JF Ptak Science Books Post 1486
Hildegard of Bingen (ca. 1098-1179) was a polymathic religious visionary1, composer and writer who was a well-know intellectual whose work attracted the attention of people at all levels, not the least of which were several popes In one version of the manuscript of her 150,000-word work, Scivias (Scito vias Domini, or "Know the Ways of the Lord" ) we find the following illumination, which is basically an image of the object that contains the nameless stuff of the human soul:
The image above—from the Wiesbaden manuscript and unfortunately only in a black-and-white, and found in Charles Singer's From Magic to Science (1928)2--shows Hildegard's vision of the soul entering the body. (There's a wide range of opinion concerning how much influence Hildegard had on these images—some say that she sketched out the outlines, or directed the illuminator, or had some sort of hand in the construction of the image, all with varying levels of involvement.3)
It is an extraordinary thing, trying to represent what gives the human-ness to people as seen from a 12th-century perspective, and in Hildegard's version/vision it is the soul, the very essence of the birth and death cycle of human nature. It is resident as we see within a special place in the sky, the "the wisdom of god" (Singer page 226), and it passes from the vault of heaven into the fetus while still within the mother's womb. It is in this square, evidently, that the essential matter of the creator can be found, and within that structure can be seen the essence of the stuff of human nature that is about to pass into the developing fetus through the tube-like connection. As Singer writes, quoting (loosely?) from the manuscript: "down this [the tube] there passes into the child a bright object, described variously as 'spherical' and as 'shapeless' which 'illuminates the whole body' and becomes or developes into the soul." (Singer, p. 226).
In the frontispiece to another ms of Scivias, we see Hildegard herself sitting and making a sketch on a wax tablet (a sort of Medieval chapbook, or hornbook, or slate/charcoal sketchpad that could be reused), showing that the images she created were the product of a higher source, of light from another metaphoric vault:
1. Hildegard said that she had these vision,s from a very early age, beginning at about 3.
2. This manuscript was removed from Wiesbaden during WWII and “sent to Dresden for safekeeping”, where it subsequently “disappeared”. “Destroyed” is more like it, as Dresden of course was the scene of an enormous firebombing campaign in the last days of the German involvement of WWII. There are still hopes that the ms lives somewhere in someone's grandfather's attic, perhaps taken in the third week of February 1945 as war booty, and then forgotten. "You guys burnt the place down, turned it into a single column of flame. More people died there in the firestorm, in that one big flame, than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined." --Kurt Vonnegut, Jr
3. Historian of science Charles Singer and medical anomaly writer Oliver Sacks have both made strong cases for Hildegard to have been a migraine sufferer, though they do explicitly state that given that as the case it does not necessarily affect the vision that she had.
As found in the Wikiu article on Scivias:" Some authors, such as Charles Singer, have suggested that the characteristics of the descriptions of the visions and the illustrations, such as bright lights and auras, imply they may have been caused by scintillating scotoma, a migraine condition. Oliver Sacks, in his book Migraine, called her visions "indisputably migrainous," but stated that this does not invalidate her visions, because it is what one does with a psychological condition that is important. The resemblance of the illuminations to typical symptoms of migraine attacks, especially in cases where it is not precisely described in the text, is one of the stronger arguments that Hildegard herself was directly involved in their creation.
The contents of Scivitas: