“The only full treatise on architecture and its related arts to survive from classical antiquity, De Architechtura libri decem (Ten Books on Architecture) is the single most important work of architectural history in the Western world, having shaped humanist architecture and the image of the architect from the Renaissance to the present. Extremely influential in the formation of the medieval and modern concept of a broad liberal education as the basis for responsible professionals, this work is remarkable also because over half of its content deals with aspects of Hellenistic art, science and technology, music theory, law, artillery, siege machinery, proportion, and philosophy, among other topics.
The new, critical edition of Vitruvius’s Ten Books on Architecture is the first to be published for an English-language audience in more than half a century. Expressing the range of Vitruvius’s style, the translation, along with the critical commentary and illustrations, aim to shape a new image of Vitruvius who emerges as an inventive and creative thinker, rather than the normative summarizer, as he was characterized in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” — back cover
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism by Denys Turner.
This 1995 monograph is by Denys Turner, then on the faculty of the University of Bristol, now holding an endowed chair for Historical Theology at Yale. He characterizes it as “An essay in the philosophical history of some theological metaphors … of ‘interiority’, of ‘ascent’, of ‘light and darkness’ and of ‘oneness with God,’” and his primary materials range from Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius to Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross.
Turner proposes an understanding of mysticism at odds with 20th-century formulations, and founded in the etic sense of late antique and medieval Christian usage, in which (he maintains) the mystical per se was directly opposed to the reduction of God to “experiences.” He designates as “experientialism” the positivist, psychologizing approach to religious experience characteristic of (and limited to) modern thought, that results from (or corresponds to) the fragmentation of religious knowledge in the later middle ages. The Darkness of God suggests a greater kinship between the old mystical theology and deconstructivist philosophy, than between the former and its experientialist—and all too often anti-intellectual—progeny in modern “mysticism.”
I really enjoyed the book because of Turner’s challenge to commonplace formulations in the field of the history of mysticism, and because of his impressive job in making sense out of some extremely challenging primary materials. However, I’m not entirely sold on his meta-narrative of the ruination of mystical philosophy. His desire to make “experientialism” into a (relatively) late development leads him to neglect the medieval affective tradition that is exemplified in the work of Bernard of Clairvaux. It may be that Turner could argue that such works are not really “mystical,” but he doesn’t even make the effort, and leaves a wide and important hole in his historical treatment.
To be fair, Turner is more of a philosopher than an historian. Contemporary mystics and magicians willing to give serious intellectual consideration to the limits of rationality, the nature of experience, and the ultimate goals of mystical understanding should be able to benefit from this difficult but engaging book. [via]
“All the known theories and incidents of witchcraft in Western Europe from the fifth to the fifteenth century are brilliantly set forth in this engaging and comprehensive history. Building on a foundation of newly discovered primary sources and recent secondary interpretations, Professor Russell first establishes the facts and then explains the phenomenon of witchcraft in terms of its social and religious environment, particularly in relation to medieval heresies. He treats European witchcraft as a product of Christianity, grounded in heresy more than in the magic and sorcery that have existed in other societies. Skillfully blending narration with analysis, he shows how social and religious changes nourished the spread of witchcraft until large portions of medieval Europe were in its grip—’from the most illiterate peasant to the most skilled philosopher or scientist.’ A significant chapter in the history of ideas and their repression is illuminated by this book. Our growing fascination with the occult gives the author’s affirmation that witchcraft arises at times and in areas afflicted with social tensions a special quality of immediacy.” [via]
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions by Hermetic Library fellow Joscelyn Godwin.
Godwin’s Golden Thread is an impressive survey of its subject. In a brief and accessible form, he treats esoteric traditions from antiquity, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, to modernity and the present. Although the book presumes shockingly little prior acquaintance with such material, he manages to avoid any tone of condescension, and he embroiders the necessarily broad outlines of such a high-level overview with many interesting details.
This volume is published by Quest Books, a Theosophical Society imprint, but it doesn’t pander to that organization. Godwin professes a metaphysical perspective in common with Paul Brunton (1898–1981, a pupil of Alan Bennett and later Ramana Maharshi), and he takes seriously—without conceding to—the anti-occultist esotericism of the Traditionalists.
