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Tag: University of Michigan Press

Eco: The Alphabet and the Four Figures, 3


Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, 1892 George Bell and Sons edition, Project Gutenberg. Also see Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, A.J. Rivero, ed., New York: W.W.Norton, 2001, Part III, chapter 5. Cited in Bethany Nowviskie, “Ludic Algorithms,” in Kevin Kee, ed., Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2014. 

“It follows that Lull’s art is not only limited by formal requirements (since it can generate a discovery only if one finds a middle term for the syllogism); it is even more severely limited because the inferences are regulated not by formal rules but rather by the ontological possibility that something can be truly predicated of something else.

The formal rules of the syllogism would allow such arguments as “Greed is different from goodness — God is greedy — Therefore God is different from goodness.” Yet Lull would discard both the premises and the conclusion as false.

The art equally allows the formulation of the premise “Every law is enduring,” but Lull rejects this as well because “when an injury strikes a subject, justice and law are corrupted” (Ars brevis, quae est de inventione mediorum iuris, 4.3a).

Given a proposition, Lull accepts or rejects its logical conversion, without regard to its formal correctness (cf. Johnston 1987: 229).

Nor is this all. The quadruples derived from the fourth figure appear in the columns more than once. In Ars magna the quadruple BCTB, for example, figures seven times in each of the first seven columns.

In V, 1, it is interpreted as “Whether there exists some goodness so great that it is different,” while in XI, 1, applying the rule of logical obversion, it is read as “Whether goodness can be great without being different”–obviously eliciting a positive response in the first case and a negative one in the second.

Yet these reappearances of the same argumentative scheme, to be endowed with different semantic contents, do not bother Lull. On the contrary, he assumes that the same question can be solved either by any of the quadruples from a particular column that generates it, or from any of the other columns!

Such a feature, which Lull takes as one of the virtues of his art, represents in fact its second severe limitation. The 1,680 quadruples do not generate fresh questions, nor do they furnish new proofs.

They generate instead standard answers to an already established set of questions. In principle, the art only furnishes 1,680 different ways of answering a single question whose answer is already known.

It cannot, in consequence, really be considered a logical instrument at all. It is, in reality, a sort of dialectical thesaurus, a mnemonic aid for finding out an array of standard arguments able to demonstrate an already known truth.

As a consequence, any of the 1,680 quadruples, if judiciously interpreted, can yield up the correct answer to the question for which it is adapted.

See, for instance, the question “Whether the world is eternal” (“Utrum mundus sit aeternus“). Lull already knew the answer: negative, because anyone who thought the world eternal would fall into the Averroist error.

Note, however, that the question cannot be generated directly by the art itself; for there is no letter corresponding to world. The question is thus external to the art.

In the art, however, there does appear a term for eternity, that is, D; this provides a starting point.

In the second figure, D is tied to the relative principle contrarietas or opposition, as manifested in the opposition of the sensible to the sensible, of the intellectual to the sensible, and of the intellectual to the intellectual.

The same second figure also shows that D forms a triangle with B and C. The question also began with utrum, which appears at B under the heading Questiones in the tabula generalis. This constitutes a hint that the solution needs to be sought in the column in which appear B, C and D.

Lull says that “the solution to such a question must be found in the first column of the table;” however, he immediately adds that, naturally, “it could be found in other columns as well, as they are all bound to each other.”

At this point, everything depends on definitions, rules, and a certain rhetorical legerdemain in interpreting the letters. Working from the chamber BCDT (and assuming as a premise that goodness is so great as to be eternal), Lull deduces that if the world were eternal, it would also be eternally good, and, consequently, there would be no evil.

“But,” he remarks, “evil does exist in the world as we know by experience. Consequently we must conclude that the world is not eternal.” This negative conclusion, however, is not derived from the logical form of the quadruple (which has, in effect, no real logical form at all), but is merely based on an observation drawn from experience.

The art may have been conceived as the instrument to use universal reason to show the Averroist Muslims the error of their ways; but it is clear that unless they already shared with Lull the “rational” conviction that the world cannot be eternal, they are not going to be persuaded by the art.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 62-4.

Selz: On Giants

“Dating back to the late nineteenth century and the so-called Babel-Bible dispute, the relation of the biblical traditions, especially those concerning the paradise narrative, the flood-story, and the (antediluvian) patriarchs, to the Mesopotamian world received much interest (see below).

(For an overview over this politically remarkable dispute and the involvement of the German emperor Wilhelm II see R.G. Lehmann, Friedrich Delitzsch und der Babel-Bibel-Streit (OBO 133; Fribourg: Universitätsverlag, 1989).

Delitzsch’s hypotheses were sharply criticised by Christian and Jewish theologians of the time and soon became a political issue. Finally the emperor was even requested to make a public profession of his faith.)

From a modern scholarly point of view, much of what has been written in this period is obsolete and related to anti-biblical or apologetic motivations. Therefore, we encounter often a general warning against a naïve comparative attitude which is certainly in place.

Courtesy of The Blake Archive and the Cincinnati Museum, William Blake's

Courtesy of The Blake Archive and the Cincinnati Museum, William Blake’s “Enoch Walked with God.”
Executed sometime between 1780-85 CE, this illustration is Cincinnati Museum Accession Number 1977.214.
“As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the University of Rochester, the continuing support of the Library of Congress, and the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.”

(Cf. R. Liwak, “Bibel und Babel: Wider die theologische und religionsgeschichtliche Naivität,” BTZ 2 (1989): pp. 206-33. An extensive bibliography of “Articles by Jewish Writers on the Babel-Bibel Controversy” is published in Y. Shavit and M. Eran, eds., The Hebrew Bible Reborn: From Holy Scripture to the Book of Books: A History of Biblical Culture and the Battles over the Bible in Modern Judaism (trans. C. Naor; SJ 38; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007), pp. 531-66).

If in the following paragraphs we refer to various Mesopotamian materials, we are fully aware of this warning. We do not intend to establish literal dependencies, but would rather draw attention to some parallels with selected Mesopotamian motifs.

This seal appears to portray the translation of King Etana at upper left. I am not sure where this seal is held. If you can assist, please do.

This seal appears to portray the translation of King Etana at upper left.
I am not sure where this seal is held. If you can assist, please do.

We will neither address the question of a common Near Eastern origin of such motifs, nor will we attempt to reconstruct the ways of transmission in the necessary detail. The latter were certainly manifold, and that orality played a major role is very likely but, of course, hard to prove.

The most important contributions concerning the relationship between Berossos, the Sumerian King list, and the biblical patriarchs as well as the connected literary motifs are presently those of R. Borger, J.C. VanderKam, H. Kvanvig and A.A. Orlov. I shall return to them later.

(Cf. G.P. Verbrugghe and J.M. Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996).

(R. Borger, “Die Beschwörungsserie Bīt Mēseri und die Himmelfahrt Henochs,” JNES 33 (1974): pp. 183-96; for an abbreviated English version see idem, “The Incantation Series Bīt Mēseri and Enoch’s Ascension to Heaven,” in I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11 (ed. R.S. Hess and D.T. Tsumura; Sources for Biblical and Theological Study 4, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), pp. 224-33.)

(J.C. VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition (CBQMS 16; Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1984).

The discovery of the Qumran manuscripts put 1 Enoch in the centre of these discussions and their connections to the related Jewish-Hellenistic texts and to Mesopotamian forerunners have been widely discussed.


Titled “The Nephilim,” the artist is said to be unknown.

The Qumran manuscripts of the Book of Giants mention the hero Gilgamesh among the Giants who were offspring of the evil (fallen) angels who had intercourse with human females.

(The following excerpts of the reconstructed Book of Giants are taken from the edition of The Gnostic Society Library (MSS: 4Q203, 1Q23, 2Q26, 4Q530–532, 6Q8). Editorial note: A long excerpt from the Book of Giants is reproduced here.)

Starting from this fact, I attempt to show that not only did the generally late Mesopotamian traditions about the primeval sages and related matters form a background for the mythical imagery of the Enochic system of thought, but that the much earlier epic traditions about the kings Gilgamesh and Etana should also be considered.

We might not be able to avoid some of the traps of this sort of intertextual studies, however, we are by all means entitled to look after the pre- and the post-texts, especially if we remember that any reading implies a recreation of new texts.

To put it metaphorically, texts are not stable entities but living beings undergoing all sort of philological and interpretative changes.”

Gebhard J. Selz, “Of Heroes and Sages–Considerations of the Early Mesopotamian Background of Some Enochic Traditions,” in Armin Lange, et alThe Dead Sea Scrolls in Context, v. 2, Brill, 2011, pp. 781-4.

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