Monday, November 23, 2009

Atalanta Fugiens


There are two reasons why I'm obsessed with illustrations from early-17th-Century treatises on alchemy and esoteric knowledge. The first is that this was a crucial period in Western thought, when old constraints on thought were breaking down and new ideas were bubbling up and recombining in an unparalleled ferment, creating cultural strands that have persisted through to today.
The medieval tradition of the "art of memory" -- itself a misunderstood and misinterpreted version of classical mnemonic techniques -- was undergoing a kind of baroque efflorescence. Its ambitions branched out from its original goal of helping to memorise speeches; the idea now was that by committing the right symbolic emblems to memory, one could sculpt one's mind and bring it into harmony with the greater cosmos. Modern authors have drawn on these concepts, and the Renaissance "Memory Palace" appears in Stanwick's Stations of the Tide and Harris' Hannibal, while the "memory theatre" of Valerio Camillo -- an even more elaborated outgrowth of the same tradition, that one might describe as a look-up table for the universe, or a kind of architectural search-engine -- occupies one of the plot strands in Carlos Fuentes' Terra Nostra. Frances Yates' book on The Art of Memory is crucial if you really want to understand how Renaissance kabbalistic-hermetic philosophy informed much of contemporary science fiction (to the extent that as one reviewer puts it, "Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600, probably appears in more science fiction novels than anyone else").
This efflorescence hybridised with parallel developments in the alchemical tradition, which acquired the same faith in the powers of visual imagery. The result was an intellectual environment where anything seemed possible, and total frauds received the same level of credence as learned scholars, because both were making equally bizarre claims... rather like today, really. This is what Frances Yates described as "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment". And don't get me started on how much The Baroque Cycle draws on all this.

Mainly, though, I like them because they look like illustrations from an alternative-universe guide to etiquette.

29 comments:

Jennifer said...

Mainly, though, I like them because they look like illustrations from an alternative-universe guide to etiquette.

Or Monty Python

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The result was an intellectual environment where anything seemed possible, and total frauds received the same level of credence as learned scholars, because both were making equally bizarre claims... rather like today, really.

Global warming, for instance?
~

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Smut Clyde has levels, he's deep, man...

like an onion wrapped in a pineapple and covered in salt.

Jennifer said...

like an onion wrapped in a pineapple and covered in salt.

He's like a philosophical turducken!

merc said...

As above pineapple, so below.

wv; scalinge, it's in Bohemian Rhapsody if you listen very carefully.

Another Kiwi said...

In the last picture we see the correct body posture for adressing an Iguana skinner whilst he is at work. Note the carefully spread arms, the politely questioning face and the impression of being ready to run having just asked "Do one get pineapples with that?"
The dead, starved dog under the table is, of course, a Westham United reference.

Smut Clyde said...

It's the one above that really gets me. "What is the appropriate response when your host is about to devour his own son, head-first? A gentle word of discouragement, followed by suggesting less extreme forms of familial discipline? An offer to fetch the L&P Sauce?"

merc said...

Just say...It's Not OK?

Substance McGravitas said...

The first is that this was a crucial period in Western thought, when old constraints on thought were breaking down and new ideas were bubbling up and recombining in an unparalleled ferment, creating cultural strands that have persisted through to today.

It's hand in hand with the first iteration of rule 34: if an idea exists there is a book of it. Thanks Mr. Gutenberg!

tigris said...

8. is almost certainly from an early treatise on the perils of blogging.

Smut Clyde said...

In fact it's supposed to be a chameleon rather than an iguana, and such are its camouflage skills that it's only pretending to be skinned.
Allegorical, see.

In subsequent frames the guy in the robes steps onto the dead dog, and proceeds to jump up and down on it. Early stomp porn. It never really caught on because flip-book animation is hard to work one-handed.

Smut Clyde said...

8. is almost certainly from an early treatise on the perils of blogging.

I think the guys with the clubs are merely trying to wave away the sun and moon that are buzzing around over the king's head keeping him awake. The fly-swatter had not yet been perfected.

Another Kiwi said...

This explains why Chameleon skinning was a job for life.
In the first picture the womanly figures who are suns (geddit) appear to have Stiff Arm disease except for the sun lady who is about to take a pigmy goats temperature.
This is the Allegheny thing isn't it?

fish said...

because flip-book animation is hard to work one-handed.

The most hilarious comment in the last 10 seconds of the internets.

tigris said...

I hope for the implementation and frequent use of a LOLcuts tag.

Smut Clyde said...

Done and done.

lawnguylander said...

The dudes in the last illustration have just returned from a time traveling jaunt to the 21st century. First dude is like, "WTF?!?! This gila monster ain't got no thorax, man. I've been misled." Second dude is all, "I'ma let you finish butchering that bitch but first, my hip hop dance moves, let me show you them."

Smut Clyde said...

WTF?!?! This gila monster ain't got no thorax, man. I've been misled.

Evidently they traveled to the future in search of ingredients for a recipe from the McGravitas Cookbook.

ckc (not kc) said...

...if their pet dog is anything to go by, the gila monster is well out of it.

tigris said...

Man, the service here is FABULOUS.

Another Kiwi said...

Sir has not touched his dog. The chef recommends that the dog is eaten first before the thorax-less lizard.

Another Kiwi said...

Hand signals meant a lot in those days, it seems. The dude frantically signaling the king not to bite the head off his dentist may be a cousin of the dude from Anti-Lizard Skinning League.

merc said...

It may be a salamander, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salamander_%28legendary_creature%29

wv; fledesse, she bolted.

mikey said...

My takeaway is that no matter how long they wore dresses, men just simply NEVER learned to keep their knees together...

Smut Clyde said...

These were manly men, who spent all day on horseback, hence the bow legs. Either that or they all had rickets.

mikey said...

Yeah.

Either that or they were just preternaturally proud of their junk...

tigris said...

Junk-proud rickety bow-legs.

mikey said...

Junk-proud rickety bow-leg honkey ass dork sheep - havin no-good ass sucking dickweed craphammer motherfuckers....

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

like an onion wrapped in a pineapple and covered in salt.

Veiled tacos al pastor reference.