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Tag: Juno

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 Archive.org 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.

Phallic Features of the Dionysus Cult

” … There is, however, another sacred story which I had from the lips of a wise man—that the goddess was Rhea, and the shrine the work of Attes. Now this Attes was by nation a Lydian, and he first taught the sacred mysteries of Rhea. 30 The ritual of the Phrygians and the Lydians and the Samothracians was entirely learnt from Attes.

For when Rhea deprived him of his powers, he put off his manly garb and assumed the appearance of a woman and her dress, 31 and roaming over the whole earth he performed his mysterious rites, narrating his sufferings and chanting the praises of Rhea.

In the course of his wanderings he passed also into Syria. Now, when the men from beyond Euphrates would neither receive him nor his mysteries, 32 he reared a temple to himself on this very spot. The tokens of this fact are as follows: She is drawn by lions, she holds a drum in her hand and carries a tower on her head, just as the Lydians make Rhea to do. 33 He also affirmed that the Galli who are in the temple in no case castrate themselves in honour of Juno, but of Rhea, and this in imitation of Attes. All this seems to me more specious than true, for I have heard a different and more credible reason given for their castration.

I approve of the remarks about the temple made by those who in the main accept the theories of the Greeks: according to these the goddess is Hera, but the work was carried out by Dionysus, 34 the son of Semele: Dionysus visited Syria on his journey to Aethiopia.

There are in the temple many tokens that Dionysus was its actual founder: for instance, barbaric raiment, Indian precious stones, and elephants’ tusks brought by Dionysus from the Aethiopians. Further, a pair of phalli of great size are seen standing in the vestibule, bearing the inscription, “I, Dionysus, dedicated these phalli to Hera my stepmother.” This proof satisfies me.

And I will describe another curiosity to be found in this temple, a sacred symbol of Dionysus. The Greeks erect phalli in honour of Dionysus, and on these they carry, singular to say, mannikins made of wood, with enormous pudenda; they call these puppets. There is this further curiosity in the temple: as you enter, on the right hand, a small brazen statue meets your eye of a man in a sitting posture, with parts of monstrous size.

These are the legends concerning the founders of the temple.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 55-8.

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