"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

Tag: Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart

Eco: Comenius


Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670), Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart, the initial version was completed in 1623, while the first edition was published in 1631. The entire work is posted in an electronic edition. 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. 

“The British quest was also influenced by the presence of Comenius (Jan Amos Komensky). In fact Comenius was a member of the Bohemian Brotherhood, a mystic branch of Hussite reformers, and he played a role–albeit a polemical one–in the Rosicrucian story (cf. his Labyrinth of the World, 1623, in Czech).

Thus he was inspired by religious ideals which were alien to the scientific purposes of the English milieu. On this complex cultural geography see Yates (1972, 1979): one is really facing a web of different projects, at once similar and antithetical, in which the search for a perfect language was but a single aspect (see Rossi 1960; Bonerba 1992; Pellerey 1992a: 41-9).

Comenius‘ aspirations must be seen in the framework of the tradition of pansophia, yet his pansophic aims were influenced by educational preoccupations. In his Didactica magna of 1657, he proposed a scheme for reforming teaching methods; for, as he observed, a reform in the education of the young formed the basis upon which any subsequent political, social and religious reform must be built.

It was essential that the teacher furnish the learners with a set of images that would stamp themselves indelibly on their imaginations. This meant placing what is visible before the eyes, what is audible before the ears, what is olfactory before the nose, gustatory before the tongue, and tactical before the touch.

In an earlier manual for the teaching of Latin, Janua linguarum, written in 1631, Comenius was first of all concerned that the learner should have an immediate visual apprehension of what was being spoken of.

Equally he was concerned that the images and notions that the learner was studying in the Latin lexicon be arranged in a certain logical order.

Thus lessons progressed from the creation of the world to the elements, to the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, etc.

By the time of the Didactica magna Comenius had begun to rearrange his notions according to the suggestions of Bacon. In 1658 there appeared the Orbis sensualium pictus quadrilinguis, which represented his attempt to present a figured nomenclature which would include the fundamental things of the world together with human actions.

So important were the images that Comenius delayed publication until he was able to obtain satisfactory engravings that were not mere ornaments, but bore an iconic relation with the things represented, for which the verbal names appeared as nothing but titles, explanations and complements.

This manual was prefaced by an alphabet in which every letter was associated with the image of a particular animal whose voice recalled the sound of the letter–so that the result resembles Harsdörffer’s onomatopoetic fantasies concerning the sounds of German.

Therefore the image of a crow is commented by “Die Krähe krächzet, cornix cornicatur, la cornacchia gracchia, la corneille gazoüille,” or, for a snake, “Die Schlange zischtet, Serpens sibilat, il Serpe fsschia [sic], le Serpent siffle.”

Comenius was a severe critic of the defects of natural languages. In his Pansophiae Christianae liber III (1639-40), he advocated a reform that would eliminate the rhetorical and figurative use of words, which he regarded as a source of ambiguity.

The meaning of words should be fixed, he demanded, with one name for each thing, thus restoring words to their original meanings.

In 1668, in the Via lucis, Comenius offered prescriptions for the creation of an artificial universal language. By now, pansophy was more than an educational method; it was a utopian vision in which a world council was supposed to create the perfect state along with its perfect philosophical language, the Panglossia.

It is interesting to consider that Comenius had in fact written this work before 1641, when, after wandering through the whole of Europe in the course of the Thirty Years War, he had taken refuge in London.

Via lucis certainly circulated, in manuscript form, in the English milieu at that time (see, for example, Cram 1989).

Although Comenius was never to construct his new language in extenso, he had broached the idea of a universal tongue which had to overcome the political and structural limitations of Latin.

The lexicon of the new language would reflect the composition of reality and in it every word should have a definite and univocal meaning, every content should be represented by one and only one expression, and the contents were not supposed to be products of fancy, but should represent only every really existing thing, no more and no less (see Pellerey 1992a: 48).

Thus, on one side we have a utopian thinker, inspired by Rosicrucian ideals, whose goal was to discover a pansophy which aimed at picturing the unmoving and harmonical connection of every element of the creation, so as to lead the human mind to an unceasing quest for God; on the other side, rejecting the possibility of rediscovering the original perfect language, and looking, for educational purposes, for an easy artificial method, Comenius became the forerunner of that search for an a priori philosophical language that would later be implemented by English utopian thinkers whose inspiration was more scientific than theological or mystical.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 214-6.

