that found a happy issue in drL'lll11s, \\TOIL' hi:-. famnu:-. lwrrnetic
n<>\L'l //1p11a<1/t>111t1d1it1 l\>l\'f1l1ili. 111L' nonL puhli:-.lwd h~ .\ldu-, \lanutiu:-. in \.L'lliCL' in
J-4l)l) .111d 1-)0L), L'\L'rkd, iointly ,,ith (hid\ .\lt'ft111101pl1(1st'S, ,lll L'l1Pr11111u . . i11lhiL'llLL' <ln
tlw Mt <>I thL' pLTiod, L'"l'L'Li.1lly tl1L' (111Prc or k..,:-.) 11L'rnwtical <lrl ol C1orgiu11L' ,rnd hi..,
ltdlt>\\l'I'..,, ,thlln' ,111 I iti,lll .. \nd \\hL'll the Young ( ,1lli111,1chu.., i11 tlw L\lrh q<10.., ..,ulkrcd
111 \'L'lllu' lrt>lll lllHL'Lij'rPL,1kd lo\L'. llL' i11 \L'r"L'" Ltll111'lrL'd hi" hLl11\L'd to l\111.11..;, I ur(ll'l,
.111d I ld,1


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/11troductio11 and Surl'C}'

that direction \\.L're duL' to .-\ntonello da .\kssina, \\'ho \\as under the intluencc of Flemish
painting - \'an I:yLk and Roger Yan der \\'eyden. Both Flemish and \'enetian art rt:.'-aCti\atcd at that tinw certain striking s\mbolical forms of exprL'Ssion through gesturt?s of
arms and, L'.'>PLYially, llngL'rs, as \\L'II a~ animal and other motin's inspirL'd l~y d._reams and
heathLn nn-ths, and still otlwr motifs related to the allt:.'ged prophecies of the Di\inc Birth .
.-\s a pio1w~r in this lleld, ahsorhLd hY his transcendL'ntal goal and apparenth inditfrrt:.'nt
to appreciation, ( ;iorgionL' inspired a.\\'holc plciad of artists, one of whom, Titian, during
his long life e\'L'n surpassed him in artistic pt:.'rfcction. for c;iorgi01w art was - as attt.?stt?d
hy his prnduLt ion and b~ the \\ork of those \\'ho followed him - a weapon in the struggle
\\'ith cosmic and meta-cosmic pm,L'rs that oppose thc lihL'ration of tlw human soul. Ht.'
collaborated \\'ith akhemists, L'SpLYially tht? Paduan engra\'t?r Ciulio Campagnola, and he
apparently dre\\' inspiration, not only from O\id and thc H,\'p11croto11111(/iic1, but also from
his m,n drL'arns, as i.l genuine hermL'list. He concei\ed his ,\lc1g1111111 Op11.' alchemistically
i.l.'> a tran . . . forrnation of the miLToLosm, and hence a proccss that inYoh-ed cosmic, namely
111utTot"os111i(-. pn\\'L'rs. I Ii . . . rL'lationship to Copernicus \\'as tlwrdorL' particularly significant and fruitful.
( :opL'rniLus and ( ;iorgionL' might hi.l\"L' met, for thL' first til11L'. alrL'ady in qS6, \\-ht:.'n
CallirnaLhus, prnbahl~ in the Lompany of his indispL'nsabk :'\icholo, so_iournL'd for t\,o
months in \.L'l1iLe in tllL' LapaLity o( the Polish ambassador. In laLt. c;iorgionL' \\as prnbahl y at that ti 111L' a Iread~- L'Ill ployed at tl1L' workshop oU; iman n i Bellini, perhaps as an aid
for prq)i.lring coltiurs (a \\'ork that \\as usually conf1Lkd to ho~s of his agL') - and Bellini
\\"ll..., a clo.'>L' friend of Calli111i.1Llrns. \\'L' knrn, that Callimachus prollll'd on that occasion
from !kl Ii n i's pa rt icu 1,1 r k IHl\\kdge of religious orders and apparels, i.1\'a iIi ng hi ms elf of
his '>L'r\'iL-L'S as i.l kind or guidL' at grL'at public ceremonies and processions. It \\'OUld bL'
on!: 11atural if tlw t\\'o hn:-s m<1de tlw acqui.1i11tanCL' of L'aLh other at that limL\ and if
their friL'11dship Lkq1L'nL'd ill qS~ \\'hen :'\ichnlo \\"llS a long tirne alone ill \'L'niCL'. "lhis
is L'"PL'L-ii.ill: suggL'SlL'd h: a little picture attribull'd to (;iorgiollL' and sho\\illg a pagL' on
the had;.ground ()r all illdilkrl'llt, 1110tio11il'SS nature. '!his page is rL'lldillg the shirt On his
breast, from \\hiLh hl'rnwtic "Ymhols of solarization spring forth, a . . . if ill protest against
tlw dominati()I1 o( thL' i111111(lhik Farth.
lnLked, :\i(l1lllt1 ,,as 1w lungL'r a hoy. Callimachus ill-..tnlLted his FlorL'l1ti1w pk111pnte11tiar~ l.i.1Lla11tiu-.. 1 hLdaldu-. in \lay of that year to ..;L'nd all lctll'r-.. lti :\iL-htilo in \'L'l1iCL'.
:\lld ,h late a-. ( )ctnhLT nf till -.,1111L' YL'ar thL' \'L'I1L'tian humallist lk1wdLttt1 Brngrn)ln
kalkd ,1 'l>llk" h\ lhtd,ildu") th<lllkLd Calli111aLlrn..; for i.1 prL''>L'I1l th.it hi.11.I IWL'I1 deli,tTL'd lll liim h: \."i1.h(llt1. 1hi-. ll'lll'r of lhog1wlo \\.i.l'> lall'1 prt''>t'l"\.L'll, i(1intl: ''ith -.11IllL'
\\llrk-. h: ( :.11li111,11.IHI-., i11 thL lih1-.11: n( tht' aho\.L'-ll1L'Illilll1L'd ( '.1111,1ldt1k 111\lll,hlt'I"\. 11(
\,111 .\l.1tti,1 o( .\lur.11ll1. II \."ich(ilo ,,.(1uld he lndgL'd, during hi-. ,i-.ih Ill \'L11i1.L" in tint'
(1( thL l\uo11,l\.'1.t1r-.i l1llll'-L''> i11 ,\lura1w, or pLrhap-.. on till' (;iudL'1.1.,1, Ill'.lr ~.111 <;i(lrgit1
\L1ggiurL', hL' 111igl1t ,ilrL'.ldy i11 thi.ll L'<lrl: pLriod of hi-.. lift' 11,1\.L' L'llkl"t'd 111tt1 l,1-..ting
1.<111L11.t \\Ith tliL' \'L'lll'ti,111 1Llnrmi-.t Lirclcs 1.L'lllrt'd <lrtllIIlll the IllL'Il111n ,1111.I 111\lh tit
\f I <1rl11111 Ci11-.ti11i,111i. 11il' luturL' founder nf tlw C,1111.ilduk lkrn11t <)rdn, 1t1111,1...,<1
I l 1.1<1l<1) < ;,u-.ti111,111i, hnitlitT liltliL' ,1klicmi-.,t (;in\<11111i, -.tuditd 11 hilt1-.t11 1 h\ 111 l\1du,1 dur
Ill~( llJ'L'rllllll'-,'-lljtllll"ll thl'l"L',,llhl ill hj-.,(,lp,11.i(\()j(l\\lh'llll till' l\1l,l//1l(1lll'-\llll,11ll Ill
\1111,11111 '''" ,1 11l1~hh1ll1r tn tl11. l~un11,11.1.nr-.i.
l\11t \\ li1.tl11.'I ( 11f'l'I Ill1. ll'- \\,l'- 1d1.11t11.,1l \\ith \.'i1.h1il<1 \II Iltil, II I'- !.11rh 1.L'll.1111 tl1,1t h1.
llllI-.f IJ.l\t' \1-.11t'd \1.'1111.t', l'f11h,1hh 1111111.' th~lll llllll'. '-llhL' lh' -,f.l\t'd 1111 f\\I) \L',ll'- ,Jt .l
d1-.t.111, l' id 1111h >,111111. .'<l I 11~i1-,'11111!t-, II-<1111 tlll'll' l11Lktd. \'1.'1111.t' \\,\>,Pill' iii tl11. ~lt'.llL''-l

. --- ~ ---


- - --




-- =



Introduction and Su1TC}'


and a pair of compasses in his hands, faces the black opening of the c.we, his gently i nqui ring face illuminated b, a lit!ht issuirn.?. from an i1l\'isible sourCL'. T11e natural Sun scarcch
perCL'pt ihie for thL' eyes dazzled by th is mystical one, is setting (or perhaps rising) in the
background, aho\'l' a distant complex of buildings of a decisi,ely non-Italian, ::\'orthernEuropcan character. 1 he two other mL'n seem to be unaware of the mystery that is being
realized, because of their intense intellectual preoccupation with the prophetic signs of
its coming. i hesc signs arc asSL'mbled on a table which is hdd forth b, the old man. 'Il1e\
concern tlw expL'Ct~d conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and the foll~)\\'ing Di,ine Birti1
as the fruit of the alchemical union of the Sun and the ,\loon. 'I hen.:- is also a concealed
allusion to \'irgil's Fourth Eclogue, ,,hose mighty prophetic words '::\'ow comes the \'irgin
back, hack comL'S the reign of Saturnus. A ne,, generation of men is now being sent from
lw;,nen' were applkd by the great awakL'tll'd spirits of the Renaissance to themsches and
to their q1och.
X-ray studies of this picture re,eal at least threL' stages of its coming into being, spread
mer the span o( Sl'\'l'ral years .. , he earliest stage might have fallen in the critical year 1)0_~,
in which Copernicus framed the tlrst outline of his heliocentric system of the world, and
calculated the corrected date of the Creal Conjunction. In thL' older Yersions, the three
'philosophers' ,,erL' assimiL.1tcd to the 1 hree i\lagi of the East. ..\ccording to a medie,al
\'l'rSion or the lc(JL'nd of thL' ., hrcc ~Iaoi, the\' kept looking for the star of till' Di,inc Birth
through many y~ars on the top of a h~I, tht: Mons\ 'ictorfo/is, in a scenery similar to that
of tlw pitture and of the C/11ysopoci11. But this SCL'nery can in full detail lw traced had;. to
an ancient legend, reported by Porphyry, according to which a place of this exact kind "as
1...lrnsen by l.ornasll'r as thL' sill' of initiation into the mysteries of i\lithra.
Zoroaster was for Plcthon and the Italian Platonists, especially the FlorentinL' ones,
the 1110,...,t ancient link in a chain of transmission of the PcrL'trnial Philosophy - a Lhain
,,ho-,c further links were represented b~ f-krnws Trismegistos, Orplll'us, :\gL.wplwmus,
Pythagora-, and Plato. Pk,tlwn \\'as considered, and seems to ha\.L' considered himSL'lf,
1.1 rcinL"i.lrnation of Plato. But, in ,ie\\' of the enormous weight he attached to 7.ornasll'r,
he might also ha,e considcrL'd himself a rL'incarnation of till' first link of that mystical
chain. \\'c kno\\' also that i:icino \\'as heliL'\ed and hclic,ed himself, to he rcincarnalL'd
( )rphcus, and that Copernicus \\'as said to consider himself rL'incarnatcd Pythagoras.
Callimachus, that admired orator, \\'ho in q86 presided mer discussions about tlw t1rs
O/'llforit1 in a cho-,L'll assembly or \'enctian and Paduan humanists, might h<.l\'(' l1L'en (011. . idnld a rLincarnation ot":\glauphL'Il1US (C;rL'ck 'SpL'l'Ch-glitll'ring'), that ()rphic initiator
<l( P~th;,1g()r<.1'-'. 1:i11llll)' - <ha llL'\\' ~krillL'S Trismcgi ... tos could hL' LonsidL'rL'd, at k<.hl 011
\'L'I1L't i;.111gr<lund,0111~ lkrnhard ofTrc,i.,o - cspL'Cially lwcauSL' of his oriL'11tal tran'I" ;,rnd
i11itillti<111 ..... SinCL' i11 art t\\'o (1( the ~lagi \\'L'rL' oftL'Il rq)rL''>l'llll'd a'> OriL'Illal-.., and (lfle l1s
,\ \\'l' . . tLTllL'r, c;iorgi<llll' <.,L'L'lll'> t(l ha\'L' choSL'll Pkt hon, Ikrnhard and ( :(l(1L'rnicu-.. .l . . thL'
hn()ld-.. ol. the :\L'\\' ( ;o]dL'n :\gc, bringing ;,1 Ill'\\', and pcrhap'> dL'L'PLT, rL'<lii1.1tio11 n( ''hat
/()roi.l...,IL'r (and lwritL' Plato), I krnws arid Pyth;,1gnra . . once taught. It i-.. tlll'SL' thrL'L' Illl'Il
that llrL Lr . . lwring i11 till' agL' (l( till' rd1nrn St1/ /111id11s .\litlm1 un Ci()rgi(lllL"" lll\'-lL'r\hrL'.tlhi11g Ill<l'-ll''q)il'l..l'. Ih~t 0111: c:llpl'rllidlS, thl1t l1rdL'nt (()ntl'rnpi.lt(lJ~ ()I lll'll\~'ll ,\Jhl
,h...,idu11L1-., ,,att-lll'r ()f ~pica, till' \td/t1 C'/1risti, had hl'L'll gr~lllll'd. in Cinrg1llllL"" L'\n, thL'
~r.tu.' 1ii t !'LIL' il/11111i1111f /ell/.
I illl-.,, tlllTL' 1..l111 '-l.II'tL'h hL ,111\ '-1..'ri11LJ'- dnuht .h tn ( ;iorg10111.."'- li.n i11g (lf'J~111,1lh h1..'L'Il
llhl'"td !11 thr-., !)fl lLll.L' h\ ( lll'LTllI1..ll'-, ~f'L\lt 'illL1111111.1t1()11' 11! r~n~, \\hrlli 111.1rk1..t! tl1t hL'
g11rn111g <ii Iii-., \\(l1k .11 thl'rl L'-.,t.1hli-.,]lll1L'lll ()ltl1L' f'L'IL'Lkd !'lllllipk nl lill' '-,un'-., ~<l\l'IIl









~ ~--=----



/11troductio11 and Suncy



in the Pula::::o Ciustiniani near the Basilica of San Antonio, one of se\'eral former possessions of t hL' Paduan branch of that celebrated family. 'I his house was in Copernicus'
ti mes the property or the abt)\'L'-mentioned .l\ laecenas Luigi Cornaro, and was the medi ng-place or all humanists and artists ,isiting Padua and the neighbouring tmn1s. nit'
portrait, designated by an eminent art historian as the first modern portrait in European
history, is generally dated to i503.
1 hL' much-debated letters \' \. with which this portrait is inscribed han\ from the
beginning of the present inquiry (in prirnte talks with art historians in 196_1), been tentatively interpreted by thL' author as an abbre,iation for \'iQ~O \imnil'llsis. ll1is interpretation is suggested by the fact that the young'philosopher' on c;iorgione's celebrated picture
is contemplating the Stella Clzristi (Spica), which Copernicus at that time assiduous!~
obsened, i.e. the new horn S;.wiour himself in the arms of the celestial Virgin (the zodiacal constellation \ irgo). For c;iorgione, this Di,ine Child must haw represenkd both the
new I ntcrnal 1\Ian, the Solar Logos, of the 'philosopher' (the alchemistic jilius plzilosoplzi,
i.e. Son of !\Ian), and the Solar Logos of the new, reborn civilization to which his birth,
and its creative cnnsL'quences, had'" gi,en origin. And since the Child was actually born
from the 'philosopher's soul, hL' himself could be appropriately called - in a secret mystical language - by the name of\ 'irgo. As to the second letter Von the Palazzo Giustiniani
port rail, it might h;.l\'e been understood as referring to Copernicus' place of residenCL' in
his nati\'L' country - Frauenhurg in Wannia (Latin: \lm11ic1), i.e. Lady's Castle, in Royal
(Polish) Prussia.
1 his purely speculative interpretation was soon confirmed by two remarkable findings. One of these was the letters ~I J\l ~::-\'\'on the oldest map of Prussia, whost' sole
k1wwn copy has been disco\'ered in \'enice and is still commonly ascribed to its engraver
Heinrich Zoll.,\ number of Lircumstances make it, hm,ever, highly probable that this
map was dra\\'n by Rheticus during his so.iourn in \'armia, on the basis of materials
assL'mhlcd hy him and by Copernicus. The letters in question \'cry probably stand for
,\/usc1co ,\lc1ri(/c \ 'i1y,i11i_, \ 'an11ic11sis, and the asterisk between ,\/c1ri11c and \ i1gi11is must
indiLatc, in that case, the Stcllu Clzristi i.e. the Di,ine Child in the arms of the \'irgin. 1he
other !lnding was e\en more surprising. It concerned an extremely rare print, Zancaro\o's
biography of St. Lorenw Ciustiniani, in the title and throughout the text of which this
saint is L;.i!led /odillt"i ,\/ystiti \ 'irgo.
'lhL'SL' tlndings made it very probable that the Palazzo (~iustiniani portrait is an autlwntiL portrait of CoperniL"t1s, the sole original one as yet kno\\'n, and thL' only one
\\'hiLh L<.111 lw asslllllL'd tu re11lkr his features faithfully. It has nut bL'en possible, as ~ct,
lo determine whl'lher this portrait was originallv in the possL'Ssion uf Luigi Cornaro or
(what \\'ould appear 11wrL' probable) in thatLof th~, Ciustiniani famil~. '!he P:1duan hra1Kh
<>f this fan1ih (the sole one suni,ing) is kno\\n to ha\'t' ]i,cd in that cit\ at least from
the 1;th cent.ury, but some reno\\neJmemhers of the family resided thL'rL: also in earl in
tinws. 1 his \\'as the Lase with Pil'lrn, the historian of \'cniL-L\ \\ho reformed tht' Paduan
'>ILid~ in 1.:;(1lJ, and Cirolamo Ciustiniani, \\'ho \\'lls t'lcdcd L<rnon of the churLh of Padua
in 1) <> 2, a 11 d \\'I w 111 (~ope rn ic us 111 us t ha \'L' kn o\\' n. 1he a hon' -men ti o ll t'd To Ill aso ( I\10 Io)
C ;iustiniani, \\'ho studiL'd at Padua at the samL' time as CopL'rl1iL"t1s <rnd \\'as tlw ownn of
tlw l'<1l,1111l ( ;ju.,tini,rni in \lur<11w, \\'ould desent' spt'lial attentilln in thi" tn1111t'Lli1ll1,
.i 1.,1) ,\'> th t' h mt h LT o I t lw a k lw 111 ist (; i( l\'ll 1rn i and the future piollt't'r of ,1 rcl 1g illus rt'll t'\\ .
.ii. h.1d 1wt hi" '>1llitM\. \\'<l\. of life hL'L'll little to11duLi\'t' lll tontath \\'ith f(lrti(lntT'>. Hut
t 1w Ill < 1 " t I ,l 111 < , u " n I ,l II t h t'. ( ;1u " t 1111 .u 1 i, t Iw h i" t o r i,l n Ik rn a rd n, fo t h tT n I ~ t. I (l ~t' 111 11 , rn d

Pict lzo11 t111d t lzc U11 Uication of tlzc \ \ 'or/d


t \\o churches." I 11L' papacy in the person of Eugene I\' ach ie\ed a great and fateful success
by thL crushing confirmation of the dogma of its infallibility against the pretensions of
thL' \\'estcrn clcn!,\" asSL'rnbled at the same time in Basel. But it was no lastiIH!. success in
an ob_kd i\"e sL'IlSL\ bcLauSL' the grL'at mass of orthodox clergy \\as bL'yond the reach of
the transt'orming t'ascination of any true synthesis - of that coi11cidc11tic1 oppositoru111 in
\\"hiLh ( ;od is 1111.mii"L'stcd and which some of their leaders might haw experienced in
Florence. 1 he L'XLlusi\e support yielded by the Turks to the Orthodoxy and the final fall
of Consta11ti1wpk in I-l53 SL'akd the renewed schism of tlw Christian East and \\'est.
\:L'\'L'rthL'kss, thL' union was to be disrupted anyway by thL' pressure of the collccti\'l' mind. In fad, any mind, \\'hl'lher individual or social, aspiring to the uni\ersality of
knowledge and norrns L'xnressed
in the nlane
of thou!!ht must 1wcessarilY he estranged
to its o\\"n SL'lf and must break up into hostile parts securing their continued existence hy
mu t ua I moral Londcrn nation and repression. rhe reasons for such rupture 1ie incomparably LkcpL'r than those consLiously admitted - in any case deeper than the famous Filioqut'
u( t hL' Roman d< Kl ri Ill' on the procession of the Holy C host. ~either the Christian East
nor thL' Christian \\'est - L'SPL'Lially not the latter, compL.1cL'nl as it \\"as in its rclati,e security and ,,orldly p<l\\"L'r - ,,.L'rL' able to transcend tlwir dogmas in an ad of surrender
to thL unknm,11 ( ;od tlwy once knL'''._ \luch timt.' had, indet'd, clapSL'd sincL' Christianity
had bL'L'Il bornL by a mystical L'XperiL'llCL' of life, Lkath, rebirth, and L'll'rnity. On the plane
of L'\lra\"L'rl L(msLiousnL'Ss, Lontrollcd b\ donma, looic and la\\", a s\nthcsis of opposites
was, (}f LoursL\ impossible. :\n absorptio.n of~he Eas~ by thL' \\'L'St \\:as on thL' other hand
011p(lSL'd by till' instinct of SL'li'-prl'Sl'nation of the Byzantinl' masses and thl'ir congenial
lcadL'rs, L'\'L'Il sol1ll' o( those \\"ho, likL' Scholarios, had subscribed the act of union.
It is lwlie,ed to lw 'praLtically' certain that Plcthon had put his signature on that act,
hut hL' i-, <liso kIW\\'ll (ur his consequent opposition to the union during the proceedings,
a 11 d r(l r his attitude () r ll L. h<l 111 pion of 0 rt hodox Christianity. 1' Consu Ited pri\'alt'I y by the
l'Cck-,iastiL1.il klldn (lr the ()rthodo\ delegation, the patriarch JosL'ph of Constantinople,
hl dcLlarl'd: '\:o <Jill' of us should \\.<1\"Cr crnKerning the points taught by our ChurLh. For
\\'l' ha\.L' (lht;1i11ld this teaching, first of all from our Lord )l'sus Christ, and thL'n from the
,,\p(l-,tks, and thL''>l' ha\"L' ah,1.ns been thL' foundation stones of our faith~ 1' 1 l-k L'\'en \\"ent
S() for a . . to LTitiLi1L' thL' l'll1pe1:or \\hL'n addressing lkssarion in thL' prl'SL'IKL' ()f thL' Creal
FLLlc-,iarLh Syrop(}ul(ls and ()tlwr lklcgall's.' \:o \\"ondcr that 11L' enioyL'd an L'IHlrnrnus
authority in thL' (}rtlwdu\ LirLk-, in Florl'nce, and that Syropoulos, tl1L' lfr,torian nf tlw
LllllllLil, . . Lld(llll lllL'Illillll'> hi-, 11<111ll' \\'ithout addirn!,'thL \\'iSL'>'
'iuLh <111attitudL1ll i>kthlln <llld his uttcranCL''> 1;ll'I1tionL'd abo\'L' arL' rathL'r -;urprising
iL <1-. <1tk-..kd by SLli1ll<1ri11..., .rnd LonlirrnLd h: a LLkhrated rq1ort by ( ;en1gL' nf TrapL;unt,
liL \\ .i.... .1 Lrnat iL .1dlwrL11t nf I kllcnist iL p<lg<rni-,rn .rnd L'\'L'll thL chiL'I. pf .1 licatllL'n "L'LTL'l
. ., <>L1l'l \ . I ) u I) Iil it y '' 1. , L n t.1 i11 Iy u 11 1n )id <1bk in h is s it u a t io n , h LI t -. LI L. h 1 d l' g r L' l' P I h :
p(>Lri . . \ h.1 . . h.1llkd Jll(>dnn students. Iii-, anti-unionisll1 <lf1PL'<lred e\'L'Il IlHll'l' '>llrpri...,ing,
hll.lll"L' I .ltin ...,,111p.1thi1lT.., \\'L'l"L' looked L1pPn in Hy1<rntiL11n <I.., . . up1)<1rkr-. Pl l'1g.ll1i-..111;
.rnd i11dl'l'lL Pktlw11\ llHl\t ()Llht.rnding disLipks: ne . . -,.1rio11, :\rg:-rnpPulP\, .\f)(l\lPk'>,
lwl1H1gld ti> tl1L 1111i . . 1 knl'Ill '>lll)PPrlL'rsnfthe uniPn. h1rtl1lr111nrc,thc u11iliL.1ti(l1111lthc
\\1llld 1111 thL h.1 . . 1. . Pl I klkni..,111 011 ,,ho-,c (tiltur.il hL'ril.l\IL' hPth l 'lni..,ti.rnil\ .md t....l.1111
hu1lt t1>~Lthn
.. rnd lr11111 ,,111>\L'..,L'Lrl'l trl',l'>llrL''>thL'\'(()llld.11-,ndr.1\\
Ill'\\\Il.1l l(lru.''>,\\,\..,
1p]'dll'llth 1l11l' 111 till "llJ'IL'Illl' g1l,1I . . (ll Pkthnn .u1d Jij..., '>Lh(1(ll. lt h.i.... IWL'Il . . uggL-..kd. nPI
\\lllJ11tJI ..,l1gl1t ]'l,lll..,lhil1t\, tlJ.lt Jlktlhlll rnight h,l\L' ll(llll'I...,hl'd ...,llllll' 11,ltl(lll,ill"lll ,\\L'I
"' 1ll1 .1g.1111 . . 1 till' I .1t11i..... ,111d th.it Ill 111ight h,1\.l' L1111..,1lkrL'd till' t1111P11 lrPill .1 11.1!11>11,d



Plct/1011 and tlzc U11U1catio11

4 tlzc \Vorld

His spirit made a lasting imprint on Florentine and North-Italian humanism, though it
would be equally right to say that he had anticipated its later tendencies, being the first to
give an emphatic expression to the unconscious spiritual and intellectual aspirations of
the elite minds of that epoch.
One of the most basic motives of Petrarch's literary activity seems to have consisted
in his demand for what was genuine and humanistic i.e. sub_jectively relevant. This was
expressed, among other things, in his use of the l'olgarc in poetry and his hostility towards scholast icism. He attacked the medieval doctrine of double truth, Aristotelian and
Christian, and the medie\al Latin translations of Aristotle from the Arabic language,
righth' guessinl! that thev were corrunt,
and nostulatiIH!
that these translations should
be made di rcctly from Greek. He asserted that man and his destiny should be the chief
concern of philosophy and attacked Aristotle's commentator Averroes because of his materialistic tendencies, as well as Aristotle himself (especially in De sui ipsius ct 111ultorw11
ig11ornnt iu) for the alleged futility of his extrovert concerns. Considering Plato to be the
grL'atcst or all philosophers, he repeatedly observed that, whereas Plato is praised by the
greater men, Aristotle - bv the bil!l!tT cTm,d.'- His thoucrht
has been said to have consisted
of as pi rations ratlwr than of developed ideas, but its individualism and subjecti\ity have
been, with some right, considered as the first signs of the modern tvpe of personality
making its appeara1~ce in the European literature~
~ow, all these and many other features of Petrarch's literary production are typical
manifestations or a personality engaged in the process of individuation and hence in
the mystical path. Rejection of popular authorities, insistence upon intellectual humility,
restriction of interest in the external realitv, isolation, introversion with accompanying
'melancholy' (Petrarch's llcidill), equanimm~s acceptance of both good and bad in one's
own lot, uncompromising truthfulness in registering internal events and conflicts - all
t hesL' mystical tendencies arc reflected in such works of Petrarch as the De l'itll solitarill
( 1356 ), J)c sccrcto nn~/lictu nmzn1111111ctzrtllJ1 (1358 - quoted henceforth short as Scact11111),
I>c rc111cdiis utriust7uc _l(Jrtu1u1c (1366), and De sui ipsius ct 111ultor11111 ig11om11tia (1367).
Petrarch, it must be noticed, identified his philosophy with the true Christian thought and
practice, the conformist in him surviving his own attacks on scholastic vanity. But what
his consciousness programmatically rejc~ted was more or less unconsciously accepted by
him in the !ield of his humanistic studies. His fervent interest in ancient heathen literature
was a spiritual correcti\'L' to his sterile Christendom. His svmbolical interpretation of the
1\c11cid in the Scact11111 and his substitution of the ideal l~f the humanist for that of the
Jl1()nk may sern' here as examples.
'1 lw humanistic tradition of Pl'lrarch, who died in 1374, and of Boccacio, who died in
137c;, \\'as kept <.din' in \'cnice by Ciovanni da Ravenna, who opened the tirst humanistiL ...,chools in that city, and by Colluccio Salutati, a disciple of Petrarch, apparently the
flr...,t \\'ho used the term humanities in its no\\' accepted sense."' Hut after the departure
of Pilatu..., in 1_~63 there was for more than thirty years no lL'acher of (;red;. in either of
thc'>c t\\'o IL'ading (L'ntres of humanistic studies. Salutati, \\'ho, like Barlaam was a friend
()I Plcthon's tea~hn lkmetrius l\.ydones, Sll(Ct'eded 11nallv in obtaining thL' \'acant
l\lanul'I Chnsoloras, a, colleaguL' of Pkt hon from
Lhair at tlw 1:\orentine l'.nin'rsit\'
( :()111..,t <lll l i nopll', ,,ho ,isilL'd Italy, in 1393 as the Hyz~rnt ine ambassador.'" Ch rysolor~1s \c(t u rLd 111 llorL'llle for si\ yL'ars ( 1_w6-qo2) and then mm'L'd to \'eniLL' and taught there
l<lr l<lur \'L'ar" ( 1402 1406). I k ,isitl'd l1\so ~lilan, I\ni,1 and Roll1L'. I k eduL'atl'd <1 ,,\wk
pki,1d <ll L'111111c11t J1,i11,1n I kllL'nish and is, tlwrL'fi.lrL', rL'~ankd as the actual Priginatllr










with Plethon, because the latter has introduced his 'On the Differences ...' with purely
Petrarchist invectives against Aristotle and, especially, Averroes. But the very fact that
they were unhampered by philosophical erudition, might have made at least some of
them more receptive for Plethon's philosophical gospel. Besides, not even Plcthon's central and shocking doctrine of the One God generating a hierarchy of subordinate gods
found them unprepared.Already Boccaccio, Colluccio Salutati, and other early human is ts
were apparently not for the sake of mere curiosity engaged in studies concerning the genealogies of the gods.' 6 TI1e interest with which this question was su bseq uentl y crn h raced,
also by poets and artists, had certainly not been decreased by contact with Pict hon's rationalistic theology, although the latter, abstract as it was from the concrete mythological
traditions, could not have much direct appeal to the Latin mind.
The monk Gregorios had in his funeral speech in memory of Plethon described the
effect produced on the Florentine humanists by the philosophical expositions of this
fiery and beautiful old man, in terms which are in close agreement with the testimony of
Marsilio Ficino: 'The best of the Romans admired the unrefutable proofs of that man so
much that, although they, to begin with, wished to be able to refute him, and even made
many efforts in that direction, finally surrendered completely their own cherished opi nions ... , and expressedly conceded that they did not know anything'.-- Also I-Jicrnnyrnos
Charitonymos in his own eulogy in memory of Plethon described the wonder aroused in
Platon's Florentine audience by the wisdom, virtue, and power of speech of the old sage, in
strong words: 'Brighter than the Sun did he shine among them. Some praised him as the
common teacher and benefactor of mankind, others called him Plato and Socrates'. "
Maybe it was at that time, as Schultze suggested, that the master of Mistra adopted the
name Plethon, that ennobled synonym of Gemistos. And perhaps Manuel Holobulos was
not so much mistaken when he later ascribed to Plethon a wish to indicate that he was
Plato reincarnated.Also, George ofTrapezunt's insinuation of Plcthon's wanting allegedly
to make people believe that he had descended from heaven, so that they would be more
inclined to accept his teaching, is not unlikely to echo in a sour and mischievous mode
the elevated spirits of Plethon's Florentine audiences.

The Spiritual Marriage of Italy and Greece,

and the Final Division of the Christian East and '"Test

t was,,,itlH~ut L!o,ubt of csscnt.ial importance for the.origin of the High Renaissance t~1at
the Council ot h.~rrara and florence led to extensive contacts between the humarnsts
oft he \Vest and the East. 1 he ecclesiastical motives for considering the Union were highly
different on the t\\'o sides: hope for \Vestcrn support against the impending Turkish assault on the side of the Byzantines and desire for extension of papal and \Vestern power
on that of the Latins. At the same time, dogmatic differences seemed insuperable. Yet, on
the part of the Latin and c;reek humanists, there were no such fears, dreams of power, or
dogmatic standpoints. Still, the two parts approached each other from opposite sides.
'I he Latins were inclined to follow that tnoeticallv/ vaoue
but essentiallv nwstical desire
for the soul which had been the leadinob motive of Petrarch's literarv' activitv.1heir
was nourishL'd lw' m\thological
' t
powers of I hrkness were subdued by a Solar Hero. Behind thesl' powers, as behind the
se\en mountains of the fairy talc, they expected to find the soul, that sleeping princess.
1 he (~reeks, on their side, were fascinated lw the exuberant vitalitv of the Latin civilization and, in as regards the few who had bee1~ initiated in Plethon's,philosophy, they were
dominated by a rL'i n forced faith in their spiritual superiority and in their possibilities
of li\ing up to it. 1 heir endeanrnrs were directed by pure intellect, contemptuous of
111\thological tradition, and acknowleduino
onlv a mvtholoov
of its own, a nwthologv of
(Divine) Reason. 1 heir soul was _just as enamoured of the perfection of the Ideal \Vo rid,
expressed in thL' luminous harmony of the heawn, as the spirit of the Latins was possessed by the desire of the Dark Unknown. The rdative security in which the Latins li\'ed
allowed them to enoaoe
in the \onob search to which thev were naturall\ drawn. Hence,
ti ti
Italv, and not ( ;reece had to become the countrv of the Renaissance. Greece was to be
con.fronted with a na;ional disaster, in which all tl1at was leti of its independence and the
grandeur of its past would become lost.
\Vhat the (;reeks needed was abmc all strength. Plcthon believed to ha\c discmered
the SL'LrL't o( the apparent invincibility of their ~aStl'rll enemy ill the acceptance or destiny, the Turkish /..:.is111ct, and he must haw felt a special reassurance in following a moral
philosophy basL'd on this principle, essentially t'Sotl'ric and mystical if not misinterpreted.
As Pict hon deLlared in tht' introduction to his 71-ct1tisc o(tlzc L111s, his theology was based
on a tradition going bad. to Zoroaster and Plato, his n;oral philosophy \,,1s modelled on
that of the Stoits, whereas his political conccptitms were dcrin'd from Sparta. 1 he Italian
rclwls agl1i11st sclwlasticism had no Sllt'h doctrinal basis and they would nw\e through a
Lnt ll i11 i nll'I kct ual \aguL'ncss. 1 hey were split into Platonists and ,~\\'l'rroists, ht'side mi nor
group" th<it mnild e\hihit Stoit', Fpit'Urean <llld agnostic tendencies. Common to most o(
t11t'm, lw\\'t'\'LT, L'\'L'll tn :\\'crrnists who did not belong... to tht' humll!1istic tu1Tent, \\as thL'
hLlict thlit rl'\'LL1tio11 is tontim1ously renL'\\ed with more or less pt'rfectilHl in till' n<ltural,
hut t''>'>L'tll1l1lh di,inc, to11'>ciou...,11ess of mankind. !hi-.. ht'liL{ ioiilL'd to till' humlrnistit
.id1111r<1t11111 lo1 tL1...,..,ital lrntiquitY ll!ld the rejection nf the ldkgt'dly u11iquc hi'>tllrJt<d re\





elation on which scholasticism was based, was the essence of what they all shared \\'ith
Butexactlybecauseoftheiropposed attitudes towards reality, the Latin and the c;reek
humanists who met in Ferrara and Florence at the time of the Council exerted a profound
influence on each other. This meeting gave them in fact the opportunity of transcending
the limitations of their one-sided views and mental attitudes. For the Latins, Pktlw's rational expositions of what they until then grasped emotionally rather then intelkctually
must have become an experience equal to that of a cherished dream coming true. A.s to
Plethon, the discovery that his abstract system of philosophy would correspond not only
to the wisdom of ancient teaching, but also to the actual dreams of an elite of his Latin
contemporaries, must have revealed its concreteness, its firm anchoring in the sec rel reception of the minds of the poets and the common people whose 'phantasics' he despised
and rejected.
This Greek-Latin esoteric interaction was something quite different from the i nlL'llectual negotiating on all kinds of 'high levels' in which our times abound. It was a hermetical mystery of the type of those who introduce the process of individuation and
whose successful achievement was associated by the renaissance he rm et ism with the
so-called 'triumphs', represented commonly in art as 'Petrarch's triumphs'_-,, r he expected
outcome of this act was a double psycho-spiritual alliance in which unfruitful bonds \\'ere
exchanged for fruitful ones. What must have happened in those years of esoteric C;reek.Latin contacts was a creative union of intellect and phantasy in the minds of a s pi ri t ua I
elite on both sides. The Heaven admired bv the enchanted soul of the Greeks and the
Earth desired by the dreaming spirit of the L~tins, \Vere found to correspond to each other
and were allowed once more to embrace each other. The entire \Vorld of IVled iev~1l be! ief
\Vas brought to the melting pot in this primeval embrace. But the union had also, after a
long period of gestation, to bring fruit in the form of a generation of super-humans, the
creative men of the High Renaissance.
111e nineteenth-century idea of Plethon's significance for the origin of the Ren a i ssa nL-e
finds, thus, a confirmation in the results of modern research concerning his contacts with
Italian humanists and the role of his disciples at the Council of Ferrara and Florence. As
it was noticed already by Stein (1875), with Plethon the Great Renaissance bcgi ns. F\'t_'n
those dignitaries of the two Christian Churches whose minds were busy \vi th arguing and
bargaining, so far, indeed, from enlightenment, \vere not able to escape from the rnag iLof coincident opposites emanating from this meeting of the Hellenes of J\Iistra with the
Florentine and Venetian Petrarchists. The most intransigent of the Creeks seemed to forget their ancient, and not quite unfounded, hate of the Latins and profited from this rare
occasion to become acquainted \vith both men and books of the Latin world. i\larcus of
Ephesus, whose contacts with Cesarini and reconciling proposals have already been rnen
tioned, busied himself with the Greek translation of an astronomical \vork of Jacoh B()n ct,
while Scholarios, who played later, together with IVlarcus, a decisive role in the di'>'>olut ion
of the union, made numerous friends, as can be inferred from his extant corrc'>pondenL-c
with Italian humanists.
The final compliance of the Creeks to the Latin in questions of dogma j..., alfll()-...t c.10..,
astonishing as their rejection of the union after their return to C;reecc. 1 hey Lalllc to t lw
Council \Vith a naive conviction that a mere expmition of their thcologiLal argu111L11t-...
would suffice to convince their adversaric...,, and when even the amhiguou..., f()r111 u lc.1 ot
their proposal edited by Scholarios was rejected, they probably ...,uffrrnl ...,< lllWl hi ng <)t

'f l1t' Sliort-U1cd Spiritulll ,\Iarrillgc (~( tlzc Enst n11d tlzc \Fest


a crisis of faith. It is true that emperor John VIII Palacologos desired that the union be
formed at any price, that some of the Creeks are said to haw been paid for signing and
that the tln.d agrL'L'ment had a honourable appearance. The famous Filioquc was not included in the Byzantine Sy111hol11111, and no attempt was made to change the liturgy or the
rl'iigious customs of the (;reeks. Still, all this dot's not sufficiently explain the actual extent
of the C rLek concessions in quest ions of dogma at the Council, after centuries of hitter
resistance and in \ie\\' of the suhsL'quent \'iolent rejection of the union in Constantinople.
lkssa rio n's unionist L'ndeann1 rs werL' originally supported only by Scholarios and
J\miruutzcs, .ioi1wd later by Isidore of Kie\'. But after ivlarcus' public opposition was softened, the numhLT of the adherents of the union rapidly increased. Finally most of the
Creeks accepted the Lat i 11 doctrines and signed the union. The except ions were ~larcus
of Ephesus, the leader of the opposition, who refused to sign it, as well as Plethon and
Scholario~ \\'ho both ll'ft Florence before the rest of the Greek delegation in order not to
participate in the llnal session of the Council.
1 he rest embarked in \'enice in October q39, made a halt in Boeotia and arri\'ed in
Constantino pk t hL 1st February LHO. 1 here, on the Byzantine soil, the Greek delegates
beha\'ed as if they had just awakened from a hypnotic trance. Asked by indignant compatriots \\'h\ did the\' sign the union, the\ did not know what to answer. n1e\ seemed to
be compkt~ly L'Stra1~ge:1 from their o\\'n. Florentinian selves and unable to .understand
\\'hat had hap~wned to thL'm.~ 1 his remarkable fact should be considered in the light of
\\'hat has been prL'\iously said about the magic of the (Oi11cidc11t iu oppositon1111 issuing in
FlorL'l1CL' from the humanistic circles. 1 he Florentine meeting between the two opposite
pole~ of the European mind exercised an unconscious intlue1;ce, not only on their rebellious representati\'L'S, but also on those \\'ho \\'ere still bound lw the collectin:- mind of
tlwir cou11try. But as soon as the Creek delegates left Italy, this sl~cll would go away. Back
in their nor111al 111ilieu, the\ \\'erL' again imnwrsed in the collecti,e mind of their own socil'ty, and lwnCL' actually di.tferent, .~s far as the manifest personality was concerned, from
the B\1.anti11e negotiators the\ were in Ferrara and florence. In the case of Scholarios
the di.tferL'nce api~ears so strik.ing that historians, beginning \\'ith Allatius (1;th century)
c1wisaged a hypo! hes is oft \\'O different men of this name having been publicly active, one
before and the othn afll'r the closing of the Council.'
1 he C~rLek bishops \\'ho had fo,0~1red the union were 'abused, insulted and anathemat i1.Ld' hy its op po nen ts and .\I a rcus of Ephesus, the chief spokesman of the opposition
and ih eL-c lcsiast icd kadcr. ': 1 his is in fact astonishing because the conditiom on \\'h ich
the u11io11 \\'as conL-llllkd did not differ L'<msiderably f1~0111 those proposed in 1:1orence by
,\larcus him~elf. lkssarion must ha\c had a prL'SL'ntimcnt of \\'hat \\'as to happen bl'Ci.lLISL'
lw alrLady in Octohn LULJ submitted himSL'lf to the Roman Church. I k \\'as denounLed
as ll traitor h\. f\laro1s and in lkcemhcr q~9
. made titular cardinal-priL'sl of the Si.lint
:\p()"tk" in Ro111e. ,\]so, Isidor ol Kie\ and Dositheus of .\litylcne \\'L'rc made cardinals.''
1 hus, emperor John \'I 11 Palaeologos had to ohscrn caution when applying \ioknt
111L'<l'-llrL'" to "upprL'Ss the opposition, lwc1usc the support of the peopk \\'as clearly on
tlw "1dc ()I thL' l,ltlL'r. frcli11110 in dc.1111~1L't', .\larcus lkd to Turke\",
hut l1t' L.une hack later \\ith
tlw inll'nti(ln to \\'ithdr<l\\ to onL' ofthL' 111onasll'rics of .\lount :\thus, \\'here he had many
lldlincnh. I k \,.,,.., tllL'l\ ,11TL'~ll'd ,rnd lwld as c.l prisonL'I', probably i11 c.l rnonasll'ry \\'hich
" 1" 11 o t () I I1 i " l-1 w i l L'.
i>111)c..' I t1gL11it1" I\' trwd (111 hi" ..,idL' Ill . . trL'11gtlw11 thL' pnsitinn nf Jnhn in his (l\\11
L<>L111tr\. I k 111dtlLL'd tlw \'lll!I1g l11ili"h I lungarian king L1disLlll~ Ill Jagcllll11 t11 ,1 great



anti-Turkish crusade. The two multinational kingdoms whose sovereign king Ladi:-.laus
was, stretching between the Baltic, the Black and the Adriatic Seas, from Latvia to Serbia
and from the confines of Berlin and Vienna to the south-east of I\iloscow, had i ndccd
enough resources to stop the Ottoman expansion. However, these resources were not
at Ladislaus' disposal. The leaders of the Polish Church headed by the primate \'inccnt
Kot and the mighty cardinal Zbigniew Olc5nicki, declared themselves for the :-.uprL'Il1e
authority of the Council, still at that time assembled in Basel, and made a dcclarat ion
against the pope. Eugenius IV sent to Ladislaus cardinal Cesarin i who with the h c Ip of
pro-papal Polish prelates succeeded in i443 in persuading the young king to undertake an
inYasion of the Balkans by Hungarian troops led by John Hunyadi. 'lhc Sultan .\lurad II
offered king Ladislaus ten years peace on favourable terms, but Cesari n i persuaded him
again to start a new campaign. This was al ready at that time when .Mu rad g;.l\'e his oath
at the peace treaty, and popular judgement had, not without a good reason, claimed the
defeat which followed a a result of this breach of faith.xi How could indeed the \Vest get
control over the East without acknowledging its human rights and submitting itself to the
command of conscience transcending any law, \ \Tcstern as well as Eastern? How cou Id the
\Vestern crusade not result in final defeat and moral disaster if it was undertaken in the
spirit of dualism and disregard of the irrelevance of any distinction 'between the Jew and
the Greek' and of the way of peace transcending all concepts of discrimination, 'st um hi i ng
blocks unto the Jews and foolishness unto the Gentiles' (I Corinthians, I), which the world
was still unable to follow? But Bessarion, probably the chief spiritual agent heh ind this
undertaking, was clearly not a true initiate of monism.
rlbe crusaders, in the modest number of sixteen thousands, al most al I Hu nga ri ans,
headed by king Ladislaus, Hunyadi and cardinal Cesarini, crossed the Danube and advanced against the Turkish capital of Adrianople. 111ey were supposed to be proteded
on the seaside bv a combined Venetian-Gcnuan-Flemish armada directed lw FrancesL-o
Condolrnieri, th~ pope's nephew. But this fleet did not arrive at the right ti me: and 011 the
10th November i444 Ladislaus had to meet the Turks alone near Varna at the Bulgarian
coast of the Black Sea. The battle ended in a complete disaster and both Ladislaus and
Cesarini \\'ere killed. The valiant king, only twenty years old, is said to have hast i Iy engaged
in the pursuit of some Turks, and to have been massacred by a Pelopon ncsian:"' If th is
episode is true, it may be regarded as an irony of Fate and Nemesis, for the last hopL for
Greek independence was centred in the Pcloponnesos. 111e heart of Crcece faded away
with Ladislaus' life, just as the realization of Plethon's visions. 'I he uni fl cation oft he world
by the monistic gospel of Mistra had to ret rcat into some dist ant and i ndctl n ilL' future.
In the meantime, Plethon con ti nucd to perform the fun ct ions of the supreme judge
and teacher in ~Iistra, opposing the union in both word and deed, and working 011 diverse philosophical treatises, such as 011 tlze \lirtues or the 'freutisc of t/1c /,l/1\'s, a work
which he kept in strict secrecy.Hr, 'fhe marriage of Heaven and Earth wl~ich he ex pcricnL-cd
in florence had brought his abstract mind to a nc\v contact with reality, \vhich ;.1pparL'lltly
could not avoid bearing rich fruit. He continued to maintain rel at ion -.hips \\'it h It a Ii a 11
humanists, particularly With ~rancesco filelfo, who Visited h j 111 j n 1vl ist ra, but lwca LI "1l' Of
his already advanced age and official responsibilities, he could not offer muLh t imc ~rnd
energy to visitors. \ Vhen in 1441 Sas'.-iuolo de Prato intended to go to the J>elop1 >ll lll'"1()'>,
hlelfo in hi'.-! well known letter advised him to go rather to <:omtantinople, that 'nL'\,.
Rome'_.~- Barbarian invasion had to such a degree deprived the Pelop<>ll llL''>O..., 1it c\cry
thing good, he wrote, that nothing praiseworthy could he found there exLq1t Pkt h 1 >11.

111 c Slz o rt- J,il cd Spirit u c1 I .Ha rriagc

l~f tJi c

East a 11 d tlz c l \'est


But ad\c.rnced age did not bring Plethon peace. In spite of the persistent decline of
the union which his old enemy Scholarios, the supreme judge of Byzantium, now also
ob st ructcd, he appeared to be e\en less secure than ever. This was partially because some
of his daring and shocking \'icws, which he expressed during confident talks in Italv or
made puhl i:, though antm~nHrnsly, in order to test the reactiZm, suddenly began to t1~c.rn
spi re. OnL' of the anonymous pamphlets which he circulated in those years was a short
summary of some of his most important doctrines, especially of his doctrine of gods.
It appeared under the mystifying title 'A Digest of the Dogmas of Zoroaster and Plato~
A not her pa mph kt was an essay on destiny, an abstract of the Sixth Chapter of the Second
Book of his frc11tisc o( tlzc Lcrns. It seems that Scholarios had no doubt whatsocn~r as to
their act u a 1 author be.in g Pict hon.
1 he growing anxiet\' on the nart
of Plcthon and the a!!r!ression of Scholarios are bet
trayed with an impressi\e clearness in the polemical writings they would in those years
exchange bet \\'eL'n each other, as well as by Plethon's critique by Argyropoulos. 111e point
of departure of these polemics were Pict hon's Yicws expressed in the celebrated essay'On
the Di tfrrLnces lwt ween the Do ct rint'S of Aristotle and Plato'. 'I his work was composed
by him in 1.. u9 in Florence during the period of his illness, at the request of his Latin
acquaintances. It is still extant in many of contemporary copies and seems to constitute a
kind of digest of discussions and lectures, perhaps for those to whom Ficino referred in
the WL'll-knm,n passage of his preamble to the J:'J111cnds. In his essay Plethon tried to infuse some greater philosophical confidence to his Platonizing Florentine friends by supdirected on the one hand, aoainst
Aristotelian scholastics,
tn]\'ing them with arouments
on the other hand, against the matcrialisticalh tinged A\erroists, who although unknown,
as most Arabic phil<~sophy, in Byzantium, t10~1risl;ed at the great Italian uniwrsities, such
as Bologna and Padua. Just as ancient \!eoplatonists, Plethon recognised the validity of
the 1\ ristokl ian logic and physics, but he rejected metaphysics and psychology, and held
A\'erroes responsible for the unmerited prestige of Aristotle in the \Vest.
J>lcthon's essay, written for the Latin Hellenists who accepted its argumL'nts betorL'hand, astonishl'd some of his (;reek disciples and aroused indignation on the part of
the (;reek J\ ristotcl ians. Both the L'mperor John VI II and Bessarion, this highly devoted
disciple of Pict hon, wroll' to the old master asking him for explanations. Bessarion would
in a deferential tone take up a correspondence with him about his alleged doctrine of
destiny. 1 his correspondence, partly extant, must be located somewhere bet ween 14-P and
I-H...i.'' J\..., to SL-lwlarios, it \\'as onh latcr, c.Kcording to his remark in a letter to Alarcus of
Fplwsu...,, the.it he got Pktlwn's essa~ in his hands. B~1t he felt, as he sa\'S, that it was his dut\'
to ans\\'n not lwcausL' of a lm'e of Aristotle, but, as he bclie\'ed, because of some pagan
ll'Illlcncy i11 the author's argument. He sent his 'Defence of Aristotle' to Alarcus and othL'I"
friends of his around 14-l-l but not to Plethon."" 1 he latter apperas to ha\'l' obtai1wd it tlrst
in Ll)o or, at the earliest, in 14-P.J, and this only thanks to a trick of ~lichacl :\postolc...,, his
young, L'11tl10usiastic disciple. Apostolcs addressed him by a still extant letter in which hL'
...,a id that it \\'as lw \\'ho stoic 't hL' treatise of (;en nad iuS: i.e. Scholarios, and let it lw brnught
t() Plctlwn hy a Cl'rtain l )areios of Crete.'' Apostoks did this c.1pparently in the lwpl' of bL'i ng aCLL'pll'd by way of recompense into the inner circle of Pict hon's follm''L'rs, a..., lw said:
'By thi..., gL...,ture, I "'i"h to inform you in \\hat disposition 1 c.1111 in your respL'cl, th.1t \'llll
rn.1y L<iu11t lllL' <lllwng your people <llld inscribe ll1t' into the choir of your di..,ciplcs'.
I hL'"L' \\'()rd..,, ,rnd the ,1d tn \\'h ich t lw~ rdcr, appear lo ind icall' that il \,-a.., ,1t that ti me
L'"PL'lt,ilh 1111port.111t for l'ktho11 to colllL' into po...,SL'S...,ion nf <l lopy nl ~clwlar1ns' 111,111u




script. Since the death of Marcus of Ephesus ( 1447) Scholarios was the leader of th L' a 11 tiunionist opposition, but he had no influence on the ne,, emperor, Constantine I )ragases
(1448). In desperation, in 1450 he became a monk and assumed the name of (;en nad i us
which was mentioned in Apostoles' letter. Since the letter of Scholarios to J>lcthon in
which he made an allusion to the latter's Reply is dated 1450, the letter of Apostoks 111 us t
also come from the same year, unless Plethon was able to obtain Scholarios' I h:(cntt' earlier by himself, an assumption which lacks concrete foundation. :\ow, 1450 \\as the YL'a r of
the martyrdom of Juvenal, the year in which Plethon was also in a danger. .\lore th a 11 at
any other times in his life he must therefore have felt a need for support from his faith fu 1
disciples and friends. This conveys the deadly seriousness in Apostoles' frantic declaration
of fidelity which we can find in the same letter: 'I am you rs, I would die for )'<>LI ... , y< n1
have sunk the love of the divine Plato into my heart'.'11
Scholarios' 'Defence of Aristotle' irritated and perhaps ewn alarmed Pict 11011 c xccssively, in spite of its tone being only slightly sarcastic. He answered in his famous U.cply,
in which he accused him, apparently without any formally val id ground, of i 1wcct i \cs,
injuries, and threats. He did not, however, sent his answer to Scholarios, but to emperor
Constantine, presumably with the intention to neutralize the effect that Scholarios'
D~fe11ce might have produced on him. TI1e Reply gives an impression of a great pride and
arrogance, but it should be remembered that it was written by a man who was standing
at the brink of his grave, almost one hundred years old, as an answer to an ignorant attack by a narrow-minded, forty years younger champion of orthodoxy and Byza n ti nc
state reason, ready to deliver him to a violent death. After having spied upon Pict hon for
more than two decades, Scholarios was now at the point of securing the evidence needed
to convict his adversary of paganism. TI1e intention of the tone of Pict hon\ let ll' r 111 i gh t
have been to reduce Scholarios in the eyes of the young emperor, on whose philosophical
judgement he could not rely.
In the same year 1450, or shortly before, Plethon went so far in his attempts to refute
the suspicions of the Eastern orthodoxy directed against him as to disclaim, in a s~1ccial
pamphlet written as he alleged on the instigation of some influential person, the conclusions of an essay of Argyropoulos concerning the famous question of the Procession
of the Holy Ghost. 91 Strangely, he would use arguments conflicting with fu ndamc 11 ta I
principles of his own philosophy. He probably assumed that his polite critics could 11ot
do any harm to Argyropoulos since he was in Italy, especially as the name Argyropoulos
was not mentioned in the pamphlet. It is also possible that he informed A rgyrop<>t1 l<l~
secretly of the real meaning of his manoeuvre. But he pushed his false play even fu rt h c r.
The news of the cruel execution of Juvenal and of the documents concerning the ph rat ry
of Mistra falling into Scholarios' hands must had made a tcrrifyi ng impression 011 hi 111,
for he sent to Scholarios a letter (now lost) in which he assured him that he lmcd him,
and that he did not find anything to object in him. 'Ihis hypocrisy was returned dcxll'r
ously by Scholarios who came, as he reported, by chance into the possession of Pict hon\
pamphlet on the Holy Ghost. He congratulated Plethon in a letter for not h~l\'i ng ad< >pll'd
the principles borrowed from pagan Greek philosophy, and then he denou nccd, '-<) tl >
say word by \vord, his doctrine expressed in the prologue of the 'frcutisc of t/1(' Lc11ts and
in the abovementioned Digest c~f thl' Dog11111s of /oroustcr u 11d fJ/c1 to.' 'If t .here "ho u Id he
people', he \Vrote, 'insensible enough to wish
renew in our ti me t hc"c a nc icn t f<> II ic-., < )t
paganism, their blindness would be unpardonable ( ... ). \Vhat a crime it \\'()uld hL indLLd
to wish to restore the multiple gods, to warm up again, after..,,, many Lcntur1L''-, tlit 1.."\


'/lie Sl1ort-Li1cd Spiritut1! Marriugc (f tlzc Ec1st and tlic \\'est


tinguishL'd ashes of polytheism, and to ask philosophy not only to acknowledge a ne\\.
Olympus undrL'amt of in the brains of the poets, but also a new cult, a simplified religion,
as some say, llcstined to remould society and customs according to the ideas of Zoroaster,
Plat(), and the Stoics. If such impieties should emerge in some work, I should assail this
book, not by tirL', hut by reason and truth. ll1e tire should be reserved for the authors':):
1 hough this tcrrit\ing threat could hardh be given a literal meaning for it was onlv in
the \\'est'" that heretic~ \\'~re burned at the st<~ke, Scholarios' correspomiencc with J\[a1;uel
Raul Oises concerning the execution of Juwnal indicates that it was quite serious.
FortunalL'ly, Scholarios, or rather brother Gennadius, as he was now called, was by order
of thL empL'rnr a prisoner in his cell in the monastery of Pantocrator in Constantinople,
and it was only \\'ith great difficulty that he could conduct any proceedings against the
old humanist. Pict hon did not, of course, reply to Scholarios' double-faced letter. Instead
he no\\' made his lfrply, as yet communicated only to thL' emperor, publicly known. Since
Scholarios 'through the misfortune of his fatherland', to use his mrn expression, was a
prisoner, lw \\'as not acquainted with the Reply immediately, but much later.
1:rom that time on, little is reported on Plethon except that he in the same critical year
of 1450 exposed his doctrinL' of the immortalitv of the soul in the funeral elcgv of Helen,
the widow of i\LmuL'I I I. In that vcar he also, addressed a letter to despotL Demetrius,
one of the L'rnpernr's hrot hers, in' which he congratulated him for making peace with
his younger brother 1 homas \\'ith whom Demetrius agrLed to share the gowrnmcnt of
\!urea. On 25th June q52 Plcthon passed away, just in time to not witness the final ruin
or his countn.
On the 11th Octohl'r, q.51, pope 1\icholas \'sent to emperor Constantinl' an imperious ll'ltl'r, in \\'hich lw rl'questcd the tinal proclamation in Constantinople and the entire
Empire of the union signed in Florence. Isidore of Kie\', who was delegated to look after
the exccu t ion of th is r~'qui rl'ment, arri\ed in Constantinople in q.52 Land succeeded to
obtain 'a kind of (OnSL'nt' from the hioh
to the union which was solti
c11111 Iy prncla i med at the church of the Holy \\'isdom (Hagin Sopliit1 )."' 'I he people of
Co11stcmtinoplc, dri\'l'n by fear and hall' of the Latins, started then an open revolt. 1 he
de111011strators mmed to the monasten of Pantocrator and were gi\en there an exhortation which was writ ten lw Cen nadius: \\'retched Romans, make v~rn r considerations. 'I he
\en moment \'OU renou;Ke the rclioion of vour fathers lw allvi1;g vourseh'es with impiety, you will . . ~1hmit yuurseln's to fl~reign d,omination>)I' Stirr~d ~ll~ by this message, the
nwh went to protest under the windows of the emperor's palace. Rumours were sprLad
that a LkcrL'e had fallen from I ka\en that the Turks should he allowed to entL'r the city.
\\'hen tlw nL'Xt )'L'ar Constantinople \\'as <Ktually taken O\'L'r by the Ottomans, the
populati()n ..,ought refuge in I lagia Sophia trusting prophecy that an angel would stop the
e11erny in frnnt of the temple and L'Xpl'l thl'm from the city and thl' l'ntire country."- ( )nly
a (l,,,. day . . ann the massacrl', la~ monk ( ;ennadius was rl'lci.lSL'd from imprisonnwnt in
tlw monastery and, hy the dl'Lrl'C of sultan i\luhammad II, designated as the Patriarch
of< :()11\t<llll i nopll'. In a single day, some months later he \\'as conseuatl'd de<Kun, priest,
hi.., lwp and t lw head of !:astern Christianity.,,,
1 he Fa-.tnn Rrnnan Fmpire had CL'ased to e\ist, but as if in confirmation of the saying '\\'L-.t i-. \\'e..,t arid Fast i" Fast, and ne\er the two shall meet' Christianity rcmai1wd
di\ 1dnl L'\'L'Il 111orL' lir111I~ tlwn L'\er. 1 he ( )ttoman Turkey, that otrslwot of l 'entral .\..,ia
<111d h, f)111d11Lt ()! tlw ,\longol e\p.rn-.io11, repl<lL.L'd By1antium in <l shockingly smooth
''"' 1linL' \\l'l'L' rwithn religi1i11..,, nnr politiL-aL nor n<1tiPnal rL'll'>1)ns, hut lu11da11wntal


antinomies of existence present in the unconscious mind of the popular masses, that
made the division of the countries of the classical \\'orld into the \'Vcstern and the Easkrn
part unavoidable. But this division was distinguished among the numerous similar ones
which arose at different times and places on our globe by being the germ of a \\'orld-\\'ide
cleavage. The Turkish heritage of Byzantium was shortly afterwards con tcs tcd hy th L'
Grand-Duke of Moscow, Ivan III Vassilievich, who after his marriage in 1.p2 \\'ith Sophia
(Zoe) Paleologue, daughter of TI1omas, the last despot of Pelopon nesos, laid c Ia i 111 to the
title of Emperor and Lord of all Russia.'J 9 1l1e \Vestern expansion across the Atlantic t<) the
New World and the eastern shore of the Pacific was para! le led by the Russi an ex pa 11sio11
to the \Vestern shore of that ocean. 111e present divisions of the world arc th us an oq.!,a 11 iLdevelopment of those with which Plethon was already confronted and the problem of
world integration is still essentially the same.
The independent autocracy of Morea survived the fall of Constantino pie hy a fe,,
years only. On 30th May i460 Demetrios Paleologos surrendered Sparta and his o\\'11
person to Muhammad II.As he was his father-in-law, he \\'as transferred to Adrianopk to
spend his last years there partially as a captive, while his wife followed her daughter, the
sultana, to Constantinople. 'J
Bessarion's efforts to persuade the German emperor, on behalf of the pope, to start
a crusade against Turkey, had no effect. Constituted by the pope Pius 11 patriarch <)f
Constantinople in partibus, he succeeded finally in 1463 to persuade Venice to a deL-laration of war. The renowned (and by many Italian powers also hated) t'cnulottierc
Sigismondo Pandolfo Ivlalatesta, lord of Rimini, famous both for his bravery and his
generous protection of men of art and science, was chosen as com mandcr- in-chi cf of the
allied expedition.As a friend of Plethon, who, when still alive, was by him repeatedly i11vited to Rirnini, he was certainly the right man to command the allied army. But the mi Iitary forces at his disposal were insufficient, and he suffered a defeat in Morea. 1 hornas,
the despot of Achaia, the last Byzantine sovereign on ancient Creek land, had to Ike, with
his family, to Ancona. But Malatesta saw to it that the material remains of Pict hon's were
exhumated and brought to Rimini. lhey have been deposed in one of the four extcr11al
sarcophagi of the famous 'Malatestian temple', a masterpiece of the famous Floren ti 11L'
humanist and architect Leon Battista Alberti, in \Vhich Christian symbols are com bi 11 cd
with an astral conception of the ascent of the soul. rlhe Latin inscription on Plctlwn's sarcophagus is, after resolution of the abbreviations, approximate! y as fol lo\\'s:
''I11e remains of Gernistos, the foremost of the Byzantine philosophers of hist i me, ha,c
been taken care of by Sigismundus Pandulfus Malatesta, Pandulf's son, corn m;.111der in chief in the Peloponnesian war against the kingdom of Turkey, who out of the enormous
love for men of knowledge that consumes him, has provided for thci r being brought and
deposited here. MccccLxv".
1 0

Plethon's (Laws', in so far as They Escaped an Orthodox
Auto-da-fe, and Their Mythical Ancestry

hc_school of i\listra, directed unt_il the surre~1de_r o_f Dem~trius by Plcthon's su~ces
so1 John .\ lo . . chos, ceased to exist. Plethons d1sc1plcs dispersed, but some ot the
111ost outsta11ding of thL'm sought rcfugt' in Italv and in Italian dominions of the Eastern
.\-led itcrra 1wa11, L:special ly Crct~ (Candia) whicl~ remained Venetian until 1669.
:\s tu the masll'r's ma_ior work, thl' Trclltisc t~( t/1c L111s, on which he had probably
worked since 1..p~, if not since 1..p5, it ,,as to meet a pathetic fate.''' According to what
C;corge of Trapczunt says in his Co111pariso11 t~( Plc1to and Aristotle, the despot Demetrius
hcforL' his lkt h rnnL'men t seiZL'd Pkt hon's autograph by force, and kept it hidden (crept us
nllltus11uc est) 'in mdt'r that it might not bl' publicly read and do harm to many'.:"~ 'lhe
incent i\c for this action seems to haw come from the princess Asanina, Demetrius' wife
and 111ot her-in-law of the su Itan. Her hostilitv to Plethon's teaching must haw been appa rcnt already during his lil~'-time, if it was
her, as Alexandre s~1pposes, that Plethon
all ulkd in his U..cply to Scholarios, while he contemptuously obserwd that the latter was
not L'\'l'n ash a med of boasting of the intluence of a si mplc woman, a 'whnre'. An anony111ous complaint written after his death makes 'a superstitious man' (Demetrius) and 'his
"crag! io' ( 1\sa n i na ), .ioi nt ly with 'an impostor as \\icked as ignorant' (Scholarios ), responsi hk for the plot against his book. 1
Sclrnlarios has described the operations of these allies in the well-known letter to
I< >\t'ph the Fxarch.' , 1 he let lt'r was writ ten probably in 1460 or shortly afterwards and
had in certain respects an appearanct' of a circular.''''' It follows from this letter that those
who gmTrned the Pclopnnnesos, Demetrius and his wik decided to send Plcthon's
111<.llluscript tu Sclwlarios, but that the political circumstances pre\'cnted the execution
of their plan.',- 1 he robbers of the autograph 'resisll'd the entreaties of those who askt'd
permission to take copies of it, until, expelled from the Peloponnesos, they could personally bring it to the patriarch. Scholarios, tdt at tirst in the right to condemn it after h~wing
11lLTt'ly glan(t'd al tht' L-h . 1pter titks, but ht' decided ne\'ertheless first to read it. 1 his cost
him, a-, we lward, t"<lur lwur" of his precious tinll':




... I \\,1-, .1git,1kd hy s\,arm:-i llf L-t1111licti11g fLcling:-i. I laughed at :-iuch an L'\CL's:-i of absurdity.
I "iglll'd at thL' !ti..,.., of th;1t 'itllil forlllcrly Chri..,lian, I hall'd tl1L' m;1licc llf the dc11101h \\.hll,
h,1\i11g kd him ,1..,tr,1y lrlllll thL' path of gr<lCL'. h,1d preL-ipit.ilL'd hi111 into crn1r ( ... l. :\la..,~
\ \';1.., it 11eL c..,..,,1ry that ,11! the lwnuu r of l; red.: IL't tcrs should repuSL' t111 the hL'ad of nnL' 111<111,
.ind th,1t '1l1Lh ..,hlluld hL' the 1ruit ll! hi:- lile, su lnng and uf 'ill 111<111~ .. tudiL's~ ... ' ~

I l.1\i11g -,atistit'd hi1rnclf of till' t"OITt'Ctnt'"" of his tir . . t illlprt'""ion, Sclwlario-.. "t'nt tlw
lll<IIlll\Lript t<l print-L'S" ,\...,;.rni11a, <lsking hn to burn it. Hut the prince"" St'nt it had;. lo him,
111-,1-,t111g th.it hL' Ii.id tP lw.ir the rL'spon..,ihility for the t'\t'dition nfhi-, H'rdict. ln th,1t ,,ay
\Lll<ll,1rit1-, "''l" induL-t'd to \\hat lie in a lttll'r to Pkthon, ll'n \car" earliL'r, .l\..,LTll'd th.it


Pie t I1011 's 'Lcrns' a11d their Alytlzirnl A 11ccstry

into connection \\'ith a religious belief which had fostered both the European and the
Arab civilizations. 1 his belief, although extinct in appearance, had in fact still a powerful
grasp on the unconscious mind of Europe and the Near East. Besides, as the mythological
and hcrml't ical associations of the names adopted by Plethon were in general inconsistent \\'ith thL' roles the respective gods had to play in his system, there could not be any
question of a mere psychological trick on his part. He believed, in fact, to have restored
thesL' names to thL'ir original, 'pure and sound meaning' which had been 'polluted' by the
'lkccitful fables' of the 'poets'. 1 ~1 he Plcthonian hierarchv of beings, having its summit and source in the transcendental, di\inc 'One' which he c~1lls Zeus: is divid~d into four classes, Zeus alone constituting
the first and supreme class. 1 ~' (I) Zeus is beyond time, beyond eternity, pure Being, th~
absolute Cood by his essence (pp. 47 and i33), completely self-sufficient as the principle
of his own, eternally self-identical (p. 47), Father and the origin of all (p. "p), infinitely
superior (p. 45) to all the other gods. The remaining three classes of beings are: (II) the
class of'cxtra celestial' ~gods \\'hich are tnure beinns,
eternal, bevond
time and snace
(pp. 49
rand 163 ), born from Zeus, or rather created by him without mother (p. 105), and therefore
immaterial, 'acting by the mere po\\'er of their (eternal) thought' (p. 47); (III) the class of
'int ra-cclest ial' gods, existing in time and space and subjected to change, but immortal
(p. 97), all composed of body, soul and eternal intelligence (pp. 53 and i79); and (I\') the
class of 'intra-celestial', non-divine beinus
all havinuL' a bodv, existing in time and space,
subjected to change, and inanimate or mortal.
'I he th rec lower classes of bci ngs correspond in Plethon's system to three worlds, i.e.
three different modes of real it\', because Plethon in conformity to the cosmological concept ions st ill pre\ail i ng in his ti me belie\'es the physical heavc1; to be essentially different,
in respect to substance and the prc\'ailing laws, from the 'sublunar' world comprisin~ the
earth \\'ith the surrounding elements. Each of these three lower classes of beings ot the
Plcthonian cosmos is again divided into two antithetical sub-classes which in succession
of the fundamental cla~ses arc those of (lfo) Olympian gods, being legitimate children of
Zeus, capable of creating immortal beings, and (JllJ) Tartarean gods being 'illegitimate'
children or Zeus, 'much inferior' to the first 'in power and greatness: and capable of Crt'at i ng only mortal bci ngs ( p. 49 ); (I Ila) celestial gods (i.e. gods of celestial bodies), being
oods.,_ ' endowed with omniscient intelligence,
imnec'lcl!it i mate' chi Id ren of Olymnian
cable soul, and i ncorruntiblc
(JI fl,) krt
re...,t rial (su b-tcrrcst rial) gods or daemons, 'illcgiti mate' children, capable of acquiring only
inferior to the celestial ones also in resnect
limited, though alwavs exact, kno\\'ledoe
body and soul, and performing diwrsc tasks in charge of other gods (p. 53); finally (/\'11)
humans, mortal hci ngs endo\\'cd with reason and a part iallv immortal nat urc (pp. 247 (.),
and (I\ 'h) hL'i ngs dc\'~)id of reason: animals, plants and cle1~wnts.
'1 lw tirst, most perfect and most beautiful (pp. 47 and 1_~5) creation of Zeus, the
Neoplatunic \'Ol'~, Di\inc i\lind or Spirit, is Poseidon, the most mighty of the extra-celestial god.._, horn from Zeus without a mother, or rather created by him in his own lih'nt'SS
(pp. LJ 3 and 1Yi), and con fer red by Zt'US tht' rule or all other gods ( p. -f.9 ). 1 he second born
()r tlw Lhildrt'll of Zeus is Her<l, created in the likeness of Poseidon (p. 105). Fach of tlwrn
trn1tai11 . . <di form.._, all ideas, and can therefore be said to reprcsL'nt the idea, or the form
a..., ...,ulh, thL idea o( idea..., hut l lna, tlw fl'malc principle, contains them only potc11ticilf\',
hy prndt1Li11g the prirn,d n1c1tta in \\'hich lhl'y arc <llluali!ed, \\'hilt Poseidon, tlw nule
pri11lq1lt pc1r ntt'l!t11t t', t'o11tai1i.... lhl'rn c1d11c1//1', as their direct snurLc (pp. 10s llJ.

..._ l






(material or mortal) and higher (spiritual and eternal) nature. It was therefore the Solar
Soul that Plethon - as before him already Julian the Apostate - had abme al I in 111 ind
when addressing the god under the name of 'King Helios'. By uniting the Solar Body and
Soul to the Solar Mind and submittinab the Bodv' to the Soul and the Soul to the .\ 1ind,
Poseidon, says Plethon, 'created a kind of link and middle term between the L'Xt ra-LLkstial and intra-celestial nature: this intermediary being, it is you, o Sun!'.
Had Plethon counted, as he should have done on purely logical grounds, Po"cido11 and
Hera to a separate class of gods, intermediate between Zeus and the remaining () 1ym Pi ans,
he \vould have given this conception a form more nearly approaching that neLLssary
symmetry which it has in the system of Proclus. It is because the Solar \I ind would then
in his system be a crown of the Olympian world. Having not excluded Poseidon and
Hera from Olympus, Plethon was involved in contradictions by attributing to thL' Solar
Mind a rank among the 'intelligible' gods which actually was due to Poseidon: 'r\ nd you,
Lord Helios, the most ancient and the most mighty son of the great Zeus bee a LI sc of th L'
Divine Mind which is in you, and also in Poseidon, according to the nature of your Soul
and your Body- the common limit of the extra-celestial and the intra-celestial gods, >ou
have been charged by your father Poseidon with the government of the entire hea\cns hy
which we are surrounded ... It is you who are leading that brilliant and numerous Lhoir
of stars in the most advanced regions of our heaven. Also, that terrestrial race of <.bcmons
which is charged with the execution of the orders of other Cods is ranged LI ndcr your
The Sun, then, is the highest being endowed with a soul, and the king of all the other
beings of that kind. But what is actually a soul? Plethon cxplaim (p. 175) that the soul is
identical as the spirit (mind) and, as such, a creation of Poseidon, but one of a peL u Ii a r
kind: it is modelled on the ideas of the eternal world, but destined to he associated with
matter, which is supplied by Hera. 'Il1e Soul is therefore female in principle and a daughter
of Poseidon. Of the two major categories of souls, one is destined to be entirely depe 11de11 t
on matter - these are the irrational souls. 'lhe souls of the second catcgorv, the rat ion al
ones, make, on the contrary, matter dependent on themselves. 'I he rat i~ >n<~l sou ls of the
lmvest class are the human ones, which arc subject to error. Next highest in order arc the
souls of the daemons, which are Poseidon's illegitimate daughters, capable only< >f Ii 111 i tL'd,
but always exact knowledge. The highest class of rational souls is finallv that of legitimate
daughters of Poseidon, the omniscient souls of the hean.:nly bodies.() ;le s pee ic" ~>( th L' 111,
numerous, immobile, is occupied with the contemplation of c reatcd hei ng.._, <llHI \\'it h
praising Poseidon, the Creator. Another one is composed of the c..,ouls of the seven plc.rneh.
Each of them resembles an eternal idea and is u n itcd to a corresponding s pi ri t ( 111 ind).
so that each planet is a triple unity of spirit (mind), soul and body, scning as <l link between the intra-celestial and extra-celestial world. The Sun, their king ( p. 211) i-.. the 111ost
beautiful and the best of them, but the other planets share the rule of the mortal nature
with him, as well as that of the human souls and of the daemons (pp. 179 and 1_:,9). 1hi"
rule consists presumably in that participation of things low in tho-.,c high whiLh ha-.. bL'L'l1
mentioned above, and which is a consequence of the 0ucncration of bti1111s
h\, tnrogrL...,...,j\c
narrowing of the content of general ideas. Ju st a 1., the "><rn J-., of the planch pa rt iL. i11<.t lL' i 11 th c
eternal ideas, so also the human 1.imds must bear in thcrn-.,elvc-., the irnprinh ()( h()th. 111
that way probably would Pict hon j u1.iti fy the has ic do ct ri nc of a . . t rnl og y <lll d <>I 111.tra 11 l' Ii . . 111
between the macro- and micrnco~m.
A ni rnals, who lack individual intelli1!cncc arc, according t() !'kt hon, di rl'Ll nl Lt ii IL'l









Treatise of tlze Laws, but they are unavoidable on the basis of late Ncoplatonic thought,
especially that of Proclus, which, as \Ve shall see, was one of the chief sources of Pict hon's
metaphysical inspiration.
In his celebrated Hymn to tlze Sun, Proclus addresses Helios as the holder of the 'kc: to
the fountain of life' pouring from on high the copious 'stream of harmony on the ma lL'rial worlds', and says that 'the dull noise of colliding elements ceases' when 1-icl ios a PPL' a rs
'descending from the ineffable Father'. Helios' supernormal role as conqueror of Chaos
and Death implies, according to Proclus, even a victory over Destiny: 'Before 'J lice ccasL'S
the unshakeable choir of the Moirae, who undo the twisted thread of inc\'itahle I kst i 11y,
whenever Thou willest'. v\Talking in the midst of the wandering stars, Hcl ios, 'Lord of the
Sacred Melody', holder of the 'Heart of the Universe', 'jumps beyond the chai 11' of the
Moirae and 'calms down the roaring wave of generation by his divine song acco 111pa11 i cd
by the 'sounds of his cither'.'ll1e menace of the swift arrow', declares Pro cl us,' is feared hy
the daemons of fierce heart who cause damage to our unhappy souls, in order that thL'!"
desirous of yoke and oblivious of the sublime and resplendent home of the Fat her, sh< n1 Id
always suffer under the burden of the body in the dull and noisy abyss of life. But 1 lwu,
the best of the gods, crowned with fire, divinity blessed, image of the Creator of the ,\II,
Thou who raises the souls, hearken to the prayer of many tears and accept it by purifying
me for always from all sin ... '.
Plethon has known this hymn of Proclus, if it is true, as Alexandre supposes, th<.1t the
hymn to the Sun attributed to Plethon by Allatius ( 23) and printed by Fabricius in his
Bibliotlzern Graern, is actually that of Proclus, revised and remodelled by Pict ho 11.' 1 -' I his
hymn appears to have survived, with all the disfiguring corrections, among the ext rads
from Plethon's works collected in a Venetian manuscript analysed by IVlorcll i us (I, L-od.
406). George of Trapezunt asserts in his 'Comparison of Aristotle and Plato' (of wh iLh
more below) that Plethon himself has composed a hymn to the Sun: 'I have seen, I ha,c
seen and read, his praises of the Sun, by which he extols and adores it, as the creator oft he
all, in hymns distinguished by such verbal elegance, amenity of composition ... and dignity, that it does not seem possible to add anything. But he pays divine honours to the Sun
in cautious sentences that not even men of the highest learning would have disLmered it,
except by attentive and repeated reading. 111
If Plethon did actually subject Proclus' hymn to a radical n:,ision, it must ha,e been
because he did not share all the conceptions on which it was based. 1 hcse conu.pt ions
are identical with, or similar to, those cncou ntcrcd in al I, or most oft he great rel igi ( m" () f
antiquity, especially the mystery religions having the Dying and Resurrecting (; od (Su 11god or Vegetation-god) at their centre - and they are also in accordance with what we
know of the role of the Sun-god in the ancient mysteries - the Orphic ones and t ho">l' of
Eleusis, as well as the Isis and the Mithras mysteries. '!hey arc, on the one h<.rnd, markedly
different from the principle implied in the early parts of Pletlwn's 'frcutisc (f t/1c ft111s,
especially in the doctrine of destiny as exposed in the 6th chapter of Book 11. 111 thi"
chapter, the possibility of the destiny being changed by the gods in comcqucnLL' ()f lw
man prayers or offerings is categorically denied (p. 65). ''I here i'.-. no means', <l'i"iLTI..., J>let Ii< )ll
(p. 71), 'to escape, to avoid what from all eternity has been decided hv /eu..., and r1,cd b,
Destiny'. But at some point of time Plcthon mus,t have discm-cred th,;t hi" inllTL'llLL' ll...., 1)
the inefficiency of prayer had been based on an a">su m pt i<>n <>fa duh im1..., ,-~did it y. I k '1 .1 d
supposed that the gods, planning in eternity the future <>f the uni\'L'r"L" d1, 1wt t.1kc 11110
account human prayers and offerings, although thc1..,c arc known l<> t hL'lll lwl< lrL'1.111d .11H. I


9 _..,

'f,i111s' n11d tlzcir .\lytlzicnl A11ccstry

not spL'L-ilic L'r10ugh tu sern' as an dlcctiYe guide to spiritual work or to the interpretation
of tlw LrL'ati\e e\olution of life, were ne\ertheless in sufficient accordance with archetypal
experience to keep Plotinus' metaphysical thought essentially sound. But Plethon went
furthn than that in his endeannirs to interpret the universe on absolutely monistic lines:
He conLei\cd L'\en matter as a product of the One and hence essentially good, though in
a less degree than the higher beings, and therefore 'e\il' in a rdnti1c sense. To him, all
gods a11d L'Ven demons were absolutely good, and human wrongs were due only to mere
mistakes. I k \\'as unable, hm,ever, to explain how mistakes and wrong doings were possible in tlw uni\ersL' considered by him as an exclusin~ and perfect product of the absolute
C;uod, for hL' did not treat matter as the negation of the Good. As most Neoplatonists
(cxcq)t, among l)thers, Plotinus) and contrary to the Gnostics, he did not admit that
anything could ha\e lwen \Hong - if only apparently - in the origin of the uni\erse, or
that or mankind. In conrormity with the Gnostic, .Mazdaean, Hindu and Buddhist teachings, Prnclus assumed that the soul's striving back to its origin sets provisional limits to
its i11carnations, and the life-time of the entire uni\erse is limited by periodical dissolutions.',,,
Plctlwn asserts that the goodness and the pn)\'idence of the CrL'ator demand thL' uni\crse to he pcrfrd, eternal and unchangeahk.Ll'' I-fr also argues in his Reply to Scholarios
that the souls, being immortal and necessarily finite in number in a finite uniwrse, cannot he generated in time and must he essentially re-incarnating (p. 244 and 259) without
c\er attaining lasting liberation (p. 7'9). Such a liberation is in Plethon's system, contrary
to all othLr esoteric traditions, not the goal of .\Ian and the uni\erse, for this would on
his premises contradict di\ine goodtll'~S and prmitknce. 7\lan's task in the Plcthonian
uni\'L'rse is not sahation or L'volution, hut on the contrary, the maintenance of thl' pL'rfect
L'quilihrium of tlw cosmos by the faithful safr-guarding of his position at the common
hordn of thl' \\'orld of the mortals and that of the immortals. It is to accomplish this task
that he must not onh countermand thL' do\\'nward attraction of matlL'r, but also reincarnate i11 due time, again and again.
1 his peculiar :onception._ of reality seems to hear the imprint of its author's happy
fall', of his almost hundred year long politically and economically autonomous life in apparently perfect health, as husband and fother, supreme .iudge and independent teacher,
admirLd hy the L~lite of the conte111porary world. lo Plcthon, this world \\'as oh\iously
thL' lw ... 1 P<l"sihle <>llL', ;,rnd he did rwt wish anything else, but a cosmical sti1t11s 1/llO - to lw
"L'CUrLd, it i" true, by a political, social and above all religious re\'olution.
( )[)L' of thL' COllSL'l]Ul'llCl'S of J>ktJwn's denying the reality of l'\'il, e\en in the IlL'gati\'l'
J>l<ltinian "L'n'-L'. \\'i.l'- hi" dodrinL' of '-L'\tral 111orak imposing the obligation of SL'\tral lifL'
<in all thL LitilL'n" <lf hi-.. utopian sociLt~'.' 1 ' In fact, -..e\ual ahstinerllL'. entailing aha11don11lL'l1t <ll the lu"I for material lifL <ls a normal cornllar~" \\'i.lS incomp<1tiblc \\'ith the rnk
,1...,...,ig1wd to .\Ian hy J>lcthon's gl)ds.
J>ILt lw11\ dLnial of L'\'il 111ight also h;,1\e had some rLL1tionship to thL' l'.\ceptional \\'L'ight
,1t LIL 11ld h\ hi 111 t< >llkst i<d plwno111clla. If, in fact, .\ Lrn \\'as not allo\,ed co111plclL'h to
ILa\L thL IL'mpllri.11 ,,orld, Ill' lllll'>l han' heL'n L'\j1t'ckd to spL'lld till' time hL'l\\L'L'n ...,ucu...,...,i\t' rLhirth..., L'itl1L'r in the (0111p,u1y of tL'ITL'Slrial dacnwn'> Pr ill th,1t of till' god.., nf
11L',l\t'lll\ h(ldiL'" ,\'....,urning that he h,1d acquirL'd . . utliciL'nl ,-irtuc ill till' pa . . t lik . .\Lrn\
...,uprt'lllt' .1tL1i1rn1t'11t, 111 thL frame Ill l1 lctlwll's I t111s, must h<l\'l' hec11 <l union \\ith I kliP'>,
thl \(ltd ()I tlw \1111 ,111d the hight...,t Ill. tlw imrnort,tl god-.., in hi" '>piritu,11 (1wl'lil, 'i111L'I
l1g1hk l ,t...,pt'l I htl1i11g111g ,ilrL',1th tu the \\orld ol tht t'lcrn,1k Pll'lh<i11de\1-..t'd ,1 "l't'tt.il


Proclus' Oscillating lJ11i1crsc as Co111parcd to


U11i1 crse


l\ l ind. I he order prcsidi ng O\'er the l! npossessed f\ilind is consequently called the know-

ing ( VOJH)(h~) order, and that presiding over the Un possessed Power, being intermediary
between the two, is gi\'cn the name of k11owi11g-m1d-k11ow11 (voqTt)~ Km voqpoc;). '-1 The

di\'inc orders presiding mer the Unpossessed Soul and Nature, and over the celestial
bodies, arc called in a similar manner, those above-the-world (l.nu:pKl)CT~llOl;), above-theworld-a nd- in-the-world ( l.1m:pKt)CTptol; Kl1l E)'Kl)a~uoc;), and in-the-world ( E)'Kl)oluoc;)
orders respect i\'ely.
'J he uni\crsality of the manifested gods decreases and their number increases in measure as we descend the ladder of the eternal generation. 'n1e Un possessed Being consists of
the three components of its upper causal triad: existence, power, and activity (or mind) of
the Being as such. 1 hey arc giwn different names in different works of Proclus: being (bv),
whole ( ()Aol;), and the all ( TTLlv) in the lost CcH11111c11tary to tlzc Sophist; prior to eternity
( npornli.iv tod, etc rn it v ( nill.1v), and eternal ( o.itl.lv1oc;) in the Co111111L'll tc11-v to Ti 111ac11s, good
(aynH<'1d, wise (0oq)('1d and beautiful (KetAl1c;) in the lost Co111111c11t111y to Plwcdrus. Each
of them could be explained to possess the characteristics of unity in three ways, i.e. as detcrmination-itsdf, infinity-itself, and the fore-knowing of the possessed one, but Proclus
characterizes them somewhat differently, as unity, power and existence in the case of the
Existence and the Power of Being; and unity, power and mind in the case of the Activity
(Mind) of Bcim!..'" Anyway, there arc nine t'uods nresidinu
over the Unnossessed
'-As to the gods, thcv arc also divided accordinot' to three asnects:
activity, each of which can be deri\'cd from one of the corresponding three aspects of
the Lrnposscsscd Being, and, indcpL'ndently of that, from one of the three aspects of the
Un possessed One. 1 his makes twenty se\en gods manifested as lJnpossessed Power in all.
One could expect that the gods in the succeeding order would continue to increase in that
\vay as the succcssi\'C powers of 3, giving 81, 243 and ;29 gods at the le\'Cl of Unpossessed
l\Iind, Soul and 1\aturc respccti\cly, hut Proclus confines himself merely to the description of ;2, 12, and then 12 gods only of the respective groups.
( ;ods that preside mcr the existence of the Un possessed Cause of each order arc called
by Proclus Fotlzcrs, those that preside over the power of the Cause arc sometimes called
iHot/1crs, and those presiding over the activity of the latter are often called C'1ildrc11. In the
three lowest Prnckan orders there is also a fourth series of gods that arc said to preside
mcr the' internal power' oft he Un possessed Cause and arc caLlled C1111 rdi1ms. 111e Fat hcrly
Series is in the lo\\'er orders also called the Crc11ti11g or also the Sol11r (iiAll1K()d Series - a
ll'r111 whose origin L-i.lll he traced had;. to Plato's celebrated comparison from the lfrp11l1/it
of the ( )11c (the ( ;od) to the Sun as that third factor which, being beyond the Known
and the 1-..:nm,ing, makes l\.no\\'lcdgc possible by the intermediary of its Light."- Plotinus
and I<11n hi i1..-h us maLk the () ne preside o\cr the 'kno\\'n' or' in tell igi bk' ( \'oq p(1l;) gods and
L' 111 pc r<) r Iu Iia n p uh s i111 i Ia rl y I k Ii<) s - 0. I it h ra s at t h c h cad of th L' 'k 110 w i11 g' or ' i n lL' Ile ct u a I'
( \'orw<'H..:) gods as t lw central one oft he triad of suns: t hL' intelligible, the int cl kct ual, and
the physical ones. :\s to the Proclean i\lothcr and Children Series, they also bear different
nal1ll""" the llrst of tlwm lwing Ci.dkd the Prod11(fi\'C or, in the lower orders, ru(-c;;,.;11<.'(_
~criL-.; the second, the l'cr/(dio11i11g, ,\/c11s11ri11g, c;11idi11..l!. or Proplit.'lit" SeriL'S.
1 he \\'a~ in \\'hich Proc.lus brings his gods in L-urresponde1kc \\'ith tlHlSL' of ( ;rL'L'k mytlwl()gy i-. 1athl'r L-ornpli(atcd. Alost of the 2; gods of the l;nposSL'SSL'd Power llrL' (hllraL-kri1l'd mncly hy OllkL'pls rclati\'l' lo the lwawn (( h)~)l't\'()d and its re\olution, <llHl l1L'nl-e
i11dirL'1..th to tlw old god L'ranus,as \\'L'll as to the idL'i.ls Lnrrcsponding tn tlw mode oflik
<ii tlw ( )l~1npi.11h, L'k. I hL' ::--2 god-. of thl' l!nposSL'ssed .\I ind arc di\iLkd .ll..'1..Prdi11g tP





the three aspects of mind: existence, power and activity, each di,ision con . . . i . . . ting ()( thrt.'C
groups of seven members headed by a Jather-god', a 'pure god', and a distinguis/1i11g principle respectively. The father-gods of existing power and activity of the \I ind <HL', rLspectively, Cronus, his wife Rhea, and their son Zeus. The gods subordinate to thL'l11 <lrL' Lithcr
representing different aspects of their nature, or else one nearly related to t hLm; Titans,
e.g., are found in the group of Rhea. Zeus, as the ruler of the eternal act i\i t y oft hL .\Ii nd,
is the Creator or the Demiurge (L).q~uoupy6c;). 'lhc pure gods and their -..uhordinatcs,
identified \Vith the Creator, are members of the Guardian series o( gods, and arc led by
the Virgin Athena (A811vct K6pq).1heir function is to preserve the member'> <)rt he fat hergroups of the Unoossessed Mind in the state of transcendence and unimpaired intL'rnal
power (a task of fundamental importance which certainly requires a particular ,igilancc
on the side of any mind engaged in external creation), every member of a father-group
having a pure god as guardian. The three-fold group of distinguishing principles, finally.
comprizes all the fundamental polar distinctions of the existence, power, and ad i ,. it y of
the Mind, which are also those of the entire material world.
As to the gods of the Unpossessed Soul and the Unpossessed :\'ature, they arL' di,ided
likewise in such presiding over existence, power, and activity, but each group contains
only a father-god, his power or life-giving principle, their result in the form o( a rt'lur11i11._..:,
principle, and a pure god. The three father gods of the lJnpossesscd Soul arc /eus ( i 11 his
second, and secondary, manifestation), Poseidon, and Pluto; the Ii fc-gi,i ng pri 1Ki pks a re
the Virgin (Coric) Artemis ('ApnlLL~ Kop11(Ji), Core Persephone, and the \'i rgi 11 ( C:oriL-)
Athene (in her second manifestation). 111c pure gods of the U nposscsscd Smtl a re id L' 11 ti fied with the Corybantes, and the returning principles, with Apollo in his di,crsc aspeds.
He is said to be the same for the world of souls as the 0 ne is for the world o( t ra 11'>Cl'11Lk11 t
gods, and the sun for the material world. 'Ihe Unpossessed Nature, finally, hesidL''> Lornprising the three Fates (iVIoLpm) presiding over the laws of nature which arc c1H.im,cd by
Necessity (i\vayK'l) residing in the Unposscssed Ivl ind, is represented main Iy hy th c t \\e I\'L'
gods which in antiquity were usually counted as the Olympians. Two of them, /cus a11d
Athena, appear here in their third manifestation; four others: Poseidon, I kml'tcr, ,\ p< )I I<)
and Artemis, in a second one; the remaining members of this order being I !era, I kstia,
Hephaestus, Hermes, Ares, and Afrodite. Proclus refers in this connection to Plato\ tak in
Plwcdrus (246 ff.), in which eleven of the Olympian gods (Hestia rcmai n i ng at h< )rnc) a re
described guiding human souls beyond Heaven and showing them real Be i 11g. 1he L.1 s k o (
leading human souls on the path of liberation from their dependence on mat ll'r he I() nged
especially to three members of the Guiding Series, viz. the three returning pri11L'ipk" o(
the Unpossessed Nature: Hermes, Aph rod itc and Apollo, originators and di redo r" o ( th L'
plzilosophicnl, erotic and nrnsirnl life respectively.
The origin of the Material (external and temporal) \\'mid in J>roclu< "Y"ll'111 i" thL
consequence of the \ Vorld Souls and the other individual souls L<wsing thcrn...,LhL''> to
be possessed by Nature \vhich assumes thereby the illusory character of <l 1natcri~ll rl'<.li
ity into which they descend. 1 he \Vo rid Soul, which shou Id not he con fou rHkd \\'it h th l'
Cnpossesscd Soul, is a complicated structure shaped by the Creator frrnn the ldl'<I'> <lf
the Unpossessed IVIind after a pattern similar to that expmed by Plat() in /'i111t1l'll-". \\'hl'Il
completely possessed, the souls are practically identified with their nature..., <1..., rncrL' (for
mal) causes of bodily motions (not to he confused \Vith the cthcient <>11L'" 111 1\ri . . t(>kl1<111
sense, \vhich are bodily). Proclus divided the . . . mil'> into three ()rdLr..., and 111<.111y . . . uhrn
dinate categories. '!he highest order of smds whil-h are indepc1Hk11t, i.L'. l'11d<>\\l'd ''1th

Proclus' Oscillating U11i\ crsc as Compared to Plctho11's Uniiersc



intellect, is that of the di,inc souls, each of which possesses a god and a divine mind, and
becomes, in turn, possessed by a he1.wenly body or some other intra-mundane celestial
structure. Below them stands the intermediary order of the so-called intelligent souls
( vm:pni ~'llXCti) that arc not di,ine. rl hey are diYided into angels, daemons, and heroes,
representing the existence, the power, and the acti,ity of the intermediary souls respectiYcly. 1 he angels, and also daemons of higher categories, lead human souls back to themsehes and to their clL'rnal gods. 'Ihe same can be said of the heroes, who descend into the
material \\'orld in order to S<.l\'e humans by pure life, unattached to nature. ll1e daemons
are di ,idcd into flyc categories: di Yi ne, intellectual, soul-like, natural and bodily ones.
The lowest order of independent souls consists of the human souls, which are said to be
attendant upon gods at certain times only. ll1e souls of the animals and other hmer
beings arc dcpc11dc11t.
1 he descent of the World-Soul is associated with the Activity of Time. ll1e latter is a
separate charactcristic-svstcm h1.wing an eternal Existence and Power, and constituting
the principle and measu;.L' of all motions in the \\'orld-Soul, and through its Acti,ity being also the cause of motion in the \latcrial \\'orld. Time is to the illusory ~Iaterial \\'orld
what Eternity is to Reality, its perpL'tuity transformed into a single 'now' being an image
of Eternity, or perhaps rather of what Proclus, by an apparently enigmatic discrimination,
calls the perpetuity of eternity.""
'I he i"vlatcrial \\'mid in Proclus' system comprises se,en basic planetary spheres surrounding the terrestrial globe and the sublunar elemental world in the succession: the
.\loon, \'-krcury, \'enus, tl1e Sun, :\lars, Jupiter and Saturn, so that the Sun occupies, here
again, a central position. rhe sublunar world is the domain of thL' lowest order of gods,
including primeval Orphic deities like Phanes (Cl)L1vq~) and Night (N1i0, as well as primary and secondary manifestations of the Titans and gods succeeding them in the order
of generation - all in all nine gods which are actualh a kind of daemons.
111L' h icrarch\ of causal ion proccedi ng th rough d i\'L'rse characteristics '\'L'rt ical ly' from
the One to the 1~1aterial world is crnssed'-b, thatL1.111othcr one, consisting of'transwrse' or
'hori 1.011 ta I' Series ( oupL1L ), in each of which individual minds, souls, and other unities
appear ill the SUCCL'SSion of decreasing 'perfection' and 'internal power' of Onl' and the
same characteristic originally represented by a single monad, their common cause and
b eg i 1111 i n g.
Fu11damt'ntal for the cntirL' wstcm of Proclus is his doctrine of the 'cyclic acti\ity'
( t\'tpyrtl.'t KllKAlKTl) or cause and L:lfcct.~''' Its first stage is that of a mere potential existence
or 'po\\'n' of the ctrect in the cause, and is calkd its remaining (pov11) in the cause. '!he
\l'CUI1LI stage is that or dcp11rt11n ( TT~)('Hl8od or the ell(xt from thL' cause. Prnclus argues
that thL Lkparture must hL' nectssarily succeeded hy a return (rmcn~)o4111) in consequence
of the L'fkct of lasting 'sympathy' for, and 'appetition' of, the cause, \\'hiL-h is a mediator of
that primary causL\ the ( ;ood.
1 his conclusion is <1 rci1son why the Chaldean Series of gods presiding o\'L'r the acti,ity
of L'11p(11.,1.,e1.,sed Cause.., a11d rt'sponsihk l(ir thL' return of thL' Effects is calkd (;11idi11,\, and
\\'h\ t hL resu It (if t hL fat lwr- llt ld and the Ii fc-ui,i no pri ncipk in L'ach group of g( lds prt'sidi ng. o\'LT tlw l'np()\\L'\\l'd s(~il and tht' L'npt~ses;:,d :\aturt' is calkd . .a rt'fllrlli;1s. principk.
I kr111t..,, :\phrndik ,rnd ,-\pol lo, rcprcscntants of tht' ( ;uiding Scrit'S in tl1L' l'npn..,~tsst'd
\:atllrL'. "L'I"\'L\ ,1.., itlrc<lll: oh1.,cnLd. <lS guides for thcst' souls \\'hich <11.L' mature for liht'ra
t1<111 lr1ll11 tlw llL'Ll''>..,it\ of rd1irth, ,,hik :\pnllu the Su11 acl-ornpli..,lws thi.., L.hk al(11w nn
th1.. IL'\1..'I 111 till' l'11p11""L''-'-L'd Snul. It rn,1\lwad1..kd i11,111tiL-ipatin11 th<1t tlll'dndrnwnltlw

I '"




cyclic activity of cause and effect, and its three stages, has been frequently reprcsL'nlL'd in
the esoteric art of the Italian renaissance by the dancing circle oft he th rec C r;Kes. ,,, ,
TI1e departure of the soul from its cause seems to require a special considcrat i< lll, because it may appear doubtful whether it is entirely due to causes immanent i11 the cause
of the soul itself. As this departure consists in the soul's abandoning, at least pa rt ia II y,
its original characteristic of being self-moved, which becomes partially lost in its uniu11
with nature and body, Proclus is at pains to show that everything originally self-1110\ing is capable of reversion upon itself and upon the source of its mvn subsL.rnLe. "" :\s a
consequence, every soul - also the World Soul - must revert to eternal causes and the
entire material world must dissolve. Since 'all that participates in ti me, but has J)L' rpL'l uity of movement, is measured by periods', the descents and returns of the souls, and the
creations and dissolutions of the world itself must be pcriodical. I ndcpendcnt ly oft hat,
but for the same reason, every soul which is bound to its nature, and hence to the material world, must reincarnate periodically. r'; The successive world-periods being hound to
follow in an eternal recurrence the same scheme of necessity, no soul is likely to L'sLapc
descent into matter, in any period, and several descents in the same period arc also possible, every descent comprising generally more that one life. As R<lS<in obserns, it is t hcsL'
descents, succeeding upon the periods of acquired i111111ortolity ( t:m0Ktumn1'1 l:tHn \'CWLl1 ),
that are called the soul's repeated coming to the world or puli11gc11csis (rrnA.t'(\'~\1:.md.
As both nature and the \Vorld must have a hierarchic constitution, in accon.ia1KL' with
the dialectical patterns of cause and effect, the soul's dependence on them may h<.l\'L' sc\eral degrees, and the concept of materiality must be correspondingly graduated. Pro cl us
introduces in his system two subtle bodies, intermediary between the sou I and the L-o rn mon matter: the etlzere1l (ai8p1ov) and the airy (at:p1ov) or ln-cut /1-I i kc ( TT\'t' tiplnt Kl,)\')
body, serving as velzicles (c'>x~~tcna) - the first to the soul in its union with 11;.\lure, the
other to nature in its union with body. He sets them in connection with his classifiL"atinn
of the souls, teaching that divine souls have onlv ethereal bod\', while daemons ha\'C also
airy body, and humans have both with the gros~ material bod) in addition.'''1l1e concept of the subtle body is encountered in all, or most, cultures and ti111es, and
it had also before Proclus a long tradition in the history of Greek philosophy. 1\ristotlc
(Degcnerationea11i11wlium,736 b 27 ff.) spoke of the pncuma (rrvti)pn, breath) as the scat
of the nutritive and sensitive soul, and the psychological carrier <lf i magi na ti<> 11, a 11 d h c
belie\'ed it to consist of a stuff analogous to ether, that 11 ft h element 'of which th c "tar" a re
made'. Also later writers did not always clearly di st i ngu ish bet \Veen the pneu 111a ti L. ;.rnd
the ethereal bodies, but the first was in the second and third centurie'> A.I>. Lo111111011ly
mentioned, among others in hermetical texts, as the carrier of the :-.oul after deal h. Sl >111L'
authors ('Eratosthenes and Ptolemy the Platonist', fol lowed by lam hi ieh us, aL-Lo rd i 11g to
Proclus' /11 Pluto11is 'f'i11wcw11, III, 234.32 ff., and also I Iieracles) lwlievcd that ;.1 hody of
subtle stuff (Annc'nEpov CTc.llpet) is permanently attached to the sou I, (o 11 o\\' in g it through
all incarnations.'1\vo Christian writers of the 2nd century, Origen and l lipp<llytu">, "P<>kl'
of a 'luminous body' (nuyornS~ 0(l>~w) survi\'ing death and, according t() ( higc11, re
sponsible for the apparitions of the dead. But ( ;,w-,t ic" of d itfcrcn t '>L lw()I ">, a 11 d LL' rt a in h
also other esotericists absorbed hv the problem llf purification of the "><>ul di">I i1111t1i">hL<1
between a body of passion (rrp;mopTfl~lEVov TTVt't>pn of the f()llm\'LT" <>1 l~i.1">~k1dL'-),
bestmved 011 the soul during its descent acros-, the planetary "phnc" (a.., tilL l't\'r1~11~1<>\'
71\'El>~tCl of the Pistis Sop/1i<1), and the lurnirnn1"> body, called 'garmlnt <11 Iight , .i J)r< 1dt1l t <if
the mvstical
transformation enabling the soul '~o<>d like, to e:-.G\J)l' l111n till \\11rld. "' l',1ul


11 6


Prod us' Oscillating L'nil'crsc as Co111pc1rcd to Plctl1011's U11ilcrsc


(I. Corinthians X\', 40-49) speaking of the difference between the immortal celestial and

mortal lL'rrestrial bodies of men, associated those of the highest 'glory' with the Sun and
hinlL'd at different gradations corresponding to the l\[oon and different planets.
Both Plotinus and Porphyry (as well as the Cl1c1/dcc111 Oracles, a source of inspiration
to both Prnclus and Plcthon) professed the view that the subtle body, though generally
su ni \'i ng death, was not immortal, and could be completdy purged away, allowing thus
the soul tll reascLnd to the eternal world. But Proclus, following in that, as probably in
many ot hcr respeds, his mastt.'r Syrian us, made the luminous (m:iym:L8d component
of thL' subtle ,chicle (<')xqpct) of the soul immortal and hence essentially different from
tlw purgeahlc pneumatic components of the latter. According to him, this luminous
etlwrcal \chicle \\'hich he ,,as the first to call c1stml U'tcnponM~ ()X1l~Ll1) is inseparable
from the sou I and in some sense immaterial.""' It is unatfected by material sensations and
any particular emotions or desirL'S, but it impresses on the rational soul an ineradicable
potential Lksire of the irrational, or a will of descent. The pneumatic vehicle, on the other
hand, transmits sensations to nature and is said also to contain all the particular desires
and passions, although it would lw probably more c01TL'ct to say that it only elicits such
desires and passions from natLirL'. The latter is di,ided in a higher part, dominated by imagination and including all emotions and passions which depend on it, and a lower part,
dominated by sensation. 'I his pneumatic vehicle is differentiated into a series of'vcstures'
(x1nl.1\'tl,J of increasing degree of materiality which the soul puts on in its descent, and
cash ulr in its ascL'nt, across the planetary sphLrcs. '!his important conception has also
been forrnulated hy some other classical authors, especially l\lacrohius in his commentary to Cicero's So11111iu1J1 Scipio11is.
PnKlus has not suL-CL'L'ded in gi,ing a satisfactory solution of the problem of evil,
sharing in that rL'spect a (undamcn--tal sl~ortcoming of :111 Platonic and :-Jeoplatonic thinkcrs. To hirn, as lalL'r to Pict hon, L'\il consists merLh in Lhoosing the lesser of t\\'o goods,
\\'herL'\'L'r Llwice is possible. 'Ihe att<Khment of thL' l.rnman soul t,o nature and body entails
subjection to fak, hut the rational soul, as the self-nwved, has the freedom to Llrnosc its
own freedom \\'hich is \'irtue. l\lan is therefore alwa\'S at a cross-road. Being L'Ssentially
a soul. he linds the supreme good in unconditioneLi conformity with himself, his own
rational l'SSL'nce. i.<ll't' is that po\\'er which, lt'ading e\erything towards the divi11L' lkauty,
brings also the soul on the path of return to itself. 'I Ill' 'life of the lmcr' (1\'lttlTlKth~ ~~iod,
the lir ... t ... tage of the <.,oul\ i1rnard pilgrimage, demands the abandonment of L'\ll'rnal
acti,itiL''>, '>llch L''>PL'Cially as imply scnice to the state or pursuit of material goods . .-\II
thL' 1na11ifold and Lh,1otiLal desires for ntcrnal things and irrational pleasures ha\'L' to be
di..,Lardnl, '><l th<tt thL' '><llil may di..,Lo,er. and lme, itself and its own hL'auty. 1 his L'ntails,
pre...,u111edly, potential lilwration (mm thL' material ,,orld and I"L'duLtion to thi1t (lriginal
...,tall' i11 ,,hiLh tlw <.,11ul, h<ning att,1ined to sel(-kno\\'kdgL\ mirmr" itsLlf lo\'ingly in its
o\\'11 n<ltllrL' ,,itlwut lwLoming alien to itsLlf and desirous of union \\'ith that alien otlwrlll'"" \\'hich i" purL' illusi(ln.
h1rthLT ,l'>Lent i...,, lw,,e\'L'r, possible. Rejecting all till' dL'Leptin' k1w\\'kdge 1rn111 hel(l\\, ,di L'InpiriL,d 11pinil11h ,rnd . . tirring imagination'>, the \\'<ll1Lkrer <111 thL i111wr path
j..., tr.111...,lurrnL'd int() ,1 "ed;.L'r of \\'istli>111, wl1llsL' 'phiJo..,ophiL<d lifL': ylt\POlHptt\l'i( 1)111(, j-.,
dirL'l tnl t1l\\,1rd..., ,1 di,1kctiL,ll unilic<1tio11 of all hu111,111 kno,,kdgL'. I his kad.., him lo ,1
~r.1du,1I dL'\L'l(li1111l'I1t (ll the intuiti\.L' mind. with <l dirL'll ,isilll1 of the cll'rn<1l ldL'i.1" in tlw
l'11p()'>'-L'""L'd \li11d ,h ,\ L<lI1'>L'LJLIL'IlLL'. ,111d to further ll...,L.L'11l. up tP the Pn\,cr ()I !king.
( )111\ 11wtlwd . . tr,\Il'>LL'Illlin~ phil(l . . (lphY (,111 l,l!T\ thL' pr(lle-.,-., hL'\(llld th,11 '>l.lgL' ,rnd




up to its supreme goal. Such method is the tlzeurgy, which, profiting from the fact that 'all
things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature', and that it is possible to
see 'the lowest things in the highest and the highest in the lowest', contemplates symbols
of the Universal Father fetched from the 'unspeakable depths' of the nature of material
things and seeks to become one, not only with each of them in particular, hut also \\'ith
their common transcendental unity, for so to attain to the possession oft he C;ood.'"
But to be wzited with God, higher theurgy is needed, using the power of Fc1it/1 ( niond
which, transcending any legitimate be! ief, makes us to put away al I pl u ra Ii t y and to become one in joyous musical life (oumKhc; ~[oc;.). This supreme attainment, 'mad ncss'
(avia) which is union with God, is not a product of the .ivlind, but the F/01tcr c~( ( )ur
Whole Soul, because it is the Soul that constitutes Man's centre and unity. 'I.ct us run
toward the Heat' writes Proclus. 1 ~ 1 'Fleeing the cold, let us become Fire; let us go through
Fire; for we have a clean road above us to return, and the Father guides us up the llcry
road'. 1 ~ 1 'Let all things lead us by the calmness of their power to the presence of the
Ineffable. And standing There raised above all that which has being, we kneel to It as to
the Rising Sun, blinded'_i:3
Proclus' philosophy exercised a powerful influence on European thought, hut this
influence was for a long time mostly indirect and pseudonymous. A ft er having he en attacked by Procopious of Gaza and the Alexandrinian Christian Johannes Philoponus in
the 6th century, Proclus' works sank for a half millennium into an al most complete oblivion. Indirectly, however, their chief conceptions began soon to make a lasting i 111 print
on Christian theology and mystics, thanks to the Christian disciple of Proclus, who under
the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Paul's disciple in Athens, propagated the lL'achings of his master in Christian disguise, with a fidelity applied even into 11linor doctrinal
details. The works of this Pseudo-Dionysius, in which the divine orders of Proclus had
assumed the appearance of a nine-fold angelic hierarchy, did not only escape condcrn nation on the part of the Church, but were already in the 7th century treated as autlwritativc Christian scriptures. St John of Damascus, \vho was prominent in the tlrst half of the
8th century, and John Scotus Eriugena, who in the first half of the 9th century translated
Pseudo-Dionysius into Latin, were both profoundly in flucnccd by him. 'I he sa 111 e was
the case with the early nth century mystics of the schools of Chartres, and with I !ugh of
St. Victor, as well as \Vith Franciscan and Dominican scholars, and the great Do111i11 ican
scholastic philosophers of the 13th century, Albert us Magnus and 'I hornas Aq u in 1.1 s.
But Proclean influences were also transmitted to Europe by the intermediation of
Oriental, especial Iv Arabic translations. Besides the Svriac t ran slat ions of so me 111 in or
works of Proclus, :rnd the C~eorgian and Armenian on~s of the f:'lemc11ts c~( '//1cology (of
the 12th and 13th century respectively), a number of Arabic translations, al1long others of
the fJc111c11ts 4 'Jheology and the Co111111c11lllry 011 tlzc Alci/1iudcs, arc reported from the
East, and are supposed to have exerted some influence on medieval A rah and Jewish philosophers. The great Arabic thinkers, through basically Aristotelian, were all, in f<ll't, 111orc
or less Neoplatonically influenced, not even Averroes constituting here an cxLept i<lll, in
spite of his having the purge of philosophy from Neoplatonic elemcnh in his progra111.
1 he same was the case with the Jews, predisposed Ncoplaton ical ly hy their kahh1.1 Ii st i1..canons, especially the SL'.fL'r Yctzimlz ('Book of Creation'), \vhkh, as the lll()St a111..iL11t <)I
them, might have been directly influenced by Neoplatonic works.'
But the greatest historical importance \Vas acquired hy a com pi L.1 ti< >ll Ir 1111 t Ii L'
Flcmcnts l~( 7hcology, translall'd into Arabic in the 9th or 10th (entury, and lrrn11 :\ r<thiL

Produs' Os(il/ati11g U11ilcrsc as Compared to Plct/1011's U11i1crsc


into Latin in the second half of the i2th century lw Gerard of Cremona. This so-called
Lil>cr de ( l l llsis, \\'h ich in the \ 1id die Ages \\'as co~111;10nly regarded as a work of Aristotle.
was praised and commented on by Albertus .l\fagnus and 'n10111as Aquinas, and was extended by the lirst of them with materials derived from the original, through historically
disputed ch;.1111wls. In this extended form the Lil>cr de (clllsis was used by Dante in the
composition of his Co1nito and Di1i11a Co111111cdi11.
At that time, however, \Vestern Europe began to re-discover its Prockan heritage in its
authentic form. In Byzantium such a rediscoYery had already taken place with the 11th
century Platonic renaissance, thanks to Psellos. TI1e same Latin wa\'e which prepared the
ground for Plcthon's Hellenic tnhratn' in :vlorea, brmw.ht
to Greece the flcmish Dominican
\\'i II iam of Jvloerheke (de .l\ lorhecca ), friend of Aquinas and subsequently archbishop of
Corinth, who prnlited from this occasion to produce Latin translations of the Elc111c11ts
c~f '/71cology ( i26S), Ccn11111c11tc1ry 011 the Ti111t1c11s, Co111rnc11tary 011 Parn1c11idcs and other
works of Prnclus. 1 he true nature of the Lil>cr de (t111sis was recognized
lw. Al1uinas, and
the Elc111c11ts (~( 111cology was henceforth quoted and commented on by members of the
Cerman I )ominican school, especially its great mystics. It serYed as one of the main
sources for Eckhart, and was ren~rently referred to by Taukr. As Plotinus, and for the
most part also Plato, were still unknown in the \Vest, the late medicYal conception of
Platonism was largely modelled on these translations of Proclus. But Proclus was also one
of the chief authorities for the i5th century Platonist Nicolaus of l\.ues (Cusanus, d. 1464),
Ikssarion's colleague rrnm the Sacred College, who derived from the Co111111c11t1rics 011
tlzc P11r111c11idcs a1~d from the Plllto11ic 'flzcology (translated for him into Latin equally with
Elc111c11ts (~( '//1cology by his friend Petrus Balbus Pisanus) some of the basic ideas of his
In the 15th and the 16th centuries, many copies of Proclus' writings were imported to
the \Vest thanks, among others, to Bcssarion's zeal and resources, and influenced especially Ficino, Pico, as \\'ell as other Horentine Platonists. Although Proclus has nc\er
lost the charackr of an essentially esoteric philosopher, he has not ceased to influence
postcri t y hy the i ntcrnwd iat ion of other thinkers - such as Bruno, Spi nnza, Schelling, and
abmc all, Hegel.'-- Proclus role in that reviya] of the Perennial Philosophy, which helped
the great minds of the Renaissance to keep their balance o\'er the abyss of hitherto unsuspected experience - \\'as less dramatic than that of Pkt hon, but not of so short duration.
And although the abme surn'y of his system should haw made it obYious that Pkt hon
had not much more in Lo11111wn \\'ith PnKlus than a rouoh outline of the gcncalog\ of the
world, and l'\'en that only with soml' reservations, it ma~ he useful lwre t:l state l~~plicitly
the most 111arkl'd dodrinal ditlcrcnL-l'S, as \\'ell as similarities, het\\'ccn thL' two. To begin
with the major dilll.'rl'IKl'S, Pkt hon docs not refer to the dialcdic of the c;rnsal rt'iationship, though his pcntads of gods may he a tract' of the PnKlcan set: L'Xistcnct', pm\'l'r,
mind, soul and naturl'. J>lctlwn docs not multiply his gods through itcratin' application of
the same gcncratin scheilll' on successive levels of reality. \\'hat more, in the extant fragrncn t.., oft he Fnt1t isc n( t /1c l.t11\'s no mcnt ion is made of anything Ii kc ProLl u<'hori1ont al'
'-.t'rics, though the \\'ithdr<nrn '>lall'mcnl of gods being generated like imagl'S in oppost'd
mirrors, 111a\. he dul' to a \aoul'
intuition of the nature of such <l series, or to a rL'minist'
LeI1Lc of \tlll1l' u11k110\\11, and by Pktlwn impcrtl.'ctiy understood doctrinl1l '>llllrL-l'. 11w
lwnl1l\..,, t1nl1lly, th,11 ..,triking i11110\ation of thl' late NL'oplatonism, co111111011h l1scrihld tu
PrtiLlt1..,, hut <tppMl'Illh k.110\,11 alrlady to Syrianus and tracc<1h!t bad;. to '.'\etlp\"lhaglll"l'llll
L<lllLl'ptitiJh 11w11t1011cd h' Pllilinu-,, arl' Lomplctch ig1wrl'd h\ J>lctlw11. '





Plethon's Zeus was intended to play the role of the transcendent One, but had been
actually conceived, as already Schultze observed, on a lower plane of spcci JI cat ion, having
been ascribed both consciousness and will. Poseidon and Hera occupy in Pict hon's system somewhat similar positions as the Unpossesscd Being and the Cnpossessed Power
in the system of Proclus, but they are not placed at a suitable distance from the other
eternal gods, which are all assigned a level corresponding to the lJnposscssed .\ 1i1HI. >.lost
characteristic of all: the realms of the Soul and that of Nature are not concci\ed separ;.1tcd,
but permanently united, while they became in the system of Proclus only temporarily,
through recurrently conjoined.111is is the consequence of the stationary state of the uni\rerse postulated by Plethon. His divisions of the souls into 'dependent' or 'irrational', and
'independent"rational' ones, and of the latter into those of heavenly bodies, daenH ms, and
men, correspond, on the other hand, to those of Proclus, except for some minor differences in the terminology, and for Proclus' relegating of the 'heroes' to the daemon Llass.
No mention of subtle bodies is found in what remains of Plcthon's esoteric writings, but
his definition of the soul as an 'idea' destined to be associated with matter would suit the
hypothesis of different types of soul being associated with different types of mat tc r.
Plethon's pentads of gods correspond, as already observed, to the basic Prockan pat-_
tern of generation. In the case of the first pent ad of eternal gods, referring to the wo rid of
pure ideas, the correspondence is quite close. \ Ve have in fact,

in the system of Proclus

(1) Being (homologous with Definiteness Itself, in the plane
of the One)

in the system of Plctlwn

(2) Power (homologous with Identity Itself, in the sense

of infinity of power, in the plane of the One)
(3) Mind and eternal Ideas
(4) Soul (Rational Soul), the self-Moving

Divcrc.,ity (J\rlL'nfr-.)

(5) Nature (irrational Soul), Cause of Bodily J'vlotion

Identity (A.polio)

Rest ( l lcphac:-.tus)
Spo11ta11couc., 1\lotion ;rnd
Drive Tow a rd Pc rfcL ti () 11
( Dio11ysos)
IV!otio11 a11d 'Jhru:-.t I.i1nitcd
to it'-. Epoch ( :\t hcnc)

In the case of the second pentad of Plethon's eternal gods, referring to the world of
immortal souls, the correspondence is somewhat strained, and rcrnai ns -..o even i ( we i 11
order to improve it change the succession of componcnh (fixed st a rs, pl a 11L'l s, hL'<l \'L' ll l Y
bodies in general, daemons, and men) 'I he same is the case with the third pent ad, re (erring lo inanimate objects (ether, air, elements in general, water, earth). 'I he rel at i< >11-..h ip <lf
the pentad of Titans (time, generation, the mortal part of human nature, animal-.., plants)
to the Proclean characteristic system of Time, has a similar \aguenes-...
The most essential difference between Proclus and Pict hon has been c.,tatcd in t hL' ~1rc
ceding chapter: Plethon advocates what in the slang of modern sc icnce wou Id be L<l 11 cd
a 'steady-~tate' cosmology, while Proclus adopts an 'mcil lat i ng' cm m ic molkl. 1hi..., di Ik rence might appear irrelevant to the minds of people who Ji nd the pcrc.,pect i\'L' <>f 111;u1ki11 d
incarnations rather unattractive. '!he sequence of dec.,cenh of the . . mil j...,, i11 t.1d, i11ti11ik
in both systems, though admitting perhaps interruption..., ()fa durati()n L<1111pdr.1hk t!l
the life-time of the entire universe in the ...,ystcrn of Proclu'>. But the ditiLTL'l1LL' hl'l\\'L'L'l1
Proclus and Pict hon in what concern.., valuation of i nca rnatc Ii k i..., c 11! lril1! ll '-.. - I ( 1 t llL I 1 r..., L

Prod us' Oscillating C11i\crsc as Co111pc7rcd to Plct/10115 Unilcrsc


the ideal of material souls is of a complete withdrawal from practical and social life, and
from the pleasures of the senses. To the other, the ideal is permanently that of social life
in strict subordination to the commLmity. though with a measure of natural sensuality.
In short, the difference in question is that between a mystic and hermit on the one hand,
and a man of the \\'orld, or rather, a model citizen of an authoritarian state, on the other.
Pict hon's cmphat ical condemnation of monastic life brings this clash of opinions into full
relief. Both standpoints found, as we shall see, passionate adherents in the esoteric circles
of Italian humanism.
In cone! ud i ng th is comparison, it may be stated that Plcthon's philosophy, though
undoubtedly supported, in the general conception as well as in many details, by the ex.ample of Proclus, had nc\crtheless a clearly different character, and was the fruit not only
of great learning, hut also of a thorough and critical re-examination of its fundamental
problems. It was presented in a clear and highly suggestive form \\'hich betrays both profound insight and personal cnoacremcnt. Sometimes, as when he speaks of the generation
of gods by\11C subtraction of 0~~~1sitc clements from the nature of others (as f1~1m that of
Poseidon in the first instance), Plethon enters even upon untrodden, but highly promising, paths of the kind of those suggested by dreams and other manifestations of the unconscious. But his attitude \\'as, on the whole, extron~rt in a way surprising in an esoteric
thinker, and appears to be incompatible with the perennial tradition which he himself invoked. As a conseq uencc of his worldly orientation, Plethon postulates permanent ext rovers ion of the entire uni\crse, and asserts that the external world is a permanent necessity
for the internal one. 'lhis doctrine contributed certainly, though in an unknown degree,
to that extreme extroversion of the European mind which took place in the Renaissance
and whose catastrophic consequences arc acutely felt in our times.

The Solar Mystery in the Chaldean Oracles


he present knowledge of comparative religion allows us to perceive certain L-0111mon features underlying the great religious systems of antiquity - Indian, Buddhist,
Gnostic and Cabbalistic, but even the little that was known to the Rena issa nee humanists
sufficed to inspire men such as Plethon, Ficino, Pico della Nlirandola, Patrizzi, Steuchus
and others with a passionate faith in an eternal revelation. One component, hm,e,er, of
the ancient esoteric tradition was attached by these men more weight than any other. It
was what they called the doctrine of the Chaldcans, the Zoroastrian Ivlagi, or Zoroaster
himself, represented for them all by the Clwldc<111 Omclcs which Pletlrnn had re:--L-ued
from almost complete millenary oblivion. Plethon himself went so far in th is di reel ion as
to present his own philosophy under the label of the 'Doctrines of Zoroaster and Plato~
Besides, he not only repeatedly emphasized the significance of Zoroaster as allegedly the
most ancient known exponent of the true knowledge of things divine, but also gave c\idence of the importance attributed by him to the Clwldclllz Oruclcs - those '/..oroast rian
sayings' - by writing two commentaries to them. In actual fact, his philosophical sys tern is
an intellectual construction that lacks both the metaphysical insight and the m yst iL-a I a ppeal of the Oracles. His work could be regarded as an in!Crior side-track co11tinu;.1tio11 of
the Neoplatonic tradition, were it not for Scholarios' striking accusal ion that !Jlctho 11 had
been instructed in the doctrines of Zoroaster in Turkey by the Jewish polytheist Fl isa ios.
To elucidate Plethon's background and the esoteric background of the RenaissanLc in
general, it appears therefore necessary, not only to draw the Clwldcm1 Oruclcs into closL'r
consideration, but also to look for other possible channels of esoteric tradition, \\'hi ch
might have connected Turkey and the declining Byzantine Empire with some of the 111a11~
ramifications of the 'Chaldean' gnosis of the late antiquity.
As it has been shown by Kroll, the Clwldca11 Oruclcs arc due to l\vo ancient esolL'riL
writers, Julian 'the Chaldean' and his son Julian 'the 1heurgist' - especially to the latter,
who was born during the reign of Trajan, lived in Rome in the second half of thL 2nd
century, and wrote down the Oracles.'~" 'I he Clzuldcm1 ()rue/cs were revclat ion:-- wh iL h the
two Julians claimed to have received from the g<><..ls - especially from Apollo ident ilied
with Helios, the Sun-god and the .Nlind of the vVorld, and from I kcate, ident i tied wit Ii t hL'
Cosmic Soul and the goddess of the Moon. 'x,, ~I his col lcct ion of oracular sayings ~1u t i 11
Greek hexameters apparently received little attention until it was discmcred hy Porphyry.
nearlv' a century' later. Pornhvrv
made fre<.1uent recourse to the (>me/cs i 11 hi.., t rca ti ..,c ( >11
tlzc Return c~(tlzc Soul which probably formed a part of his rno1wgraph ( )11 tl1t' dud ri11ts <~I
J11/iu11 tlzc Clwldcmz mentioned by Suidas.' 8 ' Since then they have been held in t lw h ighe..,t
esteem by Neoplatonic philosophers, who quoted them frequently and de\'< >ll'd t< i t hL111
extensive commentaries. h1 ndamental in that respect was Iarn hi iL-h u ..,, 1()..,t pri 11L1 pa I ,,.< 1 rk,
a com mcntary on the Clwldcwz Um cl cs which apparcn t Iy o im prised ah()u t .F > \'<>I u 111 L'"'
It was on the Uw/dcmz ()me/cs, as well a.., the Hcr111ct ic ~LTi pt u re..,, that Ia rn hi iL h u..., h,hL'd
his doctrine of the rnystcrie.., and of the method uf imnwrtali1ation ()f the \<1til 1<1 \\'11l h

'/lie Solar .\1ystcry in the Chaldean Oracles


he gaYe the name tlzcurgy. ~lembers of Iamblichus' school introduced the Emperor Julian
to these do ct ri nes, and one of them, ,\laximus of Ephesus, initiated him finally. Plutarch,
the founder of the Athenian Neoplatonic school, was initiated into Chaldean theurgy by
his grand-father Nestorius, who was chief priest of Eleusis in 375, and Plutarch's disciple
Syrian us, whose treatise 1-!cmnony (f the doctrines(~( Orpheus, Pytllllgoms mzd Plato 11ith
tlzc C/1c1/clci111 Orc1clcs is unfortunately lost, exercised a decisive influence on Proclus, 'the
most fenent de\otec of the Cl11zldcc111 Omdcs on record'. 1 ~~
Proclus is said to ha\'e spent five years on the composition of a \'oluminous commentary on the Cl1c1/dec111 Omcles, and to have been initiated into Chaldean theurgy by
Plutarch's daughter Asclcpiogeneia. He wrote a treatise on the methods of theurgy, which
appears to h;we been identical with the mystery-cult adopted by the esoteric circle of the
Athenian school. Damascius, the last head of this school, was also the last of the ancients
to write a commentary on the Cl1C1ldca11 Oracles. As both their original text and the commentaries of Proclus and Damascius, as well as that of Iamblichus, have been lost, our
knowledge of the Omclcs is mainly due to quotations in other works of Proclus and, to
a less degree, to those of l hmascius and other I'\eoplatonic writers. Such quotations are
also found in the writings of the A lexandrine Neoplatonists, direct and indirect disciples
of Plutarch and Syrianus, and especially in the treatise 011 Drcc1111s of Sinesius, a disciple
of 1-Iypatia who later comerted to Christianity and in his 1-!y11111s attempted to prove the
concorda nee of Christian concept ions with the Chaldean and Neoplatonic ones. ~'
Plethon was not the sole link of the Renaissance with the ancient tradition of the
C/1c1/clcc111 ( )rc1dcs, for also Psellus, his 11th century precursor, had been familiar with them,
although only through the intermediary of Proclus. Psellus' signillc.rnce consists especially in the fact that he had direct knowledge of Proclus' subsequently lost Co111111c11tc1ry
011 t/1c Clzczldcc111 Orc1clcs. He not onlv made marn references to the Omclcs in his writings,
hut (omposed also, exactly as Plctl;on and u1H.i,er a similar title, a short commentary to
them and an 'Exposition' of their (ontcnts, as \\'di as a somewhat more extensi\'l', ;-6 line
version of the (;reek original, based on Proclus' quotations. Pkthon has been accused
of copying Pscllus, hut his expositions are actually quite different from those of the latter.'' 1 In fact, wh ilc Psel Ius at tempted to rcrnncilc the Cl1C1/decrn Orc1dcs with Christianity,
Pkthon, on the contrary, emphasized their incompatibility when taking the Orc1clcs as a
basis for his own s\stc111.
A II the ou tslirnlii ng Renaissance Platonists - f ici no, Pico dell a l\ Ii randola, Agrippa nm
l\l'lll'sheim, Patriui - attributed to the Clzc1/dcc1u Orc1dcs the highest irnpnrtall(L\ treating
them <IS the most precious doctrinal soutn.' to the entire ancient philosophy. FiLino, the
founder of thL' Platonic ,.\cademy in Florence, whose \\'ork will ha\'l' to be repeall'dly dealt
\\'ith on the pages of the presL'nt study, \\'as in possession of both J>scllus' and J>ktl10n's
L-Ol1lll1L'tltarics to tlw ( >rt1c!Ls, hut followed, at kast ori(linalh" Pkt hon's interpretation and
translated his \'crsion of the On1dcs into Latin.'~ 1 hi: Pktl10nian \'L'rsion of the ( )rddcs
dc,iall'd in many respects from that of Psellus, hut both \\'L'J'e built of quotations arranged apparent I~ in a rathl'I' arbitrary order, and both had a \'L'l'Y fragmentary L-haraller.
lratllL''->L<l Patri11i tll<Hk to\\ards tlw end of thL' 16th century an atll'mpt at a L-ompkll'
rL'(<lll'->trullion of the ( )rt1i"hs in _)20 \'crscs, hut it \\'<Is first in 1.Sl)-l that a l"LYonstruction
(lfl thi-., '->(.tic -.,atisf~ing rnodern LTitiL-al rcquirenwnts appL'<lrL'Ll.
1 his rc(o11slruLtion hy
h~rnll '->LT\'L'd (;.Its. 1\kad ( tl)o.S) as <I basis for a tcntatin' inkrprctation of tlw nh'>d1re





1111purta11t "ll'P t1i,,ard.., tlw L'lucidati1i11 ol till' thL'llL-P..,llWlngiL-.tl and tlwurgiL.tl



doctrine of the 'Chaldeans' was made by H. Lewy in his posthumously ( 1956) publ ishcd
monograph. Lewy completed materials secured by Kroll (ca. 300 lines) with L'k\'L'n oracular fragments of greater length (ca. 100 lines in all) reproduced in a 5th ccntur> compilation (the so-called) Prophecies of the Heatlzcn Gods or 1/zcosoplzy c_~( 'J'ucl1i 11gc11 cd i ted by
Buresch (1889) and taken, as it appears, from Porphyry's work On tlzc fJfzilosopfz) <f tlzc
Oracles. It seems incredible, in fact, that Porphyry in this work (as it was ass u 111 cd he ford
should not have made any reference to the Clwldem1 Om cl es that he ,al ucd so h i~h 1Y
Lewy has succeeded in making it, at least, probable that the fragments in quest ion, i I not
belonging to the Clzaldea11 Oracles proper, had been selected from some other oraculc.u~
work of the same authors} 89 They are distinguished by a slightly different form, that of
realistic records of the oracles (of Apollo and Hecate for the most part), and their neglect
by the later Neoplatonists may be due to their coming from a different source, or ha,i ng
been excluded from some early-established canon of Chaldean wisdom, or both.'"" 1 hey
are, on the other hand, consistent with the fragments published by Kroll; and Lewy found
it justified to use them as an additional source in his reconstruction of the 'Che.ti dean'
body of doctrine.
The results of an attempt of this kind must for several reasons be rather hypothL'l ical,
among others because it is often difficult to decide whether di ffcrent terms designating
emanations of the divine are synonymous or not. In fact all such emanations arc in a
sense identical with their source. This source, corresponding to the Prockan 'One' and
the Vedantic Nirguna Brahman, is in the Clwldeu11 Omclcs designated as "J he I netfohle'
(T6 appflTOV v), which is plain enough. But the Supreme Being, i.e. what Proclus L-alls
the Unpossessed Being, is in the On1cles called, as Lewy believes, by many different terms
such as the 'Father', 'Father of the Fathers', 'Great God', and others.''J It is even possible
that such designations as the 'First Fire of the Beyond' ( rrup f:rrtKELvn T<') rrpunov) refers
to Him, especially as the 'Holy Fire' is in a text directly identified with the Fathers, hut
it appears more probable that they actually refer to a separate transcendental aspect of
the Divine.' The 'Paternal Depth' ( rrmptKc'J~ pu8c'>~) can be identified with the Fat her
but it may be doubted that it is synonymous with the 'Paternal Silence' ( mnptK1'1 my11) as
Lewy concludes from diverse quotations from Proclus - especially as Silence (fem i 11 inc
in Greek) is said to be 'God-nourishing', and hence must also from this point of \'icw be
feminine. 19 '
The fruit of the union of the Divine Parents is, according to a hymn of the 11ztosopl1}'
of Tuebingen, the'Children's Tender Flower', i.e. the world of Ideas dvclopcd in the I )ivine
Mind (voD~) of the First-Born Son who is the'intclligent one' (uocpc'n who knows the
'intelligible' or noetical (voqn'>v) that is the Father. For, although the Ideas as thoughtobjccts an: in the IVlind, they as lJci11gs arc in the Father, who, thus, 'is everything, hut
noetically'. Besides the Power (to conceive beings) and the IVlind of the hither, the ( >rc1des
mention also His Will (pouA.11), which we may identify with the i-:ather himsclf. 1 Jfr., i:-in accordance with the fact that the Father, the Pmvcr, and the Mind constitute, aLcording
to Neoplatonic writers, a Chaldean Trinity from which the will could not be exLludcd.
1 he Omdcs say that the Father conceives mentally and conveys c\cryt hi ng to the
Second Mind, that rules Matter.' 9 'I his has induced Kroll to identifv the 'Paternal .\I ind'
( natptKO<J vouo) with the Father Himself, in spite of Porphyri us' an~l ot hL'r< reg a rd 111g it
as different from both the Father and the Second J\ilind. ln actual fact there ap~1cars here to
be question of that member of the abme- mcnt ioncd Trinity which is c<d kd t '1 c .\Ii n d. I hi:-third person of the divine triad is one of the most important and char<1Llcri'>t iL ckmL11t"





Sahatio11 in tlzc Chaldean Oracles


Time, and the l )emon Lord of the Four>; 'CT1e apparent primiti\'ity of this ceremony (fitting into the un i\ersal scheme of the magical 'raising-up of plants', has perplexed modern
students - perhaps without sufficient reason.:;;_; In fact, the mystical content of this rite was
apparently akin to that of the supreme act of the Christian mass - the raising of the body
of Cod, incarnated in corn and shaped into the form of the Sun, up from the darkness
and dissolution in the Dionysian chalice. As such, this rite seems to have been especially
suitable as a preparation to the mystery of the thcurgic ascent of the soul.
In t heu rgica I acts aiming at a manifestation of the oracular god (Apollo-Helios or
Hecate) con i u net ion with assistant di\'i n ities had to be succeeded, as attested bv Proclus,
by supp! ica t.ory prayers ( ~\'TllXLl1l) and i1wocations ( KAt1cn:t~). :'' TI1e latter we1:e accom pl ished by binding-spells ( 8rn~1oi) consisting of 'utterable' and 'ineffable' di\'ine names.
'l hesc were apparently repeated, perhaps only in thought, as genuine mantras, leading
thus the mystic to a state of deep intro\'Crsion and relaxation, in which the bonds of Soul
and Nature were, more or less, loosened. Such states are in dreams and imaginations
archl't ypically associated with \'isions of solar and lunar eclipses, and of a dissolution
of the external world - a dissolution which they actually presuppose on a microcosmic
(individual) plane, according to the Chaldean and Proclean cosmogony.!"' It is therefore
not surprising to hear an oracular ood of the Chaldeans addressing the thcurgist with the
following \\'o~ds: 'If thou sayest th~ (the mantra or binding spell) to me oft;n, thou will
see that all things grow dark. r he cur\ed mass of the heaven is not \'isiblc nor do the stars
shine, the light of the moon is \'eiled, the earth is not firm, and all things arc illuminated
bv lightnino>, \\...,ith th~ dissolution of the external world the Divine Soul becomes free and is ready
to appear in its eternal splendour. r he visions that may follow arc mentioned in an oracle
quoted by Proclus: '\Vhen in addition thou will havc spoken thus, thou shalt either see a
f1re like a child, stretched mcr the \ortcx of the air, or a formless fire, from which a \'oicc
rushes forth, or an abundant light, rumbling spiral-wise round the field. 1 hou mayest also
sec a horse 11ashinvb more briohtlv
than Jioht
or a bov sittinobunon
the back otf a swift
horse, a fiery (hoy) or one covered over with gold or a naked one, or one shooting with a
ho\\' and standing on a horse~~,, Lewy is probably right in interpreting the horse in these
\'isions as a manifestation of I lecate, whose svmbol was the horse.~'" But he is certainly
wrong when attributing to Hecate ull the visit;ns here mentioned, as wl'il as those of the
mac!~ quoted i111111cdia~ely before and that to be quoted below. 'l he luminous child or boy
can lw interpreted only as the Sun of the l)i,inc .i\/lind becoming manifest after the liberation o( the Soul frn111 the bonds of Nature, i.e. after the end of the 'solar eclipse' caused by
ih I )ark 1Vloon. ''"'
In akhemistic literature this new-horn higher self of the mystic, Lu-essential with
r\pollo-l lelios, hears the name of the PhilosophLr's Son (/ili11s pliilosop/ii). In <kLurdanLe
with till' conCL'ptions of the Chaldean tlwurgists, he must he, at tht' same time, identical
with that spark of Di\ine Fire whkh descends from the Sun with the prophctiL pneuma,
't1weloped in air' or, in the words of the oradc just quoted, 'stretched onr the \'orlt'x of
tht' ,1ir~ 1 he 'forinlcss lire, from whiLh a \'oice rushes forth' seems, on tht other hand, tu
poi11t t'\"t'n highn, namely. to the supreme goal of the nraLtdar illumination, the manill.stat i(ln of Aion. 1\11 oraLk quoted, equally with the first-mrntioned, both by Pstllos and
p Ict h () 11 Ia y" t I1L' h ig h L's t l' 111 p has is () n this 111 an ires tat i() 11: ' [ But I \\'hen th() u d OS t b ch 0 Id ti 1L'
t( 1r111 In .... 111()'>! '-llCI"L'd ti re tl,1..,h ing ,,.it h qu iwri ng tbrnt'S th rnugh the tkpt hs oft he ,,hole
world. thtn harkt'll to tlw \'OiLe uf tlw lire'.''"




Lewy has pointed out 'that many theurgical rites and dogmas correspond \\'ith those
of contemporary magic' and that 'theurgy can be regarded as closely connected \\'ith
the powerful religious movement reflected in the magical papyri'.
His assertion, ho\\'ever, that the secret cult of the theurgists was 'a blend of sublime mysticism, centring
in the noetic Fire, and of magical materialism' is to the mind of present writer an merstatement.263 Something similar could, in fact, be said of many sacramental rL'I igions,
Christianity included, and with a comparable degree of cxaggerat ion. Syrn ho! ism and
ritual are common to magic and religion; what makes an essential difference between
the latter t\vo is only the spirit in which the former arc used - aiming, respectively, at
ego-assertion or ego-surrender. It does not seem correct to designate the 'binding' of the
mystic light in the Chaldean mysteries as the 'onslaught of the theurgist armoured \\'ith
a luminous body and weaponed with magical words' when dealing with the mystery of
the ascent of the soul to be described below. 2 rq The 'warlike imagery' needs not at all to
render any'compulsion exercised by the magical operation' - not more, at any rate, than
the Christian imagery of the dragon-struggle, which is related to the same suhl i matory
endeavour. 26 ;
In these circumstances it is not surprising that, in spite of all formal similarities of
practice, the Neoplatonic followers of the Clwldem1 Orne/es kept aloof from magicians
or wizards, as they called them contemporary. 111e Oracles arc not concerned \\'ith any
task that could be properly called magical because of its limited ego-bound goal, but only
\Vith the supreme goal of the soul's return to God, and the illumination which is intended
to prepare it. 2 r'" The short collection of oracles made by Psellos and Pict hon lay a great
and exclusive emphasis on this mystical task, as may be seen from a few lines of Pict hon's
version not yet quoted by us. Man is here summoned 'to hasten to the Light and to the
splendours of the Father from where the soul has been sent' to him.-'".


Oportet tefestinare nd lucem ct ad patris splendorcs,

Unde missll est tibi wzinw 11wltm11 i11dutn 111e11tem.
He has to inquire after the ray of the soul, where from, and in what order 'he, while
se_rving the body, might lead it again upwards to its ordered place, combining the \\'ord
mth the (holy) work: !Ml

Quere tu m1i111e riuunz, 1111de, quoue ordine,

Corpori mm seruiucris, ad ordinem a quo defluxisti
Rursus erigas,sacm cum scn11011c opus imiens.
From the mysterious source of Virtue in Hecate's left hip, 'which preserves its i 11 tcg ri t y

by not giving away its Virginity', his soul has to rcsurrect.~r.. , llcr'imnwrtal depth' has



his guide; everything on high will be opened for him, when he lifts his eyes ... " '!hi" runs
as follows:

Dux sit ani111c prc~/i111ditns i111111ortalis,et oculos suhlutiJ11

Omnes npcrins sursum.
He is admonished never to turn back where the throne of the stern Neccs\ity \lands
under the seventh lloor of an underground precipice.n

Nequc dcorsu111 011111ws: prccipitiwn sub tcnwn su/,iucct,

Septc1111iun1 t rolzcns <1d gm du nz, suh quo gm u is
Nccessitatis thro1111s est.
1 he guiding o.;ymhols of hi"i homeward percgrinat ion have t<> lw hniugh t lrom the
depth of his own soul, where they have been sown h)' the Paternal ,\Ji nd:

Symbola p<1trit1 111c11s sc111i11uuit in u11i111t1bus.

Sc1!1l1tio11 in the Chaldean Oracles


''I hl' Fathl'r docs not inspire (the soul) with fear but with pcrsuasion'.n
fJutcr 11011 lcrrorc111 illt"lllit Slllldc/111 clllfC111 iJ~fi111dit.

'But the Paternal .l\lind docs not rcceiYe the Yolition of the soul until it has appeared
out u( obli\'ion and has pronounced the \Vord, bearing in mind the Paternal holy
\Vatchword: ~-,
Seel 11011 rt't'ipit illius 1cllc pt1tric1 111c11s,
/)011cc cgrccliutur 11b obliuio11c ct ucrbu111 loq11c1tu1~
i\lc1110ri11111 i111po11c11s putric nn11positio11is sc111ctc.

All these oracular exhortations and instructions are of the kind that an individual
might recei\e in dreams and \isions, and arc therefore essentially rnyst ical, independent
of any external - sacramental or magical - operations. lhcy need not have been communicated to the Chaldean community through the intermediation of its 'recipientS: but
might as well have been n:-\caled by one or more spiritual leaders enlightened on the narrow and solitary path of self-realization. TI1is is also the case with the oracles referring to
the succcssiw stages of the theurgical process, both those concerned with the preliminary
illumination, as the man i festal ions of Hecate and Apollo-He Iins mentioned above, and
those relative to the ascent of the soul of which we are going to speak below.
\\'L' han? SL'L'I1, howe\cr, that the Chaldean thcurgists did not restrict themsel\'cs to instruction in mystical work, but they belie\-ed to be al)le to pnH'oke or promote the desired
changes of human personal it\' bv sacramental (i.e. csscntialh religious) 'theurgical' rites
that ;night ha\'L' been casih ~or;upll'd into maoical opcrati:ms. TI1ese two (o~ perhaps
l'\'L'n th ;cc) possible aspects, of the Chaldean re\'L~at ion and secret tradition ha\e not been
satisfactorih discriminated lw modern \\Titers on the subject, though they must ha\'e
been clear!): discussed by c.rnci,ent Neoplatonists. Porphyry, l:or instance, declared that the
suprl'me goal of the mystics could impossibly be attai nl'd by theurgical sacraments. c-,
Pro(lus' and Psellos' report on these sacraments might he.we played a conspicuous role
in the collecti\'e practice of the community, but it could not belong to the essence of the
Chaldl'an esotcrisrn and is scarcelv alluded to in the extant fragments of the Oruclcs.
As already hinted at abow, th,e supreme goal of the theu~gists \\'as to imnrnrtalize
the soul, lw reducing it to its eternal cssencc.c-,, As no such reduction could be possible
without pr,climinc.n)~ illumination, \\'C can presume that the indi\'idual practice and the
sacramental rill's related to the latter constituted, after purification, the next stage of
thL' (orresponding practice and rites of the former. 'I his is so much the more likely as it
seL'ms to con st it u tl' a u n i\'L'rsal practice of mysticism. The as pi rants to the sacrament of
in111wrtality had actually to prepare thcmseln's by ascctical life and lust rations, and had
to he p rntl'cted lw '(on junctions' with min istcri ng a noels or gods.~-- Some of tlwm at iL'ast
might lw prL'Sll111~'d to -han done the same spont<~llL't~1sly u1;dcr the urge of that pure lo\'L'
\\'hiL-h :\ion \\'as said to ha\'l' sown in all souls.'Ihe conclusion of this first act of the procl'\\ was, in tlw ( :haldean rnystl'ries as in all other genuine rites of initiation, the sa(ramL'11tal (L'1T111011y of the mystiLal death of the aspirant.1\ccording to PnKlus rnastl'r Syrian us,
thl' c.hpirant \\'a:-. hidden tn liL' dmrn upon the ground and to cmcr up hi:-. body, hut not hi:-.
lw.id. I hL' rill':-. \\hich follo\\'L'd, and \\'hich had to pnH'oh' the scp<lration of his soul and
h i:-. h o d y, were 11 w de Ik d o n tIH lS L' \\' h ic h :\ch iII cs is sa id in t he !I Ii c1 d ( \ \ II I, 2 19 ) t o h a\ L'
pnlilrmed c.1t thL (uneral pyre of Patroclus. 'lhus, they must han' con:-.isll'd of c.1ppeals to
Iii..., "oul, in,oLllion" of the gods of the four \\'inds, and libc.1tions.'-' l.C\\y hc.1s sugge...,tl'd
t lid t t Ill' "L'L( llld ,\LI ( 1( t hL' ...,,\L ra men t,il im rrn 1rtal i1 ,it il 111 mc.llk pc.1rt llf the :-.a 111L' CL'rL'nH )11\,
lwg11111111g \\1th the c.1ppec.1ra11cL' ol a ray of (Sol.tr) light \\hiLh the <.1spira11t had tn 'i11luk'



and which was supposed to draw his soul up to the Sun, that centre of cosmic harmony.~-.,
As far as can be judged from the above-quoted oracle referring to the ii Ium i nat in~ descent
of pneuma on the 'recipient', and from other facts, this supreme act of the Chaldean mysteries was similar to that described in the great magical papyrus edited and commented
by Dieterich, as well as to that of the mysteries of Isis described by Apulci us ... ,,
\!'le should not forget, however, that all these ceremonies were but liturgical enactments of archetypal imaginations associated with diverse stages of that spontaneous and
individual process of self-realizing transformation of the personality that is the object of
genuine mysticism. According to Synesius, the Clwldcwz Oracles stated expresscdly that
enlightenment may be obtained as a gift of God 'by learning' or 'in sleep' without subjecting to theurgical rites. 2 ll 1 Also the increase of the 'inner sperm' or solar 'spark of the soul'
conferring upon the soul the power to ascend was attributed in the same oracle toad ivi ne
act of grace. The ground for such a spontaneous and genuine initiation was naturally believed to depend on the extent of the renunciation from worldly attachments - complete
renunciation, compared to suicide, being regarded as the best condition of the asLent of
the soul.2 82 Such a condition might have been prepared by ecstatic visions in quasi- La taleptical states of dissociation of soul and body. Iamblichus says in the /)c nzystcriis (here
quoted after Lewy) that the gods brought about the immortalization of the theurgists'
souls 'by accustoming them to separate themselves from their bodies', because the soul
which has contemplated 'the blessed visions', 'takes in exchange another life ... and no
longer believes that it is a human mortal'.! 81 It is not improbable that also the pu ri fyi ng
rites and the sacrament of mystical death used to strengthen the aspirant's will of renunciation, though perhaps without been able to produce the same effect as true ecstasy. 2 ' '
The theurgists, however, attributed to the sacraments an essential importance, as Psellos
attests on the authority of Proclus: 'The Chaldean says that we cannot be borne upwards
towards God unless we strengthen the vehicle of the soul by material sacraments'.-~, 1 his
declaration brings us to the important question of \Vhat might be called the material side
(in a certain generalized sense of that word) of the theurgical process.
The esotericists of the late antiquity adhered to diverse variants of the doctrine of the
subtle body of man, serving as vehicle to the disincarnated soul. Proclus distinguished
between a luminous 'ethereal' or'astral' body, essentially immortal, and a purgeabk 'pneumatic' body (the 'body of passion' of the Gnostics) acquired by the soul in its descent
through the seven planetary spheres and consisting of as many sheets or 'vesture< But
the Chaldean Omcles, as well as Plotinus and Porphyry, appear to ha\'e believed i 11 the
possibility of a complete dissolution of the subtle body and dernaterializat ion of the'-,( nil,
except for that pseudo-material substratum which they associated with the etcrn <.d ('em pyrean') world. '!he Chaldeans taught that the soul consists of four components: ( 1) <l basal substance, called 'spark of the soul', which constitutes the foundation of her immortality, and three'facultics', namely, ( 2) 'Nill, (3) Intellect, and (4) Eros. 2 ' " 'I hus, they UlllLei,cd
apparently the soul on the model of the Paternal Monad, having the Transcendent h re
as a basis. In fact, Eros is an emanation of A ion, and Supreme Ivlind is an attribute of the
Father, and Intellect is here certainly to he understood as 'the First I ntcl lcct' or' H()\\'L'r of
Intellect' which can be interpreted as intuition subordinated to the Paternal Pmver.
It seems therefore probable that the supreme goal of the Chaldean t hcu rgi ..,h \\'<l.., th L'
union of the Soul with the Ineffable One. A decisive "itep towards thi" union mu..,t h,1,e
consisted in the liberation from the physical world th rough the "ieven degree.., old i ...,,,()I u
tion of the subtle body corresponding to the ..,even degrees of the cmrniL hicrarLli~. I hi...,

St1flatio11 in tlze Chaldean Oracles


was the opinion of the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics, and according to the Byzantine
Neoplaton isl Lydus, whose testimony is questioned by Lewy, also that of the Chaldeans. !s\Vhat is certain, however, is that the latter professed the doctrine of three or four stages of
dissolution or purification of the pneuma in the course of her ascent through the zones
of the air, the moon, the sun, and the ether under the successive 'attraction' of these four
agencies.~~.~ But, as already mentioned, the gods of the four zones seem to have been in\'oked during the Chaldean ceremony of mystical death on the model of Achilles' invocation to the winds at the pyre of Patroclus. !~"And this doctrine needs not contradict that
oft he seven degrees of ascent.
1 he di\ine power which dra\,s the soul 'upwards' is, in the last resort, the Transcendent
Fire of A ion transmitted by the two other Rulers of the Initiation - Apollo, the Sun and
HL'Cllc - hut, here again, it is the Sun that, in its capacity of the 'centre of the sounding
light', i.e. of the ethereal world, plays the leading role.!"" It was through his, the SevenRa\'ed Cod's agcnc\', that the Chaldeans, according to the emperor Julian, 'caused the souls
to :1sccnd', antl- <.dso' their desCL'Ilt to incarnation p~oceeded upon the 'light and tense quality of the d i\i nc rays' of Sun sening the soul 'as a vehicle'. 111crc is no reason to doubt,
as Lew\'" docs, that these conccntions
arc ~enuinelv Chaldean.!,,! ll1c Ort7clcs, as we have
seen, actually exhort to 'inquire after the ray' of the Sun which can conduce the soul, when
st i II in Ii fc, 'upwards to her ordered place' in the right order of stages of ascension. \Vi th no
dirL'Ct reference to any sacramental practice, they urge the souls on the path of return to
utmost detcrm i nation and uninterrupted meditative effort: 'Having clad thyself with the
all-armoured \igors of sounding light (i.e. in the pure ethereal body, after the dissolution
of the impure pneumatic one) and h<ning equipped Mind and Soul with three-barbed
Strength (presumably that of the Triple Hecate or of the three Rulers of the 1vlystcries
whose \'irtUL'S arc Faith, Truthfulness and Low) engraw in the J\lind the \Vatchword of
the i\ la n i fold L:n i\'crsc (the Di\i ne ~ame or mantra) and mow towards the fiery rays not
scat ll'ri nglv, but collect i\'ch'. ~"' These cxhortat ions can assume an even more energetic
charactc~: ;Rush to the centre of the sounding light'.~'" 'Hasten storming hitherward (i.e.,
to the Sun, because it is Apollo-Helios who ~. . p~aks with these words ._[di\'ine names or
mantras, declared hcrorchand as "mighty and weighty"]) that I may lift thee up from my
heart, whilc the PurL' hre is pressed by holy forms. It is Paian, the Nature of rhy descent,
who dares to rcn'al this, 0 Immortal~'~,,, n1c 'Pure Fire' is presumedly the transcendent
'formless' Fire of A.ion, the First I\lind, 'imprinted' by the holy 'forms', or rather ideas, of
Apollo, the SL'Co1H.! i\lind, i.e., hy the di\ine names incessantly repeated by the mystic.
1 his procc . . s was lwliL'\cd hy the Chaldeans to he sacramcntally-magically stimulated
by "winging tlw ll1<1gical top (orpt'Hpl1Ao~) - a golden disc attached at the one end of a
kat hLr tlrnnl! whose other end was held lw the tlwuroist
- under recitation o( in\'ocations
()r 111agiL.d '-pclls.''"' \\'hen the magical top was made to spin inwards, descending to\\'ards
thL CL'ntrc of its rL'\'olutions, tlw gods were said to lw 'called upon'. \\'hen, on tlw nthn
hand, it \\'as '-Pllll in an out\\'ard direction, receding from the centre, the gods wcrL' said
to lw \ct lo( l\L''. .,
1 he magiL.d top \\as <llso c.dkd 'l~n\: i.e. it \\'as identified \\ith onL' or another u(
th<l'>L' radiant (angelic), light quantum-like entities \\'hich were lwlie\ed to leap (rnm
<11w co"m il a I "PhL~re tn arn'-1t lwr, scni ng as nwdiators bl't \\'l'en Cod and ~I an. 11w <1hn\'l'111L11 t J()!ll'd idL11tillL .1t io11 shu\\s that the lyngcs \\'L're belie\ed to lw agents of LTL'<ltion ~rnd
di-..-..olution (lTCatin c\olutio11) of the 111acro- and microcosm, in contradistinctio11 tP
thL '-<1 l.1lkd 'l'plwld1.1< (l't\oxrid, L''-scnti<1llr idc11til<li \\ith them, ,,ho \\'l'rl' '-llppn'-L'd






merely to maintain the cosmical order by preventing the cosmical spheres fn nn c( ll lapsing.298 Lewy has concluded that the manipulating of the magical top must have been
believed to set the cosmical Iynges in motion, affecting the revolutions of the hea\enly
spheres. 199 Definite reasons (some of which have been exposed in Part I of Crcllt io11) i 11cline us to assume that they might be said to affect in the eyes of the Chaldean esotcrists
the very structure of the human microcosm (and, in a slow and scarcely observable way,
also that of the macrocosm), transforming it, by a mentally controlled meta- ps ychol ogical and meta-astronomical process, from a geocentric into a heliocentric pattern.
But union with the Lord of the Sun is not the final stage of the theu rgica I t ransfo r rn ation of the personality. As we have seen above, Apollo is ready himself to lift the soul up
to the eternal world of Aion. 1here the souls, in the words of an oracle, 'repose in ( ; od,
drawing in the vigorous flames that come down from the Father, from which as they
come down the soul plucks the soul-nourishing flower of the fiery fruits'.''" At this stage
of its ascent, the soul of the mortals will press God into itself; having nothing mortal it is
divinely drunk, for it glories in the harmony beneath which the mortal body subsists'."''
TI1e state of divine contemplation which precedes that final union is prepared
by calming and arresting thoughts under the guidance of the oracular god. For the
noetic Being (which in the oracles we arc going to quote is identified with the Power of
Circumsplendent Strength with which it is actually identical in the Ineffable ( )nc) should
not be thought with 'vehemence, but with the subtle flame of subtle mind that measures
all things' - except that noetic Being. 'Thou shouldst not think It' - admonishes the god
in a forthright manner - 'but keeping the pure eye of the soul turned a\\'ay thou shouldst
stretch out the vacant mind towards the noetic Being, in order to learn to know It; for
it subsists beyond the (human) mind'.'"z As Damascius observes, th is cognition of the
Primal Being 'is not vehement( ... ), nor does it hurry to appropriate the noctic ohicLt,
but it surrenders itself to It'. 'For the divine is not accessible to mortals who think bodily (thoughts), but only to those \Vho hasten naked upwards, towards the I ight'. ''" 1 hcse
\vords attest with sufficient clarity the gcnu i nely mystical, non-magical character of th c
fundamental Chaldean work.
hi iss,
The state of the Chaldean adept is described by the late Neoplatonists as one
and his soul is said by them to have been exempt from the tyranny of the Destiny. '" 1 1 he
Oracles promise his 'image' a 'share in the circumsplenJent place' (of the Paternal Po\\'er,
if not of the Cosmic Soul, as Lewy believes).'''' He is also promised hod ily health, as Iong
as in bodily life (according to Emperor Julian, 'the perishable envelope or hitter 111 at ter' shall be saved), and after the death, a sojourn in the true worship\ paradi'>e, \\'llL'rL'
Virtue (Kore Persephone, i.e. the Moon), vVisdom (Hermes, i.e. ~1Icrcury), and the c ;ood
(Apollo-Helios, i.e. the Sun) nde.'"r'


Renaissance Platonism and the Etruscan Mystery

he East~rn R01~1an Empire \~'as no more, and _the possi~1ility l:f the realization ot~
Plcthons great 1dt.'a seemed tarthcr away than tor centuries betorc. But the seed ot
Platonic re\i,c.d \\'as sprouting all over Italy, and it would soon begin to spread mer the
entire \\'est. A number of eminent Greek humanists arrived in Italy already on the occasion of the Council of h'rrara and Florence, and even in the prect.'ding decennia. Ivlany of
them c1mc together in the home of John Bessarion, who, an ardent advocate of the union
of tlw churches as he was, remained in Italy, and was made cardinal just four months after
the By1.a11ti11e delegation left Italy. Among his early guests were the renowned ll1codor
Gazes ( ( ;;.lZa) and Georges of Trebizond, as well as celebrated Italian humanists sud1 as
Biondo Fia,io, Poggio, Guarino and Lorenzo \'alla. Bessarion's nearly universal knowledge and his ability to deal with people were soon recognized. In 1458, after the death
of Calixtus Ill, he was offered the papal seat, but he declined. lhe same offer appears to
ha,e been made in 1465, afll'r the death of Paul II. By popular will he was then generally
desired, especially in (~ermany, as the supreme sovereign of the \Vestern Christianity. But
he preferred to remain the next highest leader of the Church after the Pope, Dean of the
Sacral College. Since the fall of Constantinople, he was the most influential and tireless
ad hcren t of an anti-Turkish crusade, and in 1465 was made Patriarch of Constantinople
in pt1rti/111s. I-le was the acti\e power lwhind all negotiations between pope Pius II and
the Republic of \'en ice (at that time one of the greatest maritime powers) conct.'rning a
planned joint attack on Turkey, and was accustomed to be received in Venice with honours due to a smereign. His opinions were said to be attached heavier weight than those
of the I )oge himself. But \'en ice \\'as not alone in p~wing him supreme homages. \\'hen
in 1460 h~ came to Vienna with the intention to \\'i'n tlw Lmperor for his project, the
Emperor came an entire mile out of the city to his encounter. To the enormous disappointment of the allied forLes Pope Pius II died on the qth of August, q64 at Ancona,
\\'hen the allied 11a,y \\as on the point of starting its anti-Turkish opL'ration.
Neither this disaster nor the first signs of deteriorating health stopped Bessarion's
i ncessa 11 t act i\'it ies. He was regarded as one oft he fore111ost ph ilosoph iLc.d authorities of
his timL\ lcadn nf a scientific acadL'll1)' gin'n his na111e, and in time the formal president
of ih sessions. I k \\as also kind and po\\'crful enough to he the prnlL'dor of perseL't1tl'd,
a tallful helpn of men \\'ho happened to he in need and deSL'ned support. His palaLe
L(lntai1wd many moms and apartments designall'd for friends, associall's and ,i-..itors,
111<111~ (lf his prntq.?,L~cs making a some\\'hat doubtful imprL'Ssion on the \\ell-established
friends of tlw cardinal. :\t the height of his acti,itics undn thL' Pontificate of Paul II,
lkss<1ri(ln had -..e\eral SL'LTctaries noll'd l(ir their birth and learning, ,such as tlw ~ot111g
\;iLud11 PLT(ltti, whom he appoinll'd archbishop at the age of t\\'enty eight, the \'cnitian
hu111.1111-..t ( ;i<ll111110 P.1rk1111L\ .rnd the 1wblc \'enitians Cualkrio (~iustini.rni and 1:ugL'l1io
.\L1un1ll'IW. l,1k11h "L-L'\a, .1 ( ;rL'L'k from C~-prus, fornwr rcdnr of the l\1duan L'ni\'LTsit\,
\\d'> l11s .\L1jordo1m1-, ,rnd pn-,onal atll'ndant.




But of particular importance were his connections with the Ci red~ humanists, many
of them refugees of the younger generation, who had come to Italy after the fal I of
Constantinople and found a meeting-place in his palace. Some of them appear to han'
been influenced by the secret teachings of Plethon and participated together with ot l1LTS
in the celebrated lengthy controversy that subsequently developed hct ween C; reek philosophers in Italy. In that controversy Bessarion came to play a central and yet to soll1L'
degree conciliating role.
Bessarion of these years is described as an imposing, tall man with brilliant eyes and
a grave look under a high forehead. His hair, all white, and his long beard contrihukd
to an appearance of supreme authority, while his flne aquiline nose and narrow lips that
seemed alwa)'S readv to smile bore witness of Hellenic sniritualitv. But who was he in his
own innermost convictions? \Ale know that he had among his teachers (;corgi< )SC ie111 ist< )S
Plethon, was a passionate admirer of him and collected devotedly in his library works of
his former master, among others the creed of the sect of iVlistra, written in Pict ho's own
hand ..v'~ He kept in contact with Plethon's sons and grandsons throughout his Ii fe and in
1467 assigned a pension from his income in Crete to a 'grandson of Pletlwn'. "'~ 1 hL letter which he is known to have sent to Plcthon's sons, Demetrius and Andronicus, after
the death of their father bears \Vitness of his participation in Hellenic mysteries i 11 <l way
which has recently been described as 'shocking from the Christian point of \iew~ ,.. , I k
'I have been informed to know that our common father and mother ( ... ) has departed
to the heavens, to the unmixed sojourn, in order to dance the mystical bccos \\'ith the
Olympian gods. 11 '' Also, for my part, I am glad that I was brought up by such a man. Si llCL'
those famous men of primal times, Greece had not had a child more similar to J>l<1to
with regard to both learning and virtue, so that( ... ) one would not refuse to add that it
\\-as the soul of Plato, bound to serve th rough the i rrefragable decrees of the ;\d ras tcia'
[Heimarmene,according to ms. B] 'and to fulfil its necessary return, that was sent to L'arth
to take the body of Gemistos and the life \Vi th it'.
But, since that time, Plethon's name was already compromised by Sclwlarios' rL'\'elations and was not used in the philosophical discussion in Italy except perhaps i11 a
strongly negative way by Plethon's most violent adversaries. CI he participants
the C; reek
philosophical discussion in those years in Italy must have kept their views at least p<1rtially concealed. Formally, the ongoing controversy concerned certain diflere111...-L'" bet \\'l'L'll
the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. But since Plato was still little knmvn in Italy. this
controversy would have taken place on the verge of the ii legitimate, at least fn >111 t hL
of view of the Church. cl his may explain the some\vhat LI nex peeled fact that lk . . s<I r i()!l
originally chose the themes in which he was able to follmv Aristotle rather than Plat().
Bessarion did this already in his first little pamphlet that became the starting p(lillt ()I
the controversy and in which he just started the fundamenLd problem of the L'klllL'llti.lry
existence, either as the Platonic idea, or as the Aristotelian elementary thi11g. It i..., rc<llly
astonishing that he, an ardent follower of Plcthon, was able t<l formulall' ...,uch a ljllL'"I i( lll.
Most probably he just needed it at that time in order to digress frolll latl'nt . . u...,pici()Jl..., (lf
his participation in the circle of 1\!listra. I le left t<> 'lhcodorc Ciazcs, ()f1e <>f the f()n.1rn1...,t
members of his Academy and a moderate hut c<>mpctcnt J\ristoll'lian "'-h(1l~1r, !11 dl,d
with that question, as well as with the defence of Plat() hy l<>hn Argyrnpoul()..., in tliL l,11
te r's t ra n sIat io n of Pu r ph yr y's co 111111 e nt a r y t o A r i .., t 1 ) t lc. 1h i .., \Va s fo u 11 d i n t ( ) Ic r <1 h k h \ t 11 '-
young Michael Apo...,tolios, al..,o a member of the BL...,sarinrwa and a11 ardL11t !<ill11\\l'J ()!



lfr11t1issc111(c Plato11is111


the EtrnS(cl11 ,\,fystcry


Pict hon, hut ol1\'iously unaware of the dangers of an open profession of his convictions.
Apostol ios puhl ished a \'iolcnt refutation of Gazes' views. 'I11is was then refuted b, another outstanding Aristotelian scholar, Andronikos Kallistos, a man in straitened cir~um
stanccs, hut respeckd for his righteousness and not an adversary of Plethon either.
At that time, Ikssarion was in c;ermany, but after his return he sent Apostolios a letter in which he declared: 'It is with difficulty I tolerate, or rather I do not tolerate Plethon
at all, even such a grL'at man, when he flings similar accusations against Aristotle. How
could I tolerate vm~?'
r his was in 1462. Perh.__ans
Bessarion felt that tl1e ym111u
idealist had
sat his and his o\\'n life in danger. As a result, Apostolios left the cardinal's court. He
went to Crete wherL' he subset1uentlv' earned his livelihood lw' convino
Bessarion, who had incomes from Crete, make the life of the exiled easier in some measure? In Lf7 2 ,\1 ichael Apostol ins held a funeral oration for him.
Howe\cr, a not her cont ro\ersy had begun long before the first one ended, the origin being Plcthon's hook on some differences between Aristotelian and Platonic views.
According to 1\ ristot k, Pict hon maintained, acting is both in :\fature and in the arts ah,ays
intentional, hut \\'ithout tlw participation of intelligence. On the other hand, according to
both Plato and Plctlwn, ~ature al\\'ays acts with intelligence. 'llwodore Gazes published
a refutation of this Platonic \ie\\' and sent it to Bessarion for critical consideration. Yt't,
th is ti me the Ca rd i nal ga\e st rnng support to the Platonic \'iew. " ieorgc of Trebizond,
whose insulllcient knowledge of Platonism corresponded with his hateful relationship to
Pict hon (called by him 'a second i\luhammed'), came with a number of anti-Platonic detriment a I remarks which, though hitting Gazes, were apparently intl'nded for Bcssarion.
Also this time tlw accusations ended in an exile, yet on the directly opposite wing of the
philosophkal spLYtrurn. Ceorge of Trebizond was declared incompetent to perform the
translation of Plato to which he had been earlier invited by Pope Nicolas V. He lost all
his pensions and the tit le of Apostolic Secretary, and went to Naples. 1 hough less dearly
than in the fornwr Lase, the e\'l'Ilt was likely to be didatl'd by tlw supreme good of the
hrot herhood of~ 1ist ra.
In q65 lkssarion started to \\'ork on his famous book /11 (t1/1111111i11torc111 Plt1to11is,
prepared through many seminars and discussions in his Academy. He followed thus
e\prcssly the Platonic tradition: the comparison of his AcadL'l11Y to that of Plato \\'as
underlying his e\positions. I !is \\'ritings De 11ut1ll'll ct 11rft', produCL'd in connL'dion \\'ith
the ahuH11w11tio1wd contro\'L'rsy concerning causality in l\ature, \\'L're included in /11
(1J/111nnilltorc1n as thL lifth hook. 1 he \\'ork was published in q6l), threL' years before tl1L'
death ()I its author. I Ii..., u11i\'L'rsal kno,,JcdgL' was already kno\\'11 from suLh ,,orks as his
( ()111 Il1 L' 11 t a r ie.... t () ,.\ r( h iIll L' l k.... a 11 d (( ) t Iw ( )pt it. s () f Ell ( Iides' a 11 d rf'( ) 111 h is p e rs ()f1 a I fr iL' n d . . hip \\'ith ( ;eorg l\urhach and Johannes Regiomo11ta11us, the kadi11g astrunornn-. of tlw
q)och. 1 hi-. Il1<tde hi-. 111fl,\ll11111 <>f!llS the obied of a strLam of drngratul<1tions and tif rL'\'
erent ...,tudy hy 111e111lwrs of the SUL-CL'eding gL'twrations, including l'\iLolaus CoperniLus
\\'ho at that timL' \\'as just <lLcomplishing his studies at Padua.
~inLe lk . . . ...,,1rio11 l,111 he regarded as <l leading rL'prL'SL'l1t<1li,e of tlwse \\ho i11tluL'IKed
lt<dy hy tlw idL'll..., ot tlw I klkniL Renaissa1Ke, this is the right point at \\'hich lo lonsidn
the parado\ic<d unin11 of<:hristian and pagan clements in\'ulnd in that inllt1L'nCL'. For it
,,,1..., truly ,1 11111(11/. lks...,<1rio11 \\'ll..., ...,inLL'rl' in both casL'S: \\'hen he \\'ai., \\Tiling to PILtlwn's
...,()11..., ,11HI ,,J1L'l1hL'11rL'...,ilkd ,it the S<t(ral College.:\ kL'Y to thi . . par.1do\ l<lll he found in
Ill,\ll\ pl.tlL'" 111 lhl' \:l'\\' k . . t.1111l'llt .rnd 1)artiLtilarly in till' /\t'l\'/t1/i(111 (1//(1/111, '' lwrl' tlw
'\< lll 1ii ( 1< 1d' ,..., tkl l.llLd to 'L<llllL' ,h ,\ thilf: ,,JwrL'a-, in till ( ;(1s11d 1>/ /l1/111 ( \,1 10) thnsL'



coming like thieves are disapproved of in contrast to Christ who comes by a door. The
expression 'as a thief' is a reference to the mystery-god Hermes as the guide to thL' unconscious, and hence, by his intermediation, to the revelation of Apollo-the-Sun i11 the
human personality. This was the spiritual way followed by the chosen ones si nee i m rnemorial times, as studies of the Palaeolithic sacral art amply prove. ' But Christ offered humanity a way of salvation accessible to everybody, though ncccssa ri Iy m uL h m orL' modest: the way of love imposed by the approaching necessity of the in tcgra ti on of humanity,
the carrier ohvhose unity Christ was made through the sacrifice of his human body. 1 he
two \\'ays of salvation remained thus side by side in Christian literature, one particularly
Christian, the other, universal. The ultimate goal of both was exceedingly high, hut the
Christian way opened intermediate modes of rescue in the service of the di \'i ne .\I an.
vVe do not know whether the alternative in question was consciously known to the
spiritual leaders of the Renaissance. Most of them, if not al I, followed the i rra ti ona I a tt raction of ancient art and mythology purely instinctively, through the symbolic resonance
they gave to their souls, ready for a Hermetic initiation, i.e. for liberation from the u nLon_scious. In our own days, religion is strictly separated from the unconscious, which is left
to psychoanalysis. TI1is is why Bessarion's double-faced activity may seem cont rad idory
to some of us.
Academy-like centres of study and discussion arose in several sites in Italy at about the
same time as the Bessarionen. In Naples, King Alfonso ii Ivlagnan i mo woL1 Id s i nee 1-t-Vi if
not already i442, assemble the foremost spirits of his country for scientific ~11H.i theological discussions at the royal castle or in the library of the Castel N umo. A ftcr his death.
the presidency of his academy was taken over by the renowned human isl lkLcadcll i,
and after 1471, by the celebrated writer and poet Gian Gioviano Pontano. 1n Florence, a
modest kind of academy was developing from ca. 1421 in the Augustinian monastery di
Santo Spirito, but the first beginnings of the celebrated Platonic Academy <lrc dated hy
a letter of Cosimo de Nledici \Vhich comes from 1462. In that letter Cosimo informs the
young .Nlarsilio Ficino of his purchase of Plato's works which he wishes to give to him for
translation, and of a house in Carcggi near Florence which he intends to l1L~ t hL' seat ()!"the
Academy. This Academy was later to become the most \vidcly known Platonic ac~H.lcrny
among all the renaissance academies of Italy.
In i462 Marsilio Ficino was still a relatively young man, born in q_B in hgl inc
Val<lorno near Florence, where he was educated. He studied first the h LI man it ic" a 11 d th en
philosophy and medicine, but apparently did not obtain any academic degree. \\'hen he
began to study Greek around 1456, he did it with a strong wish to know the \'cry "ourcc"
of Platonic philosophy. It does not seem i mplausihlc that the memory of Pl ct hon\ ta I k"
and lectures among the Florentinian humanists contributed to the inquiring attitude of
the young student.
Ficino did not disappoint Cosimo's trust. Two years later, at the time of hi" benefactor's death in 1464, he had translated as many as te1~ dialogues of Plato. He did even 11wrL'
because of his eagerness to penetrate into the nwstical background of Plato11i'-m. I k <1'"()
translated the extant Orphic texts, i.e. the Orph,ic l !y11111s a;H.I the 1\ rgonu u t it"t1, i 11 \\' h iL h
the Orphic cosmogony is out Ii ned. Perhaps for si 111 i Jar reasons, he also t r<.111-.,la IL'd the
much later writings ascribed to Hermes Tril.imegistos.
\Vhat is especially significant, however, is that hci n<> cump<>scd mu "i L a 11 d h c ,\L
companied on a lyre the recital
the Orphic hymns at humani-.,tiL gathcrillg'- i11 thL'
the leading humanists - among them Cminrn and l.<>rc11111 tllL'
Villa Careggi. i'vlany




Re11aissa11cc Platonism c111d the Etruscan Alystcry


iVlagniflcent (himself a musician, like several other members of the Academv)

' and the
poet Giovanni Augurelli (whom we shall later meet on Venetian ground) have in strong
and positive words described the impressions produced by these performances. For
Ficino himself, with his background of both medical and philosophical studies, music
was medicine for the soul, able to temperate and e\'en to remove all disharmonies such
as lust, anger or rage, and chronic diseases such as 'melancholia'. He referred in that connection to the opinions of the ancients, such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus and
others. 11 But there was also a deeper and not expressly declared reason for which these
dark texts from the nwthical past of humanitv were so highlv valued bv him and so sacred, indeed, that he fr~rbade the publication ot his translation's (an inter~iiction which, in
so far as we know, has been respected up to our days). In fact, the myth of Orpheus is one
of those in which humanity's helpless search after the mystery of transcendental unity is
most dramatically expressed.
'I he European Renaissance can be treated as an example of a general phenomenon that
of the creative evolution of all civilizations, but it has also certain
arises at a certain stage
'particular aspects that can be due to its proximity to a state of global integration.''' \Vhy
did the European Renaissance develop from Italy, and especially from Tuscany? \Ve will
not attempt to fully explain this, but our modest intention in the present study is to throw
some light on certain facts which just as well can be called nwsteries.
Parallel with the development ~)f the interest in Platonic pl1ilosophy there emerged in
Tuscany strange motifs in art. Such motifs were, for example, brutal battles between naked
men (as in the famous Fi~lit o(Lo1'c 111d Cliostif\' of Antonio Pollaiuolo, dated at q.60-62)
or between animals and ~irag~rns, or other fanta~tic figures. TI1ese motifs multiplied in the
second half of the 15th cent~iry in the works of somLe painters, such as Piero di Cosimo
(Hottle of Cc11t111rs 111d F11111s), in the bas-reliefs attributed to Bertoldo in the palace of
the celd~ratcd Florentine jurist Bartolomeo Scala and in the earlv works of Leonardo da
Vinci. Side by side with tl~is process in art, ancie1~t Etruscan gra\:e paintings of the same
kind of scenes gradually became discovered and attracted particular attention of the artists. In the case of Leonardo, who passed his childhood in the valley of the Arno in the
core of Tuscany, many supposed Etruscan 'atavisms' have been pointed out, such as the
of birds, lwdraulical
im'L'rse writin<hr (from ri<hrht to left), observations of the flioht
and, last but not least, the 'archaic' smile of his figures.
Tuscany and the adjacent parts of Italy became thus suddenly possessed by their
Etruscan past. 1 he Ftruscans were, and indeed still are, something of a historical mystery. ()nee settled in Asia l\linor as merchants of apparently Sumerian origin, they were
constrained to search for new homes after the downfall of the Hittite empire ca. 1200 B.c.
Some of them settled in 1 hrace, but the majorit\ mm'ed, bv the wav of the Aegean, from
the island LL'mnos in particular, to Italy. 'I here they settled in what after them was to lw
called Tuscany, organizing a federation of city stall's, ecclesiastically ruled in tht.' Sumerian
manner and Lknloping powerful maritime commerce. For a period of time, they \VLTe in
1.mtrnl of most of Italy: from the \'alley of Po in the north to Naples in the south. 1 hey
. . upplicd als() the 11rst kings to Rome. But later their power dwindled in a rather astonishing \\'ay. In the epoch of the Rcpuhli1., the knowledge of Etruscrn hrnguagL' was still for
\1111w tinw encountered amonoti Rorn1.111 intellectuals, hut lalL'r all that remained of tlw
\Upt"Cll1i.lly of th<.ll C11ig111ali1. people \\'i.lS its llllShaltl'rable prestige of l11i.lStl'rS of Sl'LTL'l
"LiL111.-t'", 1.'...,pc1.-ially of lht' art of tdling the future.
In lht I 111~)irl', ,1 hod\' (lr Ftru...,L-<ll1 !11d1111011cs, 111agi1.ally initiakd rq1rL'"l'ntatin's (lr





the twelve or more Etruscan cities, stood at the disposal of the emperor and the state.
They were sixty in number, in conformity to the sacred Sumerian number sixty, the least
common multiple of twelve and ten. For a long time nobody except especially qua! ified
Etruscan super-men could aspire to that function. Their foreman was called nwgistcr
publicus haruspicwn. They were called lwruspices - 'liver-seers', because one of their most
important methods of future telling was by the inspection of patterns in shecps' Iivers.
Ancient models of such livers, divided by a network of lines and holes, have been fern nd
only in three places in the world: in the ruins of the temple of Marduk at Babylon, in
Boghaz Keui, the ancient Hittite capital, and in Piacenza in north Italy. 11 "
Now, much of the above was yet unknown to the humanists of the Renaissance, but
certain of their ideas are in agreement with what at least some scientists bcl icvc now. 1 hey
assigned to the Etruscans Mesopotamian descent and believed that they came to Italy
from Asia Minor where they actually had settled. Mesopotamian descent made them,
in the eyes of the humanists of the Platonic strain, obvious carriers of the tradition of
the Chaldean Oracles. Their archaeologically well-established sojourn on the island of
Lemnos, the kabir-mysteries' most important centre after the island of Samothrake, sets
them in connection with these mysteries. As a passage of the Orphic Hymns, translated
by Ficino, deals with that connection in detail, the Renaissance Platonists must also have
been convinced of the Orphic traditions proceeding from the same source, i.e. from the
Etruscans. 317 This was actually in accordance with the fact that the Etruscans on their
journey from Asia Minor were divided into two branches, one of which settled in 1 hracc,
the home of the Orphic myths.
With this we now begin to approach the point of convergence of the two lines in the
mysticism of the Tuscanian Renaissance: the battles of animals and the appcasi ng role
of Orphic music. In painting, hmvever, music is replaced by a visual symbol of peaceful
concentration, as it took actually place in several works of that time. One of them is in
the pavement of a chapel of St. Dominicus in Sienna, attributed to Beccafurni and dated
ca.1480-1490. The mythical hero, surrounded by threatening beasts, u ndcr skies dom inated by the Sun and the Moon in spiritual union, brandishes a concave, round mirror,
concentrating the sharp light of the Sun on the most aggressive beasts. 11 x 1 he same motif
of man holding a flaming mirror amidst struggling beasts with an eagle and a dragon
at the centre is found in a drawing by Leonardo in the Louvre. 119 'I his motiL \vhiLh Lc.u1
also be set in connection with the myth of Herakles, was commented on by Ficino in his
treatise Devera nobilitate by the words: unicus in nobis est /101110, l1cstiuc i'cro s1111t 1J111lli1C.
Strictly speaking, however, also man in us is multiple, and therefore, beast-like.
The strangeness of the fact that these insights and symbols seemed to emerge after
many centuries of complete oblivion did not escape the attention of the Rcnaissa1Ke
humanists. Egidius de Viterbo, the most outstanding Platonist in Rome in the fl rs t dee
ade of the i6th century and an author of historical works, \vrote that the Et ruse ans had
brought civilization from Chaldea to Italy, and that their historical deed was ahmc all
of a religious and humanistic nature. 12 " This is likely to be astonishingly exact. Indeed,
what appears to have happened in early civilization more often than at later ti mes is
the tendency of certain social minorities to escape from the state to higher freed< lll1
or internal law in the desert or on the seas. This might have been the ca'.-.c, ll1llL'h L.llL'r,
with the Hebrews, \Vho, nevertheless, after centuries nf vvandcring in the Syrian dc...,crt
developed a strong secondary craving after a home of their ovvn. JV!uch earl icr, i 11 t liL' 6th
or 5th millennium B.c:., groups of proto-Phoen ician dissenter'.-. arc Iikcly to havL' "-< 1ught

Rc11aissm1cc Plato11is111 a11d tlzc Etruscan 1"1ystcry


their way out from Sumer to the Red Sea and the .Mediterranean, where they appear to
have engaged in religious exploration under the cover of prospecting and commerce. It
is plausible that these l\frsonotamian
minorities v~ave orh!in
to a world-wide 'meoalithic'
n1ovcn1cnt. '
Now, Etruscans arc also believed to have emigrated from their country of origin, not
to the desert and at fl rst not so much to the sea either, but as foreign traders in a country
whosL' religious and worldly authority they did not need fully to recognize. And when finally their hosts suffered a political disaster and they were constrained to establish a state
of their own, they were not able to carry out this task fully except with respect to religious
organisation and intellectual planning. Indeed they could not keep the state alive, neither
economically nor militarily, without the assistance of the subjected Umbrians and other
Italic peoples, the Romans included. 1 his was probably the reason that this splendid and
superior people rather rapidly disappeared from history, even its language having vanished so completely that it has not yet been possible to decipher its scarce remnants.
\Vith this we have annroached
the enioma
of the stranee svmbols that had begun
t t
to emerge in the art, literature, and philosophy of the Renaissance on former Etruscan
ground. l\lcrciless st rugglcs between two armies of beasts, more or less fantastical, emerge
in the individual or social mind as a consequence of the transgression of the barrier of the
collective unconscious. Normal components of each of the two basic psychic domains are
usually represented by animals of a single species: cattle on the conscious side, horses on
the side of the unconscious. Pablo Picasso's famous 'Cuernica' is a picture of an adYanced
stage of such confrontation. However, since we deal here with the problem of a complete
collapse of social values, such pictures are rarely painted in our times except under a less
catast rnph ic label, just as in Picasso's case.1l1c barrier of the collective unconscious is the
more dilllcult to surmount, the higher the level of the social mind. Jkf()rc civilization, the
barrier \\'as low, and crises of that l.;.ind \\'ould be rclati\'cly common. Such was the case in
proto-historiL- Sumer, and e\'en more in prehistoric times.
'I his is confirmed hy famous examples from Palaeolithic art. ~I he celebrated tile of
oxen confronting an aggressive flock of horses in the Hall of the Bulls (ca. 15500 B.c.)
at Lascaux reprc~ents a preliminary stage of the crisis, before the beginning of merciless
fight. 1 he incredibly line engr~l\'ings in the ca\'e Les Trois Freres (a few millenaries later)
sho\\' a terrifying series of stages in \\'hich dilapidated animal bodies form an C\'Cr more
complete chaos. At the centre of that chaos, a little upright figure - half man, half bison
- proceeds unaffected in an accentuated, slighth' stamning
gait while handling a musical
inst ru 111 en t which resLmhlcs a pipe. 1 his is the Orpheus of the Old Stone Age.
'I h l' sU 111cria11 L-i \' iIi /at ion was on c 0 r the oldest on OU r globe. BLI t a 1though it is scpa ralL'd hy more than kn thousand years from tl1L' epoch ot~ the Palaeolithic works of art
mentioned above, there 1.lre seYcral examples of the sacred signs \\'hich ,,ere transmitted
to it auoss that tremendous span of tinll'. IndL'L'd, some of the Sumerian proto-historic
hieroglyphs arc L'xact copies of signs playing important roles in the Palaeolithic age. Such
i"'for l'\a 111 pie.the Su mnia n sign fl )r 'tern pk' which is ident kal with the Pala col it h ic symbol oft hL mat ri \ of LTL'<ll in' transformation. It appears to haw SL'r\.L'd as a rnoLkl for the
lt'rn pk < J( kru sa k111 . ..\re haLologists han L'\Ca\ated enn older L'\ampks of prnto- historic
Sumnian -.,igns in sL'\eral Bc.1lka11 countries.'''
< ~ o 11 I rn 11 t a t io m \\' i l h l h e i n d i \' id u a I o r t h c soc ia I u 11 co 11 sci o us a re h u t part i cu Ll r p h<ls L' s
()I <1 IL111da111L'Iltal pr\lll'SS \\'hich i..., tlw creatin transforn1c.1tio11 o( the indi\'idual or snLi,tl pn-.,1>11,tlit\. :\ -.,,-.,1l'111atil- ..;tud\ ol the sacrc.11 can c.1rt of tlw l )Id Stone .\gc of 1:ra11ce





Rc1wissl111cc Plc1tonis111 and the Etruscan Alystcry


especially the so-called Tiburtine Sibyl's announcement of a divine birth, whose symbolism will later in this book be seen as particularly relevant to the subject of our inquiry.
Another motif of Christian symbolism, which we shall see applied to secret mystical
speculations of that time, is the Epiphany, represented again and again by the leading
artists upon the orders of the ?vledici. 111e three .Magi themselves were sometimes modelled after members of the l\Iedici family or other historical persons. In a chapel of the
ivlcdici in Florence, two of them arc members of the oecumenical Council of FerraraFlorcncc: the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Emperor John VIL while Lorenzo the
Ivlagniliccnt is the third. 'n1is can be connected with the fact that the l\kdici were closely
associated with the so-called Co111pc1g11ia dci .Magi, whose existence was first noted in l.pS.
'I he Co111pag11ia held its meetings in the sacristy of the monastery of St. l\farc, favoured by
Cosme. He had there his own cell which was decorated bv Ilzc Adoration of the i\la~i bv
Fra Angelico. And Lorenzo the i\fagnificent was the president of this confraternity, just as
earl icr his father and grand-father.
i-:icino was extremely fascinated by the theme of the Epiphany, especially in his advanCL'd years. Already in the early phase of development of the Academy he appears to
have held orc1tio11cs on that theme in the confraternity Cl1111pag11ic1 dci .Hagi. Later he
devoted to it several written expositions. He treated the Epiphany as an example of the
of Christianitv' lw' the naoan
world ) the kev' examnle
indeed, since
it was the C/1e1/dce111 Alclgi, supposed inheritors of the wisdom of the Chaldean Oracles,
that \\'ere i n\ohed. ;_ 1
Ha\ing finished his translation of Plato's Dialogues, in q69 hcino wrote his famous
commentary to Plato's Sy111posi11111. It came to exercise great influence in humanistic circles, but was subjected to controversial interpretations. ll1e way in which 'Platonic' love
was understood depended obviously on the level of the spiritual development on the
part of the reader. In Islamic forms of mysticism, love between persons of the same sex
as an indisnensable
condition of hioher
orowth, but the Christian
was regarded
m\sticism of the Renaissance was in general ccrtainh aware of the difference between
lo~'L' and sexual intercourse. Ncverth~less, it is quite. evident that this distinction was
not clcarlv understood lw some humanists follmvinot' an ordinarv nath
of life. Some of
the greatest men of the Renaissance were suspected or even accused of sodomy, and the
ambi\c.dcnce of platonic love made such behavioural abnormalities common among the
rank and tile humanists. ,.-\nti-Platonists such as Ceorge of Trcbizond used this as one
of their key arguments. But cardinal Ikssarion in his t1~eatisc of 1469 prized, in contrary,
the Platonic morals as built Oil the edifvino
nower or sniritual
love. Ficino himsclf \gave
b t
an example by his loving relationship to the young (;iovanni Cwalcanti. And the much
youngn, hut equally Lclchrated nwmbL'r of the Florentine Academy, Ciovanni Pico dclla
\lirandola, \\'as bound in a similar way to Girolamo lkni\ini. Untlcr the ruk of l.orcnzn
the ,\ lagn i llcent such relationships were common among writers and human is ts of
In hci no\ concept ion, which \\'as generally aLcepted by nw111hL'rs of the Acatlcmy,
Ion' \\'i.l'> a rnl'laph~-.iLc.d principk' whose accepta1Ke would lift man above the tll'Lcssity
of physiLal niskncc. :\s \ie\\'L'd by him, Ion' can also be said to be the principle of LTL'ati\'L' L'\'()lution. Pi(o della \lirandola, \\'ho joined :\(adem\' in his later \cars, spoke of the
Law lll l.<i\c as an antithesis to the Ll\v of Necessity, an:l of the possibility of Llwi(L' of
that highn Ill\\' as tht principk <ifhurnan dignity.''' 'lhc acatkmiLians,cspL'(ic.dly l.<lrt'l1/<l,
,,.LTL' 1rn1L h L'ngl1gtd in tlw qucstio11 of hc.1ppint'ss ,111d they dctinL'd happinc-;s L'\lldh- as



Rc11aiss111cc Pl1to11is111 and tlzc Etruscan Alystcry

with his commentaries to them, a work which was published in 1492. In the meantime,
important and indeed revolutionary changes were taking place in Florence. They were
introduced b, a sie.nificant
not vet
dramatic event which was the arri,al of
Ciovanni Pico della 1vlirandola in Florence in 1488.
c; iovan n i Pico who came to live and work there under the personal protection of the
ruling family de' ~kdici, was born in q.63 in ivlirandola as son of the count of rvlirandola
and Concordia. \\'hen he arrin?d in Florence, he was still a \'OUn!! man. Bein!! desi!!nated for an ecclesiastical career he began to study canonical law in Bologna in q.77, but
found philosophy more attractive and studied it first in Ferrara (q.79) and then in Padua
( 1480- q82). I-le was not Platonist, hut a man of seldom erudition and acuit\' of mind
who for somL' years studied Hebrew and Arabic under Jewish teachers in Padua and
Perugia, not to mention Creek and his expertise in Jewish Kabbala. He \'isited Florence
in q85 and 1486, paying \'isits to Ficino and Poliziano, and it was in q.86 that he became
famous by publishing his nine hundred theses. He declared himself ready to defend them
before all the scholars of Europe, whom he then invited for that purpose to Rome. All his
thL'Ses were condemned, first partially and then in their entirety, by Pope Innocent VIII,
who acted on thL' advice of a special committee. Afraid of the consequences, Pico fled
to France, but \\'as arrested there in q.88 at the request of papal envoys. Because of the
intcnention of Se\eral Italian princes, he was soon released from prison, however, and
allowed to settle in Florence, where he came to li\'C in close touch with the Academy and
the circle of the Medici. But although he was certainly tied lw bonds of friendship to the
Florentine Platonists, all his 111;.rnift~ld philosophical ,;nd liter~uy contributions show that
he was in both respects more or less independent of them.
Pico shared with the Florentinian Platonists the Plethonian idea of the unification of
the \\'orld, but he had no reason to share with them Plethon's historiosophical optimism.
In his time there \\'ere no longer any indications that Platonism would han~ a chance to
soon become the framework for a uniYersal religion. But when the philosophical mind
ap~wared to fail, Platonists took refuge in poetry, seeking inspiration in the works of l hnlt'
and Petrarch, not to mention the classical poets. Already ancient authors, especially Stoic
and :\cllplatoniL-, LornmenlL'd in that way on their classics, such as Virgil's Aeneid, and the
traditional myths. Lrnd ino and hci no followed their example. But Pico wished to go further and to construct a uni\Trsal nhilosonh\'
on a svstematic and detailed exegesis of the
a1KiLnt poets. I le followed Aristotle's opinion that poets were the tirst philosop11L'rs, and
he maintained that no one \\'ho did not possess an intuitiw insight into the secret meaning.., llr \\'ords 1...lluld understand the 1.uKie11t texts. ~eYertheless, his prokLt was dt't'l11L'd to
failurt'. 1 he transcentkntal role of poetry consists prtcisely on the lad;. of tlxation on any
particular lntl of meaning, a fixation \\'hich \\'as his inlt'ntion.
I>i1...l i's a rri,a I tl) Fil lrence preceded only by t\\'l) years the arri,al of (~in llamo Sa\l lll<l I"l )la,
tlw yln111g Domini1...rn monk (horn at 1:nrara in 1412), \\'ho lwgan his pa-.sionalL' adi,ity
a-. a preacher in 14;-9. 1 hrL'L' years afll'r he started to preach, he \\'as irnikd to the pust of
led urn at tlw 1...()11\'t'nt uf San ~lar1...o in Florc1KL\ hut it \\'as only in 1481 and qS() that he
hL1...,\l11t' fanwu-., hy prnphe-.,ying 1.1 reform of tl1L' Church - that it -.,hould hL' s1...uurgL'd .rnd
lht11 rt'l1t'\\.t'LI. 1 hi-, prophecy C<.ll11t' ll a time of grt'al e\1...ilt'nwnt ;.111d an\icty dul' tu the
L'\ll'nt of -.,udde11 1...h<ll1l!.L'" t1.1ki11l!. nL1CL'
in life and associall'd \\'ith a fctling'-- of 'guilt
. . tirred
-up h\ .i....trnlngi . .,11 predidion . . . In his comll1t'11lary Cristoforu Lrndino rcfcrrt'd tn ont' nl
thL''-L' 1)rLd1L11llll'>. It''"' h.1 . . Ld nn ,1 . . nniunctio11 nf Saturn .111d Jupill'r ''hi . .h '''" lll takL'
pl.tll' 111 tlw li!th dq..;rL't' nl lhL -.ign pf thL' Scale-. ( lihra) llll thL' 21th ul '.\:n\.L'll1hL'r, '-l~-~,


(_ l





Julius Pomponius Laetus and the Supposed
Antipapal Conspiracy of the Roman Academy

he humanistic mmem~nt d_eveloped in R(~me m~ ditfr,re1~t linc_s than in H~ffence.

\Ve do not here han:- 111 mmd the Byzantme rctugees d1scuss1on conccrn111g the
Aristotelian and the Platonic claim for superiority in the representation of ancient Greek
philosophy. Indeed among the Italians proper it \\'as the superiority of ancient Rome that
fascinated the mind of those engaged in lifting the screen of the past.
Sometime about 1450 there emerged in Rome a somewhat wasted youth that seemed
to use all his vital forces in acquiring knowledge. He followed eagerly lectures of the celebrated philosopher and critic of current Christian doctrines, Lorenzo Valla, and, after
\'alla's death in L .l)/, those of Pietro Oddo da Montopoli. 'Ihose who knew him in those
draw the nicture
of a man livinQ in extreme novertv
on a stricth' vegetarian diet,
unable to commit the murder of a pheasant, but allo\\'ing himself sometimes to fish in
the Tiber to provide substance for the only meal he could afford to take in the course of
a day.
Now, this man disappeared from Rome for several years, but turned back probably in
1465 as an astounding expert on classic literature and Roman antiquities. He was then already known under the name of Giulio Pomponio Laeto, which appears, however, not to
be his true name. Actually, he was an illegitimate son of liiovann i, Count of Sanseverino,
mem lwr of one oft he foremost fam ii ies of the Neapolitan kingdom, that of the princes of
Salerno, of 0;orman and royal descent. He left his family as a young boy and seems never
to have made any contact \\'ith it since. He is described as a man of short stature and unharmonious features in an all too alon\.!.ated face. His hair was somewhat curly, brownish,
but had begun, all too early, to become whitish~ his apparently near-sighted, small eyes
were ..,et under a broad forehead, and assumed a strange beauty when he laughed. His
ll'eth appeared to lw bad and irregularly placed, which st'emed to contributt' to his stutll'ri ng .
I k used to get up extremely early, long before sunrise, often when the sky was still lit
by t hL' 1110011. A ftcr his second a rri\'al in Rome, in 1465, he soon assembled a crowd of
young am! talcntl'd disciples who followed his routines and awaill'd his early arri\'al in
a chapL'l. I k was a fascinating L'Xponent of Rornl''s former grcatnl'ss and his L'\ll'rnal apnearall(L'
did not disL-ourage them. lk was, actualh" as much eccentric and nL'gligL'lll as
he \\'as physiLally llll<lttractin'. He used to hear an ample blue or crimson drapL'd toga,
so111eti111es of silk but not always clean, antique high-hl'eled blue sandals whiLh L-0111pe1hakd a littk fur his short staturL\ and a barrl'l on his hL'ad. Hut all this St'l""\"L'd only as
~lLLL'ssorit'" to hi.., L'Iwrnwus po\\'er of ,crbal t'\'ocation of thL' greatnL'SS and beauty of the
Ro111.111 past. \:ti dtluht, that \\as hi . . reality. \\'hat people used to L-,dl reality \\'llS, ftlr hill1,
a t<l11k111pt ihk talk ol tonll'll1ptihlc men. 1 he e\ll'nt of his kno\,kdgt' . . eL'nwd intTt'dibk>,
t lw <lt u it,. (lf hi" (< lll1 IllL'llt..., \\"as i 11Lt imparabk. I k made <1 world t-ivi I i1at it in ri . . c fn llll the
I lint" 111 l\1 ll1lt'. Iii s Ii stt'ners ,,.L'I""t' . . urroundcd hr . . h.1t ll'red 111n1llllllt'llh nf t h.1t ( i\ iIi






zation. They began to assemble in Pomponio's little house on the Quirinal. ' 2 ~ 'I here they
recited plays of ancient Roman writers, and discussed, not only ancient monuments and
epigraphs collected by Laetus and themselves, but also Roman views on religious, ph ilosophical, moral and political questions.
The house was surrounded by a little field which Pomponio culti\ated when he would
rest from mental fatigue, and did not want to engage himself in philosophical conversa2
tions in the shadow of the laurel grove, situated 'to the right', above the house. ' '' 1 his
Apollinian grove contrasted with the Dionysian vineyard 'without vines' below, and with
the mystical ivies climbing up the dilapidated walls and broken columns as the living
symbols of the Dionysian mystery of salvation.n" This little house containing, i.a., a library and a collection of Roman antiquities and called lvluscwn (as the temple of Plato's
Academy in Athens, which was decorated with the statues of the Muses and the Graces),
bore the inscription: POl\IPONI. LAETI. ET. SOCIETATIS. ESCVVILINALIS. Another inscription, REGNANT! POMP (ONIO) PONT(lt=ICE) IvlAX<IMOJ, dating from 1475, is said to have
been placed on the house as reconstructed after the devastation of the old one by sold icrs
in i484.
Pont~fex Alnximus - the title of the head of the principal college of priests in ancient
Rome - was adopted by Pomponio as the head of the 'Academy' and the High Priest of
that esoteric religion in \vhose secrets, conserved in the monuments of the Roman literature, art and architecture, he initiated his disciples. 111
The Pomponian 'Academy' or (as it was also called) the Socictus or Sodulitns ()11iri11lllis
(inexactly, Esquilinl1lis) - had sprung from the circle of enthusiastic students that grew
wider and became increasingly renowned after he appeared in Rome for the second ti me,
in 1465. Among Pomponius' disciples \VC find about that time a young Venetian named
Filippo Buonaccorsi, that should play a particular role in the chain of events considered
in the present work. The Buonaccorsi were a noble familv originallv named de BazoLhi,
and settled in the Tuscanian city of Lucca, \Vhere they belong~d to the party of popolori.
In consequence of the conflict of the Guclfs and the Ghibellins, thev became expelled
fron~ the city in 1327, and moved to San Gimignano, where Filippo wa~ born. A branch of
the tarnily to which he belonged, moved later to Ven ice. His mother came from the fa 111i1 y
<lei Tedaldi of wealthy Florentine merchants who in the second half of the i5th century
est?blishcd themselves in Poland. He had probably studied somewhere, perh<1ps in Pisa,
betore going to Rome, but nothing concrete is known in that respect. In Rome, he \\as,
in Pomponius' mvn words, very hospitably received by his coming master - whiLh 111<.1y
possibly mean that he some time lived in Pomponi us' house.According to the h u ma 11 is t iL
use he was '-giwn a name from classical antil1uitv,
Cnlli11wc/111s, under which he should
become famous. Among his colleagues he was also known by the nickname ( :occ11s because of his short-sightedness that made him set his nose in the frying-pan in order to sec
whet her the omelet he should serve was ready.
'J he name Callirnachus was derived from that of an ancient Greek poet, who was
cal led KaA.A.i~Ll1X<'>o, i.e. Cood Fighter, and corre...,ponded approxi matcl y to the Ital i<.l 11
B1w11nccorsi since /Ji'll occorso can be interpreted as one giving welcome succour in light.
Marsilio hcino had obviously this interpretation in mind when he, in an undated letter, which is assumed to have been written in the ...,econd half of q84 (the earl ic...,t let lL'r...,
of f,i/Jer VIII are from that period, while the next letter is from the 8th of t\i)ril, q8s ),
addressed Callimachus a-. a Platonic co-militant (J>/oto11is 11ostri scct11tor) <.11HI gl()riou-.,
fighter (pmcclnrc pug11u11s) <if the cvi I dem< >11<..,. " 1he jl ik i ng name ( _11cl11s i..., a I...,< 1 en L-< n 111

'/71c Supposed Antipapal Conspiracy of the Ranum Acadc111y


tered on wall inscriptions in the Roman catacombs, registering the names of participants
in the secret meetings of the academicians.
Callimachus was given friendly help by other members of Pomponius' circle, especially
by Bartolommeo Sacchi called Platina (the Latin form of Piadena, his place of birth), the
most learned and probably the eldest of them all, that one who stood Pomponi us nearest.
\,Vhen it proved that Buonaccorsi was without means, he was lent money. Most important
of all, he was presented with recommendations to two mighty cardinals, the celebrated
Am man nat i, former secretary to Pius II, and Ravennate ( Roverella), confidential collaborator of six successive popes - with the result that Rcwerella engaged Callimachus as
his secretary. 'I his was the kind of engagement that most of Pomponius disciples could
dream of. The posts of assistant to prelates and cardinals used to be well paid, and it was
money these young men were above all in need of.
'I he spirit dominating that circle was very unlike that of the Florentinian Platonists.
One could say that it was intellectually akin to that of Plethon, because they inclined to
the crnwiction that there was only that one physical life. But while Plethon saw happiness
in work for the common good, these young men declared the end of moral authorities,
and tried to get as much physical satisfaction for themselves as possible. It was only ate,\
years since the early decease ( 1457) of Lorenzo Valla who spread roughly Epicurean ,iews
on sexual morals. One recalled his declaration that no product of nature can be but sacred
and praiseworthy (<JllOd 11c1t11m jinxit atquc fonnmit id 11isi sa11ct11111 la11dabilcquc cssc
11011 posse), and his shocking conclusion that 'whores and prostitutes have greater merit
than consecrated virgins and those leading a continent life' (111cli11s 111crc11tur scorta ct
postriluilo <JL111111 s1111cti111011iolcs \ i1gi11cs <ZC co11ti11c11tcs). 1" 'Ihis might have exerted some
influence on the minds of the young members of the Sodolitus Q11iri11ulis. They met for
!easts and dinners at which wine was abundantlv used and intelligence and eloquence
was at the service of juvenile phantasies about an ideal world unhampered by the power
of oldsters. 1hey admired Pomponio, but this was another issue. Pomponio was frcerninded, but little of an ascetic in practice. 'I11is did not prevent him later to marry and to
intersperse his lectures with culinarian digressions - recommending, it is true, vegetarianism. \Vhat the disciples admired him for was the opening of the divine possibilities of
this world for their more or less poetical minds. l\ lost of what we know of the emotional
life of Callimachus arc \'l'rses, small epigrams strewn along the path of his life.
A copy of the collection of two hundred and twenty of his L'pigrams, made before he
left Rome in the dramatic circumstances to be referred to below, and dedicated to a young
man, ~icolao Carbone, has been preserved in the library of Urbino. 111 It constitutes an importcrnt biographic sourCL' from the time of his membership in Pomponi us Laetus' academy. Epigrams by \\'hich he attempted to win the favours of important persons such as
the abme- mentioned Rovere Ila and his friends the cardinals Am man nat i and Francesco
( ;0111aga repre'.-.ent an ample number of these compositions. But even more important
for the biographer arc epigrams devoted to other members of the Sodc1/itc1s ()11iri11c1/is.
1 hey all were known under the Latin pseudonyms they were given by Pomponi us, such as
l'ctrcius (Pietro lkmctrio da Lucca), Pc111tugc1t/111s ((~imanni Battista (:apranica), Pt111!11s
,\lc1rsus - afll'r a Rom<\11 poet of that name (Paolo da Pcscina), /11t"iclo or - in a (;rLYiscd
fa -.h ion: I'/ 1osplzoro ( ~ larco hu i110), and many others, with I>ft1ti11t1 (Ba rtolonwo di SaL-ch i)
,,ho <1ttcr Pomponio \\'ll'> the most outstanding member of the corpori1tion.
It 1111_,, <1Llu<ilh, <l -.eLTet corporiition untkr the cmt'r of <\11 acadtmic -.ocit't\. 1 ht'\'
ml't '>(lllll'l1111L''- 111 tht Roman catacombs who-.t' t'\istl'nce had been forg11tll'11 b,- th~


TI1c Supposed A11tipapal Conspiracy of the Ro11u111 Academy


welcomed into the house of the celebrated family Cornaro. He intended to wait there for
a suitable connection by sea to Turkey, in order to learn Greek and Arabic, for purposes
which, being partially of an unorthodox kind, appear to ha\'e been kept secret by him. But
Lactus - contrary to Callimachus - was no man of action, no revolutionary at any rate,
and if he had any ambitious plans of reforming religion and society, he was only too much
inclined to forget them, and to withdraw to his peaceful habits as a scientist and teacher.
'lhe fact that he remained in Venice for several months without embarking for Greece was
explained by the necessity to save money for the intended travelling.
rl he very day of his arrival, or the next one, a young patrician from the celebrated
Venetian family Contarini, which is going to play a manifold and important role in our
further considerations, paid him a Yisit. This young man, and another one, son of Luca
i'Vl ichael, became his disciples. He treated them, as he says in his 'Defence', as if they were
his own sons, lodging them and nourishing them in his quarters. The mutual devotion
and attachment which developed between the pupils and their master were, however, an
occasion for suspicions and accusations.
It follows from some poems of Paolo 1\larsi that at least eight academicians, .lvlarsi
included, sojourned in Venice in the Autumn of q68 or in the following winter.~-111ey
must have arriYed there already in q67, accompanying Pomponio, because in the proposition of the 7th of March, q68, of the three leaders of the Venetian Council of the Ten
concerning Pomponio there is also the question of 'his heretical associates who came
with him to Venice from Rome'."~ If this was so, the Academy might have continued its
svmposia in Venice, in a circle which, although reduced bv those who remained in Rome,
1{1ight have been supplemented with Venetia~1 socii, such <.~s those mentioned above. Here,
under the protective arm of the 'Queen of the Seas: that great European power which
knew how to assert its independence against the popes, they felt apparently more secure
than in Rome. As Pomponio himself has confessed ingeniously, he believed the Venetians
to be 'enemies of the priests>'" 'I lw subsequent events have proved, however, that he
somewhat overestimated the degree of his security in the Lagoon.
Callimachus remained, of co~1rse, in Rome, sin~e it was o~ly there that he could carry
through his secret and his highly ambitious political plans. He was in a secure situation materially as a member of the household (fim1iliaris) and afterwards a secretary of
Bartolomeo Rovcrclla, Cardinal of Ravenna, to whom he had been recommended by
Platina.' 1"
Born in q21 and hence sixteen vears older than Callimachus, Platina had mam
intluential connections and was able to give valuable advice and support to the young
'Venetian: with whom he sympathized. Ile had made his humanistic studies in T\lantua
and Florence, where he had enjoyed, respectively, the protection of the duke Luigi
Con1aga and that of Cosimo and Piero de' Medici. Ile had also St'rvcd in the troops
of Francesco Sforza, duke of J\lilan, and was still in friendly relation with him. Last but
not least, he was sccrl'tar\' to the \'OUIH! Francesco (~onz<.H.!a (son of Luigi), cardinal of
,\fantua, related by bonds of friendship to RoYerclla, as well as to Arnmannati, Cardinal
of Pa\'ia all three o( whom were appointed cardinals at the same concbn' in Decernlwr
q61 and \\'ere known for their humanistic interests and syrnpathit'S. No wo11lkr therdorc
tlL1t tlw namt'" of these thrt'L' powerful dignitaries of the ( :hurch often recur in laudatory
pot'll1\ of ( :allirn<.lL'hus frnm that pt'riod of his life, <ll1d that he dedic~1tcd a good nurnht'r
Cl! to111po-.,itio1h of this kind to the t'nigmaliL ( '11cs11r, whom Kumanit>cki ,, ...1.. , ~1hk to
idcntil\ \\ith lr<ll1l't''>CO Sfor;a."'


(_ l



Callimachus, besides, took care to secure for his friend Glaucus (Lucio Condulmicr
of Venice) the same position as that he obtained himself. Of equal age and humanistic
interests, Callimachus and Condulmier must have already been friends in \'en ice. 1 hey
arrived in Rome simultaneously and they both became Roverella's secretaries and members of the Roman Academy. If Lucio was identical with that young member of the conspiracy headed by Callimachus whom Giovanni Blanco calls 'uno /,ucio de (uio de 111tzrc
Venetian a, parente def papa', he \Vas a relative of the Pope, a Venetian hi rnsc If.' 1-'
As one of Callimachus' biographers (Uzielli) says, the latter could not possibly find
a better teacher in the management of State affairs then Roverella, offspring of a highly
noble Ferrarase family and holder of numerous high offices under the pontificate of six
popes, from Eugene IV to Paul II and his successor Sixte IV. But although Callimachus
was not hit by any economical reprisals on the part of Paul II, he soon proved a far more
dangerous enemy of the latter, and of the papacy in general, than that noble but somewhat
childish and weak soul, Pomponio, absorbed in intellectual pursuits.
In the second half of February of 1468 there appeared in Rome an anonymous ast rological prognostic (iudiciwn) that the Pope would fall ill the 22nd of that month and die a
few days later. Presages based on so called prophecies of the Sibyl, allegedly discovered at
Altino near Venice, were spread at the Campo dei Fieri on loose leaflets or in a pamphlet
form, announcing the death of the Pope and the ruin of the clergy. All these predictions,
by which Callimachus apparently tried (in a way typical for Venice, especially in later
times) to prepare the ground for violent action, made some impression in the Vatican,
though it \Vas soon discovered that the forecast had not been calculated according to accepted astrological rules. The Pope caught cold the 22nd of February, but did not seem
to be seriously ill. Then, one of the last days of February, when Rome plunged into bacchanals and distractions of the Carnival, rumours were spread that an anti-pa pal revolt
was in preparation and that four to six hundred armed men were to enter Rome, take
the Vatican by assault, kill the Pope, rob the city, and declare a Roman Republic. Such
rumours were so much the more easily given credence to as republican aspirations were
at that epoch notoriously alive in Rome, and similar attempts at a coup d'etat had already been made. In 1453 a conspiracy headed by Stefano Porcari \vas stifled in a bloody
fight, and in i460, while the Pope was absent from the city, a band of cons pi ra tors led b~
Porcari's nephews, brothers Tibuzio and Valeriano, \vho \vanted to 'revenge the mart yrs of
liberty, throw away the yoke of the priests, and re-establish the ancient Repuhl iL< en tcrcd
Rome and committed excesses before being destroyed. Rumours said that Luca di ToLio
(de'Tozzioli), who had taken part in both conspiracies, and since 1460 had been counLillor to king Ferrante I of Naples, was one of the leaders of the new revolt, su pportl'd a I kgedly by Ferrante, Louis XI of France, Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini, c;eorge Podehrad
of Bohemia, and the Academy of Pomponius Laetus.
vVhat had actually happened ?rn According to al most strictly con fide nt ial reports
sent on 28th February 1468 by t\vo Milanese diplomats, Giovanni Rlanco and r\gost i no
de' Rossi, to their sovereign Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the conspiracy had been detcLtcd
thanks to indiscretions and denouncements in the office of Cardinal Ammann at i.
Petreius (Pietro Demetrio da Lucca), the cardinal's secretary, one of the four <kadem icians heading the plot (the three others named in this con;1ection being ( :..dlim11'- hu..,,
Claucus and Platina) made some mention of it to a certain J\ngL'lo dell' Aquila, \\'ho
\Vas eager to bring himself into favour \Vith the Cardinal by denouncing hi..., 'il'LTL'l<lr\.
Called in to A mmannati, who, as a friend of h u rnan i...,h, wa.., a hit tcr ad ,.cr...,<1ry ol I \1 u I

'/71c Supposed Antipapal Conspimcy

(_~( tlic

Romon Ac1dc111y


II, PetrL'ius is reported not to have denied that a group of men headed by Callimachus
intended to kill the Pope the first day of Lent, during the ceremony of sprinkling ashes
on the heads of the faithful in the Church of St. l\-larc. Giovanni Blanco, who sometimes
makes the impression of being, on the whole, somewhat better informed or more exact
than his colleague, says that, according to Petreius' confession, some of the conspirators,
disguised, about forty in number, were to distract the attention of the papal guards on
the square before the church by simulating drunkenness and engaging the guards in a
dispute.' 11 About two hundred men commanded by Callimachus, and hiding in the ruins
of some houses near Palazzo S. Ivlarco (Palazzo Venezia), were then, at the right moment,
to enter the church from the opposite side, swords in hand hidden under their mantles,
and 'cut to pieces everybody they met' (tagliarc ad pc::c cjuclli c/1c ad loro j(Jssc pc1ruto ). ~-:'
According to Giovanni Blanco, the Cardinal found the story unserious (as it possibly
was), but scandalous enough, even as a fantasy. He reprehended Petreius and, as de' Rossi
savs, ordered him to meet Callimachus and get more exact information concerning these
crazy fantasies of his. Petreius preferred not to return. Having informed Callimachus of
the denunciation, he either immediately fled from Rome or kept himself hidden for some
time, as also Callimachus did before he left the city, seeing that the affair had developed
unsuspected dimensions. 111l' same did, beside Petreius and Glaucus, also a fourth academician, named Asclepiades (l\larco rrancaschini, called Marco Romano, a _ti1111iliaris
of the bishop Gianantonio Campano, according to Calvelli) - all of them Callimachus'
nearest associates. ;i<,
\\'hat occurred after Petreius' had left Ammannati was, according to de' Rossi, that the
cardinal, h~l\'ing waited for him in vain, alarmed the Pope. According to Blanco, the Pope
was alarmed br the informer through the intermediarv of another cardinal whose secn:tary the inforn;er had addressed. B(;th cases might hav~ happened independently of each
other. 1 he Pope ordered his soldiers to be on the alert, and all persons suspected of conspiracy to be immediately arrested. 1 his is, at least, what follows from a letter of Agostino
Patrizi, bishop of Pienza (former secretary of Pius II, nominated Apostolic Abbre\iator
of Pius I I) written shortly afterwards and published by Cinquini.'r Calwlli says that the
Pope lirst ordered the arrest of four leaders of the plot (Callimachus, Petreius, Claucus
and Plat i na) and that this happened 'the night of February the 25th'. q ' But Pat rizi asserts
in his letter that several other academicians were arrested at dawn (scq11c11ti l11t'c) the
same night simultaneously with Platina, the sole one of the four who had neither escaped
from the city nor gone in hiding. Petreius had apparently not been able to warn him,
pnhaps because Platina sat at the table of his master cardinal Conzaga of ~\lantua, as he
adually did \\'hen llL' was ar-rcstcd. Among those arrcsll'd that night \\'L're, acLording to
Patri1i, also l.ucidus Fosforus (l.uLio Fazini, later bishop of Segni), Augustinus ~laphLus
(Agosti 110 i\ lalki, whom I.act us called a 'treasure of Roman lore': rcr11111 /\011111111m1111 tl1t'st111 r11s), and (:al Ii m<lL'lrns' brother Fra nccsco. "''
J>latina was regarded by the Pope, naturally enough, with particular suspicion because
of his f"L'lwllious attitude in the affair of the 11[1[1n1it1tons in q64. In his I liston of tlic
/>opes, l'latina has related tllL' course of the trial from his first confrontation \\ith Paul II
attn hi" <lrrcst, in a \er~ . . uggcstin'. though perhaps not quill' object in' ,,ay. 'I was led before Paul, ,,ho, as 1.,0011 a.., he caught sight of me, asked:"\ \'hat? You ha\.L' d<lrL'd to con..,pirL'
,,ith ( ,tllimaLlrns against me?" To ,,hich I, consLious of my i111wccnL-L'. calmly ,lJh\\'L'rcd
th.it it ,,.lit1ld lw irnpossihle to pron' that I was in\'oh-L'd \\ith him. Hut as lw I 1\wl], pale
from krrur, threall'ncd lllL' \\'ith torture and death if I did nut cunkss, and <l'-> I s<m rn\sclf


171e Supposed Antipapal Conspiracy of the Ranum Academy


domination of the priests'.''-1 ll1e Pope declared his intention to provide hereafter that it
should neither be allowed 'to study those vain stories and poems' (namely, mythologically
inspired Latin poetry), 'full of heresies and maledictions' nor 'to learn or practise astrology'.''' Considering the essential importance which the mythological and archetnrnl
elements of classical literature had for the transformation of the European mind in the
Renaissance, and the fact that all, or almost all, astronomers of that epoch, including
Regiomontanus, the great pioneer of astronomical reform, studied and practised astrology, this intention if realized would mean a far-reaching encroachment on the freedom
of science and cultural life. ll1e alleged four leaders of the plot were attacked by the Pope
with especial violence, because they, as he asserted according to Blanco, 'completely denied God, saying that heathens and gentiles, and other ancients had their own religion'.''c'lhe accusations against the Roman academicians referred to by the Ivlilanese ambassadors arc confirmed in full by Cannensius in his panegyric biography of Paul II. He
says that the academicians called the priests enemies of the laymen, because they had
introduced fasts and prohibited polygamy. 111e depreciatory qualifications of J\iloses and
Christ referred to by him are identical with those related by Blanco. As to J\iluhammad,
the academicians declared him, accordin2 to Cannensius, to be a man of great talent, but
also a 'swindler' (ciurnwtore) of men. Cannensius adds finally that 'some of them' went as
far in their free-thinking as to 'imagine an alliance with the Ottomans', and to 'prophesy
the death of the Pope' and 'a new religion' which would 'substitute Christianity'.''~ 111is addition, referring obviously to Callimachus, is important in more than one respect, as will
appear in the following, and should be compared with the last of the above quotations
from Blanco.
'I he Pope seems originally to haw held Pomponi us Laetus responsible for the Academy
as a whole. He required in a lm.'\'C to the Scrc11issi11w his immediate extradition, a demand
which was hacked up by the Venetian ambassador in Rome. Pomponius was arrested, but
he was st rangch' enough at the same time accused of immoralitv bv the Venetian Council
of Ten on g~m;nds qL~itc independent of tho~e made known l1y the Vatican: TI1C three
leaders of the Council declared on 7th Ivlarch 1468 that a certain 'dishonest' manuscript
hook the handwriting of which had been recognized as that of his own; as well as certain
indiscretions which he had uttered, put him under a 'manifest suspicion of sodomy' con ncctcd, it appears to his 'Defence' of his two Venetian pupils, Contarini and ivl ichiel. "~
1 he Council charged the Trial Commission consisting of (iiovanni Soranzo (chairman),
Leonardo Contarini (inquisitor), and Vittore Soranzo (advocate) with the task of subjecting Lal'lus immediately to an examination in prison, with the power to apply torture. He
slwuld thereafter he delivered to Rome on condition that he would he sent back, 'to be
purgL'd from his ugly vice' in the case that 'His Holiness would find him innocent and not
dcscni ng capital punish men("<)
In the beginning of the second half of J\ilarch, Pomponius, chained, was brought to
Rome and imprisoned in the castle of Hadrian, together with other accused academicians, about t\\'cnty in number.''"' Besides those mentioned abnw only (;iovanantonio
( :ampano, 1..:alled Scptlirnulcio or Septimulcius (created in 1460 Bishop of Cotrone and
146_1 Bishop of Teranw by Pius II and in the first days of the process stubbornly defended
by Angelo 1-"assolo da Chioggia, Bishop of Tcltrc); Lucillio de! Picino (apparently alsP
accused of \odorn~' and arrestt'd in Sabina); Pietro 0.farso, and a certain Aquil.mus, are
11a1111..d by dinrse sources."" 1 he last mentitH1t'd might have been (though not \'cry prnh<ihly l itk11ti1..al with the dclatur dell' Aquil1.1, ht't.<lllse he and tlw brother of t:allimachus

"1711: Supposed A11tipapal Co11spirncy

c~f tlzc

Ro111a11 Arnde111y


manuscripts with his own name, and that he could express excessively high opinions on
his own work, as in the dedicatory letter to Bishop Tommaso lnghiranni.'- Neither does
his use of the title Pontifex i\1laximus at the entrance to his house witness real modesty.
I-le took pride, however, in promoting the life of the resuscitated antiquity. His universal
intelligence could find the barbarian world of those not initiated in its secrets interesting
enough, but in his heart it was distant.'-' He lived, in contrast to Callimachus, a very modest and at the same time a very proud life, not only despising the protection of the rich
and mighty, hut not even taking advantage of his highly aristocratic descent. Although
frugal and sticking mostly to a vegetarian diet, he was not quite as moderate in drinking. - 1 \Ve arc told by his disciples, Marc' Antonio Sabellico and Ivlichele ferro, that he
aroused 'incredible astonishment' by his allegedly antique attire and eccentric manners.
\'\Then he, after rising at dawn, as was in his habit, appeared in the studio Sant' Eustacchio
before a great crowd of students, clad in a blue or crimson tunic, a bonnet or turban topping his slightly frizzled hair, originally brown, but to his annoyance early turned grey, he
gave the impression or an apparition from another world.
1 his mav, also have been sometimes the case with Callimachus. Platina, when tn'
ing to convince Paul I I that Callimachus was incapable of undertaking the attempt on
his life which he was accused of preparing, did not neglect to mention this, adding that
Callimachus 'loved to sleep more than P. Lentulus, and was more sluggish than L. Crassus
because of his fat bclh<'-' 'Ihc versatilitv of Callimachus is sufficicnth' attested, howen~r,
by his subsequent Iii~, and his beautift~l likeness on his tomb in Cr~Kow shows a slim,
long-faced man, with a big, bulbous forehead. His courage was admired and praised by
his associates as may be inferred from some lines addressed to him by Massimo Pacifico
who follows the accepted practice of putting it in connection with the gifts of Venus. As
to Lactus, he was a naturally courageous man, and the adulatory letter which he in 1468
addressed to Rodrigo Sanchez, the prefect of the Castel S. Angelo (Hadrian's Castle) in
which he was imprisoned, hears witness of a spirit not yet fully in command of his soul.
I-le was, at least at that time, certainly not a hero in the Callimachus style. n
It is a remarkable fact \\'hich docs not seem as yet to have been explicitly stated by
anv student of the Roman trial of 1468, that all those arrested whose names arc mentioned in the documents (except Laetus and dell' Aquila) belonged to the narro\\' circle
or Callimachus' closest friends in Rome, as far as \\'C can _judge of his friendship from the
dedicated to them in the collection he offered to the nrnng Carbone.,- And,
conversely, all the friends he addressed in these epigrams (except Planella, Cosmico and
Leon icc1w) were among the cons pi rat ors who h<we been mcnt ioned as arrested or ha\'i ng followed him in cxilt'.'-' 'I his, jointly with the fact that the Ac1demy had bdi.ll"t' the
prot-CSS at least tlfty memlwrs (a list or whom has been L-ompilcd by Della Tore) giVt'S LIS
an idea uf the extent to \\'hit-h the conspiracy, or at least the academic t-irt-le whit-h Paul II
rtga rdtd with the gr ca test suspit-ion, was cent red in the person of Calli ma ch us.,-,, l k ,,as
rtgarded as the leader of the conspiracy.''"
J>latina has lert us a detailed desuiption of the trial, not the k<1st tlw tortures inllided
u11 the at-adem it-ians in Had rians Cast k in ordtr to make them t"on fess pa rt icipat iun in
the allq.~cd t"onspir<1t"y. 'You mndd think that I ladrian's tomb was the Bull of Phalaris
lwa ring that lwlln\\' \"<lll It rtsmrnd ,,it h the uies of unfortunate adnlt'st-t'nt< '''
I Ii..., um1 t'\pcrit'nt-cs, probably in the tlrst day of torture, J>latina dt'...,tTihe.., in tlw i'ol
I< 1w111g ,,.< 1rd..,:




The tormentors make themselves ready; they arrange the racks. I am stretched, pulled and
racked as a rogue and a brigand. Vianesius sits on outspread carpets as another .\Ii nos ( ... )
looking as ifhe were at nuptials or rather at the feast of Atreus and TantaJu..,. \.~~ J\,;ot c<>ntcnt
even with that, handling the rosary while I, miserable, hung in the racks ( ... ) he asked thL
man from what girl he had got the gift of love [do11u111 mnoris]. Finally, mitigated so111c\\hat, but not satisfied with all those tortures of mine, he orders me to be laid do\\"n. In thL
evening I have to suffer greater ones. They carry me, half-dead, to my couch. 1\nd not s<>
much later I am recalled by the inquisitors, who have drunk well and eaten ( ... ). \'ia11esius
threatens me and holds out a prospect of greater torments in ca..,c I do not con fr..,.., thL' truth
( ... ).I am led back to my couch again, and then suddenly, I am merwhclmcd \\"ith ... uch
pains that I should like to exchange life for death: for the pains due to my chilled limbs ha\ing been violently shaken and struck grow fiercer and fiercer.,:--,

In the meantime, Callimachus had been tracked down by the pope's cm issaries in the
little town Trani in Apulia. Luckily for him, the local authorities declined to deliver him.
Feeling not secure, with the emissaries on his heels, he sought refuge at the court of the
King of Sicily, who in turn refused to hand him to his prosecutors, in spite of hci ng threat ened by a papal anathema.
Neither did the tortures inflicted on the academicians in Rome, bring Paul 1I the
expected success. Not a single one of them confessed anything concerning the alleged
conspiracy. So Agostino Patrizi says in the above-mentioned letter: Qui llllulcnz L/llJ/
in rnrcere torquebnntur, 11i/1il de conspimtio11c _f(1tcrc11tur.\xi Petrcius, whose capture appeared to open new possibilities to the inquisitors viewing his alleged voluntary Lonfession to Ammanati, did not make, as it seems, any confession at all under torture.,~, As to
Pomponius and Platina, the two mature leaders of the Acadenw, they stcadfasth denied
association in any conspiracy against the pope, characterizing 'call i;11ach us, ca~ h in his
own wav, as an unscrious person - but not admitting either that thev had anv knowledge
of a con~piracy having been seriously planned by him. rl he docume1;ts of the ,trial a re 1o~ t,
but a 'Defence and Confession' ( Dcfe11sio et co1~fessio) written by Pomponi us bet ween 11th
and 18th of April, 1468 in his prison in Hadrian's Castle has survived, as well as SC\'cral
letters of his directed to Rodrigo Sanchez, the prefect of Hadrian's Castle, and disLmered by Creighton in the libraries of S. Ivlarco in Venice and the Corpus Christi College
in London.'x 11 Seven letters sent by Platina from the prison to persons he hoped wou Id
help him are also known, thanks to Vai rani who printed them in 1778 before they d is<l ppearcd. These letters are addressed, respectively, to Cardinal Bessarion (in \\'ho'>c house
also Callimachus must have been a guest, as can be inferred from an epigram of his in tlw
collection offered to Carbone); to Marco Barbo, secretary of the Cha 111 berla i n..,h ip <l IHi
Great Chancellor of the Sapienza, the Pope's ncphc\v; to the Vice-Cha nee I!or, Ca rd i 11 a I
Borgia (the future Pope Alexander VI); to a _l{wzilinris of the latter, the Roman ()ttlL-i<ll
Vallcscar; to Cardinals Gonzaga and Arnmannati, and finally to the Venetian amh<.t'>S<.Hl()r
Piero Morosini.
\Ve have already quoted some nf the well-known ut tcrancc.., of i>< >mp< >n ius and I>I at i na
concerning Callimachus. Pomponi us has in his defence not only told thc '>tory ()f t lw
aggressive speech addressed to him by Callirnachus, \vhcn probably drunk, hut ha" al'>(>
- not verv' modesth' indeed - his boencral a\'l'r'>ion against
thL nwral h.1hih (>I
the latter: Coepi1JllC lu1/Jerc 11011 lw111i11c111, scd ci11s pcn'crsos 11wres odio, 1/lli slltis " 111('/>
11Mwrre/Jt111l. He explained this in some detail: 'I have ah\'i.l)''- l()\ Ld frugality. par.,1111<111\,

'/lie Supposed A11tipnpal Conspimcy

4 the Ro11u111 Acnde111y


and sobriety. He, on the contrary, indulged in feasting, drunkenness, and all kind of intemperance, having little consideration for anybody but himself'.
Platina's relation to Callimachus had been sub_iected - if there is any basic truth in
what he writes in his letters - to an evolution, some\\hat similar to that of Pomponius.
~I he difference was only that it had the character of true friendship (as clearly follm,s, on
Callimachus' side, from the numerous poems dedicated to his older colleague) and that
Platina, though also trying to pron~ his own innocence, did not accuse Callimachus of
moral depravity, but only of certain 'stupidity' (stultitin). He says that he 'tolerated' it 'for
some time patiently: because he had 'begun by k)\'ing Callimachus'. Later, there might
ha\'C actually been some friction between them, because Platina, as Cal\'elli says, was
cxcessi\ely proud and irritable (in which he scarcely could have differed much from
Callimachus), while Callimachus 'absolutely lacked the most elementary prudencc~is- In
a passage by Vairani there is an indication that the two men having nearly been at loggerheads because of Platina having rebuked Callimachus - as Calvelli suggests - for some
dangerous joke concerning the Pope and the clergy.'~s
\ \'hethcr Callimachus' 'stupidity' consisted in Platina's eyes of irresponsible fantasies,
as he tried to make the prosecutors believe, or rather of blabbing, is an open question. 'I
am innocent,' writes Platina in one of his letters in which he addresses the Pope, 'though
I wou Id Iic if I said that I did not fail ( ... ). But I can assert one thing, especially as regards
myself, namely that in what concerns Callimachus' stupidity and drunkenness, I have
sinned rather Lw neglect than lw malice when thouuh
reactine: auainst the words of a
drunken man and despising his obstinacv, I did not want to be regarded as a wicked
man, and especially not as a :iclator'.'~ Arn.i in another letter he \\Tites. . again: 'This has not
been done bv malice and fraud, but in order that we should not be taken for delators and
defamers if ~\'l' accuSL'd him, who after drinkinoLt and eatino,
killed kings
and 'bestowed
'principalities and dominations at pleasure' (qui post ii1111111 [ct] cn1pufom rcgcs trucidlll 1czt,
prinL"iplltus /ct/ do111i111tio11cs pro llrhitrio lurgichatur).''"'
A Ire adv when for the first ti me confronted with Paul I I after his arrest at ion, Plat ina
said he di,d not believe that Callimachus 'would ever haw attempted or had meditated
anything Ii kc that [of which he was accused] as he lacked the decision, eloquence, energy,
sagacitv, means, troops, adherents, arms, monev and, finallv, eves; for he was ncar-sightclt'. '"1 11~ his letters from prison he continued t;) insist that,th~ whole affair was notl;ing
but the harmless fantasy of a drunkard. '\\'ho would have believed', he writes to Bessarion,
'that Calli111<1chus could alone precipitate us into misery by those drunken delusions of
hi" \\'hich \\'e despised and scorned? \\'oe to us, damned, \\'ho must suffer for another's
"tupidity and foolhardiness. I k is free, that crazy dispenser of trL'asurcs and kingdoms
( ... ), \\'hilc we who h<we iust behaved unwisely when we did not disclose the drL'ams of
that . . illy 111a11, arl' tortured and kept in prison:,.,.
:\.., nothing 111orl' concrell' Loncerning the alleged Lonspiracy had enwrged from the
trial, the accusations made by Andreas Romanus were already in the middle of (\e\arch
r()und fal"L" and al11w1..,t all suspicions of conspiracy prml'd \'ain: "" 1 he prnseLution \\'as,
thnLforl\ Lo11centratcd on the accusations of herl'S)', i111pil'ly, and Lorrupll'd Sl'-'ual mor.lk
< ,ll Ii 111 a l h u " h ,l d a t t h at t i m e 1w k 1w w k' d ge of w h a t \'a s go in g o n i n Ro m L'. ( I k . ., a y...,
th'" l'\ p Ii l it Iy in hi" IL't IL' r t l) I k rsLrn s 0 f Ri th lI an i.) And L'\'L' n i h l' h <ld, 11L' \\'OU Id h<l\'l' h,1d
"L1ll1L iL'llt rL\\1..,on tor ft.l'linot"'t i11 lLllH!.cr 011 Italian soil. I !is l\oman colleagues, it i..., true, had
1111! .tlLLl'iL'd him of LPn..,pir<ll \'(cont ran to \\h,1t /ahughin rn,1i11t;1im), hut, l'<lgn ,ls the\

L 1

L- 1




had been to be saved from torture and prison, they had maligned him sufficiently to make
him, to say the least, highly suspect to the Pope. He decided to go to the East, whose spell
he, the 'Venetian', certainly experienced in no less degree than Lactus and so many other
humanists of his time. He embarked for Greece, with Marcus (Asclcpiades) and other
companions. 39 1 Glaucus was probably one of them, because he is known later to have accompanied Callimachus to Poland.''); But this was not just an exciting embark.at ion for an
exploration journey: it was leaving their native country with only an uncertain hope to he
once allowed to see it again. rn1ey abandoned friends, relatives, and whatever fortune and
perspectives of career they might have had. Callimachus could look back at a complete
wreck of his ambitious political plans. But although his future might have seemed \cry
dark indeed, destiny held still the chance of a great adventure in reserve for him.
In Rome, the trial continued on its prescribed course. One of the most aggravating
items of the charge was sodomy, of which the academicians in general, and some of
them - Pomponius, Callimachus, Lucillius - in particular, were suspected. Sodomy was
regarded still in some of the Italian states as a capital crime, although a tendenq for
milder punishment was already asserting itself. In his 'Defence', Pomponius conceded
that he in two letters had 'Platonic.1lly or rather Socratically praised the physical beauty,
virtue, and humanistic zeal' of his two Venetian pupils, but all imputations of sodomy
were denied by him with contempt. Zabughin writes that Pomponi us 'did not succeed in
refuting them, adducing very weak reasons and facts contrary to the truth'. ''J" But would
any common judge find Socrates convincing if the latter cared to refute obscene i nsi n uations that might be addressed to him because of the night spent with Agat hon? A 1th< >ugh
Plato's Symposiwn had at that time not yet been translated into Latin, its gospel of lme
was already spreading in Italy, and was soon to become - in the new, more mystical,
Neoplatonic, Christian form - the central doctrine of Ficino's universal religion. In L.1ct,
Ficino was working at his Commentary on Plato's Sy111posi11111 at a time (November q68July 1469) when the Roman academicians were still struggling with their prosecutors in
the Castle of Hadrian.' 9 :-vvhen judging their allegedly bad conduct we must keep in mind
that any attempt at justification on the part of those trying to find their own narrow p<.1th
is necessarily deemed to failure. TI1e way of the wise is not just one of di ffcrent knowledge,
but essentially that of a different being - and hence uncommunicable .
. '01is statement is not intended, of course, to signify that the charges of homoscxu<.11
li~ence put against the academicians were in all, or most, cases quite unfounded . .\ L.l 11 y
ot those young men might have been making their \vay in the primeval forests of human
nature in a rather wild manner. Zabughin rightly observes that the moral level of Lhe 'first'
Academy (i.e. of that before the trial) could scarcely have been higher than that of tlw
'second', but he is rather subjective when drawing from the reports of the I\Jilanese diplomats conclusions as to 'the sodomy and prostitution \vhich prevailed' in the latter, 'not
only tolerated and ignored, but exalted to se\ent h hea\'cn in elegant and repu 1s i \'l' pa 11egyrics'. ''JH Furthest in this doubtful kind of erotic poetry went Paolo Emilio da Sulnwna
and Niccolc'> Lelio Cosmico, both members of the Acadcmv from its vcrv foundat i( >n. 111L'
latter was a friend of Callirnachus, as can he inferred frc;lll a poclll i1~ the ahmc men
tinned Cod. Urb. lat. -~68, fol. 72, in which <:allimachus invite.., a oirl
named Cl<>ri.., to l()\'L'
Cosrnico and say.., that C:osmico will in that case Jllake her illlmortal. ( :.dli111aLIH1.., ,,,\..,
himself quite productive in this genre. Many of his Roman epigrams arc citlin dc\'u!L'd
to his own sweethearts, both girls and bovs, whom he citL'" hy tlw 1wme.., of hl]i..,, < ;1(lr1..,,
Nearcus, Nestor, etc., or to erotica! adve1~turcs of hi" friend-.,. lr()m (>JlL' ()f thL'"L' ~)()L'lll..,

171c Supposed Ant ipapal Conspirc1cy of tlzc Roman Acodcnzy

(fol. 81) we are made aware of Glaucus' unhappy lme to a certain Pamfilus. Another one
(fol. ~3) describes in detail the physical beauty of Lucidus Fosforus (Luzio Fazini) whom
Plat ina in his De /10ncst<1 \ 0!11ptatc, written before q.68, presents, though without bad
intention, as an effeminate youth, fond of sweets and the bcll<1 \'ift1. He appears to have
exercised a certain attraction on others of his colleagues also, especially Septimuleius
Campanus, and was said by the i'vlilanese ambassador Blanco to have been 'seduced by
Ca 11 i machus and his associates'. In an epigram directed to Plati na, Callimachus confessed
that he was fascinated by the 'snow-white' Lepidus, and that he would much better like
a modest meal of some chestnuts, vegetables and cherries, than the luxurious dinners
which Platina used to offer him - a poet to a poet. '\\rhat nonsense! - if only Lepidus was
his dinner-partner and pressed himself tightly to his side'.''' 9
1 he autograph of these poems ad pucros was discovered in Callimachus' lodging by
the papal police, who, though unable to catch him and his friends with whom he escaped,
conflscakd their personal prnperty. 4 "" These poems, preserved in the copy offered to
Carbone did certainh to some extent refer to oenuine experiences and emotions, dangerous, undouhtedlv, both in the objective and s~bjective sense in which all breaking o(social taboos is dangnous, hut not in every respect as bad as the prosecutors and the reporter~ were bound to declare. rlhey expressed above all a humanistic Platonic programme,
and hence also, to some extent again, a literarv mannerism, just as thev, in other respects,
were dependent on such classical models as I\lartialis, Horace, and Virgil.
/.athcv has SLH!uested that Callimachus mioht
have begun to cultivate the litcrarv
genre ud p11cros already in San Cimignano, as a pupil from q50 to 1453 of Matteo Lupi
( 1380- 1468 ), whom the well-known humanist Antonio Beccadclli accused of sodomy. It
appears that Lupi was in the last decade of his life taken care of by Callimachus' father,
\\'ho placed him in the hospital of Santa fina, situated between the town and the farm
of the Buonaccorsi at Paterno. Realh' significant in Callimachus' case is, however, neither
the adherence to that or any other litera~y mannerism, nor even some possible childhood
experiences, but the general attitude of a strong spirit, seeking self-expression in freedom.
1 hat Pomponius, with all we know about him, should condemn feelings of admiral ion
and tenderness for persons of the same sex, is unlikely. On the other hand, an epigram of
hi~, presened in a collection of l\larin Sanudo in \renice and constituting, as it appears,
a violent attack against sodomy, docs not need to be essentially hypocritical, although it
\\'a~ probably writ ten, as /.abugh in supposes, after the trial, with the purpose of protecting
hirnsLlf against possibk further accusations. 1" 1
1 he charges of conspiracy and sodomy were categorically rejected, and also those
o( L<ilunrniL'S against tlw Pope firmly denied. Pompo11ius had only to confess that he, a
f~\\ til11L'~, had eaten tksh during Lent for rLasons of health with the permission of L'Cclc..,iastic<ll authorities, a11d 'onLe or twiLe' allowed himself to Lorne \\'ith SOl11L' in\'L'LtiVL'S
agaimt the dLrgy. 1 he latter espL'Lially when he 'wa~ rtduLed to despair: because the
( ;rL'at Cht.111Lellor of the SapiL111a, Cardinal 0.larco Barbo, h<id held b.id~ his pay without
any justification. \\'ith this the l{oman trial \\'<.ls reduced to absurd tri,i.1litiL's. In spite of
that, or pL1hap.., e:-..:actl: thcrt'forL\ it was not tinislwd heforL' tl1L' following :L'ar. All the
llL.dt...,Ld made linally acts of\uhrnission, penitence and pnfect Christian faith: and were
intHlL.L'llt of the charges
of e\il \'iCL's and consnirc.k\-'.
SabclliLu..., "<l\''- that
!>( llll pon i u.., hc.1d \wen i 11 pri -.011 one :l'iH c.lt must. hut according to \\1i r<lll i hL' \\'<l~ I ihnalt'd
.tr<1t111d tliL' 'illllllllLT of q(19. I k ,,.L'lll imnll'di<ill'h tu Siena tn ,dJc,iall' thL' ...,ulfrring.., nf
'11.., lllrturLd h()dy in pl'lnikum h<1th . . .


L'L 1



Not all of the accused had equal luck. Agostino Maffei, one of Pomponio's nearest
friends, was not released before July 1470.And the fact that Septimuleius Campanus died
alredy in i472, or shortly after, was interpreted by Platina as a 'rcsul t of the torture and the
of the soul' to which he had been subJ. ected. Lookinu back to the st on of this
strange process, so dramatical and grandiose in its premises, and so trivial in its Lonclusions, one cannot but wonder whether it did reveal the truth about the Roman Academy.
Were the accused, as Zabughin tried to make us believe, just a band of youths 'affected hy
ugly spasms of sodomy, small rhetoricians and ditto poets, puffed up and meticulous, \\'ho
having laboriously studied the seven liberal arts, believed themscln~s to he authorized to
arrogantly aim at the stars and to ruthlessly trample the earth'? 1'" 1 And was there actually,
as it is natural to believe if these men were so insignificant, no serious cons pi racy either?
Zabughin declared somewhat inconsistently not to have'even a shadow of rational doubt'
as to the seriousness of the affair (Si, senzn /'o111bm di 1111 dublJio mgio11cio/c), though his
grandiloquence makes one wonder sometimes whether he is quite sincere. 1"' Only a few
students of the Roman process have expressed doubt as to the conspiracy ha\i ng been
real, but thev did not underrate Callimachus and his associates either. Zeissherg, whose
study on C~llimachus, though out of date on some points, still remains the hest and
most comprehensive of its kind, spoke of a 'persecution' ( \le1:f(J/gu11g) launched against
the Roman Academy, because of its heathen tendencies and 'political dreams' (po/it iscl!c
Triiumereie11), under the false pretext of reprisals against a conspiracy.;<>< Uziel 1i professed
a similar view, concluding that the youthful circle of Callimachus must ha\'c had a feeling of 'intolerability of the papal oppression' matched with Republican sympathies, hut
no concrete plan of violent change of the form of government. 1"- Della Torre, Pastor and
Zippel inclined to the opposite view, as also did Calvclli, and implicitly most later writers
on the subject, though they generally avoided to make a direct statement. ,.,c:
Platina, the sole one of the Roman academicians who after the death of Paul I I attempted or pretended to throw critical light on the accusations raised against the Academy, categorically denied, as already mentioned, their having any real foundation. To maintain,
as Zabughin did, that Platina ended by asserting things 'quite unlike those he himself h<H.l
\vanted to intimate' is not fair, because Platina (contrary to what Zabugh in asserts) did
not denounce Callirnachus nor make any 'crushing revelation' (schiucciu11ti ri\ clc1::io11i)
<luring the trial. 1" 9 The prosecution did not manage to procure anything in support of
the charge of conspiracy in addition to the denouncements of dell' Aquila and the <lllcged
Yoluntary confession of Petreius. 'Ihat Petreius should han told Ammannati the ~1lan ()f
a massacre in the church of S. NTarco, as was reported by the Milanese di plomah (who
had heard it from the mouth of the Pope), is, hmvcver, nonsense. \-Vhat the Pope told
the assembled diplomats must have been the sum of diverse rumours and accusal ions,
fantastically, and not just unconsciously amplified by the imagination of the persons who
had transmitted them, and perhaps also farther elaborated by Vianesius who later led thL'
trial. Vianesius, in fact, has been said by Platina to he one of two persons chiefly re"pon-;i
ble for the prosecutions of the Academv. It is also true that Bl an co wrote of Am Ill a 1111 <.l ti\
not ha\ing found the story serious and worth reporting to the Pope; J>ctreius' alleged
confession must have sounded much more harmless originally. If Bianco's report wa" rn lt
exact on that point and the truth was what de' Rossi wrote of Arnmannati's ha\'ing '-l'nt
Petreius hack to fetch more details from Callimachus, the confl''-sion "-()uld not han !wen
\'ery alarming either. On the other hand, it might have hcLmne a mpl i tied u nL (lll '-L i()ll '- h
lw,/ Amrnannati's hurmvinob anxietv' while he in vain waited for J>ctrciu" to return. I( it i"



71zc Supposed Antipapal Co11spirncy

c~f the

Ro111mz Acwie111y


true that the accuser told the story, in the meantime, to the secretary of another cardinal,
who so reported it to his master, and that again to the Pope; and if Platina was right, as
is probable, in that the accuser was personally interested in the story's being attached the
gravest possible importance, it might have reached the Pope that way in a different, but
also much amplified and coloured version. The diplomats appear, in fact, to have been
presented with two quite different versions of the alleged plan of attempt at the life of the
Pope. None of them deserves to be taken seriously.
Platina was certainly right in that Callimachus lacked the influence, the means, and even
some of the personal qualifications necessary for seizing power in Rome. Callimachus
himself observed quite convincingly in the well-known letter he sent three years later (on
the 13th of April, 1..p1) to the Polish magnate Derslaus de Rithuani (Dzierslaw z Rytwian
or I )zicrslaw Rytwia11ski) that it was plain stupidity to think of him having been striving
to take the place of an overthrown pope or seizing the universal dominion of Rome. But
the \'cry fact that he mentions such fantastical ambitions makes one wonder whether this
was not at bottom what he hoped to achieve - not alone, naturally, but with the help of
foreign powers. 'n1ere might have been something in the rumours that his plans were supported by King Ferrante, protector of the Platonic Academy of Naples (the Pano rm itana ),
and by Sigismondo ~lalatcsta of Rimini, the bold adherent of that legendary restorer of
Pia ton ism, ( ;eorgios Gem istos Plethon. Callimachus' poem dedicated to rvlalatesta makes
intimate iLkological contacts between them especially probable. \Ve know moreover that
fvlalatesta, deprived of his dominions, went to Rome shortly before his death in 1468 with
the intention to murder Paul II, but that he, standing'- face-to-face with the latter, found
himself unable to stab him.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Callimachus himself in his letter to Derslaus de
Rithuani has made hints about his foreign
alliances. He has added there that 'if some co._
conspirators actually had nourished such intentions (such as to seize the power in Rome,
etc.), it would be irresponsibil' to stir up a quarrel in the Christian world by revealing
their secret plans, and anew split ltalv united in leaoue against the common enem\ of
Christianitv, inciting it to civil war: 11 "'1 his revealin!! ~,assa~ge,
whose weight
is increc.~sc:-d
"by the closing words of Callimachus' letter, in which he asks lkrslaus de Rithuani to
advocate the 'endangered unity of Italy, and, indeed, of the entire Christian world', makes
it e\ident that the Roman conspiracy was real enough, hut that it was dependent on the
planned intervention of foreign conspirators, and had scarcely any armed forces at its
disposal in Rome .
., his is confirmed hy the striking fact that no trace of any preparations rm the alleged
atll'mpt was detected in RolllL' by the papal inquirers. It docs not appear probable that the
ti111c of the planned attempt should han' been different from that dedUCL'd by the Pope
from (:al Ii 111achus' astrological prognosis. 1 hL' intention of the prognosis must ha\e lwen,
in fact, to prepare Rome for an impt'nding merthnn, of the L'Cck'siastical rule by prL'senting it as a cosmic 1wcessity; and the cll'ect would be missL'd if the attempt did not take
days c.ltfr r t h e 2 2 n d
p Ia ( e a t t h e t i111 c a s s ig n L' d for t he de a t h 0 f t he p0 p L', i.e. \\' it h in a
of Ichrua ry, q6K.
Something, then, must han' happened which induced the foreign rn-conspi rat ors to
abandon the plan or inll'r\'l'ntion. 'I his so111L'lhi11g might ha\'L' bt'L'n the military prL'paLlti()ll'> ordL'l'L'd hy l\llll II un the night or thL' 21th of frhruary c.ls a (llllSL'ljllL'll(L' pf tkll'
:\qt1ila's l'l'l1urt and the folsL' infonll<ltion of r\ndrcas Romanus, which <lPPL'i.lr to han'
ht'l'll brought the '><\Ille night. 1 lw rok Pl Andreas Ro111a11u" i'> not tkar, hut tht' runwurs



Callimachus' Ascent Between East and West

he night of the 25th of February, 1468, Callimachus was warned of the imminent
danger to his life, and he escaped from his home before the arrival of the papal militia that was ordered to arrest him. According to his own later account, he did not at first
lean:- Rome, but kept hidden until the seriousness of the danger that threatened him had
become indubitable. He then succeeded in escaping, in the company of his closest friends
among the academicians, Petreius (Pietro Demetria da Lucca) and Glaucus (lVIarino
Condulmero ).
He sought refuge, at first, in the Kingdom of Naples, but was discovered there by the
papal agents. The Neapolitan authorities refused to give him up, but he and his companions had to leave Italian ground.111ev took a trading ship going to the Orient, but making
numerous calls u1Hkrwc.~y. After havi,ng followed th~ coast of L~ltium past J'vlonte Circello,
they sailed to the Peloponnesos, to the very coast of ancient Sparta (Laconia). Did he
dream of a visit to the former castle of Georgios Gemistos Plethon?
If it was correct what he later told in a poem dedicated to his friend hrnnia Swentocha,
the shin
sailed further to Crete, and was intended to ooo to fa!vnt,
"-'' r- but because of unpropitious winds was directed to Cvnrus
a tnanal
envoy \Vho was to
arrange a marriage of the king to a daughter of Tomaso Paleologue, the deceased despot
of Pdoponnesos, he had to leave Cyprus without delay. By the way of Rhodos he arrived
then at Ch ios, the last crumb of the vast Genoan empire on the islands of the Aegean that
had still resisted Turkish aggression. The upper class of the inhabitants of Chios came
from a few Cenoan families, that had acL1uired voreat riches from ~jealouslv nrotected
tat ions of precious masticresin.1l1ey li,ed, as the Genoans evcq'\vhere else in the Orient,
in ferocious rivalry with the Venetians. Callimachus met there nevertheless a few Italian
humanists, among others Niccolo Ugolini from an illustrious Florentine family, a near
friend of J\Iarsilio ficino. Niccolo appears to have given him a letter of recommendation
to Francesco Ugolini in Constantinople. Callimachus arrived there in the summer of 1469
and profited (rn111 Francesco's hospitality up to December that year. Rumours attained
hi111 there that he had been included in a general papal amnesty. and had been invited to
come back to Rome. 1-k doubted (_justly, as it pn)\'ed afterwards) the correctness of thL'SL'
rumours. Bes ides, having come so near the focus of the Fast- \Vest contl ict of his ti me, he
de-..ircd to investigate that conflict more thoroughly, and perhaps to find nL'W ways of attaining peace in thL' world. Drc<1ms of religious and political union of Furupe had he now
left heh ind. but the quest ion of peace or \'ictory o\'l'r Turkey lay st ill opL'l1 in his mind, and
app<lrL'n t I~ with i 11 the reaLh of human possibilities of rt'al i1at ion. He had wealthy rel at i\'L'S
in i>< lland, and the p< lWcrful Pol ish-1.i t lrnan ian Com nWl1\\'ealt h, the largest Fu rnpL'<.111 sL.1te
oft hat ti me. i1wo!Yed as it was in beginning con frontal ions with Turkey, must han' SL'L'mcd
the right field of L'xploration for him. He took a boat to the mouth of the Danulw, and
tra\elkd from there lw land onT I\loldavia and Bukmina up to the southernmost Lontincs
of Pol<rnd proper, i.L'. of what later L.<lllll' to he calkd easll'rn ( ;alicia.

Callimaclzus' Ascent Between East and \Vest


education, first in Cracow, then in diverse places in western Germany. Back in Cracow,
he was matriculated at the University in 1428. After the following five years of studies, he
became renowned for his lectures on classical literature, as well as for his own attempts at
writing comedies in the style of Plautus, and Latin poems of the epitaph type, very fashionable at that time. He went to Florence and Rome, and was granted by the pope the parsonage of v\Tieliczka near Cracow, a town internationally famous for its rock-salt mines.
King \ Vladyslaw I I I appointed him to the office of father confessor on his anti-Turkish
campaign, and he witnessed the fatal battle at Varna in which the king was killed. He did
not return to Poland at first, but followed the Hungarian commander-in-chief~ governor
Johan Hunyadi, to Hungary, where he served for some time as teacher of his sons. He was
there working in conjunction with John Gara, uncle of the famous Platonic humanist
Janus Pannonius, and in that way in touch with the Platonic circles of Hungary, which
after Florence were perhaps the most important centres of this kind in Europe. But in
Poland he was believed dead, and when he finally came back he was greeted as risen from
the dead. He could not get his former post at \ \Tieliczka, but was proposed the recently
vacant position as Archbishop of Leopolis instead.
During the long period of Callimachus' depression in Dunaj6w, Gregory behaved as
his most compassionate friend, guessing his thoughts and trying in every possible way
to make life easier for him. He devoted more time to Callimachus than his, Gregory's
age and position should allow, sitting with him at meals, sometimes even long into the
night, inviting also Fanniola to make him glad, and trving to dispel Callimachus' sombre
th~rnghts, in ..~delicate and compassionate \vay. Callin;achus says that seeing the life and
wav' of beinbo of that excentional
man had a stranoe
influence on him. It showed him, as
in a mirror, that no greater luck than misfortune had ever occurred in his life, and that he
\vould have fallen into utter corruption if he had let ambition and the rotten morals of his
time lead him, as so many others, away from the paths of virtue.- 112
As the danger of extradition to tnanal
e1wovs was no longer there, Callimachus \vent
to Cracmv and in the summer semester of 1472 was matriculated at the University. It is
even probable that he left for Cracow earlier in order to sec some of his relatives on his
mother's side who were active there, especially Ainolfo Tedaldi, with whom he was in
contact by letters. He must have felt quite safe in the Polish capital after obtaining a call
to the position of teacher of the royal sons, a call that must have been issued before the
25th of Julv, 14-1 1. 1 ' ' At that date, the oldest nrince,
\Vladvslaw, was alreadv leaving for
Prague as the newly-elected king of Bohemia, and only John Albert and Alexander could
he Callimachus' pupils. Obviously, the splendidly phrased letter to Dcrslaus de Rituani,
imposing also in its sharp argumentation, must have been knmvn al the court, and must
ha\c made an impression there. But as the general guidance of the young princes had already been confided to a man en_ioying the highest reputation in the Commomvcalth, the
historian Johannes I )iugosz, Callimachus had only to instruct them in the Llt in language.
1 his did not prevent the relationship bet\VL'cn these two men i.Kquiring a character of
mutual respect, in spite of great differences in their age and outlook. In time, Callirnachus
htYame inclined to start his historical works from accounts borrowed from tht' works of
l )lugosz, still permeated by <l medieval system of evaluation, but formed anew in the clas">icd spirit of the Renaissance.
1hrough intermediation of Dlugosz, if not of other persons frequenting tlw royal
L(lllrl, ( :allimachus made soon the acquainta1Kc of important statesmen. One of them
was /hignic\\' ( )lcsnicki the Younger, nephew of the Ldebrated cardinal of the same name


that had been involved in the conflict of the church councils with Pope Eugenius I\', and
after the latter's general recognition was still accorded the right to bear a cardinal's hat.
When Olesnicki the Younger in i472 became Vice-Chancellor of Poland, Cal Ii rnachus
send him a courteous congratulation, without any presentiment, perhaps, that this contact would be the point of departure for his political career in the Commol1\\'ealth. His
extraordinary sense of orientation might h<.1\"e given him, however, already at that ti me a
feeling of the exceptional character and situation of the state to which he had arri,Ld.
This state was formed not even ninety \'ears earlier through the union of two other,
very dissimilar ones: the,Catholic \Vest-Sh~vic Poland ~rnd th~ heathen Baltic Lithuania,
enormously expanded by the progressive conquest of most East-Slavonic duchies, thanks
to the political and military genius of several generations of Lithuanian Craml I )ukes.
The apparent foundation of this paradoxical union was the marriage of Jadwiga (I kd,ig)
from the Hungarian branch of the French house Angevin which had the rights to the
Polish throne, to the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiello. But the actual motives were both
religious and political: Christianization of the Lithuanians and elimination from that part
of Europe of the aggressive and totalitarian Prussian state founded by the ( icrm<lll ( )rdcr
of Teutonic Knights. ~Ibis Order, designed originally (ca. 1190 A.D.) for charitable senices
in Palestine, assumed only eight years later a military character. Expel led from 11 u nga ry
where they were intended to help to convert the pagan Cu mans, they were i 11\'i ted by a
Polish autonomous prince, Konrad of Mazovia, to the territory of Che I rn no ( ( ;crrnan
Culm) for missionary work among the aggressive Prussians, a Baltic people akin to the
Lithuanians. Powerfully armed, originating as they were from the social and intellectual
of the German nation, observinob celibacy' toocther
with a hiuhlv
authoritarian mode
ot organization with respect to physical as well as to spiritual power, they had 110 great
difficulties in subduing the old Prussians. cn1crc arc accounts of incredible heroism and
defiance ,,ith which the Prussians tried to defend themselves, but after a last uprising
between 1161 and 1283 they were definitely subdued. \Vhat remained of them, lost rapidly
the ability to use their native tongue, the last rem nan ts of which were extinguished in the
qth century.
CI heir close relatives, the Lithuanians, who spoke of the most archaic suni,i ng I ndoEuropean tongue, remained independent, in spite of the ( )rdcr's intense attc11111ts at
subduing them. No European sovereign except perhaps the emperor and a few C;erman
princes seemed to cncouraue the Order in such attemnts
anv lonuer
hut the Lon,id ion
that they represented the sole genuinely divine power in that part ()f Europe "iL'L'll1S tP
have freed these knights from possible restraints. 'Ihe motives of their work ho.1d hL'comc purely worldly, aiming at the conservation and expansion of their ac h iL'\'e 111L'11 t.
the unique establishment of a scientifically planned and ruled "tate. 'I hey colo11i1Ld the
country first with a selection of German nobility, then with ( ;LTman pea..,ants and t(l\\'11'-ipeople, the remains of more or less c;errnanized ancient Pru..,sians forming an unLkrdog
class of labourers or, at best, of low nobility. CI he Order planned and built tm,n..,, l-<htlL'",
roads and fortillcations. \ Vhat was more, it secured for itself secret guarantee'> fr( 1111 t lw
German emperor, and profited from every occa-.,ion of expanding its i)( )'>..,L''>'> io 11" <l t t lw
expense of its neighbours. 1 hus, in 1_)08, at the time of the political dis-.ociat ion (ii J>( iLrnd
into a 11umbcr ()r principalities, the K11ights annexed the country at the m()uth ()r tlw
\'istula and the Polish Pomerania, jointly with the prmpcring 1(1\\'n of ( ;dan...,k (I ).1111igl.
Now, Christianizatinn of the Lithuanian.., under the uni()n ,,-ith [>()l,111d Lkpri\ L'd
the Order from the re'>t of .iu..,tific.1tio11 for its pre..,cnce in Pru...,..,ia . .\lil1t.1ry Lkkl1h i11

Collinzaclws' Ascent Between {1st and H1est


confrontation with the new Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth made the brethren lose
much of their international prestige. \ Vhat was more, the multinational Commonwealth
then presented a model of freedom to which the Prussian subjects looked with jealousy.
In q40 the nobles and the towns of the Order formed a 'Prussian Union' against the iron
rule of the Order, and in i454 they appealed to the Polish king for support. \Vhen the king
refused because of an earlier agreement with the Order, the Prussian Union declared an
uprising against the Order under the guidance of the major cities, such as 111orun (1l1orn,
Tond1 ), Gcdanum (Danzig, Gda(1sk), Elbing (Elblqg), K()nigsberg (Kr6lewiec, the present
Kaliningrad), and the capital Marienborg (Malbork). Consequently, in February that year
Prussia was incorporated into the Commonwealth with the promise of equal rights, special congresses for Prussia, and reservation of all official positions for the natin~s of the
country. The Order reacted by using all its material resources in securing a considerable
mercenary army in confrontation with which Poland's provisional general levy proved
inefficient. rlhis reduced Polish prestige in parts of Prussia, in spite of later Polish military successes. As a consequence, Prussia was divided in the peace of 111orun on the i9th
of October, q66 in the well-known manner among parts of the Order and that of the
Kingdom, the first of which comprised K(1nigsberg.
'I his was, however, only one of the political consequences of the young Jadwiga's consent to marry Jagiello. Another one was the union of most North-Slavic peoples, except
the north-Russian republics of Novgorod, Pskcw, and Vyatka, in rivalry with those of the
extreme East, which were lastinglv marked lw centuries of J'vlon~olian overlord.ship. n1ese
Asiatically intlucnced parts of the East-European population of Indo-European descent
consisted merely of the Principality of Ivloscow whose territorial extent at that time was
still moderate. But this Crand Principality in the making had already in the few following decades begun an eastward exnansion
and was in the i--1 th centurv about to reach the
shores of thL' Paciric. 'fhc power which that state already represented and would enormously develop was L'Sscntially of Asiatic political descent in spite of the predominantly
Slavic component of the population. 'Il1c political organization tyrannically imposed on
those parts of East Slavic Europe survived the supremacy of the ivlongols, with allied adaptations to Byzantine models that followed from the adoption of Orthodox Christianity.
1 he resulting great power in the making was of such an absolute and despotic kind,
brought formerly to its extreme under the inspiration of (;enghis l(han and Kublai Khan,
whose reign embraced China, Tibet, Iran and most of the later Smict Union as well.
At the tin1L' of Callimachus, the realization of these tendencies belonged to the future and Lould he e\pccted only by minds of exceptional perspicacity. A barrier to it
was presented by the Lithuc.rnian Algirdas doctrine 'that all Russian lands belong to
Lithuanians' (cJllOd 011111is l~ussi11 11d !.it11111os dt'hcrct si111plicitcr pcrti11crc). Indeed at the
time with whiL-h we arc dealing, the eastern houndar\' of the Commonwealth rcc.lL"hcd as
far as south cast i\losLow. But the Algirdas doctrine was otilcially abandoned by 1'asimir
lagicllo in c.1 treatise with i\losdn\ in 1-J.-J.L), followed lw the marriage of the (;rand-Duke
han 111 \'assiliL'\'itch to the Byzantine princess Sophia Palaeologuc, a marriagL' whiL-h
made the (;rand- Du kc dL'Llarc J\.loscow to be t hL' 1 hi rd Rome. 1 he expansion of the
\[o..,cmitc :-.tall' was then dfrctcd by those parts of the South-Eastl'rn SJa,iL population
to tlw north of the Caspian and the Blc.1d' Sc~1 which, through adaptation to .\ !ongoli1.111
\\'1.1\1.., of nomadic lik were able tn fnllow the formn i\longolian paths of dll1l]LIL':-.t in thl
rnL'l"'>L' dircdiun.
In the 1-:;th L'L'ntury. the dawning threat 0L111 authoritarian powl'r in thl' Fast \\a:-. still in









its embryonic form of alliances between the Principality of Moscow and the l\longolian
(or, rather, 'Tartar') states that had followed from the gradual dissolution of the enormous
western part of Kublai Khan's empire, and were known under the collective name of the
'Golden Horde'. But as the Muslim, 'Tartar' component of the population had become
with time dominant in these ephemeral states in comparison with the Buddhist one,
they were inclined to enter into military alliances with the expanding Osmanli Empire
of Turkey. In the time with which we are dealing, alliances of the Crimean Golden I Ion.le
with Turkey had already led to Tartar occupation of most of the shore of the Black Sea
with the flowering Genoan and (less numerous) Venetian colonies, and to the Turkish occupation of the Vallacchia (Muntania, i.e., southern Romania). Lithuanian dominion of a
northern section of the Black Sea shore was becoming highly problematic.
Thus, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was exposed both to pressure from the
South by powers from the East, and from the North, by the dominant power of the \iVcst
- in the form of a partially aggressive colonization. It was threatened by becoming cut off
from connection with the sea - both in the North and in the South - and hence by a loss
of economic independence. On the other hand, the close ethnic, linguistic, and religious
(Christian-Orthodox) fellowship of the majority of peoples of the Duchy of Lithuania
and those of the Duchy of Moscow, was a real bond. And v\lestcrn, especially C;errnan,
colonization was a highly positive factor in the cultural and economic development of the
Commonwealth, and of its western (Polish) part in particular.
The German colonization of Poland was essentially different from that of the Slavic
peoples farther west, where it was associated with a partial or total loss of political
independence. The population of present eastern Germany east of the so-called limes
sombicus that went from what is now Kiel and Neumi.inster in the north, to Bamberg,
Ni.irnberg and Regensburg in the south, appears to had been practically purely Sla\'ic
from the beginning of the 6th century to the 12th century. In the 12th and 13th centuries
it was subjected to an intense German and flemish colonization in connection with a
population boom in the West. In these regions Christianization was largely enforced by
the German priesthood, as in Prussia, and largely connected with a loss of national and
linguistic identity.1l1is was the case even in Mecklenburg and \Nestcrn Pomerania, \vherc
Christianity was introduced by the native princes, \vhose descendants remai ncd in power
up .to modern times. Poland, however, being Christianized by the independent decision
of its own princes, and having early developed its own political institutions, did not follmv such a course of events. An exception was only the Lower Silesia, where the spell exerted by the German civilization on the princes and the nobility resulted in an enduring
Germanization of the entire country.
\Ve say 'enduring', because immigration from the \Vest in the course of the qth and
15th centuries was so intense as to make the German tongue temporally domin;.mt among
the well-to-do burghers
most Polish cities. Among the new-comers to the Polish Lapital Cracow that had been granted the city-1<.nv, undoubtedly Cermans made up 66 <\,(I in
the first decade of the 15th century, but only less than 50 <Yc, in the fifth decade, and 2-t
in the first six years of the 16th c~ntury. llJ :Ihc new-comers were largely nat i\'l's t if (the
originally Polish) Silcsia. 11 ' At the time of Callimachu..,' sojourn in Poland, ( :ract )\\' \\as
largely a ( ~crman-spcaki ng city; in the course oft he 16th cc.ntu ry ih population \vou ld he
largely Polonized. Cracmv \Vas the seat of the <.,ovcrcign of the Polish-Lithuania1l Union,
the Suprcmus Dux, \Vho was also King ()f Poland. A s()ll or youngn brother of hi" wa" the
c;rand Duke of Lithuania, in many f"C<.,pcds a S()\lercign ruler, although he \\'i.l'> <1ssu nwd



Calli11u1cl1 us' Ascent Betlt'een East and West


to act in consultation with the Supremus Dux. His seat was the Lithuanian capital Vilnius
(Polish: Wilno).
rn1e population of both these united states was composite: Polish with strong German
and Jewish minorities in Poland (called more often the 'Crown'); white Russian,
Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Jewish, and Lettish in the Grand Principality. An ancient form
of vVhite Russian was the state language of the latter. In connection with elections of the
sovereigns by the magnates and delegates of the gentry, the gentry was in the course of
winning increasing privileges which with time were to give the elections a more or less
parliamentary form. TI1e term 'Commonwealth' was adopted in direct translation from
the Latin Res Publirn, and Latin was practically the sole language used in written communication between more or less educated people, also that of the gentry in general though
in a less refined form.
Both this composite state and the (very unlike) Principality of Moscow were objects of
particular interest in Italy, with Pomponius Laetus in the first place among the humanists.
rlhis was due more generally to the community of political interests in defence against the
aggressive pmver of Turkey and, in the case of Laetus, perhaps also to a dream of political
unification of antagonistic components of mankind. According to some sources, Laetus
was a member of a delegation that departed from Rome on the 24th of June, 1472 in order
to accompany Sofia Palaeologue on her way to Moscow, where she was going to marry the
Grand Duke Ivan II I.111' Had he, the prophet of Rome, any presentiment of the historical
role of the coming 'TI1ird Rome'? Contemporary notes mention also Laetus' alleged expedition to Germany in the years 1479-1483 in a supposed search for manuscripts in charge
of Pope Sixtus IV, a search of which, however, no trace has been preserved. Vladimir
Zabughin, the standard biographer of Laetus, mentions inconsistently two short voyages
in the periods 1479-1480 and 1482-1483, either as 'in search of manuscripts' or as 'great
Oriental journeys'. w TI1ese journeys are in another place designated as 'very short', as
they must have been, vie\ving the circumstances. Indeed, Laetus is known to have married 'not later than in 1479', and to have come into possession of a second house beside
his old one on the Quirinal, the 17th of April, 1479.11 1' vVhat appears probable is that he
had made a journey across the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but that his extensive
notes on the Ruthenian-speaking Eastern Europe proceed mainly from reading or other
kinds of second-hand information. He speaks of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth
indiscriminatelv as 'Sarmatians', and uses the term 'Scitians' inconsistentlv either as a
designation of Slavic peoples generally ('formerly extending as far \Vest as the Elbe') or
those cast of the Dniepr. lhese arc practically the same designations as those \vhich we
find in Callimachus' writings. And Laetus was aware of the multinational character of
the Commomvealth. He notes that 'Sarmatians' arc Poles and Lithuanians, but that in
Sarmatia as many as seven languages are spokcn. 1'" He adds that the most common of
them is the Scitic, i.e. Ruthcnic, and the least common, Lcttish.
1 here is no known indication of Laetus havin~L' met Callirnachus under his alkged
journey <Kross the Commonwealth. Inconsistencies in the extant acLmmts make us
wonder whether Laetus might not have been entrusted with some secret mission, just as
A mbrogio Cont a ri n i ,,as at that ti me on the part of the Venetian Signoria. It was the ti 111L'
of intcn"e \'ent'lian attempts to establish a coalition that would be able to stop lhL' Turkish
t'Xpan"ion in the Blad:. Sea and the i\kdilt'rranean. Not onlv Christian pmvers, suL-h as
l he Pope, l he kingdoms of Naples and Cyprus, and the (;rand ~ lastl'r of Rhodos, but to a
high degreL' ,l]-.;o tlw Colden Hordt' ,rnd po\\'crful Persia in the person oftlw Sh,d1 l 1s"un




1h e M edieva l Cou r t o f th e C racnw Un ive rsity.

2. Portrait of Lucas Watzenrode, Copern icus' uncle, made in 1640 fro m an

older likeness of his. Carried off to Sweden in 1703/ 4, it was given back to
the Catholic Seminary in Braniewo (German: Braunsberg).

icolaus Copp ernick, astronom er's fat her, copi ed c 161 8 from an orig in al in St. John's
churc h in 1horoni a through th e care of the CracO\v professor Joannes Rrosc ius.
3. Portrait of


4. "n1 e funerary plate of Ca llimac hus in th e Dom inican C hurc h in C raco w.

Per laqualecofa,principiai pofcia r3gioncuolmente fufpicare &crederc peruenuto nella uafii ffima Hercyn ia filua. Et qui ui altro nondfere
belue. Et percio cum maximo terriculo dubitaua, di elfere fencia alcuna
defenfa , & fencia auederme dilaniato da fetofo & den tato A pro , ~ale
Charidemo,ouerodafurcntc,&farnato Vro,Ouero da fibillante ferpc
& da 6:emendi lupi.incurfanti miferamente dimembrabondo lurcare uc
deffelecarne mie.Dicio dubitadoifpagllrito,Iui propofi(damnata qua

lunquc pigredine)piunondimorare,&detrouareexito&euaderc glioc

corrcnti pcricoli, & de fo]icitare gli gia fofpefi &difordinati paffi, fpdfc
fiate negli r~diconi da terrafcoperti cefpitido,de qui,&deli pcruagabon
do errante,horaad latodextro,& mo alfinifrro,talhoraretrogrado,& tal
fiataantigrado,infcio &ouenon fapendo meare, peruenuto in Saito 8C
dumcto &f~nticofo loco tutto granfiato dalle frafche,& da fpinoG pm,
nuli,&dalintractabilefrulto I.t facia offenfa.Etpcrgli mucronati cardc
ti,& altri fpini lacerata la toga & ritinut1 impediua pigritando la ttntm
fi1ga. Oltra quefio non ucdendo delle amadlrcuole pcdateindicio alcu-

no,ne tritulo di femita,non mediocrcmrnte ditfufo &dubiofo.piufoli...

ciumcnteacccleraua.Si chc pcrgli cclcri paffi,fi per cl mcridionalc dlo
qnaleperd motocorporalc fatto calido ,tuttodcfudorc humdado cl
5. 1he star t of Pol)1 p hilo's d rea m adven tu re: wa nd e r ing th rouah
a dense fores t - much
simila r to tha t of I )a n te's in tht /) /1/1111 co111111r.:dit1 . (A iii vt'rso of the original edi t ion of

fiy p11 ero /0111c1d1i11.)

canto poco.8' ucndico piaccre,& in findo bcnepr:dfati.

~dlc&confimigliante parolecmn uchernecia agicata, & nella fron
cc cum infurgentc rugc indignabonda Logillica dicendo. proiclta la
lyraad terr.i la rumpetc. Dique, Thelen1ia in1pigra &. di tale fuafione in
pcrccrita feccmi nuto ridibonda che ad Logiflica non attendcfe. Per laqualecofa Logiflicacognicala miainiqua proclinationc fuccenfadedif
dc:gno,uoltatclcfpalleJofpirofa,propcramentecurfiubonda,ufcite fora

Et io rcllai cum la mia uicbi~c & chara Thclrmia,Laq ualc blandicn tc hi

laramidixc.~cftocqucl loco Poliphilc,oucnon fara dilationedi tern
po,chc tu ttouarai fcnza fallola pin amata co fa da tc,chc c tua,che co fa dcl
mundo,dclla quale il mo obflinato core fen za icnmiffione pen fa & o pta.
Diquctra mcfcrnpulofamenccdifcurfitando,Solamrce io crouai,che al ..
tro ncl mio mifdlo corc,fi non la rnia Elioida Poliac irnprdtocogitabilc&dcfidtratdfimo.Paqudk folatiofc& przgratiffimc&di~cp~~olctcc


6. Logistica abandons Polyph ilo to his dear Thele m ia a nd the seven att rac tive virg ins.
(Hypnero tomachia iii recto.)

i uer6 loci appedeua. Gliqli rami &inqua & i la affixi,cu fol?fiiroe fem ata
fi.naal fucuro anniucrfurio fiauano.Et ritornato lo an no tutc qlle arefaCte fronde racogliedole gli facrarii fim pulacori,il facrificio icendeuano.
Finalmecedappotuto qHo fdliuiffimamece }?aCto&ftimacuobferuan..
tiacelcbratogli feraliofficiicu
fupplice cumreligione& cerimonic
degli dii.q ualuque malo genio fugato.llfumo fucerdotc:C urione primo
& pofciadicedoleextremeparole,illicet. Ognuno .licentemere & fefiiuo ritornare poteuaal .pprio icolato & l~tiremearead ladomuitione-'.
Cu quefio ule ordine lamia magniloqua Polia facondamete hauedo,
&cu blandicelleparole tantaobferuantiadignadi laudatiffima commc
dationeintegramenteexponendonarrato,& mecompendiofamete infiituto al fpatiofo & haren ulato Ii tore di piaceuoli plemyruli irruenti re:
lixo,ouc: erail ddlrueto & deferto tern pio perueniffimo.


-~~~-~_'~ ~ ~\f'~.~~-;


,j./!2. " ' '

.\.h' .\ :,~-.... ,l.'f_~~
~l~)". '7-


-~-~~- ;: .;,"1

t ~--- '



7 Po lyphi lo's and Polia's wa11 deri11g through the ruins of th e splen dours o f the
worl d. ( f-fvp11 crotomnd1it1 p ii i verso. )

8. Reprint of Copernicus' seal, representing Apollo playing th e cosmi c lyre

Colli111c1clllls, Niclzolo, mzd tlze H11111mzistic Circle of Fladislm in


In 1486, Callimachus went abroad as member of the Polish delegation to the coronation of the emperor .Maximilian to the king of Rome. TI1e actual motiw of his diplomatic
Journey was his continued endeavours at forging an anti-Turkish front comprizing the
Empire, the Commonwealth, and Venice. On the way from Cologne to Venice he sent to
Lactantius 1 hedaldus a letter dated from Leipzig 'Calcndis Aprilis I-'.J86"with many greetings to the Florentine Platonists, the "celcste" Lauro (Lauro di Piero Francesco de Medici)
in the first place, and "cl dzo111pare et conrnre" (father and mother)'. But the letter's first
words were:' I have written to vou shortlv after the return of my Nicholo', indicating that
the boy occupied the foregrou nd of his ~oncern. He was now <~pparently accompa~1ying
his master abroad.
Callimachus did not succeed in his attempts to establish an anti-Turkish alliance this
time either. The Venetian Senate did not go farther than offering diplomatic mediation
between the Emperor and the Polish king on the one side, and the Sultan on the other
side. It also declined, in a courteous way, the proposal of joint press against Hungary, in
viewing of \'en ice's prolonged peaceful relations with .Matthias Coninus (who was still
Vh i le awaiting the Turkish reaction for the proposal of truce which had to be set forth
by the Venetian ambassador in Constantinople, Callimachus renewed and extended his
friendly relations with Venetian humanists. There was an immense interest in his person
and his views. Celebrities like Lodovico Ivloceni~o,
Pandolfo da Pesaro, and Giorgio Valla,
like the renowned classical philologists and Hellenists, the Paduan professors: Giovanni
Calfurnio, Niccolo Leonico Tomeo, (;it)\'anni Luca da Camerino and Benedetto Brognolo,
and like Antonio Albertini and Emiliano Cimbriaco, tilled the halls in which Callimachus
held kstive receptions and gave his famous public discourses on the art of rhetoric. 11 By accident, many celebrities were assembled at Venice in connection with the funerals of the doge 7\larco Barharigo, \\'ho died the qth of August, q86. Callimachus profited
from his friendship with the Venetian painter Ciovanni Bellini, whose brother (;cntile
was an expert on ecclesiastical symbols and apparels, to learn from the latter the external
characteristics or the various religious bodies represented in solemn processions taking
place at that time. ~iclrnlo, on his side, being interested in the art of painting, might haw
paid a \'isit to Bellini's workshop, and studied the prq1aration of paints by the boys usually
engaged in such work.
J\:o ans\\'er, hm,eyer, came from Constantinople for a long time, and alter two months
of \ai11 waiting Callimachus decided to return to Poland. In a rather \'ague letter to
l.aclimtius 1 hedaldus of the isl of January, 1487, from Piotrkt.)\\' (the usual sill' of the
Polish-I.ithua11ia11 Com111011\VL'alth diets at that time) Callimachus promised 'in two or
th rec \\"L'l' ks' to send to \ 'L, 11 iL-L' one of his men and on that occasion to \\'rite to him of \\'hat
he should do. But the I1L'\t lctlL'r of his to 1hedaldi is dated t1rst from Sandomir'dic \.\.\"III
SeplL'mhris' and co11tains n1L'rcly compliments to his friLnds and to 'lhcdaldi in p1.1rticular. 1 ' ' '\Vith all my ability, I am yours, hut ahm'L' all sec to Nicholaus' swift return, and
with him that of a certain Lucretio ~kndica: lksidc being a nL'\\' proof or Callimachus'
dcpe11tlcnLe llll his 'hoy: thi.,, suggt'Sts that :'\icolaus L'ither \\'as sent 011 a Ill'\\' errand aflL'r
hi.,, return from ( :1.dli111achu-..' diplomatic mission to \'cnict', or that he rL'mained in \'L'nice
alone lor t1L'arh a \car.
H1ith ,h.,,u1nptin11" ca11 he iustilitd by the fact th1.1t i11 the foregoing \car, q8~,
< .dli111,1thu.,, 111.,,t hi-; lw111c in ,1 tirt' ''ilh 1110 ... t ()f hi.,, po""L'""io11s: clotht''1, hnoks, .rnd,
<lh11\t' .ill, 111.111\' <ii hi.,, i1Tt'piateahk 1na11uscriph. ,\It'\\' of the ktll'rs of tn11Link11t'L' ha\.t'



a year before \Vodka, and the hypothesis of the name Abstemius havin_g been used by the
latter due to his contacts with de .Macerata is supported by a strange fact. It appears that
local Italian tradition of the time in question mentions two men de J\Inzcmtu, named
Abstemius: the well-known Lorenzo and the otherwise completely unknown Nicolaus.
Birkenmajer sugaested that Wodka accompanied Bevilacqua when the latter left Bologna
about the end of ~980 and returned to Urbino, which was at that time one of Italy's leading
centres of art and science.45 TI1 e dukes of Urbino were famous for having opened their
court for all talented people, and the duke Frederigo, especially, \Vas regarded 11011 ic1JJ1
Urbinatwn dux, sed potius vir Italiae pri11ceps. 111e studies which especially blossomed
under his protection were studia divina, numerorwn et nstronun scic11 t i<Zc. \Vodka might
have hoped to obtain the position of the duke's astrologer and physician, but it was gin~n
to Paulus de Middelburg, at that time doctor artium and ordinary lector of astronomy in
Padua. He spent twelve years in that position, until in 1494 he became appointed bishop
of Fossombrone. His later interest in Copernicus' astronomical reform might have been
significant in this connection. Much more so are the recently discovered facts, that
Nicolaus Copernicus was active in Bologna, not only as student, but also as teacher of
astronomy, and had a disciple from Urbino. Also, that the earliest known biography of
Copernicus appeared in Urbino.
Lacking scientific engagement \Vodka decided to return to Poland, possibly by way of
Urbino and the maritime connection of the neighbouring Pcsaro with Venice. Already
some four years earlier had he dedicated his astrological prognostic for the year q77,
Stellarwn fata mmi 147/, to 'his benefactor, Jacob of Sien no, the archbishop of C; n iezno,
the primate of Poland', apparently in the hope of being promoted to the long-vacant position of the rnnon-111edicus of the chapter of Gniezno. But Jacob of Sien no died on the 4th
of October, i480 without having been in a position to help him. In fact, even bcforL' his
death the chapter acquired a new member in the person of Callimachus' friend Jacob of
Bokszyca, who in case of need could scn'C as physician. Peter of Bnin was at that time
canon of the chapter of Gniezno, but his influence \Vas not yet sufficiently strong to help
\i\'odka in his new situation. \Vodka carried on a private medical practice, but published
also an astrological prognosis for the year 1485, 'Nicolui de Insuln A/uric, 111cdici11c doctoris
fudici11111'. As Peter of Bnin appears to have been promoted to bishop of Vlad isl a via about
the end of 1483, his possibilities to help \ Vodka have changed then. And since \Vodka rnust
have met Callimachus in \Volb6rz in 1488, he is Iikclv to have al re adv been \ 1ad isl a\ia n
canon at that time.
According to his ovv'll declarations, \,Yodka \Vas interested in astronomy rnainly because of its astrological applications, viz. primarily due to their supposed !waring on
medical diagnostics and therapeutic practice. He met Calli ma ch us, as we sha 11 sl'L', in
several fields, among others those of astrological prognoses of historical evenh, and of
the interpretation of dreams. But he appears to have gained a highly interested listener
of unusual potentialities at the moment of arrival of Nicholo Koppcrnick from the last
Italian journey of which he had to report to Callimachus.
'1 he attachment of \Vodka to the Vladislcwian chapter widened the . . cope
ka rn i ng
mediated by the Vladislavian school and might ha\'l' (()Ill rihuted to a dL'Ci...,ion L-< 1111..:crn i ng
Nicholo\, further education. Callirnachll'-. must h<l\'L' frlt himself at least part i<1lly rL..,~)( 111..
s i bIL' for giv j 11 g t() N j ch() I() s () 111 e pe da g() gi ca I g u j d a 11 ( L', i n \' i e \\' () r I h L' fad t h a I \,' i I.. H ) I0 \,
mother - perhaps dead m having withdrawn t() a L-rnwcnt - did 1wt apparently lll~1kL' ,111\"
attempt... in that direction and if alive probably did not feel L<>mpelL'nt t<l do . . . ().'.'-: 11.. ii< ,J, 1\


C11/li11111c/11is, Niclzolo, and tlze Hz111u111istic Circle




\\Tittcn by the philosopher Leo Tuscus for his doctor Hugo concerning the conjectures
and opinions of the Egyptians, Persians, and Indians on the interpretation of dreams'. He
referred to the words with which he had addressed them, and the discussion that followed, in a preface he wrote to the treatise of Leo Tuscus, starting with some biographical
information concerning Abstemius:
He was a man \\'ith an acute and many-sided mind, especially desirous of, and devoted to,
all kinds of divination. horn his early youth on he did not neglect, therefore, any of the
skills in which some presence and knowledge of the future is believed to occur. At a mature
age, having studied medicine, while he disregarded other methods of future-telling, except
the one which depends on the stars, either because of its greater certainty or because of
the higher clliciency of the remedies which are administered at the right time, or of the
temperament \\'hich the air is believed to assume according to the alternati,e forward or
backward motion or the stars; or, finally, because all accidents to human bodies change,
and will either decrease or increase according to whether the star, resplendent in aspect
through forward or backward motion by some more or less happy other condition helps or
obstructs l)\' its nature.

A little farther below he maintained that 'no art had ever been in higher authority nor
had at any time possessed the minds of more numerous and more celebrated nations than
divination, and in it two kinds especially, namely that of the dreaming, and that of the
possessed, as con 11 rmed by the most serious authors .. .'
After th is introduction, Call imachus summoned his friends to a discussion on the
foundations of future-telling, and especially of the question whether the future may not
in some way be present in the 'now'. 111is resulted in long deliberations in which Ivlirica
held the lead almost all the time. His conclusion could be in other words resumed in that
the future must he present in the 'now' of the dreaming or the frenzied, especially in such
qualities which we could designate as \'tducs, in a similar way as it is present in the sensory
experience of normal \'igilanl people. rhe ability to forecast future e\'ents is in any case
dithcult, whether in a \'igilant state or in dream. But the more difficult the task of forecasting the future is, the more praiseworthy is what anybody would find possible to attempt.
\\'hilc Drze\\'icki did not seem to find these considerations of ~lirica's objectionable,
Callimachus 'preparL'd himself for a more explicit declaration, hut \'ie\\'ing the majority
of two against one, he thought it hetll'r not to oppose, so much tlw more as he \\'as Len's
compatriot (\i1. EtrusL'us) and should add the opinion of the Sarmatians and Teutons to
what the othL'r had colkded from Egypt, Persia, and India:
Peter of Bn in did not take part in that humanistic meeting. t le was Lkadly i II, and diL'd
shortly latl'r, tlw :th of ,\larch, ql)4. Ahstcrnius, his personal dodur and doctor of the
chapter of \'ladisla\'ia, had already i.ll11HHlllccd his mvn approaching L'IHI. I le was absent
from the L'haptl'r's important n1L'eling the 2nd of lune, ql)4, i.111d from the general L'hapll'r
the 18th of August the s~1111e year. He died probably towards the end of that YL'ar, because
ll ll l h L' 6t h () r Ia 11 U <l r y, q l)) h l' is 111 L' n t i0 n e d as the oIi Ill d0111 i II II s ,\f h)I {111 s \ 'o t I I(ti. l";
(:,dlimaLllll..., rl'lirL'd lo 11wrun, that link of Poland lo its Prussii.111 proYinces, thL' Lity
of\ \'al /L'll rode, hi" pnl il ical i.d ly, i.llld of N icholo J(oppL'rn ick, to whom hL' 111 ighl han' ll.'lt
a rw,1rh pall'rnal "e11lirnL'nt. I k had still t\rn houses lhL're and probably L'llough pL'opk
rL'i.llh ,1t h1" "LT\iLL'. hut lw rnai11tai1wd contact ,,ith ( 'raco,, and tlw king, and hi-. intluc 11 L L' o 11 Pu I 1" Ii p < i Ii I i L " .


book on spherical astronomy and mathematical geography. To these lectures belonged

detailed consideration of questions concerning the immobility of the Earth at the centre
of the universe.46-' Arithmetic and perspective belonged also to a higher stage of studies,
but might have been learned by Nicolaus earlier than by most of his fellow-students.
Arithmetic embraced the theory of natural and rational numbers, the theory of proportions, and the theory of extracting square roots. 'Perspective', i.e. geometrical optics, was
connected with the theory of painting, in which he might have been interested after his
long sojourn in Venice in i488.
The important lectures on the so-called new planetary theories of Georg Peurbach
were held in the beginning of the Summer Semester 1493 by magister Simon of Sierpce,
and 'vere expounded with a commentary by Albert of Brudzewo. Albert lectured at the
same time on the Aristotelian De coelo et mwzdo. He had been engaged the following
year in the service of the Grand Duke Alexander of Lithuania, but Peurbach's criticism of
Ptolemy was drastic enough to be conveyed by his less eminent successors. It concerned
especially lacking consequence in the construction of planetary motions from rotations
appearing uniform from different centres simultaneously. This criticism was given a more
drastic form by Albert of Brudzewo's conclusion that all the heavenly circles sening as
the representation of planetary motions were sheer and wrong fictions.
Probably in the autumn of 1493 Nicolaus heard also lectures of rnagister Bernard of
Biskupie on the theory of eclipses, based on Peurbach's Tables of Eclipses. Nicolaus copied
some of Peurbach's tables on a set of blank sheets bound at the back of the big volume of
Tables of King Alphonsus and Tabulac directionwn of Regiomontanus which he bought
in Cracow. This was also the last occasion he had to hear Albert of Rrudzcwo (reading
about Aristotle's De genemtione et corruptione), and also the sole one of lectures held then
in Cracow concerning the work of Regiomontanus on forecasting planetary motions. He
certainly studied also the apparent motions of the sphere of the fixed stars (in our times
interpreted merely as reflections of the rotary motions of the Earth, and their u ncvcnness). It was indeed, the part of the heavenly motions from which his revision of the
model of the universe had to begin in the future.
There is every reason to suppose that Nicolaus was profoundly engaged in his studies,
and that already in that early period of his life, personal experiences, 'vhich for ever were
to remain concealed for posterity, influenced the future course of his creative thought.
But the public events which he might have witnessed in Cracow, such as the grandiose
funeral of king Kasimir III in 1492 or the arrival of the Turkish delegation for peace negotiations next year, with negro servants and t\vclvc camels loaded with orien ta I gifts, wou Id
scarcely impress his introvert mind.
As the expenses for the studies of the Koppernick brothers \verc probably cm'cred
by their nmv well-to-do uncle, the Prince-Bishop of Varmia, Lucas \\'at;,enrnde, and as
their family had many connections in Cracow, they were probably lodged privately. 1 he
number of scholars among whom a highly gifted pupil of Callirnachus and Abstemius
could find sympathetic understanding \Vas probably restricted. Even among the prnfr..,sors and lecturers of the university, humanism \Vas still controversial. Among the ..,L-hoLu..,
this \Vas a welcome occasion for collective fights, such as bet\veen the Hungarian..., defending old ways of thought and the c;erman enthusiash of humanism. But humani...,rn in the
proper sense was restricted to relatively smal I groups among the teacher..., at the u 11 inT" it y.
Callimachus enjoyed high esteem, but he was not very ad ivc in the acadcm ic Li rL It'" I hi...,

Copernicus' Studies in Cmcow

was the case, on the other hand, with a visitor from Germany, Conrad Celtis, though only
for the relatively short time between the Spring of 1488 and the Autumn q91, just before
the arrival of the Koppernick brothers to the Polish capital.
Celt is, born on the ist of February, 1459 in a village on the Main in Franconia, of a
father named Pickel ,,ho as son of a wine-grower wished his son to earn his life in the
same way, escaped from the home of his childhood on a raft. He arrived first at Cologne,
where he adopted the humanistic name Conradus Celtis Protucius, and did studies in
scholastic philosophy. He went then to Heidelberg, where he found humanists with a
sense for his exceptional endowment, as well as a patron for studies of Greek and Hebrew.
However the way he had started his independent life seemed to have determined his lot.
He came to travel all his life, establishinQ'-, contacts between men of snirit.
Bv' wav' of Erfurt,
Rostock, and Leipzig he arrived in 1486 in Rome, where he was lastingly impressed by
Julius Pomponius Lactus and his academy. He visited also Florence and lYfarsilio Ficino
in particular, for so to pay visits to almost all the north-Italian cities and their most
outstanding humanists. In the meantime he had become famous for his poetry. Back at
Ni.irnherg in 1487, he was the first German poet to be crowned by the emperor for his
work with a doctor's hat. He did not himself count this honour as an epoch in his life,
because even the master's degree in the liberal arts required a more general knowledge
than that \Vhich he had earned. To obtain that qualification, he should have studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy. He made the necessary requests, and was informed that
these sciences were in particular bloom at the university of Cracow. His decision was
promptly made, as usual. By way of Saxony and Silesia he arriYed at Cracm,-, with the
particular wish to attend the lectures of Albert of Brudzewo, the renowned disciple of
Pcurbach and Regiomontanus. But humanism was not onlv books; it was also communication with hum;.~n beings. And Celtis engaged an expcrt,,lkrnhard Viliscus Roxolanus,
to teach him Polish, and e\'en Czechish (a lan~uaoc in use at that time in some noble
circles of the Polish capital). Among the men whom he met in Cracow and later came to
reckon as his \'Cr\' closest friends were - besides Albert of Brudzewo and Callimachus
- thL' Sorb Johan1~cs Rak (Ragius) of Sommerfeld (in Lower Lusatia, now Polish Lubsko)
humanistically called J\esticampianus; his compatriot Johannes of Sommerfeld, the Elder,
an outstanding humanist; and Andreas R6za of Bor\'szowicc, later bishop of Leopolis and
archbishop of._(iniczno. I'': Celt is gathncd in human,istic meetings also many othL'r lecturers and prokssors, and with several of them he maintained correspondence for many
years atfrr having departed from Cracow. Inspired as he apparL'ntly was by Pomponius
Lactu< Roman academy, he established what he called the Sodulit11s littcmrill \'ist11fll11ll,
as the first of that kind of organization he was to found in the periphL'ry of the ( ;crman
empire.1\1110ng those belonging to the Cracow Sod11/itus of CL'ltis were, beside the already
mentioned friends of Celt is, our good acquaintance lohannes I kydeke, humanistically
called ,\/irit"u; the physician and astronomer Stanislaus Selig; the physician and humanist
I()ha n nL's Ber- L rsi nus; and the Si lcsian geographer and poet, Lau rent ius Rabe- ( :( lrvi nus,
wh() bL'ca me a friL'IHi of :\ icolaus Koppcrn ick.
In I.,() for a1., hu111ani1.,tic life followed Platonic ideas. it differed from the academic style
e'>tahli1.,lwd in Cracm, h\ an inn'll'rate medic\al tradition. A.lrL'<ld~ Callimachus madL'
it, h< l\VL'\'L'r, cil'ar that 'wl.lrnen and love were by no means precluded from thL' nwst rL'1.,peL t;.1hlc paths of philosophy'. Celt is fell in love with a Polish nobkwoman, llasilina uf
R1yt<llllll', tn \\'lwrn he later dL'\'otcd the first huuk uf his poetry uf low, that part uf his

Rllsic Data Co11cerni11g Copernicus' Sojourn in Italy

scolariu111 I/lore, had got into pecuniary troubles. In this letter, dated 21st October, 1499 in
Rome, Scultcti requests a prompt dispatch of money for the brothers Copernicus.1-"
( 7) Copcrn icus' handwritten notes concerning two astronomical observations he carried out the 9th of January and the 4th of March, 1500, in Bologna, and the two observations he later mentioned in his treatise.n
(8) A note in the Acts of the Chapter of Varmia, dated the 27th of July, 1501, according
to which the Canon Nic/10/aus Coppernick who has come to the meeting of the Chapter
with his brother, Canon Andreas, has asked the Chapter, and has been granted, the permission to continue his studies for two years further, while Andreas has been allowed 'to
begin his studieS: 1 his favorable decision has been taken especially because Nic/10/a11s
111edici11is studere pre111isit Co11s11/t11rus oli111 A11tistiti 11ostro Reuerc11dissi111c [i.e. his uncle,
Lucas \Yatzenrode] ac etim11 do111i11is de rnpitulo 111edic11s salutaris, Et Andreas pro litcris
capcscc11clis llhilis 1idebc1tur.r
(9) Notes on the decisions of the Chapter ofVarmia, taken the 16th of August, 1502, at
a meeting held under the presidency of Bishop \ \Tatzcnrodc and concerning the proceedings under way at the Roman Curia between Vannia and its neighbours and enemies,
the Teutonic Knights. As procumtorcs of the Chapter in Rome for this special case have
been appointed i11urhc11w1c existences Bcrnordus Scultcti dcrn1111s \\'an11ic11sis, Nic/10/cws
Scultcti ct A.11drclls Koppcmick Ca11011iLi \rarn1ic11scs.n
Hi pier has pointed out that there was no canon by the name of Nicholaus Sculteti in
the Chapter or \'armia at that time, and that no other canon beside Copernicus had the
Christian name Nicholaus.r 1 1 his makes it probable that the person erroneously designated as Nic/10fll11s Scultcti in this note was actually Nicolaus Copernicus. In that case
Copernicus was at that time not in Padua, as it is generally assumed, but on a new visit
to Rome.
Copernicus' stay in Padua had for a long time been only known from a controversial
mention by the unrdiablc eighteenth CL'ntury historian N.C. Papadopoli, who wrote:
( 10) Sit'<>lc111111 Copcrnic11111 fJc1t111ii Plzilosoplzillc c1c ,\/cdiLi11uc opcrarn dcdissc per 111111os 1J111lf 11or (011stt1t ex Polo11oru11111/l1is, ubi discip11!11s dititur Nicolai Passumc c c;c111u1 ct
,\Jicolc1i \'cn1ic1c 111cati11i, 111111011d 11tri11sq11c st"ic11tit1c lu11rct1111 pro1cd11111 t1sscru11t c1ctt1
co II cg ii i\ Iccl ico ru 111 ll d u. 1-19 9. 1 - '
In spi tc of the energet ical and repeated endeavours of Italian scholars, such as
Domenico Berti, Andrea ( ;1oria and Antonio Favaro, no trace of these l'\'l'nts has been
found in the archives of Padua and \'enezia. 1-''
1\ partial conlirmation of Papadopoli's assertion cnwrged, howe,er, in 1S;6 \\'ith the
di-..cmcry by I.. Cittaddla of ( 11) Copernicus' dnctor-diplomas in canonical la\\', prL'Sl'l"Yed
in thL' ,-\rLhi\'l'S of the i\:otarial l)llice at Ferrara. 'this discm'L'r~ prmed that l~opL'rnid1s
for some unkno\\'ll rL'asons, perhaps to <Woid tlw higher fees at Bologna and Padua, \\'L'nt
to hTrara in ordn lo take his dollor's deg1n.' there. 11w diploma which is dated in the
palace of thL' <ll'L-hhi . . . hop or Ferrara, the 31st of i\lay, ISO_\, speaks of him as tlw \ .t'l/Crti!1i/is
11c dot1issi11111s 11ir do111i1111s .\'it"o!u11s Copcrnidz dt J>rnsiu (,'1111011id1s \'t1rn1it11sis t'f
\c/1olt1sti1 us <'t"d1sic \. 1T11t"is \ 'n1tis/,111ic11sis: 1J11i _..;f11d11it Ho111>11ic ct P<1d11t' ( ... ). '
A 11 L'\ L'll rn1 >re di rcll L-011 Ii rm at inn of ( ~opcrn icus' -..ojou rn in Padua follmwd from the
di "L 11\c r' (1I ( 12 J t \\"l) doL u rnen ts is . . u cd t m t lw 10th t )f 1an ua ry, 110 3, in t lw t )11 il.L' () f St cfa IH)
\ 'c 11 t ll r ,\ t (l, I h L' IH) I .Ir\ () f the ( 'll ria () f th l' Hi shop l) r Pad ll a. In t hL' ti rs t of t hesl' d l )( ll ll1 L'l1 ts
,\'it 0/1111_\ < 1>f'tT11i/\ ,1ddrl.''i'>L''> the 110Lu\ with the dL'l.l,1r<1tio11 th<ll he <llllhori1l.'" t\\p C<ll1un-., Ill t Ill l. llll rl h (lf St. ( :rn..,-., i11 \'rat isl<l\'ia ( l ;l'rlll<m: HrLslau, PPlish: \ \'nicla\,) tu takL'



in his name possession of the scholastery of the Church of St. Cross to which he has just
been appointed. witnesses to this act are Leonardus Rodinger, from the diocese of Passau
and Nicolaus Monsterberg from the diocese of Vladislavia (Polish: \,Vlodawek). As to the
second document, it is a formal authorization issued by the notary Stefano Venturato for
the two canons chosen by Copernicus. 4 :-x
In spite of these discoveries, Papadopoli's assertion that Copcrn icus was con fer red
doctorates in philosophy and medicine in Padua remained highly suspect, because no
mention of this has been found in the Archives, not even in the Actn Collcgii Alcdicorunz
to which he refers, and which still exist. This so much more as Copernicus, according
to what Papadopoli says, should have studied in Padua for four years, and obtained his
double doctor's degree as early as in 1499 In fact, the documentary materials which we
have reviewed, leave beyond any doubt that he, at the end of 1499, had not yet lived four
years in Italy, and that a considerable part of the time elapsed since his arrival there had
been spent by him in Bologna and Rome. Finally, the reference to the Album Po/011oru111
in Padua has been considered a forgery, especially by some German scholars, because a
separate Natio Polonoru111 is not attested in the Paduan archi\es before 1605.
However, this disavowal of the ancient historian of the university of Padua seems
somewhat too extreme, in view of the fact that the two Paduan doctors mentioned by
him as Copernicus' promotores: Nicolo de Passeri called ii Genua and Nicoletto Vernia da
Chieti, prove actually to have been active on the joint faculty of philosophy and medicine
in Padua up to i499 (the first of them even much longer), and that Papadopoli at another
place in his historical treatise asserts to have the Allnt111 Polo11oru111 before him when
writing, and explains the way in which it has come into his possession: Ccrf 11111 est ex

alba Polonorum, quad lwbemus pme nwnibus, tmditum o quod<1111 Atluurnsio J<..11t/1c110, /Iii
Pola11m11 lJibliotlzecm11 Patavii nostm actatc diripuit vcnditiSlJllC codicilmsjitgit ... etc. 1-"
Professor Bruno Nardi undertook in 1959 new researches in the ancient archives of
the university and the episcopal curia of Padua, with the intention to check Papadopoli's
assertions. 111ese researches too had a negative issue, but Nardi was able to state, as also
his predecessors have done, that both the acts of the faculty of philosophy and medicine
and the Acta gmduwn of the university of Padua had suffered great damage. He also
convinced himself that the data to be used in doctor's diplomas - such as the date of the
disputation and the names of the candidates, his pro111otorcs and the witnesses - had usually been recorded on small slips of paper, from which formal protocols had later to he
drawn up by the notaries of the collcgiwn of the doctorcs and the episcopal curia, thL latter
issuing also the official diploma.
Nardi stated that these minutes happened not infrequently to he not regislL'rcd in the
proper acts, or not to be registered at all. He has heen, among others, unable to fl nd protocols for the double doctorate in philosophy and medicine of :-.uch a celebrated sLholar as
Pietro Pomponazzi, Copernicus' professor of ph ilmophy at Padua. 'I h us, the fad that no
trace of the conferment of a doctorate on Copernicus has been found in the i.lrLhi\'L'S of
Padua, does not disprove Papadopoli's assertion that he has been conferred suLh a dcgrcL'
Nardi has undercast Papadopoli's testimony, as well as the critici..,rn it had been ... uhied
to, a more thorough examination, and has arrived at the conclusion that thi.., tL..,tinHin~
contains a core of truth. Its inconsistencv with facts c:-.tahlishcd hv rnmkrn f"L'"'L'Ml h ma\
he due lo its beinut't a hastv' and uncritical conclu:-.ion dra\vn frn111 di1rercnt ..,()llf"LL'" ()I in.
format ion which had pcrhap.., not been checked. :\a rd i "t ate.., that ..,t ud iL'" ()f 11lL'd iL 111L' and

Rosie Dato Co11ccrni11g Copernicus' Sojourn i11 Italy


'philosophy' - that is, i11tcr alia, mathematics and astrology - were in Padua at the time of
Copernicus intimately associated. Candidates for a doctorate in medicine were supposed
to have already acquired a doctorate in philosophy (i11 artilms). 1l1ey used, therefore, to
take the latter several years before the first, though it also happened that they took both
the same day. Nardi thinks that Copernicus would not in 1500 h~l\'e been accepted as
'pn~/~ssor ,\11tlzc11wtu111' to the Roman 'Sapienza' if he had not already been in possession
of a doctor's degree in artilms. Also, that he could not have aspired to the Vratislavian
scholastery, to which he had probably been appointed in the second half of 1502 (cf. point
12 above), before having obtained a doctor's degree. Finally, that his solemn promise (cf
point 8 abow) to qualify himself for the role of the physician of the Chapter and the
Bishop of Varmia must have implied a serious intention to acquire during his sojourn in
Italy in 1501-1503 a doctorate in medicine.
1 he conclusion of all this is that Copernicus must have actually won 'laurels' in philosophy and medicine in Padua, but that he did not win them simultaneously, as Papadopoli
has hastily inferred. 'J he note in the Actn Collcgii j\frdicorwn for the year 1499 which he
has indicated as his source, must have referred to the doctorate in philosophy only. This
is not at all incredible, as the earlier critics of Papadopoli maintained, because the Acta
Collcgii Alcdicoru111 in Padua comprised at that time also the acts of the artisti, i.e. students of philosophy.
~Ihe Paduan scholar mentioned by Papadopoli as Copernicus' teacher and promotor,
Nicolet to \'ernia, a member of the (O//cgi11111 of the dot"torcs since q.69, might have actually conferred on him laurels in philosophy, provided Copernicus did not obtain them
after the 3rd of August, q.99, the day when Vernia fell seriously ill, only to die two months
later. It follows also that Vernia could scarcely have taught Copernicus unless the latter
visited Padua before the summer or q.99. As to Nicol() de' Passeri, who, according to
Papadopoli, also was a teacher nf Copernicus, he might have taught him both philosophy and medicine. Passeri obtainL'd his doctor's degree i11 11rtiln1s in q75 and since that
tinw was a member of the L"ollcgi11111 of the artisti, but he acquired his doctor's degree in
medicine relatively late, on the 6th of October, 1500. '!his was still soon enough to teach
Copnn icus medicine in the ascertained period oft he latter's medical studies, 1501-1503.
PasSL'ri is actually known to have lived and taught until 1522, contrary to the assertions
of some authors. 1' " :-Jardi suggested that he might haw been the second of Copernicus'
pronzotorcs in llrtibus, as well a one of his pro1110torcs in medicine - a kind of function
which he performed from 1501.
Copernicus had certainly studied philosophy alongside canonical law in Bologna, and
it might IW\'l' been just as natural for him to take his doctor's degree in philosophy at
Padua a" it later \\'<.h to aLquire the laurels of canonical la\\' in Ferrara. 1 he doctnri1ation
at Padu<l did not prL'"ent a student from anotlwr uni\'l'rsit\' \\'ith am serious formal dift1cult iL'" It ..,ufllLed that t\\'o members of the (Ol/c,\i11111 shou,ld haw st;pportl'd hi" application for admitL.lnLe to the tc111pt11ti111111, i.L'. the preliminary e\amination, and, of coursL\
that lw ..,lwuld ha\e paid the fees ..-\t'tcr the tc111pt11ti1'11111, which usually took pLlle in tlw
... mall ( :hurlh di s. rnt' L'rhano, follo\\'ed a pri111t11111 t'.\'11//ICI/, and then the p11l 1 /i(il di . .p11tt1tio, \\hiL h \\a-. held in the t111lt1 _..;o/ittt t'.\t1111i1111111 at tlw palace of the Hishop of Padua.
lk..,idL..,, Padua - tlw ftlrenwst centre of n1t'dical -.tudies in ltah ~lt that tinw mu-.t al-.o
h,l\L' hL'L'11 high!~ attr1.1lli\'l' to Co~wrnicus in his C<lpacity of a student of'philn-.nplH'~ 11w
u111\Lr..,it\ \\ll'> '>till l.rnwd !'or thL' lectures whiLh tlw gre<.lte1..,l astronomical authnritiL''> n(
tlw 1::;tli ll'11tun
i>iLtr11 d'.\ha1w, ( ;L'llrg
l\urh<ll-'1, ltlh,1111\L'"' H.L'lt"" in1\Hlnta11u..,, <ll1d nllwr"



had held there. And although we know very little about Benedetto dcl Tiriaca, who since
1497 occupied the chairs of mathematics and astrology in Padua (he appears not to have
published anything of importance and to have bequeathed all his manuscripts, subsequently forgotten and possibly lost, to the Benedictine monks at the island of Lerins, with
the obligation to prepare them for printing), we cannot but find it interesting that the
Paduan students declared him in i506 more competent than any rival candidate for his
academic office:P' For Copernicus - eager as he was to discover traces of ancicn t 1i terary
traditions concerning more or less secret systems of the world - it might have been even
more important that Greek studies were at that time offered great attention in Padua.
They flourished especially from April i497, when Nico)() Lconico Tomeo, an outstanding
Venetian Hellenist, had taken the chair of classical philosophy, archeology, and literature
instituted for him. Last but not least, Padua was famous for philosophical studies proper,
the shockingly radical views expounded there, and the sharp disputes between representatives of different philosophical schools. Especially i ntercsti ng in th is con ncct ion is
the fact (ignored, as it appears, by the biographers of Copernicus) that Nicoletto Vernia
had for some time before held a leading position among the Paduan philosophers, but
had been deprived of it under dramatic circumstances by the instigation of his ideological adversaries:i 82
Vernia was, in fact, one of the most celebrated Italian philosophers of his epoch, and
is now regarded as one of the most outstanding Italian Averrnists of the Renaissance.
He had for many years held the position of ordinary professor of natural philosophy
'without rival' (sine concurrcnte), the last-mentioned privilege having been confrrred on
him by the Venetian Senate in recognition of his exceptional qualifications. He was a
very independent thinker and a 'sworn enemy of metaphysics', but this combination led
him to deny the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul, and procured
him powerful enemies. Letters \Vhich the Venetian patrician Ermolao Barbaro, a leading
humanist and fanatic Aristotelian of the modern, hdlen isl ic school, add rcsscd to hi 111
indicate that Barbaro conducted for many years a private controversy \Vi th him, until he
finally succeeded, with the help of the Senate and the Church, to obtain from him a public
'confession' of his alleged errors, and the reduction of his academic posit ion. 1 ~" 1 he ph ilosophical influence exerted by Vernia on his contemporaries must have been considerable
indeed since he was accused by Egidio da Viterbo to have led astray 'entire Italy' (tuttu
l'ltczlin) with his speculations, and since Ariosto compared him many years after his dc;1th
to .Martin Luther himself:

.Se Nicolet too Fm Afort in _!(111 scg110

d'i11fcdclc o d'eretico, nc c1ccuso

ii super troppo

c men con for 111i sdcg110 ...

Pcrc/1c sulcndo lo intclctto in suso
per vcdcr lJio, 11011 de pnrcrci stru110

sc tnlor rnde gili cicco c rn1~/i1S<>.

1 1

1 he decisive attack against Vernia (ca. i492) appears t<l have hccn lau nclwd a ftcr his
ha\ing in<.;t it utcd an extraordinary ( extm ordi11c111) cou rsc <lf nat u ra I philosophy. \ crn ic.1,
who since 1489 had been under threat of excommunication hy the l~islwp ()t J><.1du,1,
Pietro Baroni, found it apparently advisable to prnll'ct himself hy f()rmalh- dL'Llaring
that the Averrnist doctrine of the unity of intellect, which he had <.kkndcd I< 1r 111a11\

Bnsic Data Co11cenzing Copernicus' Sojourn in Itnly


years, was false. (Ego lvlagister Nicoletus Verni as Tlzeatinus ( ... ) dz1m vidissem et Gmecos
et Ambcs doctissinzos, reppcri 11011 solum dictam opi11ione111 rzlienmn esse a fide nostra et
veritnte scd etin111 ab intcllectu Aristotelis ( ... ). 4 s' The Venetian senate, perhaps at an instigation of Barozzi, not satisfied by a mere declaration of error on Vernia's part, charged the
young and highly talented Aristotelian philosopher Pietro Pomponazzi (brother-in-law
of Tiriaca) with lectures on natural philosophy alongside with Vernia, and in addition the
Averroist Agostino Nifo, with lectures on the same subject as a 'rival' to Pomponazzi.
By a humiliating decree of the Venetian Senate of 9th September 1495, the old philosopher was imposed to choose hours of lectures not colliding with those of his two young
colleagues lvlngistcr ( ... ) Nicoletus cligere debeat lzoram sibi gratam ad legendwn que non
lwbeat impcdirc lectume anzbonmz doctorwn supmscriptonmz. 486 It was only then, four
years before his death, that Vernia secured for himself a doctor's degree in medicine, fearing perhaps that he might be prohibited from lecturing on philosophy at all. 111is, however, did not happen, although by a decree of the iSth of June, i498, the Senate restricted
his influence still more, constituting Nifo and a certain Antonio Francanzano lecturers in
co11currc11tin \Vith him.-18 Vernia's confession of error and the subsequent reduction of his philosophical influence have been said to mark a critical point in the struggle between 'Barbara's humanistic
party and the last, stubborn defenders of mediaeval peripateticism':188 111e evaluation
implicit in this statement of the enthusiastic biographer of Barbaro appears, however,
to be slightly prejudiced. It is true that Barbaro represented the 'progressive' humanistic
movement directed against the 'scholastic subtleties' of the mediaeval commentators of
Aristotle, both the Teuto11<1c and the Ambcs, who - and Vernia was one of these - having
no knowledge of Greek, were dependent on corrupt Latin translations. But it is equally
true that Vernia, so far from being a conformist, represented a daring and rebel minority
of thinkers. Averroes on whom he depended, proved by some of his points of vie\v more
inspiring for the young Copernicus than the corrected Aristotle. Vernia had, in fact, shaken the authority of Ptolemy, and thus gave Copernicus a strong impulse to speculations
on a possible revision of the Ptolemeian astronomy. It is, therefore, not at all incredible
that Copernicus might have follmved some lectures of Vernia, if he visited Padua early
enough before the death of the old master. Vernia \Vas widely known, also outside Italy,
from stories told by his former pupils, mixing reminiscences of his shocking speculations
with comical impressions of his bisarreries and his small stature. Pomponazzi used to
tell the anecdote about a German student, who, having heard so much of the Al<zgistcr
Niclzolcttus in his own country, and having been warned to expect the worst from him
( Ct/\'c u Nirnlctto pcssi1110!), recognized him of once, though apparently with some surprise, in a disputing company of Paduan philosophers (Per dcwn, istc est Nidzolcttus!). 11"'
Pompona~ui, by thL' way, though a '(;reek' (i.e. an 'Alcxandrist'), and as such a co111111ilito11c
of Barbaro, was also a free-thinker. 'Ihis most outstanding Aristotelian of the Renaissance
(according to modern judgment) became soon as famous as his predecessor for his
shocking dissertations on the questions of the immortality of the soul, the eternity of the
universe, and the unity of knowledge. Copernicus has probably attended his lectures, and
their fame might have even contributed to attract him to Padua.
But although what has been told here of Vernia supports the hypothesis of his having promoted Copernicus to a doctor's degree in philosophy, Nardi's interpretation of
Papadopoli's statements should not be left here without further commt'nt. Nardi does, in
fact, appart'ntly ignore the authorization issued the 18th of June, q9q, by (~irnlamo lkh'isi




in Bologna mentioning mngister Nicolaus Kopernick as one of two witnesses (cf. point
5 above). Unless Copernicus' doctor's title has been omitted in the authorization by mistake, or for some other reason, only the short time-span between the 18th of June and the
3 rd of August, 1499, would be hereby left for his supposed travel to Padua and doctorization there. It is true, hmvever, that according to what Nardi reveals, a stay of two \veeks at
Padua would have sufficed for that purpose.
Some other observations remain to be added. Papadopoli's assertion that Copernicus
studied philosophy and medicine at Padua for four years, cannot be lightly dismissed if
the rest of information he provided is taken more or less seriously. \iVe know from the
document mentioned above (in point 8) that Copernicus' second sojourn in Italy was
intended to last for two years - from Autumn i501 to Autumn i5oy1'1" 1lrnt it was not
prolonged can be seen from the fact that he already the 1st of January, 1504, appeared at a
session of the Prussian council in Malbork (German: Marien burg) at the side of his uncle,
bishop vVatzenrode. 111ese last two years spent in Italy Copernicus must have chiefly devoted to medical studies, though he also had to find time for taking his doctor's degree in
canonical law at Ferrara, and possibly also for acting as the representative of the Chapter
of Varmia in Rome (cf. point 9 above) - not to speak of Greek studies, astronomical observations, attempts at painting, and - as we are going to shmv in this book - many-sided
contacts with Paduan humanists, Venetian artists and patricians. ~nrns, if there is anything
in Papadopoli's assertion that Copernicus had spent four years in Padua on studies of
philosophy and medicine, and moreover that he had been a disciple of Nicoletto Vernia,
he must have already during his first sojourn in Italy stayed for a considerable time in
that city.
There is, actually, an interruption of almost two years - from the 20th of October,
1497, (point 2) to the i8th of June, 1499, (point 5) - in his Bolognan rcgcstu. If the most
of this time \Vas passed by him in Padua, he might have follmved lectures of Vernia, and
the total of his Paduan studies would actually amount to almost four years. 1hc ties binding Copernicus to the Venetian Alma l'vlater might in that case have been even stronger
than necessary to explain his probable personal relations in Padua and Ven ice which ._we
are going to discuss in this book. We see also that he \Vould have arrived at Padua a few
months only after Nicolo Leonico Tomeo and Benedetto Tiriaca had been constituted
professors there - and it is tempting to conjecture that he might have been attracted by
rumours concerning these new teachers. There are, in fact, indications that contacts with
Tomeo had an important influence on the development of his ideas on the mot ion oft he
~fhe introduction of Tomeo at Padua had actually been something of a sensation, and
a result of the students' enthusiastic craving for authentic contact \Vi th the ideal izcd remnants of Greek antiquity. n1e rector of nrtiun1 attended by a numerous retinue had heL'n
personallv in Venice, to ask in the name of the university'that a school should he founded
\vhere th~ Greek books of Aristotle and everything wl~ ich is taken from Creek sou re L'S
pertaining to philosophy and medicine should be explained in the (;reek language'.
n1e assumption that Copernicus had actually won laurels in both philosophy and
medicine - and this necessarily in Padua - is supported by the fact that he later in \'armi<l
high esteem as a nhvsician.
He \Vas even cal led to K<)n i t""o...,hcrot'"' h\,
enjoyed exccntionallv

Prince Albrecht. According to Starowolski, \\'hose source has probably hccn a il'ltcr lr()m
Copernicus' friend, bishop Tiedemann c;iesc, Copernicus \Vas by his L'<ll1ll'!l1p()rl1rics
regarded as a 'second k~sculapius'. 1''' /11 l1H'dici1111 1c/11t 11/tcr Acsc11!t1pi11s t c/cl1rt1/>i1t11I'.

Rllsic Dato Co11cenzi11g Copernicus' Sojourn in Italy


Especially important in this connection is the fact that on a memorial tablet erected
in i581 by the learned historian and Bishop of Varmia, Martin Cromer in the cathedral
church of Frombork (German: Frauenburg), Copernicus is expressly called artiwn et medicinnc doctor. ~Il1is designation, based, as it seems, on a tradition which the Chapter of
Varmia devotedly kept alive, yields strong support to our assumption.
A few words should be, finally, said concerning Papadopoli's questioned statement that
Copernicus was a member of the Natio Po/011orw11 in Padua, especially in relation to his
ascertained membership in the Natio Gennm1oru111 in Bologna. As is well known, the
'national' corporations at the European universities of that time were by no means national in the modern sense. On the contrary, students admitted to them were, according
to their statutes, often supposed to conform to complicated and - from a modern point
of view - fantastic national and regional divisions. 49 In Bologna, the Notio Genwmorum
comprised by its statutes only students of law, viz. all of those whose mother tongue was
German, and also the Danes, the Bohemians, the Ivloravians and even the Lithuanians,
while students from several other countries, i.a. Poles, were admitted. 49' In the times of
Copernicus, however, no students of undoubtedly Polish nationality haw been registered
in the 1vlcztricu/1c of the Nlltio. In Padua, finally, there was a period when all Poles \\ere
included in the Nntio Ger111c11zon1111. 494
1 he conclusion of all this must be that Copernicus' membership in the Natio
Ger111e1110r11111 in Bologna by no means precluded his becoming a member of the Notio
Po/011oru111 in Padua, if such a Natio there actually existed in his time. Neither of these
memberships can tell us whether he felt himself more German than Pole, or \'ice versn. 49 '
Notable Poles arc knmvn at that time to have joined German confraternities in Italy,
such as that of the church Sw1ctc1 Aforio dcl/'A11i;11a in Rome, of which, i.a. Copernicus'
faithful friend, Bernard \ \Tapowski, historian, geographer and Polish nobleman, was
a mcmber. 19 '' Copernicus himself followed, when joining the Notio Gcrnu111oru111 in
Bologna, the example of his uncle and protector Lukas \ Vatzenrodc (or \ Vatzelrodc ), who
had been its member, and e\'Cn leader (prornmtor). Besides, he was probably bound to do
so, because his mother tongue was almost certainlv German. But it is equally certain that
the country he considered--his own was not Gcrm~rny, hut Prussia, and, in tlH? last resort,
the Polish- Lithuanian Com monwcalth of which Prussia was an autonomous member.

The Italian Background of Copernicus'

Cosmological Revolution

he Moslem expansion was not the sole danger which threatened Christianity at the
times of Copernicus. Even more alarming were the internal threats, such as the moral
dissolution and the cynical materialism of a part of the clergy. These symptoms of religious decay, however, were by far more pronounced in Italy than in Prussia or Poland. lhe
personal acquaintance with the Rome of the Borgias, where the pretended representative
of Christ on Earth and his nearest relatives gave an appalling show of debauchery and
corruptness, and where murders committed at their instigation were in the order of the
day, must have given Copernicus a powerful stimulus to renewed reflections on the way
to heal Christian society. Viewing the essentially organic character of reality in its antique
and Mediaeval conception, still unshattered at the time of Copernicus, the term 'healing'
seems, in fact, most appropriate to the task of working out a radically new picture of the
\vorld to which he seems to have set himself during his sojourn in Italy, or even at a still
earlier epoch of his life.
As a student of medicine in Padua, if not earlier, he became acquainted with the ancient
doctrine of the 'two worlds': the macrocosmos or the universe and the microcosmos or
Man, which, according to the view of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, \vere
'imitations' of each other, 'the small of the great and the great oft he small'. 1"- No wonder
that Copernicus later ( i542), when explaining the sense of his cosmological reform in the
dedicatory letter to pope Paul III, compared it to rendering the right organic proportions
to a picture of the human body, which the earlier cosmologists tried to form by reproducing disproportionate parts of different bodies. The same conception made him refer to
Galcnus, the second great authority of ancient medicine, when expounding his reasons
to Rheticus (1539). This is apparent from the latter's quotations in Nurmtio prinw, where
the same fact of the right proportions of the planetary orbs having been u1wqui\ocally
determined in the heliocentric hypothesis is touched upon.
\rVhether the specific views expressed in the Hippocratic \\Tilings on the influence of
the motions of heavenly bodies on human health were knovvn lo Copernicus or not, he
must at least from the times of his studies in Cracmv, if not from his early adolcsL-L'ncc,
because of contach with vVodka and Calli machus, have been fam ii iar with the more
general astrological doctrine according to which both the individual destiny and the Lollect ive destinv of humanitv were determined b)' astral rnhenomena. Christiani t \', which in
times past had fought this belief, \Vas in the epoch of Copernicus more or less rcu))1ciled
to it. 'lhc three great successors of Pope Alexander VI (Borgia), who died on the 18th of
August, F)o3, when Copernicus \Vas still in Italy, attached the greatest imporLrnCL' to the
knowledge of planetary influences. Julius II asked astrologers to lind the most prnpitiou..,
day for his ascension to the throne of Christ. Paul 11 I would let them C\'t'Il dctl'rm inc t 11L'
hour for each consistory. And Leo X founded a chair of astrology at Sapie111a, the papal
university in Rome. Objections rrnm the standpoint of the Christian d(lctrinc (If !rel' will
were refuted by reference to the principle that the astral inllucncco.., had only <1 pr()hahil

171c Jtalia11 Background of Copernicus' Cos111ologirnl Revolution


istic, not a strictly deterministic character (i11cli11m1t astm, 11011 11ecessitt111t) - as they had
been before in reference to the Augustinian doctrine of predestination. And astrologers
could also point to the fact that Christ himself had at least from the 4th century onwards
been called the 'Sun of Righteousness' (Sol Iustitiae) 19 s and subsequently also the 'Sun of
Salvation' (Sol Sulutis), the authorities of the Church having adapted themselves - in this
as in many other respects - to the great ancient doctrine of salvation by the dying and
resurrecting Sun-god. 1"'' Apologists of astrology could also refer to the birth of Christ
having been foretold by the Magi from the observations of a star - to his date of nativity having been put to the 25th of December, which in heathen times was regarded as
the 'Birthday of the Sun', and, finally - to his death having been accompanied by a solar
But to every genuinely religious mind capable of philosophical reflection it must also
have been more or less clear - at those times, equally as in classical antiquity - that salvation might only be possible through an act of liberation from the vicissitudes of astral
determinism, whether probabilistic or not. Such a liberation was officially expected to
be the fruit of ordinary Christian life, and especially the benefit of those remnants of the
original Christian mysteries which were the sacraments, just as it had been expected to be
the fruit and benefit of the great mysteries of antiquity. However, true seekers - mystics
and saints - have always felt that full liberation could be only attained through a radical
transformation of the human personality. \Vhat more - and this is to us a very important
point - ulso tl1is liberation, according to the Platonic tradition, could be conceived in
astral terms. 'l his is retlected in the followirn2:~ words of the Platonic dialogue
which Copernicus probably read already when studying in Cracow:
Cod inwnll'd and gavc us sight to the end that we might behold the courses of intelligence
in the hea\ens, and apply them to the courses of our own intelligence which are akin to
them, t/1c llllfhTl11rl1ecl to t/1c pcrt11rl1cd; and that Wt', learning them and partaking of the
natural truth of reason, might il/litntc the ul1sol11tcly 1111crri11s courses cf c;od c111d rcg11lt1tc

our 0\1'11 1nsc1ries.''"'

rl his remarkable statement could hardly have avoided impressing Copernicus. It implied that the astral dependence of man could be of two ditferent kinds: either ordinary,
pert u rbcd and con fused, or extraordinary, unperturbed and harmonious - a product of
'contemplation of the heavenly intelligences: i.e. the 'planetary' gods.
A con ti rm at ion of th is in fercncc Copernicus could tind in that celebrated passage of
Apuleius' ;\/eti111101pl10scs or Asi1111s t111rc11s, in which the author lifts a fold of the \Til
coYL'ring the mysteries of Isis: .r-\cccssi co1~fi11i11111 111ortis l'f t't1frc1to J>roscrpi11c1c li111i11c per

011111iu 1cd11s dc111c11tc1 n111c111i; 11octc 111cdiu 1idi solt'ln c1111dido cor11scc111tc111 !11111i11c; dcos
i1~(cros ct dcos s11pcros llt"t"cssi corn111ct11dormi de prox111110." A man, who through such a

contemplative ad\'enturc had attained full liberation, i.e. what Plato indirectly calls an unperturbed and ( ;od-like state of consciousness, should, according to Apuleius' subsequent
explanation..,, he essentially identical with the Sun-god.
(:operniLL1s might haVL' lwcomc acquainted with these revclational adumbrations duri n g h i . ., .., o j () u rn i n J> a d u a i n 1so 1 - 1so 3, he cause he s e L' m s i n t h us c yca rs t o h a\' e ow n c d a n d
as...,iduou . . ly ... tudicd, a c()py of the L'dition of A.pulcius which appcarl'd in Hologna on the
1 ... t uf 1\ugu...,t, 1.:;0<L'
I le might abo han' nbtai1wd intimations of the same pnlCt'ss of
"LiLL e...,...,i \'l' 1.:011k111 pl.1 t inn oft ht' plant'tary gods and ti n;,d ilknt i 111.at ion \\'it h the Sun (Stl/i-


ficatio) from contemporary hermetical ('alchemical') literature, or from personal contacts

with those numerous mystics who at that time worked under the cover of alchemy.'"'
But the passages of Plato and Apuleius cited above had also a cosmological content
of the greatest importance to him. TI1ey implied, in fact, the possibility of two different
views of the cosmos: the ordinary, terrestrial, in which the motions of the planets were
complicated and difficult to grasp, and the extraordinary, solnr, in which they were simple and harmonious. Copernicus might therefore have asked himself, whether it would
be possible to simplify the mechanism of planetary motions by placing the Sun in the
Earth's stead at the centre of the universe. 111e apparent motions of the planets were,
in fact, highly confused. v\Tould not the hidden, harmonious view of the universe, once
established and made known publicly, induce a transformation of the highly perturbed
and sick Christian society, leading men who were wandering astray, back to the narrow
path of salvation? And would not that be in accordance with the alchemist doctrine that
the transition to a life centred in the Sun - the Sun of Righteousness - was the secret of
perfect health?
According to the view that had been accepted since the times of Plato, and had not been
abandoned even at the times of Copernicus, the world consisted of a system of perfectly
transparent planetary spheres centred at the immobile Earth. In the ancient cosmological
systems of Anaximander, Eudoxos, Kallippos and Aristotle, these spheres were conceived
rotating about different axes passing through their common centre, but were so ingeniously coupled together in groups belonging each to a different planet which was thought
attached to one of the spheres of its group, that their compound motions approximated
the actual motions of the planets. ll1ese ancient systems, howe\er, were unable to explain the changes in the apparent luminosity, and hence also distances, of the \Vandering
stars. A radically new theory was developed in the 2nd century B.c:. by II ipparchos, who
- still respecting the Platonic principle that all heavenly motions must be combinations
of uniform rotations - introduced eccentric planetary orbits, i.e. circles whose centres
did not coincide with that of the \Vorld (and hence of the Earth), as well as epicycles, i.e.
small circles whose centres were imagined rolling on the periphery of the great, more or
less eccentric, orbits (called therefore also deferential circles). 'fhis theory was in the 2nd
century A.O. worked out in detail and brought to a relatively high degree of perfection
by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) in Alexandria, who, however, introduced some new
devices, making his world system both complicated and unconvincing for aprioristically
minded thinkers. He abandoned the Platonic principle in its strict sense, and assumed
that the motion of the epicycles on the eccentric deferential circles was not uniform, but
only oppcared uniform from certain points called points of equation, i.e. in projed ion on
circles drawn about these points as centres - the so-called circles of equation.
All those circles were even at the ti mes of Copernicus st iII imagined i nsidc ,_:onccn t riL,
crystalline spheres, thick enough to enclose deferential channels in which the L'qually
crystalline epicycles could circulate around the Earth. Hmvever, many scientists of this
time regarded these spheres and channels as fictions, and eccentrics and epiqcles as
kinematical constructions. rn1e authoritv of Ptolomaeui.., wai.., i..,till enormous, tlwuoh
his system had been subject to many critici'.-.ms and correctiom on the part of the gr~1t
Arabian astronomers of the Middle Ages. His most radical critic had \wen the cckhratcd
Cordovan philo..,opher Aven Rois - more generally known under hi-.. Latini1Ld I1lll1lL'
A\errnes - who completely abandoned Ptolemaeui.., and turned hack to the <llKiL'llt theory
of rotating sphere"> in the form developed hy Arii..,totle. Hut altlwugh hi'> LritiLi-.111 had

171c ltZlim1 Bilckgrou11d of Copernicus' Cos1110/ogirnl Rc\'Olutio11


exposed some - from the philosophical point of view - weak sides of the Ptolemaeian
system, his alternati\'e argument was not acceptable from the point of view of the practical astronomer.
vVhat the Arabian astronomers were especially concerned with, were attempts at improving the system of Ptolemacus by numerical adjustments and by taking more exact
account of the irregularities of the apparent motion of the heaven as a whole, due, as
Copernicus realized, to perturbations of the Earth's axial rotations. The most important
of these irregularities was precession, which had been discovered already by Hipparchos
(ca. 190-120 B.c.).
Even before Hipparchos, Indian, Chaldean and Egyptian astronomers seem to have
developed the false idea of an oscillatory movement of the eighth sphere. This gave origin
to the medieval conception of an oscillatory 'trepidation' as superimposed on precession. To account for the trepidation and the variation of the inclination of the equatorial
plane to that of the ecliptic, the Arabian cosmologists imagined a tenth or, in the order
of increasing distance from the Earth, the ninth cosmic sphere, in addition to the seven
planetary spheres, the sphere of the fixed stars (the eighth), and the outermost sphere or
the pri111urn 1110{Ji/c whose task was to impart to the heavens its diurnal rotation. (This
ninth sphere or Ptolemaeus became, therefore, the tenth in the order of increasing distance). Below the first sphere - that of the Moon - was the Earth, surrounded by successive spheres of the three lighter 'elements': water, air and fire. Together they made up
what was called the 'sublunar' world, unstable and subject to decay and death. 111e other,
higher world was called 'cthcric' because of the subtl~ fifth 'eleme,nt' (quint<l cssc11tio) or
ether \vhich pcrmcatl'd it, transmitting the rotational motion of the pri111u1111110[,i/c to the
remaining snhcres.
In the eternallv ouict reaion
above the tenth snhere
'agincd the c111pyrc11111 - the abode of God and the elect - as an all-embracing outermost
CI his model of the uni\'erse had tremendous philosophical and religious implications. It
was impossible to upset it without changing the accepted hierarchy of \'alues, shattering the
authority of the Church, and rc\'olutionizing almost every domain of human life. In fact,
this world model implied that sah'ation would be attained by direct upward striving, i.e.,
pcrfrctioning that which from the \cry outset, by outward human terrestrial .iudgement,
could be regarded as \irtue. At the very moment the Earth was raised from its old place as
the scrap pile and foundation of the world, this doctrine of salvation lost its cosmological
basis. Since tlwsL' who sought
sahation ouuht
first to find the Sun of Righteousness
\. _
than attempt to .iust i ry t lwmschcs by formal obscnation or human norms of conduct, and
since thL' Sun had been llW\'Cd to the lowest place in the uni\'l'rSL\ they had thcrL'aftcr to
go down to the \'l'I")' bottom of the world before engaging on the road to hc<l\'Cn. Inward
<H\'arenL'ss of the Sun of Righteousness had to precede outward \'irtuc.
1 hL' hierarchy of spheres of the geocentric model of the world was a counterpart of
the ccc ks ias t ica I h iL'ra re hy. 1he gcocent ric system of the world was that of spiritual au t hori tics L'Stahlislwd by Farthly standards - a system which could be willingly accepkd
by mighty dignitarie.., of the (~hurch, but did not reflect the ways of the humbk senants
of the 1)ivinc l.()\'L'. ( :opLrnicus, although dominated by the desire for knowledge, \\'as
a my-.,t iL- hy nat u ra I disposition, and his soul must h<l\'e rL'VollL'd against the L-onccpt ion
of a uni\n-.,c L-e11trL'd in tlw Farth. Charadt'ristically enough he did 1wt aspirL' to an L'L-Lle-.,1a-..tiLdl L.lrl'LT I k h,1d nc\.L'r lwL'll ordained a priest'' 1 and had Lontentl'd himsLlf,
thr()t1gl10ut hi-.. lik, ,,ith tlw lo\\.L'r Llll1St'cratio11\ without whiLh hL' dnild 1wt hL' ll1L'll1hL'r



of a chapter - a situation which enabled him to pursue his revolutionary scientif1c work.
This remaining outside the ecclesiastical hierarchy was not unessential for his readiness
to upset the geocentric system of the world. 10 ' He could upset it, although - or rather
because - he was not only a deeply religious, but also a humble, love-seeking spirit, and
because his new world model was that of an inward, not outward, spirituality.
This does not mean, however, that Copernicus was guided by an intellectual conviction of the Sun's being the true centre of the universe from the very beginning of his work
at the reformation of astronomy. TI1ere are in fact indications that this idea did not ripen
in his mind until his second Italian journey. His original creative impulse - as all creative
impulses in the intellectual domain - was only that towards a new harmonious order out
from the chaos into which thought had been plunged through long adherence to false
schemes. Nevertheless he must have had from a very early period of his studies the feeling
that the apparent motion of the Sun was somehow a key to the world machine.
In spite of the many attempts at correcting Ptolemy, which have been made especially
by Arabian astronomers, the inability of his Great System to give a satisfactory representation of the actual motions of the planets during long periods of ti me was more apparent
than ever. This state of affairs was by many intellectuals of those times regarded as a great
evil, because it made astrological prognoses of both public and private affairs unreliable.
Doubts \Vere even expressed as to the usefulness of any \vorld models, and in current
publications entitled Alnw.nczclz perpetuum and the like attempts were made at purely
formal predictions.
What finally prepared the ground for the Copernican re\'olution was, among others,
the re-awakening of Hellenistic studies due to Byzantine refugees who brought precious,
and in the West hitherto unknown Greek manuscripts to \Vestern Europe, Venice especially. Among these manuscripts there \Vas also a copy of the original Greek version of
Ptolemy's Great System, MyaA.q L.uvTa~Lc;, which had previously been known only from
Gerhard of Sabbionetta's barbarous Latin translation of the old Arabian \'ersion (popularly called 'Almagest'). '01anks to the intermediation of Cardinal Bcssarion, the pope's legate in Vienna, this Greek manuscript was transmitted to the German astronomer Georg
Peurbach, who took on its Latin translation, discovered many faults in the old Latin version, and, as a consequence, developed ( 1460) a new system of the world, dc\'iat i ng in certain respects from that of Ptolemy, and approaching the ancient system of hom;Kentric
spheres. His translation work was continued by his celebrated disciple Rcgiomontanus,
who, following Bessarion's advice, went to Italy, to Padua and 1:errara, and there ~ame
into contact \Vith Giovanni Bianchini, the author of new astronomical tables, and master
of Domenico Maria Novara, Copernicus' Bolognan teacher. After a sojourn in Buda at
the court of Matthias Corvin us, the king of Hungary, Regiomontanus settled in L-l/ 1 in
Nl.'1rnberg, where he founded an obscnatory and elaborated a condensed ac~ount of the
Almagest. This Fpytonw fow111is De nzontc rcgio /11 ul111llgcst11111 J>to/0111ci \Vas published
first in 1496, twenty years after his death, in Venice. Copernicus bought a copy or it, probably during his first sojourn in Italy, and used it thereafter ash is ch icr sou rec or in rnrrna
tion on Ptolomaean astronomy.
1 he first impulses towards the reformation of astronomy \\'ere ()ht ai ned hy ( :()pnn icus
already in Cracmv, where he in 1493 attended lectures on Peurbach's 'J/1cori(11c 110111c
plw1ctun1111 and the leading Cracmv astronomer Albert of Brudn'w()\ C()mme11taries to
it.,,,,, Albert pointed out the superfluity
the circle.., equation introduced hy Ptolemy in
order to maintain a fabe appearance of conformity to the Plat()niL principle ol tlw Lom-



'Ilze Jtnlian Background of Coperniws' Cosmological Revolution


ponent circular motions of the heavenly bodies being uniform. He referred to Averroes
\Vhen stating the absurdity of this device, and he declared emphatically that all planetary
circles - the eccentrics as well as the epicycles - were mathematical fictions. He also
pointed out that the mechanism of the lunar motions devised by Ptolemy was unacceptable, since it required the Moon to be twice as distant when full than when in the first or
last quarter.
But Copernicus must also have received powerful stimulation to revisioniary spen1lations from the lectures on Aristotle's J\Jetaplzysics, which he attended in the same year
i493.'"~ It was through these lectures that he probably became acquainted with the theory
of rotating homocentric spheres. In his dedicatory letter to pope Paul III he later (1542)
confessed that the existence of an alternative, although imperfect, geocentric system of
the world, as well as the logical inconsistency of the theory of circles of equation, had encouraged him to 'meditate on a different method of explaining the motions of the world
Aristotle's 'Metaphysics' might also have given him the first external impulse to reflections on the reasons for the exceptional directing role the Sun played in the great show
of planetary motions. As he might have heard from the mouth of Johannes of Glog6w
( Gloger or Glogovita) at a Saturday-disputation in the Summer-Semester of i493, Ptolemy
himself had declared that all the planetary motions 'are measured and determined by the
motion of the Sun'.""i; This was, in fact, a very old doctrine, which Copernicus must also
have learned from many ancient writings, some of which he probably read already in
'I his doctrine \Vas an outspring of the ancient astrology, developed in ~lesopotamia as
part of an astral religion which had spread to some extent in Syria not later than the 8th
century B.c., and \vas subsequently synthesized \Vith Persian Ivlazdaism, Platonic, NeoPlatonic, and Neo-Pythagorean doctrines, and especially with the philosophy of the Stoa.
An excellent account of its development can be found in the classical work by Cumont
( 1912). According to Cumont, the coming into usage of the qualifying epithet actcmus in
Roman ritual in the 2nd centurv of our era marks the identification of the gods with hewenlv bodies, the sunreme
g_od l1ci112: identified with the heaven as that ''~hich, revolving
uniformly, does not \Vander or err, and is invoked as Opti11111s i\foxi11111s Cnclus Actcnzus


A I ready the ancient Babylonian astronomers (the 'Chaldeans') observed that the apparent advances, halts, and regressions of the planets were connected with the revolutions
of the Sun, and they came to the conclusion that the Sun governed their movements,
impel 1i ng forwards the planets, arresting them, or driving them back wards according to
the position which it occupied relatively to them.''''' 'lhis intluence, originally conceived as
purely mechanical, \\as subsequently understood by heathen theologians as the outcome
of the cosmic rL'ason immanent in the solar light. 'lhe cult of the 'l1wincible Sun' (Sol
!1nictus) was in 274 officially introduced in the Roman Empire by the emperor Aurl'lian
and blossomed in the following century under tlw Claudian emperors. Hut Platonic,
Ari...,totl'lian, and especially Neoplatonic influences working against the conception of a
purely i 111 ma nent ( ;od, the highest god was from the 2nd century outwards frequt~ntly
conct'in'd as hi.wing his abode outside the supn:me hcawn, and the universal rc<lson ~11lcgcdly imm<.lllt'nt in the m;.1tcrial Sun was transferred to a purely spiritual Sun which tlw
mystiLs L'nun111tl'red in tlw ideal world (t1oq1t\( h:t,)CTpo().
thL'SL' rL'ligiously tinged <lstral doctri1ws, L'specially in their original.





Stoically influenced form, came to exercise an inspiring influence on Copernicus'

thought. He found them above all in the Natural History of Plinius, but possibly also
in the works of Cicero, Vitruvius, Theon of Smyrna, Censorinus, Macrobius, Chalcidius,
and others whom he is known to have consulted.' According to the Stoic doctrine, the
directive role of the Sun was due to its heat, and the Sun itself played in the macrocosm
a role analogous to that of the heart in the human organism, i.e. in the microcosm.' This
doctrine, due probably to the great syncretist of the astral science of the East and the
philosophy of the \ Vest, Posidonios of Apamea (ca. i35-51 B.c.), has been transmitted to
posteriority by Theon, Porphirius, and Macrobius. It has not been directly referred to by
Copernicus, but Rheticus in the Narrntio Prima tried to illustrate the directive immobility of the Sun by that of the heart in the human body. In his major work (De rcvolutionibus I, 10) Copernicus says that some authors have fittingly called the Sun the lamp of the
world, while others, the mind or the director of the latter (Siquidcm 11011 i11cptc quidmn fucenzam mundi, alij rnentem, alij rectorem vacant). All these designations are found in the
Natural History of Plinius of which Copernicus might already in Cracow have acquired
some knowledge, since Johannes of Glog()w frequently referred to it in his lectures on
geography.11~ The last two of the above-mentioned designations are also encountered in a
passage of Cicero's Sonmiunz Scipionis, that celebrated work in which the true structure of
the universe is disclosed to Scipio in a dream, and which must have powerfully attracted
Copernicus for more than one reason.'
Equally important to Copernicus as incentives to speculations on the heliocentric
system of the world might have been the hermetic writings, translated and edited by
Marsilio Ficino, as well as the 'ultraplatonic' v..rorks of Ficino, sent by the author in 1485 in
several copies to Callimachus in Cracow, and available at that epoch also in the university library.51 4 In De revolutionibus I, 10 Copernicus mentions that Hermes Trismegistos
called the Sun 'visible God', information which he very probably derived from the hermetic Poimandres, translated by Ficino and published for the first time in 147i.' His
comparison of the Sun (in the following sentence) to a king governing from his throne
might have been borrowed from the hermetic writings or from Proclus' commentarv to
Plato's Tinrneus." 6
There was also another category of ancient cosmological traditions concerning the
role of the Sun in the universe \Vith which Copernicus must have verv earlv become acquainted. lhey were concerned with the highly unorthodox view pro,fesseti allegedly by
Egyptian astronomers and subsequently by Heraclidcs of Pont us about the middle of the
4th century B.c. - a vie\v according to \Vhich Mercury and Venus moved in circles llrou1uf
the Sun. This cosmological conception was, i.a., expounded by Cicero in the So11rniw11
Scipio11is, \'\1hich Copernicus very probably read al ready in Cracmv, joint I y \Vit h the
equally important commentary of Macrnbius.' Laurentius Corvinus, his friend and fellow-student in Cracmv, quotes in his Cosnwgmphy, published in Basel in 1496 and written
before 1494, passages of the Sotunwlio of Macrobius, \vhich \Vere always printed jointly
with the commentary to So11111iwn Scipio11is - i.a. one in which the Sun is called d11.\ t'I
moderator of the planets. But the 'Egyptian' vinv on the motion of Mercury and \'cnus
must haw become known to Copernicus also from other sources such as \'itru\ius' f)c
Architccturu IX, 4 (which he studied according to C:urtze and L.A. Birkenmajer) and I >t
nuptiis Philologinc et !v!errnrii, VIII of Ivlartianus Capella (to \\horn he himself explicitly
refers in this connection in De rel'O!utio11iln1s I, rn), as \veil as probably from 'l lwun .rnd
C:halcidius' Commentary to Plato's Timaeu-;.'





Tlzc Jtnlimz Bnckgrowzd of Copernicus' Cosmological Revolution


\!\That Copernicus finally determined to do was, in fact, 'to reconstitute the rejected
principle of the Sun's government in nature' (Rheticus, 1540: D. Doctor nutem Pmeceptor
nzeus dn11111utm11 mtio11e111 gubenwtionis in rerum 11ntum Solis rcvocmzdmn statuit). 111is
implied - astrolo!icallv and nwsticallv - re-establishing the supremacv of the heart above
reason and of love above 'law' (in the Paulinian sense), rejected by the Pharisaical bulk
of Christianity. As a scientific task, however, it required new observations and extensive
studies and calculations. 111eir purpose was among others to show that the irregularities
of the Sun's apparent, i.e. the Earth's real, motion were mirrored in the apparent motions
of the planets. At the time of his sojourn in Cracow, Copernicus could have scarcely
started this systematic work which even much later, in Padua, was still in its beginning.
But he might have already in Cracow obtained some vague idea of the Pythagorean
views on the structure of the universe - views which later were to exert a decisive influence on the progress of his inquiry. If he in the Summer-Semester of 1493 attended Albert
of Brudzewo's lectures on Aristotle's De coclo ct 111wuio, he could, in fact, have heard of
the ancient Pythagorean doctrine of the Earth's being a wandering star and the centre of
the world's being occupied by fire - the most worthy place by the most worthy thing. 111is
idea must have appealed to his sense of nature's holiness. He had perhaps already a dim
presentiment that he was going to show that the centre of the universe was not the abode
of the sinful and fallen, but an altar on which God manifested himself in his solar body, as
he did in the monstrance-enclosed hosts of Earthly temples - and that the universe itself
was only in the eyes of the blind a prison of mortals, because those whose eyes had been
opened must recognize it as a temple of the Saviour.
111 is first vague but emotionally powerful and persistent idea might have dictated to
him later in the first book of his major treatise the exclamation: '\ Vho, in fact, would be
able to assign this light' another a1~d more suitable place in this most beautiful temple
than that from which it can illuminate evcrvthing simultancouslv?'. But he had - in contrast to, say, Giordano Bruno - a clear sense of the essential difference between esoteric
intuition and exoteric science. \Vhatever might have become intuitively clear to him at
this early epoch in his life, he did not find it opportune to speak of it publicly before having established its truth by the methods adapted to external communication, viz. by the
methods of science. Not even the 'Egyptian' conception of the world did he expound publicly, except perhaps in 1500 (as will be seen later), and he left the grandiose conception of
a heliocentric svstem of the world even in confidential talks with outstanding humanists
in abeyan1..:e unti I his second Italian _journey.
As a student of canonical law in Bologna, Copernicus was 'not so much a disciple as an
assistant and witness to the observations' of Domenico J'vlaria Novara, the Bologna professor of astronomy.'!" Novara worked at that time at the correction of astronomical tables, following the example of Peurhach, Regiomontanus, and his own rnaslt'r Bianchini,
and hoping to he able to found a new astronomy on the observed deviations from accepted theory-. '! On his own account Copernicus observed at that ti me chiefly the Sun,
the iVloon, and the fixed stars, with the intention of providing a safe foundation for the
theory of the apparent motions of the eighth sphere and the two great luminaries - and
indirecth' al"o for that of the axial and orbital motion
the Earth. \\'hen speaking of the
inadequacie.., of the old astrononw in his letter to Paul llI, he first mentioned the fact that
the a..,t rnnomL'r" were 'to that degree in doubt as to the motion of the Sun and the :\,loon'
that they werL' not even ahk to'dcrnonstratl' and dekrmine the length of the tropical yc<lr'.
1 hi.., wa.., <11...,o the lirst t<l..,k he had himsLlf to tackle. t k obscrnd eclipses (of thL' ;\hHm, at










least) and occultations of planets (Saturn) and fixed stars (viz. Aldebaran) by the Moon,
in order to study the motion of the latter and convince himself of the (approximate)
constancy of its distance from the Earth. He got thus rid of any shadow of doubt as to
the inadequacy of the Ptolemaic theory of lunar motions. He also observed the Sun and
certain chosen fixed stars, above all Spica or a Virgin is, in order to determine the length
of the sidereal year and the inclination of the plane of the Sun's apparent orb (the ecliptic)
towards the plane of the heavenly equator. 521 He might have already pondered upon the
possibility of ascribing all the motions of the eighth sphere - both the diurnal rotation,
the precession, and the true or alleged inequality of the latter (the 'trepidation') - to the
axial rotation of the Earth and to its perturbations, thus making the ninth and the tenth
heavenly spheres superfluous, and the eighth immobile. At any rate, he wanted to refer the
apparent motions of the Sun and planets to this fixed frame of reference - the sphere of
the fixed stars - and it was with this purpose in mind that he worked at the determination
of the length of the sidereal year. He was convinced that the length of the tropical year was
variable because of the inequality of precession.
Copernicus' Bolognan studies in the academic year 1499/1500 might have been stimulated by the arrival of a company of more or less eminent students from Poland and
Bohemia, all members of the Phoebean sodalities. Vincentius Longinus and Johannes
Rhagius (Rak) Aesticampianus (the Younger), proceeding from Lower Silesia and Lower
Lusatia, respectively, and having studies in Cracow behind them, were among the most
talented. They came jointly by way of Vienna and Venice, and could tell of dangerous situations at sea, both because of storms and because of Turkish assaults. They came soon in
contact with a group of Czech nobles, led by the eminent humanist Johannes (Jodokus)
Sturnus (Staar, Starle, Sturlin) from Schmalkalden, who was to guide particularly
Christophorus of vVeitmi..ihl from an ancient Czech noble fam ilv Kmbice. Among the
three others, Ulricus of Rose,nberg was a member of the highest C~cch nobility ( ra1~ki ng
just after the king). Now, these men came to study under the direction of the same masters as Copernicus, in the first place Domenico Maria Novara, and humanistic celebrities
such as Beroaldo, who did not spare compliments in their address. ~Ihey \Vere lodged in
the Cnsa Fosgarnria in \vhich Domenico Maria Novara held lectures on the geographical
\vork of Ptolemy, \vhile he appears to have held elsewhere lectures on the Alnrngcst and
the geometry of Euclid. Viewing Copernicus' attested close relations to Novara, it does
not appear unlikely that he was lodged in the same house. \A/c know at present that he
\Vas at that time himself teaching astronomy.' 21 1he Bohemian guests appeared to have
shared his interests to some degree. Indeed, Johannes, an elder brother of Christophorus
of vVeitmi.ihl, was interested in correcting the length of the tropical year.'~' As to Vincenz
Lang and Johannes Aesticampianus the Younger, they resumed their Italian explorations
in the nc\v year i500, and arrived in Rome, where they made their reflections upon seeing the academic crowds thronging around the tomb of Pomponius Lactus. Desnihing
his impressions in a letter to Celsis of the 27th of May, 1500, Aesticampianus finds it right
to make Cdsis the object of a similar homage. The grave plate of Celsis at St. Stephen's
dome in Vienna came actually to be inscribed \Vi th the same esoteric signs \' I \' () as
Pomponius Laetus' tomb.
-1 he humanistic milieu in Bologna and Padua could have given rich nourishment to
Copernicus' revisionary reflections. In fact, these two leading Italian unin.'rsitics were 1.1t
that time the stage of sharp controversies between the '>o-called Alexandriani'->h, i.e., tlw
followers of Ptolemy and the ancient Hellenistic commentators of Aristotle, ()Jl the rn1L'

Die ltlllia11 Background of Copenzirns' Cos111ological Rel'Olutio11


hand, and AYerroists, on the other. TI1e outstanding Bolognan professor of philosophy,
Alessandro Achillini, adversary of the famous Pietro Pomponazzi in Padua, belonged to
the latter. In his treatise De or[Jilms, published in Bologna in 1494, he not only expressed
doubts as to the reality of the equanses (the equating circles), the eccentrics, and the
epicycles, but also sneered at the plump Arabian extra-stellar spheres (the ninth and the
tenth), and the obvious inadequacy of the Ptolornaean mechanism of lunar motions. He
went so far as to suggest that both the Moon and the Sun might rotate about their own
further cogitations on the diurnal rotation of the Earth might have been deduced
by Copernicus from discussions with the young Celestinian monk Marco Beneventano,
who, during his sojourn in Bologna in the years 1494-1498, was an enthusiastic student of
astronomy and disciple of Domenico Nlaria Novara.' 1 ' Beneventano was the first astronomer who denied the immobility of the equinoctial points, and hence also the constancy
of the tropical year, by ascribing 'trepidation' to their motion instead of that of the sphere
of the fixed stars (the eighth sphere). Copernicus went subsequently still further, for he
ascribed also precession to the motion of the equinoctial points, which he explained by
oscillation of the Earth's axis. As to Beneventano, he expressed his views in the pamphlet
Tmctlltus de 1110tu octmllc splwemc, which later appeared in Bologna. He became engaged in violent polemics on these questions in i521, a few years only before Copernicus
sent vVapowski his polemical letter (1524) against the views of the Ni.irnberg astronomer
Johann \Verner, in the form of a pamphlet 'vith the same title Tmctatus de 111otu octal'lle

splwcme ( 1522).
\Vapowski, two years younger than Copernicus, had not only been his fellow-student
in Cracow (since 1493) and in Bologna (since 1499), but later, in Rome, also a collaborator
of Benevcntano on a new edition of the Geoaranlw
of Ptolcmv,
viz. the man
of Poland
and Central Eu rope which Beneventano added to a second issue of th is treatise ( 1507 ).
Copernicus shared the cartographical interests of both these men, and possibly supplied
Beneventano with some geographical data.' 2 (-. He is known to have worked later on the
geography of Prussia.' 2 - In 1510 there was even an attempt by the Teutonic Order to steal
his highly \'c.dued map of Prussia in connection with the Order's plans of recoYering
Royal Prussia.''~ \ Ve take here the onnortunitv
of mentioninob these acts because thev will
t t
at a later stage or this inquiry prove relevant to a crucial point in our interpretation of
Ciorgione's 'Portrait of a young man~
In 1500, when lecturing in Rome, Copernicus certainly still restrained from setting
forth the hypothesis or diurnal rotation of the Earth.'~" It is possiblc that a reminiscence
of these lectures has been conserved in the treatise Co111111c11turior11111 \'rl11111on1111; odo ct
trigi11tc1 lil1ri by Raffaelc i\latlei, called \'olc1tcrm1111s, a renmv1ll'd cncyclopedist and high
official of the Roman Curia, a friend and correspondent of Callimachus. In this treatise,
\Vhich Copcrnio1s lall'r thoroughly studied, arc included some remarks of Volaterranus
dating from 1c;o4 and concerning the system of the world.''" \/olatcrranus states that the
mot ion of the eighth sphere is not yet established, because Ptolcmy, the Arabic ast ronorner<..,, and the 'nwst recent' innstigators disagree in that respect. He also argues that it
i..., nect...,..,ary to introduce a second epicycle into tlw mechanism of lunar motions (as
C:opernidt.., later did) in ortkr to explain the fact that the i\loon alway..., turns tht san1l'
r...ide t u\\'ard" t lw L,1 rt h. h nally, what is most i ntercst i ng, he maintains - rekrri ng on this
point to \lartianu" <:.1pella - that ~krcury and \'enus rcvoln around the Sun.
( :(lpl'rtlldt<.,' prul()llgld l'Illka\ours to find suppnrt for the idea nr tht' ll1otinn nf t\w



Earth in ancient philosophical tradition must have begun already during this first period
of his Italian studies. In his letter to Paul III he confessed that, after long deliberations
which convinced him of the futility of the earlier attempts at explaining the motions of
the heavenly bodies, he imposed upon himself the task of reading all the philosophical
works he could obtain, in order to see whether any philosopher 'might have ever professed views on the motions of the spheres of the world different from those assumed
by the official teachers of mathematics'. It appears, however, that it was only in Padua he
earnestly engaged in this tremendous task. His Greek studies began first in his second
Italian period, as documented by the still extant copy of the Greek dictionary of Johannes
Baptista Chrestonius, published in Modena in July, 1500, which he used and supplemented by many annotations, and by the translation of the letters of 111eophylactus Si mocatta,
which he later (1509) published in Cracow. 0 ' He also must have used the Greek grammar
of the Byzantine refugee Theodore Gazes (Gaza) published in Venice in 1495, together
vvith several other treatises, i.a. Gazes' nepl ~tqvCvv which helped him to cstabl ish the
names and the order of the ancient Attic months, as well as other dates pertaining to the
ancient Greek chronologyY 2 These investigations were of fundamental importance for
the mathematical construction of a new system of the world, because the periods of the
heavenly revolutions could not be exactly established without reference to ancient observations and without correct knowledge of the ancient systems of chronology.
Besides Greek chronology also the Egyptian one \Vas of primal importance in this
connection, and Copernicus was at pains to establish the right names of the Egyptian
months, grotesquely distorted as they have been in mediaeval treatises, such as the classical Tabulae Alplw11si, whose Venetian edition from 1492 he mvncd from the times of
his Cracow studies, and even Regiomontmzus' Epitome in Al11wgcst11111 Ptolc111nci, \Vhose
freshly-printed copy he bought in the winter 1496-97. ' 11 He succeeded in th is task than ks
to information he found in 1heon's commentary to Aratos' Greek poem cI)AINOl\ilENA,
edited by Aldus Romanus in Venice in 1499. He bought this publication bound together
with the Opera of Giovanni Gioviano Pontano, leader of the Neapolitan Academv, after
him called also Po11ta11imza, and with Cardinal Bessarion's polemical work /11 c11!1;11111iatore111 Platonis, libri quntuor - both published in Venice, the first in 1501, the second (also
by Aldus Romanus) in July, 1503. 'n1is proves that he could not have read any of these
treatises before the last months of his second Italian sojourn (since he alreadv in the
Autumn of i503 must have set out on his homeward jm{rney), and this makes ,it probable that he bought them in Venice. Perhaps he did that at the instigation of his Paduan
colleague Luca Gaurico, a disciple of Pontano who studied in Padua and since 1503 was a
lecturer of astronomy there, for shortly after to be famed as a great astrologer - hut it was
Ressarion's treatise and Aratos' poem with 111eon's commentary that he studied \\'it h t hL'
greatest attention.
Bessarion joined Latin translations to the Greek texts he published, which, as he wrote,
'is most useful to those who learn (~reek or wish to translate good (~reek into good Latin'
- as Copernicus himself intended. 'I he Platonic and Pythagorean ideas which <:opcrn iLus
encountered in Bessarion's treatise left a deep impre...,sion on his mind and grcath' intluenced his later work and life. It was here, and at the \'ery beginning, that he t~lund .a Latin
translation of Lysis' letter to Hipparchos, which he later menti<>ned in the dcdiLatory
letter to Paul III, having cited it in full at the end of the 11rst h()()k ()f /)e rc10/11tio11i/111s,
in his 0\\'11 translation from the C;reek original, hut had delelL'd i 11 the man usui pt he fore
sending it to print. '!he (;reek original of this letter, a..., well i:l'> the miginal text 1ll the kt

T71c Itnlia11 Background of Copernicus' Cosmologirnl Rcvolutio11


ters of Teophilactus Simocatta, were printed in the Epistolac Vl1riont111 pliilosoplwrzmz

published by Aldus Ivlanutius in Venice in 1499, but it seems that Copernicus had rather
had recourse to very defective separate prints of these two texts which also appeared in
Venice in 1499.'q
111e letter of Lysis touched upon questions of the highest importance to him, because it
expounded the Pythagorean doctrine that 'philosophical truths should not be communicated to those who have not even dreamt of purification of the soul: And what was meant
here by 'philosophical truth', was that kind of knowledge which grows out of a deep spiritual experience. rl he historv of nwstics, Pvthagoreism and hermctism especiallv, shows
in fact that spiritual develo~~ment 'is closel), pa~alleled by the unfolding of cosm,ological
vision. Copernicus must already at that time, in 1503 (a year which is most important for
our further considerations), have been vaguely conscious of the fact that his cosmological
insight had a spiritual foundation. No wonder, therefore, that the emphatic injunctions
of secrecy he had been met with in the letter of Lysis, made him decide not to let his
discoveries be publicly known, but to communicate them only 'to friends and the nearest
relatives', as he con fessed in the letter to Paul III. \ Vhen he, at the end of his life, finally
conceded to let his work be published, it mav have been because this could no longer
bring him anv personal gain or entail anv spiritual or physical danger to him, and beca~se
he h~1d taken,carc in his..__work not to dis~lose the hidde1~ meaningLof his great idea.
Rut at the time we here are chiefly concerned with, his soul was still enchanted by
the beauty of its vision, and the necessity of secrecy must have imposed itself with great
strength on his mind. This so much the more as his researches in classical literature had
revealed to him the csscntiallv Pvthagorean nature of his discoveries. Two passages
- one from Cicero's Acodc111in;rw;1 qu~1cstio11z1111 libri duo, the other from the Pseuc.ioPlutarchian De p/<1(if is pliilosopl10rz1111 - had given so powerful support to his ideas on
the motion of the Earth, and so decisi,e stimuli to their development, that he forty years
later, in his letter to the Pope, still found it advantageous to refer to them both, and even
to quote the original (;reek. version of the second of them in full. It seems probable that
also his acquaintance with these passages had something to do with his (;reek studies,
\'iz. with the person of Niccolo Leonico Tomeo, that renowned Hellenist who had been
constituted professor in Padua in 1497. His first teacher of Greek - until the middk of i502
- might have been C iovan n i Luca da Camerino, called Cret icus. A ft er Creticus' h~wing
been sent as the Vcnl'lian ambassador to Portuoal the chair of Creek language in Padua
\\'as \'acant for a \\'hole year, so that only in the st~o,nd half of 150J, CopernicusLmight have
fol lowed some lcct u res of his successor, i\larco i\ !usu ro. 1 here arc indications, however, of
his ha,ing followed Lourses l1\' Tumco. It sounds like a tcstimom of his indebtedness to
that masll'r \\'hen he in I >t nT:>l11tio11iln1s, sneakinu
of the Cracm,;-meridian being~ nractit
cal ly idcn t ical with that or Fraucnburg, where he made most of his astronomical obsenations, remarks that it also passes through 'Dyrrhachium in l'Vlaccdony, called Epidamnum
by the ancients'.'" In fact, Tomeo, although naturalized in Venice, was Albanese by birth,
and there is a passage in his book De t'cZrin lzistorill reminiscent of that just quoted:
'D~TrhaLhiu111 is a to\\'n in lllyria, called pre,iously Epidamnus .. .'' Now, Tonwo was
al"o the author of dialogues composed on the moLkl of Cicero's l'i.t"t11fc111icorn111 qucstio11u111 li/1ri duo, \\'hilh thnefore almost certainly were objects of <lLaLkmic discussions
in Padua. l>()J1lp()ni() ( ;<n1riLu, HL'llcnist and Platonist, Luca's younger brother, was undt'r
the intluenLl' p( tlw "allll' CiLl'rnnian model \\lwn he in 110.~ \\'roll' a trt'atise on the art
()( "Lulpturl', /\T.\fl('di1t1 stt1t11t1rit1, ,,hich the folll)\\ing year was published in FlorenL-t'.






The passage of Academicorwn questionunz which impressed Copernicus was noted by

him on the margin of a still preserved copy of the Noturczl History of Plinius the Elder
(Venetian edition of i487). 537 It reads: 'Nicetus [actually: Hicetas] of Syracuse bcl icves, as
Theophrastus says, the heavens, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, and finally everything which
is on high to be motionless, and nothing in the world to move except the Earth, which,
rotating and spinning with the highest speed round an axis, makes everything seem as
if the heavens moved and the Earth was still. Some believe that Plato says the same in
Timaeus, but somewhat less clearly'.
'Ne have reason to believe that Copernicus was already acquainted with this passage and had time for many-sided reflections on the consequences of the hypothesis
of the diurnal rotation of the Earth, when he, in the end of May i503, was on a visit to
Ferrara. In the posthumously published works ( Opern nliquot, Basileae, JVrnx 1.1111) of the
Ferrarese humanist Celia Calcagnini there is, in fact, a memoir on the rotation of the
Earth, De peremzi nzotu tcrrae (reprinted by Hipler, 1882), which has not only many ideas,
references, and expressions in common with those of Copernicus in De rci olutio11ilms
and in that early manuscript sketch of his heliocentric system which is usually called
Commentnriolus, but also repeats, word for word, the quotation from Cicero which so
powerfully impressed Copernicus.5 38 Calcagnini, six years younger than Copernicus,
belonged to these humanistic circles which found protection and consideration at the
court of the Dukes d' Este of Ferrara, where the Platonist wing was especially strong from
the time of the Council of Ferrara (1438), in which such famous Byzantine Platonists
as Bessarion and Georgios Gemistos Plethon himself participated. -n1esc circles were in
i_503 activated by the interest and seducing charm of the young Lucrezia Borgia, who the
toregoing year had been married to Duke Alfonso d' Este. 1 he fact that Calcagni n i dcd icated his memoir to Bonaventura Pistofilo, who almost certainly at that time had already
been appointed to his office as secretary to the Duke, suggests that Copernicus must
have met Calcagnini at one of those aristocratic garden parties at which the Ferrarese
humanists used to engage in scientific discussions. 'fhe memoir is undated, but it may
have been written a few years only after this remarkable meeting.'\') In the dedication
Calcagnini adresses Pistofilo as one whom he regards as the 'sole protector' of his memoir, and this 'from the \erv time when it was conceived in its original form and had not
yet obtained the full hon~ur of birth'. -n1is may well be an allusion to som~ notes taken
as early as i503. \ Vc can imagine that Copernicus could have been introduced to the humanistic circles of Ferrara by Antonius Leutus, one of his t\vo pro111otorc~ in Lc.uwnical
law, \Vho was Calcagnini's godfather. Although Calcagini made later, in 1518, many friends
among outstanding Poles when visiting Cracow on the occasion oft he wedding of King
Sigismund of Poland to the Milanese princess Bona Sforza, and although he from that
time on maintained especiallv friendlv relations with doctor Joannes Bcnedidu-., Solfa,
Copernicus' colleague in the ~haptcr 0 f Varmia and physician to the king of Poland, it is
highly unlikely that his memoir in which not even a slightest hint is made at the orbital
motion of the Earth should have been inspired by these late contacts \Vi th people who
might have had some knowledge of Copernicus' discmeries.; 1
Copernicus could, of course, not share the naive view ascribed by Cicero tn 11 iL~t'tas:
To him it was clear that - not nil heavenly motion could be explaint:d by the a\ial rota
ti on of the Earth. But, after having convinced hi rnsel f of the explanatory po kn t ia Ii tic.., of
th is hypothesis, he began to ponder over the pos-.,i hi Ii ties of a"cri hi ng to the Fart h ()t her
m o t iom, above a 11, a n o r b it a I m o t io n ro u n d t h e Su 11 . A n d i t w a " i 11 t I1 i -., c () 11 n L' d i() 11 t h a t h L'

1l1c !t1/i111 Background of Copernicus' Cos111ological Revolutio11


found support in the second of the two classical passages he later mentioned to Paul III
- that from Pseudo-Plutarchus. He discoYered it in a Yolume by the Venetian humanist
Georgius Valla (born in Piacenza ca. 1435) with the title De c.\petc11dis etji1gie11dis rebus,
published posthumously in 1501 by Aldus Romanus in Venice.'' 11
Giorgio Valla combined his medical profession with high philological competence,
Platonic-Pythagorean outlook, and enthusiastic interests in mathematics and astrology.
The volume in question, being an encyclopedical collection of essays on almost every
domain of science and art, contained the first correct translation of some Greek texts,
and Copernicus borrowed from it not only a lot of information and many quotations, but
also technical terms he used in De rc\ 0/utionilms and, to a certain degree, even the title
of his great work.'1 ~ 'Ihe relevant part of the passage De placitis pliilosoplzorzmz, we are
concerned with, reads as follows: 'Most philosophers assume that the Earth stands still.
Philolaus the Pythagorean, however, bade it move in an oblique circle round a fire, in a
similar way as the Sun and the Moon'. This passage, then, gave Copernicus the decisiYe
impulse towards removing the Earth from the centre of the uniYerse - paradoxically
because what Philolaus ima~ined
was actuallv an abstruse tnicture of the mechaL
nism of the Earth's diurnal rotation about a central fire.
In the same text of Pseudo-Plutarchus translated by Valla there is also a mention of a
genuinely heliocentric conception: Aristnrclzus post 11011 \'llgns stcllas solc111 locat, tcrmnz

1110\cri circ<1 solurc111 circulu111 ct cius i11di11ntio11es obu11zlm1ri solc111. Xc11opl1c111cs multos
cssc soles ct lu11us.' 'I his mention has certainly not escaped Copernicus' attention. At the
end of what \Vas originally the llrst book of De rc\ olutio11il7lls, when introducing the let11

ters of Lysis to Hipparchus, he referred in fact loosely to both Philolaus and Aristarchus:

crcdilJi/c est lziscc si111ili/J11sq11e rnusis Plzilolmu11 1110[Ji/it1tc111 tcrruc se11sissc, lJUOd etia111
1101111ulli Aristurclz11111 Sw11icu111 fcru11t i11 Clldc111 fi1isse se11tc11tio. This reference, however,
has later been deleted in the n~anuscript togetl~er with Lysis' letter. Copernicus had, in
fact, good reason not to attach too much weight to the Pseudo-Plutarchian tradition
the sole extant w1~itinott of the latter - an essav on the Sun's
and the J\1loon's size and distance, published bv the same Georgi us Valla in q.88 and 1499
- professes purely geocentric \'iews." 11 Archimedes' 'Sandrcclrnner (Ps1111111itcs), where
Aristarchus' heliocentric conception is referred to even more clearly than in De plllt'itis
plzilosoplzoru111, was to he published tirst in i544, the year after Copernicus' death. It is
remarkable, hmwwr, that in the manuscript of De rnol11tio11ilJ11s Copernicus speaks of
SC\'crul ( 1101111111/i) authors testifying the heliocentric views of Aristarchus. '111 is raist's the
question as to whether he might ha\e known some manuscript copy of Psa111111itcs. \Ve
'.-.hall (()[1\'ince oursekcs in a ialL'r part of this exposition that he very probably saw such
a copy in Padua.
L.A. Birkcnrnajcr, who discm't'rtd the dependence of Copernicus' astronomical work
on that of Valla, concluded that Coptrnicus must have got acquainted with \'al la's book
in 1:;02 or 1:;03. It may he asked whether 1502 is not precluded in this co111wdion by what
had been inferred on his rtlations with Calcagnini. \Vould Copernicus, in fact, desist from
making any mention of tlw hypothesis of the earth's orbital rt'\'olution when he in !\lay
or lune 1503 di'.-.Clls'.-.ed its a\ial rotation in Ferrara, if his heliocentric vision of the uni~
vcr'.-.e had already t'nwrged from the mist of \'agut' prestntimcnts? \Ve may conclude that
hL po..,..,ihly \\'lluld, if thi.., ,isio11 \\'as primarily hast'd on a genuine mystical t'\.PL'rienL-e
() r h i .., () \\' 11 ' Io r t Iw Iw Ii()l L' 11 t r ic id ea ' i11 d i s t i n d i0 n tl) t h a t 0 r t Iw F a r t h's a x i a I J"l) t a t i0 n '
j.., hal ktd h\ a 1..,p1ritt1<1I m\1..,kn of hight'St import. But although, as \H' ..,hall "L'L' hLltl\\,

conc~rning Aristarchus, since




Copernicus must have actually developed some kind of mystical helioccntrism, possibly
of Neoplatonic type, at a time prior to i503, this helioccntrism could not originally have
been based on a safe knowledge of ancient references to Pythagorean doctrines. And in
so far as the new picture of the world envisaged by him in 1503 was dependent on freshly
acquired mathematical insight and knowledge of literary traditions concerning ancient
Pythagorean doctrines, he would not possibly have had sufficient reason to keep it secret
when speaking with Calcagnini unless lie fwd nwde <lClJllUi11ta11ce witlz tlzc c;rcck origi1u1/
of Lysis' letter before having read its Latin translation by Bessarion, \vhich did not appear
from the Aldinian press before July 1503. And, as pointed out above, his acquaintance with
Lysis' letter might have actually dated from a much earlier time.
If, on the other hand, we assume that Copernicus did not read De plucitis plzilosoplzorunz before the summer of 1503, we leave him too little time for the first mathematical
elaboration of his heliocentric system. He has himself expressedly stated that he did not
engage in speculations on the motion of the Earth before having read the passages from
Cicero and pseudo-Plutarchus: Inde igitur ocrnsio11e111 11<1ctus coepi ct ego de tcrn1c 1110bilitate cogitnre. And we know not only that he already on the 1st of January, 1504, was
in Prussia, but also that he had time enough to calculate the date of the expected 'great'
conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the basis of his hypothesis, and to communicate th is
date, the i2th of ~lav,, i504 ' to Cracow astronomers.' 1'
European astronomers were at that time alarmed by a series of planetary conjunctions in the ominous sign of Cancer: those of the 'evil' planets, iVIars and Saturn, which
met on the 2nd of October and 11th of December, 1503, and those of Jupiter and Saturn,
which according to the current almanachs should meet on the i7th of Ivlarch and 10th of
June, 1504. The common opinion of the European astrologers was that at the ti me when
the same planets would again meet some twenty years later, a 'false prophet' would arise
(surgct 111c11cfox pseudo-proplzctn) founding 'a new and du11rncd rcligio11' ( 11011u scctu n1c11-

dacij: 11011,1 ct nrnledicta rcligio coniw1ctio11c111 s,1turni ct fouis in Cancro sc,111ctur in /zoc
nHmdo).; 1<- ~fhe date predicted by Copernicus was somewhat nearer the truth than that

given by the almanachs. Now, we take it for granted that he would not engage in such
predictions if he had not at that time already developed a full picture of the hel ioccntric
11rnchi11<1 111w1di, though still based on old observational data. He must have al ready discovered that the great Ptolemacan epicycles proved completely superfluous, if not only
.lvlercury and Venus (as Cicero in So11111iu111 Scipio11is, iviartianus Capella in De 1111ptiis
Plzilologiuc ct Alercurii, and other ancient authors maintained), but also other planets and
the Earth itself were assumed to mmT around the Sun, provided that their d i~L.t111..:es from
the Sun were supposed to have certain definite proportions to each other. 1 hey had to be,
so to say, attuned exactly as the chords of the Apollinian lyre - the prototype of all lyres
- which thus proved to embody the Pythagorean ~olution of the mystery of co~rnical harmony.'r \ Vhcther we assume that Copernicus sent his prediction to Cracow in the spring
of 1504, or that he brought it there on his vvay from Italy to Prussia at the end of 1503, the
time at his disposal for the working out of his new conception would be very -.,hort - ton
short, perhaps - unless we start from the alternatin hypothesis of hi..., having di...,C!)\'L'rcd
the pas...,age from DI! plat"itis pl1ilosupl10r111n in 1502, perhap..., in the beginning of thi..., )'L'<lr
al ready. In that ca-,e we have to explain his reticence, at lea -.,t partially, hy acq ua in L.11kt'
with the (;reek text of the letter of Lysis published in 1499.
\'e ...,hould not venture to gucs..., \vhich of these as'->urnpti<lm j.., mo...,t pL.tu...,ihk. ln citlwr
ca...,c, however, the last year "\Wnl hy Copernicu~ on Italian \()ii mu-.,t l() hilll hc.t\L' hL't'l1 a

17zc Italimz Bnckgrowzd

L~f Copernicus' Cosmological



time of extremely intensive work and the very culmination of his intellectual aciYenture.
TI1e fact that he bought the volume containing Bessarion's translation of Lysis' letter
shortly after this translation appeared from the Aldinian press suggests that he at that
time might have been to Venice. Several other circumstances point towards the conclusion that Venice played an important role in this period of the maturing of his heliocentric idea. lh is being of special interest in connection with our further considerations, we
shall offer additional space to the scenery of that part of our drama.

Venice as the City of the Sun

t can be scarcely doubted that Copernicus went to Venice in the period of his studies,
and apparently also already as an assistant to Callimachus. It is even probable that he,
as a student in Padua, had been there several times. Venice is, in fact, at a distance of not
much more than twenty English miles from Padua, and it was at that time one of the biggest and \Vealthiest European cities (much greater than Rome, whose population was ca.
70,000 at that time, while that of Venice attained 140.000 already in 1422), the capital of
a great power whose interests stretched far into the Eastern Mediterranean, and whose
Eastern policy had since the fall of Constantinople been often co-ordinated \vith that
of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As a marine power governed by merchant
aristocracy, it had much in common with Gedanum (Polish: Gda11sk, Cerman: Danzig)
which, although not possessing the same degree of autonomy in the Polish- Lithuanian
Commonwealth as its near neighbour Varmia, had an exceptional position among the
Prussian cities, and claimed to be subject to the King only. Copernicus was linked by
many bonds of parentage and friendship to that proud and wealthy city which has always
been leading in the struggle for the patrician ideals of freedom, so passionately defended
by his ancestors. For reasons of analogy with Gedanum, he might even in a certain sense
have felt himself more at home in Venice than in Padua. But as he was a man who 'avoided
every familiarity and conversation which was neither serious nor useful', he probably did
not go to Venice without a definite purpose.' 1r. Since at that time he was engaged in a
feverish search for ancient texts concerning hypotheses on the motion of the earth, he
certainly profited from occasions to look at ne\v books published in Venice, and perhaps
also - in i503 or even i502 - to study Creek manuscripts in the library of San ivlarco, to
which cardinal Bessarion had bequeathed his unique collection. He would probably also
pay visits to and converse with learned publishers and editors, such as the celebrated
Aldus Manutius and the astronomer Joannes Lucillus Santritter.
This does not mean, however, that the role which Venice might have played in the creative development of Copernicus' thought must have been restricted to such an inll'lleLtual mediation of authoritative support. IdcllS i11 t/1c111scln's lillvc 110 crcllli\'C po11'tT 1111/css
t/1cy c1nergcfron1 tlze dcpt/1 of the 1111co11scious, borne [Jy desire. 'lhousands of outstanding
intellectuals of Copernicus' epoch read mentions of ancient Pythagorean doctrine-., on
the motion of the earth, as \Veil as Stoic, Ncoplatonic and other classical praises or the Sun
as the ruler of the universe, but not a single one of them except himself sL'l forth the idea
that the Sun might be the universe's geometrical and physical centre. \Vhat wa . . neL'<.kd
for a successful concention
of a new model of the univer">e and for the ca1-rvin\J-out
the tremendous work necessary for ih scientitlc establishment, was a pmverful reson<.lllL-L'
hct ween i ntcrnal and external impu lscs. 'Ihe ex tern al i mprcssion-., had to corre.., p< md to
an internal need, being capable of awakening archetypal ideas and i111agL's whiLh Lit1ld
sat is fr' its cravi nub for etern itv.
Now, Ven ice was at the ti me of <:opern icus l'Xception<t II y adaptl'd to .1ct i\'a IL' in that

Venice as tlze City of tlzc Sun


way creative processes. This great city, a revelation of beauty emerging directly from the
sea, may to a contemplative mind even today appear as a symbol of new order emerging
from the sea of the unconscious. Though reduced in our times to the role of a somewhat
somnolent provincial town, brooding on its past and its splendid monuments, Venice
still awakens sentiments associated with the great archetypes of creation. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, having scarcely passed the summit of its political power
and the threshold of the greatest epoch in the development of its art, it must have produced an even more powerful effect on the minds of sensitive visitors. Here if anywhere
in the sphere of human civilization men must have had premonitions of the triumph of
light over darkness, harmony <.wer disorder, cosmos over chaos. But the dynamic quality
of the impressions Venice produced, and still produces, on the mind, is due to the fact
that the sentiments and imaginations it awakens, are antithetic, representing dialectical
components of the creative becoming. Archetypes are linked to each other in chains as
eternal patterns of successive stages of the creation and dissolution of time-bound realitv. In Venice these antitheses are felt evervwhere. The omninresence
of the sea has a
tendency to keep one constantly in touch with the unconscious, the dark depth of things
unknown and tabooed in their ambivalent aspect of the dreadful and magnetic at the
same time. And the equally omnipresent city, firmly enthroned over every inch of what
is not submerged by the sea, and resplendent under the dome of a mildly blue sky, seems
to forebode the 11.nal taking possession of nature by the spirit, making one think of that
eternal city, the fruit of all times and places, of which St. John the Divine speaks in his
Revelation as 'coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for
her husband' - a city whose light is 'like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper
stone, clear as crystal'.
In the perspective of subjective experience, this cosmical antithesis of the primeval waters and the eternal city - chaos and cosmos in the sense of order - is doubled by that of
individual death and re-birth. 'Alchemistic' philosophy, which at the time of Copernicus
flowered more or less secretlv in Europe, not least in Venice, being an offspring of the
work on sub-conscious imagi;1ations, used to be very definite conce~ning this archetypal
correspondence between th~, universal (macrocosmi,c) and the individual (microcosmic)
in the acts of creation and self-realisation. Creation of time-bound reality being dissolution of the eternal in the consciousness of incarnate beings, and the dissolution of the first
being a re-establishment of the latter, the natural body-bound personality has to die in
order that man - when still in life - mav be restored to his eternal essence. '!his was, e.g.,
the doctrine of St. Paul (I. Corinthians, x\): 'so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is
sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; ( ... )it is sown a natural body; it is raised a
spiritual body'. St. Paul intcrprclL'd this transformation, in a Platonic way, as that nf things
earthly into those celestial: 1 hcrL' arc also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; hut the
glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another'. To a crL'ativc man in
touL-h with his sulKonscious imaginations such ideas haw always been, not only a matter
of belief, hut also of persnnal cxpL'riencc. \Ve find them often at least partially ret1ectcd
in prnduch <lf t"reL' creative work. :\nd some of them, left by artists and writers \\'ho happened t<l li\'L' at Lertain critiL<ll stages of thLir o\\'n l.levclopment in \'t'niL-c, allo\\' us to
infer th<1t thi-. PL'Luliar city has actually been congenial to such personal transformations
a C<>nL lu-.1on \\hi ch ,,otild hL' i1 priori ex.ptYlL'd from \'en ice's archetypal assoLiations.
1 he LirLL111hL.rnLc that \'L'nicL' is an island-L-ity in till' most L''JrL'me sense o( that \\ord,
i-. \"LTY -.1g111i"1L<llin in that rc . . pect. An island is, in foct, <I syrnbul uf that stall' or iSl)latiun




which practical mystics of all religions consider as an indispensable condition for the
successful transformation of the self-conflicting and disharmonious 'natural' and mortal
personality into a being at peace with itself, and hence immortal. \ Ve find this symbol
frequently represented in dreams, folk-tales, myths, and literature of all kinds. 1 he ancient
Egyptian creation myth, e.g., united the universal and the individual, as well as the objective and the subjective aspects of creation in the picture of Rc-Khepri ('The rising Sun'),
who created the world by ascending the summit of a mountain-island emerged from the
primeval waters, leaving all his impurities behind. 111e work of creation is presented in
this myth as the waste-product of personal transformation. This process of transformation is in modern depth-psychology often termed 'individuation' (C.G. Jung), because it is
believed to result in a self-consistent individuality, independent of social conventions and
prejudices. But it could with the same right be designated as \miversalization' (as it is, in
fact, indirectly termed in ancient Chinese scriptures), because it is archetypically bound
to transcend all the basic polarities of existence, and hence also that of individuality and
universality. TI1is convergence of antitheses is clearly exemplified in great historical personalities and - by the way - in the Renaissance ideal of the uomo u11ivcrsl1lc. Its most
perfect, symbolic embodiment on the plane of human institutions would be an islandcity deYeloped into the centre of a universal empire. Venice had at the time of Copernicus
certainly made sufficient progress in that direction to add a new archetypical dimension
to the impression it made on visitors from the European north.
The universalization and purification of an emergent individuality is archctypically
associated with the picture of an eclipsed sun which is gradually emerging from darkness
and revealing its full splendour. As already mentioned, the personality itself is said thereby to become 'solarized'. Its development is sometimes pictured as the subjective path of
light laid by the sun on sea - in a somewhat similar way as it was represented in ancient
Heliopolis by cul tic columns with golden solar discs on top.> 1" Venice, with its abu ndancc
of sunshine and the slightly wrinkled mirror of the quiet lagoon surrounding the city on
all sides, overwhelms the newcomer with impressions calling up such archetypical images. These images and their associative aura must have, more than any peculiar qualities
of the Venetian light and sun, inspired painters, constituting as they probably did, the
actual mystery of Venetian art.
It would be only natural if also the founder of heliocentric cosmology - \vlrn is
known to have made (probably already in Italy) attempts at painting - proved to ha\'C
been inspired by impressions from some sojourn in Ven ice. \ Vhen, three cent u rics later,
a painter like \ Villiam Turner, having been awakened by Venice to his ecstatiL visions of
light, declared that 'the Sun is God', he expressed, in fact, practically the same opinion as
that adduced by Copernicus in De rc\olutionibus I, 10. Copernicus' source was here, as WL'
have seen, the celebrated Poimm1drcs, whose Latin translation bv M arsi Iio Fie i rm had at
the time of Copernicus' sojourn in Padua already attained man)r, i.a., \'enetian editions.
But Copernicus might at that time also have become acquainted with Ficino's pamphlet
De Sole et Luce, full of mystical praises of the Sun. 'I his pamphlet was, in fact, re-puhl ished
by Aldus Manutius in Venice in the same year 150_~ whose critical importance for the development of Copernicus' heliocentric conception of the vvorld has alrL'ady been stated.
hcino's equally mystical J>e Sole was published the preceding year ( 1502) in NC1rnlwrg, the
city of Regiomontanus and his disciple Bernard vValthcr, who wa ........ till ali\c and whom
Copernicu-.. could scarcely have neglected to pay <l visit, ...,incc \:i.1rnlwrg lay <111 1111L ()f tlw
two commonly used roads from Prussia to Italy (the one leading ovn \'rati1.da,i,1. l Lii11ig,

\'en ice as the City of tlze Sun


the Brennerpass, and Verona). In De Sole Copernicus could find a vast assembly of references to ancient views on the Sun's primacy in nature, designing it as the first-born of the
Divine \ Visdom (Ivlinerva), the 'heart' of the world and the seat of its soul, 'the eternal,
all-seeing eye ( ... ),directing heaven and earth', and finally, as the 'image of God and His
representative in the world'.
But these publications, which were issued exactly at the right moment to serve as a sort
of poetical crown to the results of Copernicus' endeavours at establishing a heliocentric
working hypothesis, could as little as others supply him with the necessary power for
the performance of his creative act. A sojourn in Venice, on the other hand, might have
activated his spiritual aspirations and strengthened such forces as he had possessed or
acquired before. Herc he could be once more confronted with that archetypal triad of
Death, Salvation, and Eternal Life, embodied in the Sea, the Sun, and the City; a triad
which no genuine creative man (or, to put it in a different way, no man who has made
himself the Creator's tool) can avoid facing personally. lhese were the three powers which
at the dawn of history inspired the sea-faring 'Prospectors', the builders of the great heliolithic monuments, who, being daily confronted by Death, sought the eternity of Stone
under the Sun's direction. It is probable, as it has been suggested in earlier chapters and
still will be shown more clearly below, that Copernicus at that time was already convinced
of his heliocentric vision of reality being accessible in all its implications only to those
who had sought personal 'solarization'. He could not avoid remembering St. Paul's words:
'There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the
stars; for one star differeth from another star in glorv. So also is the resurrection of the
dead'. As Apuleius after successive confrontations\vitl1 the planetary gods found himself
identified with the Sun, so also Copernicus must have felt that his scientific work was only
an external product of an internal development whose aim was that highest and immortal 'glory' which is the Sun's.
But though this is possibly the way of all true mystics and all creative men who efface
themselves in their \Vork, Copernicus' destiny was in a sense exceptional. It consisted in
disclosing the outward counterpart of that principle of internal harmony which underlies
the very acts of creative salvation themselves. He was going to put the Sun in the centre of
the uni\'l'rsc, and this at the critical epoch when the Christian society was losing contact
with the internal Sun of Righteousness as a consequence of the rapid extnn-ersinn of
consciousness of its creative minority. Like Akhenaton after the extrovertory 'renaissance'
of the Egyptian Livilization, he believed to have discovered in the Sun a supreme external
principle; hut, unlike Akhenaton, he was not in a position to proclaim its spiritual role.
He decided to keep his discover) secret, as did Pythagoras, his predecessor in the eplKh
of HellcnistiL extroversion, and this unavoidable decision released the explosin' development of modern scient ifiL civilization, with all its blessings and evils.

Star of the Saviour

n indic~tion of the mystical meaning attache_d by ~op~rnicu.s to I:is work on }_he. r~~
formation of the system of the world can be found 111 his cho1Cc ot the star n \ 1rg1rns
or Spica ('Ear of corn') in the zodiacal constellation Virgo (Virgin) as a point of reference
for his observations of the apparent motions of the sphere of the fixed stars and those of
the Sun. Though from a purely astronomical point of vie\\' several other stars could equally well serve that purpose, 55 Copernicus seems to have observed almost exclusively Spica
(alongside with the Sun) through a very long period of time. Even the earlier of his two
observations, those of 1514 and i525, which are mentioned in De n.'\'Olu t ion ilJUs, must in
fact have been preceded by many others. Copernicus referred to them in that preliminary
account of his heliocentric system which was circulated in handwritten copies \Vi th the
title Nicolai Copemici de hypotlzesibus motuwn caelestiu111 a sc co11stitutis con1n1c11tt1rio/11s
(subsequently to be referred to in the present work as Co111111c11turiolus). In this pamphlet
Copernicus says: Rectum igitur agit, quicumquc m11nu1111 C1ClJllnlit<1tc111 wl stcllnsjixus
eret, quemadmodum circa Virgin is Spicw11 feci111us etc., arguing that not the frame of reference constituted by the planes of the equator and the ecliptic, but the sphere of the fixed
stars should be considered as immobile. He adduces also the exact length of the sidereal
year that he found from those observations. Now, Co111111c11tnriolus was almost certainly
written before May, i514, because it must have been identical with a pamphlet (Sextcr1111s
Tl1eorice l1Ssere11tis tcrmnz 1110veri, Solem vcro cjuicsccrc) mentioned in the catalogue of
the library of the Cracow scholar Ivlaciej (Matthew) of NI iech<1w ulius iVI icchovita dated
theist of .May, 1514.'' 1 L.A. Birkenmajer h.as set forth arguments for this pamphlet's ha\ing
been composed not later than i512, perhaps even before 1508." 2 'I he observations of Spica
which Copernicus based his first determination of the length of the sidereal year must,
ot course, have stretched back to a still more remote past. Rhcticus savs in his .\1111-rcltio
Pri111n that Copernicus already in Italy made observations of fixed star's to that purpose,
but it can be only indirectly inferred from the text of Nurratio Prinw that Spica was at
least one of the stars he observed. However, the numerical amount of the annual ~)rcL-L'S
sion of the equinoxes \\'hich follmved, according to Rh et icus, fn ltn the ca rl iest Ita I ia n <lbservations of his master, indicates that these earliest observation-, had alrlady lWL'11 made
in Bologna.;;, Copernicus' catalogue of the fixed -,tars in /)c rc,0!11tio11ill/1s shm,-,, on the
other hand, that he scarcely observed any other fixed stars than Spica, \\'ith tlw prnhabk
exception of the one called Vindemiatrix or Prnvindemiatrix (E Virgin is) - another star
of the same constellation Virgn." 1
Now, the constellation Virgo \Va-, already in Sumerian times regardl'd in ,\k-,oputamic.1
- the country which earlier than any other developed astrologic<.d conceptiom
c.h hc1 n g i n g t <> the god d cs s Sh a la, the an noun c er or prop h ct L's..., ( 1111 I' u t ) of t h l' . ., p n )u t i 11 g L. or 11 ,
or to the Mother ( ;oddess (Ishtar), the star Spica hei ng l'it her i 111<.tgi ncd c.1..., an La r < d (:om
or as the Divine Child, and even the rntire u>n-,tellali<ln being origi11.illy L.ilkd l.ar nl
( :orn. 1 he I )i\ine ( :hild or the celc-,tial Virgi11 \\<\\ helil'\'Cd [()he tht Ill'\\' h()rn \;,\\ iPll r



Star of tlze Saviour


God - the dying and resurrecting god of corn and vegetation (Dumuzi or Tammuz), or
the god of the Spring- and Morning-Sun (j\farduk, in certain respects analogous to Ra
Khepri in Egypt), destined to fight and win victory over the powers of darkness, chaos
and evil.''"
Though these two types of Saviour God, abundantly represented in ancient historic
and protohistoric religion, especially in the Near East (cf. e.g. J.C. Frazer's 17ze Golden
Bouglz), were generally distinct in myth and worship, the first being the earth-bound,
mild, and the suffering, divine scapegoat of the public mysteries - a god caught in the
dialectic of death and rebirth, the other - a victorious hero emancipated from maternal
protection and freed from earthly bonds, belonging to the sphere of the esoteric, 'kingly'
\visdom; they were nevertheless essentially identical.":- l11e annual cycle of vegetation coincides, in fact, with the solar cycle, being causally dependent on the apparent revolutions
of the Sun. Psychologically and metaphysically, the solar god was only a more elevated
manifestation of the Saviour than the god of corn, who gave his life under the sickles of
the reapers in order that men might live. l110ugh mythologically distinct, they could be
interpreted as one and the same divine person in an exoteric and an esoteric aspect. Both
aspects were potentially represented in the person of the Divine Child, essentially the
same as the one whose birth was announced in the Eleusinian mysteries at the moment
when light was kindled and the hierophant, lifting his hand with a freshly cut ear of corn,
\vould announce the fulfilment of the great mystery: 'A Holy Boy is born of the High Lady,
a Mighty Child of the Mighty J\fother!'. In fact, Demeter, the Eleusinian Holy Virgin and
Mighty l'viother of the Saviour Child, was in an inscription in the temple of Sa'is called
'I'vlother of the Sun', according to Produs' commentary to Plato's Tinrncus.
It appears, however, that the celestial Virgin Mother was occasionally (viz. in the socalled 'Barbaric Sphere' of the Greeks of Egypt) imagined as taking care of two small boys,
the other one being represented lw the above-mentioned Pr01 i11dc111iatrix, i.e. 'Preceding
the Vintager', and l1encc rcgardeti as the predecessor of the first, perhaps in a simila~
mystical sense as John the Baptist was regarded as the predecessor of Christ. A trace of
these archetypal conceptions can be suspected in the fact that the Arabic Neoplatonist
Abu Ma'shar (d. 874 A.D.) in the 'Great Introduction' to one of his 'Spheres', \Vhich is based
on a text hv Tcukros of Rabvlon (ca. 100 A.D.), describes the celestial Virgin botlz as giving
nourishen~ent to a little bo)' mzd holding ears of corn in her hand, as \~'ell as in tl~e facLt
that he speaks oft \\'O ears of corn.''"
'Ih is Assvro- Babvlon ian celestial Virgin lvlother had manv as nee
ts of mvthological
~sign i f1cance, but all of them, being apparently archetypal, were easily adapted to Creek
concept ions. 'I he Creeks called her Demeter, as the holder of ears of corn, Dike (Latin:
JustiLia) - because she also was thoul!ht to hold the neighbouring 'Scales' (the zodiacal
constellation Lil1ril which in the two last millennia before Christ harboured the autumnal equinox), and Tyche (Fort1111ll), as the holder of a wheel (the wheel of Fortune) - so
described already in a cuneiform text from Assur. She was also called Astrai<.1 ("l he Starry
One'), Ch rysothemis ( "l he Colden Law', in her capacity of Justice), or simply Parthcnos
('Virgin'), and was sometimes identified with Aphrodite, as well as with non-( ;reek goddesses, such as the Syrian Atargatis, the Anatolian Cybele, and the Egyptian [sis (\Vi th the
child Horus on her lap).
Especially significant, \'ii. in an alchemistic (hermetic) sense, highly important to
( :opernicus as \Ve shall see, must have been her association with Hermes, and hence with
the pl a net :\krL"t1 rv wh id1 was bt'l ieved to have lwr 'exaltation' (/npso1111) in \ 'i 1go. 'l he









notion that each planet had its maximum power in a definite degree of a definite zodiacal
sign (and its minimum power in the diametrically opposed point of the zodiac), because it
had been there when the world was created, and hence was 'at home' there - can he traced
back to ancient Babylonia, but it was adopted and refined by the Creeks. 1 he constellation
Libra to which Virgo was associated, being the scat of the autumnal equinox fort wo thousands vears
until the beginninab of our era ' and hence the nlace
where the Su11 began
descent to the southern hemisphere of the sky (a celestial phenome11on which has served_
as a model for the descent of the heroes to the Nether \Vorld), was also the astral frame ot
that state of mind in which the mystic began his descent into the depth of the unconscious.
The autumnal equinox was, as Eisler has observed, taking place at an epoch \vhen the
water dripping from the water-clock (clepsydrn) into one scale of the balance all through
the night weighed exactly as much as the water dripping into the other in the course of the
day'. But this balance of night and day had also a deep mystical and metaphysical meaning,
marking a state of mind at the border of the conscious and the unconscious - the very state
in which Hermes the Dream-Leader (011eiropo111pos) and Guide of the Souls descending
to the Underworld (Psyclzoponzpos) allowed the waking consciousness to be acquainted
with dreams. Metaphysically, it was the place of the beginning initiation into the eternal
balance of Light and Darkeness Good and Evil, svmbolized in that great mvth of ancient
Egypt, the myth of the struggle l~etween Horus an'd Set, and their reconcilia~ion by 1 hoth,
the Egyptian Hermes, identified with Hermes in ancient hermetical literature.'''' In his
great astrological hand-book (Afrztlzcscos libri \'II/, printed for the first ti me in 1497) Ju 1ius
Firmicus Matern us (4th century A.D.) describes the celestial Balance ( Lilmz) as bci ng held
by a male figure. TI1is figure is sometimes bearded, and may then be 1-lephaistos- Vulcan us,
the patron-god of Libra, who, according to a remark by the Roman poet IVlanilius in his
celebrated astrological treatise(Astronomicon', invented the balance.''"' But also I Icrrnes is
sometimes represented bearded, and in some works of art the figure holding the balance
is certainly Hermes. Such is the bas-relief on the headboard of the sacred bed of Aph rod itc
from Mount Eryx in Sicily (now in a private collection in Boston), where the balance is
h~ld by a winged male figure in the double presence of Aphrodite, who on the one side
ot the Balance, in the Autumn, mourns Adonis (god of death and rebirth manifested in
the realm of vegetation) descending on the Scales to Hades, and on the other side, in the
Spring, welcomes him corning back with the upturned celestial balance.
All three figures here mentioned: Aphrodite, Hermes and Hephaistos, actually recur
in the alchernistic imagery of the Renaissance as figures \vh ich the 11 rt U(x mcL'l s at the
beginning of the path of initiation. "Ihe key-position which \'irgo was thus attributed in
the solar drama, and hence in all cyclic change in the universe, might have Lont rihutcd
to her association \vith a wheel and identification with Fortuna. But since pa1111111c11t
balance is fundamental for justice and right judgement in general, she was already by
Hesiod identified with Dike - \Vho had left the earth for heaven when human it\, h<.win~
decayed morally in the Ages of Silver and Bronze after the original Age of (;old', entcrc~i
the Iron Age of profound corruption. But the \'irgo, besides being identified \\'ith l )ikc's
sister Astraea, seems to have also absorbed qualities from their ll1!lther 'I lwmi-., goddess
of order and law. 'fhemis, adviser and former wii"e of Zeus, \Vas also endo\\'ed \\'ith pm
phctic powers, and this might have contributed to the view that the celestial \ 'iry,o wa-. a
Sibyl - as vvell as to the association of the Sibyl..,, especially the Curnaean ()J1e, \\'ho lin'd
in a grotto, with the earth. 'Ihese associations, hllwcver, although deeply r<H)kd in< ;rL'L'k
mythology, have already been present in the Babylonian one. 1 he vny \\'()rd \i/ 1 d appear...,

Star of t/ze Saviour


to have been derived from the Akkad slzubultu ='ear of corn, - and we have already seen
that the Babylonian Virgo was a prophetessY' But the analogies go still further since the
Babylonian Ishtar (the 'Lady of Heaven, or the 'Queen of Heaven') identified with Virgo
and the planet Venus as well, was also the goddess of love, and her son and lover Tammuz
(Sumerian Dumuzi ='the true son'), the god of corn, was a prototype of Adonis. The heliacal set of Spica, which in the age of Hammurabi fell on the i9th of September in the Julian
calendar, seems to have been interpreted as Ishtar,s descent to the Underworld, in search
of Tammuz, her partner in the mystery of salvation.' 61 In Greece, TI1emis was in many
cities worshipped as a saviour-goddess, S6teira, the venerable wife of Zeus-Soter, and
her worship, as \veil as that of her daughters Horae, one of whom was Dike, was often associated with that of AphroditeY'3 Themis was the mother of Prometheus (the prototype
of all creative geniuses) whom she endowed with her prophetic powers. But although
Mother Earth thus appears in the role of a conveyor of prophecies, their actual source is
to be sought in the solar saviour-god, the son of her celestial and virginal counterpart.
'fhe Sibyls of Greece and Italy were mouthpieces of Apollo in his capacity of saviour and
The pmverful grasp of these astral archetypes on the antique mind is exemplified by
Virgil's Fourth Eclogue in which the belief in an approaching new Gold ('Saturnian,) Age,
to be brought to the Earth by the celestial Virgin Justice itself and her Divine Child, the
incarnated sun-god, is given a striking and deeply poetical expression:

Ultimo Cunzaci 1e11it ja111 canni11is actos;

1Vfog11us ob integro saccloru111 nascitur ordo.
]0111 redit ct \lirgo, rcdcunt Satunzia rcg11a;
fm11 11010 progenies caclo dc111ittitur alto.
Tu 1110do nosccnti pucro, t]uojcrrm pri111wn
Desi net nc toto surgct gens a urea 1111111do,
Cos tu, jizvc, Luci110: tu us janz rcg11at Apollo.


Or, to put this in English:

NoH' is tlzc Final Age wlziclz Sihyl once sang to its end;
Aliglzty that tzccms' row is starti11gjim11 tlzc bcgi1111i11g.
Now co111cs tlzc \'i1~~in l1t1ck, lJt1ck co111cs the reign (~f S<1tz1rnus,
A new gcncrllt ion lf 111cn is now l1ci11g sc11tji-o111 lzcmc11.
'/like t/1ou but ell rel~( tlzis Clzild i11 l1irt/1, wlzidz nwkcs Iron i\fonkind
'fo puss l~tf~ t111d 011 tlzc w/10/c globe tlzc Cold One t1risc,
() dll1stc /,ucint1: 711y Apollo is reigning t1lrct1dy!'

\Vhatevcr can he said of the political circumstances which induced Virgil to write
dmvn these beautiful lines on the expected birth of Antony's and Cleopatra's son
Alexander Helios, the reincarnated Sun-god and the new Alexander the (~reat, heir to the
unitcd Roman and Ptolcrnacan empires - whatever may be said regarding all that, this is
not merely a piece of servile flattery and political propaganda, but also the expression of a
genuine presentiment of an approaching historical turning-point. As such it was also read
by mcdiac\al ( :hristianity, though somc\vhat naively interpreted as a direct prophecy of
the birth of Christ.



Christians have, in fact, very early adapted the heathen astralistic conceptions of the
celestial Virgin and her son the Sun-god to their own ideas. 111is is evidenced by a passage
of the above-mentioned text of Abu Ma'shar, based on Teukros the Babylonian. According
to this passage, the boy in the lap of the Virgin was called 'Isu' by 'a certain tribe' - and
'Isu' is the Aramaic form of the name of Jesus. 'I11e solar nature of the child of the celestial
Virgin can on pre-Christian grounds be indirectly inferred from its identification with
the god of corn and vegetation and, more directly, from that with Horus, as well as from
some similarity between the Virgin and the Egyptian sky-goddess Nut, believed to give
birth to the Sun on the 25th of December each year. As to the Christian sources, it is evident, i.a., from The Revelation of St. John the Divine, XII, 1-2: 'And a great sign \Vas seen in
heaven; a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head
a crovm of twelve stars; and she was with child: and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and
in pain to be delivered'.
But Christians had above all to reconcile the heathen conceptions of the eternally
recurrent divine incarnations whose archetype is the celestial Virgin's becoming pregnant with the Sun, with the historical notion of the Nativity of Christ. 'I he passage of the
Gospel of Matthe\v II, 1-12 concerning the three Magi from the East who recognized the
time of the birth of Jesus from the appearance of his 'star' on the sky is, in fact, not only
'historical' (at least in appearance) but also archetypal and astralistic, and hence 'heathen'.
Spica seems to have been already in Christian antiquity, and at any rate in the Middle
Ages, interpreted as a kind of eternal counterpart of the Star of the Magi. It was called
Stella Christi, and its rise on the sky of Jerusalem was said to have been the sign of the
birth of Jesus. Since this rise is an everyday phenomenon, and even by imposition of the
special condition of its taking place at a definite hour, e.g. at midnight, is repeated every
year, this belief must have been part of an astralistic interpretation of the entire passage of
1v1atthew here involved. TI1is interpretation, however, has for obvious reasons never been
made part of the official teaching of the Church. A very late, but at least partially plausible, attempt at its reconstruction can be found in the voluminous work by Ch.-F. Dupuis
(i794), whose somewhat naive astralistic theories of religion have also been adopted by
some more recent \\Titers (e.g. A. Niemojewski). According to Dupuis, the traditional picture of the circumstances of Jesus' birth is reproduced every year at the midnight nearest
to the winter solstice (originally that between the 24th and the 25th of December in the
Julian calendar) in the sky of Jerusalem. The constellation \tirgo and the Star of Christ is
at that time rising, and the Ne\v Sun is being 'born', since this is the moment of the most
profound darkness in the entire year, and since from that moment onwards the heavenly
light is growing stronger and the days arc becoming longer. 'Il1is symbolic birth is taking place among the 'animals' of the zodiac, in the presence of the Hoiitc5 - the Ox( en)
driver - companion to the heavenly Virgin and protector of the Divine Child - \vhid1,
being the victorious Spring Sun, was in the fourth and third millen iu m B.<:. idcnt i tied
\vith the heavenlv Rull - Tmirus - the constellation of the zodiac \vhich the sun entered
at the spring eqL;inox. 'Ihis constellation, as well as that of Ram-Aries - the scat of the
spring equinox in the last two millennia of the pre-Christian era'''' - is at the same critiL<d
moment setting in the opposite, western, sector of the sky, follmvcd from the east b\' the
th_ree evenly spaced '->tars of the helt of Orion, which can be interpreted a'-. the three 1\Llgi
of St. Matthew.
'I11e earliest representations of the Ivlagi shew/ them, in fact, clad in Pcr">ian fashion,
with characteristic' Ph rygian' caps on their heads, looking alm<>sl idcnt ical, <rnd p Iaced on

Stnr of the Saviour


a straight line, of equal distances from each other, just as the stars of the Orion belt. 111is is
the case with their representation on the so-called theological sarcophague in the Lateran
Museum (ca. 320 A.o.), and on one of the celebrated doors of the Santa Sabina church in
Rome (ca. 430 A.D.), as well as - in regard to clothing and spacing - with that on the wall
mosaic in San Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (ca. 550 A.o.).
The passage from Abu Ma'shar (medieval Latin: Albunwzar), relative to the celestial
Virgin and the Child Isu, \Vas well known in the late Middle Ages from the Latin version
of his 'Great Introduction' (111troductorizmz lvlaius) and from diverse quotations, such
as that in the Spcculu111 Astro11omiczm1 of Albert the Great (1193-1280). 111e apocryphal
\Vork De vetuln, ascribed to Ovid, but actually forged by Richard de Fournival, Chancellor
of the Sorbonne (ca. n6o ), contributed much to its wide spread, combining it with the
alleged prophecy of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue and with the contention of the Christian
astrologers that the birth of Christ had been presaged by a planetary conjunction of an
exceptional kind.'()(,
The medieval syncretization of the Christian tradition concerning the Nativity of
Christ and the pagan ideas concerning the birth of the Saviour-God or a Saviour-King
is apparent from a picture of the qth century destined for a \Vestphalian convent and
representing the Queen of Heaven on Salomon's throne guarded by twelve lionsY':- 111ey
are placed between Abu Ma'shar foretelling the birth of Jesus and Virgil holding a scroll
inscribed \Vi th that famous verse: ]nm 110\'1 progenies coclo dinzittitur nlto. ' 6 1' 111e Christian
apologists went, however, further than that, and adopted a legend that the birth of Christ
had on its very day been announced to the Emperor Octavian (Augustus Caesar) by the
Tiburtinean Sibyl (a literary fiction herself, just as the Cumaean one), who had shown
him the Virgin in the sky with the Child in her arms. According to this legend, referred to
by Paulus Orosius in his 'History of the vVorld' written at the instigation of St. Augustine,
the impression made by this vision on the Emperor was so profound that he from that
time on led a more humble life and even declined be addressed as Sire.1l1is legend seems
to have been widely known in Italy at the time of Copernicus. The place in Rome where
the Virgin \Vas believed to have appeared to Augustus was called Am Coeli Cll1e Altar
of Heaven'), and Copernicus, as we shall see, had special reasons for visiting it during
his sojourn in Rome in i500-15oi. An Italian manuscript from the 16th century, Historiu
ronzww cxccrptu ex /i[1ris Pnuli Orosii, atributed to Giulio Clovio, contains a beautiful
miniature which shmvs the Sibyl pointing at a radiant image of the Virgin with the Child
suspended in the blue of the sky in the likeness of a heavenly body."") lhe Sibyl addresses
Augustus, who stands by her side, staring in rapture at the apparition. Soldiers and a
palace with ladies and courtiers looking out of the windows arc represented in the b1.Kkground. In this picture as in the legend, Augustus is supposed to have been announced the
Christ in much the same \vay as the Holy 1 hree Kings of the Gospel. ~I he vision of
the l loly 1 hree Kings seems, however, in mediaeval art to have been mostly confined to a
radiant Child as the substitute of the 'Star' of the Gospel, the Stella Clzristi or Spica.'-"
Copernicus must at least from the time of his Cracow studies have been acquainted
with the interpretation of Spica as the star of Bethlehem and that of the constellation
\'i rtJo as the Vi rvi
n J\lar\'. He nrnbablv
also knew the remaining astral istic and astrnlogic1.d
speculations concerning presages of the Nativity of Christ rdatcd in De 1ctu/11. from the
ancient plans of studies at the Cracmv university it has been possible to dctl'rminc with
"iumc plau"iibi 1it y the principal lectures attended by him in 1491-1494 (including year,
term, hour, and the lcct ure mom). It follows, among others, that he in the winter term, q.93,





must have attended the lectures of the Magister j\lf iclznel de Vmt islavia, one of the Cracow
professors of astronomy and mathematics at that time, on the use of the so-called Tnlmfoc
resolutae (more exactly: Tabulae resolutae pro supputmzdis nzot ibus corpon1111 cu cl est i u 111 ).
These were tables based on the celebrated Tabulae Alphonsi, but somewhat modified and
reduced to the Cracow meridian by the well-knmvn Cracow professor of astronomy
Albert of Brudze\vo.571 Now, among the scholia introduced in a copy of 'folmlac rcsolutoc
used by Michael de Vratislavia, there is also a note of his concerning the alleged predictions of the birth of Christ according to De vetula. The prediction from a conjunction of
Jupiter and Saturn is mentioned first: 'Dicwzt astrorunz domini, quod in 011111iln1s mznis 20

iungatur Jupiter et pater eius. Qui quidem tales felici tempore nuper Cesaris Augusti sint
amzo bis duodena a regni nouitate sui. Que ( coniwzctio) signifirnt quod post l11l nu 111 scptimum nasci debere prophetam absque maris cogitu de uirgine.'':-~ TI1e alleged prophecy of
the (Cumaean) Sibyl is then recollected and quoted in the verse: Imn noun progenies cclo
demittitur alto. In the last place the author has recorded Abu Ma'shar's interpretation of
Spica, but having apparently misunderstood the astralistic symbol of the recurrent birth
of the Saviour-God, he interprets the rise of Spica over the horizon of Jerusalem as a sign
of the birth ofJesus.'Et Albwnazar, astro11omorwn peritissimus in Introductorio sue nstrol-

ogie eandem gloriosam natiuitatem per Spicanz (que aliter dicitur Stelln Christi), protwzc
in Virgine existentem agnovit: Tune enim ascendebat super Jerusalc111 ct iir._r,z,i11c111 gcnuissc
demonstrabat etc.S:- 3 Tiie designation of Spica as Stella Christi must have been corn mon at
that time since also Johannes of Glog6w (Glogoviensis), another of Copernicus' teachers
in Cracow, mentioned it in a printed work of his.s:-i
Under these circumstances it must have had a special significance in the eyes of
Copernicus, extremely sensitive as he was on symbolical coincidences, that the Fpito111c
in Almagestum Ptolemaei of Regiomontanus, which he had certainly acquired in Padua or
Venice if not earlier, had been published at a time when the celestial Virgin was 'pregnant'
or 'arrayed' with the Sun (if we may be allowed to recur to the apocalyptic imagery and
expression). 111is book should, in fact, influence his subsequent work to an exceptionally
high degree. When later \Vriting his great treatise De revolutionibus, he borrmved from
the Epitome not only ancient observations and information of all kinds, but also expressions and even entire passages.'~' Was it not significant that the printing was completed
'u!1der lucky stars' (felicibus astris) 'while the Sun was proceeding in the sixteenth degree
of the Virgin' (Sole in pmte sextadecima virginis gmdientc), 'under the sky of Venice' (111
lzemisplzerio Uencto)? The sixteenth degree of the sign of Virgo might, in fact, have been
considered by the publisher as the place of 'exaltation' of Mercury (actually the _!Utcc11tlz
degree of Virgo according to Bouche-Leclercq, who, hmvcver, states that some tcx ts give
different numbers of degrees).'~(, And Mercury (Hermes) was the leader of those engaged
- like the hero of the solar myth, and Copernicus himself- in a search for the soul. As the
planet Ivlercury accompanied the Sun moving from the \i'irgo eastwards and diving u mkr
the celestial equator, so also the god Mercury accompanied those daring to descend even
to the World of the Dead in the hope to find there the dark hemisphere of their eternal
essence. And since the power of his call to sensitive spirih was at its highest in \ 'inzo - a
symbol of the object of spiritual craving awakened by him - no wonder that he wa~ hi rn self in hermetical ( alchemistic) treatises often represented as a young beaut i fu I ma id, the
divine \Norld-Soul (Aninrn Mwuii). And conversely, the celestial \'irgu \\'as "i<lmctinws
represented with attributes of Hermcs-IVlercury.'
But although Spica \Vas generally regarded as a fixed counterpart, and hcn1.."L' a kind

Star of tlze Saviour


of archetype, of the star of the Magi, this 'star' itself had necessarily to be interpreted in a
different way, not as a star, but as an exceptional phenomenon, viz. the effect of meeting
(conjunction) of some of the major planets. This idea was related to the doctrine of the
world ages, which was also a product of the Sumerian gnosis.':-s \Vorld history, according
to this doctrine, proceeded in a cycle of periods constituting the great cosmical year. Its
critical points were universal deluges and conflagrations - counterparts of the rainy and
heat-periods of the Ivlesopotamian winters and summers. These universal crises were
believed to have moral causes, just as the biblical (and Sumerian) deluge and the conflagration of Sodom and Gomorrah. TI1ey have therefore been associated with the doctrine
of the dying and resurrecting Saviour god, who brought new cosmical order to the world
dissolved in chaos. 0 -1 \ Vith the development of the Babylonian astronomy and astrology
from the 8th century B.c. onwards, the great universal crises, as well as the coming of the
Divine Saviour, were brought into connection with planetary conjunctions. Berossos, who
\Vas priest of the Creator and Saviour-God Ba' al (Marduk) in Babylon under Alexander
the Great and his successor Antiochos I Soter, maintained, according to Seneca, that the
world would be burnt when all the planets met in the constellation of Cancer (where the
sun dwelt at the summer solstices), and a universal deluge would again take place when
they met in Capricorn (the seat of the winter solstices at that time).'s" TI1is doctrine has
been transmitted in various versions by numerous writers of classical antiquity, and particularly by Proclus (111 Ti11wcw11. ), \Vho maintained that the conjunction of all planets in
Cancer \vould entail the end of the world. 111e sign of the coming of the Saviour, and especially that of Christ, was subsequently conceived more realistically as the conjunction
of some of the major planets, especially Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation of Ram
(Aries) - the ancient site of the spring equinox. Copernicus was undoubtedly acquainted
with these doctrines, widely known in his times. \'Ve have seen, in fact, that the scholium
of fvlichael de Vratislavia mentioned above contains in the first place a reference to the
doctrine of the birth of Christ having been announced by a conjunction of Jupiter and
all these facts in mind, we mav no\v more clearlv see the background of
Copernicus' scientific endeavours in the second half of 1503. His calculations concerning the apparent conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Cancer indicate that he, as many
other contcmnorarv
astronomers and astrolo~ers of Eurone,
was attributing great and
portentous significance to this event. In Italy, Germany and Poland, this conjunction was
he! ien?d to an nou nee the advent of Antichrist. Copernicus' Cracow professor Johannes
C;logoviensis (al ready mentioned above) wrote: undc ct pl11ri111i llStrologoru111 lz1u1c co11i1ll1ct io11c111 Sut11r11i ct Jou is in,\/,\ C111ffi co11i1111ctio11c111 dic1111tj(>rc q11c sig11~ficZl>it sct'f1111
u11ticlzristi ct 1duc11t11111 cius scctc.''~ Historical events seemed to yield support to this expectation: Christianity was menaced by external aggression and by even more frightening in tern al corrupt ion. 'I lrnugh Pope Alexander \ll (Borgia) died on the 1Kth of August
of the sanw year, news of tht' circumstances of his death must have inspired horror in
true C:hristian souls. Rumours said, in fact, that he had had a pact with the devil, and
that, nobody daring to touch his decomposing body, he had been dragged to his grave by
a rnpc hound to his feet. (So said thL' marquis of i\lantua in a letter to his wife, dated the
2211 d of St.'ptcm her, 1 so_:;, i 11 Rome). 1he appeara nee of a cornet which on the 20th of June,
1so.~, wa . . "L'l'n cn'n at daylight, had awakL'ned the worse expectations lwforehand. 1hesL'
"L'L'lllL'd lll L(llllL' trUL' \\hen a PL'stiknLl' broke out in se\cral Italian cities, among others in
Padu<l, \\'liiLh \\"<ls kft hy 111<rny . . tudenh and SLlrnlars scd.:.ing safer place~.




Copernicus continued his studies at least for some months. Did he believe that the
Great Conjunction might entail that impact of evil which was associated with the idea of
Antichrist? Such would it be natural to suppose. But he persisted in his work on the new
system of the world, that system which should 'restore the rejected principle of the Sun's
rule in nature', and thereby provide a basis for the restitution of the Sun of Righteousness
to the role of ruler of the human souls."~' He seems to have believed, in fact, that his scientific revolution was essentially a religious one. And he continued his observations of the
Spica Virginis - that archetype of the star of the Saviour, symbol of his eternal 1y re curring
rebirth and victory over the powers of darkness .



The Renaissance of Dream

he evolution of humanism in Venice, as well as in its celebrated university-city of

Padua, followed lines somewhat different from those in other important Italian cities.
Venice was the most orientally influenced of them, bound from ancient times by commercial and political relations to Byzantium. TI1e Greek refugees from the Turkish occupied
Eastern Empire felt in Venice more at home than anywhere else in Italy. There were many
learned men among them, but they were generally not Platonists, because Platonism was
regarded with strong suspicion by the Orthodox Church; they were mostly Aristotelians,
but Aristotclians of a good mark. Italian scholars who had learned the Greek language
from them, grew gradually perplexed when they discovered that the ancient Greek classics which had been served to them in their schools in Latin translation, abounded in
horrendous incorrect translations and errors. TI1ose humanists who had mastered Greek
engaged, therefore, after the example of the renowned Almoro Barbaro, in retranslating
the Greek classics, the works of Aristotle above all. Predominant interest in Aristotle lay
probably in the character of the Venetians who as an extrovert nation of navigators, were
used to tackling practical problems. Perhaps for the same reason, art and the mysticism
of personality transformation came to develop in Venice in connection with the technical
philosophy which is known under the name of alchemy. Paradoxically enough, this was
possible only in connection with the irrational practice of dream meditation.
Transformations of the human personality have a cyclical character that makes their
stages spontaneously associable with particular spectral colours. TI1is is liable to influence
colouristically sensitive persons, painters above all. But the cyclical structure of the transformations is also strikingly reflected in the musin1/ Pythagorean scale. lhe development
of alchemy on Venetian ground was therefore connected, not only with the rise of new,
colouristically refined forms of painting, but also those of music. This is especially exemplified in the epoch-making activity of Giorgione and his followers.
Nmv, the reasons for Copernicus' increasing speculations concerning a heliocentric
system of the world were not purely astronomical, even if \Ve include in that term the
traditional lore of astral myths of which we have already spoken. \ Ve have, in fact, reasons
to believe that he in Padua and Venice came into contact with hermetic artistic circles
\vhose basic conviction was the homology of the astronomical macrocosmos and the psychological, 'microcosmic' constitution of lVlan. And experiences led these hermetists to
the conclusion that the human personality must be transformed from an Earth-centred,
geocentric. to a Sun-centred, heliocentric organization.
1 his conclusion could not be drawn from external study of Ivlan and the world, but it
was imposed by the s:mbolism of dreams, which reveals unconscious aspects of reality.
Such seL-ret aspects remained for millennia the exclusiH' property of the priesthood, but
they were more or less published about the _Hd century B.c. as revelations of the mysterim1 s "I h rice (; rcatl'st l-krmcS: standing probably for the ~rncient Egyptian wisdom-god
'[h<lth. In tlwsc 'lwrml'tic' writings all ucatin' transformations were put in conntYtion



with 'planetary' powers, four of which, viz. Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and the Sun were male,
and three: Venus, Mercury and Moon, were female. They corresponded to the seven components of the personality with the Earth as an eighth one. In dreams these components
occasionally do actually appear - in our times as they did in the late antiquity - in the
garb of Greco-Roman planetary gods. The reality behind the empirical correspondences
of the planets and the personality components is complicated.'"'1 In the hermetic doctrine
it was adopted as an axiom, and even extended to alleged homology with metals. Tl1is
gave origin to alchemy both as a claimed art of metal transmutation, and as the much
more real and highly secret transformation of the human personality. In whatever form,
the secret hermetic process was supposed - rightly or wrongly - to be di reeled by the
'planetary' influences, its mysterious course aiming at giving to the Sun the place ordinarily occupied by the Earth.
This presumed alchemistic process could not be made the subject of a science because it was directed by symbols having no formal inter-human meaning, but only a
symbolic effect over individuals qualified to the right reaction. T11ese symbols of creative transformation were borrowed from humanity's religious past - above all from the
Old Testament and Greek mythology. As kinds of handbooks of symbols of alchemistic
transformation, served therefore the Bible and Ovid's l'VIetmnorplzoscs, being a kind of
versified compendium of Greek mythology. But towards the end of the Middle Ages
there appeared also works of fiction supposed to serve similar purposes. Such was the
celebrated Hypnerotomachia Poliplzili which appeared on Venetian ground shortly before
Copernicus' arrival to Padua - a work which we are bound to comment on more closelv
further belmv. For, while the overt goal of the alchemists was the transformation of base'r
metals to gold, its astral ('macrocosmic') and psychological ('microcosmic') counterparts
were the setting of all planets, and all human functions in relation to the central Sun of
the spirit.
These conceptions had a particularly suggestive influence in the territories of Venice,
where alchemy, at that time especially widely practised in northern Italy, found multiple
technical applications. Such was the colouring of silk, wool and cloth in general, moulding
0 ~ metals and glass, working of ceramics and paints, and, last but not least, the imitation
ot p1:ecious metals. The concept of alchemy \Vas therefore ambivalent to a high degree
al:o man ethical sense. It comprised, on one side, a philosophy of creation and a practice
ot spiritual transformation and, on the other side, a pretended secret of transmutation of
metals and a technique of enriching oneself through their counterfci ting. 1 he last - mentioned practice came presumably to develop soon after the 'hermetic' publications of late
antiquity, if not before. As a consequence, already in 292 A.D. Emperor Domitian decrLed
all alchemistic papyri to be burnt, to the effect that only few Crcco-Egyptian documents
survived to serve as sources for Persian and Syrian texts of the early Middle Ages. To the
earliest extant documents of alchemy can be reckoned the professed teachings of the
'lhrice Greatest Hermes. 'Ihe underlying idea of the solarization of i\ilan and the world
\vas expressed by the final phrase of the short, but celebrated folmln S11wn1gdi11u: "I hi-.. is
the end of what I have said about the cmztion oft lie Su 11 '.
To the other early alchemistic texts belong the writings of pseudo-I kmocritus, ascribed to Bolos of Mende, a Hellenized Egyptian whose work tlouri-..hcd about 200 n.c.
Certainly authentic \Vas his compatriot Zosimo.., from Panopoli-.., the hL'ight uf \\'lwsL'
activity is dated to the end of the th ird cent u r y A . 1>. A crypt ic form u Ia of h i" i 11 d i L- <H e..., t h at
the process ha.., to begin at the Summer Solstice.>' A compendium ()f aklwrniLal \nit1ng-..

TI1e Rennissnnce of Dremn


of as many as thirty authors was put together in Byzantium in the 7th or 8th century A.O.
111e latest of the authors represented was Synesius (4th century A.o.), the new edition
of whose work on dreams was introduced by Callimachus in the humanistic circle of
Vladislavia. To vVestern Europe alchemy arrived by the intermediation of the Arabs, profiting from works of Syrian, Persian and Greco-Egyptian authors.
Among the writers whose works came to be studied in Europe throughout the late
Middle Ages, particular authority was enjoyed by ar-Raz1 (currently called Rhazes), a
Persian physician living in Baghdad, and a probably fictive Arabic alchemist, Jabir ibn
Hayyan (currently: Geber), to whom is ascribed a variety of treatises, probably being a
cover for the mystic Shi'ah-Moslim sect, the Ismailis. Particular popularity enjoyed the
so-called Turbcz plzilosoplzoru111 which is a kind of fictive proceedings from a meeting of
philosophers of all historical times aiming at the elucidation of the misunderstandings
caused by the akhcmistic use of cryptic terms. To Italy, alchemistic literature was brought
from Sicily and Spain, one of the first who did it being Gerardo di Cremona (1114-n87)
who translated manuscripts he had acquired in Toledo.
The morally antithetic intentions of the men embraced by the term alchemists caused
as a consequence temporally and locally varying attitudes of the authorities towards
alchemistic practice. Judging by the vast assembly of alchemistic manuscripts in the
Bibliotlu\1uc Not ionczlc of Paris, however, the authors of most of those of Italian provenance have been ecclesiastic, and their attitude to the subject was predominantly mystical. 's(, The judgements of the leading ecclesiastic authorities were nevertheless highly
variable. The Dominican General Chapter declared in 1323 in Barcelona the excommunication of all these friars who would practice alchemy, or would not burn all their
alchemistic books before eight days had elapsed:,s- But in spite of these and later prohibitions in Kastilien, Germanv,
, and other countries, alchemv
, continued to be nractised and
meditated over without much repression. In Florence, Caterina Sforza, wife of Giovanni
Medici ii Popolano and mother of the renowned Giovanni delle Bande Nere, left a written record of her alchemistic experiments in the territories of Venice. Count Bernhard of
the Trevigian IVIarch spent his life in search of the Philosophers' Stone, travelling for that
purpose from Egypt in the South to Sweden in the North. He was said to have found 'the
Stone' tlnally, as the famous r:rench notary Nicolas Flame! ( i330-1418) was said to have
succeeded earlier. Pope John XXII directed suspicions against alchemy by accusing some
ecclesiastics of \Vitchery, but this did not prevent him giving his physician money for alchemical apparatus. He also tolerated akhemistic practice in his own circle, as well as the
writing of akhemistic treatises by one of his cardinals. Towards the end of the 15th century (;nm an visitors congratulated Venetians for the freedom they enjoyed in practising
alchemistic work, but in 1488 the Signoria issued a prohibition - \Vith not much effect, it is
true.'"' 1ndced, the blossoming of hermetic mysticism \vas unavoidable. It was the belated
\'enctian rcsnonse
to the renaissance of the Solar mvsterv
in the other ...great centres of
Italian humanism: that of the imperial religion in Rome, and that of the Chaldeo-Platonic
mysticism in Florence.
On the chemical-experimental side, the akhemistic theory evolwd from the conception of \ulphur' as the fundamental agent and chemical correspondent of the spirit, to
that of the three basic substances: sulphur, salt, and mercury introduced by P~H"acelsus
( 149_) 1')41 ). '] Jij<., \Vi.lS in aCL'ordance With the modern psychoanalytic Conception of the
hcarn" ot dt...,irt', cnwtion, and intuition as tht' pawns of the pnKcss of personality transformation. :\11 L-hemiL-c.d transformations were said to be of four kinds: (1) St'parating or



blending; (2) putrefying or regenerating; viz. blackening or whitening; (3) dividing or

uniting; and (4) poisoning or waxing. This corresponds roughly to the four antitheses underlying all reality: (1) abstraction/concretization; (2) becoming objective/becoming subjective; (3) becoming manifold/becoming integrated, and (4) becoming active/becoming
passive. And, if blackening/whitening is regarded as an independent function, it may be
said to correspond to becoming unconscious or becoming conscious as the fifth antithesis.
A particularly important role is played by the symbolical illustrations encountered in
alchemistic manuscripts. They are often coloured, and this has contributed to the prolonged use of manuscripts in alchemistic literature. The illustrations are sometimes of
considerable artistic quality. Particularly remarkable in that respect is the manuscript of a
tract entitled Splendour Solis ascribed to a German alchemist named Salomon Trismosin
and preserved in the British Museum as Harley Ms.S 469. Doubts have been raised concerning the authenticity of the author, and this might have contributed to the placing at
the beginning a description of Trismosin's prolonged adventures as a practical student of
alchemy, on guard against tricks of pretended gold-makers. He started his travels in 1473,
apparently from Germany, and arrived soon at Venice, where he acquired a reputation by
contributing to the unmasking of a chance companion of his, who proved to be a false
silver-maker. He became engaged in a big alchemical laboratory situated about six Italian
miles from Venice, where nine alchemists, each disposing of a room of his own, worked
under the supervision of a chief chemist, for the benefit of a Venetian nobleman, who
owned the workshop. Trismosin's avowed knowledge of producing imitations of silver
appears thereby to have been considered a positive qualification. After the nobleman's
death at sea, Trismosin went to Egypt, where he translated alchemistic works into Creek
and Latin, and soon learned also to transform silver 'into the best gold'.
The title of the manuscript in question emphasizes once more the Sun as the supreme
goal of both chemical and personal transformations. 1he astronomical symbolism applied alternatively by the alchemists is similar to that spontaneously emerging in transformations of the personality, and is therefore likely to have been suggested by drcams.'s'1
Both depend on primitive astronomical ideas, much elder than the admired Babylonian
astronomy. For this reason, alchemy \vas sometimes spoken of as the astro11omiu i1~/crior,
in contrast to the celestial and hence superior astronomy - as in the current sense.
In astronomical symbolism, the three fundamental 'pa\vns' of transformation \Vere not
sulphur, salt, and mercury, but the Sun, the Moon, and the planet Mercury, which is al \\'ays
so near the Sun that it is difficult to see except at low geographic latitudes. Copernicus
came to complain in his major work that he had never succeeded in observing l'Vkrcury
(which \Vas so much the more to be regretted as Ivlercury is a planet of particularly
complicated apparent motion). But this difficulty was symbolical, because IVlcrcury
represented in alchemy (and in depth psychology) the function of intuition, whkh is
individual, not easy accessible, and normally neglected for the benefit of the collectivized
intellect. n1e proc~ss of transformation has therefore to begin \vi th the re-activating of
intuition (conscience in the proper sense). Before that step has been taken, the hearer of
intuition has in dreams an infernal appearance. It is therefore ( paradoxiLally enough) <lll
assistant-candidate for any person in the process of transformation (exam pk ~lctlsto
and Faust). Alternatively, instead of Mercury emerges the concept of the 'Shadow' \vhiL-h
eclipses the 'Sun' of Desire. 'The assumed astronomical 'pawns' of creatin' t ran:-.format ion
are then: the Sun, !vlonn, and the 'Shadmv'. cfhe 'Shadow' i:-. a common psychnlogiLc.d and

Tlze Re11nissn11ce of Dream


alchemistic symbol. It has been mentioned in this book in connection with the symbolism of the sun-dials.
111e first step in the alchemistic transformation of the metals was their mergence in the
Primal Matter, from which they were presumably able to arise again in a purified, golden
form. This was another form of becoming conscious of the 'Shadow' eclipsing the Sun.
111e Primal Matter \Vas imagined in a completely'putrefied' state, originally in the likeness
of the mould of the Nile. (It is probable that the very term 'Chemistry' comes from the
ancient Egyptian word Ke111c which designated such as 'black earth'). Dissolution in the
black primal matter of the Earth was a pre-condition of the resurrection in a more noble
form, just as introversion into the terrestrial unconscious, i.e. a psychological 'death: is a
precondition of the resurrection freed from internal conflicts.
111e transformation could be described as the series of 3 x 4 = 12 (twelve) combinations of the three 'female' (objective-passive) 'planets' (components of personality) with
the four 'male' (subjective-active) incongruous ones, or as three successive cycles of
3 + 4 = 7 (seven) stages. 111e goal was the establishment of four congruent pairs, with the
union of the 'Sun' and the 'Moon' as the final stage. Such a result could not be attained by
intellectual planning, but only by transcending the antagonisms prevailing in the mind
- the same antagonisms to which we have referred when speaking of the resurrection of
Etruscan art in the chapter devoted to Florentine Neoplatonism.
An important place among the alchemistic illustrations proceeding from the end
of the 15th century in North Italy, Venice in particular, occupy diverse variants of the
so-called 'hmntain of Life' (Fo11tmw dcllc \lita), which refer to that critical stage. Some
of them arc introduced bv the figure of Venus, goddess of Love, but their essential component is a large bathing 'pool fr~1m which peo~~le are joyously emerging, surrounded by
ruins of ancient architecture. A sequence of six palaces is visible at increasing distances
in the background while united discs of the Sun and the Moon stand high in the sky. The
bathing in such symbolic pictures represents entering the womb of Ivlother Earth, with
the following resurrection. Some pictures show also the hesitating figures of a young man
and a young woman standing a little apart from the other people. They arc the actual addressees of the painter - those who had not yet taken the life-rendering decision.
Venetian alchemy had a kind of centre at Trcviso, north of Venice. It was the division
point of the two major roads to northern Europe: the one to Ni.irnbcrg, the Rheinland
and the Netherlands, and the one to Vienna, Craum and Prussia. 111e pattern of roads at
Trcviso likened the letter Y, associated in antiquity to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft,
and this might have contributed to the attraction exerted by that little place on adepts of
secret knowledge. One of the most important Trevigian writers on alchemy was, disregarding the already mentioned Count Rernard of Treviso, Giovanni Aurelio Augurdlo,
follower of Petrarch and author of sermons, songs, and other works of poetry and prose.
f le wrote in Latin and in the Italian \ 0/gorc, and contributed to establish a normalized
form of the latter. He was born in Rimini, ca. I-HO, studied languages and law in Padua,
and spent some time in Florence, where he in 1474 was honoured by Ficino and Poliziano,
the le<.H.krs of the Platonic Academy. C. 1485, or a few years later, he went to Venice and
later to Treviso, as a com pan ion to Nicolo Franco, appointed bishop and papal nuncio.
In Venice 11L' established friendly relations with the celebrakd publisl1l'r Aldus lVlanutius
and a 11 um her of human is ts and nobles, among them Cassandra Fedele, the well-nigh
sole \\'oma11-huma11ist of re110\\'11. lk was guest at the cdcbrated feasts arrangt'd by
Ca 11 i mal h LI'> du ri 11g hi" prnlongcd sojourn in \'en ice in q8c;. He cherished a hope to be


___ ; - - -

appointed professor after the aged Giorgio Valla. But when Valla died the 24th of January,
i500, and Augurello's expectations had not come true, he moved for the rest of his life to
Treviso. He became the centre of what was first called Acrndemia Augurelliana, and later
Accademia Trivigimza.
But when we speak of him here, it is mainly because he devoted to alchemy a long
poem - his most important work, as it appears - named Crisopeia. This poem arose
gradually in the course of many years, first in the form of the so-called Crisopeiu 111i11or,
that was later supplemented by a Crisopein maior. The Crisopcin minor was finished in
i495, when it was made part of nineteen sermons offered by the author to the bishop
Nicolo Franco. We shall here limit ourselves to quoting in translation some verses from
the Second Book of the older text.
In these verses the author asserts the existence of a remote site in the Trevigian mountains that abounds in the 'primal matter', which nature itself has prepared for the work of
transformation. 'On the top of the secret mountain', says the author, 'is a grove from which
a silvery fountain flows \'vith shining waves, forming a concave mirror in the entrance to
a cave. Inside rules by divine will a Virgin, whom peasants call by the ancient name of
Glaura. The wanderer is led there by an ascending, narrow and rough path through thorn
bushes. The entrance of the cave is level and plain, but not wide, and is surrounded by
terrifying shadows, banks of the stream and mossgrown tufa in dense clusters of ivy. If
somebody succeeds in coming in, he will lose, miracuously enough, all his bodily weight,
and he will be suddenly freed from the burden of mortality, \vhile his spirit will become
pure and thoroughly weightless. He may then also keep watch over all exits, and move
quickly between the blocks of stone among which the golden Nymph is seated, shining back over the golden and spherical room lest the plates of gold be desecrated by the
comer, and in order that the entire interior should be radiant gold. It you stagger over
something in the cave of the Tarvigian mountains, you, who inquire after the origins of
such great things, pray take with you the most precious thing you have ever seen, without
sparing expense nor labour'.
A work of much greater effect on North-Italian renaissance art, and even on \'VestEuropean literature, was the celebrated Hypnerotonwclzio Polipliili - (''Ihe Many-Loving's
Strife With Love in Dreams'), \vhich was also written in Treviso about the critical time defined by our subject. This - not because of its literary valour, which is, indeed, questionable
- but because of the suggestive connection of its scenes with alchemistical dream motifs.
It is assumed to have been written in 1467, originally in Latin, by the Dominican monk
Francesco Colonna, as indicated by the initial letters of the chapters, constituting the declaration: POL!AivI 1:RATER fRANC:lSCUS C:Ol.Ui"vINA PERAMAVIT. It was first published in q99
by Aldus Manutius in Venice, at the expense of the hermetically initiated scholar Leonardo
Crasso of Verona, and had then already assumed a peculiar form of Latin izcd It al ian i11 terspersed with Greek and Hebrew glosses. It \Vas illustrated by precious \Voodcuts of several
anonymous masters of the Lombardian-Venctian school, and had apparently a decisively
suggestive influence on the life and work of Ciorgione and the giorgionists. 1\s suLh, it
contributed to the rise of modern European painting, in spite of the apparently naive story
it \vas telling. lhis story, indeed, V/as of a kind which had a strong and profound grasp on
the spirits of the artists of the epoch. After a second edition in 1508, the ff\p11croton111d1it1
acquired an even \vider popularity, in the \vay that, according to the LrnHn1s II Cortt:y,i1111(>
of Raldassare Castiglione, it had become fashionable for young men of high "tanding l l l
address ladiei.., \".'ith expressiom borrmved from the 'Polyphilo'.

TI1c Renaissance of Dream


TI1e Hyp11croto11wcl1ia tells the story of Poliphilo's love for a young nun called Polia,
who is lost beyond his reach, and whom he desperately tries to find. His search begins,
somewhat as Dante's Divi110 Co111111cdia (without any comparison otherwise between
the two works) by wandering through a wild forest (cf. Pl. 5) where he is threatened by
monstruous beasts. He prays, and finds the way to a pleasant valley, where he meets five
maidens that lead him to their queen Eleuterilyda, a name that suggests freedom. She
shows understanding for his search, and gives him two guides, Logistica and TI1elemia,
suggesting reason and inclination. \Vith them he arrives at the palace of Telosia, where
he is to find his way further by entering one of the three gates with inscriptions indicating God's Glory, Mother of Love, and \ Vorldly Glory, respectively. He tries all of them,
but only the world of the Mother of Low is of his liking. He stays there in company with
lovely and wanton damsels and his beloved Thelemia, while Logistica flees (Pl. 6). This
apparently delightful life does not last, however, and he finds himself suddenly pursuing
his \Vandering again. He becomes aware of an exceedingly beautiful maiden carrying
a lighted torch in her hand, and he takes her for his guide. They arrive at the temple of
Venus the Lifegi\'ing, \'cnus Plzysizoc, where they are received by the prioress and are subject to rites of initiation and consecration. The mysterious maiden lays down her torch
and is recognized by Poliphilo as his Polia. 111ey are wedded, and from that time on had
to find their way together.
Numerous fine woodcuts illustrate their long way through a desolate, dead city of ruins and tombs (Pl. 7) inscribed with the epitaphs of lovers and expressing the torments
of souls who have sinned against the deity of Love. n1e ruined beauty of former human
aspirations meets them everywhere joined to the fresh beauty of germinating Life. 'I hey
come to a great body of water, and arc taken by Cupid's barge to the island of Cythera,
celebrated for its ancient worship of Aphrodite. 'I his island is a paradise of gardens, labyrinths and pools watered by a mystic Fount of Venus. Here, at the tomb of Adonis, Polia
tells the story of their deep passion. It begins with the foundation of the town of Tre\iso,
from whose illustrious patriciate she descended, and with the vows she made to the chaste
Diana in order to save the town from an impending disaster. It was in Diana's temple that
Pol iph i lo saw her first. He fainted at her sight and his spirit was taken up to the heavens
while his body lay on the temple floor. Polia, faithful to the vows she had made, left him
there, with an as \'et unknown crueltv in her heart. Persecuted lw visions of women punished for their h~lrdhcartedncss, she' confessed to her old nurs~, who counselled her to
seek t lw prioress of Ven us.
At that stage of Polia's account, which was also the moment of fully realized union and
happiness, Poliphilo a\\'oke from his dream - for an account of a dream it was, L'xpressedly - \\'ith the \\'ords: 'Farewell, my Polia~' on his lips.
1 lw '>LhcmatiL~d character of this story, and the apparent weight attributed to tht.'
nurnhn of persons involnd in each particular stage of it, suggest that we ha,e here to do
\Vith "-Ylllholism of personality integration, i.e. of a hermetical process. To show this, we
mu">t tlr">t mention here some elenll'ntary facts concerning thL' structure of the pcrsonali t\'.
'l hL' L'le111c11L.lr\'' fu111..:tions of Lonsciou"ness form a svstt'm
of four 'male'/'t~mak: viz.
subiL'Ltin l1ctin/ohjcctin'-passin'. couples that can be arranged in a SL'ric"> of dilkrent
degree" of complexity or/and concrl'leness. Fach of them corresponds to <ll1 L'krnentary
comp<>llL'11l of the per..,onality. In <l natural human personality, lntclkct and Imagination
-..land higlw-..t, folln\\'cd hy \\'ill and Intuition, 1-\dinn and SLnsation, and lk">irc and


Feeling. But this mentioned coupling of the components of personality is only an ideal
one, and is actually replaced by all kinds of other 'male'/'female' connections, as a consequence of adaptation to particular conditions of life in the physical world. 1 his results
in some components' of the personality becoming unconscious and repressed in the
universal unconsciousness. Persons who desire to be integral and free of conflict, become
confronted with the necessity of recovering one's unconscious part, one's 'soul', from the
unconscious, even at the price of a reduced career in the external world. r he externally
adapted personality is unaware of the obliqueness of its connections, because they are
also implied in the physical constitution of the world. In the measure that an original
pre-physical intuition destroys the false architecture of the external image of the world,
the external personality approaches the boundary of the unconsciousness. 1 he same
does, on its part, the internal personality, which becomes in the same measure more and
more acceptable for the revised external consciousness. At a certain critical stage of these
transformations, both personalities, the external and the internal one, attain the same
structure, i.e. the same system of bonds between personality components. But as their
tendencies to change are opposite, they are engaged in a deadly struggle - the same one
\\hich has been symbolically depicted in Florentine renaissance painting, as well as in the
old Etruscan one, and in the extremely powerful Palaeolithic engravings in cave sanctuaries of southern France.' 9 '' From the debris of the old personality, external and internal,
can then arise, through painful effort, an integrated personality, able to live in the world
without being irreversibly bound to it.
Now, the Hyp11eroto11zac/1io can be said to depict symbolically the search of the external personality for its lacking internal counterpart that we may call its 'soul'. An essential
difficulty is the fact that both the natural psychology of Man, and the physical 'reality' of
the world, are based on the dominance of the mental functions: I ntellcct and I magi nation,
instead of clairvoyant Intuition and unwavering vVill, which have a truly dominant character. As a consequence, also the two lower dualities of psychical functions arc interchanged, Desire and Feeling standing at the bottom instead of Act ion and Scnsat ion. r his
is important, because the entire process must begin by contact with the unconsLious, and
h~1:ce by the activity of a personality component \Nhich stands lowest in the hierarchy
ot tunctions. 111e search for the soul has therefore to begin with Desire, whose hearer is
the lowest active personality component. In folktales it is represented by the youngest
of three brothers, whose 'father' is the carrier of Intellect. Similarlv on the 'female' side:
Imagination is borne by a 'motherly' component, the remaining C<;m poncn h hci ng represented by her three daughters. It happens, hmvever, that all personality components arc
represented by female figures. This is the case in Uyp11croto111llcl1ic1, with the L'XLcpt ion of
the carrier of Desire, which is the author himself.
'!he beginning is the immersion in the uniH-rsal unconscious which mav he realh terrifying, since it 1~1eans mergence in everything that has been rejected by ~onsciou~ncss.
Poliphilo prays to the highest Cod, the Diespitcr of classical antiquity, and is spared for
those terrifying aspects of the unconscious. IIe is confronted with the pleasant riossibilit ies of Ii fe in the shape of five maidens, fiic only, not '>even, a..., t hl' tot a Ii ty of his L'\ is ten CL'
would let us expect. ;\;ow, reduction from seven to five parameters emergl'...,, hy an apriori...,tic consideration of creation, at the stage of the emergencl' of extl'rnal reality. 1 his is
d Lil' to the fu ndamcntal Father and Mother-component.... hei n g held out sid L' t lw Ii ve di
mcnsional sphere of crcation.''J' A popular counterpart i'> the red ult ion of tlw numhl'r of
...,ensory categoric..., to five only We can say, therefore, that P<>I iph i lo . . tart... hi..., "'L'llrL h \\it h <1

Tize Renaissance of Dream


pitifully extrovert mind. But he is led to a stage of higher freedom, and is assigned the two
lacking components of his normal existence: the 'Logistica' for the 'Father' component,
and the 'Inclination' for that of the 'Mother:' 91
Having thus come in control of all the functions of his consciousness, Poliphilo is confronted with the necessity of choosing the goal of his life. He rejects both worldly and religious ambition, and chooses the Mother of Love. The fact that he does not chose just Love
but the Mother of Love is due to the fundamental Mother Complex - more rightly: to the
fundamental embrace of the dream on external reality - which is the last and most powerful obstacle to the freedom of the soul. Now, his search for the soul must have, and has,
a counterpart in the soul's ascent at his encounter. TI1e four stages of this internal process are represented in Hyp11croto111aclzia Poliplzili by four so-called 'Triumphs' referred
to already by Petrarch and repeatedly represented in Renaissance art, as in Mantegna's
celebrated frescoes. '01ese 'Triumphs' are prepared by mystery acts described by Ovid in
his 'Metamorphoses', and represented already in the Palaeolithic art of France. The first
'Triumph' is prepared by the internal bearer's of Love being borne across the sea of the
unconscious by the Holy Bull of divine desire (the mythical motif of Europa).1l1e second
mystery act is that of the ascent along an S-shaped path, represented by the S-shaped neck
of a swan embracing the soul (the motif of Leda). 'The third act is that of gold reigning
over her (the motif of Danae). 111e fourth act has only abstract representations.
In the 'Triumphs', representations of the mystery motifa are transported on carriages
dravvn by Cyclopes, Elephants, Unicorns, and Lions, respectively, six of them in each case.
'fhesc motifs were well-known in humanistic circles of the Renaissance (one may remember young Callimachus' \\Tiling epigrams to Europa, Leda, and Danae), but, as already
mentioned, they can be pursued deep into prehistory.
\Vhen these processes have been achieved, the central components of the two personalities, the internal and the external one, have attained the same structure, and can
therefore 'meet' each other. Poliphilo meets finally his Polia, his soul, but lzc docs not
yet recognize lzcr. Recognition comes first after initiation in the temple of Venus the
Lifegiving, and, although this is not directly stated in the H.yp11croto11wclzia, the obstacles
to their union arc still many, and can be reJected first after an embittered and deadly strife.
Its remnants are the ruins and tombs of the country through which they are \vandering.
But they reach finally the Fount of Venus where they become purified from all worldly
bonds by Polia's confession of her sins against love. 'l his confession takes place at the site
of Poliphilo's final liberation from his attachment to the Mother of Love - by his death as
Adonis, Venus' lover.
llyp11croto1111d1ic1 on its first page claimed to shmv'all human things to be nothing else
hut dreams' and 'in addition to commemoratl' much that is \vorth sound knowledge: It is
doubtless based on dreams, much amplified by phantasy and materials from symbolical
scripts. Its original imagery proved to depend on classical iconography and Horapollo's
fficroglyplzicu. It had certainly encouraged many a giorgionist to follow nrntifo of myths
and talcs, though ( ;iorgione himself appears to have primarily depemkd on his own
dreams. 'I he wav in which the Solar iVlvstcrv is retlected in some of his works, give his
doubtless umtads \vith Copernicus particular importance for our inquiry.



The Mystery-Man Called the Great Giorgio,
and the Enigma of his 'Three Philosophers'

G cial pomts of the present investigation, has presented postent y with an even more
i~rgion_e, the man whose spiritue::l ki~1ship and meeting with C_oper~1icus arc the cru-

profound human mystery than the secrecy-loving recluse of Frauen burg. In spite of the
enormous interest aroused by his oeuvre and personality, especially in modern times,
his biographical data remain extremely scanty. In fact, not even his family name and his
year of birth are ascertained. His first biographer, the painter Giorgio Vas'"ui, claimed that
Giorgione had been born in the little town of Castelfranco in 1477, and died in 1511 at an
age of thirty-four. 59 3 But in a later edition (1568) of his biographical work Vasari modified
Giorgione's birth year to 1478, a dating consistent with his contention that Giorgione was
born when Giovanni Mocenigo was a doge (1478-1485). Cavalcaselle was the first to express doubt as to the correctness of these statements and suggest that Giorgione was born
earlier than i477.s 9-1 From a letter of Taddeo Albano, the Mantuan ambassador to Venice,
dated the 7th of November, 1510, it follows at any rate that Giorgione died several days
earlier from the plague (Zorzo nzori pii1 di fanno da peste). Vasari's original assertion that
Giorgione was thirty-four at death can be \vrong, but \Ve should probably not be much in
error by assuming that he was about four years younger than Copernicus.
According to Vasari, Giorgione was of a very humble extraction (d'u111ilissinw stirpc),
but of gentle and fine manners throughout his life.w> The few extant undoubtedly authentic contemporary documents in which he is mentioned call him only Zorzo or Zorzi
(which is the Venetian for Giorgio) of Castelfranco. His great posthumous fame might
have been responsible for the fact that C. Ridolfi put him in 1648 in relation to the patrician family Barbarelli or Barbarella of Castelfranco, and that the Rarbarellas themselves
found it opportune to mention him in an epitaph placed in 1638 over the family tomb
in the church of San Liberale in that town. P. Coronelli made him fiftv vears later the
offspring of a love affair between a Barbarella and a peasant girl from tl~e' neighbouring
village Vedelago. This report has been contradicted, hcnvcvcr, by an other one, mentioned
already by Ridolfi, according to which Giorgione \Vas actually a nat ivc of Vcdclago, but
belonged to a rich family. A certain Johannes diet us Zorzonus from Vedelago, living in
Castelfranco in 1460 according to a document discovered by c;corg Cronau, has been
supposed to be Ciiorgione's father or grandfather. Zorzo11c, latinized /or::o11us, is, in fact,
the Venetian for Giorgione. 'lhis conjecture appears, however, doubtful for the same
reason as the evidence of a document allegedly signed by the painter in Ven ice the I_J,th
r-:ebruary 1508 vvith the name Zorzon de CosteUim1co and known from a copy by Urbani
de Gheltof (1869), published by Molmcnti in 1878. 'Ihc authenticity of this doLumcnl,
\Vhnse alleged original has disappeared, was disputed already by della Rovere and subsequently hy C~ronau, who has pointed out the incongruity of ih dating, a.., well a:-, tlw fact
that the expanded form of the painter's noun (( ~iorgione, Zor1011L', l'lc.) i.., 1wt 111L'nt ionL'd
in any other document before 1548.i''" 'I hough'( ~iorgionc' i.., occa..,ionally nwt with a'> a
proper name in 16th century's Venice, this has led hocco ( 1941) to adopt i\ rct 111( i'.., t.'\pla

17zc JVlystery-iVfon Called tlze Great Giorgio


nation of the expanded noun as an allusion to Giorgio's 'great soul' (Giorgione= 'the great
l he old theory that Giorgione was a natural son of a Barbarella and a peasant girl from
Vedelago has, after all, nothing improbable in it. It explains, on the contrary, much of the
confused tradition concerning his descent, the lack of any mention of him in the local
parish records, and the fact that after his death no claim of inheritance has been raised
on the part of any relative of his. If the portrait of the old woman in the Gnllerie dell'
Acwdc111in in Venice is identical (as often supposed) with that of his mother (a portrait
recorded in i569 in the inventory of the collection of Gabriele Vendramin), the mother
must have actually been of humble descent. ll1e alleged epitaph of the Barbarellas from
1638 has been destroyed with the old cathedral of San Liberale in Castelfranco which has
given place to the present one. But if the wording of the epitaph has been correctly transmitted by a local historian, it does not imply that Giorgione was supposed to have been
buried there.'') 8 He must, in fact, have been buried on the island of Poveglia, together with
all the other victims of the plague of 1510.' 99 And it does not seem probable that a noble
family, which did not attempt to create mystification in that respect, should in the tomb
epitaph adopt Giorgione, if the legitimacv of such an act were contradicted lw any local
tradition. Last but n~)t least, the hy!1othesi~ of illegitimate birth explains one of ;he l~ading
themes of Giorgione's painting, as well as the highly praised refinement of his character
and manners, and the facility with which he was accepted in the aristocratic circles of
Castelfranco, Asolo, and Venice.
Giorgione had alreadv as a vouth impressed his environment, not only as a genius, but
also as~~ fascinating pe1-s'onalit)' and an enchanting companion. Vasari tells that he played
the lute and sang 'marvellously' or even 'divinely', and for that reason was often invited
to aristocratic pt.~rties, where l~c displayed his musical and social talents. TI1e district of
Treviso, to which Castelfranco belonged, was at that time celebrated throughout Italv
for the elegance and magnificence of its nobilitv and its luxurious feasts, atte1~ded lw th~
flower of \'enetian and \reronese youth. 1 his t;nor of the Trevigian life was maint<{ined
by the constant stream of foreigners and important persons \Vho visited Treviso, situated as it was at the meeting-point of the two main roads from Germany and Poland to
Venice and other great cultural and nolitical
centres of Italv: the one Fill the Brennert
pass and the other lw wav of Scmmcrino. Castclfranco itself lies on a hilly plain west
of Treviso, at the foo,t of the Venetian Al~s, and the beauty of its situation, might have
inspired C;iorgione's dreamy landscapes which reveal his intimate contact with nature.
1 he tmvn was, in ( ;ioroione's
time, the seat of the celebrated co11dotticrc (militarv' leader)
Tuzio ( :ostanzo, and was surrounded hy walls forming a squarL' fortress and dominated
by rectangular towers.
( )n the other side of (~as tel franco, fart hn to the west, I ics A solo, at that ti nw the scat
of Ca ll'ri na Cornaro, former queen 'of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and A rmcn ia: and I iegc lady
of Tuzio ( :ostanzo. Belonging to a celebrated Venetian familv and having the blood of
the last l~y;antinc emperors in her veins, she had been chosc;1 hy till' \'c1~ctian Signoria
to ser\'l' as a tool for a ruthless politic1l manot'll\Te whose purpose was the seizing of
Cypru . . by \'enict'. r\s a young girl famous for her beauty she was married in q;-2 to the
king of ( :yprus, James II de Lusignan, hut h<wing alrL'ady the follm,ing year hL'L'Olllt' a
wido\\', and the llL'\t year h<wing lost her only son, she came under \'t'Jll'tian ruk hy the
intn11wdi<1tion of l\\'o ( 011si~licri ddlt1 J.fr~i1111, and linalh in qKl) \\'as L-omiwlkd to ahdiLak \he ldllll' balk llLLo11,1paniLd hy Tt~1in and, artn tlHL'L' days kstivities \\'hiLh \\'L'rt'


held in her honour in Venice, moved to Asolo, where she had been assigned residence.
Her retinue consisted of eighty persons, including thirty six cavaliers, ladies of the court,
and pages of noble families. She had built for herself a new beautiful villa surrounded
by wonderful gardens, and spent her time in merry feasts, in the company of at t ractivc
women, gallant courtiers, and men of brilliant wit. One of those feasts, held in 149..+, had
been described by the Paduan humanist Pietro Bembo (later appointed cardinal), only
six years older than Giorgio, in his Gli Asolmzi (written in 1502, published in 1505), which
conveys the impression of the joking conversations, songs and dances of her leisurely
circles, inspired by the desire of pleasure and a dream of happy love.
It can be scarcely doubted that Giorgione had been a guest at some of the Asolan
feasts since he (as Vasari asserts) has painted a portrait of Caterina Cornaro, to whom
he had probably been introduced by Tuzio Costanzo. Caterina surrounded herself with
musicians, poets, and painters, and such an enchanting youth as Giorgio must have been
a welcome guest at her parties. A very giorgionesquc painting, probably a copy, from the
collection of Lady Berwick at Shrewsbury, shmvs her seated in the open air, the Asolan
hills in the background, in the company of musicians, armed guards and court iers. 6 ' " ' A
handsome youth playing a violin is seated at her right and a girl playing a lute kneels at
her left, while Caterina herself, resting her check on her hand, is sunk in dreamy enjoyment of their playing.
But it was neither in Asolo nor in Castelfranco that Giorgio spent his youth. He must
already as a boy have been brought to Venice, perhaps also by Tuzio Costanzo, since he,
according to Vasari, had been 'brought up' there - and very soon he must have become a
disciple of Giovanni Bellini. He learned not only from his master and Giovanni's brother, Gentile, but also from other contemporary Venetian painters, such as Al vise Vivarini,
Vittore Carpaccio, and Vincenzo di Biagio of Treviso, called Vincenzo Catena, who was
later to become his associate. He profited indirectly from the experience of Antonello
da Messina (d. i493) who had brought to Venice the secret of the Hemish painting technique, and he gained vivid inspiration from prints of Northern masters, such as iVIartin
Schongauer and Michael vVohlgemut, and - in respect to works inspired by dreams and
visions - especially those of Hieronymus Bosch and Albrecht DC1rcr.
Although living in Venice, he continued to pay visits to his native Castclfranco and apparently also to other places of the Trevigian March - the Alurcu gioioso whose soul \\'as
so much akin to his mvn - and he accepted painting commissions there. Some authorit_ies believe that he might have painted the fresco representing a triton, a nereid, and two
tauns, playing flutes at the sepulchre of c;iovanni Onigo, in the church of San Nkcolo in
Treviso. "'! According to a tradition which can be traced back to the end of the sixteenth
century, and which is be! ieved to be true by some modern scholars (I ust i, R iL ht er), he
conceived also (much later, viz. at the end of his short life) the so-Lalled Piet:1 in Trt..'\iso
- shmving the body of Christ in a hold foreshortening, lifted up from the grave hy winged
putti. However, it is generally agreed that a great (and in some details rather distasteful)
part of this picture is due to another painter. Others doubt \Vlll'ther ( ;iorgionc has at all
left any trace of his creative activity in that tmvn which (as will appear from our later con
siderations) might have been the very centre of the c.;;otcric-humanistic cirLk to "hiLh
he belonged.'"

<;iorgione docs not "ieem to have ever left the territory of the Venetian RepuhliL-, L'\
ccpt perhaps for a call to the neighbouring 1:errara. It has been "aid that, judging lr()m hi"
manner of painting ruins of ancient monumcnh, he \C<lrccl y L()u Id han \L't'11 "llL Ii ru ill"

Tize J\!lystery-J\fo11 Called the Great Giorgio


at all. But Venice itself offered him the most grandiose scenery available in the world of
his time. It is true that in his short lifetime the economical and political power of the
'Queen of the Seas' suffered disasters which doomed it to a gradual decline. Such was
the Genoese-Spanish discovery of America (1492) and the Portuguese discovery of the
sea-way to India (1498), as well as the Turkish expansion in Greece, the Balkans, and the
Eastern Ivleditcrranean, and the alliance of the continental powers: Germany, France and
Spain (the League of Cambrai i508). Enemies swept across the boundaries of the Republic
almost from every direction. But exactly in these critical years Venetian industries were
engaged in a rapid development, offering the artist new technical possibilities, while the
ever rising display of patrician luxury was apt to seduce his sensuality. Giorgione's personal connections and his visits to the Trevigiano gave him ample opportunity to take
part in the gallant life of the Venetian and Trevigian aristocracy. Vasari asserts that he 'was
continuously enjoying love affairs'. But he seems also early to have been recognized as a
genius. Richter has found that he already ca. 1492 must have begun 'to paint individual
works which can be distinguished from the art of his master'. 6 " 4 His explosive evolution
as a painter must have given the impression of a prodigy.
Not only Caterina Cornaro, but also other persons of high standing, such as the
great Spanish commander Don Consalvo ferrante (who won for Venice the Greek island Cephalonia) during his visit to the Doge Agostino Barbarigo (d. 1500), the Doge
Barbarigo himself (according to the somewhat doubtful testimony of Ridolfi), and, according to Vasari, the successor of Barbarigo, Leonardo Loredano (doge 1501-1521), gave
him sittings at an carlv stage in his career. At the time he was vet little known, no painter
in Venice had been able to ~vithdraw from the influence of Gio vanni Bellini - his free pictorial approach to external reality and his new harmony of colours. But after Giorgione
towards the beginning of a new century had established an independent workshop, perhaps in that house in the Campo San Silvestre - now number 1087/89, according to some
authorities, while 1091, according to others - which he, according to Ridolfi, inhabited and
decorated with frescos, his own old master began to paint in a 'Giorgionesque' manner.
Titian, Giorgione's fellow student, destined after Giorgione's premature death to surpass
him in splendour - though never in the knowledge of the mysteries of the soul - kept him
company and became his disciple. It had apparently become obvious to everybody who
kne\v him and the relatively few pictures he had painted that he was the greatest Venetian
painter of the epoch.
Giorgione's exceptional role in the history of \ Vestern painting must for our purposes be set against its socio-cultural background and put in connection with the great
changes that European consciousness would undergo at that time. This was the epoch of
the definite extroversion of the European mind, the critical time when Christian men of
\Vere beum1ing worldlv-minded and conceivinoL' nature as a realitv indenendcnt
of the spirit. SLarcely any state or city in the entire Europe was better adapted to serve as
incubator of this new form of mind than the Republic and the City of \lcnice. 1 he great
extension of the Venetian empire, its ruthless striving for power and riches, its pent'tration by foreign, Byzantine and lV!oslem, cultural influences, the refined sensuality and
pleasure-seeking for \vhich it was famous - all this was Londucivc of the new orientation
of mind \vhich \\a~ being prepared in the \Vest. 'lhe Florentine painters, who for a ,,-hole
century led the development of Furnpcan art, having placed man in the CL'ntrc of the univer'-.e, were in tilt' train nf discovering the limitation of this attitude, \Vhid1 had involved
much of the ccn t ral It a 1ia n a rt in cool classicism and mannerism. VL'neti an pa i nlL'rs of


the two generations preceding Giorgione, such as the three Bcllinis, though still guided
by traditional religious ideas and imagery, attempted to approach nature by exploring
the mystery of colours. In art, as in science, need was felt for abandoning the traditional
dogmatic, as well as anthropocentric positions, but nobody dared to take the decisive step.
The relaxation and imminent severance of the bonds uniting the mind to the world of
intellectualized and benumbed spirituality represented by the Church was a frightening
perspective to any religious nature for \vhom love did not count supreme. But some of the
sensitive spirits that dared to seek enlightenment in their own life, being at first engaged
in pleasure and sensual love, were subsequently led on the narrow path back to the soul
through a long and painful process of introversion. One extreme case of th is kind (Paolo
Giustiniani) from the circles of Copernicus and Giorgione in Padua and Venice will be
considered at a later stage of this study.
In Giorgione's art we find evidence of essentially the same introvertive search expressed with an almost unparalleled suggestive power. \Ve have here still to do with a
return to nature, but a return of a different kind from that of his predecessors: Ciorgione
approaches nature not from without but from witlzi11, because what he is looking for is
his mrn soul - imprisoned in the body, and, according to the alchemical belief of his
time, essentially identical with the world-soul (imprisoned in nature). He is following the
way of the heroes of the great myths of antiquity and those of the folk-talcs, the path of
spontaneous initiation through conscious dreams. His use of dimmed, dusky light suggests visions experienced at the border of dream and waking consciousness. As already
G. Morelli (J. Lermolieff) has pointed out, Vasari's assertion that c;iorgione had borrmved
this manner of painting from Leonardo da Vinci is not quite convincing. Ciiorgione could
scarcely have seen any of the oil painting by Leonardo, and he did not need it either: his
procedure might well have been a spontaneous expression of his own experience. ']hey
were both, Leonardo and Giorgio, seeking the same goal, each on his own path, and the
younger of them seems to have brought to this task an even more ardent spirit. 'I his docs
not mean that he was not conscious of the character of his search. As wi II be seen below,
the enigmatic subjects of most of his pictures, so strangely appealing to the soul, were
~ither the fruit of that 'objective imagination' (in the Jungian sense, corresponding to the
11nagi11ntio vern of mediaeval mysticism) which is at work on the border of dream and
waking consciousness, or the result of a more or less conscious choice of a classical theme,
a choice based on knowledge of ancient mythology whose subjects so often re-emerge in
dreams. And although he moved in a direction opposed to the society in which he was
living, the city of Venice must nevertheless have given support to his cndc1wours, not
only through its worldly setting, but also through that archetypal essence which perhaps
induced Copernicus toward his ne\v vision of the universe.
'fhe search for the soul leads the dream-ego into the shadow world common to al I
earthly existences, merging that dream-ego, so to say, into the soul of the ,!\'lot her-Earth.
Psychologically speaking this is a deep introversion (made possi hie by a kind of hrcaki ng
of the incest taboo) - the dcsccnsus ad inferos of myths and mysteries. 'I hi'.'> inversion is
expressed in Ciorgione's art by placing individual beings in landscapes in a \vay suggestive of organic unity. Bodily contours are made often difht'.'->e, as if the bodies tlwrnsclH'S
\Vere dissolving under the deadly loving breath of the ( ;rl'at 1Vl()tlwr. J-.rn.., at()ncs the
individual spirit with the world soul, just as (~iorgirn1L'\ 'Sleeping \'cnu..,' j.., nwrgcd intn
the surrounding landscape - though thi'-> time not hy the diffusion of Lontour, hut hY thL'
harmoniou1., corre..,pondcnce llf outlines. "!he fact that ( ;iorgi()fll' 111 tlw hL'g11111i11g of hi-.;

TI1e 1Vlystery-J\Jn11 Called the Great Giorgio


painting activity in Venice worked especially (as Vasari says) on pictures of the Virgin
Mary, may well have been related to that call of the 'eternally feminine' (not in the current
sense, but in the original Goethean one) which makes men engage in a mystic quest.
To the pictures of the Virgin Mary done by him in that period of his life may possibly
be reckoned those which are part of the different versions of the Adoration of the Child
and the Holy family ascribed to him, though not unanimously. 60 ' And there is no doubt
whatever that he at that epoch made what is usually considered as his masterpiece: the
enthroned Ivladonna with Child and the two saints, St. Liberale (or St George, as Ridolfi
and some modern authors assert) and St. Francisco, in the cathedral of St. Liberale in
Castelfranco.""<' TI1is celebrated picture, one of his earliest works, is commonly assumed
to have been made by him at the order of Tuzio Costanzo, in memory of the latter's son
Matteo, who died in 1504, and of whom he possibly had made the portrait, to which
Hourticq has first attracted the attention of the scholars - or, more probably, the lost
original of what now seems to be only a copy. e>u::- There are some indications of Matteo's
having served as model for the much admired figure of St. Liberale (or St. George ) in the
Castclfranco picture.
But, as the picture was destined to decorate the chapel of the family Costanzo in the
church of St. Liberale, the commission with which Giorgione was entrusted did not need
to have anything to do with the death of Matteo, especially since Giorgione was also commissioned \Vith the painting of frescos (destroyed in the 18th century, as was the entire
church) on the walls of the chapel. For this and other reasons some authorities believe
the Castdfranco picture to have been painted before i504. A sign of Giorgione's early tendency to identify his love ideal alchemistically with the universal soul (A11i11rn lvlundi, cf.
Jung, 1952 and 1955/56) likened to the Virgin Mary, that might be seen in the lines which
an anonymous contributor to the Quotidia110 \'c11cto asserted in 1803 to be legible on the
back of the picture:
Com Cecilio, \lic11i tc~tficttn,
fl tuo t{1spctta - Giorgio Bnrbarclla.<"'c:
'I hcse lines were addressed perhaps to a female model and mistress of his. Although
no trace of such an inscription is at present to be seen there, and anonymous newspaperwriters are not to be trusted, there is nothing improbable in the idea that Giorgio was in
love with his model, of course. ll1is idea is suggested also by the fact that the face of the
model, as well as that of the Virgin of Castelfranco, has traits in common with women on
other nictures
from that early' tneriod of Gioroio's
activity such as the 'Judith' of Errnitag.e
and the earth-hound female figure of the celebrated 'Tempest' from the (;allerie dell'
Accadern ia in \lt~n ice, by some regarded as an even earlier work than the Castclfranco
altl'r-pieL'L', though more often dated somewhat later.'"") But, while most or (;iorgione's
pictures of the Virgin Ivlary clearly proceed from a time in which his spiritual striving
\Vas st ill guided by externally transmitted patterns of religious imagination, works like the
'Tempest', 'Venus' and the 'Pastoral l\Iusic' of the Louvre bear witness of his being subject
to what might he called intn)\'ert initiation. 'Ihc death of the ego in love being a decisive
. . tep in this process, we may perceive symbolical meaning in the fact that c;iorgiont' died,
as Vasari savs of the plague having caught the infection from a girl he loved and whom
he knew to ,h~ sick. An aLlter nativc ~toryLtold by Ridolfi a centuq~ later is psychologically
cq u ivalcn t to that mt'n t ioned ab on>, implying also an ernt ical death-impulse.'';" According
to this "L'Lo11d version of tlw circumstances of Ciorgione's death, (;inrgio1w was in utter
de...,pair attn hi..., pu~)il ;'\lortn da t:cltrc had sedund his mistress, and he 'endt'd his life



in pain, not finding any other remedy, but death for his amorous infcction'.'' This indicates suicide - an idea indirectly suggested also by Vasari's account. That plague was the
immediate cause of Giorgione's death is, however, confirmed by the words of Taddeo
Albano, the Mantuan ambassador in Venice, in his above-mentioned letter of the 7th of
November, i510, to Isabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua.
Giorgione painted many portraits but only a few of them have survived. He is also
known to have spent much time on alfresco works, having decorated the front of a
number of private residences in Venice, and also that of the German vvarehouse ( Fondoco
dei Tedeschi at the Rialto-bridge) which was reconstructed by order of the Republic after
having been consumed by fire in January i505. But all these u(l;csco paintings, of which
those on the Fondaw dei Tedeschi were celebrated as one of his greatest achievements, are
destroyed. Of his eighteen pictures which, according to his contemporary Marcantonio
Michie!, were in the possession of Venetian and Paduan patricians in 1525-1545, ten have
been lost, while the alleged identification of several of the remaining is still controversial.
Of the t\velve others which have been mentioned by the somewhat unreliable Vasari
(1550), at least seven, more probably ten, have been lost. r his, jointly with an almost
complete lack of biographical data, the enigmatic character of most of his pictures, the
enormous influence he exerted on his contemporaries and his posteriority - an influence
which made it often difficult to decide what was due to the master and \vhat to his more
or less eminent followers (as is the case, above all, with the young Titian) - and finally, his
comet-like appearance on the heaven of Venetian painting, determined as if by the precognition of his early death and by the extreme shortness of the time assigned to his public activity (ca. 1500-1510) - all this has contributed to the development of a Giorgione
myth, and to what sometimes has been spoken of as the 'Giorgione enigma'.
Only three or four of the surviving pictures attributed to him by diverse students have
been generally recognized as his own works. Opinions as to the others greatly differ and
vary. Crowe and Cavalcaselle ( 1871) ascribed to him ten or eleven pictures. l'VIorclli in
the last decade of the 19th century increased this number to nineteen, while the 'panGiorgionists' H. Cook (1900) and L. Justi (1913) quoted respecti\'ely sixty-seven and ninety pictures as connected with Giorgione, of which respect ivelv fort v-f1ve and t went v-tive
as certainly works of his own. And although more recent writers, ~ach taken sepa1atcly,
ascribe to Giorgione considerably smaller numbers of pictures, the tutu/ number of pictures attributed to Giorgione by some authorities is still of the same high order.
Most paintings bearing an unmistakable imprint of C;iorgionc's mind arc of interest
for the central problems of our inquiry, and will be mentioned in the following pages in
different connections. To survey the literature concerned with these paintings is beyond
the scope of this work. 'lhe voluminous study of Justi ( 1908, 1924, and 1936), LI. \'enturi
( 1913), and C.M. Richter ( 1937), especially the last one - a standard work indispensable
to a systematic student of c;iorgione, should be mentioned. Also the remarkable work by
A. Morassi (1942) and those by P. Della Pergola (1955), L. Baldass and (;_Heinz ( 1964);
others have already been quoted above or will be quoted in the follmving. 1 he small but
excellent book hy Coletti (1955) and P. Zampetti\ catalogue of the Venice exhibition of
the works ofC;iorgione and thegiorgio11esc/1i (1955) may he recrnnmcndcd those SL'cking
pre Iim i nary oriental ion. Extensive bib] iography can he found in t hL <.1hovc nwn t io1wd
~tandard \vork hv Richter (up to 1937) and in the hook hy J\lora:-....;i (to 1939). 'lhc\ h<l\'l'
been supplemented hy a I iterat urc regi-;ter up to 1954 hy I kl la i>L'rg1 >la.
C;iorgione\ signitlcance for the evolution of painting ha.., lwcn L'"t1111<11l'd \ny high.

9. Late Roman inte rpretatio n of the three wise m en of !vlatthew 2 as three Persian/Chaldean Magi
fo llowing each o ther at equal distances as the three stars of O ri on's Belt. (Archivio Fotografico
Coll.Mus.Vatica ni , N xxx 11.138 .38 .)

10. (

l.owe r left.) fragment of the door of the Sancta Sab ina c h urc h in Rom w it h the three w ise men of

(Vf1111/1ew 2 represented as the three Persian/Chaldean Mag i at eq ual d istance" fro m caLh othe r a~ the
th ree -; ta rs of Orion's Belt. (5 '" century A. D.)

11. G io rg io n e's celeb rated painting '"CT1e Three Philosophers' (novv in Vienna) , achieved c. 150 6 , but
b egun seve ra l yea rs earli e r. It represents the initiation into the m yster y of th e new birth o f the
Divin e Logos in th e s hape o f th e N ew Sun of the High Ren aissa nce ris ing fro m d a rkness. The birth
is announ ced by th e G reat C onjun ctio n of the plan ets Jupiter and Saturn , whose symbo ls a re p ainted
o n the tabl et h eld by the oldest of the three 'philosophers'. TI1e central figure, clad in the typical a ttire
of the Paduan stude nts, and co ntemplating the darkness from which the New Light em e rges, seem s
to h ave b ee n ins pire d by Cop e rnic us, who in 150 3 or ea rly in 1504 predicted the d ate o f the G reat
C onjunction. Thi s w as the first applicatio n o f his new, h eliocentri c system of t he wo rld.

The ce ntral figure of '1he Three Philosophers'. Its ri ght h and, jointly w ith th e square in its left, outlines
the sign of Saturnus which is that o f beginnin g ini tiati on. The buildings in the background landscape have
a no rthern-European character, a nd a vague similarity to the architecture of th e Frauenburg castl e in which
Copernicus lived . But t his central figure of the young'Philosopher' is clearly not Co pernicus . It was painted
afte r Cope rnicus' d eparture from Padua and is probably ide ntical with a young Padu a n stud ent, the hi ghl y
gifted and cosmologically interested Gasparo Contarini, from the celebrated Venetian family with vvhich
Ca llimachus, and probably also Copernicus, were connected.




13. X-ray pi cture of th e central figure of ' The Tilree Philosophe rs'. Also this figure, though painted
after those of the two older 'philosophers', and d!tfe rent from that which was painted finall y, cannot
represe nt Copernicus. The young Paduan astronomer Girolam o Fracastoro might perhaps have
se rved as a model for it. Apparently Giorgione, who worked in Venice and had reserved the central
place for C opernicus, but had no opportun ity to paint him before his departure from Italy, tri ed
subsequ ently seve ral models from th e same Paduan milieu.

15. G io rg io n e (o il o n wooden pa n el, c. i500). TI1e lo nging of the soul a nd th e sh ortn ess of li fe betwee n
the Mo unta ins of the Worldly a nd the Heavenl y asce nt. (Washingto n, TI1e Ph ilips Collectio n.)

14. (oppos ite) 111e ta ble t h eld by the o ldest'p hilosophe r' (wh o m ay represent Zoroaster, Plato, or even
Pletho). The squa re in the cent re, w ith the signs o f th e Sun a nd the Moon insc ri bed , is a symbol of
the Ho ly Conju nc tio n a t w hich th e Divi ne Child is being born. n1e symbols of Jupite r a nd Satu rn
are ve r y fa intl y seen o n both s ides, and are also re peated , m o re clea rly, at th e uppe r edge of the tablet.
TI1e d o uble loop supe rimposed o n the sig ns of the conjunc tio n represents the ' loop' of the apparent
trajec tor y of a p la n e t in o pposi ti on (probably Jupiter in th at case) , in which the (~ real Conjunction
(with Satu rn ) \Vas goin g lo take plaL-t'. 'The cogwheel in the lowe r right corner of the ta ble is an
allu sion to the co s mi c m ac hinery tli which Virgil implicitly refe rred in h is 4 1h EcloguL'.


Gio rgione. Chasti ty. (Amsterdam Museum.)

17. The findin g o f Pa r is, by (;iorg io n e? Fragment o f a g reate r painti na which, accordi ng to Michie!,

was o riginal ly in the possess ion o f Taddeo Contarini, but is lost now~and is know n o nl y from copies
by va n Kesse l ( 1659) a n d Te ni ers. (R uda pest. Museum ). '[ he man with the stave is the d reame r, th e
o the r on e is He rmes.

18. The first triumph of th e soul as imagi ned by Titian o n the basis of O vid's desc ri pt ion in the

Metamorphoses. The twist of the body a nd the elevation o f the righ t h and are con for m able to th e
symbolical S-positio n. (Isabella Stewart Gard ner Museu m , Boston .)

by Leonardo da Vinci. The twist of the woman's body

and that of the swa n's n eck fit the S-pattern. (Leonardo's sch ool, Rom , Galleria Bo rghese .)

19. The s econd triumph of the soul as imagined

21. Giorgio ne: ' I.aura'. Una ttainable to embrace (with refe ren ce to the myth of Apollo and Daphne).
(Vienna, Kuns thistorisches Museum.) An inscription on the back suggests that a sweetheart of
Giorgione served as model for this p icture (as possibly for several others).

(opposite) 1he third tr iumph o f the soul as imagined by Titian. (Madrid, Galleria del Prado. Photo
Anderson, Ro 111.)



Giorgione? Pastorello with a flute. (Lo ndon, Royal Academy of Arts.)

23. Giorgione? 1he female Hermes indicating the occult path to the three male comp on ents of the

personality. Only the youngest of them, the dreaming carrier of desire, takes the m essage to hi s heart.
(Hampton Court, Collection of H.M. the Queen of England.)

24. C;iovanni Rellini/Giorgione' Hermes instr ucting the carrie r of desire, wh ile the aged ca rri e r of
in Lellect turns di sinterested ly a way. (Florence, Galleri a Pi ti i. )

25. Copy of G io rgione's lost 'Judgment of Paris: accordin g to which Aph rod ite was awa rded a golden
appl e for bein g th e most beautiful of th e goddesses . Hermes, the inspirer of thi s judg ment, ca n
be perceived escaping in th e right upper corner of th e painting. (Palazzo Albuzio, Venice, rephot.
Courta uld In st itute of Art. )

28. Giorgione: portrai t o f the Herme tic phi losopher Pietro Contarini, probably th e first owner
of Giorgione's '1l1ree Philosophe rs'. (Formerl y Lond o n, La nsdowne Collect io n. Reprinted fro m
PA N THEON, Internationale Zeitschriftfur Kunst, 196 1, xix Jhrg .. Bruckm a nn , Mt"i nche n .)

29. Tin tore tt n . Pa r t o f ,, pnrt r a ii o f l.u igi C orna m. (Flore n ce, R. c.; a ll er ia Pitt i. Ed . A Ii na ri, Reprnd.
O. ohm . l



30. Giorgione. A sectio n of the seq ue nce of astro nomical diagram s in th e frescoes of the Casa

Pelli zzari (vel Rostiroll a- Pi ccinini) in Castelfranco. Most of these diagrams a re exact copi es from the
Venetian editions of the Sphae ra Mundi by Johannes d e Sacrobosco. A strikin g except io n co nstitute
only the representatio ns of the solar and lunar eclipses, in whi ch the Sun, n ot the Ea rt h , occupies
a fixed position , - in co ntrast to th e fi gures in th e Sp haera Mundi, reproduced in fig . 31 of th is list.
(Collezio ni Fio rentini No. 5562.)

31. Representatio ns of the solar and lun ar ee lipses in th e

1488 Ve netian edition of the Sphnern Mu11di.

34. X- ra y picture of G iorgione's self-portrait in Braunsc hweig, showing a Virgin Mother w ith Ch ild.
(Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.)

-. : :. . .

. .... , ~i :


... . .

~,.. . ~..,,. ~ -::":'


. ::.---

. .




,r ---~



.. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -r/'.... - -


35. Th e origin al frame of Gio rgione's Braunschweig self- portrait, reconstructed from the X-ray picture.




36. Gen tile Bellini. Saint Lo renzo Giustin iani (a fragment ). (Veni ce, Acca dem ia 570, Photo. 0 . Kiihni. )






. EL 0 GI V M.

VENETIIS, ApudHcrtzium. MDCLV.



0 JtV M

'P E 1\_ftt 1 SS V .

37. 1he title page or a biography of 1.aurentius Ciustiniani, des ignated he re, and throughout the bonk,
a~ l.o dio ci Myst ii"i \ 'i1so.

38. H e!n rich Zell's map of Prussia, based probably o n Copern ic us' a n d Rh ~t i c u ~ ca rtographi c
wo rk. n1e s ig nature M .M. ~ V.V. suggests Cope rni cus' c r yptic des ign a tion tor h is p lace o f
<>_tudies: Musaeo Mariae' Virgi11 is Vnrmiensis. The star at t he cent re s hould in that case be
Sp ica, the brigh test star of the co ns tellatio n Virgo . It was imag ined alread y in th e Creek
antiqui ty as th e s tar of th e newbo rn Savio ur, a nd ~e rved C ope rni cus as the point of re fe rence
in hi ~ s tud ies
the motion of th e sph ere of th e fixed <;ta rs.




39. G iorg ione. A n ano n ym o us member o f a he rmet ic brotherhood, ch arac te rized by the s ig n VY
o f a high in iti ate into the m ys te r y of th e heliocentric transformation of the m icrocosm . Painted by
G iorg io n e c. 1503 a n d until rece ntly p rese rved in the Palazzo G iustiniani in Padua (wh e re Cop e rnints
st udi ed in 1503). Copern ic us was probabl y conn ected with members of th e fa m ily G ius tiniani, as well
as with th e Paduan m aece n as Lui gi Cornaro, who in 1503 own ed the Palazzo Gi us ti nia ni. A nu111 bcr
o f othe r fact:-. indi1.a tc tha t th e pe rson portr<1yed is identical w ith Copernicus. If this is tru e, this is tht'
sole aut h e ntic po r trai t of C ope rni c us as yet known. (Berlin, Sam mlung P reussisc hcs l\ulturgu l.)

40. G io rgion e: Copernicus' supposed portrait (to th e right ) as compared to the portrait o f the

H e rm etic philosopher Pietro Co ntarin i (to the left ); form erly London , Lansdown e Collectio n.

Tize jVfystery-J\llmz Called tlze Great Giorgio

As one of his modern students (Fiocco, 1941) says, he was until relatively recent times
regarded as the very founder of painting. The fact is, that the power of the Venetian painting of the 16th century was essentially due to his achievements - and that subsequent
European painting has largely followed the path discovered by the Venetians. It is true
that the uncritical and mystifying writers of the i6th and 17th centuries have distorted the
facts concerning Giorgione. But modern attempts (Hourticq, i930) at a radical reduction
of his historical importance have missed what is felt to be the spirit of Giorgione and are
generally deemed a failure as only critical experiments.
Giorgione's accomplishment could be defined as a proof of the objective validity of
a purified vision of the subjective, or as an abolishment of the intellectually and theologically inflated view of man. It visualizes human beings as parts of a natural psychic
continuum, basically terrestrial, but drawing its vital power from a super-natural source
of light. This performance can be compared to Copernicus' moving the earth out into
the heavenly space and establishing the Sun in the centre of the universe as the ruler of
the cosmic harmony. In fact, Giorgione gave his dreaming nature a supreme aesthetical
meaning, by a new quality of the light permeating all his dreams. TI1ey both - Giorgione
and Copernicus - followed the historical trend away from the humanly conceived God,
and back to his mysterious revelation. And they both sought to counteract the catastrophical consequences of the imminent rationalization of their new view of reality by stressing
its quality of mystery. 111ey knew that nature can guide human beings only if they can
experience her as pregnant with the Divine Light. TI1eir mvn experience had told them
that to create - or rather to be channels or tools of creation - is only possible for those
whose souls partake in the universal psychic essence, in which the mystery of conception
is taking place. 'I11ey both achieved this - each in his own way - making themselves a part
of the un ivcrsal mystery. 'I he proof of their having been conscious of their mystic fellmvship will be one of the results of our further investigations. \1Ve shall see that Giorgione's
oeuvre is - just as that of Copernicus - a by-product of personal transformation.
In modern times Copernicus has been first connected with Giorgione through B.
Nardi's conjectural
of Gioraione's
celebrated nicture
commonlv labelled

as "I he 'Ih ree Philosophers'"1 (cf. Pl. 11 ). To the knowledge of the present writer no other
materials or considerations have as yet been published in support of the hypothesis that
the two men had been in contact with each other. Nard i's conjecture gave an impulse to
the present investigation, but it has proved to be acceptable only with certain important
modifications. Although the problem of Copernicus' relations to Giorgione is reserved
to later sect ions of our study, it appears appropriate to start a review of Giorgione's mvn
work \Vith special consideration of this picture, lest the reader should be left in doubt
whether our making these t\vo men the object of the same study, and Giorgione one of
the central figures of the Renaissance, is indeed justified.
"I he 1 hree Philosophers' belong nmv to tl~e Gc111d/dcgalcric des l\1111stlzistorist'lzc11
A1usc11111s in Vienna, having been brought, as it appears, in 1638 from the collection of
Bartolomeo dclla Nave in Venice to England and then acquired bv the archduke Leopold
\Nil helm, in the cataloouc
of \vhose collection datinob from t65L'/ it is registered.
~Ihe oldb
est known mention of it is, however, by the Venetian patrician J\larcantonio Michie! who
saw it in 1525 in the house of Taddeo Contarini in Venice and subsequently has commented upon it in the following brief notice: '"I he oil painting of three Philosophns in a
t\vo of tlwm slandinnt iunright
and one sittinob and contemnlating
\. . the l'<l\'S
the sun, with a rod;. i magi ncd so marvellously, was begun by Zorzi da Cask! fra1Kn and



finished by Sebastiano Veneziano'. 613 This description secured for 'The Three Philosophers'
the position of one of the very few pictures attributed to Giorgione of which no serious
doubt has ever been expressed. In spite of apparent defects it is commonly regarded as a
masterpiece and has been qualified, perhaps not unfittingly, 'as one of the most enigmatic
paintings of the Christian \i\'est'. 614
The picture, relatively well preserved, has been restored in 1949 and measures at
present 123.3x144.5 cm, but must have been substantially larger, especially broader; it's
probable original size having been ca. 124x162 cm according to what can be inferred
from its copy by Teniers, a contemporary etching made from this copy, and the catalogue
of 1659. 01 ' A ca. 17.5 cm broad stripe has obviously been cut away from its left border. In
what has originally been the picture's right half, three men are represented on three broad
steps of a flat rock terrace: an old, majestetically looking man in a loose quasi-golden,
chrome-yellow overcoat thrown over a long brownish robe with a violet undertone, and
in a hooded mantle of similar colour, with a white-edged blue border; a middle-aged man
in a white turban over a violet cap, cinnabar red overcoat with a light blue-violet shoulder
piece of moire-silk, and a greyish blue underrobe; and, finally, a young man clad in a white
gold-embroidered shirt and a dark-green overcoat \Vith a golden edge.
The old man stands at the right border of the picture, somewhat nearer the spectator
and lower than the middle-aged Oriental who turns his quiet, meditative face with half
downcast eyes to the on-looker, listening to his elder companion.~, he frmvning eyebrows
and the nearly closed eyes of the latter indicate the great earnestness of the subject he is
speaking about, and the high concentration of mind his exposition requires (cf. Pl. 14).
He holds compasses open in the shape of a V-letter in his left hand, and something \\hich
would suggest an unfolded sheet of pergament, if it had not, at the same time, the appearance of a massive table, between his right (at top) and his left (at bottom). On the upper
border of the table, the signs h: 4 :are clearly seen, the rest of the upper border being
partially concealed by his right hand, and only the two sets of points .... appearing on
the other (right) side of the latter. Some\vhat lower, the word cclipsis seems to be written.
In the middle of the table a circle and a big crescent (symbols of the Sun and the J\foon)
indicate an eclipse in a symbolical way, suggestive of an alchemistic co11iu11ctio. 1 hey appear almost inscribed in a faintly outlined rectangle. Finallv, in the lower rioht corner,
partially concealed by the lefr hand of the old man, a cogged wheel with a series of points
and numbers .2.3- is visible. The whole table with the exception of the inscriptions
at its upper border, appears to have been crossed over by faint Ii nes forming a St. i\ nd rew
cross. T11e somewhat artificial and ostentatious way in which the old man holds up the
table towards the onlooker seems to signify: ''I his is what I am speaking about; this is the
:'vlystcry'. And this secret sign destined for the onlooker conveys a new dimension of life
to the old 'philosopher' and his companions, taking us up in the space of the picture as
initiates and participants of the eternal J\lystery.
'Ihe young man is placed still farther away and farther to the left than the ( )ricntal,
clo'->c to the centre of the picture, in a sitting position on the highest, apparently rL'dangular platform of the natural flat pvramid on whose lower ...,ll'p..., the other t\\'o arc . . . t ..rndinu
(cf. Pl. 12). He turns his hack to them and look..., "ilraight forward, ...,!iuhth
to th~
left, with an attentive, hut also humble, expression in his face suggesting a student listening l<> his teacher - which in this case cannot he anything cl"c hut thL' light imm<.ll1L'l1t in
I\lother >.:aturc. '!he face and the "hi rt of the young rnan,and al . . <> tlw \\'hill' ...,J1t'l'l <>i'pa~1cr
'-pread ()Lit over hi.., right knee, arc actually lit up hy light L'<>ming fr()m the IL'f~t . . trangch

17ze J\Jystery-Ma11 Called the Great Giorgio


enough for the non-initiated, because what he has before him is a dark, hollow rock occupying most of the left half of the picture, and showing only a greenish, diffuse spot of
light at the upper left corner. TI1e young man holds a square in his left hand and compasses in his right, leaning their points against the sheet of paper, as if he was registering
a phenomenon disclosed to him by Nature. TI1e compasses are open at the same angle as
those held by the old man, forming a \!-letter turned upside down. A restoration undertaken in 1949 has brouuht
to liuht
fio0 leaves apnarentlv
to a vouna
fia-tree ) if
not loosely falling from above, on the dark background of the rock, and, further to the left,
a branch of rambling ivy. A dark spot beneath the ivy suggests a hole, from which water
apparently issues, running to the foreground of the picture and disappearing behind the
rocky platform.
Also the extreme right of the picture, where the old man is depicted, has a dark (green)
background, formed in this case by the compact foliage of trees and bushes. Behind the
Oriental and the youth, dark tree trunks with leafless branches appear in sharp contrast
against a pale-blue, pinkish-violet and orange sky. 111e scenery suggests a season and an
hour of transition when lioht
is meroina
into darkness - anparentlv
an autumn evening,
a time of introversion and initiation, of the desccnsus ad i1~feros or, conversely, a spring
morning symbolical of the rebirth of the Nature. This latter assumption is, as will be seen
in the following, in better accordance with the symbolism of the picture. Above the distant, green and blue hills, visible in the opening between the rock and the trees, a narrow,
dull-orange segment of the disc of the rising (or, less probably, setting) Sun is represented
close to the oriuinal
centre of the tnicturc. But as the li2ht fallin2 on the three men on the
rocky platform and on the landscape in the background, if 1wtuml, cannot but come from
the sun, and as its source must be situated somewhere to the left in the foreground, this
makes us wonder whether the rising (or setting) sun in the background has been painted
by some negligent assistant. It~ on the other hand, the idea of placing the sun in the background is due to the master himself, this placing might have been intended to convey the
impression of the supernatural character of th~ illt~mination. TIH? fact that the sun and
the orange of the sky in the background seem to have been introduced in the picture later
than any other of its details can be adduced in favour of the first supposition. 0 1<' ~lhe other
one can, as we shall sec, be put in connection with the symbolic theme of the picture. The
buildings represented in the background landscape, especially a complex of high, stccproofod brick edifices, with a tower and a high arched port, deserw special attention, but
the respect ivc comments must he postponed to a later stage of our exposition.
Even a superficial inspection of this obviously symbolical painting leaves one with the
impression that the young philosopher stands in its ideological centre. His central situation at the top of the rock terrace, the light conct'ntratcd on him, cornparable in intensity
only t() that shining on the table held up h~ the old rnan, and the mastery \\'ith whid1 he
is painll'd (in contrast to his two companions, whose garments - especially those of the
old man - are rather ncoligcntlv
and rnughlv treated) - all this contributes to tlw above~
mcntiClncd impression. Students of the phenomenology of the unconscious, especially of
dreams and akhemistic S\'mbolisrn, arc likelv to nbscrn' that the voung man has lwen
repre...,enll'd in this piLtur~ in the capacity ot a person engaged in, the ~1roccss of indi\'iduat i()n (and unin'rsalization at the same timl'), i.e., as a ht'rrnctic 'philosopher' \\ho
seeks cnlightcnnwnl in naturt"s occult psychic side, in the darkness of the unconscious
symh()litalh to the left, i.c. lw turning his bad;. to what is'rioht'according to t'Stahlishcd
...,tan<.b rd-.., a n~l cngagi ng on th~, tabucJ Pro met lw<rn pal h. l hi~ is the path \~h ich kads am







genuinely creative man to the source of all human i11\'cntions, the forge of 1 lt.:phaL'Stos,
and the chamber of his associate, the goddess nf love - by C; iorgionc concci \'Ld as '.\:at u re's
dreaming soul. It is clear, however, that the two other men represented on the picture
consider themselves as initiates of the same mystery whose nmice the young man is.
But their greater age and location to the right in the picture, as \\'l'ii as the fact that the
of them is 111oiilzcr
to the ritrht,
indicate that thev' arc no lonl!er guided h\ their
own (or rather Nature's) inner light, but only by an occult tradition, which has co11\'ntcd
an inexpressible spiritual experience into a verbally communicable, but skrik doctrine
by projecting it onto the intellectual plane of consciousness.
~Ihis does not mean, of course, that these two men, who arc apparently unable to approach reality directly, cannot intellectually dcl1 ne the mystery with which they al I th rec
are concerned, each in his mvn \Vay. 'I he oldest of them who, according to the spontaneous symbolism of the unconscious is to be regarded as the reprcscntati\e of authoritarian
intellect (and hence of the occult tradition) - is actually revealing to us the object of their
concern: it is the Alystcrium Co11iu11ctio11is - that critical stage in the psyLhic and spiritual
development of individuals (and societies as well) which in alchemistic likrature is commonly symbolized as a meeting bet ween the Sun and the !\loon, resulting in a 11 eel ipse
- the natural phenomenon indicated by the inscription and the symbols dra\\'11 at the
centre of the table which is held forth by the old man."'\ Ve are here presented with the same problem and mystery as those approached in a
humorous way in tvnical
folk-tales, esneciallv
the l\:orse ones. 'I he kingdom, the ncrsonalt
ity ruled by the old king (the intellect) is threatened by underground powers which han:seized the three princesses (the soul in its th rec aspects). l he t\\'o cider oft he th rec hrot hers (the mental components of the personality controlling will and act ion, but dom i nall'd
by the intellect), \Vho attempt to save the kingdom by liberating the princesses, pro,e,
bound as they are to comentional, formalized, more or less false patterns of thought and
standards of values, utterly incapable of succeeding in this heroic undertaking. But the
third and youngest of them (the component of the personality controlled hy desire). a
solitary dreamer despised by the two others, does succeed, because he docs not turn a
deaf ear to the earth-hound mother power (I magi nation), which opens for him th L' u n derground world. So also the young man of c;iorgione, clearly inspired by thL' attracting
mystery of nature, seems to he destined to a new creatin' svnthL'sis of the unconscious
(the left, dark, half of the picture with the young trees and an,issue of ,,atcr) and the Lonscious (the right half of the picture, \Vi th the dead and barren old trees). 1 hese remarks
do not, of course, explain the 111cw1i11g of Ciiorgione\ masterpiece. hery genuine \\'ork of
pure art is at a certain level of its significance an expression of some stagL' of indi,iduation, and all that we have done as yet is only to prepare the ground for a11 approximate
determination and fixation of the stage reflected in this picture.
\Ve can say that ( ;iorgionc's three phiJo..,ophcrs, especially thL' y(>ungLst of thL'l11.
arc standing at the threshold of the '.\lcther \Vorld, and hence also at that of the supernatural, facing an individual or social crisis. 'I hey may represent ditkn11t sociL'l iL's or
different stages in a socio-cultural development, or complementary memlwrs of a single human group. '!hey certainly do represent, among others, out\\'ard projections of
pa rt ial pcr">onal itie" of a si nglc individual (a" dream pLrsons usual I y do), \'i 1. the artist
himself. 'I heir attitude doe" in any case reflect their L'xpectation of the miraculous birth
of a Di\inc <:hild, the fruit of the rn11i1111ctio, i.e. of the lllarriage of the light of the J)ay
(..,pirit) with that o( the Night (soul). 'I he supreme ">ignilicancc of this expectation lie'> in



T71c ,\lystcry-Man Called the Great Giorgio


the mathematical conviction that this Child, after having grown up and purified itself
(the Sun's L'rnergence from the eclipse), is going to impose the rule of light on Day and
Night as well.
f\I ichiel's Lksignat ion of the men in Giorgione's picture as 'philosophers' is in full
agreement ,,ith this preliminary interpretation. People attempting to solve problems of
life in a creatin way by facing hidden and tabued domains of psychic experience, were
at that time commonly called just 'philosophers' (sometimes, more specifically, 'hermetic
philosophers'), although the transformation of the personality purported by them was
often effectuated under the ~wise of chemical onerations,
viz. of the imaginarv
mation of common metals into gold. But, as the development of exact sciences in the
17th and 1Sth centuries gradually deprived ~ature of the essentially mysterious quality it
had in the eyes of the Europeans of the time of the Renaissance, the three philosophers
of Ciiorgione \\'ere subsequently designated in a more prosaic way. In archduke Leopold
\Vilhclm's inventory of i659 the picture hears the name 'Three 1vlathematicians'; a catalogue of the nineteenth century speaks of the 'llwee Geometers'; while Cavalcaselle in
his and Crowe's standard work says that the picture 'really represents a company of astronomers watching the hea\ens in the shadow of a glade' - a prosaic description which is
ob,iouslv inadequate, and even formallv incorrect." But althouah the above-mentioned
designations do not quite hit the nail 01~ the head, thev seem ne\~rtheless to hint at some
partial truths. Christian 0. lechel, di rector of the\ 'ienn~1 Gallen- during the reign of Joseph
I I, touched at a more important aspect of the subject of thi; pictur~ by des~ribing it in
the catalogue of 1/8_:; as 'the Three l\lagi waiting t(w the star to appear'.w' As such they
would also represent, according to popular tradition, 'the 111ree Ages of Man' and 'the
1 hree Parts of the \Vorld'. L. Venturi''!' preferred to interpret them as ''nirec .Astrologers:
drawing a parallel with a picture reproduced in Philippo Pincio's edition of ;\,lacrobiu<
commentary to So11111illl11 Scipio11is, the printing of which was completed on the 29th ot
October, 1500. But although the last-mentioned picture represents three astrologers making, remarkably enough, obsenations of 'earthquake, winds, and stars: it has no formal
similarity to Ciorgiont.''s masterpiece.
In the second half of the 19th centurv and the beginning of the 20th century writers
attempted to interpret Ciorgione's pictL,ires philologically ;s illustrations to legends or
scenes from classical literature - but \\'ithout success. llrns, Ludwig believing to recognize among the 'lhree Philosophers' the sorcerer Merlin paying a visit to Blasius, whik
\\'idd1otf ( 1895) argued that the Vienna picture represents a scene from Virgil's .-\c11cis,
\'iz. king h<rnder in the cornpanr of his son Pallas, showing Aeneas the steep, scrub-cmered nKk which is to become the site of the Capitol. \Vickhotf seems to have adopted this
interpretation t.-hit.'fly because ;\lichil'i in his account of the pictures which he saw in i525
in the house of Taddeo Contarini, mentions also another picture by (;iorgione, allegedly
repre ... enting 'the Nether \\'mid \\'ith A.eneas and Anchises', i.e. the scene in the Ac11cis in
whi1.:h At.'neas learns the future of Rome. As the two picturt.'S were placed on the opposite
'>ide.., of a third painting (by Sa\oldo), it is not impossible that they were thematically rt.'lakd to each other. ( )ur preliminary interpretation cont1rms that they actually did - but
in a quite ditfrrent W<l\" from that conjectured by \Vit.khotf. It is true that a S\'mbolical
to11i1111dio has abu bet.'.n regarded as thl' right Cl~ndition for the prosperous ti.~undation
()f citic'>, hut \\'idJwtf's interpretation (which docs not take into account this basic symholil<d llllc to the 111l'c.ll1ing of the picture) tits in so badly with the dt'tails ur-n1e 1hret'
Philmophcr:-,' that he had to assume that (;iorginnl' 11l'\'l'r rL'ad \'irgil.''" As a philulogit.al




counter-hypothesis Schaeffer proposed 'Marc Aurel's education by two philosopherS: referring in this connection to another painting with a somewhat similar scenery and disposition of figures - but this suggestion has not attracted much attention.<' 22 'I he subject
of three or four men being partially in opposition to each other (the young hero, his cider
brother, or two brothers, and an old man symbolizing authority: father, king or the like)
is, in fact, archetypal, corresponding to a basic constellation of partially subconscious
components of personality, and as such commonly occurs in literature and art. A sensible
interpretation of an individual case requires, therefore, much precision in details.
New aspects of the possible meaning of 'The Three Philosophers' have been slightly
touched upon already by Janitschek (1882), who interpreted the three men as personifications of three historical ages: antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance; by
Schrey (1915), who saw in them only representations of the ''Ihrec Ages of Man'; and by
some scholars who suggested that they have been intended to represent deli n itc historical personalities, namely, Archimedes, Ptolemy, and Pythagoras (Baldass 1922) or Virgil,
Averroes and Aristotle (Parducci 1935). TI1ese suggestions scarcely explained anything,
but some of them opened new lines of interpretation, which have led to more interesting
points of view.

[ 18]

Hermetic and Mystic Interpretations

of Giorgione's 'Three Philosophers'

he first detaile~i and ~laborat: int~rpr~tati~n ~)f'The 111re~ Pl:ilosop!1ers: wa.s that of
Hartlaub, published for the hrst t11ne 111 his little book Gung1011es Gehe1111111s (1925),
and later resumed in several papers.c.~, According to this interpretation, by its author occasionally called 'esoteric', the three men of Giorgione 'are by their age, activity, temperament, and attire characterized as symbolical representatives of three grades of initiation'
into some kind of mystery society, i.e. as 'philosophers' in a sense somewhat similar to that
commonly used in the epoch of the Renaissance. The society in question might have been
a more or less loose 'chemical' (alchemical, hermetic) association of the tn1e developed at
that time in \'Vcstern and Central Europe, or more probably one akin to the contemporary
humanistic 'academics' or 'sodalities'. Some of them arc known to have secretly practised
religious-magical rites inspired by heathen mythology and occult lore, and perhaps also
bv the dreams and imaginations of their members. Nothing definite is known as to the exis,tcnce of three degree~ of initiation in societies of the ab~w-mentioned type, but in the
writings of Pico dclla i\lirandola ( 1463-1494) and Marsilio Ficino dealing with ancient
mysteries, much speculation is offered on the question of initiation and the number of its
degrees been three. 1 he number three has an archetypal character in hierarchic groups.
Many associations of a more or less religious or esoteric character have at different times
adopted three degrees of initiation, to mention onlv the medieval masonic guilds and
the modern free-~nasonry, which has absorbed a gre at deal of ancient alchemistic tradition. 1 hrec men standin~ on a mountain with a ~ave arc found, according to Hartlaub,
among typical Rosicruci~m symbols.'' 2 ' \Vhat appears doubtful is therefore._ not so much
the number of degrees of initiation, if represented at all, and the appropriateness of the
"I he 1 hrce Ph ilosophcrs' in such represent at ions, as the existence of a definite
hierarchic svstem in the societies of Ciorgione's time. Hartlaub, who is apparently not
aware of thL: fact that the youngest of the 'tJHce philosophers' has been given the greatest
importance by the painter, is content to characterize him as a representative of the lowest degree of initiation, that of a 'disciple', perhaps. 1-k has also suggested that the array of
the three 'philosopher< might correspond to actual ceremonial attire used in the society
in l]UL'stion. '!he colours, especially, arL' by Hartlaub interpreted symbolically: \\'hitc and
green \\'ould Lharactcrizc a neophyte, red and bl UL' a man at the height of life, gold and
violet, fl11<dly, a true adept. Apart from the fact that violet is represented in the garnwnts of
the old philosopher only as an admixture to purple-brown, this conll'ntiun is not implausible. 1lmvever, every depth-psychologist who has a first-hand knowledge of the subject,
would probably agree that there is no need to assume that the abmc-mcntioncd Lolours
lkpLnd on any esoteric t rad it ion, because they arc archetypally hound to SllL.CL'ssiVL'
i 11 the i ntcorat
ion of the tnersonal it\'.
As suLh the\' snontancousl\'
emeq_~L' in d rca ms
and Wl) rks of i.l rt, L'\llCt Iy as is the case with the symbolic l riads or persons.
I !art la uh has '\\ rcsscd the fund<\llll'ntal role assigned in "I he 'I hrL'L' PhilosophL'rs' lo
tht' L'Mth, <rnd in this L'lintcxt hi.., arguments arc LjllilL' cnmi1lLing. 11w dark rod;. \\'hich






originally stretched over the entire left half of the picture represents obviously the psychic 'interior of the earth' confronted in dreams of individuation and corresponding to
the 'collective unconscious' of modern depth psychology (as represented by C.G. Jung).
The introvertive meditation which is the major tool of most mystical schools, merges
the individual into the collective unconscious, thus reducing the personality to a plastic
state of materia prinw in which it is able to receive the imprint of its innermost ideal self.
It is this state which is induced by the coniw1ctio of the alchemists, resulting in a 'solar
eclipse', symbol of the immersion into the collective unconscious and an indispensable
precondition of that radical transformation of the personality which follows from the
'birth' of a new interior man. In this connection Hartlaub quotes very fittingly Basilius
Valenti nus' occult 'vitriol' formula: Visita interiorn tcrme, reel ~ficm 1do i11n:11 ics occult u 111
lapidem, vermn nzedicinanz. He then also points out the fact that the capacity for mystical introversion was in Giorgione's time regarded as a privilege of the 'melancholic'
temperament, allegedly dependent on the planet Saturn. He interprets the three men
on Giorgione's picture as representatives of three degrees in the development of the
'Saturnian melancholy', hypothetically corresponding to the three degrees of 'initiation'.
In accordance with its introvertive orientation, 'melancholy' was at those times generally
associated with the earth, and hence also with 'geometry' in the literal sense of that word
which is 'earth-measuring' - as can be seen from Albrecht DUrcr's celebrated engraving
'Melencolia I'. The youngest of Giorgione's three 'philosopher< contemplating \vhat may
resemble a dark entrance to the interior of the earth and holding the geometer's instruments: compasses and a square, in his hands, may be interpreted as a representat ivc of the
first stage in the development of the 'melancholic temperament', i.e. of a personality having recently engaged on the path of introversion. 'I he doctrine of three such degrees of
development, viz. three degrees of prophetic pmvcr, is expounded in an early manuscript
version of the treatise Occulta Plzilosopliin (1533) of Agrippa nm Ncttesheim (born 1486),
a version dating from ca. 1509/10.('!' According to Agrippa, the basis of these th rec degrees
of prophetic capacity - all concerned with great changes and catastrophes - is consti~uted
by imagination ( inzaginatio ), reason ( mtio ), and mind (mens) respect iv cl v. 'I he domain
(~f prophecy is correspondingly differentiated between natural history an~i religion. Tl1c
tirst degree is said to create artists, viz. painters and architects; the second, philosophers
(which designation was in those times applied to scientists also) and physicians; the third,
prophets and sibyls. Hartlaub believes, therefore, that Giorgione identified himself with
the representative of the first degree, the young'gcrnnancer' on his picture, the young man
being possibly a port rail of him sci r. 'I he foundation of th is hypothesis is, of Lou rsc, \'L'ry
slight. Besides, Hart lauh's theory of C;iorgione's dependence on the doctrine of the th rec
degrees of melancholy presumes l hat th is duct ri nc was formed, and had been acLcssiblc
to Giorgione, before Agrippa wrote it down. :\othing, however, j-., known concerning the
presumed sources of c;iorgionc's knowledge. Ficino's treatise ( )11 t/1c 'flzrcc/(J/d J,i(c (
\'if<l triplici), on which his exposition depends, and which at that time \V<{s 1m1L'i1 read
in Padua and Venice, mentions the triad of i111ngi11t1tio, mtio and JJ1c11s, hut ignores the
alleged prophetic capacities of the melancholic temperament. It doc.., not assoL'ialL' i111ugi11ut io with melancholy and Saturn cit her.
Hart la uh has pointed out the remarkable and -.,carcel y accidcn t al fact that the combi nt'd ()LJtline of the right hand of the young philmoplwr on ( ;i()rgi<llw\ piLturL' and the
'-quarc he holds in hi-., left hand is strikingly ..,jmilar t() the \Vt'JI ktWWll -..ign f()r the planet
~at urn. 1 his, h<>\\.C\Tr, can he explained hy Ci()rgi<>ne being acquainll'd \\ith tl1l' doctrine


Hcrnzct ic mzd lvlystic Interpretations of Giorgione's 'Tlzrec Plzilosoplzers'


according to which those called to introvertive enlightenment were 'children of Saturn'

- a doctrine often encountered in alchemistic literature and also in the confidential correspondence of Italian humanists of that time.
Hartlaub's concluding suggestion is that 'TI1e Three Philosophers', as well as some
other symbolical pictures by Giorgione, were commissioned by peoples belonging to
his esoteric ci rclc (whose existence is established further below in this work), and were
destined to serve as objects of 111editatio11, as it has possibly been the case with some
pictures by Botticelli, Signorelli, Albrecht Di.irer, and especially Hieronymus Bosch. If is
certainly true, as we shall see, that Giorgione was profoundly influenced by some esoteric
doctrines and that in '~Il1e n1ree Philosophers', as well as in many other pictures painted
or inspired bv him, certain symbolic motifs have been used consciously. But the symbolism of the Giorgionesque p<~inting must, nevertheless, be essentially due to Gior~gione's
own archetypally creative imagination which resuscitated what classical mythology and
esoteric tradition had transformed into ideological skeletons. Hartlaub's one-sided stress
on the importance of this tradition for Giorgione's work fails to bring forth what is essential to e\'ery creative activity: the oriainallv
unconscious character of the source of
inspiration. Svmbolical of this somewhat misleading bias of Hartlaub's important studv
is his O\T1Tati,ng of the significance of the old philos~pher and the underrating of that l;f
the young. Our further considerations will confirm that Giorgione attached paramount
importance to the latter.
Another though distantly allied interpretation of 'TI1e Three Philosophers' has since
1930 been developed by a number of students who identified the three men in the picture
\Vith the legendary three Magi of the East corresponding to the Holy 'I11ree Kings of the
Gospel of Matthew. 'I his idea is, of course, supported by the prolonged existence of the
Cm11pag11io dcgli Ire Magi which issued from the Florentine Platonic Academy, and by
the use of the representation of the Adoration of the rvlagi as a permanent symbol by
the leading members of that Academy. TI1e idea of such identification was conceived as
early as 1783 (by l\ilechcl), but it was nt;t giYen more definite foundation before i930, when
Hourticq put it in connection with an account of the Star of the SaYiour in the Lcgc11da
rn1rct1, a 1 ~th century antlwlooy of saints' lives by Jacobus de Vora~ine. According to the
\..Le~c 11 dll 11urcn, the three 1vlagi were astroloaers who for manv \'cars and generations
sp~nt three davs of cvcrv mo;1th on a moun~1in, where thev w;1it,cd for the :1ppearance
of the Star nro;1hesizcd
l~\'' Balaam - the obliaation
to this hl;lv' service being
from fat her tu son. \\'hen the Star appeared, it proved to be suspended in the air, near
to the earth, and was so brilliant that it was \'isibk even at noon, cdipsi11g tlzc sun itsc?t:
HourtiClJ sug~cstcd
that Cioroione's
the 'Ihrcc J\lani
'-- (_-,
Li was intended to rcnrcscnt
at sunrise, after a night spent on observations of the stars.''~'' But although the story of
the Star of Sa,iour outshining the sun suits remarkahlv the puzzling repartition uf light
in the picture (a circumsL.llK~ \vhich Hourticq does not mention), llourticq's intcrpre"ration docs not square with the fact that no astronomical instruments can he seen there,
and that none of the philosophers have their attention directed towards the sky - except
perhaps the \'l iu ng onL', if WC i maginl' that he watches the star at t hL' 1110111t'n t of it's rising
or shortly al~l'r\\'a'"rds, when still standing abo\'e the horizon.
r\cL(irding tu I lartlauh, the acLount in the l.c~~c11dc1 c111rct1 has sen'L'd as a foundation
f()r a \(lf11t'\\'hat ...,irnilar one in thl' f>t1ssitH111'c (where the sill' of the obst'nations is Lalkd
,\Jons l111pcri1ili:') puhli...,lll'd tlr...,t in ( ;ermany and suhst'qucntly tr<rnslall'd into many
modern language ..... ''" I Ill' J>11ssio11t1ll' speaks of the '1 IHl'c Sagt's ha\ing \\"llitcd for a helia



cal rising of the Star, i.e., its first annual rising before the Sun. n1is indicates that the Star
was conceived as a zodiacal one, probably Spica, - if not as a phenomenon due to some
planetary conjunction, suggesting their membership in a kind of mystery association.(l 1
Among the objections raised against this interpretation of Giorgione's "I hree Philosophers' was that Giorgione's three men are obviously not standing on any high mountain.
This objection, however, is not valid, because an ancient source on \vhich the Lcgcndn mtrea depends, the so-called Scriptum Seth, quoted in the Opus i111pc1fcctu111 in Afott/uzeunz
(a scripture ascribed, probably erroneously, to Johannes Chrysostom us, and composed, as
it seems, in the beginning of the 5th century on the model of a Greek prototype) does not
say that the mountain of the Magi - here called lvlons Victoriolis - was high. '' 1 he i\1ons
Victoria/is is, on the contrary, described there in a way in almost every respect sugges6
tive of scenery like that painted by Giorgione. " ' As the Scriptum Seth was already in the
Middle Ages commonly known in Europe (cf. Wilde i932, also Hirsch, and Klauner i955,
as well as the references they give), it is apparently possible that Giorgione or his consultants might have drawn their information at least partially from this scripture (or rather
from the Opus inzpe1fectum). But there cannot be any question of a formal dependence
on the Scriptim1 Seth, because that scripture mentions twelve, not three magi, elected to
watch for the expected appearance of the Star. 61 '
This dependence has been questioned by Brauer who has pointed out that the scenery
of 'l11e Three Philosophers' conforms to the standard conception of the locus ll1110c11us
recurrent in European literature from Homer to Dante, and even in certain expressions
of Goethe's. 632 This conception of an ideal landscape includes, in fact, always a shadowy
cavern, a spring of water, and a beautiful grove. Since representations of the Nativity of
Christ have been often depicted in this pattern, Brauer has concluded that "I he 'I hree
Philosophers' do not necessarily depend on the Opus i111pc1fcctu111, though they both obviously depend on the same tradition. \Ale would rather say that they both depend on the
same archetypal complex of accessories which can be transmitted, not only by conscious
tradition, but also by the collective unconscious.
According to the evidence of Ivlichiel, the same Taddeo Contarini who in 1525 mvned
'l11e TI1ree Philosophers' was also in possession of the so-called 'Finding of Paris' which
can he regarded as a pagan transposition of the Nativity, viz. of the adoration of the
shepherds. Brauer has pointed out that the latter has in the ivliddk Ages, and even in
antiquity, been interpreted mystically as the counterpart of the ado rat ion oft he l\'lagi. 1" '
Thus, Augustinus in his Scn11011es says: Israel it i pllstorcs, J\;fogi gent ilcs, illi pro pc, isl i /011gc,
utriquc tmnc11 ad m1gulwn lllpidcm co11c11rru11t - a remarkable passage, because the
designation wzgulus lapis ('cornerstone') applied to Christ is an essentially alchemistic
(hermetical) symbol. And it should be observed that Taddeo Contarini (as is known
from the letter of Taddeo Albano to Isabella d'Este, dated 7th '.\Jovcmber 1:; 1 o) also possessed a Nativity (Will 11octe) by Giorgione, now common Iy idcnt i lied (a ftcr ~ lorass i)
with the Vienna 'Adoration of the Shepherds' being an inferior version of the \\'ell known
\Vashington picture.
The persons in this picture arc strictly analogous to those of''! he Finding of Paris', and
they can also correspond with those of ''J he 'I h ree Ph ilosophcrs' alt hough with a d isLTl'p.
ancy of age: the shepherds with the t\vo older 'philosophers', St. Jo...,cph with the young
one. As to the Virgin and the Child, they are not represented in r he I h rec Phi lusoplwrS:
because the theme of this picture is the expectation of their Loming - tlw L'Xpt.'Ltation nf
the ri..,ing of the zodiacal sign of Virgo with the \picil or \tcllu ( 11rist i. I he Llo...,t' assoLia

1 1

Hermetic mzd iVlystic Interpretations of Giorgione~' 'Tlzree Philosophers'


tion of these three pictures as property of the same owner stresses Giorgione's mystical
conception of the Nativity as an eternally recurrent fact - a fact not only repeated every
year in the (external) heaven, but also realized in an internal one each time a human soul
desirous of pure love attains to the blessing of a mystic rebirth. And, though the 'Finding
of Paris' has been rightly interpreted as a pendant to 'TI1e TI1ree Philosophers', the same is
even more exactly true of the 'Adoration of the Shepherds'. TI1e Virgin and the Child are
here placed before the opening of the cave which - if identical with that in 'TI1e Three
Philosophers' - must have pierced the rock and be here shown from the other side of the
latter.'' 11 Its astralistic meaning as that part of the sky which is invisible below the horizon
(psychologically speaking: the unconscious), is borne out by the zodiacal animals (Tmtrus
and Aries, the signs of the emergence of the Sun from the winter darkness), which are
here dimly seen in the dark interior of the cavern. Also St. Joseph is here probably conceived astralistically as their tender Bo6tcs ('Oxendriver') - a constellation in the immediate vicinity of the celestial Filgo.
But whatever can be said concerning the archetypal character of the scenery of 'TI1e
~Il1ree Philosophers', the dependence of this picture on traditions of the kind of Opus i111pc1jcct unz is made probable by the way in which the three 'philosophers' are presented as
students of astral mysteries. In fact, the Opus i111pe1fcctw11 describes the .Nlagi not only as
members of an esoteric society, but also as 1111wtorcs 111vsterion1111 coclcstiwn who (some\vhcre in principio Orient is ju.~ta Occm111111) in silcnth; ct voce tacito Dewn glorUicabmzt.
\!\Tilde, \vho first referred to this source, pointed out in this connection that Giorgione's
three 'philosophers' are characterized 'as representatives of the three ages of man and at
the same time representatives of the three typical forms of the ",;ta co11tcmplatim": the
youth inquiring, the mature man reflecting, the old man teaching'. <' 1'
1 he interpretation of the three 'philosophers' as the Three .Nlagi from the East found
already in 1932 unexpected support in an X-ray investigation whose results have been
published by \Vi Ide in the paper quoted above. ll1is investigation proved that the picture
had originally been painted, though not finished, in a version different from the present
one in certain significant respects, some of which should be mentioned here. In the original version of the picture (cf. Pl. i3) the old man bore an elaborate head-dress with a high
diadem of long, narrow laminae arranged in a fan-like pattern in front. The face of the
Oriental appears to have been dark, though this is a somewhat doubtful point because
no safe conclusions of this kind can be drawn from X-ray pictures. ll1e youngest of the
'th rec phi losopherS: finally, was originally a quite different, apparently at least a thirty
years old person. His face was fine-boned, his tnrofile vcrv' rcuular,
beautiful and refined,
the forehead high, bald, and wrinkled horizontally as if in wonder about what he was
contemplating (,his line of sight being slightly more' elevated than that of the youth of the
final version), his eyes wide open, and his lips painted even more widely than thost' of the
youth. An enchanted smile gave his foce an expression of vivid and intense spirituality
\vhich tilt' youth, in spite of the sensitive receptivity nf his face, is newrthelcss lacking.
1 he heavy, square jaws of tht' youth, his thick lips, big and thick nose, and low, receding
forehead, are i11 a striking contrast to the features of his predecessor, though the physical
roughne...,..., of his L1ce makes the timid wonder and the subtle soulfulness ctrnn'yed to it
by the artist t'\en more fa sci nati ng. 1 he man of tht' X-ray pidure bore \\'hat seems to bt' a
high tu r cap folded up in front and pushed bad;. from his forehead. His hair, if ht' had any,
\Va..., l'OllCl'alcd b\ the l'llp. 1he11.rndscapc in the background to his right consisted of two
rclati,cly ...,ll'q1 hill...,; nn tlw top nf tlw 1warest of them a Lastk was painll'd.



Now, the strange head-dress of the old 'philosopher' might well have been introduced
by Giorgione as a royal attribute. F.R. Shapley has pointed out (1959) that it resembles the
head-attire of the oldest of the Holy Three Kings in Carpaccio's picture 'Virgin and Two
Donors Adoring the Child' (Gulbeckian Foundation, Lisbon), which is dated 1505. This
resemblance, though rather superficial, because there is no question here of feather-like
laminae, but only of approximately the same general outline, is perhaps not irrelevant. It
should be observed, however, that a head-attire \vhich is practically identical with that
introduced by Carpaccio in the above-mentioned picture, is also encountered in another
picture by the same master, viz. 'St George Bringing the Captive Dragon into the City' (in
the church of S. Giorgio dcgli Schiavoni in Venice), where it is borne by the king mounted
on a horse, as in the other picture. All that can be said of it is, therefore, that Carpaccio
used this peculiar head-dress as a royal attribute, but not necessarily an uttrilJlltc of one
of the Holy TI1ree Kings. Other authors believe that it can be traced back to the diadem
borne by the Egyptian Secret Scribe, the priestly hicrogm11111wtcus, according to what can
be allegedly inferred from Poinumdres (the most important of all the hermetical writings),
published for the first time in 1471 in a translation by Marsilio Ficino, and subsequently
(in 1481, 1491, 1493, 1494 etc.) republished in numerous, especially Venetian, editions. As
all hermetical adepts bear the title of kings in the esoteric language of alchemy, and as the
Holy 111ree Kings had to be regarded as such, those apparently divergent views are not
irreconci Iiable.
The fact that the third 'philosopher' \Vas originally equipped with a high fur-cap does
not necessarily contradict the idea of his being one of the Holy 'lh rec Kings, at least if we
are satisfied with the vague mention of the Holy 111ree Kings having been guests from
distant eastern countries. rn1e dark complexion, finally, of the middle-aged 'philosopher'
may be regarded as an adaptation to the traditional conception of the Holy rlhrce Kings
as representatives of the three parts of the world (Europe, Africa, and Asia) and their
major races, descending from the three sons of Noah. 'I his tradition can be traced back
to the early Middle Ages or even to antiquity. 'Ilrns Reda Vcncrabilis (672-735 A.n.) in
his interpretation of the Gospel according to Matthew says: Alysticc u11tc111 Ires 111ugi trcs

partcs 111 w zd i sign ~fi cw zt Asi<1111 Ajiica 111 Eu ropmn, s ilc Iu 11nll1111111 gc 1111 s, j ll od 11 Iri h 11 s _ti Iii s
Noe semi11ariw11 s11111psit. lhis conception has its foundation in mystical philosophy (i.e.
in what, psychologically speaking, is the experience of the unconscious), \'iz. in the idea
that the tripartition (of society or personality) is a necessary prccond it ion for rci ntegration 'in faith'.("'' -n1e three Shepherds and the three iVlagi adoring the Child \\'ere already
for Augusti nus (cf. quot at ion above) representatives oft he Jewish people and the gentile
community respect ivcly, assembled at the symbolical cri h oft he (:hi Id, which rcpresen ted
their integrative principle, the incarnated divine Logos. 1 he Logus - aklwrnistically: 1 he
Philosophers' Stone - is in dreams and visions spontaneously conceived as the product
of the purification of the cornerstone of a square foundation on whit.h a nc\\' house, i.e.
a new personality, has to be erected. 'Ihe cornerstone itself reveals its nature as the male
dream-ego - the hern of folk-tales and myths, and the young 'philo-.,upl1l'r' of ( ;iorgione,
- a partial personality dom i natcd by largely unconsc iou-., dcsi rL' (I i/liclo). 1 he th rec other
'corners', i .c. the act ivc components of the original pers<ln<.d it y (the Su pc r- Fgo, Ipsc- Fgu,
and Fgo) centred respectively about thinking (the old king ()f aklwrny a11d l()lk ta k's and
the< )Id 'phi l<l'>< 1pher' <)f C;i< >rgione) and ah< iut th< iught -dcpcndt.'11 t \\i 11 a 11d aLl i< in (the t\\'t)
elder hrnther1.., <>f the f<llk-tale hero, and the middle-aged 'philll . . ll(1hL1-', \\lw r1..'prcsL'nts
tlwm h<ith ). 1 hc1..,c three constituent.., of the per...,()nality art.' in <1k hL'l1l\ rq1r1..'"1..'11lL'd by thL'

Hcrnzetic mzd iVlystic Interpretations of Giorgione's 'Tlzree Philosoplzers'


three metals: lead, tin and iron, or the corresponding planetary divinities: Saturn, Jupiter
and Mars, who belong to three successful generations. The male corner-stone figure,
representing unconscious desire, is imagined as an eclipsed Sun (the golden essence of
matter latent in the fluid materia prima of the unconscious) and associated with Mercury.
111rough his union with Luna, the virgin goddess of the Moon (alchemistically: silver) he
engenders, according to the alchemists, a complete hermaphroditic Man, the alchemistic
Hcrnwplzroditc (which term, now used also in biology and psychology, is of alchemistic
origin). The four 'male' (active) components of personality symbolized by Saturn, Jupiter,
Mars, and Mercury, were in alchemy also associated with the four 'elements' of antiquity
and the Middle Ages: earth, air, fire, and water respectively. The Logos was the fifth element, the quinto cssc11tia.
Brauer has convincingly put the three warrior-figures of an engraving by Francesco
Brizio in connection with the principle of tripartition before integration. 6 -~:- 111e engraving is a homage to Cardinal Marcantonio Gozzadini (appointed Cardinal in i621) and
bears the inscription: !11 tres divisus ti bi serviet integer orbis. 111e warriors are represented
before a terrestrial globe, in the company of a man looking like a scientist and applying
compasses to it: other measuring instruments are lying on the ground. This engraving is
so much the more interesting to us as Giorgione seems to have treated the same symbolical theme in an alfresco on the Fondl1co dei Tedeschi, representing according to Ridolfi
'geometricians measuring the sphere of the world'. Viewing the fact that the complete
personality is generally imagined, by alchemists as by Plato, as a sphere (the earth, when
still unconscious), the partition of the sphere between three men under the guidance of a
fourth can be interpreted as a confrontation of the four male partial personalities. TI1ese
personalities are also manifested as St. Joseph and the Holy Tiiree Kings (or the three
shepherds) of the Christian legend, and as Noah and his three sons - though a direct
identification of the figures of Brizio's with the latter (conjectured by Bauer) would be
rather arbitrary.
It may be recalled in this connection that in Giorgione's picture two of those three
archetypal figures (those in alchemy symbolized as Jupiter and !Viars) are represented by
only one person, the middle-aged philosopher. 111is can in terms of mystical psychology
be justified by the circumstance that the faculties of will and (conscious) action which
they appear to represent are in a common personality wholly dependent on thought (i.e.
of collective norms and standards) and hence devoid of individual traits (as is the case
\vi th the t\vo cider brothers of the hero of the folk-tales). Possiblv for the same reasons
there arc only l \\'o shepherds in Ciorgione's 'Adoration'. \ Vhenevcr the hermetically active
humanists of the Renaissance spoke or wrote of the /zoJ110 /il1cr, they had a transformed,
reborn personality in mind. 'Ibis was, for example, the case \vith Copernicus when he
wrote of astronomy being 'most worthy a free man' (dig11issi111c lzo111i11c libero) and quoted
Plato's opinion that the contemplation of the Sun, the /\'loon, and the other 'planets' is indispensable for the divinization of the personality. 'Ihe young 'philosopher' of (;iorgione
is such a contemplator. lk is imagined waiting for the manifestation of the \'irgin whose
contcmplat ion wili L'nsurc the realization of the mystery of the Nativity in his own personality.
'Ihe X-ray discovery of the original \'crsion of "lhe 'three Philosophers' resulted in
an i1krcasl'd int nest in their interprctatiun as the I'vlagi of the gospel. Surnc authorities,
hmvevcr, found this intt'rprl'tation difilCUJt to ~KLept ht'CaUSL" rv{icbiel, who had St'Cn the
pidurc J..., L'arly <l'i 1')2') and had very probably known Ciorginnc personally, had not made



any mention of the Holy Three Kings or the Magi, but had called the three men just 'philosophers'. This objection has little weight, and for several reasons. First, the picture deviates in its final form considerably from the original conception and can scarcely be put
in direct connection with the Magi of the gospel. Second, the designation 'philosophers'
must for people acquainted with the tradition based on the Scripturo Seth have appeared
suitable for the Holy Three Kings also. Eisler pointed out (1935) that in a Romanian version of the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus the Holy 111ree Kings are directly called
'philosophers'. Friderike Klauner attracted attention to some passages in Pico della
Mirandola's 'Apology' (Apologia, de nrngin naturali at rnlJn/a disputntio, quoted by her
from the edition of his collected works published in Basel i601) in \vhich the Persian term
'magus' is emphatically and repeatedly identified with the Greek 'philosopher'.'''x fin ally,
if the term 'philosophers' was given the sense of hermetical (alchemistic) adepts, consistent with the designation 'magi', they could in accordance with the common practice of
those times also claim the title of 'kings' in an esoteric sense of that \vord. r'"' 111e fact that
Giorgione's 'philosophers' apparently belong to three successive generations is in good accordance \Vith their interpretation as the Magi from the East, because the latter (probably
as a consequence of alchemistic identification with the planetary gods Saturn, Jupiter,
and Mars or Mercury) had in Giorgione's time been commonly represented as men of
different ages. 6 -1c,
It appears, hmvever, that the Middle Ages invested the Holy ~n1ree Kings \Vith the title
of philosophers also in the academic sense of that \Vord.() 11 Beda interpreted the gifts
brought to the Saviour child (gold, incense, and myrrh) as symbols of physics, ethics, and
logic respectively - the three branches in which philosophy had been subdivided in late
antiquity. A lectionary of the 10th century interprets the Holy lhree Kings themselves
as symbols of the heathen contributions to physics, ethics, and logic, as well as of other
essentially dialectical triads. Since this interpretation \Vas ca. 1500 certainly known in
the humanistic circles in Venice, it appears probable that for the initiated members of
those circles Giorgione's 'Three Philosophers' had many strata of significance, both of
an esoteric and an exoteric kind.r'-1 1 111e opposition of the leafless and apparently barren
old trees in the right half of the picture and the dainty young trees and ivy sprouts in the
left one confirms the view that ''n1e 'Il1ree Philosophers' are concerned with the mvstcrv
of salvation - though not so much in the historical as in the mystical, timeless sen sc. A's
pointed out by Tschmelitsch, the same symbol ism of a beginning new era, lc~l\'i ng the
barren trees of old law behind, has been recurred to by Ciovanni Bellini in a number of
pictures centred around the figure of the Madonna or that of the Christ (the' IVladon na of
the I'vleadow' in London, the Pietd of the Gollcric dcll'AC(lldcJJ1itl in \'en ice, and, especially,
the 'Transfiguration of Christ' in Naples)." 1 ' lhe fact that the cent re of (; iorgione's picture
is occupied, not by the Virgin or the Saviour, but by the young 'philosopher: confirms his
being represented in the role of the alchemistic 'cornerstone: the 'dark (eclipsed) sun' (sol
11igcr), which, by absorbing contemplatively the mystical Virgo (and hence his own dark,
body-hound soul, in alchemy identified \Vi th the eel ipsi ng IVIoon) is to he t ra nst1gu red
into a resplendent Sun.'>: 1
An even more striking confirmation of the interpretation of ( ;iorgio1w\. 'philosophers'
as the iVIagi from the East can be deduced from some details ()f the tahk held for\\'ard hv
the eldest of them (cf Pl. 14). Eisler pointed ()Lil that thL' L<>g-\vlwel m1tlim'd in the lm\'L:r
right corner oft he table 111 ay al 1ude to l he mec ha n i..., m i nvcnkd by the ~a hi a 11 a '->t ni n <> 111L' r
'lhahit ihn <)urrah (8-~6- 901 A.I>.) in <1rdn I<> explain the'trL'pidati()n: i.e. tlw ,1lkgcd peri

Hermetic mzd iVlystic Interpretations of Giorgione's 'Three Philosophers'


odical inequality of precession. 64 ' In this mechanism cog-wheels were imagined between
the eighth and the ninth sphere to impart to the first of them an oscillatory movement, in
addition to the diurnal rotation of the tenth sphere, and the slow precessional movement
of the ninth. Precession and trepidation determined jointly the motion of the sphere of
the fixed stars relatively to the equinoctial points, a motion which in pre-Copernican
times was supposed to be due, not to the movement of the equinoctial points in the
absolute sense, but to that of the sphere of the fixed stars, the so-called 'eighth' sphere of
the cosmical model. 111is motion brings approximately every 2100 years a new sign of
the zodiac to each of these points, and thus starts, according to an astrological doctrine,
a new historical age on the earth. It has been believed already in the Middle Ages that the
passage of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue:

Adsp ice 111uta11 tcm convcxo po11derc 111undu111

Tcrmsquc tmctusquc 111<1ris coelumque projil1ldwn;
Adspicc 1 e11turo il1ctmztur ut 011111in socclo, 1

i.e., 'See this world nodding back the heavy weight of its spheres,
Mainlands and sea-expanses wide, and depths of heaven;
See how all things with joy look forth to the coming new age'
alludes, on the one hand, to this motion of the eighth sphere and, on the other, to the
new historical age which was to begin with the birth of Christ, presaged by the entrance
of the spring equinox into the sign of the Fishes. It appears more likely, however, that
Virgil's hint at an oscillation of the celestial spheres had actually been inspired by preHipparchian conceptions of oriental origin, reflected in the later theory of trepidation. In
fact, already Plato seems to have been led by those conceptions to his peculiar doctrine
of God's becomina
neriodicallv tired of rcvolvina~ the \Vorld in the rioht
direction and letb t
ting it go backwards. 'TI1e epochs in which God resumes his revolving activity would then
mark the beginnings of historical Golden Ages, while those of alleged backward movement of the world would correspond to the Iron Ages.<,..<- 'Ihe cog-wheel on the table held
by Giorgione's old 'philosopher' appears, thus, indirectly to hint at the expected birth of
the Divine Saviour fruit of the co11iu11ctio indicated bv the combined symbols of the Sun
and the Moon, <rnd,the word 'eclipsis'. Both in alchemi;tic literature and 'in direct imaginative manifestations of the unconscious, such as dreams, coniunctio seems, in actual fact,
to imply the birth of a sun-like spiritual child, the 'Philosopher's Son'.
Eisler has maintai1ll'd (1946) that the table in question 'displays prominently a diagram
of the loops in the apparent orbit of Jupiter: Beneath the symbols of the Sun and the
JVloon but overlapping with the latter a loop is, in fact, faintly delineated on the table. It
has the shape of the upper part of the letter er and is drawn in a double stroke. 'Ihe space
bet\vecn the two parallel, curved lines was perhaps intended to be coloured, but has ne,er
been, as it appears - possibly because the collaborator, Sebastiano dcl Piombo, who was
entrusted \Vi th the tin ish ing of the picture, did not understand the intentions of the m~1s
tcr. Upon the upper end of the loop, the sign of the planet Jupiter, 2J, has been painted, but
is now onlv faintlv seen. 1 hus, ~ls L1r as the present author can judge from photographs
and rcprm.iuction~ in print, Eisler\ assertion appears to be corrc~t. Its d1icf intl'rL'SL howcvn, is due to rt'asons nf which Fisler has apparently not bet'll aware.
1 he '>ign and the lnop of lupitn might, in fact, have been hints at tht' conjundinn of
lupikr and Saturn predicted by Johannes Stoctllcr for the 10th of June, 1so4. 1 his prcdicI


tion, corrected by Copernicus to the 12th of May as a first application of his heliocentric
theory, was expected to bring about a religious revolution some twenty years later, when
the two planets would again meet - this time in the sign of Pisces (the Fishes). It is possible that this generally dreaded event \Vas in some humanistic circles looked for as instrument of an approaching liberation from the rule of the corrupted Church, and a papacy
whose debasement seemed to culminate with Alexander VI (d. the 18th of August, 1504).
Taking place in Cancer, and having to be followed by a conjunction in the sign of the
Fishes, signs which are both subject (in an astrological sense) to the clement of water, the
conjunction of 1504 was expected to bring about enormous inundations - in fact, even
a new deluge. It appears also to have been regarded as an antithesis to that conjunction
of Jupiter and Saturn in Aries (a sign subject to the element of fire) which was believed
to have announced the birth of Christ. And it was, in fact, regarded as an announcement
of the coming of Antichrist after 1524. Such a devastating spiritual shock had to be met
with constant devotion to the mystery of the rebirth of Christ, eternally repeated in the
astralistic drama by the rising of the constellation Virgo with the divine Child - the star
Spica, archetype of the Star of Bethlehem. This \Vas, undoubtedly, the mystical attitude of
Copernicus and Giorgione, both appearing to be intensely absorbed by the mystery of the
celestial Virgin and the birth of the divine Child. vVe know, in fact, that Copernicus made
Spica the object of his constant observations in Italy, and that also Pomponius Laetus
was apparently linked by some secret bonds to the mystery of Virgo and Spica, especially
in the form of the mediaeval legend associated with the prophecy of the Divine Birth in
Virgil's Fourth Eclogue.
The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 1504 had to take place outside the loop of
the apparent trajectory of Jupiter (the time of Jupiter's retrograde motion is about four
months), and the sign of the planet on the table of the old philosopher is actually placed
well outside the loop.<r A faint trace of what might have been the symbol of Saturn is
\isible at the right edge of the table, on the other side of the symbol of the J\loon and
symmetrically opposed to that of Jupiter.<qs The symbols at the upper edge of the table
may also refer to the two planets in question; the apparent number 4 may be an inexact
reproduction of the symbol of Jupiter, while the sign between the t\vo horizontal lines
is actually identical with that of Saturn, except for the cross-bar \vhich is lacking (possibly obliterated). Two large points placed each at the same distance of one of these two
mav' renresent
the planets. Verv' faint traces of nlanetarv
(Saturn, J\Ioon,
Jupiter?) can be also suspected in the upper right corner of the table, where two pairs uf
points suggest planetary conjunction.
'Ihc rectangle in which the symbols of the Sun and the Moon arc inscribed on the table
is equally with the number four and other symbob connected with the concept of quatcrnity, a symbol of the kind archctypally associated with the unconscious and the eclipsis.
From a psychological or psychotherapeutic point of vie\v it can he said to rL'present that
sound bodily (unconscious) foundation on which the monument of a harmonious personality has to be erected. This constructive work to be performed under the guidance
of the rapidly maturing child is symbolized sculpturally as the L'redion of a -.,tatue, or
architectonically as the construction of a pyramid, the latter being po-.,sibly indiL-atcd un
the table (in a bird's-eye view) by the roughly sketched St. Andrew um-.,.
An important contribution to this intt'rpretati()fl of the "lhrL'l' i>hilo-.,()plw1-...' has hecn
made hy lridcrikc Klauner in con11cction \Vith the re"itauration of tlw pidurL' in 19-FJ.
i\fr...,. l\.launer had pninted out that lig-treci., (gcnLrally y()ung lrtc-.,) h<l\t' frequent I\ het'll

Hcr111ct ic and Mystic Interpretations of Giorgione's 'Tlzree Plzilosoplzers'


associated in art, especially Venetian art, with the Fall of Man and mythological lovescenes on the one hand, and the birth and death of Christ, as well as representations of
martyrs and saints, on the other. TI1e fig is a very ancient symbol - Jewish, Greek, and
Roman - of sexuality and fecundity, and in ancient Greece it has been sacred to Dionysos.
In the Bible, the fruitless fig-tree seems to represent life made mortal by the original sin
- especially the Jewish people in need of redemption. In Italian art the fig-tree was often
identified with the Tree of Knowledge. On the other hand, it was also identified with the
Tree of Life, if it was able to bring forth the sacred fruit of immortality. According to
Plutarch, a bull (symbol of male sexuality) loses its wildness if bound to a fig-tree. 111is
seems to indicate the co11iu11ctio, as well as the sacrifice necessary for the overcoming of
the animal in man, i.e. of the original sin, according to the Jewish-Christian concepts.1l1e
sanctified fecundity has been represented in art by the Virgin Mary with the Child and
a fig-tree, the Virgin being sometimes apparently identified with the tree, and the Child
with its fruit.
111is is exemplified in a most striking way by rvloretto's altarpiece, painted in the fifteen-twenties(?) in the chapel of the Palazzo \!cscovilc in Brescia. 649 111c Virgin and the
Child arc there pictured suspended in the crown of a fig-tree, while a saint (Lorenzo
Giustiniani) seated beneath is instructed by the Divine 'Wisdom (the Di1i11a Sopicntia
or Hugi<I Soplzfc1) in the shape of a beautiful woman, who, pointing above, tells him the
mystery of this blissful transformation of earthly life. 111e symbolical scheme is here essentially the same as in the ancient relief formerly placed above the main porch of N6tre
Dame of Paris: Chastitv, represented lw the union of the Divine Sun with its Virgin
.Mother, transcend inn
b tl~e Tree of Knowledae
b , and trcadina
b on the head of the Prime\'al
A related symbol, commonly used in Italian art in Giorgione's times, but, as it
seems, only as a parallel to the _ti-uiUitl fig-tree, or rather to its fruit, is the e\'ergreen ii'y.
Significant!\' enout?:h, i\'\' is not encountered in the Old Testament, but nlavs
an imnort
tant role in the mvthological svmbolisrn of ancient Greek mvstcries, viz. the mysteries of
Dionysos, and he;c defi1~itelv ;,~s a svmbol of imrnortalitv. It ~\'as, in fact, ivy which saved
the Divine Child Dionvsos 'rrom b einob burnt in the th;mes liohted
lw hi~ father, Zeus,
when appearing to Semek, l )ionysos' earthly mother. l\'y twisting round pillars, a symbol
of Dionysos himself, seems to have represented that mysterious power which transformed
the pllllllus from an instrument of death and carnal rebirth into that of immortality.
As pointed out hy .\I rs. K lau ner, C iorgione's contemporaries were well acquainted with
these and other ancient symbols and concepts. In fact, towards the end of the 15th century \/en ice had lwcome the centre of a circle of scientists and artists engaged in studies
of symbolics. Among them was Pierio Valeriano ( 1477-1560 ), renowned al ready in 1i:;o5,
i.e. prubahly bcforL' the work al ''!he 1 hree Philosophers' was achieved, as a symbol inll'rprell'r, and latn celcbrall'd as the author of the llicnwlFphit'tl'"".
He descril1L'd niLtures
'-" ,,
of Dionysos the S;,wiour with an ivy-wreath on his head, struck on ancient Creek coins
from the island of 1hasos (which was half-way between Samothrake and 'lhL'Ssaloniki,
t\\'o grL'at centres of the ancient l\:abir-mystcries). 1 hat Christ was SL'Cretly iLkntihL'd with
I )ionysos by ll1L'n belonging to such humanistic circles, can lw seL'll from lkltratllo's picture oft he ho\ ( :h rist with an i\'\' wreath on his head. 1 his ident itication had \'l'r\' ancient
traditi()ns. 1h~, ( ~hristian Fpiph;,~ny, for e\amplc, has been ll\ed at tht' 6th of lan,uary, the
day <if the Lpi ph,111y pf l )inn~sns. \ lorcoH'r, \ "i rgi l's Fourth Fclogut' ( \'. t l)) nwnt ions in
amrn1g tlw attrihull's nf the 11L'\\' born I )i\'il1L' S1.l\'iPur:



Ac tibi prima, puer, 11ullo 11u11wsculn cu/tu

Ernmtes lzederns passim curn boccore tel/us
J\tlixtaque ridenti colocasia _tiuzdct ocmzt lzo.
That is:
The earth will be the first, o Child, to pour forth small artless gifts for thee,
Ivies rambling at random, freely with foxgloves mingled,
And southern beans amidst the radiant acanthus.
No wonder that Giorgione, well instructed as he was by his learned friends, found it
appropriate to introduce a fig-tree and an ivy in a picture representing the ~n1ree Magi
from the East. He painted these sacred plants against the dark background of the rock
which occupies the left half of the picture and to \vhich he obviously attached the greatest
symbolical importance. Maybe he imagined the youngest of the three philosophers looking at the fig-tree and the ivy. ll1e spiritual light illuminating the face of the youth and
eclipsing the sun might as well come from the plant of the Saviour (the ivy) immersed,
together with the plant of the Virgin, the fig-tree, in the dark womb of I\lother Earth,
as from the Star of the Saviour rising above the horizon together with the constellation
\lirgo. As sources of physical light they were both equally negligible. But even in introducing these mystical accessories the artist seems to h~n-e remained faithful tn his primal
source, the Scripturn Setlz, which speaks (cf. quotation above) of 'chosen trees' (clccti urbores) growing on the I\ilons Victorialis.<''
It appears that also Copernicus in choosing the stars whose observations were to serve
him as a foundation for the revision of the model of the world, consciously followed
ancient Dionysian symbolism as an alternative to the Eleusinian one of the J:nr (f Corn.
He seems, in fact to have observed, besides Spica, also another star of the constellation
Firgo, namely Provi11dc111intrix (Greek: rrp(npuyqTq<.:;), i.e. Preceding the Vintager, called
thus by the Greeks of Egypt and represented by them as the infant Dionysos holding a
grape and carried on the arm of Virgo, in which capacity it seems also to have been called
Prol'i11dcn1iator.<''! It should be observed that these two stars, Spico and Pm\ indc111iutrix,
were the sole ones in which Copernicus, as it appears from his notes, was especially interested - in the first of them at any rate to a much higher degree then in the second one.'''"
Also the ivy came to play asimilar symbolical role i 11 Copernicus' Ii fe as that att ri hutt'd
to it, in conformity with classical tradition, by C~iorgione in "I he 'Ihree Philosophers' and
other contemporary Venetian painters. A three-leafed branch of ivy in a circle was, in
fact, the coat-of-arms of Anna Schilling, who played the role of a kind of soror 111ystitll in
the most critical period of Copernicus' life. Encircling the symbol of tht' planet \'en us in
his Alphonsinian note-hook with the contour of an i\')' leaf, Copernicus ga\'t' expression
to his conscious or unconscious belief that his relationship with Anna sened tht' samt'
mystery of the transformation of the earth Iy in to the heaven Iy Ion' which the a nc it'n ts
symbolized by the ivy\ encircling (phallic) columns. 1 his mystery, as \\'ill he seen from
our further considerations, was also the central concern of the life of Ciorgionc, and of
the circle of exceptional men to which he belonged.


Giorgione's 'Three Philosophers' as Representatives

of Different Systems of Philosophy or Astronomy

he studies of \ 1Vilde, Eisler and Klauner, and the details brought to light by X-ray
investigations and the restoration of the '1l1ree Philosophers', have thus convincingly
established the dependence of the original version of this picture on the apocryphal story
of the Three Magi from the East - interpreted as a timeless, archetypal mystery in a way
that became operative in Giorgione's own critical epoch. Considerations based on comparative studies in depth-psychology and the symbolism of alchemy, art, mythology and
folk-talcs indicate, on the other hand, that the '1l1e 1luee Philosophers' might have both
been inspired by Giorgione's own archetypal intuition and in certain respects consciously
constructed by him mentally on principles of hermetic philosophy. Such a combination
of genuine inspiration with conscious thinking is possible only in a state of mind at the
border of dream and waking consciousness, which only advanced spirits can maintain,
and which is revealed with special strength in Giorgione's art. It makes in fact imagination objective and can convev, annarentlv
nowers to objects
of rational considerat t
tion. Since the hermetical svmbols introduced b\ Gioraione in ''ll1e lhrec Philosophers'
prove that the subject of this picture is the expectation of a mystical rebirth - the birth of
the Philosopher's Son whether he be the artist's own individual self, or the reborn sci f of
the Christian civilization - this 'hermetical' interpretation of''lhe Three Philosophers' is
fullv' comnatihlc
with the Tvlaoi
'!he facts tnointcd out hv' Hartlaub make it nossible
that C;ion!ione, while realizin1! this manv-faceted concention
was also (..'1!uidcd bv' certain
speculations concerning the three stages of development of the mvsticallv reborn man
- viz. concerninob the thLrcc dcurees
and the corrcsn~)JH.iing,
modes of the
'-faculty of prophecy - speculations which later became current in certain alchemistic and
humanistic circles.
'I hesc findings, however, arc not likely to exhaust the aspects of meaning in Giorgione's
masterpiece. 'Ihe three men represented in the picture in its llnal form arc only remotely
relatcd to the 1 hrcc i\laoi or the 'Ihree Hoh Ki nos of Christian pictorial tradition - as,
in fad, it must he cxncc7ed
if thcv arc eIH!a;red
i1~ a new historical enactment of till' art
chetypal mystery.., he georndrical instruments or the youngest, most important of tlll'l11,
do not 1.,uit the biblical sclll'me at all. And since the lcoendc.lr\' i\laoi were regarded as
phi l<>'-><>phcrs in hot h an L'Soteric ( hermL'l ical) and the cu ~rL'nt e~oteri~ sense of tLhc.1t \\"ord,
it appears possihk that the three figures of (;iorgione's picture represent philosophers
of historical ti mes, posterior to that oft he Christian drama. 1 hese possible personal isl ic
aspL'Ch of symbolism in 1 he '1 luce Philosophers' have now to be cleared up.
It '>lwu Id he ti rst rec al led that the most conspicuous symbolical features oft his pill ure
ha\c a ,ery general and ahstrad L-h,1racter. '!he three men rcpresenlt'd by (~iorgirnw arc
in onnosition
to each other, although L'noaoed
in the S<lllll' nrohlcm
of utrnost
t t
t t
ti b
imp()rt,u1cL'. 11w diakctiLc.d tension c\isting lwtweL'n them is that cncounll'rL'd \\ithin the
limit.... ol cach per..,onality or human group facing an internal uisis - possibl~ an L'\ll'rnc.11
one ,11..,o indicall'd hy the akl1t'mistic terms lo11i1111di<1 and edipsis. Such a stak ol LTisis






and conflict, making it necessary to confront life with death, light with darkness, the conscious and limited with the unconscious and unlimited - and hence to descend ud i1~(cros
- was in ancient times regarded as the cause of all diseases, as well as economical and political troubles, but also as a pre-condition of the manifestation of the Saviour-God. 1hc
conflict of generations which is felt in the attributes of the three 'philosophers', especially
of the youngest and the oldest of them, the first turning his back to the two others, the
second enaaoed
in somewhat scornful and authoritative sneech,
is that of the you
b b
and the old king of typical folk tales. Since the two older brothers of the folk-tale hero
(in our picture represented by the man clad in Oriental fashion) arc always described
as more or less loyal to the king and hostile to the young hero, it is only natural that the
Oriental keeps company with the old philosopher and is listening to him.
Now, as already hinted at above, conflicting attitudes of the kind suggested by this picture are also characteristic of the different psychic components (partial personalities) of
individuals who have turned away from conventional social standards. 'I his introverted
attitude, indispensable for creative activity, induces them to project their partial personalities outwards in dreams and works of art or literature (if they succeed in creating any).
111e study of such projections reveals that the partial personalities belong to four different
levels of consciousness, as is also the case \Vith their dominant psychological functions:
desire (the young hero of the folk tales), reason (the old king), will and action (the two
elder brothers of the hero). lhese, as well as the corresponding personality components,
can be shown to depend on combinations of different poles of certain basic ontological
polarities.(' 11 As a consequence, any three of them can be regarded as a dialectical triad
provided that the fourth is adopted as dcterm in ing the conceptual held (the d ialcctical
'basis') on which they are to be projected. Si nee the same polarities can u ndcrl ie also
many other dialectical chains of concepts, belonging to different fields, such chains arc
mentally associated with those of the corresponding psychological functions and personality components. ,n1Cy can be called homologous with the latter, and can play tlw role of
their natural symbols - a 'Nell-known phenomenon of the psychology of the unconscious
and the occult.
It follmvs that psychological tensions of the kind apparent in the group of the "I h rec
Philosophers' can be expressed symbolically in a great variety of ways. An example has
already been mentioned in the preceding chapter when speaking of the mediaeval association of the Holy 111ree Kings and their gifts \Vith physics (action), ethics (will), and
logic (thought) respectively. 'the problem \Ve have to deal \Vi th is therefore to Ii nd the
conceptual field (the dialectical basis) of the particular contliLt ( ;iorgionc had i11 mind
when painting his ''I hree Philosophers' - or perhaps several such fields associated with
each other.
\'Ve have already seen that the three men repre..,entcd in the picture, besides possibly
reflecting something of the artist's own partial personality, may by their physical appearance symbolize (1) /1u11wnity as a whole, divided into three major races COITL'sponding
to the three parts of the world and represented by their legendary ance-..tor.., (the -..ons of
'.\ioah); or, more plau-..ibly, (2) the '<1ll'<1k.c11cd' 111i11ority of human !wing-.. represented hy
members or an esoteric -..ociety (the rvlagi). h1rther dimension-.. of -..ignilicann' in this
picture can he disclo-.ed only in reference to "iome spccifi( qualitil'-.. of the t hrce men, -..uch
a-.. their apparent '>OLial po"iition or function. If we take \lichicl'.., lL'-..tim()ny in it... literal
"icnsc and regard them a..., philo-..ophcr.., in the current meaning ol that \\'()rd, WL' L<lll adopt
thl' traditi<lnal as-..<lciation ()f the three ,\Iagi \Vith phy"iL..,, cthiL..,, and l()giL rL'"PL'Ltin'ly.

Giorgione's 'Tizrce Plzilosoplzcrs' and Syste111s of Plzilosoplzy or Astronomy


This, howe\er, docs not bring us far, because it is not likely that anything in the dialectical
relations of these three branches of philosophy could have been of interest to Giorgione.
Philosophy might, on the other hand, with some plausibility be assumed to constitute the
basis of the mutual relationships of these three men in his picture, if it is understood, not
as an abstract, self-consistent system, but as a dialectical chain of philosophical systems
in thci r historical authenticity.
A special solution of our problem along these general lines has been indirectly adopted
by A. Fcrriguto in his book Attmverso i '111isteri' di Giorgione (1933). He has pointed out that
Giorgione, equally with other great painters of the early Renaissance, such as Leonardo da
Vinci and Albrecht Dl.irer, had in his works recourse, not so much to poetical as to philosophical and scientific sources.I'>> Ferriguto goes so far as to maintain that each picture of
Giorgione is first of all a work of thought, and only secondarily that of art. 616 Being born
near Padua (at a distance of only some 20 miles from that city), Giorgione lived apparently under the spell of its learning. But Padua was at that time in a philosophical conflict
with the human isl ic circles of Venice, circles supported by the highly enlightened patriciate to whom Giorgione was manifoldly related by private commissions for pictures, and
by his social life of a gala11t1101110. Ferriguto assumed therefore that Padua and Venice had
played in Giorgione's life the role of two powerful spiritual poles, creating in his mind
that dialectical tension which is apparent in '1l1c Three Philosophers: 6 '~ As this statement
cannot be rightly understood without further explanations, we have to give here a survey
of the relevant points in Ferriguto's exposition.
1hc philosophers of Padua ,,ere towards the end of the i5th century divided into two
hostile camps: ( 1) the Aristotelians of the old mediae\'al school, bearing the imprint of the
abstract and formal mind of scholastic commentators, especially German; and (2) the followers of Arabic philosophy, especially that of Averroes. But in Venice a new philosophical mmTment was at that time under de\'clopment. Bvzantine refugees who after the fall
of Constantinople invaded the city, awakened its mo~t refined cir~les to a keen interest
in Hellenistic studies. lhe Creek language, \vhich had been almost ignored in Padua,
found in \'en ice highlv talented students, who de\'oted themselves to the work of translating C;reek dassi~s t\om hitherto unknown Byzantine manuscripts into Latin. 'l hcse
Vcnct ian human is ts, for the most part fanatic A ristotelians, combined also contempt for
the metaphysical speculations and logical futilities of the Tc11to11cs, on the one hand, and
the Arc1hcs, on the other, with a passionate craving for direct experience, unsophisticakd
thought, and a frL'sh nwLk of L'xpression.
']his humanistic 1110\'emcnt had a leading pioneer in the person
Almor() (Ernwlao)
Barbaro, grandson of the l )ogc Andrea Barbaro and ncphe\v of doges on both his father's
and hi" mother's side, himself nominal patriarch of Aquilea, entruskd by the Republic
with important diplomatic missions, but having renounced a brilliant diplomatic Larccr
only to de\otc hi rnsel f to t lw reno\'al ion of \'encl ian sciences and letters.'] his man, designated by his modern biographer as the most outstanding rcprcsentat iVL' of North- Italian
human i..,111, friend of the leading members of the Platonic Acadenw of FlorencL': Loren10
de .\kd iLi, Poli; ia no, Fi Li no, an:l other celebrated humanists of that tinw, appears to han'
'>et himself as his n\\'11 parliLular task to restore a balanced, lrn111an_f(1rn111 111c11tis, springing forth from hi.., nativc ground, instead of what have been (~dkd the doubk Ll'rL'hral
/1u<r/1,irit'S of the fr11ft111t1e .~nd the Art1l1es.'''' He ,,anted tn rL'IHkr the classi(s, both (;reek
and l{llman, lll tlwir original clarity. to makL' philosophy kss abstruse, closLT tn sensual
expt'IWllLL'. \() hLlp thinkLT.., <llld artists in libL'rati11g themsL'hcs from the strait-jackl'l of



metaphysics, and to promote the natural sciences, especially physics, alongside with art
and poetry. He translated Greek and Roman naturalists, corrected Pliny (who was cherished by the artists of the Renaissance not less than by Copernicus), and carried on an
extensive correspondence with many humanists and patricians. Among his correspondents were the learned Bernardo Bembo (father of the above-mentioned Pietro), Barbaro's
adversary Nicoletta Vernia (Copernicus' alleged teacher and promoter in Padua), from
whom he finally succeeded in extorting a public declaration of philosophical error, and
the bishop of Padua, Pietro Barozzi, whose name will be repeatedly encountered in the
further course of this exposition.
Barbaro and his humanistic friends from the Venetian patriciate, such as Bernardo
Bembo and Gerolamo Donato, were extremely shocked to find Paduan scholars, entrusted with teaching and commenting Aristotle, Euclid and other (~reek classics, being ignorant of Greek. And Barbaro was the first to react lo this, by opening a private
humanistic school in his own house in Venice. He intended originallv (as he savs in a
letter quoted by Ferriguto) to hold lectures on A ristotlc's 'true pl~i losoi1hy' (prc~fi t~'ri 111c,

sed dorni, Aristotclem, lzoc est vcrmn ct solidcmz, 11011 wnlm1tidcn1 etji1cutm11 pl1ilosop/1in111
cepisse) for two or three friends of his only, but after the rumours of this had spread in
Venice, he found his house soon regularly overcrowded by interested listeners (tu11t11s
max concursus 1111dique _f{1ctus est ut,11isi com111u11il)(mo scrvic11d11111 est cti0111 per i11co111111odc, fere pocnitueri cocpissc).r 9 In a celebrated inauguration address, which was later


printed by Poliziano in his Opera 011111ill, Barbaro insisted upon the importance of studying dialectics and natural philosophy.
"I11is school which was so enthusiastically attended by many young patricians (even
though they had to get up at dawn in order to attend the lectures which began berore sunrise) was open a few vears onlv, but it was succeeded bv others, first of all that or ( ;ioruio
Valla. 1his outstandi1;g schola;, whose works were to b~come the source of a great dealof
inspiring information to Copernicus, suggesting lo him even the title for his major treatise, was called to Venice in 1481 by Barbaro himself. His school was no private e1~terprise
such as that of Barbaro's, but was instituted and financed by the Venetian Senate. \'a Ila put
special stress on science, although he based his work on the same foundation of authentic
Aristotelianism as Barbaro did, and he appears to have propounded ideas related to those
of Leonardo da Vinci.(,(
Venice became thus gradually the centre of modern learning, not only in the tlcld
of philologv and nhiloso11hv,
but also in that of mathematiLs and natural scienLes. 'I hL'
intensive activity of the Venetian publishers created favourable conditions for thL' \\'ork
of learned translators of Euclid, Aristarchus or Samos, Proclus, and others. It is possible
that, as a consequence
this development, a part of Venetian youth found it superlluous
to go to Padua, being contented with the somewhat restricted and elenwntary hut highly
modern instruction it could obtain, so lo sav, at home.""' 'I his 111ig1 ht ha\e madL' the relalions het\vccn Venice and Padua \Vorse, adding new irritation to that Lc.lllsed lw the controversy of such leading capacities as J\lnrnr<'> Barbaro and Nicolctto \'nnia (,\\'lwrn \\'e
han' alreadv mentioned in this \vork). 1 he Paduan student...., on their . . ide addressed the
\enctian Senate with energetic demand-. for competent lt'aclwrs, and ll" a LonscquL'nLe of
th i" '.\i icol<'> Leon ico Tome<> was in 1497 appoi n tcd profess<> r i 11 Padua.
Nmv, Ferriguto ha" p()intcd out the remark.ihk foLt that at ka . . t '-,(lll1L' ()t thL rnu'-lt
important cc1111m1...,...,i()ncr . . ()f pictures hy C ;illrgi()ne \\'ere y()ung \.L'llL't I<Jll p<ll riLian"
()t a11prnxirnc.1tcly the . . arnc age as hi111-,elf \Vith lrie1HJ...,, prc1tcLt()r ..... 111 rLic.lli\L'" arnnng




Ghngionc's '71zree Plzilosoplzers' and Systems of Plzilosoplzy or Astronomy


leading Venetian humanists, such as Bernardo Bembo, Girolamo Donato, and Almon)
Barbaro.<<.! To these young patricians belonged Gerolamo Marcello (b. i476) who, according to Michie!, was in i525 the owner of the 'Sleeping Venus' and almost certainly must
have also commissioned it. Gabriele Vendramin (b. i484), probable commissioner of'TI1e
Tempest: and rfaddeo Contarini (b. i478), owner of '1l1e 111ree Philosophers' in i525, and
possibly, though not certainly, also commissioner of this picture. It appears that none of
those young men had studied in Padua (contrary to what might have been expected from
a Venetian patrician a quarter of a century before), their names not figuring in the subsisting copv of the rolls (registers) of the facultv of philosophv and medicine, nor in the
index. .of th~ chapter of that._,faculty. 1110ugh Fen'.iguto's argum~nt, as can be seen from the
example of Copernicus, is not sure on this particular point, he was probably right when
he maintained that these young men must have studied in one of the Venetian humanistic
schools, most prof}(l[J/y tlzat c~( \!alla." 6 ' He attempted to show, rather unconvincingly, that
Aristotelian philosophy was mirrored in Giorgione's pictures, especially in 'The Tempest:
and he subagestcd,
without necessity and sufficient reason, that the themes of Giorgione's
pictures did not proceed from himself, but from his commissioners.
'The Three Philosophers' of Giorgione have been interpreted by ferriguto as rcpresentatin's of those three currents of philosophical thought which towards the end of the
isth century collided in Padua and Venice: (1) the Aristotelian scholasticism of the old
mediaeval school, beginning with Albert the Great (the old philosopher), (2) Avcrroism
(the man in the turban), and (3) the humanistic Aristotelism of the kind which the
Venetian youth learned in the schools of Barbaro and Valla (the young man).'''' 1 To
three men are not historicallv imnortant
oriinal renrescntatives
of those th rce philosophical schools, but (very unconvincingly again) three Italian philosophers of that epoch of (alleged) emancipation from foreign (German and Arabic)
in 11 uence, and at the same ti me (quite correctly from the point of view of our preliminary
considerations) representatives of three timeless types of men.<'('' Ferriguto maintained
that the scenerv of the 'rl hree Philosophers' is an earlv spring morning, in harmony \Vi th
the vouthful ai;e
of the tnrincinal
, and he saw 'in this ...a declaration of humanistic
faith on the part of Giorgione and his voung commissioners.
Now, th is in lL'rprctati~rn, though api1eali1;g perhaps to some minds by its simplicity, is
not satisfactorv, because it docs not account for the svmbolic details of the picture and
docs not coincide with (;iorgione's character. Passionate as the controversies between the
Paduan philosopl1L'rs and tl;e \'cnctian humanists might have been, they had little to do
with the mystery of the m11iu11dio and the birth of the Divine Child, without any doubt
constituting the secret background of this picture. As it will become apparent from our
further inquiry, ( ;iorgionL' was for too great an artist and man to he mm'ed by interests so
peripheral in relation to what seems to ha\'t' been his sole true concern: to penL'lralL' thL'
ll1)".,tcry of Ion'. A It hough (; iorgione 111 ight have remotely <lssociated thL' th reL' men of his
picture with ditfrrcnt philosophical schools, viz. those which in his time were L'ngaged in
passionate mutual strugglcs on \'cnt'lian lt'rriton-, this was CL'rtainlv 110! what has inspired
him t() paint that pictu~-~'. I !is three men arL' dot;htless '1crn1ctit11/ i1hilosopl1L'rs ahm'L' all.
It can hL' asked \\lwtlwr till'\' nw\ be co11IlL'ltcd lw some bonds of e:\tt'rnal, non-L'soll'ric
fellow ... hip, prnfL-..,sional or a;1y ot.lwr. If so, their pr;)fessional or other specifiL contrmnsy
m ll 'i l h ,1 H' an L''>oll' ri c as pee t.
1 hi" point ha-, hitherto L'SC<IPL'd the atlt'ntion of those students of ( ;iorgirnw \\ho,
likL' < <1\ak<1..,ellL 'i<I\\. a . . tro11011wrs in these thrL'e lllL'll. R<.lL'lwl \\'ischnitlL'r-lkrnsll'in





attempted (1945) to give this conception a more precise sense by identifying the three
men with historical persons, as already Baldass ( 1922) and Parducci tried. Her point of
departure was the sound intention to interpret '~l he Three Philosophers' by 'an organic
concept familiar in Giorgione's time and centering around some contemporary figure:
However, her choice of Regiomontanus for the central figure of this picture was not a
happy one - above all because it did not satisfy the above-mentioned condition that the
scientific controversy of this figure with the other ones, representing ancient doctrines,
should have an esoteric aspect. It is true that Regiomontanus was at that time regarded
as the most outstanding modern astronomer, and that his name must have been known
to Giorgione and his learned commissioner. In fact, Regiomontanus had visited Venice
(in 1463-64) and lectured in Padua (in i464), and the famous collection of manuscripts
which cardinal Bessarion had given to the Venetian Senate Library contai ncd manuscripts compiled by him. But all this is too little to justify R. Wischnitzcr-Bernstein's
conjecture. Regiomontanus died in 1476 and his astronomical works could scarcely in the
beginning of the i6th century have inspired Giorgione or his youthful friends and commissioners to the sense of mystery breathed by 'The 1 hree Philosophers: \ Vould it have
been natural to Giorgione or to his friends to see him represented as their contemporary
and, what is more, as a symbol of that approach to mystery which radiates from the face
and the attitude of the young 'philosopher'? It docs not seem plausible either that "Il1e
l11ree Philosophers' should have been suggested to Giorgione or his commissioner by
the astronomer's name, derived from the name of his place of birth, although this would
fit its association with the story of the Holy l11ree Kings and the Alons I111pcri11/is of the
medieval legend.r""' Landscapes with three astronomers or doctors are, as \VischnitzerBernstein has stated herself, 'a pretty common motive in book illustration' and such illustrations representing three men (adepts?) on the top of a steep mountain (at the end of
the Royal Path?) without any apparent reference to Regiomontanus are also known."''As to the two other men in Giorgione's picture, R. \ Visch n i tzer-Bernstei n be! ieved
them to represent Ptolemy and Aristotle. She found some likeness (very remote, in fact)
between the Oriental and the figure of Ptolemy on the frontispiece of the llnal edition of
Fpit/10111c (Venice 1496 ), where he is represented sit tin bo in the com tnanv'
ot Regiomontanus against the background of a hilly landscape with a castle near the
centre. In identifying the old man with Aristotle, she followed Janitschek and Parducci
-=-and in a vague sense also Fcrriguto. She did not offer, however, any definite L'xplanation
tor the association of these three men in the picture, referring onlv to the well-known
frontispiece (bv Stefano della Bella) of Calilei's /Jilllogus ( hrc;1ZL' 16)2), whcrL' Aristotle
and Ptolemy a1'.e represented in a dispute with ... Copernicus.
1 he idea that the young 'philosopher' of Ciorgione adually represenh Copern iL-us, \\'as
set forth by Bruno Nardi in a ncw-..paper article.''''~ Nardi took it (somewhat too hastilv)
for granted that ( iiorgione's 'philo1.,ophers' were conceived as astron()mcrs and 111athcm~1ticians. He rightly maintained that the youngest of them must have been painted ,~ftcr
ll lil i11g /Jlodcl, and that the man \vlrn has <..,erved Ciiorgione for the model must han'
inspired him with the idea of the whole picture. Since, ~Kulrding to '.'\ardi, the young
man ()11 the picture i..., clad, and has his hair done, in the styk ()f Italian student-.. from the
time of the Renais...,allLl\ it \Vas natural to 1.,eck the m()del am()ng the '>tudenh lllld young
teachers of the Paduan L:niversitv in the first vcar-.. ()f the 16th LL'l1tllr\'. :\ardi L.<>Il'>idcred
Benedetto de! TiriaLa, the young ( 1470) and, -..()lllC\vhat my-..tcrillll'> '1 1 adua11 kLturcr of
a-..trn1111111y, as a rna11 wh() might have -..crnd < 1illrgi1>ne as a 11llldtI
hut ht' tuund it

Giorgione's 'Tizree Philosophers' and Systems of Philosoplzy or Astrononzy


more probable that Giorgione had painted Copernicus. Not discouraged by the fact that
the young philosopher has only a very superficial resemblance to some of the alleged
portraits of Copernicus, and actually represents (what Nardi seemed to overlook) a very
different physical type of man, he maintained that Giorgione in his young philosopher
had created an exact likeness of the founder of the heliocentric cosmology. Nardi saw
a confirmation of his hypothesis in the remarkable fact that the steep-roofed buildings
painted in the background of the picture - near its centre behind the young philosopher
- are of the type common in northern Europe, but not encountered in other pictures by
Giorgione. These background buildings should be interpreted, according to Nardi, as an
allusion to the country of the young Varmian astronomer.
TI1e oldest of the two other men in Giorgione's painting fits, in Nardi's opinion, the
iconographical scheme established at that time for Ptolemy, the 'father of astronomy'.
Ptolemy was commonly confused with the Egyptian king Ptolemy Philadelphos, and as
such usually represented (at least up to the beginning of the i6th century) with a crown
on his head. Nardi maintained that also Giorgione had originally adopted this false idea,
and that this was the reason for his having placed the much-discussed diadem on the
head of the old 'philosopher'. According to a suggestion of Nardi's, the new version of
this figure was due to somebody's having pointed out this mistake to Giorgione. 6 <"i This
better informed person must have been the same that inspired the idea of the picture to
the painter and served as a model to the figure of the young 'philosopher' - i.e., probably
Copernicus, according to Nardi's hypothesis. The weak point of this conjecture is that,
contrary to Nardi's assertions, neither the frontispiece of the Venetian editions of 1488
and 1490 of the Splwcrn J\1wzdi of Sacrobosco, nor that of the Epytomc of Regiomontanus
of 1496, show Ptolemy in anything even remotely resembling the diadem of the original
version on the old 'philosopher'. In these publications Ptolemy bears, in fact, an ordinary
crown, combined in the Epyto1J1c with a pointed cap.
As to the Oriental, Nardi found the identification more difficult. After having mentioned Alfragan, a commentator of Ptolemv, well known to Dante; Arzachel, Ibn el
Zarqala, ca. 1~29-1089, who had laid the fou1H.iation for the celebrated Alphonsine Tables;
Thabit ibn Qurrah (an allusion to whom may be seen in the cog-wheel on the old man's
table); Averroes and, finally, Alpetragius (Nur ed-din el-Betrugi), whose system of homocentrical spheres was adopted by the Averroists instead of the Ptolemaean system of
eccentrics and epicycles, he has given preference to Albategnius (Ivluhammed ben Gabir
el Battani, ca. 850-929 ), the excellent observer of stars who in many respects improved the
Ptolemaean system and \Vas considered as something like a second Ptolemy.<>-.,
In his second article on the subject ( 1955, 2), Nardi obser\'Cd that the Arab mathematician Geher ibn Attlah (11th century) of Sevilla would perhaps be preferred by some
students in this connection (potrc/Jl1c csscrc prL:f"crito do t11!11J10 od Albutcy,11i) \'iewing the
fact that he \Vas generallv considered as a 'corrector' of Ptolemv. 1 his, however, does not
appear very um~'incing ,because Copernicus himself is report,ed to have expressed the
opinion that Ceber rather deserved the title of a calumniator of Ptolemv than that of his
corrector." '
If the ''lhree Philosophers' have actually been inspired by Copernicus and if the old
'astronomer' does indeed represent Ptolemy, we should expect the Oriental sage to figure
neither as C;eher nor Alhategnius (a mere improver uf Ptolemy), but some fundamL'Illal
opponent of the lattt'r. Only A\'C1Toes seems to merit this distinction on the aforesaid
premises, ..,o much the more as l1t' also represented tlw other of the two great astrnnorni-



cal systems of antiquity (that of the homocentric spheres), and was also the patron of one
of the two great schools of philosophy represented at the university of Padua.
Nardi's conjecture as to the person who has inspired the theme of ''I he rlhree
Philosophers' to Giorgione, and served as a model for the young 'philosopher', deserves
nevertheless serious consideration. As it forms the last link in the chain of hypotheses
which we have to review, it will be natural to combine further critical comments with the
attempt at a new, synthetic interpretation of Giorgione's picture.
vVe should first remind the reader that we consider the interpretations expounded in
the preceding chapter, viz. our own psychological or'hermetical' one, as well as Hartlaub's
'esoteric' theory and the Magi-theory, as essentially true and compatible with each other
at least in what concerns the original form of the picture reconstructed from X-ray
photographs. vVe should also recall that the c.kpth-psychological interpretation brings
to light the basic significance of 'The rllHee Philosophers' as concerning a critical situation in which some fundamental conflict is expected to be overcome, in a way to heal the
individual or social organism which is the seat of that conflict. This basic interpretation
is compatible with the 'esoteric' and the 'Magi' theory, because 'esoteric' \Vork is at its best
nothing but an attempt at a systemntic approach to conflicts \vhich have to be overcome
creatively, while the Magi story can be regarded as a sy111[Jo/ic account of the critical
situation which results from the conflict and of its overcoming. lhc 'basic' aspects of the
meaning of our picture are of a very general and abstract character, and it is probable
that they should be supplemented by some more specific and concrete ones. Ciorgionc
must, in fact, have been inspired in his work, not only by the existence of conflict and
evil as such, but also by some specific and therefore more apparent problem in which he
was himself to some extent involved. vVe have therefore in a preceding chapter formulated the problem of the interpretation of his picture as that of determining the specific
internal conflict he had in mind, and its domain - its 'dialectical basis', if we approach the
problem from a purely logical point of view, i.e. the personality or the social organism
What social organism may be represented by the assembly of "I he rihrec Philosophers'? Perhaps humanity, perhaps an \nvakcncd' minority of human beings, perhaps a
specific esoteric association. But these assumptions, at least the two mentioned first, arc
too general to serve as a basis for specification of the conflict. vVith them we remain in
the domain of evil as such, of the original sin, if we stick to the svmbolical term of the
Jewish, Christian, and Moslem mvth; of Darkness having invaded the l.ioht if we prefer
to speak in the language of Chi11csc, Neoplatonic or J\~lanichacan n1L'l~phsiLs; of the
Cosmic Illusion Uvltiy<l) or the Unconscious (A 1 idyt1) of l he II ind us and the Buddhists.
1 hough Giorgione, as will appear from our further considerations, must from an early
period of his life have been subject to a transformation of personality which enabled him
to face the problem of evil in its full generality, he could scu-cely concci\'t' it in symbols
completely abstracted from Christian tradition. He was a Christian, in spite of all the
'heathen: humanist ekments apparent in his spiritually engaged art. It follows that next
to human it v the boreall'">l ..,ocial orl,!an ism whose i ncreasi Ill! d is...,oc iat ion and oti ro\\'i ng
inner conflicts mu...,t have rnorallv concerned him was Christi<rnit\, \\'hiLh \\'as durnnt'd
to decay if the attempts al its rene\val from the \'ery roots of its ( ;reLo- kwish ancestry
...,hould prove unsucce...,sful.
It "eem..., t hcrt'f( ire natural to '>eek a cone retl' ex pla nation of t lw 1 h rt't' Phi lo"ophcrs' in
tlw problems()( the Chri"tic.1n, i.e. h1rnpean, ci\'ili1ation of tllL'st' til1lt''-. ,-\11d tlw ( hri ... tian


l_ J


Giorgione's 'Tlzree Plzilosoplzers' nnd Systems of Plzilosoplzy or Astronomy


civilization was indissolubly linked to ancient philosophy, cosmology and medicine, especially to the great systems of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Hippokrates 'vhich had permeated
it through and through, not least by the intermediation of mediaeval Arab science and
philosophy. 111e idea that Giorgione's three 'philosophers' represent three great periods
of European history has actually much to recommend itself~ because of the rather modern equipment (and, if Nardi is right, also modern apparel) of the youngest of them, the
Arabic look of the turbaned one, and the patriarchal appearance of the old man who,
jointly with his table of symbols, suggests an ancient master of hermetic science, particularly in the astronomical or astrological aspects. They are to be regarded, therefore,
not as abstract representations of different human types, but as representations of the
philosophy or science of the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, and antiquity, respectively. 6 :-:!
This means that all identification of these three men hitherto proposed, except perhaps
that of Nardi, has to be rejected.
Nardi's hypothesis, however, seems at a first glance difficult to accept. None of the three
men are equipped with any astronomical instrument, none of them - except perhaps the
young man - has his attention directed towards the sky. Besides, the great renaissance crisis of Christian society cannot be reduced to the inadequacies of the astronomical theory
of that time. If we restrict ourselves to a purely astronomical interpretation of the picture,
we shall be unable to explain its grandiose mystical symbolism.
111ese difficulties disappear, if we call to mind the considerations presented in the
preceding parts of our study. We have seen and we shall be convinced in the following of
the fact that ( 1) what Copernicus was more or less secretly engaged in, was not a reform
of astronomy only, but that of religion and medicine as well; (2) his deepest concern was
the healing of Christian society; and (3) the construction of a heliocentric system of the
world was to him, not only an intellectual problem, but also a spiritual one, the progress
of his scientific work havinab been oraanicall)'
interconnected \Vith that of his own selfb
realization. The most essential aspect of his creative \vork was, as that of every creative
work is, in fact, of an intnwcrt art. Nmv, the introvertive process of self-realization has a
critical stage when the self for the first time gets some control over the personality, and
the 'interior man' is, so to say, born.1l1is stage is in dreams and other manifestations of the
unconscious sometimes represented as the end of a solar eclipse or the birth of a sun-like
child, and people who have passed this stage, dream sometimes of an interior heaven of
their own - a faithful image of the exterior one - having been established on some plane
of reality accessible in dreams.
Since now Giorgione's 'Three Philosophers' are concerned with the 111ystcriw11 co11iw1ct io11is, \vhose immediate consequence is that internal birth, their attention is presumably
directed tmvard that internal heaven for whose study no astronomical instruments are,
of course, needed. 'I his is confirmed by the fact that the young philosopher contemplates
light coming from the most unexpected direction, that of the dark rock symbolizing the
\Vomb of the rvlothcr Earth, i.e. the deep 'collective' unconscious where the mysterious
birth of the Interior Sun is taking place. 'lhe two cider philosophers, creative geniuses
probably they also, but having no longer full contact with that central mystery of life, can
only approach it by calling to mind experiences they once have made. This attitude of
theirs is expressed by their introvert look. 'l he fact that (~iorgione associated these three
men \vith the Ivlaui of the Christian leth1 end confirms our conclusion that what thcv all
three arc cxpcding, and thL' youngest of them is actually able to perceive, is the appeara1Kc of the Stt'ila Christi, i.e. of the New-Born Sun itself




All this is not astronomy, but alchemy in the sense of hermetical mysticism, and it
could be expressed in symbols which have nothing to do with the sky and the heavenly
bodies. Astronomical symbols are, however, significant and most common in alchemistic
literature, and they have also been placed on the table held forth by the old 'philosopher',
reminding us that way that the process he and his companions are concerned with belongs to the domain of what might be called 'spiritual astronomy'.
Now, Copernicus must not only have lived through this mysterious transformation,
but also have been inspired by it toward the establishment of a heliocentric system of cosmology. Outward creative work can be looked upon as a waste-product of self-realization.
And just as the Creator God of the ancient Egyptian myth created the universe by purifying himself and finally attaining the state of a fully manifested Sun, so also Copernicus
created his new model world on the way to his alchemistic solification. His creative deed
was, however, of a very exceptional kind: It established the rule of the Sun in nature, just
as self-realization established that of the 'internal Sun' in the realm of the soul. c;reat astronomers might have made similar internal experiences before Copernicus, but none of
them had created as a by-product of this psychic transformation a system of the world
of that exceptional kind. By making apparent and comprehensible to everybody what
previously had been an occult mystery accessible to very exceptional individuals only - a
mystery of physical, psychological, and mental health - Copernicus might have hoped to
effect a revolutionary renewal of medicine and religion.
It follows that to Copernicus the birth of the Interior Sun coincided with that of his
heliocentric system of the world, which he regarded as the point of departure for a healing transformation of the entire Christian civilization. He, and scarcely any other person
than he, could therefore have inspired Giorgione in his painting the rhrce Philosophers:
No other person could more fittingly serve as a model for that young man who, according
to the secret symbolism of the picture was called to save Christian civilization with the
help of the new-born Sun of Righteousness revealed to him by J\lother Nature.
An additional confirmation of this conclusion is supplied by the fact, unknown to
Nardi, that Copernicus, when staving in Padua, identifi.ed himself with the tvlaoi
of the
Opus i111pe1fect111n in lvlatthocw11 by his assiduous observations oft he St cf Ill Clirist i. 1 he
same can be said of the fact that allusions to Virgil's Fourth I:clogue, interpreted as a
presage of the birth of Christ, arc apparent, not only in the ''lhrec PhilosopherS: but also
in Scptc111 Sidcm, the cycle of Latin poems (viz. in the first of them), whose ti rst draft
seems to have been done by Copernicus (cf. Appendix 5). Further confirmations of our
infcreJl(C are afforded bv' SUCh details of the niCtllre
as the rur Cant \Vhich the \'()Llf1<T~ tnhit
losopher originally had on his head, and the Northern Eu rope a 11 cha racll'r of the bu i!dings in the background. Both these details point, in fact, to the cone Ius ion that the young
philosopher was imagined by c;iorgionc as a guest from the :\orth. It i ... e\cn (10'->'->ihlc that
the background buildings were inll'nded to reprc-.,ent the cathedr<ll Lastlc in h<lucnburg
(the castle of that celestial \/irgin \vho, at the mrnnent represented in the painting, might
have _just given hi rth to the Di vi nc Child), and been pai ntcd from \'ague 111 enwries of
some picture or some verbal description.
But in spite of these remarkable coincidences it appears doubtful \\'hether ( :opernicus,
as Nardi suggested, could actually have served ( ;iorgione as a nwdcl for tlw y(lung 'phi
losopher'. In fact, the latter docs not look Ii kc any of the a 1legni port ra i h of ( : opern iLus.
\!\'hat is more, he looks quite differently in Xray photographs in whid1 lw d()l''-> not ha\'l'
muLh re-.,cmhlancc t<> any supposed ( :uperniLll'-> p11rtraih L'itlwr \\'L' h<WL' thc.:rcforL' tu

Giorgione's '11zree Plzilosoplzers' and Systems of Philosophy or Astronomy


conclude that, if Giorgione has painted his young 'philosopher' after a living model, he
must have recurred to two different models at least, and that possibly neither of them was
Copernicus himself. \Ve cannot even exclude the possibility that Giorgione might have
conceived his young 'philosopher' only as a representative of some circle of young scholars or students of the Paduan university who, like Copernicus, were fascinated by the
idea of the formation of a new system of the world. Some light on the question as to who
might have been these men will be offered in the course of our further considerations.
An apparent difficulty for the hypothesis that the young philosopher was at least
originally conceived as identical with Copernicus arises also because the square and
compasses in the hands of the young student of nature, though not incompatible with
the astronomical profession, characterize him rather as a geometer in the original sense of
that \vord, i.e. one \vho measures tlzc eartlz. It should be pointed out, however, that also in
this case an alchemistic symbol of the stage of personal development which Copernicus
must have reached at the epoch of his solar inspiration in Padua or Venice coincides with
an actual aspect of his revolutionary work.
\Then he, probably in Padua ca. i502, became acquainted with the passage of Cicero's
Arndemicoru111 qucstio11u111 libri duo where Hicetas of Syracuse is ascribed, on the authority of Thcophrastus, the (strictly speaking untenable) view that all heavenly motions are
only apparent and due to the motion of the earth, this gave him a powerful stimulus toward constructive work on his new model of the world. His studies of the triple motion of
the earth, though based on astronomical observations, constituted the most characteristic
and revolutionary aspect of this work. And even merely because his discovery \Vas a creative and hence magical act, requiring from him a personality transformation by descensus
ad i1~/cros, he must have been regarded by his alchemistically oriented contemporaries
as a gco11w11ccr, i.e. one who diYines from signs of the earth, just as Giorgione's young
philosopher apparently does.',_, In that respect he was in their eyes a representative of the
first degree of 'melancholv', that t)Cculiar
state of mind \vhich alreadv/ classical antiouitv
ascribed to all creative scientists (Panofskv and Saxl, 192)), and which Albrecht Di.irer in
his celebrated engravinab klclc11colill I ch<.~racterized bv -geometrical figures and instrumcnts. Ciorgione's alfresco (now destroyed) on a corner of the Fo11dnco dci Tcdcsclzi, representing 'geometers measuring the earth', had to him, most probably, a somewhat similar
symbolical meaning. It should be especially noted that the winged virgin (the soul) on
Di.ircr's engraving holds in her right hand compasses pointing downward on her lap and
open so as to form an inverted letter V, exactly as Giorgione's young philosopher docs.
1 he illustration in P. Pincius' Venetian edition of Macrobius' commentary !11 Son1ni11111
Scipionis ( 1500), reproduced by L \'cnturi (1913), shows three astrologers with instruments employed in obscnations of cortlzq11akcs, wind, and stars respectively, this affording an interesting con fl rmation of our conclusion that the youngest of the th rec 'ph ilosophers' of ( ;iorgi(~ne is interpreting the 111otio11 cf tlzc cart/~, an :irt to which Copernicus
towards the end of his sojourn in Padua (ca. 1503) gave a new and grandiose meaning.
His cosmological thought followed, in fact, the same path as that trodden by till' mystiL-s
in their striYing after personal metamorphosis: 'lhrough Nature to the lncarnakd ( ;od,
through the Earth to the Sun.
\\'ho arc, precisely, the two men behind the young 'philosopher' in ( ;iorgione's painting
is a question uf secondary import<rnL-t'; but they are, undoubtedly, his predecessors, most
prnhabl y r\ vcrroi..~s and Ptokmy, as suggested aho\'e in another conned ion. 1 hey dn not
appear to belong to the same world as the youth to whom Nature's light is being revealed.




To him they are, in a sense, only ghosts of the past. And though he may imagine that he
hears their arguments, he is actually alone with Nature and her revelation.
An alternative interpretation of the two older 'philosophers' can be deri ,reel from associating them with the two domains of practical and spiritual activity which Copernicus
intended to reform besides the intellectual domain of cosmology, viz. medicine and religion. Also in this case they may be thought of as representatives of the Middle Ages and
Antiquity respectively, because in the course of the dialectical evolution of civilizations
the centre of gravity of intellectual activity can shift gradually from religion to philosophy
and then to natural science - and philosophy means also 'hermetic' philosophy, i.e. psychic and mental therapeutics. An interpretation of this kind would be preferable to that
mentioned above, because it would give us the opportunity of imposing on the two older
men an additional condition which they obviously should satisfy to fit the esoteric aspects of Giorgione's painting: They should represent, not only masters of esoteric activity
in medicine and religion, respectively, but also those of hermetic, i.e. alchemistic gnosis.
The old man might in that case be identified with the 1hricc Greatest Hermes, or perhaps
with Pythagoras.1l1e latter assumption is supported by the fact that Copernicus regarded
Pythagoras as his great predecessor, apparently even as his own earlier incarnation,'q and,
on the other hand, by the circumstance that also alchemists occasionally considered him
as their patron.
111us, e.g., the first printed version of the anonymous Tur/Ju pliilosoplzorum, the most
widely read and most commonly quoted of all the alchemistic treatises of the 1\/Iiddle
Ages, having the fictitious form of proceedings from an alchemistic congress, is introduced by a certain Arisleus as a gcnitus Pytlwgornc, discipulus ex discipulis Hcmzctis
gratia triplicis, while another, later version of the same work pretends to be an account
of discussions held in tcrtio sy11odo Pytlwgorico.<'-:" 'l his is even more remarkable as the
famous alchemist, Bernardo, count of Treviso, \vho vvas a pioneer of the alchemistic revival in Treviso, Padua, and Venice in Giorgione's times, referred to the Turlh1 as his most
important literary source.
\Ve cannot, however, disregard the fact that not Pythagoras, but Hermes was the
highest authoritv of the alchemists. 111e diadem which the oldest of Ciorgione's three
'philosophers' or iginally bore, inspired (as argued by \Vi Ide, Hartlaub and o~hcrs) by the
hermetical Poi111l111drcs, points to the old 'philosopher's' kingly position, presumably similar to that of the Egyptian 'I hoth, the 'Scribe of the n inc Cods' or even 'Seri be of the King
of Gods and men'.
As to the Oriental, he should, in either case, be interpreted as represcntati\'C of the
alchemistically tinged Arabian medicine of the Middle Ages, perhaps Rhazes (Abu Bekr
?vluham med ihn Zakariya al Razi, 865-929 A. D.), the 'Arabian II i ppocratcs', or A \'icen na
(Abu Ali Husain ihn Abdullah ihn Sina, 981-1037 A.D.), the 'Prince or Physicians', or e\en
Averroes again. Averroes was in fact also knmvn as a medical writer, his'( ~ompendium
of the Science of rvtcdicinc' having been translated into Latin hv thL' I )th centurv Jewish
physician Jacob Bonacosa of Padua (cf. Cordon, p. 242). One c:>Lild aisn think <;f c;elwr
(Abu-Musa-Jahir-ihn-Haiyan, second half of the 8th ccnturv), the most LrnHHis of the
Arabian alchemists, 'father of modern chemistry', \vim inllu,cnced all thuse mentiont'd
above. Rhazcs and ( ;cher \Vere the two authorities wh()'-iC writings have guided the first attempts Clf Bernard() Trcvisano at finding the phil()-;()phn._,' ..,t<111L' (LL I Iart l.wh Jl))LJ p. -P).
It ">lrnuld he ohsencd in thi..., conncctiClll that ( ;i()rgione's ( )ricntal rc..,1.:111hk.., the pidurc
(If a physician ak hem ist sketched by /\I hrcc ht I )i.'1 rcr i 11 \'L'll iLL'.' '

Giorgione's '17zree Philosophers' and Systems of Plzilosoplzy or Astrononzy


TI1e symbolical role to which Giorgione assigned the two older 'philosophers' in his
painting proves that they, although acknowledged as great adepts and masters of their
science in time past, were doomed by him to be surpassed by the young initiate of Nature.
It was ca. 1503 that Copernicus gave indirectly a new cosmological significance to the hermetical mystery of solificatio, whose full import the alchemists did not yet grasp.


The Early Works of Giorgione in Relation

to the Origin of <The Three Philosophers'

ur discussion of the meaning of Giorgiones 'Three Philosophers' has led as in the

preceding chapter to the conclusion that Giorgione must have been in important
contact with Copernicus during the latter's studies in Padua. Do any of his other works
cast additional light on the relationships between these two men?
1he chronology of the paintings more or less commonly ascribed to Giorgione is very
uncertain and controversial, both in what concerns the actual dating and the mere succession. v\Te shall make reference to the opinions of different authorities in the following
chapters, when revie\ving those works of Giorgione and his follmvcrs that arc of interest
for the central problem of our study. But sincc'rll1e Three Philosophers' seem to mark the
end of Copernicus' Italian period, and since everything or almost everything Ciorgione
might have painted before, must in that case fall in that period, it is, above all, the dating
of Giorgione's early works we are concerned with.
rfhree paintings only have, as yet, been unanimously attributed to Giorgione by modern critics: the 'Madonna of Castelfranco', '1he rl hrec Philosophers', and ''I he Tempest',
the latter being the one of Giorgione's works which, next to ''I he 'Ihree PhilosopherS: has
appeared most enigmatic and has given rise to most controversial interpretations. TI1e
critics have also been almost unanimous in respect to the 'Portrait of a Young Ivlan' (the
'Giustiniani-portrait', since 1891 property of the Berlin Gallery), the sole exception being
that of \Vickhoff, who ascribed this portrait to Ciorgione's collaborator Sebastiano dcl
Piombo. A high degree of consent has also been attained in respect to the 'Judith', lHJ\\. in
the St. Petersburg Hermitage, a picture which until the 18th century was believed to be
a work of Raphael. All these works are unanimously regarded as earlier than "I he Three
Philosophers', except 'rlhe Tempest' which modern critique has been inclined to consider
as contemporaneous, somewhat later, or even as the very latest of C~iorgione's works.,,-Subscquent research ( Hofstedc 1957) has cstabl ishcd, however, as al most certain that the
Braunschweig portrait of a young man as David (originally with the head of Col iat h
vvhich, hmvever, has been removed by curtailment of the picture after 1650) is a self-port rait of Ciorgione (dated by Hofstede, somewhat controversially, ca. 1506 and not later
than 1508), and as at least highlv tnrobablc that the so-called 'Laura' (a svmhol
of ncrsnn,
ality transformation) in the Ku11stlristorisc/1cs ,\/uscll111 in \'ienna and the 'TLt-ris portrait'
in the Fine Art Society in San Diego are authentic works of hi.., own. In what L-onCL'rt1S
the last pictures, this is confirmed hy inscriptions on the back, the first d1.1ll'd 1so6, the
second, whose authenticity and the authorship of ( ;iorgione is denied by hocL-o, with
a partially obliterated year number believed to he 1505 by Richll'r, hut more c<i1111110nly
read 1508. 1 '-~



1 hese pi ct LI res and the al frc-..cos

the Fo11d11co dci Tcdcscl Ii in \'en iCL' ( I )08; obi itcrated, hut partially knmvn from the 18th century engravings hy ;\..\/1. /anl'lti) L<lll he said
t<> constitute a kind of frame of reference for the many others, \vhich arc at iL'ast some
\vhat more cont rnver..,ial. To t hc..,e belong severa I grnu P" of pill u rL'" ra ngi 11g ( ;.1-... the LTi tic..,

Tlze Early Works of Giorgione


generally agree), along with the frescoes in the Casa Pellizzari in Castelfranco, among the
very earliest works ever attributed to Giorgione:
(1) The two pictures in Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence: the strongly Bellinesque 'Fire
Proof of Moses' and 'Judgement of Solomon' believed by Fiacco (1941) and partially by
Coletti ( 1955) to have been executed with the collaboration of Giorgione's imitator, the
alchemistic engraver Giulio Campagnola, and by .Morassi, with that of Giorgione's early
associate, the mystically minded Vincenzo Catena; (2) a group of small pictures wrapped
in an atmosphere of mystery - four, or at least three of which ('Leda', the 'Idyl' the 'Old
Man with an Hour-Clock and a Youth Playing Violin' (cf. Pl. 15), and, possibly, 'Venus with
Cupid') seem to have been destined for the decoration of some small piece of furniture
(a jewel-case, perhaps) - the wonderful 'Chastity' (cf. Pl. 16) being the most interesting
of the remaining; (3) diverse representations of the Holy Family, viz. the 'Adoration of
the Magi' in the National Gallery in London (formerly regarded as a work of Giovanni
Bellini and, by some authorities - Morelli, Berenson, L. Venturi - as that of Catena), the
'Holy Famil/in the National Gallery of Art in v\Tashington (by Venturi and, originally, by
Berenson also attributed to Catena), and the 'Adoration of the Shepherds' existing in at
least two replicas, one at the National Gallery of Art in vVashington (which is the most
perfect) and that of the Ku11stlzistorisc/1cs 1VI11sc11111 in Vienna - a third replica or a copy
constituting part of the Cook Collection in Richmond; the first two of these replicas are
generally regarded as original works of Giorgione (except for a few authors, the most notable of whom, Berenson, gave them first to Catena, then to Titian), 1vlorassi being alone
in referring
them to Gior<~ionc's
late tncriod 1506-1510; thcv' arc remarkable, not (~1ly for
their beauty, but also for being probably identical with the two 11otti mentioned in 1510 by
Taddeo Albano in his letter to the marchioness Isabella d'Este as the property of Vittorio
Beccaro (the mo/to pc1fcttc one) and Taddeo Contarini - and by their thematical and
compositional affinity to 'The Three Philosophers'; and (4) a group of pictures referring
apparently to the myth of Paris, especially the little picture 'Paris exposed', almost unanimously attributed to Giorgione by modern writers, and the so-called 'Finding of Paris',
lost, but known from a cony
lw David Teniers and a fraornent
(or cony
of a fragment)
'-the Budapest iVluscum (cf. Pl. 17), in its conception and composition related to ''I he ll1ree
P11i1 <)S<) i1 l1 e rs'.
Most of these pictures arc thematically related to the birth of a divine child or, at least,
that of a future hero of love. All, or nearly all of them must al most certainly have belonged
to the creat ivc backuround
of (;ioroim~e
at the time in which he conceived ''l he "Ihree
Philosophns'. 'I he same can he said, as we have seen, of the Castclfranco Ivladonna, the
'Judith: and the Berlin portrait. 'lhe date of''lhe "lhree Philosophers', however, has been
estimated somewhat differently hy differL'nt authors. \\'hen comparing such estimates it
should he kept in mind that the t1nal \'ersion of the picture (to which most datings refer)
may be several years later than the original one. Richter, who has no doubt on this point,
sets the origin of "I he "l hree Philosophers' immediately after that of the Castl'ifranco
IVladon n a ( w horn he places st yl isl ically before 1500, or even before the 'Holy Family' and
shortly after the' Rape of Europa' (lost, but known from a copy by Teniers), which, according to his opinion, must haw bL'L'n t'\ecuted in, or before, 1495, because Albrecht Di.'1rt'r
appear . . to h;.ne taken a note of it in a sheet of drawings now in the Allwrtina.''" As to tlw
final ver'\ion of''lhe 'lhree Philosopl1L'rs: l.. lusti, who in the late ninl'lcen t\\'L'nliL'S \\as
"till rl'garded a.., onL' of the lcc.1ding authorities on ( ;iorgione, rnaintaint'd it to han' lk't'n
achieved ..,Jwrtly after 1c;o4.






Such an early dating must, vice versn, influence that of the entire early oeuvre of
Giorgione, especially that of the Castelfranco Madonna, whose origin has in that case
to be put before i504, contrary to the opinion of those who set it in connection with the
death of Matteo Costanzo. This view has been taken by Gronau and Cook, and, as we have
seen, by Richter. The Berlin portrait, which is of special interest to us, has been assumed
by Richter to be approximately of the some age as the 'Judith', whom he dated 1497/98, and
has been referred generally to the last decade of the i5th century by Cook. 'I hose authors,
by far more numerous, who stick to the later dating of the Madonna, assume considerable later dates for the pictures with which \Ve are concerned. Morassi puts the Berlin
portrait shortly ~1fter the Madonna.c18 " According to Heinz, the dating before i504/o5 (i.e.,
presumably not later than the first half of i504) is now more generally accepted.<~ 1 As to
'The Three Philosophers', the more recent dating of their first version has been influenced
by an observation of 'Wilde who pointed to some affinity bet\veen the final head-form
of the old philo~opher and that of the 'Laura', indicating that the picture must have been
achieved in the years 'immediately before i506'.<>x!
Most writers on the subject have since that time preferred an even later dating, placing the final version of 'The 1hree Philosophers' in the period 1506-1508. 'I his dating
is commonly justified, on the one hand, by the rather advanced style of th is version of
the picture, marking the end and culmination of a 'romantic' period in the evolution of
Giorgione's art and, on the other hand, by the radically different, 'classical' style of the
alfrescos of the Fo11daco dei Tcdesclzi, known to have been executed in 1508. 'I1rns, Salvini
puts the 'Three Philosophers' together \vith the 'Terris Portrait' immediately before the
alfrescos of the Fo11daco dei Tedeschi, and at the end of a sequence in which they are
preceded by: ( 1) the 'Adoration of the Shepherds'; ( 2) and (3) the Uffizi pictures; (4) the
Berlin portrait; (s) the 'Judith'; (6) the Castelfranco alterpiecc; (7) the 'Laura'; (8) and (9)
the 'Holy Family' and the 'Adoration of the Magi'; ( 10) the 'Venus' of Dresden; and, finally
perhaps ( n) the 'Tempest' which, according to Salvini, might just as well have preceded as
succeeded the 'TI1ree Philosophers'.<lii\ As even earlier work of Giorgione than those mentioned above mav be the alfrescos of the Casa IVIarta-Pellizzari (earlier referred to under
the name of Cas<~ Pellizzari) in Castelfranco.
Heinz suggested, more precisely, the following seq ucnce: ( 1) 1 he Uttizi pictures, not
before 1500; (2) 'Judith', between 1500 and 1504; (3) the Berlin portrait, 'before 1504/05'; (4)
the Castelfranco altarpiece, ca. 1504/05; ( 5) the 'Boy \Vi th an Arrow' oft he K1111st /1 istorisc/ics
,\;[usewn in Vienna (possibly a copy, both the original and a copy have been mentioned
by 1\1 ichiel as early as 1531 ), ca. 1505; ( 6) 'Laura', 1506; ( 7) ''J he '[ h rec Phi lo'.->ophcrs' and the
'Tempest', 1507/08. 1' '
vVilde inferred (1932), from studies of X-ray pictures, an afnnily hetWL'Cn '"!he 'Ihrce
Philosophers' and the 'Tempest', and he dated them much earlier than Sahini and Hein;.
He regarded the 'Tempest' as an carlv \Vork of ( ;iorgionc, \Vith the Tindinu of Paris'
(de'.->ig~1atcd by Jviichiel, who almost c~rtainly knnv CLiorgione personally, as ~11L' of th~'
masters first works) as an intermediate link."'' Although \Vilde in the same paper apparently contradicts himself by declaring that e'->'->ential changes disclosed by the \.ray phn
tographs of the picture can impossibly have been introduced long aflL'r the pidure had
been painted in ih original form, this refers po..,sihly to the Lcntral figure ()f tlw pi1.'ture.
hut not nccessarilv to the other ones.''''
.\Jr..,. I" Kimmer distinguished, in fact, n<>t ()nly two, hut ,tour "tagL'" in the gt'll1.'si-. nf
'The Ihree Philo"opher<. She pointed out that the rnd:. with laurel <ll1d in mu'it han'

Tizc Early Works of Giorgione


been painted in the first stage, and left since unchanged, in contradistinction to all the
remaining parts of the picture. To this stage belong also the background landscape and
the figures of the two older 'philosophers' in their original shape, as well as the thicket to
the right. ~I he young philosopher, on the other hand, must even in his original form have
been added fl rst in the second stage, the same being also true of the leafless tress projected
on the background of the sky behind him. Both the landscape and the figures have been
radically changed in the third stage of the work, in which they have been brought to their
present form. The fourth stage has consisted only in the addition of some trivial details,
such as the roughly painted, brownish leaf branches to the right and the shreds of grass of
the same colour hanging down from the rock to the left.
Mrs. Klauner believes that the greatest interval of time between successive stages was
that between the third and the fourth stage, because of the great difference in the type of
colours and the painting style here apparent. But the stylistical differences pointed out by
\Vilde in the first of the two passages quoted seem to indicate that also the first and the
third stage may have been separated by a not inconsiderable lapse of time. It seems therefore permissible to assume that the picture was begun towards the end of Copernicus'
sojourn in the territory of the Republic, probably in 1503.
n1e absence of the most important figure, that of the young philosopher, from the
picture appears significant for the first stage. Jointly with the fact that this figure, both
in the form given to it in the second stage, and in that belonging to third stage, has not
much resemblance to any known portrait of Copernicus, it may be taken as an indication of the picture having been begun before Copernicus' departure from Italy. Since
Giorgione worked on this picture probably in Venice, it may be conjectured that he had
asked Copernicus to come from Padua and to sit for him, but that Copernicus did not
come because of shortage of time, the plague reigning in Padua at that time, or for some
other reason. After having waited for some time in vain, possibly until the final departure
of Copernicus rrom Padua, Ciorgione might have proceeded in the second stage of his
work to paint a fanciful figure of the young 'philosopher', it: in fact, he did not use some
other model (in his eyes possibly representative of the same creative idea), as he appears
to have finallv. done in the third staoc
with a model whom he had not used before. He left
the picture u n tin ishcd, as he usuallv did.
He did not, olwiously, much car~ for his pictures, these waste products of his personal
transformation, after the transformation had been actualh achieved. He left the finishing required by the commissioners to his disciples, amon'g whom Tit iano Vecellio and
Sebastiano Luciani (the latter called later de! Pio111l10 after the office of the seal-keeper
of the Roman Curia held by him since 1531) were the two by for the most important. In
th is case, as ,\I iL-h iel asserts, the work has been done bv Se bast ia no. Modern research
has proved, hmn'\'er, that Sebastiano's contribution to this picture has been insignillcant. ;\Jost or the L-hangL'S introduced in the picture exhibit features characteristic of
Ciorgione\ own style. It is true that, as \,Vilde observed in 1931, the figure of the young
'philosopher' has, in what L-onccrns the form of the head and the hands and the dot hes,
much attlnity to the art of Sebastiano. It resembles espt'Cially the figure of St. John the
Bapti...,t from Scha . . tiano's 111astcrpit'Le, the altar picturL' of San Cio\anni Chrisostomo, in
\'en ice - a pidure Lomrnissioned and probably painted in the )'L'i.lr 1.:;o~/1.:;oS. Hut \Vilde
ha..., not withdrawn ( llJV l his original suggt'stion ( 19_H) that the young 'philosopher' might
in ih final form bL' ,1 \\ork of Sd)astiano, lwcause athnitics, as those mentioned ahon\ arc
aJ...,o ,1ppare11t i11 the origi11al form of this flgtlrL'. 11wy arL' simply <lL'CtHll1ll'd for by the fact



that Sebastiano had been influenced by Giorgione. \Ve can infer from them, however, that
Sebastiano has been especially impressed by that central figure of (;iorgione's masterpiece
whose mystery he might to some degree have known. In fact, the young 'philosopher' and
explorer of mysterious Nature has been represented by Giorgione as immersed in the
Dark Night of the Universal Soul from \Vhich the New Light has to emerge, and which
therefore is indicated by the arcane word eclipsis on the old philosopher's table. 1 he young
hero has thereby been associated, or even identified, not only with an eclipsed sun (sol
nigcr of the alchemists), but also \Vith St. John the Baptist, patron of the alchemists and
all those searching enlightenment in the darkness of the unconscious. As the antithesis
sol - sol niger, i.e. Christ - John, was known to Copernicus and has been attached great
symbolical importance by him, as we shall see, this may be regarded as a new indication
of his having served Giorgione as a spiritual (though not physical) model for the figure
of the young 'philosopher'.
The two older 'philosophers' are much more roughly painted, except for their hands
and feet. Hourticq believed he recogn izcd Sebastiano's style in both those figures, whose
execution he judged very severely, and to some degree also that of the entire picture. 1''s
Baldass pointed out that the all-too short arms of these figures, which Hourticq had believed to be characteristic of Sebastiano, are present also in the X-ray picture, but he still
admitted the possibility of these figures, except for the heads and perhaps also the feet,
having been finally painted by Sebastiano. 6 "' 9 Mrs. Klauncr has observed, however, that
the head of the ol<l 'philosopher', as well as his hands, which she considered as definitely
Giorgionesque, were finished first after the clothes had already been painted in their
final form.r"J" She has concluded therefore that both these figures have been painted by
Giorgione alone, and that only the trival details added to the scenerv in what she has
called the fourth stage in the genesis of this picture, are due to Sebastia no.
Our conclusion that the conception of the 'l hree Philosophers' has been inspired to
Giorgione by Copernicus, perhaps in the course of some pri\ate and very intimate conversation, will be substantiated in a more satisfactory way by the results of our further
inquiry. Before we proceed to their exposition it may be useful to resume the main lines
of our argument in this and the three preceding chapters. 1 hey may be summarized as

1. Archetypal clements in the design of"lhe 1 hree Philosophers', as well as akhcmistic

symbols on the table held by the old 'philosopher', indicate that the situation represented
in this picture symbolizes a critical stage in the creative mastery of a deep personal and
social crisis.
2. "!he three persons represented arc characterized in a way which indiLatcs that the
cummunity involved in the crisis is, in 11Ji11al co11sctjllC11cc, humanity as a whole, dialectically subdivided into the descendants of the three sons of Noah.
3. "Ihc fate of humanity is presumed to depend on the Christian ci\ilizatiun (whid1
at that time was tnracticallv' coextensive \Vith the Euronean
one) bv' identifvinoti the three
representatives of humanity \e\'ith the 'lhree Magi from the East cxpcding the sign of the
birth of the Saviour.
4. 1 he historical asncct
of the crisis is indicated hv characteri;ino~ the thrL'e men in the
picture as represL'ntat i ves of the th rec great ages in the evolution oft he Fu rope an c i \"i I iza tion, ages which, 011 an intellectual plane, still uiexi">t at the epoch of the crisi'>.
). 1 he youngest of the three men is charactcri1cd in accordanLL \vith the archetypal
'>Yl1lh()lis!1l <lf dreal1lS, r()Jk-tales, lill'ratUrl' and art <l'> the Sole ( !"lll' rLprL'"ental i\"L' of his

Tize Early l\!orks of Giorgione


age, the single one who is living in the eternal 'now' and is therefore able to perceive the
sign of the Saviour and to overcome the crisis creatively.
6. l11e way in which he is represented suggests that Giorgione had in mind a definite
personality belonging to the youthful circle of Paduan humanists with which he was in
touch, and that this person was a student of mathematical and natural sciences who was
at the point of making a great discovery concerning the Earth and its motions. It must be
admitted, however, that the last-mentioned conclusion is not cogent, because all culture
heroes are symbolically connected with the Earth as the material, unconscious foundation of life.
7. Our conjecture that the young philosopher is represented as enlightened by the Star
of the Saviour, \vhich has been commonly identified with the Saviour Child itself and
with the Sun revealed anew, i.e. the Sun of a new historical epoch, suggests that the Sun
was understood to be the clue to the discovery made by the young 'philosopher'. But, here
again, it should be observed that the psychological, symbolical connection with the Sun is
archetypal for all integrated personalities, and hence also for all culture heroes.
8. Still, no other person among the contemporaries of Giorgione but Copernicus himself could be convincingly identified with the young hero of the picture. He was engaged
in giving to the Sun the place occupied ordinarily by the Earth, not only in the physical
sense in which we commonly understand his deed, but also in the symbolical psychological sense of the integrative transformation of the personality.
9. He was in the unique position of realizing collectively what previously only chosen
individuals had been able to realize individually. And he was the sole person called to the
victorious solution of both the individual and the collective crisis. His threefold call for
an astronomical, a medical, and a spiritual transformation seems, as we have seen, to have
been reflected in the conception of'1he TI1ree Philosophers'.
io. Giorgione must have begun to work at 'The Tiu-ee Philosophers' before the nth of
May, 1504, the date of the expected 'Great Conjunction' according to Copernicus, probably
before Copernicus left Italy, i.e. not later that in the Autumn of 1503, and most probably in
Venice. Copernicus was in 1503 studying medicine in Padua, to which Giorgione appears
to have been linked by manifold personal relations. Copernicus, on his side, must have
paid visits to Venice, for the last time probably in 1503. It was in 1503 that he conceived the
heliocentric system of the world.
11. Copernicus observed at that time svstematicallv the Star of the Saviour (Stello
Clzrist i, Spicu in the constellation of Fi1go) :jointly with' tlzc 51111 - just as the lhrec J\ilagi
had done according to the apocryphal legend. The young 'philosopher' of Giorgione can
be presumed to be contcmnlatin1.?.
this star which accordino to the leuend, outshone the
(old) Sun.
12. But at the same time he is identified with the hermetical explorer looking into the
dark interior of the Trevigian Gl\'e from whose ivy-enclost'd entrance a stream issues, and
in \Vhose depths a resplendent golden Virgin is enthroned.
Giorgione has for some time postponed painting his young 'philosopher' after the two
other figures \Vere already there in their original form. rhc reason might have been that
he wished to use Copernicus as a model, but that no opportunity to paint him presented
ihclf any mort'. Ciorgione painted later the young 'philosopher' twil-e, apparently not sat
isllcd with his first attempt. None of these t\vo versions of the young 'philosoplwr' is likl'ly
to be an autlwntic portrait uf Copernicus.
I )iverse doubts as to the (01Tt'lt11L'SS
our intl'rprl'tation of'The 1 hrL'e Philosophers'





may still arise at this stage in the presentation of our subject. Such doubts may concern,
especially, the basis of our interpretation of 'TI1e Three Philosophers'. Are \Ve right in
interpreting this picture as illustrating a critical stage in the evolution of European civilization, on the one hand, and in the spiritual evolution of the young 'philosopher' as a
culture hero destined to overcome that crisis, on the other hand? Is such interpretation
really imposed by the psychological (hermetical, alchemistic) symbols apparent in that
picture? May it not be accidental, foreign to the conscious or unconscious intentions of
the painter? Does e.g. the word eclipsis and the symbols of the Sun and the Moon on the
table of the old 'philosopher' necessarily refer to the great nzysteriunz coniwzctionis of the
alchemists? May not they been intended just to indicate that the old man and his turbaned companion are discussing astronomical phenomena?
To this it can be answered that 'alchemistic' symbolism is rather a rule than an exception in art. Indeed, it expresses the necessary course of every genuine act of creation, and
does it with particular clarity in creative processes reaching great depth and height. Their
objective S\Veep is obviously related to the scope of the creative individual's personal
It is out of the question that Giorgione was absorbed in the problems of internal transformation more deeply than most of his creative contemporaries, and that his responsiveness to symbolic imagination, though not absolutely unique, perhaps, was exceptional. He
was highly conscious of the meaning of his dreams and phantasies, and of their relation to
alchemistic symbolism. One of the most important fields of interests which brought him
(as we shall see) close to Copernicus, must have been the latter's interest in dreams and
symbolism in general. Our following interpretation of some of Giorgione's early works
shall substantiate the above contentions from additional points of view.

[ 21]

The Birth and Infancy of a Hero in Giorgionesque Art

reams and phantasies related to the integrative transformation of the personality

('individuation') follow a definite sequence, but the same is not always the case with
the works dependent on them. 111e importance of certain symbolical themes recurrent
in art may be vaguely felt long before the corresponding stage of natural development
has been lived through. Dreams, phantasies and symbolical experiences in the waking
state may, on the other hand, be recalled and lived through with a higher degree of consciousness at later epochs of life. 111e natural sequence of symbolical themes dealt with by
Giorgione cannot, for these reasons, be expected to follow a chronological order, and as
the chronology of Giorgione's works themselves is by far not yet established and in many
respects controversial, we have in our survey to follow the thematical, rather than any
hypothetical chronological order.
'Ihe thematical order in \vhich the most probably Giorgionesque works are to be arranged, follows from sequences of symbols referring to individuation and known from
myths, folk-tales, and therapeutical records. Psychological studies in this field published
as yet, such as those of C.G. Jung and his followers, do not give precise guidance in that
respect, hut references to folk-talcs and myths should suffice for the purpose of general
orientation. Since the spontaneous and systematic occurrence of mythical or alchcmistical symbols in modern dreams is, as yet, little known even to psychologists, we arc going
to illuminate it by fragments of dream records.<"11 Most of the records to be quoted here
have been supplied by very unsophisticated people, who wished to have them commented
on in a popular Norwegian magazine at a period (1955-1956) when neither Jungian nor
other related principles of interpretation had yet been made known in Norway through
printed publications, lectures, or psychotherapeutic practice.1l1ese records can therefore
\Vi th fair certaintv be said not to have been influenced bv anv conscious knowledge of the
symbolism in qu,estion. A few others, proceeding from' a S(;mcwhat later perioli, will be
marked hy the year they were recorded, but it should be emphasized that no dream can
be an expression of conscious thought.
1 he fl rst to be considered here from the thematical point of view is that an important
group of paintings ascribed to Giorgione have the nativity of a hero or saviour as a CL'ntral subject. But here at the vcrv outset we encounter an ambiouitv, because <111 essential
feature ~)f the type of hero in q~1estion is the call to be 'born' fo~ a ~ccond time - and the
svmbols relating to such second 'birth' arc not alwavs easv to distinguish from those of
the first and natural one. A common motif associated with the natural birth of the hero is,
hm\'t'Vt'r, that of the new-born having been exposed and subseqt1t'ntly found and adopted
by a per...,on of high birth, m, more otien, by plain people living in touch with I\lotlwr
Earth. Shepherds or gardeners were typical cases for which ( ~inrgione had predilection.
In nwth
. . and kocnds
the ht'ro is t'Iuencrallv, sunnosed
not to know or not to ackno\\kdgL'

hi . . lather otfrn not his motlwr either. Both the dassical and the biblical inheritance of
Furnpcan l ulturc present us with Ill<ll1Y examples of that kind. Some of the readt'rs ma\




recall Moses having been exposed by his mother in an 'ark' of papyrus at the bank of Nile,
and subsequently found and adopted by the pharaoh's daughter. In Deuteronomy 33 we
read of him: 'vVho said of his father, and of his mother, I have not seen them; neither did
he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew he his own children'. Also Elias, according to the
Jewish tradition had no father and no mother.("} 1 Of Melchizedek, 'priest of God Most
High', 'King of righteousness', and 'King of peace', it is said in the letter to the Hebrews, 7,
very clearly: 'without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning
of days nor end of life, but made like onto the Son of God'. Similarly, Jesus did not know
any human father of his, nor did he acknowledge his mother or his brothers.(")\ The story
of Moses was anticipated in some respects by that of the great king Sargon I of Sumer
and Akkad (ca. 2800 B.c.), born from a father of low descent and a 'bride of God' who
exposed him on the Euphrates in a reed basket sealed with bitumen.r" 1 Other Sumerian
saviour kings have been regarded as sons of gods. Urukagina of Lagash was said to have
been born from the divine Virgin Mother, while Gudea declared 'I have no mother, no
father ... You have borne me in concealment'.r"1 '
Kerenyi has pointed out that abandonment by one or both parents is the usual fate of
the child-god, but it may be added that a god who is considered in the guise of a child
has usually the character of a saviour, because salvation is dependent on rebirth (in the
sense of the 'second birth'). Christ's words: 'vVhosoever shall not receive the kingdom of
God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein' (Ivlark 10) may be remembered in
this connection. Nmv, the saviour-god is usually the fruit of illegitimate love. He and his
mother being generally subject to persecutions, he is as a rule born and fostered in the
wilderness. So was Apollo, son of Zeus, on the barren island of Delos, where his mother
Leto, persecuted by the jealous Hera, found refuge after long wanderings. So was his
younger brother Hermes, of whom Ivlaia (originally identical \vith the IVIother Earth)
was delivered in a lonesome cave on the Arcadian Mount Cvllene. Dionvsos lost his
mother Semele (a mythological figure probably derived from a;rnther perst;nification of
i\fother Earth) at his very birth, released by the terrifying revelation of his father Zeus in
a lightning - and he \vas brought up by nymphs on the forest-clad mountain of Nvsa. It
is true that to the Orphics this \Vas only his second birth, for his apparition as th~ first
god, Eros-Phanes, was being reckoned as birth. But also his first birth in the proper sense
- that from Persephone (again an aspect of the Earth Goddess), as well as his upbringing,
had to take place in secrecy, in the wilderness. 1 his was even the case with Zeus himsclt~
hidden by his mother Rhea (Mother Earth) in a cave on the Cretan JVlount Ida to protect
him against the murderous jealousy of his father Cronus - and subsequently brought up
by nymphs and nursed by the goat Amalthea. Such being the fate of gods, it is onlv natural
that a similar dramatic pattern is to be found on classical, just as on Semitic, gn;und and
elsewhere, in the stories of the heroes proper, such as Herakles, son of Zeus and Akmcnc,
the very prototype of the victorious saviour, also persecuted by Hera - or AcsLulapius,
son of Apolln and Coronis, \Nhose mother was killed by the arrows of the jealous Artemis
at his very birth - not to mention many minor mythological figures and some historiLal
persons as well.
rhc pattern of childhood attributed by mythology to heroes and sa\iours is actually
very common among individuals who have, so to say, been 'called' to rebirth. "lhese introvert persons are deeply engaged in the "lolution, not only of tlwir <l\\n inner conflicts,
hut al so that oft he ndarnental anti nom ie..., of ex istencc. I he i nadcq u a It' t nm i nology of
extrovert 1.,cience labels them as P"')Thoneurntici., because ()f their nwre ()r le . . -.. abnormal


'111c Birtlz and fl~(mzcy of a Hero in Giorgionesque Art


behaviour, but what they are called for transcends in a sense the limitations of their society. 1l1e process of introversion in which they are engaged consists in the exploration of
an inner reality by the intermediary of dreams and imaginations, manifested sometimes
in artistic, literary, or other creative activity. Practically all persons having impressive
dreams, and all genuinely creative individuals can be reckoned in this category. Now,
intervie\vs with people strongly interested in dreams disclose the striking fact, that most
of them have lost one or both of their parents, or have had the relation to their parents
seriously disturbed, in early childhood. 111ey are distrustful of social authorities and collective complexes, and engaged in a search for objective guidance accessible to their own
subjective experience. 'Il1is guidance some of them finally find in the Logos inherent in
their own nature - that inner light finally illuminating them from the depth of the unconscious, as the Star of the Saviour illuminates the young 'philosopher' or Giorgione's
much-debated painting.
It is quite probable that Giorgione's birth and infancy closely approximated the scheme
which mythology prescribes for the heroes. Hartlaub was the first to point out that some of
Giorgione's early works may have sprung forth from preoccupation with the (possible) fact
of his having been born out of wedlock. But although he in works inspired by situations in
mature life occasionally identified himself with diverse mythological heroes, the legendary
figure for which he apparently had a special predilection was that of Paris, prince of Troy,
who scarcely could be called a hero at all. Paris became, as it may be remembered, the
cause of the Trnvan war bv seducing, and carrving off, Helena, the wife of i\ilenelaus, king
of Sparta. This h~ did at th~ instigati~m ofAphr~dite who promised him the most beautift~l
wife in the world as a recompense for his having pointed her out as the most beautiful of
the goddesses, in a contest between her, Athena, and Hera. According to the mvth, Paris'
motl1er Hecuba, when pregnant with him, dreamt that she would bring forth a to;.ch which
would consume Troy. As a consequence of this his father Priamus ordered the new-born
infant to be immediately exposed on IVlount Ida. 'lhe servant who had executed this order
found the child still li\ing five days later.A she-bear (perhaps Artemis who in Arcadia was
\Vorshipped under this form) had taken care of him. ll1e boy remained therefore in the
mountains growing up among shepherds, and it was as a shepherd that he later accepted
his fateful task of arbiter in the beauty contest of the three goddesses.
1 his peculiar myth seems to symbolize, at least in its first part, with the inclusion of
Paris' _judgement, perhaps even that of the rape of Helena, a successful individuation,
which, however, is finally frustrated by imperfect sublimation of sensual love (contlagration of Trnv). It is L'i.lS\' to understand the attraction exerted lw this nwth on the artist
for whom l~eauty and loVL' apparently counted supreme. PL'rhai~s this attraction was due
to a \ague precognitinn of a spiritual tragedy which - symbolically - was also that of
Paris. Perhaps also that there was much similarity in the story of Paris' infancy and that
of Ciiorgirnw, who might ha\'e been exposed, he also.'[ his is especially suggesll'd by the
picture of 'Paris exposed on iVlount Ida' in the Princeton lVluseum, a picturt' which, if
not naintcd
lw Ciiuroione
himself, has certainlv' been insnired
lw him. 'I he walls and the
square towers of tlw castk at the top of the mountain in this picture han' some similarity
to those at C:astclfranco, outlined by Ciorgione in the drawing in the Hoyrnans Ivluscum
in Rotterdam. Still mnre probable is that 11L' in his Lhildhood spent much time in tlw company of ..,Jwphcrds, in thL' mcado\\s and hills surrounding his 1wtin' town, as thL' many
pa..,tmal '>LenL''> and p11stort'l/(>s paintL'd by him suggest. I k CL'rl~tinly identified himself
with hi.., y()ung 'I )a,id: nm, in thL' l\1111stlzistorisd1l'S .\l11sc11111 in \'iL'trna, a tlgurc \\'hich


is identical with that of the 'Shepherd with a flute' in Hampton Court. 'I he melancholy
shepherd represented by him in the Rotterdam drawing, sitting, a staff in his hand, outside the walls of Castelfranco, may be a portrait of himself, and certainly is a self-portrait
in a psychological sense.
Pastoral and 'Arcadian' scenes were sung by contemporary poets, Ii kc Piel ro Bembo
and Jacopo Sannazaro, not without a dose of humanistic mannerism - but to Ciorgione
the preoccupation with such themes was a symbolic necessity of the spirit on his way
to introvert initiation. Arcadia was not without reason the native country of I lcrmes,
the Guide of the Souls (Psychopompos) and the Dreams (Onciropompos): 'lhc inner
peregrination of the spirit in search of the soul has always taken place, in antiquity as in
Giorgione's times and even now - in dream-landscapes of green pastures with herds of
sheep and cattle, as evidenced by the Hyp11eroton1<1clzia Poliplzili (Venice 1499), alchemic
illustrations, and modern dream records.(") 6 The akhemistic practitioner or'artist' himscit:
i.e. the dreamer, is in treatises of those times occasionally represented as a shepherd in a
hooded cape, a staff in his hand, exactly as that melancholy figure on Ciorgionc's dra,,ing
\vhich has been supposed to represent himself.
Several other Giorgionesque paintings arc usually interpreted as illustrations to the
story of the exposure of Paris. Two of them, assigned by some authorities to the master
himself, while by others to his collaborator Catena, or to Giulio Campagnola, \\'ho made
engravings after the paintings of Giorgione, arc since 1952 in the collection of count Paolo
Gerli in ~Iilan (formerly at the Allington Castle). 'I he fl rst of these paintings shows a
woman coming up the road from a to\\'n \\'ith several castles on hills in the background,
and handing a baby to a shepherd who holds a characteristic long staff under his left arm.
Two other men, one of whom also equipped with a long staff, are \Vatching the scene,
while two more, in the background, regard a castle. On the second fnicturc, a vounot'l man
looking much like one of the shepherds in the first-mentioned picture, shows a baby lying on the road to two respectable looking gentlemen, who have apparently just come
up the road from the town, or from one of the castles visible on hills in the background.
Two other young men, one of them \Vith a shepherd's staff, are cornersing on the side.
111is scene might have been inspired bv the storv of the servant who came back after
fi,e days, and lound the infant Paris still alive. Ei~ler has argued ( 19_~9), however, ;hat it
should rather be referred to the story of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, who
also was said to have been exposed - at the order of his grandfather - in consequence of
a prophetic dream, and had been saved, and brought up, hy shepherds.
It can scarcely be doubted that ( ~iorgione wa-" acquainted with \e\'L'ral storie-. of approximately the same pattern, and that he - \Vith his ep<Kh's sharpened sense for synLTct istic, 'gnostic' i nterprctat ions - attributed to them the same c.uLhet vpal mean i no. 1 he
i1~ the Staedal Institute, Frankfurt am .\lain, annarentlv
refer;inoL' to tlw l~oend
t t
of Romulus and Remus, and also differently attributed to (;iorgione, Catena, or Ciulin
Campagnola, may serve as an example. '!he legend says that the twin founders ot' Rome
were the fruit of an illicit love affair between ,\tars and the \'L'stal Rhea Syhic.1 (a namL'
which again alluded to .\lother Farth), and as such had been L'.\po..,ed. ,\ slw-woll or, <lCc<>rding to another vcrsi<>n of the story, a shcplwrd wife, found them, hmVL'\er, and took
care of them. 1 he Frankfurt picture shmv.., apparently dilkrent "iCL'llL'" of thL' legend, or
t'\'l'l1 of its different ver..,ions, in the "arne land..,Lqw on thL ha11k" lll <1 "trL'arn, \\'ith a11
,1drnixture <Jf tq1iL<ll rnoti(.., lrnm ()thcr allied kgenLk ( 1) l\\'<1 men (..,hLpherd..,I) ti-.hing
up L'a(h of them a baby Imm the "trcc.1111; ( 2) e<1Lh lll thL'l11 "1.parall'h prL'"L'llt111g Iii" hah\

Tize Birth and Infancy of n Hero in Giorgio11esque Art

to a woman; and (3) a man and a woman playing with the two babes. Cows and a fig-tree
bring the picture in the symbolic sphere of the nativity of saviours born from the Divine
Mother Earth.
111e Paris story seems, however, to have been that which attracted Giorgione more
than any other myth of the same type. An almost contemporary evidence of his having
painted motifa from this myth comes from Marc' Antonio Michiel, who tells us that he
in i525, in the home of Taddeo Contarini in Venice saw, besides the 'Three Philosophers'
and a picture of the 'underworld with Eneas and Anchises', a third picture of Giorgione,
representing 'the birth of Paris (Pl. i7), with two shepherds standing upright' (In tela def
pncsc cwz cl nnsci111c11to de Paris, cu11 li dui pastori ritti i11 piede), which was one of his first
works (fu delle sue prime opere). This picture is lost except for the section comprising the
two shepherds (or perhaps only a copy of this section, according to some authorities), preserved. in Budapest, but a small-sized copy of the whole painting, made by David Teniers
the Younger (Florence, the Loeser Collection), and an engraving by van Kessell in the
TI1cntnm1 pictoricu111 (1659), though apparently very sketchy, give us a fair idea of its composition. 'I11e picture shows the child lying in the foreground, near a brook, at what may be
the edge of a forest \Vith some houses farther back and to the right, and an open landscape
in a distant background. A negligently clad woman with the appearance of a nymph sits
on the ground a few steps farther away and to the left, and contemplates the child with a
look of perplexity. lhe state of her garments might have been intended to suggest that she
has just given birth to the baby - but this inference is not cogent. An old man sits farther
to the left in the foreground, in front of the child, and play~ a flute. At the right border
of the picture, also in the foreground, behind the child, two men - a youth and a mature
man - who may well be shepherds, are walking by. The youth stretches out his right hand,
pointing at the child, while the other man looks at it unwillingly with apparent distrust.
He holds a long shepherd-stat{ slightly curved at its upper end, in his left hand.
Now, these details cannot be said to suit the Paris-mvth satisfactorilv, unless it is argued that the nymph has been consciously substituted' for the she-be~u. Hartlaub has
suggested that both this picture and the two Iviilan (formerly Allington) pictures actually
refer to the myth of Daphnis who, according to Servius, was also exposed by his mother.'"'Saved by some shepherds \Vho found him under a laurel bush, Daphnis was brought up
by nymphs and by Pan, \Vho taught him music. ll1e second Ivlilan picture shows the baby
actually lying under a bush - a laurel-bush, as Hartlaub asserts. The first IVlilan picture
however, should, according to Hartlaub, rather be referred to Chloe, who in the novel of
Longus is also exposed and subsequently found by shepherds.
IVlrs. Klauncr has followed J\I. Conway in stressing the fact that the alleged 'finding of
Paris' \Vas probably commissioned by the same man. (Taddeo Contarini, as she believes,
but it might have rather been an older relative of his, Pietro Contarini, probable commissioner of "I he 1 hreL' Philosophers', to which this painting is formally and thematically
related, and had apparently been conceived as a pendant to it.) 1 he scenL' of this picture
can he regarded as a lay transposition of the Christian nativity, with tlw old man as a parallel to St. Joseph, and represents as such the fulfilment of the expectations of "I he 1 h reL'
Philosophers'.'"'' Since the symbolic i\')' in 'clhe Three Philosophers' connL'Lls this latlt'r
picture \vith the nwth of Dionvsos, Dionvsian elc!llL'nts can also be expected to be prt'St'nt
in tlw alk!!ed Tin~iinnt" of Pari< In fact, 'after havinu0 been sawd bv. the ivv. from the 11rL'
\\hiL~h C<ln...,urncd Semek and the royal palace of Cadmus (of whom sht' was a daughter),
I )iom...,o..., was L'ntruskd for his upbringing Lo tlw nymphs of thL' forest-dad mountain,



Nysa, known to be rich in natural springs. After all, we may add, it was perhaps the ivy
which constituted the most essential difference between the symbolic life of Dionysos
and that of Paris.
None of the proposed mythical explanations of this picture arc quite satisfactory, and
this is perhaps not very surprising. Giorgione can hardly be expected to have painted
mere illustrations to myths, with the exception of Christian motifs, in dealing with which
he was bound to observe strict conformity to tradition. Even his old master Giovanni
Bellini declined, in fact, commissions to paint according to exact directions of conformity to a given theme, preferring (as it is known from a letter of Pietro Bembo to Isabella
d'Este) to let his fantasy prevail. 699
TI1e few pictures of the Virgin Mary Giorgione has painted must have had an emotional-libidinal connection with his own life. Christ and his nativity excepted, this was the
only connection which could infuse his fantasies with that fascinating power which impresses us as a mystery of his mv11. It is the true mystery of the individual union with the
Self. The peculiarly significant way in which the two shepherds of the 'h nding of Paris' are
represented at the edge of the picture conveys to them the character of morally involved
observers and passers-by. The process of individuation is commonly represented as an
inward peregrination of the aspirant under the guidance of an unknown supernatural
friend. Pietro Contarini, the very man who has probably commissioned this picture, as
well as ''D1e TI1ree Philosophers' and the 'Downfall' ( Tm111011to ), was the author of a hermetical treatise whose manuscript still exists in the Library of San IVlarco in Venice and
has the suggestive title Clzristologus pcregrinorwn. In folk-talcs, the guide is most often
an animal which only towards the end of the story sheds his skin and appears as a prince
to whom the hero has to cede half the kingdom he has won. 'I his friend is Hermes, the
Truth-Teller (L6gios), the Guide of Souls and of Dreams, the Afrrrnrius of the alchemists
imagined as resembling the 'artist' or dreamer himself (being close to his own innermost
self), and even confused with him, represented in a similar way as a shepherd.-'"' 111e
representations of Christ as the 'Good Shepherd' with a lamb on his shoulders have been
preceded by similar ones of Hermes of the mysteries.
All this makes it natural to assume that Giorgione's 'Finding of Paris', as so many other
of his pictures, has been inspired by alchernistic conception~ and, at the same t,ime, at
least partially by dreams. The shepherd holding a staff represents probably the dreamer,
while his young companion who draws his attention to the child must in that case be
Hermes. 111 is docs not contradict the fact that, ale hem isl icall y s PL'll king, a Iso t /1c (/ii Id
is Hermes. According to the Homeric myth, Hermes has pnformcd SOl11L' or his mnst
amazing deeds the very night he has been born, and the alchemists called their J\krcury,
in his manifestation as light, filius u11ius diei, i.e. 'one dav's
son~ this desi!.!.nation
hcinot"' nut
in connection with the words of Genesis I concernin!.!. the day of the creation of light:
ji1ctu111<JllC est \'CS/Ji.!rc ct 11rn11c dies 11J111s.-" 'Ihc alchemistic f'vkrcury was conceived as
double, A,f crrn rius duplex: the di vi nc spirit which guides and i11 um i nall's the adept, and
at the same time liberates lii111sc~(as the'light over all lights' - tlw'artist\ or'philosophcr's
..,on,Jilius pl1ilosop/10ru111 - from his imprisonment in matter. 'I hi.., dm1hlc role of his is
in (;ior11ionc's
lw, the nointinl!
to, and at the ..,amc time hiddinu~b.
of the liiretlnger of the right hand of the youth, directed to the l'hild, till gl-..turc hy which
i\/Iichelangel<l let C ;od create Adam 011 the alfre..,c() ()f the ~ixti1w ( :haplI, hut addrt'"iSL'd,
iu"it as the t1rm and earnt-..t glance of hi'> eyes, t() hi" -..<>mt'\\'hat l,011(11-..l'd l()111panion.
!his picture d()e.., 1wt therefore belong to the tlpcning Lia-...., ()I our "il'ljllt'l1lC ol motifs




T71c Birtlz and


of a Hero in Giorgio11csque Art


- that concerned with the physical birth of the hero - but to a more advanced one, having
his rcbirtlz for its theme. It has been suitable, however, already at this stage of our exposition to submit the above comments to the reader of our own exposition, because they
throw light on the meaning of the opening motifs of the hero-myth, viz. on his exposure
and upbringing in the wilderness by shepherds. These motifs imply, in fact, (1) that he has
been withdrawn from the influence of social authorities and the indoctrination of accepted human norms which, representing as they do but provisional solutions of the basic
problems of existence, have no absolute validity; (2) that his development has been based
on the sound and absolutely valid foundation of natural laws; and (3) that this development has been guided by the inner light of nature (Hermes, the Good Shepherd), i.e., the
light of his own true conscience.
Perhaps the reader will find it easier to accept our conclusion that Giorgione has drawn
inspiration from alchemistic symbols than that he in such symbolic pictures of his own
apparently depended on mythological tradition, although he followed his own dream experience. But for the understanding of art in general, and Giorgionesque art in particular,
it is essential to realize that such a combination of subjective and objective determination is possible, and that the mythological-mystical symbols encountered in akhemistic
literature emerge spontaneously and independently of anv conscious knowledge of them
in dreams of p~rsons engaged in individuation, tl~is having happened in all times from
late antiquity up till now. It is an amazing fact, at least from the point of view of the current materialistic conception of the world, but it is a fact. 111e problem of the material
basis - if any at all - of the collective memory thus manifested, cannot be discussed here.
\'\Te must content ourselves with illustrating the fact in question by examples of modern
dreams. vVe shall among others, when dealing with the motifa of rebirth in Giorgionesque
art, '---'
!:!ivc some examnlcs
of the emeraence
of the name and fioure
of Mercurv' or Hermes
in dreams. At the present point of our exposition we must, however, restrict ourselves to
a single example illustrating the destination of the hero (the dreamer) to join 'shepherds'
in the 'wildernesS: and to be instructed by Hermes. The dreamer, a lady who at the time
in which the dream was recorded (1957) was in her mid-thirties, had lost her mother in
childhood and had no remembrance of her father at all. Her education, middle school,
was restricted, and she had no knowledge of Greek, and scarcely any of Greek mythology. She wrote, hmve\er, automatically, and one of her automatical texts, completely incomprehensible at first glance, proved by closer examination to consist of fragments of
Creek wail in~
in a rou~h
renderinob according
to the rules accented
Norwegian.~,., 1 he short drL'am-record which is of interest for our considerations runs as
fol lows:
'I remember only one word from the dream I had to-night, and this \\'as f-lcn11cs'.
'No, I remember more! 'I his was a man who stood somewhat aside, while ten-twelve
others stood in a ~roun
somewhat farther <nvav. 'lhev were all clad in white, rather long
coats or hurnouses with large neck-openings and cords to draw them together. All had
\'cry lziglz stalls (a kind o( slwpherd-statfa), almost twice as high as thL'mSL'lves, in their
hands. 1 hey Ithe staffs I were somewhat knotty and slightly curved at their top ends. 'I here
was a lot of sand, a kind of desert, and I believe they were barefoot. I le who stood alone
spoke to mt\ hut I cannot 1Tl11L'lllher what he said. I was barefoot too:
Hartlauh has proposed to set also the wt'll-known cngra\ing hy i\larc' ,.\ntonio
Raimondi \\'hiL-h, <lL-L'()rding \\'id;.holf's happy suggestion had heL'll rnadL' (in 1-;o~) afrt'r
a painting h\ ( ;i()rgi()J1L', in L-n1111L'dion with the rn~th of Paris.-" 1 1his t'ngraYing, forL'




merly labelled as the 'Dream of Raffael', shows two naked young girls lying asleep in the
foreground to the left under the wall of a building out of whose arched port two narrow
beams of light issue. TI1e girls are, as regards appearance and attitude, almost exact mirror
images of each other, one of them turning her front, the other her back, to the on-looker.
The ground on which they are lying slopes down to a river or canal from which some
fantastic crustaceans, shell-fish, or insect-like monsters emerge at their feet. On the other
side of the canal a massive building with a tower and stairs leading to the water, is on fire,
huge flames shooting out from windows and up from the roof, while naked people hurry
out and down to the canal. Two boats loaded with people - one of them full of small children - are moving away from the building towards a fortress visible in the background
against a sky which is covered with dark clouds except for two bright stripes low above
the horizon. Three unnaturally shaped, pointed light-beams (of the same form according to vVickhoff as lightning in a later work by Raimondi) issue from a distant mountain
in the direction of the burning building - which, perhaps, is only the foremost one of a
\Vhole city on fire. ll1ere is also a strange little patch of light (a luminous sea monster?)
behind the rock on which the two girls are lying.
\'Vickhoff, who has attempted to interpret the most enigmatic paintings by ( ;iorgione
as mere illustrations to passages from classical literature, tried to explain also this strange
picture in such a manner, viz. by reference to a passage in Servius' commentary to the
Aeneid. Servius tells there the story of two girls (vestals as it appears) who stayed for the
night at the temple of the Penates (or rather a temple of Vesta) at Lavinium. 1 he point
of the story is that one of them, being unchaste, was killed by lightning, while the other
did not feel anything. Hartlaub found a confirmation ofvVickhoff's opinion that the prototype of this picture had been painted by Giorgione with a striking similarity bet\vcen
the figure of one of the two girls and that of a girl lying on the ground with her back to
the spectator engraved by Giulio Campagnola (cf. Kristellcr 1907, Gal. 13), probably after a painting bv Giorgione.:-"' But Hartlaub rightlv considering \,Vickhoff's L'xplanation
inadequate, ren~rred t~> another classical motif als;l mentionedLby \\'ickhoff in th is connection, viz. to the portentous dream which announced to the pr~gnant Hecuba that she
\Vould give birth to a fire-brand, thus presaging the disaster which the birth of Paris was
to bring Troy. TI1e doubling of the ligurc of Hecuba was intended, according to I lartlaub,
to indicate her as being the dreamer.
n1ere mav be some truth in Hartlaub's suggestion, but it should he reali1ed that
the scene painted must have been lived through individually by the painll'r himself,
in a dream or fantasv of his mvn. Cireek mvths arc even now svstcmaticallv revi,cd in
European dreams of individuation, and there is a tendency on the side of thL' dreamers
tmvard systematic identification with definite hemes. In Ciorgione's case su~-h a hero
might have been Paris. ,, n1e t\\o young women in Raimondi\ picture cannot thL'rcforL'
reprL''->ent the person whose dream is pictured, hut t\\'o aspect'> of the painll'r\ so11/, with
vvhich hi'> libido-carrying dream-ego is confronted, and bet\vcen whom it ha" to choose.
Such c<mfrontatiom, in \vhich also often a -;ccond male figure take.., a (pa..,sin) part, arc
e'->sential -.tage-., on the path of individuation.- In our C<ht' the ch()iL-L' in question is Lcrtainly that bet\\"een the -.emual ..,mil (the girl L.1Li11g the '->pectatnr) <rnd thl' l'llHitional
()Jll' (the girl turning her hack to him), and hen(l' al<..,() or '-,l'Jhllc.il <rnd l'l1Hltin11al lme.
Sea nwnstcr.., \vhich h~1vc to he 11'->lwd up and confronted arc ..,t<l1ll.b1d drL'llll1 ..,y111hnl ... (l(
Llll(on..,Li<>U"i fanta..,ie.., binding the lihid() to dclu..,i()ll.., ()f inc1rnc.1lt' e\i..,ll'ncL'. 11w prnhkm
of < ;,()rgi()ne\ dream rdlected in thi.., t'ngra,ing j.., t() face tlwni, ,rnd thL'll t() 111akt thL'



'flrc Birtlz and


of a Hero in Giorgio11csquc Art

right choice. The fruit of the choice can be expected to be a (spiritual) child, a ne,, personality on which the future of the dreamer will depend. The burning city on the other
shore is an actual danger, but it is not necessarily a disaster. In the natural language of the
unconscious which is that of alchemy and mysticism, the evolution of the entire universe
is nothing but a gradual conflagration of a fundamental delusion in the boundless fire of
Divine Love. Tlwre is no question of preventing it, but only through giving birth to a child
that might endure the fire, that is of letting true love be flesh. Even if such a child should
prove not yet perfectly pure, it might be expected to rise from the ashes of a partial disaster to ne\v incarnation as a Phoenix bird, the alchemist symbol of the adept.
In that distant epoch \vhen diverse gnostic circles believed in the end of the world being near, exhortations were heard to realize pure love as a fruit of life: 'And even now is
the axe also laid unto the root of the trees: every tree, therefore, that bringeth not forth
good fruit is hewn dmrn, and cast into the fire' (J\iiatthew 3; Luke 3). The alchemists of
the Renaissance did certainlv' sneculate
on the symbolic
of the conflagration
'-of Troy, and at least some of them must have arrived at the conclusion that this disaster was only partial and apparent, its Phoenix-bird having been Aeneas, the founder of
Rome. One of the three pictures by Giorgione, besides the 'Finding of Paris' and 'Tl1e
'Ihree Philosophers' which J\ilichiel saw in the house of Taddeo Contarini, that of the
'underworld with Aeneas and Anchises' (the Tm111011to), gives us a fair certainty that this
idea was at least alive in Giorgione's subconscious imagination: It was not as a Paris, but
as an Aeneas that he came back from his heroic descent to the Nether \ Vorld. It appears
therefore thal Raimondi's engraving, whose model might have been the lost I11cc11dio bv
Giorgione, although in a sens._e inspired by the myth of the birth of Paris, docs not refer t~
the physical birth of the painter, but to his spiritual rcbirt/r.~" 8 As such it actually belongs,
equally with the 'Finding of Paris', to a later epoch in his life.
Two related examples of modern dreams or visions mav, without comment, serve as
ill ust rat ions to the problem of choice inherent in the pictu,rc of Giorgione-Raimondi.-"''
'The first is the summarv of a recurrent dream told bv a voung woman, aged ca. 25, who
suffered under suicidal 'obsession and was repeatedl)r su,bject~d to clinic~l psychiatrical
treatment. It reflects the situation before the 'right choice': 'She walks across a desert; perceives a big, empt\' cross on a height straight before her but docs not dare to look at it. As
soon as sh~e has c~1st her eyes dm~n, the ~ross disappe;.;rs, and a multitude of snakes and
creeping things appear from behind the height. She awakes in terror.' The other is a dream
or a \'ision whiL-h a voung man, of the same age and a friend of her, had in a half-waking
state: 'He follows a 11'a1-rm~ path across a desertgiobe.1he world-abyss is tilled wilh smok~
from a burning city. 1 he city is on the top of the earth. He stops at a point where the
ground hq.~ins to Lune down towards the abyss, and he sel'S straight before him, in tlw
middle of thL' path, a big, empty cross. Behind the cross, on the top of a mountain which
is founded in infinity, in eternity, a city of light is seen. I le looks at the empty cross, and
suddenly SL'es himself crucified. In the same nwmL'nt lw is standing on the lVlountain of
Ell'rnit)' and looking down on the globe of the earth \vith the cross, the path, the burning
city which he has left, and the infinite abyss with the smoke and with sonw birds nr the
like hon'ring mcr the l'<lrlh.'
Yet an()ther picture ha,ing for its motif the birth of a lwro should he nwntioned
here, though
ih hidden sionif1cance
is rather that of sniritual
rl'birth. It is thL' so-L-alled
'H(lro-,L-()~)l'. fr()J1l tlw Pala11u ~lanfrin in \'t'nice, now in the l)rL'SdL'I1 (;c111d/dl'S,t1ltTic, a
ratlwr p(H>r Ll>p\ (1( \\hat 111ost 11wdern uitiLS bt'liL'\'l' to han' been a ,,ork. of l;iorginnL'.



The picture shows a young woman sitting in the open air, slightly reclined mcr a baby
which lies on a lap of her long and overflowing gown spread before her over the ground.
The woman is stretching her left hand over the baby in a graceful gesture which may be
that of blessing, but also of tenderly joking play. 1he baby seems, in fact, to respond to
these gestures by stretching its right hand up,vard. The rich gmvn of the woman characterizes her as a distinguished lady, but the complete lack of adornment and jewels in her
apparel, and a certain purity and simplicity in her whole appearance, make her not unlike
representations of the Virgin Mary in Italian art of that epoch. A young armoured man
looking like a page of noble birth stands by. He is also slightly reclined, a feathered hat
in his hand, and watches the child. To the right of this group and turning his back to it,
a \Vhite-bearded, turbaned sage leans over a low stone-wall, compasses in his right hand
and a circular instrument which may be an astrolabe in his left. He looks fixedly straight
before him, to the right, as if he was watching something at the horizon. A strip of paper
hangs down from the wall, before which a big, white bird is imagined in the classical pose
of a Phoenix arising from the flames, its wings lifted up and its body emerging from a
strange structure which might originally have represented a nest or dying fire in a heap
of ashes, but has in that case been assimilated by the copyist or by some inferior restorer
of the picture to a fancy, broadly spread tail. Above this group but some steps behind it,
in the middle of the picture, the statue of a naked girl appears shining from a dark niche
in the left pillar of an archway visible to the right. The head of the statue forms the summit of an equilateral triangle embracing the entire group. Remarkably enough, the statue
is represented with its right foot stepping out of the niche, as if it had suddenly become
alive. In the more distant background to the left, a landscape \vith some trees and a castle
on the top of a height is represented. Under a tree at the left border a man can be seen, a
staff on his arm, while an other one, still farther away, sits on the ground playing a flute.
The distribution of light in the picture suggests early morning or evening.
It has been argued that this picture must have been commissioned to serve as a gift
on the occasion of a birth in some aristocratic family. rf he bird has been interpreted as
the eagle of the family shield of the c.f Este, and the hypothesis has been set forth that the
birth was that of Lucretia Borgia's first son ( i 508 ). - 'I he picture might in that case have
been commissioned through the intermediation of Pict ro Bern ho, with whom Lucretia
maintained amorous correspondence, and whom she asked for help when intending to
commission pictures from Venetian masters.
If there is anvth
i nob in these sneculat
ions, it would on Iv' serve to d i. . "-'~u ise the SY111bol
meaning this picture must have had for those initiated in the hcrml'lic rny . . tcries: that of
the birth of a chi Id able to stand the test of fire, i.e. cit her the sym hol it-<d hi rt h of a spiritual
child (as it is imagined in dreams), or the physical birth of a hero destined to be reborn.
'Ihe picture seems, in fact, to have been composed on a scheme which in reliefs on
ancient Roman sarcophagi has served as a symbol of a birth's .iust having taken place. 1hc turbaned astrologer must in that case he assumed to he \Vatching the \1stcndant' or
the 'horo-;cope' of the nrnmcnl of birth, i.e. the point of the ecliptic just rising ahmc the
horizon, or the corresponding zodiacal sign - data of fundamental imporL.lnte for tl1L'
dravving o( a f/11. 'lllc/ l/clf il ifllfiS, i.e. of What i.'> popularly (<.iJJcd a 'h<ll"O',tope' of birth .. , ht'
association of the Phoc nix with the a..,trologer i.., ()lwi<>u '>I y i11 k rHkd t ll .., 1g11 i fr t h<lt the
new-horn i.., L'allcd to cast off the yoke of detcrmini'>lll and L''>tll!W thL' lak pre..,triht'd lw
the '>tar..,, pcrhap.., L'\'en t() entirely break out ()I the uninT'>l\ th.it ( hph11.. l\thagorcc.rn
pri...,on of the '>()Lil. 11w armoured youth j.., hi.., prnll'tl<>r c.111d lll<lf..kl: \\'t, rL'1..<>gni1t' in him



17zc Birth a11d


of a Hero i11 Giorgionesquc Art

St. George, Giorgione's patron saint, whom he also imagined, in full armour, watching
over the Child and the Virgin in the Castelfranco altarpiece, and fighting the dragon
in the picture representing the exit from the underworld. TI1e background statue of the
young girl becoming alive and leaving her stony niche is obviously the leading idea of this
picture: that of the liberation of the soul from the bonds of matter.
Now, if both this picture and the alleged 'Finding of Paris' refer to the birth of the same
hero, that with whom Giorgione identified himself, who is his right mother? TI1e shabby
girl of the first picture or the lady of the latter one? It is natural to assume, in conformity
with the typical scheme of a hero myth, that the first has given him life, and has abandoned him, while the other is going to foster him. If, however, we consider these pictures
as symbolical fantasies or dream-images referring to rebirth, we have to interpret the
first of the two women as the sensual soul, while the other as that of the three remaining
components of the soul represented in the symbolism of the unconscious which, when in
a pure individualized form, has to do with the intuition of values, and is therefore in nonindividualized personalities, dependent on social standards - the seat of ambition. ll1e
living statue of the 'Horoscope' recalls to us, however, the fact that none of them, neither
the one who has given the child its physical shape nor the one who, concerned with its
career, consults an astrologer, but a third one, the emotional soul, the seat of love when
purified by individuation, is its true mother. And as the hero is his own father, the father
of his reborn spirit, identified at that stage with the J\frrcurius duplex: the child and its
protector and guide (St. George) at the same time - she is also his (spiritual) bride. \ 1\Then
purified, she manifests herself in dreams and fantasies as the true soul, Just as the youngest of the three princesses of the folk-tales conceives a child with the hero and proves to
be the sole one worthy to become his queen. Her statuesque nakedness in Giorgione's
picture reveals her true nature: she is a goddess.
In order to close this survevi of the infancv' of the Gioraionesl1ue
hero (in its double
meaning) there remain a few remarks concerning the two pictures of the Gallcricl dcgli
UJ/izi: the 'Fire test of Moses' and the 'Judgement of Solomon: 'lhese pictures, which towards the end of the 17th century' bclonoed
to the collection of the Grand Duchess of
Toscana, and in the 18th century were attributed to Giovanni Bellini, are unanimously
assigned to Giorgione bv modern critics, at least as regards their idea and general design.
Some authoritie~ hcliL'\'~ that the figures of the 'Judgc~ment' arc due to some inferior collaborator, perhaps Giulio Campagnola ( Fiocco) or Vincenzo Catena ( Morassi ). 1 he same
or other collaborators have also been invoked in connection with the landscape and some
of the background figures of the 'Fire test' - but all this has scarcely any bearing on our
considcrat ions.
1 he Tire test' has been inspired bv a 1~1lmud storv, according to which I\loses, \\hen
still an infant, offered the choice hct;wen a tray hea~~L'd with .k~wls and one full llf embers, preferred the latter. 1 his motif has been depicll'd by Giorgione in a very solemn and
beautiful scene which leaves us with no doubt whall'vcr as to the transcendental significance of the fire kst. 1 hL story has an obvious archetypal connection with an episode of
the l lonwriL- account of the foundation of the Fkusinian mysteries in whiL-h l kmcter
puh a hahy a son of the king of Fkusis - into a lire, in order to make it imnwrtal. Also
( ;i()rgione's pidure c~rn therefore he safely rl'l~'ITcd to as supporting the fact that, in m~th,
the hero is from his \cry inL.llK)' destined to win imnwrtality.
1lw Jud gL' 111 L' n t or So Io 11 w n' t rca ts t lw wl'i I- known theme (I I( i ngs 3) n ft he l\\'o ha rl ol s,
C<.ll h (ii '' h ()Jll L-1 aim L'd to he the 1110t lll'r of 011L' a 11d the sa mt' nc\\' hP rn bah~-. So IPnw 11,


as will be remembered, gave the child to the one of them who protested against its being
cut in two with the king's sword. His judgement was wise - but the fascinating quality of
the story is due to its being symbolical of a conflict situation arising in the course of individuation - and, as far as its symbolism is valid, it may be doubted whether the one of the
two women who got the child was its real mother. 'Ihe basic idea is, in fact, that love shall
gain victory. In the conflict between the sensual and the emotional soul concerning the
control of the newborn spiritual personality, the second, not the first one, should be considered right. It may be added that in dreams the emotional soul is frequently imagined
as a harlot. 'The child appears as soon as she has managed to attract the attention of the
dream-ego, i.e. as soon as love is a fact. A man dreams, for instance, that he, having in vain
sought a place to put up for the night in a foreign town, suddenly discovers a chalk-white,
naked woman, sitting in a window. Here is his account of what has happened:' 'lhis must
be a "harlot" is my reflection. VVell, have you nothing to do? I say. 'I he woman's lips
begin very lightly to colour, and the colour is spreading over her body as she speaks. Oh
ves, she answers <d have just had a man here now. - Reallv? Can vou carrv on with
tlwt, then?,> I ask.' Of course, she replies. I have a child also,'.rnd no~v I have 'managed
to get it to sleep. - For ever is what I think, but I don't say anything. I be! ieve I crept
through the window in to her'. It should be observed that rose-red is in dreams, and other
manifestations of the unconscious, invariably the colour of (pure) love.
'01c 'Judgement of Solomon' might be also interpreted as a symbolical reference to an
incident in the actual infancy of the hero of the alchcmistical 111llgnun1 opus, \'iz. to some
conflict between his foster-mother and the actual mother. 1 here is, in fact, a remarkable
parallelism between the symbolical situations of the dreamer's inner development after
his spiritual rebirth and the real childhood situation typical for a hero of individuation.
This parallelism is bv no means restricted to the circumstances
his birth alone. To complete an account of the latter it should be obscr\'cd, however, that heroes (sa\iours) were
in the ancient Orient generally expected to be born from represcntati\'L'S of the \'irgin
Mother, i.e. temple prostitutes. -i_,
~I he same subject has been dealt \Vi th in another Ciorgionesq uc picture, the' J udgemcnt
of Solomon' in the Bankes Collection at Kingston Lacy, which has been variously attributed to almost all the nearest collaborators of Giorgione - Catena (Fry), Titian ( Hourticq),
and especially Sebastiano dcl Piombo ( L. Venturi, Longhi, Pallucchini, .\Iorassi ), but also
to C;iorgione himself ( hocco), though perhaps \\'it h Sebast ia n()'s collaboration (Richter.
Suida). According t() a conjecture this was the picture \Vhich ( ;iorgione had been commissioned to paint for the audience hall of the Council or the Ten in the l )()gc Palace in
Ven ice, according to th rec payment orders issued in 1507-1508. I his picture is not on Iy remarkable for its magnificent composition, but also for its assigning to Solomon attributes
of Hermc.;;, especially the characteri:-,tical ram-head:-, placed on one of thL' four :-,tcps nf
the dai:-, on which his throne is :-,landing. Both tlw ram and the number four \\'L'rL' saL-red
to l-lnrnes, and they arc :-,till associated in drearn:-, (the number four, frequently in connection \Vith the fourth floor of buildings) \Vith lhe manifr..,tatio11 of what the Hcrmes,\lcrcury of the akhcmi"ts -;tood for: the capacity of right iudgcme11t. Solo11w11\ ..,\\'urd is
arclwtypically related to the "word proceeding from the mouth of tlw di\ine !()gm in thL'
RevcL.1tion of St. John the Divine. ( ;iorgionc and hi" Lollahorlltor" WLTL' llPJ1llrL'lltly fully
C<>n..,ci<m" <lfthe "v111h1llical p<l'.'>'.'>ihilitic" <>f the hihliL<1l 1111Jtif t11 whiLh the\ ha\L' recurred.
In I lwi r concept i<l.ll it wa:-, HcrnlL''.'> l.ogio..,, \\'h iL" h th rnu gh t lw !1l<lll th () f S1~I<l11w11 ua \'l' t lw
di\inc Lhild to the l<l\ing "<>ul.


The Search for the Lost Soul in Giorgione's v\Tork

e have already seen that the parallelism between the motifs of the actual youth of
the hero and the symbolical one of his spiritual 'son' makes it often difllnilt or impossible to assign a picture unambiguously to an episode of one or the other. 111is is also
the case with such pictures as the 'Shepherd with a Flute' (at Hampton Court), by most
of the modern authorities regarded as a ,,ork of the master himself, and the 'Boy with an
Arrmv' (at the Kw1stlzistorisc/1cs Museum in Vienna); this latter of a more controversial
origin, but still 'undoubtedly Giorgionesque:- 1-' TI1e melancholy of these lovely pictures
belongs nevertheless to the actual childhood of the Giorgionesque hero. If it appears
blissful, it is perhaps because its reasons are unconscious. 111ey are revealed, however, in
the very first paintings of the Giorgionesque sequence belonging, not to birth or childhood, but to individuation in the proper sense of that word: The hero appears suddenly,
though only indirectly, through the intermediation of symbols, aware of the fact that the
right object of love is lacking in his world. 111is awareness may be only apparent, because
his realization of the meaninl! of the svmbols which fascinate him ma\ be onlv gradual.
But he certainlv has an increasinglv strong feeling of the existence of a unique being
which he imagi,nes in female formL .{nd beli~ves to L1c destined for him - but also an in~
creasing inkling of its withdrawal bevond the reach of his natural powers. He discovers
that he . .has bee~1, so to say, bereft of l~is soul - that, in fac;, this soul of his is not at all in
the world accessible to the senses. Its seducer is God himself - or, rather, the conception
of God imposed on the soul by the society.
lhis basic theme is abundantly dealt with in Greek mythology. It may be considered
from the tnoint of view of the human beinab which it most directlv concerns, but in the
myths it is especially represented from the point of view of the soul itself. \Ve find it in
such ( ;iorgionesque pictures as the 'Rape of Europa' (preserved only in a copy by Teniers
the younger, now in the museum in Chicago) 'Eurydice' (in the G1!1cr;1 C11rroro in
Bergamo), and 'Apollo and Daphne' (in the Scrn;11urio Putr;llrnilc in Venice). It has also
been represented in the lost 'lo, Argus, and HermeS: if we arc to believe that this and for
that matll'r also the other small t"c1sso11i with motives from Ovid's i\/ctt1111orpl10scs, by
Ridoll] ascribed to Ciorgionc, ha\'L' rL'ally existed.
Furupa was, as it may hL' remembered, the sister of Cadmus, the fou1Hkr and tlw first
king of" 1 lwlws. She d isappca red (rom her native Phoenicia, carried ot{ it \\'as said hy Zeus
hirnsclf \\'ho transformed himself for that purpose into a white bull. Her tlHL'e brothers
were ..,ent by tlw father to search for her (as Apollodor says), but wearied of searching
in \'ain, all ga\'L' up except Cadmus, who for some time had been accompaniL'd by his
mother. ,.\rriHd at l kl phi after the death and burial of his fatlwr, Cadmus addressed the
oracle, and \\'as advised 11ot to SL'arch longn, but to found a city at the \'L'ry place ,,here a
cow he \\'ould enLou11tl'r and had to follow, would lie down to rest.
1\L Lording to I kllan i kos, Cad mus hc.1d bct'n in it iall'd in t hL' Kabir- rnystL'riL'S (\\hose
origin lit'" in ~)l.t' I Ielk,nic tinll's). I k was a favourik o( I krmcs, somL'tinlL's t'\cn idcnti



fied with that god, and he married Harmonia (symbol of primal cosmic harmony), a
daughter of whom was Semele, the mother of Dionysos. rl he story just told is built on the
pattern of individuation. 111e disappearance of a young girl (princess) who is carried off
by supernatural powers; the search of the three brothers ordered by her father (the king)
to bring her back, and the unexpected success (in that case, symbolical only) of the one
of them who is most attached to his mother - are all encountered in typical folk-tales.
The cow is obviously Europa herself, and the new city has to be founded at the place of
the coniunctio, i.e. of the 'meeting of brother and sister', in the language of alchemy. A
'Rape of Europa', perhaps identical with that \vhich has been copied by Teniers, was mentioned by Ridolfi in i648. 111is picture or another one representing the same subject was
in i663 in the possession of Girolamo Contarini, belonging to the same celebrated family
as the commissioner of 'll1e 111ree Philosophers', the 'finding of Paris', and 'Aeneas and
Anchises: According to Richter,7 1 the picture copied by Teniers was one of the earliest
works in which Giorgione showed individual signs of his own, emancipating himself to
some extent from the influence of his master Giovanni Bellini. It must have been painted
in, or before, 1495, because Albrecht Di.irer, who visited Ven ice that year, made note of the
painting on a sheet of drawings still extant.
The picture shows the bull having just started swimming across the sea with Europa
on his back. She is crying and making desperate gestures to some young girls or nymphs
watching her in helpless concern from the shore. At the left border of the picture, a young
boy leaning against the stem of a tree plays a flute dispassionately. I le does not share the
despair of the girls and does not even bother to cast a glance at the bull and his \'ictim.
This boy is evidently Hermes, the good Shepherd, director of the dream-mystery, who
knmvs its purpose and meaning. \Ve can recognize him in this figure at once if we remember the role Hermes has been assigned in the myth of lo, the sister of Phoroneus,
founder and the first king of Argos. Io has been seduced by Zeus, .iust as Europa, and she
was expressedly said to have been transformed into a white cow, eithn by Zeus himself
or by the jealous Hera, who appointed Argus, a giant with hundred eyes, to watch over
the cow. Hermes managed, by playing a shepherd's pipe, to lull Argus into so deep a sleep
that one bv one all his hundred eves closed, and Hermes could release the cm\' and lead
her away. It might be said that th~ follmvers of Hermes arc liberated from the hundrcdcyed tyranny of the collective, in a somewhat similar manner, by listening to the music of
their guide, and following him on the narrow path of individuation. 'I his scene, as already
mentioned, was said to have been painted by (;iorgione on one of his t"llsso11i.
A similar motif is that of Eurydice, who disappeared from the world of the li\'ing
after having been bitten by a snake. 'lhe snake is archetypally hound to the origin of
chaos and the temporal \Vorld, as the cause of original sin or of the invasion of darkness
into the world of light, i.e. as the source of evil and that of the cosmiL-al delusion itself.
Apollo, the Solar Saviour and Healer, god of music, made the m<k k at [)el phi ~)ussihk
by slaying the giant snake Python, a monster of darkness. Cadmus imitated this Lked
before foundinl!~' 'Ihebes, and was even said to have hclncd
/cu" in flohtino
the tnribk
Typh()n, the primeval olf.. pri ng of the Jcqw ... t da rknc...,s, cou ntcrpa rt ()f the 1:.g ypt i<1 n
Eurydice can therefore he ...,aid t() ha\'L' lwcn a result of unrcSeth. 'I he disappearance
">lraincd involn'rnent in ll'rnporal existence. ( >rplwus, the \on ()I 1\pnllt1, whn '-tlllLcedcd
hy hi..., music ()f unparalkkd beauty to mitigate the p(>\vcr..., ()I tlw :'\:l'lhcr \\'orld and tn
hri11g her had:., wa..., a her() and '-t<l\'iour. lk wa...,, h()\\'L'\'tT, .ln llll\llLlL'""lul "'''i(1ur. lw
LllU">e hi.., Apollinian dc-.,irc of direLI vi...,ion 111dL1LL'd him l<l hrt'<ik till' l1111dit11111 1mpn-..L'd


Tizc Scarclz for t lze Lost Soul in Giorgione's H'ork


on him, not to look at his beloved on the way back, with the consequence that he would
lose her forever.
Orpheus was perhaps beside Paris the one of the ancient heroes with whom Giorgione
identified himself most frequently. Passionate and admired musician and singer as he
was, such identification felt certainly natural to him. He might haYe had vague presentiments of his own fate being closely allied to that of his mythical model. vVas he not, he
also, fascinated by the faculty of sensual vision? 111e Giorgionesque 'Eurydice' of Bergamo
is now unanimously, or nearly so, assigned to Titian, but, if this assignment is correct, the
picture certainly proceeds from that early epoch in which Titian was dominated by the
influence of his older colleague and master.
111e myths of Europa and Io seem to have for their background recognition of the truth
that the idea of God is a bad substitute for God himself. 111e substitution of the father for
a lover may appear still \Vorse, but is closely allied to the first one and to intellectual-religious attachments of the emotional soul in general. 111is motif and the ensuing family
drama arc dealt with in marw m\'ths, one of which is the m)1h of Mvrrha, told b)' Ovid
in the 1ot h song of the ivlctmnorplzoscs. It is therefore not surprising to find this myth and
that of Adon is (which is intimately connected with it) illustrated by Giorgionesque paintings, such as the picture on one of the two cnssoni in the J\1useo Cilico in Padua, and the
'Birth of Adonis' and the 'Death of Adonis: published for the first time in Zampetti's catalogue of the Venetian exhibition of 1955. All these pictures are inspired by woodcuts in
the Ven ct ian edition of the Afrtmnorplzoscs of 1497 or its reprint of 1509.1l1e first of them,
that in the 1H11sco Cil'fro in Padua, has been diversely assigned to Giorgione (A. Venturi,
Cook, Justi ), Romani no ( L. Venturi, Berenson, Zampetti), Titian in the early period of his
activity, ca. 1506-1508 (IVlorassi, Longhi, Pallucchini), and other c;iorgionesque painters.
111c two other pictures ha\'C been supposed (by Longhi) to be early (ca. i508) works of
Sebastiano del Piombo.
According to the myth, ~/lyrrha was in low with her father and had for some time
managed to maintain an incestual relation to him by concealing her identity during their
nocturnal rneetinl!s. HL'r trickerv havinob been finallv unveiled bv the father, she fled and
was at her own wish transformed bv Aphrodite into a mvrtle tree. As she was pregnant,
so became also the tree, l!:ivin1! in du~ time birth to the bc;nrtiful Adonis.1l1e rights Lto the
child were disputed between Aphrodite and Persephone, and it was finally agreed that
Adonis should spent one half of the year with each of them - a <.kcision obviously related
to that of Solomon, both stories referring to the archetypal conflict lwtween the sensual
and the enH )t ional soul. Born of PL'f'\'L'rted lo\'e as he was, Adonis could not become at rue
hero. I k was killed by Arcs, who, jealous of his love-affairs with Aphrodite, had for that
occasion assumed the guise of a wild hoar.
1 he transformation of the lost soul into a tree and the birth of the 'hero' fro111 the
t rec, <l re crnn mon mythological motifs .. " 1 he Virgin ~lot her of the J)i,int' Saviour has
been unin'rsally represented as a tree, at least in the Semitic religions, the underlying
idea being perhaps that the fire latent in the wood is the incarnall'd sun-god.- An allied mytlwlogical motif is that of Daphne who, wishing to rl'main chaste and pursUL'd by
Apollo L'namourL'd of her, \\as by the gracL' of Arll'mis transformed into a laurL'I trL'L'. 'I he
laurel trL'L' became tl1L're1.1tfrr Apollo's (i.e., the Sun-god's, Saviour's and Healer's) property,
ih k<.ne.., were to crown the heads of triumphant heroes. On the ( ;iorgioncsque painting
in the \c111i1111ri11 J>11tric1rt"1i!e in \'eniLL\ the flight and transform1.1tion of lhpl111L' is rq 1 rL'\t'11kd \(lgl'llwr ,,ith :\pullu's tight ,,ith Python (as in tlw corresponding \\ouLkut in the


L 1





contemporary Venetian edition of Ovid's lvlctm11orplzoscs) - obviously because both refer

to the motif of chaste love (A'letamorplzoscs I, 558-565). 111is painting has been attributed
to Gioraione
b}' Morelli and Berenson, and to divers other masters bv' other authorities.
After its restauration in 1955 the tendency seems to have been to deduce that it came from
the circle nearest Titian.
To the myth of Daphne is referred also the celebrated portrait of a woman whose head,
neck and right arm are backed by laurel branches (cf. Pl. 21 ). It is unique in that an inscription on the back asserts it to be a work of Giorgione, dated in June 1506. It is cal led commonly 'Laura', but it is likely that it represents an object of Giorgione's ideal attachment.
111e imprisonment of the soul enamoured in the image of God is a symbol of that introvertive, 'hermetical' isolation which is necessary for a slow, but fruitful metamorphosis
of the personality of the hero. Being confined to the interior of a tree, or rather to some
region beneath it, the soul is prisoner of the Nether \i\Torld, and is therefore in a sense
identified with the soul of Mother Earth, the 'collective unconscious'._'_ But this confinement and the new identification connected with it give it the opportunity to get rid of
what is disorderly and illicit in its craving. ~Il1e longing of the Mother Earth for Father
Heaven, expressed in the symbol of a tree, is, in fact, right and legitimate enough. It is the
longing of the unconscious to become conscious. 'Ihe tree, companion of augurs and seers, is a natural symbol of dream interpretation, that magical performance which is apt to
resolve not only the father and the mother complexes (Oedipus and Electra complexes)
of the hero, but also some of his most fundamental dispositions to self-delusion. Br surrendering his dreams to the collective unconscious, the hero of individuation enables
his thought to grasp them objectively. 'Il1is marriage of Light and Darkness, Heaven and
Earth (or Hell), i.e. of thought and phantasy, Iiberates feeling (bound by thought) and
desire (bound by phantasy), and prepares that meeting bet\veen the dream-ego (bearer
of desire and exponent of individual spirit) and the right object of his longing (the emotional soul, bearer of love) which is the alchemistic co11i1111ctio, and from which the new,
'solar' man is going to be born.
A myth somewhat allied to that of Daphne, that of Atalanta and I lippomenes, has left
fascinating traces in akhcmistic symbolism without being represented, to our knowledge.
in C iorgione's painting.According to that myth, the Beoth ian king Schoi neus, d issat is tied
at having got a daughter instead of the son he desired, let the child he abandoned in the
mountains. Atalanta (for that \Vas her name) was taken care or by a she-hear, and later
by some hunters, and grew up to be a maid of incomparable physi~al pcrfedion. I~ut she
refused to marry except to a young rnan who could o\ercome her in a race. All thosL'
who tried, but did not succeed, were killed by her \Vith a spear. Only l lippunwnes stood
the trial, thanks to the help or Aphrodite, \Vho had equipped him with golden apples. l k
threw them before Atalanta during the contest, and she could not resist the temptation to
pick them up, thereby bci ng retarded in the run (cf. Pl. 27 ).
Psychologically and alchcmistically, this \Va..., a version of the spirit's pursuit of the soul,
and, as ...,uch, it i..., likely to have been used as a ...,yrnhol by the high-Re11ai...,sc.11Ke lwrmctists.
Kut it wa...,, to our knowledge, not until 1617 that a \'olumi110u..., alchernistiL work appL'<HL'd
in which the parallelism of mu...,ical composition t() alchcrni...,tic prnLL'durcs was sLhularly
exp<><..,cd. 'I his work \Vas the Latin Frip11s Aurc11s hy iVlichael !\i]aicr. And already thL' nc\.t
year appeared the \>lumc /\t1il<111t11_fi1gic11s hy the same auth()r. 'lhL' 111usiLll torrn nf till'
fll,l.;lll' hecamL' gradually developed !'rnm its Ill< >st prim it i \'L' !()rill, 1.. ,\I kd -..u hscq LIL'11l h
11111011, in which two \'<>iLes pursued cc.1ch <>llll'r. lr()ll1 the marn kinds ot thL' lugt1L' dL'\L'l

11zc Scarclz for tlzc Lost Soul in Giorgione's Work


oped by Maier, the second one consisted of three voices: 'Atalanta Fugiens: 'Hippomenes
Sequens' and 'Pomum Morans' (i.e., 'Keeping the Apple'). Fuga XLV was entitled: 'TI1e Sun
and Its Shadow Accomplish the \ \Tork'. rTI1ese were certainly more ancient conceptions,
whose first beginnings may well to be sought in Giorgione's Venice.
The psychological process of preparing the union of soul and spirit can be much
retarded, and even completely interrupted, by more or less unconscious fantasies and
dreams gaining again hold of desire, and conscious thought imposing its control on the
feeling. 1 his is perhaps expressed by the myth of Erysichthon, who is said to have hewn
down cold-bloodedly a holy tree, the abode of a soul, in the sacred grove of Demeter to
procure for himself building materials for a feast-hall.~ 1 s He was punished for this misdeed by incessant unsatiable hunger: Satisfaction of unobjectified fantasies (supported
by cynical reason or by sentimentalism, which is inseparable from cynicism) can never
stay dcsi re. The story is illustrated by one of the two Giorgionesque rnsso11e-pai ntings in
the Musco Cil ico in Padua - a work which appears to be of the same origin as its twin,
on which we have already commented. TI1ey both have been inspired by woodcuts in the
new edition of Ovid's Mcta111orplzoscs, chosen for that purpose possibly by Giorgione
- while the execution appears to be at least partially due to another painter working
under his supervision (Titian). "lhe dynamics of the composition has been largely imposed on these pictures by the wood-cuts in question, but the atmosphere is that of a
Giorgioncsque dream.
It should be observed that pictures strictly following iconographical or mythological
patterns cannot be expected always to lie along the line of the Giorgionesque sequence
of individuation, which is essentially that of Giorgione himself. Such themes as the myth
of Erysichthon might have interested him theoretically as dangerous possibilities, even
if they \Vere as such too distant to emerge in his own dreams. Si nee the corresponding
pictures had to represent deviations from his own path, it was only natural if he did not
care to paint them, that he confided this work to disciples or collaborators.
But the storv of Ervsichthon can also be taken as a hint at a more fundamental problem which eve1:v hum:rn beina
on the nath
of individuation has to face: that of original sin
or the basic attachment to delusion \vhich, concealed in a 'normal' personality by a mask
of adaptations to social norms, is apparent in those called to internal rebirth. At any rate,
the myth seems to indicate a condition of meditative chastity being imposed on the hero
as soon as the trL'C, in a sense symbol of the 'absence' of the soul, hut also of a meditative
attitude and withdrawal from human intercourse, has begun to exert a fascinating attraction on him. A little picture known under the name of'Chastity' (cf. Pl. 16), which seems
to he a Lonv
of onlv a fragment of the ori1Iinal naintino
can tnerhans
he referred to this
stage of (; iorgione's spiritual evolution .. ,., 'I he picture, now in the Otto Lmz Lol lect ion in
Amsll'rdam, has sinLL' ca. 1700 been regarded as an oriuinal work hv ( ;iorgio11L' or a Lopv
of suLh, though by some authorities \\'~ith doubt.-~" A l~w others hc.;\'e assigned it only t~)
the sLlrnol of the master, hut it has been only exceptionally deniL'd any connection \Vith
him. ,\!orassi quaJiflL'S 'Chastity'as 'in the highest degree (;iorgionesque: -'' 'j he pidure
represent... a young girl seated on a ground cowred \\'ith grass and llo\\'ers in a ditrusL'd,
dreamy landscapt'. her hand resting on the nape of the neck of a white unicorn whiLh has
po...,td his mu11k Lonlldently on hL'r lap and on which she is looking dm,n ,,ith ll'ndn affect ion. 1 he unicorn, just as the dragon, the basi Iisk, the grilll n, and the phoL'n i \, lwlongs
t() the lc.1hulous fauna
tlw wmholism
of individuation. It is ~lll uniwrsal, arLlwt\pal
...,ymh()I ()I tl1t' ..,pirit inherent in Lksirc, a symbol appearing in sonw of the nwst 1.rnLient





of the Indian Vedas, in the Confucian Li-ki, the Persian Bw1du/1is, and very frequently recurred to in Christian art and alchemistic imagery.~ It emerges spontaneously in dreams
even in our times. One of its most typical representations is shown in the company of a
virgin (or the Virgin), holding him protectively on her lap, just as the Giorgioncsque one,
it being clear that this association actually represents chastity.- 21 But the unicorn has also
been represented at the side of a tree - as it can be expected since the tree is a symbol
of the chaste souU 1 ~ll1e dream-ego being the bearer of desire, the unicorn represents
actually the dream-ego, and in that sense also the hero. It is, however, most commonly
regarded as a symbol of the alchemistic Mercury, i.e. Hermes, as \veil as of Christ or the
Holy Spirit, these identifications following naturally from the fact that the hero, after his
rebirth, identifies himself with his spiritual son, which is but an aspect of the Alcrcurius
duplex (cf. the preceding chapter).
Chastity dispels the anxiety which has overwhelmed the hero upon the discovery that
his beloved is absent from the \Vorld of senses. He actually finds her in chastity, though
not yet consciously, but disguised himself as a unicorn. Having found her, though also
disguised in the shape of the mystic tree which is to bear the external fruit of love, he
becomes the subject of the hermetic mystery, i.e. of that 'marriage between He~l\'en and
Hell' which is the waking experience of dreams. \r\That does then happen to the young
Giorgionesque shepherd? vVhat tools does he choose to register and contemplate his
Perhaps he tells them to himself in wrse or sings them, perhaps he tries to find their
expression in mime or dance - but what appears most actual to him in virtue of his temperament, i.e. of the physically determined type of his personality, is to puint them. Still,
the flute or violin belong to his most important auxiliary tools (Pl. 22). 'Ihe car grasps the
integral aspects of sensation more easily than the eye, which is distracted by the wealth
of spatial differentiation.
So he plays. But at the very beginning of his hermetic initiation caution is conveyed to
him: everything he docs, should be done at the right time. Time is the greatest adn.>rsary
in his search for the soul and immortality, but it should become his allv - it is, in fact,
indispensable to him, for eternity itself is born from time, through its ~ontraction into
the eternal now.
Perhaps it was this internal revelation that has been projected b\ him extcrnallv in the
form of the little picture (now in the Phillips Collection i,n \\'ashi,ngton) \\'hiLh ;hows a
youth seated alone in a strange, dreamy landscape and plaving a \'iolin. \\'e '.-la\' 'alone',
because he is entirely absorbe~l in his music and doc'.-1 not gi~'l' l~ecd to the old Ill.<rn who,
seated aside and somewhat behind him, lifts an hour-glass whiLh he holds in his hands,
a s if to at t r a c t h i'.-1 a t te n t io n . r h c yo u t h does n o t in fa c t n c e d t o Io o k at h i111 : h e '.-1 t.' cs h i m
with his internal L')'l' anyhow, because this old rnan, Time hirn'.-ielf, is a \i'.-iion or hi'.-1 o\\'n.
EnTything except the youth's arm and bow appear..., immobile under the slightly \'eikd,
motionless evening '.-iky of this painting, as if it wa . . the very nwmc11t of eternity being
horn from music.
1 his little picture, jointly with three other to he t.<>mmentcd on below, "tyli"t iL<lll~ idt.'n
tical and even almo...,t exactly the . . a111e ...,i1c, "eem..., to han' been dt.'.-itined to dcLorall' till'
"id e..., < >f . ., i me "ma 11 piece <if fu rn it u re, per hap..., a h < >x. I11 t h at L<l '> t.' it m u "t ha n lw c n ( a..., l ll1 t.'
of t h e < >t h e r...,, rep re" t.' n t in g \'e n u '.-1 a 11 d A m o r, n ()\ v in t h e 1':. rc...,..., < .<> Ikl t i<> 11 i11 \\ "l..., h i 11 gt o n )
the prnpcrtv or tlw lalicr count.... at the L<l'>tlc <>I 1\<.,<>l(l a circu111 . . tallLl' \\'hil h <1dd . . addi
tirn1<1I \\'eight t<> ih d .... ...,ig11mcnt to< ;i<>rgi<>llt.'. II h<1..., hL'L'll <1ttrihukd t() ( ;i(1q.!,l(lJJL' h\ 11w-.1


171c Searc/1 for tlze Lost Soul i11 Giorgione's V/ork


authorities (Cook, Conway, Fiacco, Morassi), though some believe it to be the work of an
imitator, or of Giulio Campagnola, Giorgione's hermetic collaborator.
One of the first hermetic experiences of the hero is a meeting with the Virgin Guide
who shows him the path he has to follow in his spiritual search. She is the stage-manager
and interpreter of the dream-play, and actor as well, a female aspect of the androgynous
Hermes Onciropompos of the mysteries, a figure related to, or identical with, the Divina
Sapicntin (Hngin Soplzfa) of early Christianity, essentially the same one who brought
Christian Rosenkreuz the invitation to the 'chemical wedding', though different from
her in appearance.- An impression of the meeting with her has been fixed on canvas in
the uncanny Giorgionesque picture at Hampton Court, called 'TI1e Concert' (cf. Pl. 23).
The atmosphere of a dream mystery is here expressed with a suggestive power surpassed
by few works only among those ascribed to Giorgione or his followers. 111e picture represents a young woman holding a sheet of paper inscribed on its back with notes, and
pointing with the forefinger of her right hand at something on the other side.
A young boy with an introvert melancholy look of one who is dreaming \Vith halfopen eyes, stands close to her at her left and looks at what she is pointing to, though
he, paradoxically enough but significantly, seems actually to be absorbed in some inner
vision of his own. ll1ese two figures are flanked by two men of plain appearance, whose
faces seem to radiate genuine goodness.111ey may be the two older companions or brothers who, in dreams and folk-tales, use to follow the young hero on his daring descent to
the Nether \Vorld, thouuh
these two fiuures
, renresentinu
b as thev
' do annarentlv
t t
nents of personality dominated by social authorities (the Super-Ego), cannot be truly
good. 'lhe two men in the Hampton Court picture are also looking at the sheet of paper
which the woman is holding in her hand. 111ey have apparently being listening to what
she has said, but her exposition has been interrupted, as if to give the artist a chance of
fixing the scene in his memory. 111e woman looks out of the picture at the spectator with
the gentle smile of a person who knows more about the play than both the public and the
remaining actors do. But the man to her right lays his hand on her arm with a confidentiality which makes us wonder whether he might not be Hermes himself, in his masculine,
active aspect; especial Iv as his face is not unlike that which is usuallv given to Christ. 'Tl1e
other man, somewhat ~Ider, holds a roll of notes(?) in his left. \1Vhat~\~er may be his exact
identity and that of the younger man, we shall probably not be mistaken if we designate
them as 'shepherds', companions of the young shepherd hero.
People who are on the verge of taking the first steps towards individuation drL'alll often of mel'l i ng, or or obtaining a message from a woman who gives them directions for
their quest, cs~1cLially in the fl~rm of a n;ap on which the path tl1ey have to follow across
a primc\'al forest has been drawn. 'I he goal of their pereurination mav be pointed out as
the CL'11 t re of a spiral and at the same ti n;c designated as a~ uterus. -.,, 11~ is has to he u ndcrs tood as the womb or [\lothn Earth into which they have to deSCL'l1d - hut that point may
escape thL' understanding of the dreamL'r or his mcmorv, after a\\'akening.
Herc arc, for
'example, cxcerph Crom the c.Kcount or a dream which has impreSSL'd the dreanwr (a man
from the worki ng-Llass) extraordinarily: 'After having for a long ti me sunk down and
down into hlad;. nothingness in which neither living beings nor spirits did exist, I fell on
I\lother Fa rt h's cold, merciless su rfacc ( ... ). I assu 111L'd human shape and starkd to long
for the company of human beings. And - suddenly! As if I were in possession of ALlddins
my...,t ica I lamp, a complete Iivi ng woman was standing before me ( ... ). Sht' utkl"L'd one
W<lrd llnly: "Co111t'~" - and I under...,tnnd that she should he my guidL' in that unknown





countrv which seemed deserted and dead. The woman led me out oft he primeval forest.
She ga~e me a map which I had to follow to reach the goal. But since I did not know which
way I had to go, she followed me for some distance. lhe last thing she said was: "Follow
the map, you cannot then be mistaken as to the right way!"'But', asks the dreamer in his
commentary, 'what was the goal I was to reach? \Vhat awaited me there, in the forest?'
- Th is he did not retain.
In the Hampton Court picture we have to do not with a map, but apparently at least
with a sheet of musical notes. 111e meaning of the instruction drc.nvn from it seems nevertheless to be similar because music expresses at this stage of the hero story the call to
rebirth (as the pipe of Pan, or of his father Hermes in the myth of Io) which is to direct
his steps.
l11is motif of instruction of the hero at his start on the untrodden path of individuation (\vhich invariably leads through regions of primeval, virginal nature away from the
vanity of civilization and its futile learning) seems to be e\Tn more directly represented
in the celebrated picture in the G<1llcrio Pitti in Florence, called r he 1 hree Ages of Man'.
(Cf. Pl. 24.) Here the woman is absent from the stage, but the instruction is imparted to
the boy by a man who strikingly resembles her companion in the painting in Hampton
Court. The boy is looking down at a sheet of paper which he seems to hc.l\'e just obtained
from his instructor. The latter is pointing at the paper with the forefinger of his left hand
and is apparently speaking to him. An older man, not unlike the one in the Hampton
Court picture but bold, stands on the other side of the boy as a silent witness to the instruction which he apparently docs not much heed, either because there is nothing new
to him in it, or because it is not destined for him. He turns slightly round towards the
spectator \Vith an earnest but some\vhat annoyed expression, as if disappnl\'ing of the
vain curiosity of the latter.
Both thes'c pictures, but especially that of the Gnllcric1 Pitti (said by PalluL-chini to
present the art critics with 'one of the most passionate problems of attribution') have been
assigned to a great variety of masters: to Lorenzo Lotto (Crowe and Cavalcasellc), who apparently belonged to the same hermetic circle as Ciorgionc; to Ciorgione's d isci pie I\ lorto
da Feltre (the Hampton Court picture, Lw Logan, the other one bv C~ronau) to ( ;ioroionc
himself (the Hampton Court picture, by authors of ancient cataloguL's; both, by ( :ook and
Suida; the Pit ti picture, also by Ivlorclli, Morassi and Salvini ), or his school (the J-larnpton
Court picture, by Morassi). Longhi's hypothesis ( 1927) that the Hampton Court picture
is a work of c;iorgione's master Ciovanni Bellini Urom the late period of his lik in which
he was under the influence of Ciorgione), and that the othn one pruCL'L'ds fru111 lkllini's
circle, appears lo have \Von many adherents in later time (cL Zarnpetti 19-;5, Baldass and
Heinz, 1964). Salvini found (1961), however, a confirmation of the Pitti picture's being a
work of Ciorgione in the resemblance of the f<kl' of the instructor to that of ( ;irolanw
.\larccllo \\'hose portrait, still extant in \'ienna, has been attc..,ted by ,\Jichiel a.., a \\'ork of
C; iorgione, and vvhom c; iorgionc has also introduced in his 'Ado rat ion oft he .\ lagi'.
De..,pising cheap success and abandoning the well-trodlkn \\'ay..., <ll hi" L()rnrades the
young ...,lwpherd is thu..., ...,ecn to set out on the da11genn1.., ljllL'"l f()r the u11k110\\11 ohjed of
his Lksire. To ( 1iorgirn1e it \Vas probably impu.... . . ible to e11gage Lli1L(l1l1promi"i11gly i11 this
task before he left Bellini\ \vorkshop and l''-t<1bli..,lwd hirn1..,ell a..., an irnkpe11de11t arli1..,t. His
<>ulward em<rntipati()11111u...,t have hce11 paralkll'd by a hl'gi1111i11g i111L'rnal ll1L'ta11wrphosis
due t<l tht' gradual ...,<llut i()Jl ()f hi..., nrnt lwr L()!ll~)IL\ ,rnd . . uh"L'ljllL'lll I rlwr<1t ion lr11111 t lw ii
I u . ., i() n . ., o I t h c L 1 1II c d i VL' u 11 L <111 .., c i () u . ., . 1h c h e n 1 111 I h at pc rit 1d 1 ii h 1.., . ., I) 1r 1 t l u I c \ 1 1 I t1 t i 1 1 n h <l -.

71ze Search for tlze Lost Soul in Giorgione's Work


to fight his wishful fantasies by focussing the light of consciousness directly on them. As
the son of a single woman and destined to be reborn from that great virgin or'widow', the
Mother Earth, and thus in a double sense 'Son of the vVidow' (to use that ancient Gnostic
designation adopted by later freemasonry), he has his mother complex and his dependence on collective illusions laid bare, so to say, and is therefore subject to what has been
inadequately labelled as psychoneurosis or psychosis.
In Scandinavian folk-talcs, the first thing the young dreamer does on his wandering
through the forest is to liberate an old witch who has been standing there and starving for
a hundred years, her long nose caught in the cleft of a tree-stump, and to give her food.
This grotesque symbol seems to stand for the liberation of fantasy (the old witch), bound
by the libido (the nose) to the collective unconscious (the earth) from which it incessantly
and in vain draws materials for its satisfaction. vVe can say that the stump is that of the
tree hewn down by Erysichthon: the holy tree of desire which should connect Earth to
Heaven, but has been replaced by the parasitic libido of subjective fantasy. Also the starvation of the witch is olwiouslv that of Ervsichthon's. To objectifv fantasv means, among
other things, to abandon the i nfantile pu;suit of subjectiv~ dre~;ms inci~ed by the hop~
of a satisfaction which can never be attained, and to assume the objectively valid logos
of subjective conscience (Hermes) as the guiding principle of life. lhis again implies a
loyalty of a very different type, and much more difficult, than that to the social authorities
in power, exacting only formal conformity to accepted norms of conduct. The solution
of the mother complex requires the payment of the debts of one's immature years and
hence the liberation from moral and libidinal dependence on those who have taken care
of one. l his is the sense of the hero's giving food to the old woman, because nourishing is
a maternal function por cxccllc11cc. TI1e old woman repays his good action by giving hLim
a magical flute or some other magical object symbolic of paranormal psychic faculties
\vhich arc to guide him in the world of the miraculous that he is now going to enter. TI1e
tree of chaste and meditative life is henceforth free to regenerate from its roots and grow
up to heaven.
'I hese folk-talc motifs arc not directly represented in the Giorgionesque painting, except for the tree-stump in the 'Sleeping Venus' which is to be commented on later. But,
although Ciorgionc's sensitive conscience and acute sense of transcendental values might
have s~vcd hi1;1 from such excesses of deluded desire as that of Erysilhthon, he had to
face that fundamental attachment of desire to dream which can be labelled the original
sin or mother complex. \\'e have reasons to believe that his mother played an exceptional
role in (; i< lrgione's Ii fe, as in that of all heroes of individuation. 'I he portrait he has painted
of an old, worn-out working woman is commonly believed to represent her. If this is exact, it is a document of his love and compassion. He took probably care of her after having
emancipated himself from the intlUL'nce of Giovanni Bellini, and this was a precondition
of his spiritual emancipation from the mother complex. 1 he rcputat ion he had as a man
of the \Vorld could not hut hL' rather deceiving. In life, as in art. low counted supreme for
'I he magical faculty of making subjective imagination objectively valid \\'as the t'Sscncc of his artistic activity. t laving severed most of the bonds fettering him to the world
of human illusions, he lwcomes worthy to enter the world of the miraculous. In the folk
tales tlw lwro tights trolls and dragons, and liberates successively or jointly three princeso..,co..,. In dreams nf more or less restricted individuation hL' may rncl't thrL'l' lwings of
nrnre llrdinar\ appL'<.ll"c.ll1LL\ hut L'\'l'n then there is usually something supernatural about



that encounter. In the last of the dreams here quoted, the dreamer met three women, the
first of them being the 'guide' we have mentioned. But all three of them he came later to
meet in actual fact, physically, and all of them came to play important roles in his life. 'll1e
Giorgionesque hero, however, meets goddesses. 'I11ey address him as a second Paris, trusting his superhuman power of objective judgement.
According to the Paris myth, Eris, the goddess of strife, cast a golden apple inscribed
with the words 'To the most beautiful' among the assembled gods, causing a quarrel between Hera (Juno), Athena (Minerva), and Aphrodite (Venus), each of whom claimed the
prize. Referred by Zeus to the judgement of the shepherd Paris, they gave the latter the
most enticing promises of recompense for a favourable decision. Hera hold out for him
the prospect of ascending to the throne of Asia; Athena, that of acquiring immortal fame
as a hero; while Aphrodite, finally, promised him the most beautiful wife on earth. Paris
logically enough and in conformity to the directives of Hyp11croto11wc/1i1 gave the prize of
beauty to the one who appeared to have command over beauty. Shortly aften,ards, having been recognized by his sister and his two brothers, he returned to the royal castle of
Troy, only to be urged by Aphrodite to sail to Sparta and carry off the immortal Helena,
daughter of Zeus and Leda.
Ridolfi reports to have seen a picture by Giorgione representing the judgement of Paris
in the Casa Leoni at San Lorenzo in Venice, but this picture has been lost. A number of
copies of a picture representing this subject, probably that reported by Ridolfi, are extant
at Dresden, Chiavari, Oslo, Malmesbury, and Florence ( Uffizi). Some authorities believe,
howe\er, that the oriainal
of these conies
has not been nainted
bv Gioroione.
Cronau and
Hadeln attribute it to Domenico Campagnola; Morassi, to Titian. Another alleged version
of the 'Judgement of Paris' attributed to Giorgione, now also lost, has been sketched in the
book invcntary of Andrea Vend ram in in Venice in the beginning of the 17th century. lhe
copies still subsisting of the first-mentioned version show Paris sitting on the ground before the three naked goddesses, the apple in his right hand, and pointing with the forefinger of his left at Aphrodite who stands between her two rivals. Veils fluttering from their
arms indicate strong wind - in dreams and hermetical texts an unmistakable hint of the
(concealed) presence of Hermes (the Spirit) - here an indicator of the judgement being
right and necessary for the Alog1111111 Opus of the shepherd.-.- (Cf. Pl. 25.)
'I his judgement implies, in fact, that the hero has chosen his mvn way. He has chosen
beauty, or, more exactly, the beauty of love as such. 1 he Ciorgionesquc hero is henceforth in search of the goddess, as also Paris in a sense was, in as mt11.h as l lclcna can be
regarded as a terrestrial projection of Aphrodite herself. One day he pcrLeives her finally,
lying asleep in a peaceful landscape, in perfect unity with \lot her Earth - ...,uLh as she is
represented in the celebrated picture in the c;c1111.ildcg11/cric in DresdLn kf. Pl. 26). 1ht.'
harmoniously tleeting lines or her body matching those or the landsLapc express the deep
relaxation in the embrace or the J\lother Nature \Vhich follows the meeting hct\\'een the
desiring and the desired. 1 he cold and rigid hierarchical structure of the old personality
which is the product of adaptation to social standards, melts dmvn hefnrL' the breath of
life, and the dream-ego . . ecms almost ready to sink down into the underground realm of
the dead. h>m all \Vhich constitutes an unreh()rn pcr..,onality ()nly naturL\ the di\inc, Lan
survive an assiduous purc..;uit of love, as that firm foundation on whiLh tlw . . tat UL' of tht'
true, divine man can he erected by the transcerHkntal l()g<>s. And . . intL' thL' dt'..,Lcnt of tht.'
dead t<> the ~ether \\'orld (and even their phy....iLal burial) ha..., comrnnnly lwL'll tlllh't'iVL'd
as a c..;ymholiLt.d u>ition \.Vith <ll1d fertili1ation of 1\l()thn Larth, till'> di'>t<>\.LT\. of l.o\'C iJnd

TI1e Senrclz for the Lost Soul in Giorgione's Work


Death by the dreamer reasserts in him the lover of the Earth, that Great Mother of his,
invincible as terrestrial life itself.
An ancient heathen rite, until recently surviving in \ 1\Testern Europe, imposed on
young couples the obligation to copulate on newly-ploughed fields to assure rich crops.
Such magical rites and conceptions have their background in the natural course of transformation of the personality preparing the ground for what is archetypically conceived
as the birth of the Divine Son of Man from an unconscious psychic underground of the
terrestrial life (the <collective unconscious' of Jung).
l11e Dresden picture is by most authorities assumed to be identical with the picture
of a (naked Venus sleeping in a landscape with Cupid' which Michiel saw in 1525 in the
house of Jeronimo Marcello in Venice.1l1e picture was still in the same house in 1660, and
Ridolfi mentioned in i648 that the Cupid was standing at the feet of Venus, a little bird
in his hand. X-ray investigations have confirmed that a Cupid was originally represented
at the feet of Venus on the Dresden picture, but was painted over (in 1837?), probably because of bad conservation. Some doubts as to the identity of the Dresden picture with that
of Jeronimo Ivlarcello's have been expressed for trivial reasons, especially because on the
first of them the bird appears to have been represented in the air, above the head of Cupid
- but these doubts are now mostly abandoned.:- s Michiel has given us precious information that the picture is a work of Giorgione, except for the landscape and the Cupid which
have been _/z11islzcd by Titian. Most modern authorities accept these attributions, and the
thesis of Suida, Hourticq and Morassi that the picture is a pure work of Titian has been
rejected by others.
An interesting detail is the conspicuous stump of a tree represented in the centre of
the picture, behind the Venus and right above her privy part concealed by the left hand
which so wonderfully expresses her deep relaxation. In the light of what has been said
above concerning the symbolism of the tree and the tree-stump, this can be a hint at lost
physical chastity, but also that of overcome unchastity of imagination and hence rcsolt cd


lzcr complex.

Dream-visions of Venus occur at different stages of deepest introversion, and their

significance may vary according to circumstances. Not all pictures of Venus attributed
to Giorgione should therefore be referred to the stage we are commenting on at present.
'I his is, for example, the case with the little rnssonc-painting from the Asolo Castle, now
in \Vashington, intimately related to the 'Youth plaving a violin, and Time with an hourglass' (cf. <~hove), and rq~resenting Venus and Cu~~id in front of a wonderful landscape
with a zigzag-path climbing up a strange mountain which seems to abandon the earth
and be ascending toward heaven. 'lhis picture refers probably to a more advanced stage of
individuation. But the drawing at Darmstadt representing Venus with a shepherd crouching at her feet, may belong here.
If this meeting \Vi th Venus (\vhich seems generall\' not to have anv erotic counterpart
on the plane of \\~a king experience) resolves, ;)rat lea~t starts the resolution of the mother
complex, we should expect that the (~iorgioncsque hero should come from it endowed
with at least one new supernormal faculty symbolized, as in folk-tales, by a magical object. 1 he role of such an object can be played only by that golden apple which he has
himself assigned to \lcnus. 1 he goddess of low must be assumed to repay his fidelity with
that talisman which may enable him to find, and win, his Helena.
'I he gulden apple is in fact a symbol of divine love and the mystical marriage of spirit
and -..cn11. It apiwars in this capacity at divine and royal weddings e.g. that of Cadmus and



Harmonia. Its roundness represents that perfect whole of human nature and individual
being of which ordinary men and women are only wretched halves.
The trees which bore the golden apples of the Hesperides had been brought forth by
the Earth on that blessed island where Zeus had spent the first happy days of his marriage
with Hera, his sister and wife. To fetch them was the last superhuman task Heracles had to
accomplish before descending to Hades and fetching Cerberus. From the point of view of
depth psychology, the three Hesperides that guarded the apples were related to the three
goddesses of Paris. Although the common version of the myth speaks of three apples,
one apple only (and one of the three Hesperides, just as one of the goddesses) must haYc
been essential for the achievement of the Heraclean 1vfogm1111 Opus. A representation on
an ancient vase shows Heracles as a new Olympian approaching the throne of Zeus with
a single apple in his hand.
An example of similar symbols occurring in modern dreams may be briefly mentioned. A man, an academic, much interested in dream interpretation on the plane of
practical life, but not versed in Jungian psychology, has reported to the present writer a
dream in which he imagined, he was at the last, and highest station of a suburban railway and buying a beautiful apple bearing a round, blue mark with a golden edge and the
number 27 inscribed. To the experience of the present writer, the number 27 occurs in
dreams always (as in Plato's Tinwcus) in connect ion \vi th the concept of the ( transcendental) soul (in alchemistic literature usually considered as esscntiallv identical with the
world soul, the Ani11rn lvl w1di), a concept standing behind that of the' emotional soul, i.e.
behind Helena of the Paris myth in a symbolic interpretation of the latter. 1 his number
appears also sometimes to be spontaneously used as an indication of the final stage of a
series of events. Blue is archetypically related to the emotional soul.
Now, this magical apple which is to lead the Ciorgionesquc hero to the true ob_jcct of his
desire can be actually seen in his hand again - not just as a momentary deposit, as in the
'Judgement of Paris', but apparently ash is property. 'Il1e picture in q ucstion is the beautiful
'Double portrait' in the Palazzo \/cnczill in Rome (cf. Pl. 27) - a picture which was for a long
ti me offered little attention by the scholars, being attributed, very i nconvi nci ngly, to painters of modest rank, such as Dorncn ico iVIanci n i (Berenson) or Francesco Torbido ( \ Vilde ),
but was finally assigned to Giorgione by Longhi ( 1946 ). Tl1e opinion of the lat tcr was joined
by Coletti ( 1955) and emphatically by Zampetti ( 1955). Baldass on the other hand cxp.ressed
the opinion that this picture was only an imitation of a work by Ciorginne.-'"
1 he identity of the two young men here portrayed is without import. 1 he one of them
v\'110 is seen in the background to the right, behind the left shoulder of the foreground
person, serves only as a counterpoise to the refined beauty and introvert nwlancholy of
the latter. His serenely boyish face is, in fact, slightly inclined to the right, \\'hill' the man
in the foreground, who is seen down to his waist, is inclined to the left, posing his check
on his right hand, and resting his elbow on a typical Ciorgionc-.,quc parapet. In his left
hand \vhich is also posed on the parapet, he holds forth an apple. I I is \\'idc open eyes arc
concentrated on some inner vision, and his melancholy face cxpres-.,es deep longing. Both
the vision and the longing have obviously some relation to the -.,ymhol of the apple. 1 his is
-,ugge-,teJ by the way the tips of his fingers arc touching the apple and hy the pmition of
his hand and the apple on the inclined axis of hi-., faLc. 'f he nwrL' fad, fl na II y, that the apple
i.., thnc in his hand, a.., the sole object repn:-.,entl'd in the picture not pertai11i11g dirL'dly to
his apparel nor t() that of hi-., companion, \Vi th the l'XL-cption of tlw parapet and the \'t'rti
Lal L()lurnn behind tlwm, i-, -,igniflLant cnm1gh.

Tize Searclz for the Lost Soul in Giorgione's Work

This melancholy man is obviously a follower of the hermetic call, a Giorgionesque
hero. His whole appearance characterizes him as a lover. He has a long path behind him,
he is not a mere youth longer, but before him everything appears dark and uncertain. The
golden apple of divine love is his talisman, the sole thing able to nourish his hope.
It is at the stage of life this picture reflects that the seeker of love in his wanderings
across landscapes of dream for the first time catches a glimpse of what he has lost. He sees
her perhaps at a distance, lying asleep on the ground at the border of a forest as that highly Giorgionesque naked girl represented by Giulio Campagnola certainly after a painting
by Giorgione, her back turned towards the on-looker in the same position as that of one
of the two girls of lVIarc' Antonio Raimondi's much debated engraving.:-' 111e inner entity
which she represents (the emotional soul) seems to be the only one among the many figures of the hermetical dream-play which invariably appears in the guise of a person the
dreamer knows from his waking life - a girl he has loved, but has lost. TI1is, most ethereal
heroine of the Giorgionesque epos might for the sake of expedience be called Cecilio,
after the name of the girl who, according to a non-verifiable testimony, appears to have
inspired Giorgione's 'Laura', and possibly also the Madonna of Castelfranco.
Is, then, the lost soul now finally released from Hades? Such an assumption would contradict all remaining evidence of Giorgionesque painting and would be psychologically
and mythologically unjustifiable. vVe can only assume that she, like Kore-Persephone, that
Maiden Goddess par exccllc11cc, has been allowed to leave the Nether \Vorld temporarily.
111e reason for which the hero is now able to see her must be his rejection of a wishful
dream, liberation from his mother dependence, and awakening to the desire of love as
such. Short, his new power of vision is due to the golden apple, that talisman Venus has
conferred on him.
One evening, finally, he perceives her awake such as Giorgione has painted her in a
\vork respiring uncanny fascination. 111is picture, the so-called 'Ceres' in the J\I11scu111
Dolilc111 in Berlin, has been offered surprisingly little attention since its publication by
Zimmermann ( 1954), but its position in the Giorgionesque epos is crucial. It represents a
nude woman - or rather a goddess since nudity is apparently natural to her - siting at the
brink of a stone-well adorned by a big head of a ram. The back of the body of the goddess
is outlined against a dusty brownish grey wall forming the background of that part of
the right half of the picture which is above and behind the well. Some plants are hanging
down from the fissures in the wall. The rest of the bodv of the goddess is shining in the
light corning from above the horizon, which she conten;plates fi~edly, as if awaiting some
mysterious sign. Her bosom is concealed by her left shoulder, which is turned towards
the onlooker, while her left arm, reclined on the thigh, covers the profik of the belly, her
whole appearance suggesting chastity, though perhaps not virginity and purity. 'I he face is
projected against the dark mass of some background trees, and the lmver part of the left
half of the picture behind the legs of the goddess lies in the deep shadmv of approaching
night. ( )nly at the upper left edge a view opens on a road with a few riders and \\'alkers
moving tmvards some distant buildin!!s below a hi buh wall. Still farther awav,
two strangch
..:,haptd, twin rocky mountains arc projected on the background of the evening sky, one
of them -..till shining in the twilight, the other covered by deep shadow. Horizontal strips
of clouds beneath a dark <md uniformlv clouded vault of heawn enhance tlw impression
of apprna1..h i ng mystery evoked by the, harmonious concourst' of <111 the elements oft hi-,
cxtraordinary picture. 1 he head or the ram has exactly the same form a"> those on a skp
of the thrnnc of Solnrnon in the /111(~crnc11t in l\.ingstnn Lacy. 1 hese heads again arc pltl1..L'd






in much the same manner as those on the wall of the stone-spring in Giulio Campagnola's
engraving representing Christ mzd tlze S{mu1ritm1 won um and be! ieved to reproduce a picture by Giorgione which is now lost. But the ram head in the Berlin picture has uncanny
expressiveness, the left eye of it being invisible in the deep shadow while the right one is
brilliant and fixes the spectator from below with the sad gravity of a hierophant. 'I his brilliant eye constitutes the hypnotical focus of the entire picture.
Here, then, we have a picture which scarcely could have been painted by any master
but Giorgione and certainly by no painter who had not passed through the experience
by which it has been inspired, or had not become conscious of its spiritual significance.
The attribution to Giorgione, which is due to Zimmermann, is supported by the striking
similarity which the features and the bodily attitude of the sitting goddess of Berlin have
with those of the reclining girl in the above-mentioned engraving by Giulio Campagnola.
111is has not prevented some authorities from assigning the picture to other painters
(Pallucchini, to Sebastiano del Piombo; Coletti, to Gerolamo da Treviso the younger (ii
giovmze)). Zimmermann, who has pointed out both the likeness in question and that
of the ram heads, as well as the motif of the atfi n ity of the goddess to the Madonna of
Castelfranco and the Judith of Ermitage on the one hand, and the woman of the Tc111pcst
on the other, has commented on this picture \Vith keen and congenial insight. He has
rightly observed that it brings forth 'the state of twilight which deprives all objects of their
local colours'. 111is is actually one of the most pervading symbolical characteristics of the
imagination at the threshold of that deep introversion which can be labelled as the dcsce11sus ad i1~feros (or VEKULa, as Jung has preferred - more briefly, but not very fittingly).
~Ihe approach of night is to the hero at that stage of his development, an exciting and
inebriating experience. It is permeated with an indefinite, but overwhelming sense of
proximity to a Divine Beloved of celestial beauty - a goddess immanent in the entire
nature but most perfectly manifested in the starry heaven. I lcr identity is IT\Taled by
the three ears of corn which the goddess of the Berlin picture holds in her right hand
at the height of her breasts. 111is divine 'virgin' waiting for somebody - whom, if not the
hero? - at the brink of the mystical spring, and merged by the painter into the medium
of his own supreme tension turned into supreme stillness - this divinity discloses herself
to us by that secret symbol. She is the Virgo Coe/est is, the coming mot her of the di vi nc
Son of .Vlan eternally born as the Elcusinian Ear of Corn, the Spim \'irgi11is which serwd
Copernicus as the point of reference for the reformation of the system of the world. If she
at that stage nf her manifestation lacks the purity of the iVladonna of Castelfranco, it is
because she represents the hero's own non reborn soul.
'I he \veil on which the goddess is sitting is characterized bv the ram hL'ad, svmbol of
Hermes-tvlercu ry, as the ale hem isl ic _!(ms 111crc11 riillis or the Spring of Li fr, sou rL-e of t hL'
<7<]1111 11ostm, aqun \ ilt1c, called also 111crcuri11s l'i\'llS, in which the -,un, i.e. the spirit (the
dream-ego of the hero himself) has to be drowned in order to be reborn. " ~krL-urv, the
guiding Holy Spirit of the work, has sometimes been imagined as a Virgin standi~1g at
the Source of Life. \.' In a devotional image of the 17th century reproduced hy lung, till'
\/irgin i'vlary is represented in a i..;imilar role, i..;uc..,pended in the air ahm'c the Sm1rCL' of Life
and two Trees of Life, and c..,urrounded by alchemistic symblils pertaining tu this stage
of the vvork. ,, 1 he \Valer from the spring is the ll</llll pcr1111111c11s of \\'i...,d()rn and Truth
(i..;omctimes identilled \Nith the soul itself) at the extraction
which trrnn the Earth
itself the alchemists toiled, in ... pircd by the example of I\il(l\L''-,, \Vho had . . trlll k it out
the rnck. ,, Ac(ording to c;/oric1 i\ll1111di, an <ilcherni-.,tiL trcati-,e i11Llmkd i11 tlw ,\/11_,11e11111




41. Giorgione? lndifferent Nature and the lonely page tearing the clothes on his breast, marked with signs of initiation into the mysteries of the Earth.
(Bergamo, Coll.Co. Ing.Ernesto Suardo. Reprinted from P. Zampetti, Giorgione e i giorgioneschi, catalogo della mostra, Venezia i955.)

42. Fragment of th e p receding pain ti ng.

43. Be rna rdi no Lic inio? 111e Sou l, attend ing the Bridegroom; Man, fascinated by he r beauty; his
D esire, in the s hape of a boy with the cosmic model o f transform ation in his hands; and - deep in
t he d ark co rner - Hermes Trism egistos himself, in dream meditation. (Samuel H . Kress Collection,
C olumbi a M useum of Art, C olumbia, South Carolin a.)

44. After Giorgione: 'Giova nni Borgherin i a nd hi s Doughty Tutor'. The tutor, the cos mi c transfo rmation

mode l in his h and, instru c ts a boy, wh o is hold ing instrum e nts of painting a nd p laying, th at tale nt is
wo rthless un less prove n b y facts .


4 5. Dosso Dossi (c. i479- 154 2) . Circe, trying in vain to let her lovers decipher the secret of being
hum an. (Nationa l Ga llery of Art, Washington, o.c., Samuel H. Kress Collection. )

47. Giorgione? Pasto rello in armour with Gol iath's head at his left as the sign of transcending intell ect,
and the swo rd -cross of fidelity at his right. (Vien na, Kunsthistorisches Museum .)

46. (oppos it e) Supposed by Ciovanni Hell ini (c. 1430- 1516). The internal transfor mati on by music, and

th e externa l transformation by chance. (Transferred from wood to canvas. Nati onal Callery of Art ,
Washington , 1i.c., Widener Collectio n 1942.)

4 s. Giorgione? Boy wi th arrow. (Vienn a, Kunsth istorisches Museum. )

49. G io rg ione? A picture which could be call ed 'A wro ng s tep'. It shows a young man o n the t h ird level
of roc ks s imilar lo l h ose occ up ied by the you ng 'ph ilo sophe r' befo re the dark en trnnce n f a c ave. 1he
young ma n , assail ed by s ma ll but ugly animals, has broke n a leg, and h is compan io n (the intc llecl )
in vain tries to sl't it r ig hl. l he way of salvation is indicated by St. George nttad.ing a d ragon in th e
bac kgrou nd . ( Na tion a l (;allc ry of Art , Washington, D.c.)

50. C opy after Giorgion e? Portrait of a military commande r with his shie ld b ea rer. lhe second and
th e th ird fin ger o f his left hand a re pointing down in the form of an inve rted V, indi cating th ereby
introve rs ion.1l1is is confi rmed by his using his left h and and pointing at a round obj ect, a co mmo n
symbol of th e Earth. 1l1e right hand, standing fo r co nsc iou s act ivity, re poses on th e cross- formed
handle of a ve rti call y ori e n ta ted swo rd, suggesting the correct coupl in g of the t wo fundam e ntal
a n ti th ese s of th e pe rso nality. ( Florence, Galle ria Uffi zi, Ed . A Ii nari. )

51. Titi a n: Perseus freeing And ro meda from the power of a dragon. Her body attitude con forms w ith
the S- patte rn (' the Earth -Sun' pattern) of liberation from the powers of the unconscious. (From the
Wall ace Collection.)


52. Titi an: Bacchus meeting Ariadne, abandoned by her lover and wa ndering along the seasho re. TI1is

is but a stage in the process of her salvation , as indi cated by her S-attitude. (London, Na ti o nal Gallery.
Photo Anderson, Rom. )

53. G iorgione: '1l1e Te mpest', as this picture is wrongly called. It is the most controversial o f
Giorg io ne's wo rks, altho ugh som e autho rs lo ng since h ave po inted out its affiliat io ns \vith the
Hy pnerotonw ch ia. 'TI1 e painting represents actually an advanced, peacefu l state of th e pilg rimage of
th e ad ept a nd hi s beloved Polia, the lightning in the sky being a re min der only o f th e stormy course
of life w hich the y have left behind. (Ve nice, R. Galleria d ell'Accad emia d i Belle Arti. Fll i Alinari .)

54. G iorgione/Titian. An ideal m eeting of two pairs of personality components wh ich in t his meeting
find their right companion s. An advanced s tage of pe rsonality integ ration. ( Pa r is, Musee Nat io nal du

55. Palma Vecchio: 'La Bella'. (Pinacoteca, Modena. Photo Anderson, Rom.) The accentuation of her
herm etic rank suggests a sig nificant humanistic personality. Cassandra Fedele?

57. G io rgion e?: Portrait of L. C rass us, probably Leonardo C rasso from Vero na, publish er of th~ seco nd
edition o f the Hypnerotornachia, whi ch appeared in i 508, th e sa me year to vv hich the portrait is d ated.
The lette rs V V on the parapet are th e same as in G iorgione's p resumed Cope rnic us- portrait. (Traced
for the last t ime to the co ll ection of M. Rothschild in London. C ourtesy Courtauld In stitute o t Art. )

56. (opposite) Portrait of the de ri ded poet and lawye r Antonio Brocardo.111e mea ning of th e pa rted

fin gers pointing at th e hea rt is co rrobo rated by the .V. -sign on the symbo li c hat pai n ted on th e
parapet .

58. Titian? An unidentiG ed female Hermetist designated as 'La Schi avon a'. No te the rank desig nation
.T. .V. on th e parapet.

59. T itian ? Supposed portrait of Ariosto with the Hermetic rank .T. .V. inscribed on the parapet.

60. Min iatu re representing Louise of Savoy, mother of King Franci s I of France, clad as a nun, with

downward pointing compasses in stead of the introve rted V, and a scales in stead of .T. nie s ig ns
V and T represent stages corresponding to the two equinoct ial points in the zodi aca l sch e m e of
tra n sfo rmation. (Bibl iotheque Na ti ona le, Pari s.)

61. Giorgione and T itian. Portrait of a Venetian gentleman inscribed with the letters V V 0 of an
apparently high Hermetic rank. His tightly clasped hand appears to be an express ion of will, not free
of egoistic moti fs. (National Gallery of Art, Washington, o.c., Sa muel Kress Collect ion.)

.... ....ltl\..


'l : '

' ':' I
! ~"9t
:... ~ lknl~ .., Pi 6-_
.,. ,~~ ~4,i':l11& ...., i ,
1'\.i- CIHL..4~ "' ! fJ'L"f~
~ l ': .' _j

~ Jt


1: llH',11

--. .

. '2'29

. ..,..
A.mm" irrlt _
~. {. .t.p.!t.

I!..<.11~ cf!. l,,cuiolr11io '

62. T ightly clasp ed hand as a n expression o f ego istic w ill. From an Ita li a n
alche misti c codex proceeding from the Flo rentine High Re naissa n ce .

63 . Copy afte r Leon ardo <la Vinci: lesus in the temple amo ng the learned , point ing at the key-sig n o f
the two parted lingers. ( Rom , Palazzo Spad a. Photo Anderson .)

64 . Rapha el? : ' la donna Vela ta' (F lore nce, Ga ll e ri a Pitt i).

65. Rapha el. S. Caterina of Alexand ria. Her attitude: the ri ght hand pointing at the heart while the left
hand is directed downward at the left thigh, - rec urs in many vvorks of art of that epoch. (Londnn,
Nation al ( ;alle ry. Rep. Anderson , Rom.)

66 . C arlo Crivelli. Victoria a nd Albe rt Museum , London.

67. Ca rlo C ri ve ll i (b.c. 1430/y; Ve nice; d. c. 1493/95). Mad o nn a in St. Augustin chu rch in Pausola
(Ma rchel. Nol e the introvert \/-p osition of Madonn<l's fi ngers.

68. Francesco Vecelli o. Note th e double, introvert and extrove rt pos ition of Madonna's fingers.
(Courtesy of Cou rtauld Institute of Art.)

69. Sebastiano d e! Pio mbo. Vittoria Colonna(?) as a Wise Virgin. (National Gallery of Art,
Washing to n , o .c. Samuel H . Kress Collection i952. )

70. Ti tian: 'Flora'. (Floren ce, c;a lleri a Uffiz i. Rep r. Andc r!-.on , Rom. )

7 i. G io rg ione' Samson de rided.1l1e fi ngers pa rted in the fo rm of a V and poi nting at the hea rt,
d esign a te a man w hti h ad set lo ve above the huma n d ist inctio n between right a n d wrong. (lVli lan,
Ciann i Mat t ioli Co ll ection. )

72. Loren zo Lotto. Po rtrait of a H en netist. (Co urtesy Court auld In stitute of A rt .)

17ze Search for tlze Lost Soul in




Henncticwn (1678), this water is so acrid 'that nobody can drink it' (except the adept). It
is the principle of the conservation of the elements (i.e. of health), the 'best nature which
transcends nature itself', the source of the quinta esse11tia, just as the A11i11w lvlundi is
the mother of the Logos.7-" No water on earth is similar to it, except the water from 'that
spring in Judaca' which is called the Spring of the Saviour or the Spring of Blessedness
(fans soli otoris vel beatitudi11is). This 'noble spring' is situated in a secret place (arcmzo
loco), and 'the Philosophers have found it through great efforts and only by a special grace
of God'.~i" \Ne understand that it must be essentially identical with the spring represented
at the base of the rock in Giorgione's 'Three Philosophers', marked by the fig-tree, and
especially the ivy, as the fo11s salmtoris. The incarnation of Christ in the man Jesus, the
sign of whose birth is expected by the Three Philosophers, has apparently been conceived
by the author of the Gloria jVfu11di (and probably also by most other alchemists) as an exceptional historical fact, although essentially identical with the incarnation taking place
in the soul of the mystic.
111e well in Giulio Campagnola's engraving 'Christ and the Samaritan \iVoman', decorated by ram heads, is also characterized as a hermetic spring. Christ asking the woman
to give him water from that spring is, formally at least, in the position of a hermetic
hero meeting his soul at the.fems 111crc11rialis. The fact that the woman is a being of loose
morals is also in line with the characteristics of the emotional soul. These formal correspondences must have induced alchemists to treat the Samarian well of the gospel story
as an esoteric symbol, in spite of the fact that, in the gospel, it is in contrast to the source
of living water offered by Jesus. This opposition is perhaps also symbolical: wc arc here
concerned, in fact (cf. John IV), with the ancient well of Jacob which the latter gave to his
son Joseph. Now, Joseph was a saviour hero, and his story is based on the solar myth, in
principle just as every account of individuation must be, but with an exceptional clarity.~-\~
Joseph has been thrown by his brothers into a well which, symbolically at least, may be
identified with the well of the gospel. This motif (which recurs in the life stories of other
saviour figures of the ancient Near East) introduces his symbolical captivity in Egypt (i.e.
in the Nether \Vorld), succeeded by his triumphal ascent to the position of the 'Lord of all
Egypt' (Cenesis XLV).-,s 111c well of Jacob plays, therefore, in the Old Testament clearly
the role of a _fems 111crcurilllis. Behind Jesus' pointing out that its waters arc able to give
only temporary satisfaction may be hidden the contraposition of Love and Law, i.e. of a
living saviour and one known only by formalized tradition.

Giorgione's and Copernicus'

Social Contacts in Venice and Padua

iorgionesque \Vorks are difficult to date, even appn,_)ximately,_but we hav~ ~11-riv_~d in

our survey ~t a stage which is 1i kely not to be \ery remote trom the ong111 ot 111e
Three Philoso~hers'. The crucial significance of that work for our investigation makes it
necessary at this point to take into consideration all the available but as yet neglected
materials casting light on the meaning of that work.
Historians 01 art have since long offered attention to the question of Giorgione's personal relations, and their possible connection to the symbolism of particular paintings.
Giorgione does not appear to have ever left the territory of the Republic of Ven ice except
for an early visit to Ferrara during which he is assumed to have painted a portrait of the
father-in-law of Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, and probably on that occasion become
a personal friend of the painter Garofalo.- 19 But there is abundant evidence for his genius and personal charm having won many influential friends and protectors ror him on
Venetian ground. One such was Tuzio Costanzo, who ordered from him his early undeniable masterpiece, the 1vlado111w (~( C1steUiw1co; one such was probably also Caterina
Cornaro, adopted Daughter of the Republic and former queen of Cyprus, whom Venice
had brought back in 1489 after having established its own pmver over the island. She was
paid homage by the entire government of the Republic during the three days or l"esti,ities
due to a queen, and was endowed with the castle of Asolo in the Trevigian l\lark, and 5000
ducates of annual income. She surrounded herself with a court of beautiful young ladies,
spiritual men, and talented musicians, and she spent her time in listening to music and
to tales of love, in a genuinely Giorgionesquc manner. In rnentioni11g some of the most
outstanding among Giorgione's personal friends in \'en ice we shou Id not omit either
Domenico, Patriarch of Aquileia and cardinal since 1493. He was a friend uf Poliziano and
Pico della Ivlirandola, and owned the most important collection of hooks and paintings,
among the latter those by IVkmling, Hieronymus Bosch and Albrecht l )i."1rer, representing
dream visions, scenes of hell, and mythical irnaginatio11'>. But our pidure or ( ;iorginnc's
social relations would be very incomplete if WL' omitted to mention that he \\a., a highly
appreciated guest at patrician parties, and arranged arti:-.tic partie" in his own \'c11ctian
house. A. Ferriguto has pointed out that the first owners (and, as lw thought, Lo111missioners) of Ciorgione's most celebrated svmbolical works were \"OLllH!, men from the tlm\'L'r