JF Ptak Science Books Post 2000
[This is numbered post 2,000--a number that does not include another 500 or so "Quick Posts"--written for this blog since beginning in February 2008.]
Our older daughter Emma asked that question years ago, when she was six or seven. It was a great question, and one of those questions, really, that only kids can come up with. It is also reminiscent of Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak's A Hole is to Dig, a classic work published in 1952 with these sorts of question/responses, a kid-cratic method of inquiry and answer, that is possible generally only with a younger and fluid mind. ("What is a hole? A hole is when you step in it you go down" and "a hole is to dig" and so on.)
People from long ago certainly knew that clouds were not nearly as high as the Sun and Moon and stars, but how high could they be? How high was the sky? How thick was the envelope of air around the Earth? Exploratory balloon ascents could help that question along, but only somewhat: heights attained in the first 80 years or so of ballooning reached 43,000 feet. (The question of ballooning and the limits of the atmosphere comes up early, as we can see with Jane C. Webb Loudon, the author of the anonymously-published The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in 1827, interestingly published nine years after Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "... and the hampers are filled with elastic plugs for our ears and noses, and tubes and barrels of common air, for us to breathe when we get beyond the atmosphere of the earth.") In 1803, the record stood at 24,000; in 1835, 26,000; in 1862, 39,000; the record of 43,000 feet was reached in 1927, and at a great cost. On the other hand, more than half of the atmosphere exists at 3 miles above the Earth, and 70% of it is at 5 miles and under; at 22 miles exists about 99% of the atmosphere, and at 62 miles the atmosphere is so thin that it is a virtual vacuum, and is basically negligible. (The exosphere reaches out though to about to about 6,200 miles, but that's where free moving particles are able to escape the Earth's gravity and get swept away by the solar wind.)
Herr Preyssinger was trying to exhibit this atmospheric density in his illustration #10 to his beautiful astronomical atlas. (I should add here that Preyssinger's work is a very uncommon production, made so that several of the engraved plates coul dbe held up to a solitary light source in a dark room and be illuminated cut-outs in the paper which also had transparent material on the verso to difuse the light...very smart.) His illustration for the atmosphere was very effective, and was set against a plan of the earth made at the equator. I've also included the same plate #10 from a French edition of the same work made slightly later, though the interior of this Earth is colored in a brilliant red.
Relative to humans getting high above the ground, the atmosphere is high; relative to just about everything else--like the 99% at 22 miles compared to the 7,900 or so miles of the Earth's diameter, the atmosphere is but a thin slip. IF we reached that distance down into the Earth, we would just be touching the outer mantle.
1. Twelve plates, as follows: Die Central-Sonne und die Ansicht von der Fixsternwelt; Himmelskarte; Darstellung des Sonnensystems; Vergleichende Darstellung der Grösse der Planeten; Die Sonne und verschiedene Erscheinungen derselben; Der Mond durch das Fernrohr gesehen; Transparente Darstellung der Mondsphasen; Finsternisse; Ansicht von den Jahreszeiten; Die Erde und ihre Atomsphäre; Kometen und Aerolithen.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
The Part Builder, Organization Bulletin No.1 published inn 1938 by the Social-Democratic Federation's "national office", is an odd, semi-Outsider kind of publication, a skinny ingenuous cluster of littleness and naivete and homemade hope. "Socialism" is a beacon of something (light or radio/television waves?) at the top of the Empire State Builind-like structure of the formation of the movement, as we can see in the quick-crude drawing on the left side of the pamphlet's cover.
Maybe it an odd thing to use the new Empire State Building as a symbol for the movement, maybe not--the SDF was a splinter group that cleaved itself away from the Socialist Party in 1936 because it seems that the SP was too revolutionary/pro-Communist for the old line folks who formed the SDP. So maybe the building stood for something that the Communists and parties didn't--I don't know, and I've never been very good in following the histories of smallish political parties down their rabbit holes of formulations and re-constitutions and inter-tribal micro-warfare, so I really have no great insight into the symbolism. And perhaps given the rudimentary nature of the publication, maybe the symbolism went only so far as it was a thing that the artist/illustrator could actually sort-of draw.
The main object of interest in this sad little pamphlet though was the U.S. map that appears on page two--it is striking in its way, a silent stab at making claim to potential SDF members in a very quietly outlined American map. The regional labels are so small and tentative, and the vast inner ocean of undefined America is so, well, vast, that the map seems more one of timidity than anything else, a whispered revolution.
JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd
This Daily Dose from Dr. Odd combines two interesting categories today, "Looking Straight Down" and "Display of Information", and they involve food. Rather, its the placement of food, and maps of dinner tables, seen from above--directly above--and looking straight down.
The idea of representing a view straight down, of looking straight down from some height, is a relatively recent occurrence, this view being somewhat rare in the antiquarian world pre-balloon or pre-heavier-than-air flight. The pre-human-flight reason for its scarcity is understandable, but even after the first Montgolfier ascension in 1787, there’s another 120+ years of scarcity yet to come before these views would start to pop up in common (and uncommon) literature.. Now I’m not talking about cartography, which is basically a straight-down view of the world—what I’m referring to is that same view but not as a map per se, but what you would see if you were dangling out of a plane or balloon. It is an unusual and scarce perspective.
Just yesterday in this blog I made an entry on a very striking, viciously anti-slavery Moral Map of the U.S. It is very red and was printed in 1854, just barely before the great troubles really started to begin in 1856, and it stands on its own as a fine representation of a map-with-a-message. The map below by John F. Smith (Historical Geography) was printed in 1888, and although it was made after slavery it still carried a very strong message--perhaps not as graphic as the 1854 map, but certainly as vehement, and perhaps more-so, with a very heavy dosage of Reconstructionist retribution laced in its text. There is a sense of channels of warm blood flowing through canali of stone altars, a mass on the chest to Huitzliopochtli. It has its own sense of deep danger.
[Source: the Library of Congress. The map is very expandable.]
The map is divided North and South by two lightning-like trees, "God's Blessing, Liberty" and "God's Curse, Slavery." The limbs of the tree of Liberty read "Light, Joy, Hope, Faith, Charity, Patience, Benevolence, Philanthropy, Love of Country, Equal Rights, Obedience to Law, Peace, Honor, Truth, Virtue, Sobriety, Industry, Contentment, Free Speech, Knowledge, Free School."
The limbs of the dark, crooked tree of slavery read: "Murder, War, Rebellion, Treason, Secession, Sedition, Superstition, Ignorance, Avarice, Lust" and of course "Hades". these are hosted on the spikes of the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, Fugitive Slave Laws, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott."
"Hades" might not be that far off, at least for the heat/difficulty index, as this one seems to be located right about at the eastern boundary of the Llano Estacado, which in centuries past was a very highly difficult place to navigate.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1940
This incredible, indelible image is another from our collection of graphical representations of data and ideas. This map, is entitled Moral Map of North America, 1854; (the Slave States are coloued Red, the blighted influence of Slavery is also deeply felt in those parts more slightly streaked with Red). I can find no record of this map, printed obviously by our Brethren across the ocean--that and the fact that it was printed in 1854 is all the publishing data that I can find thus far.
The poem at bottom reads:
United States! Your banner wears
Two Emblem one of Fame;
Alas! The other it bars
Reminds us of your shame.
The white man's liberty in types
Stands blazoned by your stars;
But what's the meaning of your stripes;
They mean your Negro-scars.
Reciting this poem by Thomas Campbell before an abolitionist convention in 6 March 1851, William Wells Brown continued (as was reported in the National Anti-Slavery Standard):
"The name of the United States is becoming a hissing and bye-word in the mouths of the inhabitants of every clime. My country is indeed the land of oppression. There is not a rood of territory over which the Stars and Stripes fly, on which William and Ellen Craft or myself could be protected by law. Wherever the American flag is seen flying on the continent of the New World it points us out as slaves; and we enjoy to-night a degree of freedom in your town that we could not if we were in the land of our birth. I often speak of America as my country, but in point of fact I have no country. In the language of one of the noblest of the Negro's champions in the United States. My country is the wide, wide world; My countrymen are all mankind."
Brown should know: his mother was a slave and his father the plantation owner who later granted him his freedom. Brown then worked the underground railroad and much, much more, working with William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Among his published works included the incredible Clotel, (1853), which was one of the first novels published by an African-American in the U.S., and which discusses in great detail the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave/lover/mistress Sally Hemings.
The map is definitely a tale of morality, showing a definite margin of slavery but also depicting slavery leeching its way through the border states. It is interesting to note that Washington D.C. is represented in red as it was indeed a slave-holding district, with a slave pen right on the Mall in the 1830's.
The most striking feature to me of course is the slave who is lashed hand-and-foot to the flagpole on which the American flag is flying, as this is the only time that I have seen the slave and the flag portrayed as a unit, together, the slave being tortured by the standard of our country.
(Here's another contemporary map depicting the expansion/limitation of slavery from a blog post on the Kansas-Nebraska act on the excellent antiqueprintsblog site, described here):
And this famous map of the United States slave holding region depicting slave ownership by density and by county, which is described in detail (along with pull-outs and expansions at the New York Times website:
"(Francis Bicknell) Carpenter spent the first six months of 1864 in the White House preparing the portrait (of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet), and on more than one occasion found Lincoln poring over the map. Though the president had abundant maps at his disposal, only this one allowed him to focus on the Confederacy’s greatest asset: its labor system. After January 1, 1863—when the Emancipation Proclamation became law—the president could use the map to follow Union troops as they liberated slaves and destabilized the rebellion." Quote pull from the NYT via Flowing Data.
The Carpenter painting (described in another New York Times piece here, with the map clearly visible at the lower right):
Another fine example of a slavery map showing the details of the institution was made by Adolph von Steinwehr (a cartographer and geographer who would serve as a brigadier general in the Union Army) in 1861:
A while ago I wrote a post on Herman Soergel's plan for extending the landmass of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea by damming the straits of Gibraltar, lowering the sea and irrigating the Sahara--an original, interesting but not very good idea, filled with briney cultivation and racial politics. In the past on this blog I've written about other city plans--and in particular, for New York City--that have involved floating Manhattan into the harbor, or filling up large chunks of the Narrows, or floating the city on an enormous anti-gravity platform, and so on. Some of those plans were real, some science fiction, and some were plainly beyond both. The plan presented above is another monster, but at least this one could work, if not for the doing of it, and the expense. And the will.
But the bottom line, according to the engineer doing the thinking on this project, Kennard Thomson, would supposedly net the city a cool billion dollars after everything was said and done, and that would be 1916 dollars--that was equal to about 5% of the American GDP (!) in 1916, which would be about $400 billion in terms of 2010 GDP. I'm not sure how Thomson came up with this very big/very round number, though it must have been done for effect--I can just imagine him standing before a smokey room filled with civil engineers talking about his massive plan for enlarging NYC and throwing out the billion-dollar figure, watching the cigars glow red in exhaled disbelief.
[Source: Popular Science, 1916.]
Thomson did know what he was talking about--he was a busy (and "leading" according to the NYT) Manhattan civil engineer of stature, working on the Canal Barge and being the principal engineer for the Municipal and Singer buildings, for example--and his project seems to be well within the scope of possibility. Their sensical aspects however are, well, questionable.
Here's the story--around 1911, while examining proposals to repair and extend New York's wharves, Thomson came upon the idea--a magnificent, fabulous idea--of adding new wharves by adding new lands to the city. In short, the overall plan was to fill in the East River (!!) and reclaim the new land for city living, dam Hell Gate, construct a New East River (from Flushing to Jamaica Bay), extend the tip of Manhattan Island from the Battery to within a quarter-mile of Staten Island (!), create a new 40-square-mile island between Sandy Hook and Staten Island, extend the Jersey shoreline, add two new Manhattan-sized appendages to the east shore of Staten Island, and more. All of this would be connected by various new bridges and roads and tunnels, as well as a 6-track elevated railway that would circumnavigate the city. The purpose of all of this would be to add 100 miles of new docks, an enormous amount ("50 square miles of reclaimed land") of new land and the capacity for NYC to house 20+ million people, all of which would be worth a billion dollars.
Thomson really meant "really" in the title for the proposal. There have been reclamation projects undertaken in New York Bay since then of course, and I think that virtually all of what Thomson talked about could be done. I think it would be a very interesting project for a class of some sort to undertake an estimation of what such a thing would cost today (and I would guess to duplicate the idea in real terms now would take up a sizable chunk of the GDP). Maybe all of this will make sense at some more future point.
And along this line of thinking I include a very interesting drawing made by architect Lebbeus Woods, showing the bedrock part of Manhattan. He empties the East River and damns (?) the Hudson, and also builds some new port extending from Staten Island or out from Jersey...but the effect of the dry river bed between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Andthen some--he empties the river, and then deepens/excavates, heightening the depths (?!) of Manhattan Canyon. The depth of the river where we can see it in the drawing is maybe 100 feet, and certainly (judging the depth against the heights of the structures in the lower island) the canyon is deeper than that--maybe an order of magnitude deeper.
[Source: Lebbeus Woods, here.]
--A good read on Thomson and Woods can be found here, at Telemachus Untitled.
--Another treatment of the whole idea can be seen at Frank Jacob's great Strange Maps blog, here.
I'm gearing up for Part III of this 150-item list (we're up to 81 maps thus far) and thought to at least put the two parts of what has been done on the same page:
JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd
I've made a post here before on the location of the Garden of Eating, um, "Eden", here, which I guess might be the ultimate of all Apple Maps, The Big Eat; but I've found these two (below) that are entertaining and probably not interetsing though they are without the overwhelming consequences of the first map. They're just about apples, and not what apples might represent (which I think was an unwieldy way for a Creator of the Universe to test the future of humankind with).
And of course the route of Small Things Internally Eating Apples:
[Source: Maps Incohate, here.]
[Source:private collection, Tabula Paradisi Terrestris justa Systema Auctoris incisa a P. Stark-Man was printed late in the 18th century, probably around 1775, and locates the GOE far in the north country, near the Dead Sea, deep in old Armenia, near Mount Ararat (where Noe and his family were supposed to have landed after the creator flooded the world killing everything, where everything else, young and old, infant younger, men women children, beasts and ants, were killed by a wrathful OT maker.).]
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1933
I'm not sure how my thinking went from Athanasius Kircher's Earth skeleton to the magnificent Eberhard Werner Happel 1675 world map of ocean currents featuring what might be the largest California ever seen in the history of cartography, but, well, the thinking wound up there, (and this leaving out Bishop Burnett's perfect primordial world egg in the process). This was intended as a simply post following up yesterday's bit in the Blank and Missing Things series relating to California as an island and the missing land mass connecting the non-island to the rest of North America. Nominally California usually appears as a stubby/plump infected-appendix-sized bit either attached/not to the continent, but the California in the Happel (1647-1730, a man of math and medicine) map is larger than the rest of North America from the California gulf to the Atlantic. Of course that also includes all of Alaska and then some imagined lands as well, but, still the mass of it is labelled "California" stands by itself larger than South America, Africa (which looks surprisingly good for the age of the rendering), China (which is very very small) and Russia (which lacks virtually all of Russia east if the Urals). The only land mass that comes close to California's size is the Antarctic regions, which is drawn here as a solid land mass including the scant points of data for New Zealand and Australia and whatever other island was found in southerly South Sea travels, all drawn together and fitted into an enormous continent.
Although there weren't many explorers yet to go up the west coast of North America in 1675, other maps of the period render the coastline in a more accurate way than this. The point of the map, really, is to display what was known of the ocean currents, some of which was correct but a lot of which is not--though it is a very good attempt given the state of the data collection. The source of this map,the Peabody Library's The World Encompassed (1952) calls it the "first chart of ocean currents", which I think is incorrect--and it is here where our favorite 17th century science-Jesuit comes into play, for it is in Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterreaneus (1642) that the first map of ocean currents occurs.
[Michael Tramezinus's map of the Western Hemisphere (1534) showing a mostly non-existent western coastline of North America along with a stringy California--but given the time and the available information, it is an excellent map that is not afraid to define unknown lands with a squiggly line. Source, plate 35 from The World Encompassed.]
Kircher is a highly problematic character in the history of science. He is at times wonderful and insightful and creative; at other times he is boring, pedantic, grueling, wrong, fanciful, and stingy with attribution. I'm no Kircher scholar, but it seems to me after al this time that sometimes he writes stuff that he couldn't've meant, that he absolutely knew better than to assert--but there it is, anyway, written as gospel truth (and the Gospels and related religious mythio-stories evidently demanded obedience to their own truths, in which Kircher complies) . This is one of the problems with the Fra Athanasius.
In his Mundus Subterraneus Kircher presents the true first map of ocean currents (Tabula Geographico-Hydrographica motus Oceani, currents, abyssos, montes igniuomos in universe orbe indican), some bits being correct and others not so. He rejects the Aristotelian concept of condensation, and figures that the accumulation of snow/rain/dew is simply not enough water to feed the rivers and lakes and oceans, so he devised subterranean oceans and rivers with vast stores of water to feed the waters topside. His hydrophyllaciae is one of four components of an underground Earth that closely coincides with the four elements and with the human condition, much in the tradition of the Medieval body/spirit approach to the understanding of the world system.
[Source: image from the mapseller site of Sebastian Hidalgo Sola, Buenos Aires, here.]
John Edward Fletcher, in his A Study of the Life and Works of Athanasius Kircher, ‘Germanus Incredibilis ..." describes Kircher creating an "Earth Skeleton"which he dresses according to science and ecclesiastical needs, finding a vis spermatica, the launching of all matter from the primeval chaos of primordial Earth. The Mundus addresses this and many other things--it is, in all of this and all of its faults (as Fletcher states), a great repository of all geological knowledge of the time. There is the good with the bad in the Mundus, "a conglomeration of exotic facts and fiction, along with odd scraps of truth and the occasional flash of brilliance" (Fletcher, p. 172), and the ocean currents map is one of those bits.
Kircher undertakes an enormous and probably impossible job in this book, but may actually be kept from getting to the big point by depending upon himself too much. As Fletcher points out (page 171), the Mundus' third edition of 1671 failed to take into account the major advances in fields touching on the book's contents, in particular, the work of Mariotte and Varenius, which was much superior to that of Kircher on the ocean currents, neither of which are discussed or even mentioned in the new edition.
This was a very round-about way of getting to the California-part of the Happel map, but the attribution of the World Encompassed as "the first" of its kind needed to be addressed.
Here's an interesting read on the Kircher/Happel maps: from http://www.coastalguide.com/helmsman/gulf-stream-history-noaa2.shtml
JF Ptak Sciene Books Part of the series on The History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things.
The influence of economic strategy seems to be the Old Red Sandstone of the geology of life on this planet, and sometimes it reaches right into cartography, expressing itself in unusual ways. Such may be the case with the creation of the idea of California beign an island.
In general, much of the vast expanse of blankness of the continent in the 16th and 17th century was hidden under ornate Baroque cartouches and their encumbrances, which was a tried-and-true method of taking up space on a map where you didn't (a) really know what was their and (b) didn't want to make stuff up to fill in the white space. By necessity most of North America was unknown to cartographers at this time because, well, there was no reliable information to work with. The far reaches of the middle North American western coastline enjoyed a history of connectivity with the large land mass that exists east of the Gulf of California, the region known today as "california" being connected to the rest of the continent from the early 16th century.
About 116 years later, though, cartographic thinking on part of the coast changed. Antonio de la Ascensíon is credited with first giving flight to the idea that the California Peninsula was in fact an island--and so, beginning in 1620, California would frequently make guest appearances on maps as an island. (Fray Antonio was born in Salamanca in 1573/4 and studied there and at the College of Pilots in Seville; he was ordained in the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and sent off to Mexico. As a cosmographer he accompanied Sebastian Vizcaino (1548-1624) on his expedition to California to find a good port for Spanish galleons coming from Manila, which is when Antonio produced his diaries with the famous island maps1.) This map was created during a period where there was heavy competition for trade routes and geographical knowledge was actual currency, so there was some amount of cartographic information that was proprietary. When the abbot's map was lost to/and recovered by the Dutch, the changes that were made to California were codified and published--the Spanish thought it not necessary to correct the misinformation. Perhaps. In any event, it seems plausible that the Spanish crown had no interest in involving itself with what may or may not have been the loss of proprietary information, and so let the island business slide. Until1751, when the King of Spain issued a proclamation saying that California was indeed not an island.
This practice continued to about 1747, when there was more than ample evidence to suggest that the island status of California was erroneous--still, it took several decades for the last of the island-maps to make its appearance.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
This is an odd entry for the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things category as it relates both to making things missing and finding them again. In this instance the topic is maps and puzzles, where both actions of making things blank and restoring them are intentional. The first item on display--a sample from a "dissected" map patent from 1873, shows both an unusual "blank map" (a template simply waiting for a face) and the ability to remove part of the whole or the entire thing itself--and then of course replace/return the pieces. But I must admit the original image (below) had that appeal of being mostly an unintentionally absurd item, a blank jigsaw in a frame.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1920
The interesting thing about Hell--Dante's Hell--is that it has been shown and reconstructed and imagined for a long time--eight centuries--and, outside of painting, most of the representations seem to be in cross-section. That is why this image from the famous exposition by Alessandro Vellutello's 1544 struck me so strongly--it is a mostly straight-down look at the miserly and the prodigal in the fourth circle of Hell.
"… I saw multitudes
to every side of me; their howls were loud
while, wheeling weights, they used their chests to push.
They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?' --Canto VII, lines 25-30
This image depicts the great, tiring but tire-less, endless, despicable joust of the miserly and the prodigals, going at each other with large, difficult-to-move stones. Pluto is supposed to be in the middle, but I don't see him here. The artist though has made the men basically unrecognizable, giving them little character to their faces and virtually no differences in their bodies--Virgil tells Dante that they have lost themselves to something else, that there is no "there" there, that Dante--who would normally speak with the people he was coming into contact with--would not be able to interview them as they were too absorbed in their vicious need.
As has been seen in the many maps constructed for the Divine Comedy over the years--but especially during the Renaissance--Hell for Dante was a real place, a nine-layered inverted cone of measured depth and width commensurate with the sin, and established under the city of Jerusalem. Dante visited the place
"... but who art thou
That hast inquir'd of us?" To whom my guide:
"One that descend with this man, who yet lives,
From rock to rock, and show him hell's abyss." (Inferno XXIX, 89–92, trans. Cary)
entering Hell on Good Friday and emerging from Purgatory on Easter morning, taking three days to travel through the two places and straight through the center of the Earth.
Here are a few examples of the cross sections that are the great standard bearers of Dante's visions:
The Hell of Dante by Pietro da Fino, 1568:
The circles of Hell from Commedia di Dante insieme con uno dialogo circa el sito, forma et misure dello Inferno by Filippo Giunta, Florence, 1506.
Again, just a few examples of the cross sections of Hell to contrast with the scarce looking-straight-down-at-Hell image above.
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.