As an introductory survey, The Golden Thread doesn’t provide the depth or originality one might be looking for in the course of academic research, but Godwin is careful to furnish extensive references for further reading. These notes enhance the value of the book as a historical primer in its field. I would recommend it to anyone with a preliminary curiosity about its subject, and it is sure to provide rewarding perspective for those who have a practical engagement with the Masonic, Rosicrucian, or Theosophical traditions. There are few books that cover so much ground with such clarity and ease. [via]
Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages by Richard E Rubenstein, a 2003 hardcover from Harcourt, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“The astonishing story of revelation and transformation in the Middle Ages. When Aristotle’s lost works were translated and available once again, the medieval world was galvanized, the Church and the universities were forever changed, and the stage was set for the Renaissance.” — back cover
Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours, a Bilingual Edition by Robert Kehew, with both French and English, translations by Ezra Pound, W D Snodgrass and Robert Kehew, a 2005 paperback from University of Chicago Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“Although the troubadours flourished at the height of the Middle Ages in southern France, their songs of romantic love, with pleasing melodies and intricate stanzaic patterns, have inspired poets and song writers ever since, from Dante to Chaucer, from Renaissance sonneteers to the Romantics, and from Verlaine and Rimbaud to modern rock lyricists. Yet despite the incontrovertible influence of the troubadours on the development of both poetry and music in the West, there existed no comprehensive anthology of troubadour lyrics that respected the verse form of the originals until now.
Lark in the Morning honors the meter, word play, punning, and sound effects in the troubadours’ works while celebrating the often playful, bawdy, and biting nature of the material. Here, Robert Kehew augments his own verse translations with those of two seminal twentieth-century poets—Ezra Pound and W. D. Snodgrass—to provide a collection that captures both the poetic pyrotechnics of the original verse and the astonishing variety of troubadour voices.” — back cover
“Now when I see the skylark lift
His wings for joy in dawn’s first ray
Then let himself, oblivious, drift
For all his heart is glad and gay,
Ay! such great envies seize my thought
To see the rapture others find,
I marvel that desire does not
Consume away this heart of mine.”
—from “The Skylark” by Bernart de Ventadorn, trans. W D Snodgrass
The Newly-Made Mason: What He and Every Mason Should Know About Masonry by H L Haywood, a 1973 hardcover published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Suppy Co., is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“The Newly Made Mason usually craves to know what it is all about:—what it all means. We have long felt that there should be made available for him a single book—readable—concise, comprehensive. This is just such a book; it covers briefly but adequately the origin, history, philosophy, symbolism, organization and operation of the Order. It answers all his ordinary questions. His lodge, itself, or his relatives, friends and business associates should present it to him at his raising and start him off right.
Some knowledge of the laws and customs of the Middle Ages is an absolute essential to a clear understanding of present day Masonry. We know of no one better informed or more able to furnish this blackground than Brother H. L. Haywood, the author of this book. He spent his lifetime in the study of Masonic and Medieval history and wrote many authoritative and interesting books on these subjects. In this book he ably and interestingly presents the generally accepted conclusions of modern Masonic Scholarship. He also advances and strongly defends some theories and ideas essentially his own. These are based on his wide and general knowledge of the Craft.” — dust copy
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Genius Figure in Antiquity and the Middle Ages by J C Nitzsche from Columbia University Press:
This monograph seems to be the only extended treatment of its topic within the academic literature of the history of ideas. Fortunately, it is rather excellent. [via]
The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.
“Au cours de cette sixième étape du ‘Voyage Alchimique’, nous pénétrons avec Patrick Burensteinas, alchimiste et scientifique, au sein du mystérieux laboratoire où doit se former la fameuse Pierre Philosophale. Pour nous aider à en percer les secrets, Nicolas Flamel, célèbre alchimiste parisien du Moyen Age, aurait figuré l’essentiel des opérations du Grand Oeuvre sous une arcade du cimetière des Innocents à Paris, mais elle a été détruite au XVIII° siècle, avec tout le cimetière. Nous la reconstituons ici grâce aux nombreux témoignages qui l’ont décrite.”
“Nicolas Flamel and the Cemetery of the Innocents
In the sixth stage of the Alchemical Voyage, with Patrick Burensteinas, alchemist and scientist, we enter into the mysterious laboratory where the Philosophers Stone has to be made. To help us to perceive its secrets, Nicolas Flamel, a famous Parisian alchemist from the middle age, would have mainly figured out the process of the Great Work under the arch of the Innocents cemetery in Paris. It was destroyed in the 18th century, with the entire cemetery. Thanks to many testimonials, we will make this arch alive again.”
“But the first call: 1896. In a Bierhalle under the shadow of the Matterhorn I met an alchemist.
He is one of the best-known technical chemists in London. One of his scientific feats was the ‘fixing’ of mercury (i.e. the making of it solid at ordinary temperatures) and he had done this by the despised alchemical processes of the Middle Ages.” [via, also]