JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 571
Giovani Baptista della Porta was a magus, or a natural magician*, who searched nature for similarities that would serve to build a broad template of forced understanding of seeming likenesses, looking for the great connector in the exceptional and the unusual, the stuff outside of the formerly Aristotlean world. Natural Magic is his magnum opus, an expansion of its earlier version (Magna naturalis) published in Latin in 1558, which Porta expanded to twenty sections in 1589. It was an encyclopedic work of vast proportions, a gold-mine of information and clever wishfulness, and very accessible due to Porta’s wide inter-personal travel**, very wide reading and critical abilities, clear reasoning and deep vision: the book was hugely successful, going into at least twelve Latin, four Italian, seven French, two German, and two English editions in the early modern era. Natural Magic, which first appeared in English in 1658, concerned itself with magic, alchemy, optics, geometry, cryptography, magnetism, agriculture, the art of memory, munitions, and many other topics, all grouped together and refined, distilled, into a cloudy assemblage of natural knowledge—it would end up that the magical whole was worth far less than the sum of its parts.
But the parts were pretty considerable, and much of the information was spot-on for the time, not the least of which was a very capable demonstration and explanation of a lensed camera obscura.
What I’m interested in right now though is the title page of the book.
It turns out and as we can see in the top image of the
title page, Chaos is not some subspace trajectory of cellular automata, or in
Dr. Brown’s/Einstein’s dancing dust—it is right above us. This recognition of its regular, localizable structure
probably does not support parameterization, or anything else for that matter,
except to say that it is definitely “pretty”.
The title page has nine illustrated compartments: the four corners depict the four elements,
the two opposing middles show art and nature; the bottom shows the author,
illuminated by the knowing sun. The top
center image is the element showing “chaos”, which I’ve chosen to use a map,
identifying where exactly chaos might be.
I’ve not seen an antiquarian map identifying chaos, though I have seen a
number showing lots of other non-existent places, like heaven and hell and
purgatory and Eden and the Kingdom of Prester John, to name a few. But not chaos.
On the other hand there are many different, substantiated, anthropomorphic objects that wind up in the sky in antiquarian images: there haven't yet been anything spelling out chaos, though there are many Hebrew names for the g*d incised and cut into plates of wood and metal. There are all manners of hands-of-the-creator, gearworks for the Primum Mobile, eyes, doves, geometric shapes, blazing fires, blazing iconic people, multiple worlds, flying people, and so on. But no chaos.
These are just two examples of the alternative-to-the-sun-in-the-sky category, a wonderful image from Kenelem Digby's Demonstratio immortabiliitatis animae rationalis, printed in 1664. The other is a very striking example from J.B.von Helmont's surviving and prodigal (and prodigiously brilliant) son Franciscus Mercurius' Das Geheimnuess der Schoepflung. Printed in 1701, two years after FM's death (and years after his other brothers succumbed to the Plague), the book was a bit of an amalgamation of the author's vast and undisciplined interests, which sloshed over into the areas of magic, conjuring, Kaballa and astrology.
He had more success editing and translating his father's works.
I admit I'm taking a wide liberty with "chaos", and that the the first image could simply be the creator stepping in to rid the heavens of chaos, but I liked the idea of chaos being located on a map better. Mea culpa.
* Porta writes in the first chapter, defining the word “magic": Magic took her name and original [sic] from
Persia. . . . In the Persian language, a Magician is nothing else but one that expounds and studies divine things; and it is the general name of wise-men in that country. . . . Magic was begun in Persia by Zoroastres."
** A fair amount of information in this book was derived from his own house-bound Academia de Secreti—a name I now love!—a society of friends and scholars who discussed topics ranging from physiognomy to optics to cosmology to conjuring.
The Chapters/books of Natural
Magick are shown here below to give an idea of what the book is about:
The Chapters/books of Natural Magick are shown here below to give an idea of what the book is about:
The First Book of Natural Magick "Of the Causes of Wonderful Things." "Wherein are searched out the causes of things which produce wonderful effects"
The Second Book of Natural Magick "Of the Generation of Animals." "Showing how living creatures of diverse kinds, may be mingled and coupled together, that from them, new and yet profitable kinds of living creatures may be generated."
The Third Book Of Natural Magick "Of the Production of New Plants." Which delivers certain precepts of Husbandry, and shows how to intermingle sundry kinds of Plants and how to produce new kinds.
The Fourth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Increasing Household-Stuff." Which teaches things belonging to house-keeping; How to prepare domestic necessities with a small cost; And how to keep them when they are procured.
The Fifth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Changing Metals." "Which treateth of Alchemy, showing how metals may be altered and transformed, one into another"
The Sixth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Counterfeiting Glorious Stones."
The Seventh Book Of Natural Magick "Of the Wonders of the Load-Stone."
The Eighth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Physical Experiments"
The Ninth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Beautifiying Women."
The Tenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Distillation."
The Eleventh Book Of Natural Magick "Of Perfuming. "
The Twelveth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Artificial Fires."
The Thirteenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Tempering Steel. "
The Fourteenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Cookery."
The Fifteenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Fishing, Fowling, Hunting, etc. " (Complete)
The Sixteenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Invisible Writing."
The Seventeenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Strange Glasses."
The Eighteenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Static Experiments."
The Nineteenth Book Of Natural Magick "Of Pneumatic Experiments."
The Twentyth Book Of Natural Magick "Of the Chaos. "