Confessions of a Tarot Reader: Practical Advice From This Realm and Beyond by Jane Stern (skirt!) Lessons learned from the cards, and the incomparable Jane Stern, known as a a crisp commentator on culture and food, now reveals her secret passion for card reading. www.janemastertarot.comTarot cards have been used to foretell the future for centuries. In the hands of a sensitive and gifted reader like Jane Stern they can help clarify the decisions we make every day and realign our lives to work more effectively.
Once the domain of the esoteric and mystical, tarot today has many practical applications in the modern world. Jane Stern, a fourth generation tarot reader who has read cards professionally for over forty years, has given the art of the tarot a very modern spin. Using the twenty-two major arcana cards (the “heart of the tarot”) as the basis for the chapters in this book, she has gleaned all she has learned over the years and presents Confessions of a Tarot Reader as a witty, readable, and useful self help book. In her own words, the author likes to think of herself as a “psychic Dear Abby,” and by drawing on the wisdom of the tarot deck, to give practical advice in every life situation. Confessions of a Tarot Reader can lift the veil between this world and the unseen world.
Confessions of a Tarot Reader is not a how-to book for would-be tarot card readers, but rather a summary of knowledge I have gleaned over my long career reading cards. This book is about how people unwittingly make poor decisions and find themselves in emotional (and occasionally physical) jeopardy. My insights and observations will show you the pitfalls of your actions—and, more important, the uncanny simplicity of finding the right answer -as well as how to recover from the cycle of hurtful habits.
It is important for you to know that I am what's referred to as a clean reader. I am not a witch, I do not dabble in the dark arts, and if ghosts appeared during my readings I would be out the door faster than you! But I have the ability to lift the veil between this world and the unseen world, and with this book so can you. Here you will see that the tarot deck is the best method for seeking answers from beyond the limited realm of our thought.
This book is filled with stories of clients I have worked with, and how they did or did not utilize the lessons learned. Some stories are funny (the client who greeted me at the door wearing a towel because he confused me with the appointment he made that day with a massage therapist), sad (the woman with four autistic children who was overwhelmed by her situation and needed help to move forward), and scary (counseling a client over the phone while her husband held a gun to her head). With this book you will learn from what other people did, and you will be able to chart your own progress to help you attain what you want in life.
The book is divided into twenty-two chapters, each ruled by one of the twenty-two Major Arcana cards in the full tarot deck of seventy-eight. The Major Arcana cards are the heavy hitters, known as the heart of the tarot, and they bear provocative titles like the Lovers, Death, the Wheel of Fortune, Strength, the Devil, the Tower, and the Fool. The Major Arcana cards deal directly with facets of our soul: the light, the dark, our dreams, fears, wishes, and determinations.
I truly hope that this book helps you gain insight. Imagine you are sitting across from me in my sunny blue-and-white living room in Connecticut with the birds chirping outside the window and the cherry tree in bloom. I have placed a cup of tea on the table for you, next to a box of Kleenex in case you need to wipe your eyes. I hand you the deck to shuffle, and we are off on a journey together.
In 2010 Alejandro Jodorowsky's masterful and distinctive account of the Tarot was finally released in an English edition. Long available in French, Italian and Spanish editions, this confessional account of the artist and filmmaker's peculiar take on the this deck of cards is likely to revitalize the the way Tarot, especially Tarot de Marseille as reworked by Camoin and Jodorowsky, is understood, read and taught by tarot readers. I find that some of the ways he sees variants and similarities in the images and structure of the deck offers corrective orientations to the numerology of divination.
The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa (Destiny Books) Alejandro Jodorowsky’s profound study of the Tarot, which began in the early 1950s, reveals it to be far more than a simple divination device. The Tarot is first and foremost a powerful instrument of self-knowledge and a representation of the structure of the soul.
The Way of Tarot shows that the entire deck is structured like a temple, or a mandala, which is both an image of the world and a representation of the divine. The authors use the sacred art of the original Marseille Tarot--created during a time of religious tolerance in the 11th century--to reconnect with the roots of the Tarot’s Western esoteric wisdom. They explain that the Tarot is a “nomadic cathedral” whose parts--the 78 cards or “arcana”--should always be viewed with an awareness of the whole structure. This understanding is essential to fully grasp the Tarot’s hermetic symbolism.
The authors explore the secret associations behind the hierarchy of the cards and the correspondences between the suits and energies within human beings. Each description of the Major Arcana includes key word summaries, symbolic meanings, traditional interpretations, and a section where the card speaks for itself. Jodorowsky and Costa then take the art of reading the Tarot to a depth never before possible. Using their work with Tarology, a new psychological approach that uses the symbolism and optical language of the Tarot to create a mirror image of the personality, they offer a powerful tool for self-realization, creativity, and healing.
To construct the mandala, it is first necessary to become familiar with the Major Arcana, the four Suits of the Minor Arcana, the function and value of the cards, and the symbology of the numbers that underlies the entire organization of the Tarot and connects each of its elements to the whole.
We will then examine the meaning and several different possible systems of organization of the eleven colors present in the Arcana of the Tarot.
The Tarot deck appears as a complex and disconcerting whole to the beginner. Some cards seem easier to interpret than others, as they are charged by symbols that are more or less familiar. Some represent human figures, while others depict geometric designs or objects. Some carry a name, others a number, and others are not even titled or numbered. This leads to a great temptation to rely on already familiar structures such as astrology or various kinds of numerology to start studying this deck. But like all consistent systems and all works of sacred art, the Tarot contains its own structure that it is our duty to discover.
In many kinds of initiation, it is said that through language, human beings can approach the truth but never grasp it; and that, conversely, it is possible for them to know the truth through its reflection in beauty. The study of the Tarot can therefore be undertaken as a study of beauty. It is through looking, through placing our trust in what we see, that its meanings will gradually reveal themselves to us.
In this first part of the book, we propose to look at what clues the Tarot gives us to understand its structure and its numerology. From these foundations, we will construct a mandala that makes it possible to organize the entire deck into a design that we can encompass with a single glance. In this mandala, the seventy-eight cards of the deck form a balanced design and a coherent whole....
The majority of authors of Tarot books are content to describe and analyze the cards one by one without imagining the entire deck as a whole. However, the true study of each Arcanum begins with the consistent order of the entire Tarot; every detail, tiny as it may be, begins from the links that connect all seventy-eight cards. To understand these myriad symbols, one needs to have seen the final symbol they all form together: a mandala. According to Carl Gustav Jung, the mandala is a representation of the psyche, whose essence is unknown to us. Round shapes generally symbolize natural integrity, whereas rectangular forms represent the mental realization of this integrity. In Hindu tradition, the mandala, the symbol of the sacred central space, altar, and temple, is both an image of the world and the representation of divine power, an image capable of leading the one contemplating it to illumination. In accordance with this concept, I thought of organizing the Tarot as if I were building a temple. In all traditions, the temple summarizes the creation of the universe, seen as a divine unit that has exploded into pieces. Osiris, imprisoned in a chest by his jealous enemies and his brother Seth, was cast into the waters of the Nile, mutilated, dismembered, then resuscitated by the breath of Iris. Symbolically, the Arcana of the Tarot are a chest in which a spiritual treasure has been deposited. The opening of this chest is equivalent to a revelation. The initiatory work consists of gathering together the fragments until the original unit has been restored. You start with a pack of cards, you mix up the Arcana and display them flat, which is to say you cut the God into pieces. You interpret them and put them back together in sentences. In a sacred quest the initiate reader (Isis, the soul) puts the pieces back together. The God is resuscitated not in an immaterial dimension but in the material world. A figure, a mandala, is composed with the Tarot so that the whole thing can be seen with a single glance.
This idea that the cards were not conceived one by one—as separate symbols—but as parts of a whole did not appear to me all at once. It was a long process fueled by vague intentions, but over the course of the years I made discoveries that provided convincing proof that this "complete entity," the Tarot, desired to create union.
I organized the cards by placing the even numbers on my left and the odd numbers on my right, because in Eastern traditions even numbers are considered passive and the odd numbers active, and because the right side is considered active and the left passive. I compared the ornamentation of Western temples with Eastern ones. On the facade of Gothic cathedrals, for example, Notre Dame of Paris, an androgynous Jesus Christ, standing between an earthly dragon and a heavenly dragon, gives us his blessing. On the portal to his right (or to our left as spectators) stands the Virgin Mary (femininity, openness), and to his left we see a priest dominating a dragon with his staff (masculinity, activity). Conversely, in Tantric Buddhist temples, the male deities are placed facing our left side and females our right side. The explanation for this is that Buddha is not a god but a level that every human being, if he or she performs the great spiritual work, can attain. The believer ceases to be a spectator and takes a place between the male and female principles, transformed into a temple. Conversely, Christ is a god, and no believer can become him, only imitate him. Eastern saints are Buddhas. Western saints imitate their God—which is the reason cathedrals behave like mirrors. The right side of the building represents our left side and the left side our right. The Tarot of Marseille, a Judeo-Christian creation, indicates to us in The World (XXI) that we should use it like a mirror: the woman is holding the active baton in her left hand and the receptive retort in her right .
Taking these details and others, which it would take too long to list here, as my guides, I gradually shaped groups of cards that one day finally took the form of a mandala. I obtained a swastika, the symbol of the creative whirlwind around which the hierarchies it creates fan out. This symbol, which obviously indicates a circular movement around the center, the action of divine principle on manifestation, was long considered to be an emblem of Christ. In India it was made into the emblem of the Buddha, because it resembles the Wheel of the Law (Dharmachakra), but also the emblem of Ganesh, the god of knowledge. In China, the swastika symbolizes the number ten thousand, which is the sum total of beings and manifestation. It is also the original form offing: it indicates the four directions of squared space of the Earth as a horizontal expansion emanating from the center. In Masonic symbolism, the pole star is depicted at the center of the swastika, and the four arms (the Greek letter gamma, whose shape is that of the square) of which it consists are the four cardinal positions of the Big Dipper around it (the Big Dipper symbolizes a guiding or enlightening center).
I should acknowledge, though, that the Arcana can be organized into one whole in countless ways. As the Tarot is essentially a projective instrument, there is no definitive, unique, perfect form within it. This is consistent with the mandalas drawn by Tibetan monks using different-colored sand. They all resemble one another but are never alike.
Our study of the Tarot begins with the understanding of this mandala. It is not possible to analyze the parts without understanding the whole. When one knows the whole, each part acquires an overall significance that reveals its ties with all the other cards. When one plays an instrument in an orchestra, it resonates with all the others. The Tarot is a union of the Arcana. When, after many years, I managed to successfully put it all together in my first consistent version of the mandala, I asked it: "What purpose does this study serve for me? What kind of power are you able to give me?" I imagined the Tarot answered me: "You should acquire only the power of helping others. An art that does not heal is not an art."
But what does it mean to heal? Every illness, every problem is the product of a stagnation, whether it be one that is physical, sexual, emotional, or intellectual. Healing consists of regaining fluidity in one's energies. This concept can be found in Lao-Tse's book, the Tao to Ching, and in an even more precise fashion in the Book of Changes, the I Ching. Could the Tarot correspond in some way or another to this kind of philosophy? Knowing that the optical language of the Tarot could not be imprisoned within one single verbal explanation, I decided to adopt as my motto the words of Buddha, "Truth is what is useful," by giving the four Suits a meaning that I would never dare claim to be in any way unique or definitive, but one that would be the most useful for the therapeutic utilization I sought to give to the Arcana. It seemed to me that instead of using the Tarot like a crystal ball, making it a tool that enabled exotic seers to penetrate hypothetical futures, I would put it into service for a new form of psychoanalysis: Tarology.
My initial tendency, when attempting to organize the cards into a mandala, was to obtain a symmetrical shape. After many fruitless attempts, I could see the impossibility of such a task. I remembered that during my first trip to Japan, the guide leading me around the ancient imperial palace pointed out that no walls were ever constructed in a straight line and that no windows or doors were divided into symmetrical squares. In Japanese culture, the straight line and symmetry are considered to be demonic. Actually, the study of sacred art shows that it is never symmetrical. The door of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris that is located to our left is wider than the door situated to our right. All symmetrical art is profane. Nor is the human body symmetrical: our right lung has three lobes, while our left one has two. The Tarot reveals that it is a sacred art because the upper portion of any card is never identical to the lower, nor the left side to the right. There is always a small detail, sometimes very difficult to make out, that breaks the resemblance. For example, the Ten of Pentacles, which at first glance seems perfectly symmetrical, holds in one of the lower corners (to our right) a pentacle that is different from the rest. It has only eleven petals, whereas the pentacles located in the other three corners have twelve. The flower on the lower end of the central axis has two short light-yellow leaves, whereas the two leaves of the flower of the upper end are longer. I think that the creators of the deck intentionally drew minute details to teach us how to see. The vision our eyes transmit to us changes depending upon our level of awareness. The divine secret is not hidden, it is right in front of us. Whether we see it or not depends upon the attention we give to observing the details and establishing ties between them.
Once aware that beneath an apparent symmetry the Tarot is forever denying repetition, I began to realize how the Minor Arcana were arranged in accordance with a law that could be stated as follows: Out of four parts, three are almost identical, and one is different. And out of the three that are equal, two have more resemblance to each other. In other words: ([1+2] + 3) + 4. Examples of this are multiple. Here are but a few:
If we look for examples of this law in different religions, mythologies, or reality, we find, for example:
Thanks to this formula, we can organize the four temperaments of the body (nerves, lymph, blood, bile); the four trios of the Zodiac (Aries-Leo-Sagitarius, Gemini-Libra-Aquarius, Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces, and Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn); the four phases of alchemy: the work at the yellow stage (citrinitas), the work at the red stage (rubedo), the work at the white stage (albedo), and the work at the black stage (nigredo); the four states of matter (gas, liquid, solid, and plasma); and so on and so forth.
Finally, by studying several alchemical engravings in The Rosary of the Philosophers, I found confirmation for the Tarot mandala.
If I give The Fool the role of infinite beginning and that of
infinite ending to The World, if I grasp that the Pages, Queens,
Kings, and Knights, as they bear no numbers, could not be identified
within each of the Suits as the numbers 11, 12, 13, and 14, I am
left with six series of ten numbers: Swords from One to Ten, Cups
from One to Ten, Pentacles from One to Ten, Wands from One to Ten,
Major Arcana from The Magician to The Wheel of Fortune, and again
from Strength to Judgment. If I wanted to understand the essence of
the Tarot, I had to visualize these ten numbers with their six
aspects. For example, the One includes the four Aces plus The
Magician and Strength. The Magician is represented by a man and
Strength by a woman. The Sword and the Wand are active symbols,
while the Cup and the Pentacle are receptive symbols. What this
showed me was that these ten numbers could
be defined as male or female but were androgynous at all times.
In traditional numerology, however, I discovered that the number 1
was claimed as the first odd, active, male number representing the
Father, the unit, and number 2 was the first even number, one that
was passive and female, representing the Mother and multiplicity. It
was impossible for me to support this antifeminist esotericism in
which the numbers, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, labeled as "feminine," were
synonymous with obscurity, cold, and negativity, and where the odd
numbers, 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, were exalted as male and associated with
light, heat, and the positive. To avoid this, I eliminated all
concepts of masculinity and femininity when defining the ten
numbers. I chose to associate the even numbers with receptivity and
the odd numbers with activity. A woman can be active and a man
I also found in a large number of books a definition of 2 as
duality, 1 + 1. This seemed quite clumsy to me when applying it to
the Tarot. Because, if we adopt this theory, all that remains to be
done is to interpret each of the following numbers as simple
additions of units of one: 3 would therefore be 1 + 1 + 1; 4 would
be 1 + 1 + 1 +1; and so on up to 10. There is another esoteric
tendency to give numbers a meaning based on the result of internal
additions. The most complex of all would be 10, whose meaning would
be different depending on whether it was the result of 9 + 1, 8 + 2,
7 + 3, or 6 + 4 (the result of repeated numbers such as 5 + 5 being
excluded). As there is no reason for this system to stop with simply
adding two figures, it leads to aberrations like 10= 1+ 2+ 3+ 4, or
10= 3+ 5+ 2, and so forth. A symbol is a whole, just like a body. It would be ridiculous to
claim that the human body is the sum of two legs + two arms + one
torso + one head and, by continuing along this path, + one liver +
two eyes, and so on. It is similarly absurd to define each of the
ten numbers in the Tarot as the sum of other numbers. To understand
its message, we should consider each of these numbers as an
individual with its own particular characteristics.
I also found in a large number of books a definition of 2 as duality, 1 + 1. This seemed quite clumsy to me when applying it to the Tarot. Because, if we adopt this theory, all that remains to be done is to interpret each of the following numbers as simple additions of units of one: 3 would therefore be 1 + 1 + 1; 4 would be 1 + 1 + 1 +1; and so on up to 10. There is another esoteric tendency to give numbers a meaning based on the result of internal additions. The most complex of all would be 10, whose meaning would be different depending on whether it was the result of 9 + 1, 8 + 2, 7 + 3, or 6 + 4 (the result of repeated numbers such as 5 + 5 being excluded). As there is no reason for this system to stop with simply adding two figures, it leads to aberrations like 10= 1+ 2+ 3+ 4, or 10= 3+ 5+ 2, and so forth.
A symbol is a whole, just like a body. It would be ridiculous to claim that the human body is the sum of two legs + two arms + one torso + one head and, by continuing along this path, + one liver + two eyes, and so on. It is similarly absurd to define each of the ten numbers in the Tarot as the sum of other numbers. To understand its message, we should consider each of these numbers as an individual with its own particular characteristics.
As the word Arcanum—Major or Minor—is not printed on any part of the deck, we should not see the cards as "a secret, hidden thing, a thing that is occult and extremely difficult to know." It was up to me to give them a name: Engravings, Cards, Figures, Arcana, Victories, the choice was open. As the words Epée [Sword], Coupe [Cup], Baton [Wand], and Deniers [Pentacles] were already there, I opted for Arcana (Major and Minor), then for an alphabetical order: A for Arcana; B for Baton; C for Coupe; D for Deniers; E for Epee; F for Figures.
I developed my knowledge of Paul Marteau's Tarot for more than thirty years, organized workshops, and gave classes, teaching it to hundreds and hundreds of students. In 1993 I received a postcard in which Philippe Camoin, direct descendent of the Marseilles family that had been printing Nicolas Conver's Tarot since 1760, told me about the auto accident in which his father, Denys Camoin, had died. This tragic death had affected him deeply, especially as the municipal authorities had taken advantage of the tragedy to expropriate the property of the printing house, demolish it, and erect a dental school. He could not get past his mourning and following futile attempts to rejoin society, Philippe Camoin became a hermit. He spent ten years shut up in his father's house in the small town of Forcalquier with no other communication with the world except that provided by a satellite antenna that allowed him to receive more than one hundred different channels on his television. This was how he was able to learn the basics of a dozen languages. The cathode screen became his interlocutor. He thought he could smell the odor of the people appearing on the screen. When he had a problem or a question, he pressed his remote control at random and, as if bymagic, an image, a broadcast, gave him a response. One sleepless night, when the clock said three o'clock, he asked this question: "What should I do to continue the family tradition interrupted by the death of my father?" and he pressed a button. I appeared on the screen responding to a journalist. Philippe had the feeling I was addressing him in particular. Several days later he repeated his question, and I reappeared on the screen. This phenomenon occurred a third time. This was why he decided to return to the world and write me to request a rendezvous.
When I saw him arriving, it was impossible to tell his age. He could have been fifty years old or twenty; one could have described him as a sage as easily as one could have said a child. He had difficulties expressing himself. Long silences interrupted every word that fell from his mouth. He gave the impression of saying nothing that was personally inspired, as if everything was being dictated to him from a faraway dimension. The transparency of his skin revealed that he was a vegetarian. He had a tattoo at the base of each of his thumbs. There was a moon on the left and a sun on the right. He wanted to attend my Tarot classes. The other students wondered if Philippe was mute. He had immense difficulty establishing relations with human beings. It was easier for him to communicate with beings from other worlds. The god Shiva moved him because, although he was a divine entity spreading love and fertility, all the demons obeyed him.
I decided to undertake a therapeutic initiative using psychomagic[a form of psychotherapeutics developed by Jodorowsky]. If the death of his father had broken the bonds connecting his son to the world, it would be necessary to reconnect Philippe to the family tradition in order to restore them. To do this, I suggested we together restore the Tarot of Marseille. At this time, I was under the impression that this task would simply involve eliminating the small details added by Paul Marteau, and perhaps refining some of the drawings that, over time, copy after copy, had eventually been passed down in a confused fashion. Philippe welcomed my proposal enthusiastically. He realized that this was the reason he had sought me out. I spoke with his mother and asked for her help. After the death of her husband, she had donated a considerable collection of Tarots to different museums, and she provided us with letters of recommendation. We were always warmly welcomed, and we were allowed to obtain slides of all the cards useful for our research. Madame Camoin also kept an important collection of printing plates dating from the eighteenth century. At the end of a year of research, we realized just how immense was the task awaiting us. It was not a question of changing a few details or giving a few lines greater precision; it required the entire restoration of the Tarot by giving it back its original colors, painted by hand, and the drawings that generations of copyists had erased. Fortunately, while only fragmentary portions survived on some copies, parts that supplied the missing pieces appeared on others, allowing the entire image to be completed. We had to work with powerful computers, thanks to which we were able to compare the countless versions by placing one image on top of the other, versions that included those of Nicolas Conver, Dodal, François Tourcaty, Fautrier, Jean-Pierre Payen, Suzanne Bernardin, Lequart, and so on.
We worked together on this restoration for two years. Philippe reconnected with the world and showed evidence of extraordinary skill. He used a computer like an expert. The complexity of the task required more powerful machines. With no worry about expense, his mother provided the technical elements we needed. The difficulty of this restoration work resided in the fact that the Tarot of Marseille is made up of symbols that are closely intertwined and connected to one another; if a single line is altered, the entire work is adulterated. A large number of printers of the Tarot of Marseille existed during the seventeenth century. Eighteenth-century Tarot decks were copies of the earlier ones. We therefore cannot accept that any eighteenth-century Tarot could be the original. It is extremely likely that Nicolas Conver's version from 1760 contains errors and omissions. While the drawings were hand painted originally, the number of colors the industrial machines used by eighteenth-century printers could produce was limited. Depending on the printer, the lines and colors were reproduced with varying degrees of fidelity. Those who were not initiates simplified the symbols tremendously. Those copying them added errors to errors. On the other hand, we observed that some Tarots have identical and superimposable drawings, and yet each contains symbols that do not appear on the others. We deduced that they hadbeen copied from the same Tarot, an older version that is now missing. It is this original Tarot that we wanted to restore.
We had stumbled upon an apparently insurmountable problem: no museum owned a Tarot of Marseille that was complete, ancient, and hand painted. Our work was halted for a time that seemed like an eternity. Suddenly I remembered that on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro in Mexico City, sixty yards from the house I used to live in, lived the antiquarian Raul Kampfer, a specialist in Aztec and Mayan relics. In 1960 he had tried to sell me an old "French" Tarot painted by hand, for which he wanted ten thousand dollars. Obsessed with the Waite version at that time, I did not find it interesting, and in any case it was far too expensive. And then I forgot about it . . . Miracle: near to where I once lived was perhaps the valuable example that we so desperately needed!