Solomon’s Harem and Idolatry

Chapter 34



SOLOMON RAINS FORTH WISDOM. Seeing this, I begged my guides to allow me to see what was going to happen. Mr. Ubiquitous consented at once and we set out with the interpreter. We found Solomon with his retinue in the street of the learned, where he was expounding, to the general astonishment, the nature of plants, beginning with the cedars of Lebanon down to the moss growing on the wall; similarly he taught them about beasts, birds, reptiles, and fishes, as well as about the fundamental nature of the world, the power of the elements, the arrangment of the stars, the power of human thought, and so forth. Men from all nations came to listen to his wisdom. He gained surpassing fame thereby, so that he began to feel pride in himself; particularly when Affability and Craftiness, insinuating themselves carefully among his company, began to extol his virtues before all men.

2 HE INVENTS CRAFTSMANSHIP. He then rose up and set out to investigate the other parts of the world; and entering the street of craftsmen and examining their work, he was delighted with their various arts, and, he himself with his great ingenuity invented extraordinary methods pertaining to the scientific care of gardens, orchards, and fishponds as well as to the building of houses and cities. In general, he busied himself with the increase of all human comfort.

3 HE IS ENTANGLED INTO THE STATE OF MATRIMONY. When, however, he finally entered the matrimonial street, crafty Delight met him with a company of the most charming maidens, wearing gorgeous dresses and accompanied with melodious music. A few of the most exquisite beauties welcomed him with great honor, calling him the light of humankind, the crown of the nation of Israel, and the ornament of the world: as the learned class and craftsmen–they continued–had gained much knowledge and enlightenment from the effulgence of his presence, so also the married state hoped to gain benefit from his glory.

Having made a courteous reply, Solomon announced that he decided to honor the matrimonial state by participating in it; thereupon, selecting from the whole group of maidens one who seemed to him the best suited to his station (she was called the Pharaoh’s daughter), he was weighed and fettered with her. But having been fascinated by her beauty, he spent more time dallying and lovemaking with her than in his labors of wisdom.

Moreover (something I should have never expected) he began to cast amorous glances at the crowd of other sportive young maidens, (of whom crafty Delight brought an ever increasing number before his eyes), and having been captivated by the beauty and the charm of one after another, he took to himself the choicest wherever he found them, even dispensing with the weighing ceremony; hence, in a short time seven hundred of them were seen about him, and besides these, three hundred of the unattached; he regarded it part of his glory to surpass even in this regard all who had been before him or were to come after him. Thereafter, nothing but frivolity of all kinds was to be witnessed in his company, so that his own people were soon saddened and sighed over it.

4 HE ENTIRELY LAPSED INTO THE STATE OF IDOLATRY. He and his following then crossed the street to that of the religious; for he permitted himself to be drawn wherever his wretched company to which he was fettered dragged him. There he amused himself, along with his companions among animals and reptiles, dragons and poisonous worms.

–John Amos Comenius, Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart

Prudence Advises Affability, Craftiness, and Delight

Chapter 33



ECCL 1,2.15: THE MASK OF WORLDLY WISDOM IS UNCOVERED. Thereupon Solomon, who had been hitherto sitting quietly, observing everything, could contain himself no longer, and cried out with a loud voice: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! Can that which is crooked be made straight? and can the deficiencies be numbered?” Then rising, and with a great tumult, followed by all his retinue, he went directly to the throne of the Queen (for neither was the fierce Warner nor the two guards able to prevent his approach; they were intimidated by his shouting and his brilliance, as was the Queen and her counsellors).

He stretched out his hand and tore the veil from her face; the veil, although at first it seemed costly and splendid, was found to be nothing but a spider’s web. And behold, her face appeared blanched and bloated, with painted rouge spots on her cheeks, as was apparent from the fact that they peeled off in places; her hands were scabby, her entire body loathsome and her breath mephitic. The entire company, myself included, was terrified at the sight and stood as if paralysed.

2 ALSO HER COUNSELLORS ARE UNMASKED. Solomon then turned toward the counsellors of the pretended Queen and tore their masks off as well: “I perceive that instead of Justice, Injustice reigns, ” he cried, “and in the place of Holiness, Abomination. Your Caution is Suspicion; your Prudence is Cunning; your Affability is Flattery; your Truth is a mere Appearance: your Zeal is Fury, your Valor is Foolhardiness; your Love is Lust; your Labor is Slavery; your Knowledge is Conjecture; your Religion is Hypocrisy. Are you worthy to rule the world on behalf of Almighty God? He will bring every act into judgement, with every hidden thing, whether it be good or evil. But I will go and proclaim to all the world that it no longer permit itself to be led astray and beguiled.”

