JF Ptak Science Books Post 1905
Could we satisfy our selves in the position of the lights above, or discover the wisdom of that order so invariably maintained in the fixed stars of heaven......we might abate.....the strange Cryptography of Gaffarell in his Starrie Booke of Heaven. Thomas Browne1 (1605-1682) in his major Hermetic effort, The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered (published in 1658).
The Garden of Cyrus is a neo-Pythagorean insight weaving together all manner of visions in nature and art, and the art of nature and vice versa and so on, all tied up in universal thinking about these intersections in terms of the great quincunx patterns and the number five and it various variants in terms of latticework and the figure X.
"What is more beautiful than the quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight lines?-- Quintillian's Institutio Oratoria VIII.3.ix
The Browne quote relate to the work of J. Gaffarel, who saw connections in art and nature quite literally in the structure of the heavens, among other places--but it is his "star-writing" that I'd like to address a bit here. His provocatively-titled Curiositez inouyes sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans, horoscope des Patriarches et lecture des estoiles ("Unheard-of Curiosities concerning Talismanical Sculpture of the Persians, the horoscope of the Patriarchs and the reading of the Stars") was published first in 1629 and then many times thereafter well into the 18th century. Garrafel (1601-1682) presented to the world a wide class of interesting subjects which had previously been thought of as being outside the normal realm of academic discussion, the subjects being mainly seen as dogmatic occultism. What Garrafel did was very interesting, writing about these areas as discussion-builders, as "curious" topics that could or should be considered to widen general inquiry. (In an interesting article, "The Use of Curiosity in Early Medieval France and Germany" the author Neil Kenny writes of Gaffarel, "Making occult knowledge into conversation rather than a dogmatic system made [his work] less likely to be universally censured")
His work definitely interesting and curious, though the use of that word didn't save him, as some of the topics were verbotten--certainly Gaffarel was aware of this, and he tried his best to write about them in a way that the ruling intellectual powers would not find offensive, but it didn't work, and his book was found to be abusive and was banned by the Sorbonne. This was such an integral action that Gaffarel succumbed to not one but two retractions.
What is of primary interest right now with Gaffarel is his interpretation of writing systems, and how frequently they seem to exist exclusive of human manufacture. It seems that a fair percentage of the time that these appearances came in the form of agate. and that these durable micro- explorations in agate go back thousands of years, expounded by Pliny and some of the other ancients, who followed the origins of humanity back into the rocks. This was a popular idea for the origin of animate beings, propounding itself for centuries, even winding up in the bony lap of Leibniz of all people, who wrote that “men derive from animals, animals from plants, plants from fossils, which in turn derive from bodies that the senses and imagination represent to us as being totally dead and formless”. Stones therefore held the seeds of the formation of the world; all things living, breathing, and not.
Our own Athanasius Kircher, the definition of polymathic ability and superior imagination was responsible for many such observations and discoveries. It seems to me that as much as Kircher gave, he took away, keeping ahead of his critics and the rest of the scientific community with tremendous output…people I think just couldn’t keep up with him. He found all sorts of things in stone: as early as 1619 he exhibited an image of St. Jerome (in no less a place than the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem!) that he found in agate. His Mundus Subterraneus (1661) is a home to a wide range of these objects: quadrupeds of all shapes and descriptions, human full-length portraits, hands with jewels, and even the Virgin Mary and child. AS spectacular as these are there is always more: the magnificent cityscape (reproduced here) and the sublime discoveries of a full set of the alphabet and a series of 15 geometrical drawings, all naturally impressed in stone.
Gaffarel's principle and perhaps first-on-the-scene notion (though some of it may have appeared in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (first published in 1533)) was the elements of an alphabet--the Hebrew alphabet--was found not in stone, but actually written in the night sky. In the stars.
It was another sort of artificial language, an entire alphabet, though this was written in the sky; Hebrew letters transcribed in the stars, lines connecting them here and there. Replaceable letters from one point to another. The possibilities of the formation of actual words was present. This seems to have been the first time this idea appeared in print.
1. Browne's writing is both beautiful and difficult, or complex and impenetrable, as can be seen from the very opening paragraph of his work here.
That Vulcan gave arrows unto Apollo and Diana the fourth day after their Nativities, according to Gentile Theology, may passe for no blinde apprehension of the Creation of the Sunne and Moon, in the work of the fourth day; When the diffused light contracted into Orbes, and shooting rayes, of those Luminaries. Plainer Descriptions there are from Pagan pens, of the creatures of the fourth day; While the divine Philosopher unhappily omitteth the noblest part of the third; And Ovid (whom many conceive to have borrowed his description from Moses) coldly deserting the remarkable account of the text, in three words, describeth this work of the third day; the vegetable creation, and first ornamentall Scene of nature; the primitive food of animals, and first story of Physick, in Dietetical conservation.
2. An interesting article in the blog 8vo appears here on Gaffarel's celestial writing.