Philippe and I left for Mexico and, gripped by excitement, knocked at the antiquarian's door. A young man answered: it was the son of Raul Kampfer, who had died. The young man kept the objects left behind by his father religiously in one room. He did not know if a Tarot was hidden among them. He asked us to help him look for it. After a long and extremely anxious time, we finally discovered it in a cardboard box at the bottom of a suitcase. The boy sold it to us for a reasonable price, and we returned to Paris with our prize. This Tarot served us as the essential guide for restoring the former colors by computer.
As our work advanced, I was going through a series of actual spiritual short-circuits. I had spent so many years grafting Paul Marteau's Tarot onto my soul, giving every detail the deepest meaning possible—something I could do by placing a boundless love in the Arcana—that certain changes affected me like stabs from a knife.
Basically, the restoration work demanded that part of me, in the name of change, accept its death. By transforming the two dice of Paul Marteau's Magician—one showing the 1 and the other showing the 5 (making 15, the number of The Devil), and hiding on their opposing faces a 2 and a 6 (Yod, 10 + He, 5 + Vav, 6 + He, 5), which allowed me to say that the demon was only a mask of God—into three in the restored version, the three faces adding up to seven (3 x 7 = 21, The World), compelled the alteration of these symbols into absolutely dif ferent ones, which forced me to make exhausting mental efforts to substitute them for the ones I cherished.
The same thing happened to me with The Emperor's white shoes. I was used to thinking that the powerful monarch took steps of irreproachable purity as full of wisdom as his white beard. But in reality the shoes were red and his beard as blue as the sky. These were the steps of a conquering activity, similar to the cross on the scepter that imposed its mark on the world, and the beard of a man who was sensitive, spiritual, and open, one more intuitive than intelligent. In The Lover, to my great chagrin, I had to forget the parallel I had drawn between the central figure, whom Marteau depicted barefoot, and Moses, who took off his shoes in order to hear the voice of Him on High in the burning bush. It was painful to accept that this figure had red shoes as active as those of The Emperor or The Fool, which gave his love a less divine and more earthly appearance. Marteau's Hanged Man was not suspended by one foot, whereas he was in our version. I had to transfer from a figure who had freely decided not to act to another one who welcomed his bonds like a cosmic law against which he could not rebel, which signified that freedom was, for him, obedience to this law. In Marteau's Arcanum XIII, the skeleton is cutting off his own foot: self-destruction. In ours he has a blue foot as well as one arm and a spinal column of the same color, a constructive action repeated in his scythe, where the old red was blended with this heavenly blue, signifying a seeding of the spirit. Marteau's Devil brandishes a sword by the blade, stupidly wounding his hand, whereas in ours this hand is holding a torch, casting light in the darkness. In The Tower three initiatory steps and a door appear, which implies that the two figures are not falling but have left joyfully and of their own free will . . . and so many other details that changedmy vision.
Of course, I needed time to abandon Marteau. I began by mixing the two decks, which I presented all together to the consultant. Gradually the old deck appeared to wither like autumn leaves, while the new one seemed to acquire a more intense energy each day. One Wednesday morning, in the garden of my home in Vincennes, I buried my beloved Paul Marteau Tarot at the foot of a bushy lime tree with thesorrow of a son burying his mother, and planted a rosebush on top of it. That very evening at the cafe Saint-Fiacre where I gave my free Tarot readings once a week, I used for the first time—and forever after—the restored Tarot. This first time coincided with Marianne Costa coming to my table. My meeting with her was just as important as that with Philippe Camoin. Without Marianne, I would never have written this book. Even if it is difficult for the rational mind to accept that nothing is accidental in nature, that everything that happens in the universe is caused by a preestablished law, that certain events are written in the future, and that the effect precedes the cause, the appearance of my collaborator seemed like the work of a destiny established by an inconceivable being.
Marianne was first my student, then my assistant, and we ended up reading the Tarot together, therefore fulfilling what was indicated by the Arcana: The Emperor—Empress, The High Priestess—Pope, The Moon—Sun. The initiate needs his female complement, and vice versa, for both to attain a reading guided by Cosmic Consciousness.
The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Creator of El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Park Street Press) In 1970, John Lennon introduced to the world Alejandro Jodorowsky and the movie, El Topo, that he wrote, starred in, and directed. The movie and its author instantly became a counterculture icon. The New York Times said the film “demands to be seen,” and Newsweek called it “An Extraordinary Movie!” But that was only the beginning of the story and the controversy`of El Topo, and the journey of its brilliant creator. His spiritual quest began with the Japanese master Ejo Takata, the man who introduced him to the practice of meditation, Zen Buddhism, and the wisdom of the koans. Yet in this autobiographical account of his spiritual journey, Jodorowsky reveals that it was a small group of wisewomen, far removed from the world of Buddhism, who initiated him and taught him how to put the wisdom he had learned from his master into practice.
At the direction of Takata, Jodorowsky became a student of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, thus beginning a journey in which vital spiritual lessons were transmitted to him by various women who were masters of their particular crafts. These women included Doña Magdalena, who taught him “initiatic” or spiritual massage; the powerful Mexican actress known as La Tigresa (the “tigress”); and Reyna D’Assia, daughter of the famed spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff. The teachings of these women and others enabled him to discard the emotional armor that was hindering his advancement on the path of spiritual awareness and enlightenment. The journey is set in a postmodern Zen that attempts to maintain an integrity to the tradition while adapting to the wilds of Mexican mores. Jodorowsky himself shows how well and unique such a training and process is. The wild tantra embodiment lessons for the artist these shamanic women present a living Sphinx riddle that I wonder, did not blind that artist as much as liberate him? Perhaps we only have the Oedipus story told from Oedipus's perspective, and it is more a kiss-and-tell which maybe the of why the Sphinx's sojourn into the wilderness. So it is with the flat eroticism of Jodorowsky' tales out of court.
"Alejandro, poetry—at least the way you use it—is a game that I do not know. It amuses me to see how you use it to nullify koans. It is also a sacrilege, but that is good: Without sacrilege, a disciple cannot realize himself. 'If you meet the Buddha on the road, cut off his head: Now let us see how you will nullify the two major koans of the Rinzai school!"
"Oh, Ejo," I protested, "I have had too much to drink to be able to do that."
Ignoring this, he clapped his hands. "That is the sound of two hands clapping." He then raised his right hand. "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
I lifted my hand and placed it directly opposite his hand. "The sound of my one hand is the same as the sound of your one hand."
The monk laughed uproariously and continued: "Does a dog have Buddha nature?"
"The Buddha has dog nature."
Staggering as a man staggers on a boat in choppy water, he went to the kitchen and returned with another bottle. Filling our glasses, he said: "Let's continue. This is an excellent game."
I understood: our relationship had arrived at an end. Without a word, without looking back, I walked down the stairs, out of the house, and into the street. In those days, the sky of Mexico City was still clear, and the stars lit up the sky almost like a full moon. I was stopped in my tracks by a cry like the wailing of a bird being slain. It was Leonora.
"Stop, Sebastian!" she called, running to catch up with me, her clothes falling from her little by little as she approached me. Her body, bathed in the starlight, was silver. With a voice so soft it seemed to emerge from a beehive deeper than the earth, she spoke:
"Before you go, I want you to know that your appearance has been absolutely essential for me. It goes beyond personal limits, beyond the celestial bodies that shine in the caverns of animal gods, beyond the murmurings of the praying mantis in my hair. It goes beyond that, and yet perhaps, even more, it is still under threat by the human body. I speak as one submerged in time. This umbilical cord exists only if we allow it to exist. You can always cut it, but as long as you want it, it will be there. For you, I am exactly what you desire, but never believe that you can lose me, because my role changes relative to you. That could happen—I could also become your bearded, toothless grandmother or your ghost or even an undefined place. If I withdraw someday, for human or nonhuman reasons, you should never fear to look for me, because you must know always that you will find me when you wish it. Later, we will communicate in such a perfect way that all our terrors and weaknesses will become bridges. Meanwhile, the ways remain warm and open. If by chance you sever ordinary communication for a period, I will be here each time you wish to find me, because the subterranean elements do not depend in the slightest on our personal will."
Worried about her public nudity, I said, "Cover yourself, Leonora; someone might come by." She bent double, as if I had struck her in the stomach.
"You do not yet understand," she groaned. "I am the moon!"
Doña Magdalena invited me to sit on the massage table. No sooner was I sitting upon the cotton padding than she was rubbing the bruises on my face with a cream that smelled of benzoin. My pain was soothed quickly.
She seemed to have changed personality. I felt as if she came from another world. Her deep, pure regard had an intoxicating effect on me.
I no longer heard the noise of the streets outside; voices and odors faded and reality became like a dream. She spoke in a slow, careful monotone, as if dictating to me.
"For the moment, you do not know who you are, but you are searching for yourself with such intensity that we have decided to help you . . . we, the elementary particles of eternal consciousness. What we are going to teach you is not just for yourself. Seeds are given to he who sows in order for him to fructify the earth. What you will be given will also be for others. If you keep it, you will lose it. If you give it, you will finally be able to have it. Until now, you have worked by immobilizing your body, considering as ephemeral everything that does not belong to you, thinking to find in a corpse the immortal spirit that you are. Yet, my son, your mind is also on loan to you, and it too is doomed to disappear. Just as the body does, it must abandon all hope of immortality. They both must cease to live as separate beings and must unite the male and female, free from the tyranny of time, plunged into a now without end, giving totally to the work of creating a sublime state of happiness. When you dissolve the opposites that you have coagulated and, having been two, become one, then a star will shine in the dark night. . . . This happiness in being alive nourishes the divine eye that has been watching you from the center of your ephemeral existence. If your joy is authentic, if you have burned away all hopes, if you cease to be a body carrying a mind or a mind carrying a body, if you are at once dense and transparent matter, you will be received in the heart of the goddess like a lost sheep who returns home. Your individual luck will be the same as the luck of the cosmos. Until now, you have been traveling the way of the intellect, but we shall guide you in the way of the body..."
"I am what I want to be, that is my law.... When I first came here from my village, I felt defenseless before men. By luck, Diego Rivera had me model for his murals. . . . One afternoon, an Indian whom the painter knew well arrived from the mountains with a package. 'Here you are, boss,' he said. 'Good fresh human meat. I guarantee that it was a Christian in good health. I killed him myself.' Diego roasted the bloody meat on a spit, cut it into small pieces accompanied with chopped onions, coriander, and chili peppers, and made tacos, which he shared with me. . . . As I chewed this delicious meat, the beast that had been sleeping in me awoke. I`could eat men... . I could make them fall to their knees before me.... In order to accomplish this, all I would have to do is transform my body into the body of their ape dreams. Big breasts? I'll give them big breasts. Big buttocks? I got them with three hundred gelatin injections. Little by little, as my songs became hits, I saved up money for surgery on my cheeks, my chin, my full lips, my eyelids, hair implants, a thin waist. . . . Hell, creating your own body is just as impressive as creating a painting! I am the daughter of my own willpower. In my shadow, not even God calls the shots. . . . Besides, I've sent God to hell and chosen the devil. He's a lot more useful. He buys your soul, he gives you power—and that's everything in this world.... What do you think? Anyway, no matter what you say, you're risking your life with me. My master is a jealous one . . ."
In the dense alcoholic fog, struggling with my swollen tongue and my lust to possess this arrogant woman, I found myself reciting a koan: "What is the way?"
Quickly, the Tigress interrupted me, "I'm not a railroad track; don't ask me. And you—do you know what the way is?"
This contemptuous retort made me aware of my mental confusion. The crow and the skull, life and death, good and evil, truth and lies—how to choose? In my all-consuming desire to master consciousness, I had lost the way. Tears came to my eyes as I quoted Master Haryo: "Because I was an open eye, I fell into the well." The Tigress burst out laughing...
"Three days ago, I saw your film in New York. I fell in love with El Topo, that bandit who is at heart a visionary rabbi. I decided to come to Mexico. My excuse was to teach my group about the secrets of the Aztec calendar, but my real goal was to meet you. So you see? When your mind formulates a wish with true passion, it appears before you in the mirror we call reality."
Her strongly perfumed skin stirred up a kind of madness in me. I allowed her to take me by the hand out into the street, where she hailed a taxi. During the drive, she kissed me with passion. When we arrived in her hotel suite, she undressed hastily, kneeled on all fours with her back turned to me, and lowered her head to the floor, forbidding me to undress. Then she asked me to penetrate her still dressed in my leather cowboy outfit, hat, and boots.
With mad excitement amplified by the intense wetness of her vagina, I entered her with a fierce thrust of my thighs. I was about to begin the back-and-forth when I was paralyzed by a sudden cry of, "Stop! Don't move! I want you to serve as the axis of my passion!"
With amazing agility and a precise use of my own body for support, she turned around so that she was facing me, her thighs around my waist, her feet crossed behind my back, and her own forehead pressed against mine. In this new position, I was overcome once more with the desire to thrust inside her Eden, but she nipped this in the bud with a "Stop!" so imperious I had no choice but to obey.
A minute passed; it seemed longer than an hour. My whole pubic zone was trembling, aching to move inside her. In this tormentingimmobility, the walls of her vagina suddenly began to shake with a gradually increasing tempo. Finally, her entire vagina was convulsing, squeezing, and vibrating like a quivering glove. Inside this muscular tempest, I had no more need to move. A few seconds later, my semen flooded her. I had three successive ejaculations.
I told her that I had never before met a woman of such mastery. She confided: "I had a great master myself. I wish you to know that I am the daughter of Gurdjieff.* In 1924, the master visited New York with a group of disciples for a demonstration of his sacred dances. My mother, who was thirteen years old at the time, brought him some food that he had ordered from a Russian restaurant. He seduced her and taught her these vaginal techniques, which I learned from her. Gurdjieff said that through laziness, most women have a dead Athanor.' From childhood on, girls are taught that only the phallus is powerful, active, and vital and that what they have between their legs is a mere receptacle, a kind of swamp whose function is to be filled by sperm. People take it for granted that the vagina is a passive organ. But there is a world of difference between this kind of passive nature and that of a deliberately trained vagina. Gurdjieff taught my mother to awaken and develop her soul by developing a living vagina."
Deciding to offer me a demonstration, Reyna spread her legs, contracted the lips of her vulva, and, with a soft airy sound, began to pump air into her vagina. Then she expelled it with a powerful hiss.
"Phase one: learning to breathe in and eject with the vagina, as if it were a lung. When this is mastered, a woman can go much further..."
In 1997, I had just had my sixty-seventh birthday. Divorced for the past fifteen years, I lived in a large apartment with my son Adan. I had mistresses stay there with me from time to time, but never for more than a week. Most of the time, the atmosphere was one of emotional peace and solitude. I was giving a tarot course to twenty students in the library when Marianne Costa arrived, slightly late.
Absorbed in my explanations, I didn't even look at her. On the other hand, my large, reddish cat Moiche was so fascinated by her that for the entire hour and a half that the lesson lasted, he pawed unceasingly inside her purse. Perhaps my unconscious was influenced by the sensuality of this feline assault. At the end of the lesson, as was my custom, I embraced my students good-bye, French style. When Marianne's turn came, I somehow placed my hand on her waist, something I wouldnever permit myself to do normally. An electric shock coursed through my entire body, from head to foot. Suddenly, I felt the beauty of her nudity and the intensity of her soul. She murmured: "It must be wonderful to be a cat in your house."
Giving her a kiss on the cheek and heedless of the risk involved (with a thirty-seven year age difference between us), I replied: "Then I adopt you!"
Thus began a strange, marvelous, and difficult couple relationship. If I had followed my reason instead of my intuition, I never would have dared to take such a step and would have missed the most beautiful experience of my life.
"Between doing and not doing, always choose doing."
The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando y Lis / El Topo / The Holy Mountain) DVD directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Starz / Anchor Bay) Apparently his "lost" film La Cravate (1957)~a short mime adaptation of a Thomas Mann story about a Parisian urchin who makes her living selling human heads.~ has been found as it is now available as Bonus Material in the "Films of Alejandro Jodorowshy" DVD collection./Fando y Lis (1968) Fando and his partially paralyzed lover Lis search for the mythical city of Tar. Based on Jodorowsky's memories of a play by surrealist Fernando Arrabal.
His film El Topo (1970) became one of the first super hits at midnight showings, commencing at the Elgin Theater in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan./ The gunfighter El Topo ("The Mole") and his young son ride through a desert to a village, whose inhabitants have been massacred. Bandits are nearby, torturing and killing the survivors. El Topo rescues a woman (Mara), who leads him on a mission to find and defeat the four master gunmen of the desert. Leaving his son with a group of monks, El Topo and Mara complete the mission, accompanied by a mysterious woman in black. The women leave El Topo wounded in the desert, where he is found by a clan of deformed people who take him to the remote cavern where they live. Awakening years later, he goes with a dwarf woman to a nearby town, promising to dig a tunnel through which the cave-dwellers can escape. They find the town run by a vicious sheriff and home to a bizarre religious cult. El Topo's son, now a man, is a monk in the town. The completion of the tunnel leads El Topo, the townspeople, and the cave-dwellers to a bloody and tragic end.
"If you are great, El Topo is a great picture. If you are limited, El Topo is limited."