3 SOLOMON PROCLAIMS THE VANITY OF THE WORLD THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE WORLD. And turning, he departed in anger, followed by his retinue; but when he began to cry out in the streets, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” nations and peoples of various languages, kings and queens from distant lands gathered about him from all directions; and pouring out his eloquence before them, he taught them. For his words were like goads and like firmly driven nails.

4 THE COUNSEL AGAINST SOLOMON IN ORDER TO OUTWIT HIM. I did not follow him, however, but remained standing with my horror-stricken guides at the palace to see what was to follow–thererupon, the Queen recovering her stupefaction, immediately consulted with her counsellors as to what should be done. Then Zeal, Earnestness, and Valor urged that the entire force should be mobilized and sent straightway in pursuit of Solomon that he might be seized.

But Prudence advised, on the contrary, that no good would come from the use of force, for not only was he himself powerful, but he had drawn almost the whole world after him (as couriers, returning one after another, reported).

She advised him that Affability and Craftiness, taking with them Delight from the Castle of Fortune, be dispatched after him, and whenever they found him, should by flattery win him by exhibiting and extolling the beauty, glory, and charms of this kingdom. It might be possible to ensnare him in some such way; otherwise she professed to know of no other way whatever. This advice was approved and the three were adorned to set out at once.

John Amos Comenius, Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart

The Fate of Solomon the Wise

Chapter 35



SOLOMON’S COMPANIONS INCENSED. Seeing him so deluded, the most eminent among his retinue, such as Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, were greatly incensed, protesting before heaven and earth that they would have no part in such abominations and admonishing the whole company to leave such vanities and follies. But because not a few still followed Solomon’s example, they grew more zealous in their denunciations and thundered still more fiercely: especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Stephen, and Paul. Besides, Moses began to gird on his sword, Elijah to call fire from heaven and Hezekiah to order the silly idols to be destroyed.

2 THEIR DISREGARD FOR FLATTERY. When those who had been sent out to seduce Solomon, Affability, Craftines, and Delight, saw this, they associated with themselves a few philosophers, such as Mammon and others, and confronting the denunciators, exhorted them not to forget themselves, and to act with greater moderation; since the wisest of men, Solomon, submitted his mind and accommodated himself to the customs of the world, as all could see, why should they stand apart and insist on playing the wiseacre? The protesters paid no heed; but seeing that Solomon’s example continued to seduce and delude many, they became still more zealous and ran about, shouting and shrieking; which caused an immense uproar.

3 PUBLIC UPRISING AGAINST THEM. The Queen, having been notified by her emissaries, sent out proclamations by which she instigated a public uprising. Then naming her bodyguard Force her commander-in-chief, she ordered, as a spectacle for all, the seizure and punishment of those rebels. The alarm was sounded and a multitude quickly gathered, ready for the combat, they were recruited not only from among the soldiers but also from among the ruling class, officials, village elders, judges, craftsmen, philosophers, physicians, jurists and even the priests, indeed, even women who were clad in a great variety of costumes and were armed with different kinds of weapons; (for they said that against such public rebels who threatened the world, everybody, whether young or old, must assist). Seeing the rushing armies, I inquired of my interpreter: “What will happen now?” “You will learn what happens to those who by their philosophizing stir up riots and storms in the world!” my interpreter answered.

4 BATTLE, SEIZURE, MURDER, BURING AND OTHER TORTURES. All at once the armies fell upon the company, attacking one here, another there, then a third, a tenth; they struck and cut, felled, trampled, seized, and bound, according to the particular fury of each assailant, and dragged them off to prison: at which my heart almost burst with pity. But fearing their ferocity, I refrained from uttering the slightest sound, and trembled all over. I saw that some of those captured and fallen stretched out their clasped hands, and begged forgiveness for their deeds: but others, the more cruelly they were treated, the more firmly they held to their convictions. Some of them were cast into fire before my very eyes, others were thrown into water, or hanged, beheaded, stretched on a cross, torn with pincer, sawed asunder, pierced, hacked, roasted on gridirons. Nor am I able to enumerate all the gruesome kinds of death which they suffered, while multitudes of worldly people exulted and shouted with glee at the sight.

–John Amos Comenius, Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart

%d bloggers like this: