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Tag: Albrecht Dürer

Eco: Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica

Duerer, Albrecht (1471-1528)

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), The Sun, the Moon and a Basilisk, circa 1512. The Sun, the Moon and the Basilisk (half eagle, half serpent, hatched from a cock’s egg by a serpent), represent Eternity. This drawing from a fragment is on the back of a manuscript translation of the Hieroglyphica by Horapollo translated by Willibald Pirkheimer, an associate of Dürer. Alexander Cory’s 1840 edition is posted on the Sacred Texts site, and the 1595 Mercier and Hoeschel edition in Latin and Greek is hosted on due to the kind courtesy of the Getty Research Institute and the Sloan Foundation. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less.  

“In 1419 Cristoforo de’ Buondelmonti acquired from the island of Andros a mysterious manuscript that was soon to excite the curiosity of philosophers such as Ficino: the manuscript was the Greek translation (by a certain Philippos) of the Horapòllonos Neiloùs ieroglyphikà.

The original author, Horapollo–or Horus Apollos, or Horapollus–was thus qualified as “Nilotic.” Although it was taken as genuinely archaic throughout the Renaissance, scholars now believe this text to be a late Hellenistic compilation, dating from as late as the fifth century AD.

As we shall see, although certain passages indicate that the author did possess exact information about Egyptian hieroglyphs, the text was written at a time when hieroglyphic writing had certainly fallen out of use. At best, the Hieroglyphica seems to be based on some texts written a few centuries before.

The original manuscript contained no images. Illustrations appeared only in later editions: for instance, though the first translation into Italian in 1547 is still without illustrations, the 1514 translation into Latin was illustrated by Dürer.

The text is divided into short chapters in which it is explained, for example, that the Egyptians represented age by depicting the sun and the moon, or the month by a palm branch.

There follows in each case a brief description of the symbolic meaning of each figure, and in many cases its polysemic value: for example, the vulture is said to signify mother, sight, the end of a thing, knowledge of the future, year, sky, mercy, Minerva, Juno, or two drachmas.

Sometimes the hieroglyphic sign is a number: pleasure, for example, is denoted by the number 16, because sexual activity begins at the age of sixteen. Since it takes two to have intercourse, however, this is denoted by two 16’s.

Humanist philosophical culture was immediately fascinated by this text: hieroglyphs were regarded as the work of the great Hermes Trismegistus himself, and therefore as a source of inexhaustible wisdom.

To understand the impact of Horopollo’s text on Europe, it is first necessary to understand what, in reality, these mysterious symbols were. Horopollo was describing a writing system, whose last example (as far as Egyptologists can trace) is on the Theodosius temple (AD 394).

Even if these inscriptions were still similar to those elaborated three thousand years before, the Egyptian language of the fifth century had changed radically. Thus, when Horopollo wrote his text, the key to understanding hieroglyphs had long been lost.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 145-6.

Melvin: Divine Knowledge was Sexual Knowledge

The Eden Story and the Demythologization of the Rise of Civilization

“I would now like to propose that the conspicuous absence of divine mediation of civilization from Genesis 1–11, in light of its prominence in Mesopotamian literature, may be explained with reference to the tradition of the origin of evil found in Genesis 3.

Here the reception of forbidden knowledge by the first human couple leads not only to their becoming “god-like” but also to their fall into a corrupt, sinful state and expulsion from paradise. Genesis 4–11 then portrays the long-term consequences of the at least partially-successful attempt by Adam and Eve to obtain divinity by procuring this knowledge.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Adam and Eve, dated 1504, currently held in the British Museum (1868,0822.167).<br /> At top left on the plate, it states: "ALBERT DVRER NORICVS FACIEBAT AD 1504."<br /> Which means: "Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg made this 1504."<br />ürer.jpg

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Adam and Eve, dated 1504, currently held in the British Museum (1868,0822.167).
At top left on the plate, it states: “ALBERT DVRER NORICVS FACIEBAT AD 1504.”
Which means: “Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg made this 1504.”ürer.jpg

Included among these consequences are not only obvious examples of sin (murder, violence, etc.) but also the rise of civilization. The implication is that civilization too is an outgrowth of the forbidden knowledge obtained by Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.

The dialogue between the woman and the serpent, her eating of the fruit, and her giving of the fruit to her husband turn upon two primary points. First, the fruit of the tree is associated with knowledge of some sort.

Second, the serpent responds to the woman’s statement that Yahweh has forbidden them to eat from the tree in the center of the garden by saying that if she eats of the fruit of this tree, she will become like a god, which the woman presumably desires since she decides to eat the fruit. Thus, there is an implicit connection between knowledge and divinity in Genesis 3.

Gilgamesh and the Plant of Eternal Youth

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh finds a plant that renews youth at the bottom of the ocean.
Taking it back to Erech, he falls asleep, and a serpent, again, a serpent, eats the plant and promptly sheds its skin.
While the serpent is the agent of evil in the Eve myth, the serpent thwarts human immortality in Gilgamesh.

A number of possible understandings of the “knowledge” השכיל which results from eating the fruit present themselves. Gunkel understands the “knowledge” to be primarily, though not exclusively, sexual awareness.

Thus, before eating the fruit, the primeval couple is not aware of their nakedness, suggesting that they likewise did not engage in sexual intercourse prior to this moment, and may possibly have been unaware of the difference between their sexes.

(Gunkel, Genesis, pp. 14–15. So also Speiser, Genesis, pp. 26–27; Jarich Oosten, “The Origins of Society in the Creation Myths of Genesis: An Anthropological Perspective,” Nederlands theologisch tijdschrift 52 (1998), pp. 116–17.)

The significance of such a motif in the Paradise episode would suggest that humanity’s attainment of this “knowledge” forms a necessary step in their becoming fully human (cf. the “humanizing” of Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh).

(The Epic of Gilgamesh, SBV I.197–202 (George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 8).

While the awareness of nudity, making of clothing, and sexual activity which follow the eating of the fruit do support this interpretation, a number of other elements weigh against it.

The objects טוב􏰢􏰣􏰟 and רע􏰠􏰜 in Genesis 3:5 make little sense in relation to sexual awareness, even if one understands them (correctly) not as moral terms but as referring to that which is helpful or harmful for humanity.

There is nothing else which suggests that human reproduction is inherently negative in Genesis 1–11, and indeed, it is explicitly commanded in Genesis 1:28 and 9:1, 7.

(While Genesis 1 and 9:1–17 are both P texts, Genesis 2–3 belongs to JE according to the classical Documentary hypothesis, and thus it is possible that they had different views on sexuality and reproduction, the positive view of human fruitfulness in the final form of Genesis 1–11 rules out Gunkel’s interpretation for the present form of the Paradise episode in its literary context.)”

David P. Melvin, “Divine Mediation and the Rise of Civilization in Mesopotamian Literature and in Genesis 1-11,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 2010, pp. 12-3.

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