/ (1973) A Christlike figure wanders through bizarre, grotesque scenarios filled with religious and sacrilegious imagery. He meets a mystical guide who introduces him to seven wealthy and powerful individuals, each representing a planet in the solar system. These seven, along with the protagonist, the guide and the guide's assistant, divest themselves of their worldly goods and form a group of nine who will seek out the Holy Mountain, in order to displace the gods who live there and become immortal.
Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) 2-DVD Special Edition (1989) directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Anamorphic) The ultimate version of Santa Sangre on DVD. This all-region NTSC format DVD (playable in the USA) is a 2-disc edition with a wealth of extras.
Synopsis: A young man is confined in a mental hospital. Through a flashback we see that he was traumatized as a child, when he and his family were circus performers: he saw his father cut off the arms of his mother, a religious fanatic and leader of the heretical church of Santa Sangre ("Holy Blood"), and then commit suicide. Back in the present, he escapes and rejoins his surviving and armless mother. Against his will, he "becomes her arms" and the two undertake a grisly campaign of murder and revenge.
The Rainbow Thief (DVD) directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Anamorphic) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Germany ] A petty crook, in search of the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hopes to cash in by befriending the heir to a huge fortune.
The Feminine Personification of Wisdom: A Study of Homer's Penelope, Cappadocian Macrina, Boethius' Philosophia and Dante's Beatrice by Wendy Elgersma Helleman (Edwin Mellen Press) examines the attribution of abstract values to women by analyzing four characters spanning literary genres and more that 2000 years. Penelope, Macrina, Philosophia, and Beatrice are connected by their contribution to the theme of wisdom through their use of reason against passion. Feminine personification of reason and wisdom makes its own contribution as antidote to traditional understanding of 'feminine' as 'emotional' or 'irrational'. This book examines allegorical personification of Sophia, or wisdom, in ancient and medieval philosophy and literature, examining four feminine figures who personify wisdom. The first is Penelope of Homeric epic, weaving and unraveling to forestall her suitors; the tale is interpreted allegorically by Cynics and Stoics to discuss the place of logic in philosophy. The second example, Macrina, sister of Gregory of Nyssa, is less obviously allegorical. But Gregory depicts her as an embodiment of wisdom using the theme, 'reason against passion'. Boethius' Philosophia is portrayed as the lady who consoles as she reminds the prisoner of divine reason ruling the world. And finally, Dante's Beatrice, his muse, teacher and guide in achieving the beatific vision. Contemporary recognition of allegory as rhetorical technique supports appreciation of Dante's skill in depicting Beatrice as Lady Wisdom.
Excerpt: Throughout the history of western thought, images of women as personifications of wisdom or philosophy have been created. Examples of this are Lady Wisdom of the Biblical book of Proverbs, female personifications of intellectual and moral virtues in ancient Greek thought, women made into representatives of wisdom and philosophy in the medieval convention of courtly love, and the 19th century portrayal of Sophia by the Russian author Vladimir Solovyov. Such images speak to the imagination and many interpretations of them have been given in the course of time. Renewed interest in this long tradition has come from feminist thought of the past three decades. Feminists raise the question why women are described by men as personifications of abstract values and virtues, what this says about the social context within which this occurred, and what can be concluded from this concerning concrete women and the men speaking of them. Feminists ask to what extent the allegorical description of women should be seen as an affirmation of the strength, power and subjectivity of women and to what extent this portrayal means that women are objectified and made passive objects of the male desire for the virtues which they represent.
It is argued in this work that such questions cannot be answered without considering the factors which contribute to the creation of the allegories. This can only be done by analyzing the literary style in which the images of women are created, by examining the history of the convention of allegorization and personification, by placing the creation of such images within social, political and religious contexts, and by determining which intellectual, moral and religious virtues and values the authors cherish. This work shows that the relationship between allegorical images of women and the concrete lives of women is one which is mediated by a rich cultural, literary and intellectual tradition.
In this work, four images of women as Wisdom and Lady Philosophy are discussed — Penelope (Homer), Macrina (Gregory of Nyssa), Lady Philosophy (Boethius), and Beatrice (Dante). Penelope, as described by the epic poet Homer in the Odyssey, is the wife of Odysseus. She remains home while her husband is away on his journeys. Believing that Odysseus is dead, suitors beleaguer her. To gain time and thus delay an unwanted marriage, she spends the whole day weaving, taking out the strands again at night. A number of Stoic authors have interpreted this story in an allegorical fashion. Weaving is interpreted as an image for logical thought; unraveling is seen as the process of analyzing. Thus, the story of Penelope and her suitors becomes an allegory of philosophical thought which is confronted with unworthy admirers. To the extent that the suitors are unworthy of Penelope, they are unworthy of the study of true philosophy, since they are concerned only with preparatory subjects of lower intellectual worth.
Macrina is the sister of Gregory of Nyssa. He wrote about her in his book Life of Macrina (Vita) and in his treatise On the Soul and the Resurrection (De anima et resurrectione). She has an excellent character and toughness of spirit. She is rational and courageous in the face of the death of her brother and mother. She remains a virgin and transforms her house into a monastery, freeing the slaves. In all things she is wise and restrained. She is the ideal of Christian virtue, in opposition to pagan ideals.
Lady Philosophy is described in the book Consolation of Philosophy as appearing to Boethius when he is imprisoned and facing the death penalty. She comforts him and teaches him on complex theological and philosophical issues which allow him to rise above his present situation of misery and to place intellectual and religious matters in context. She is, however, not simply represented as a teacher but also as a caring nurse. In this way, she is not only an image of noble philosophical thought but also takes upon herself the loving and humble nature of Christ himself.
Dante speaks with love and reverence of Beatrice in his books New Life (Vita Nuova) and in the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia). Beatrice is seen as the perfect representation of the feminine. In the latter work, she is described as guiding Dante from the gates of purgatory to paradise. She represents not only perfect beauty and love but also ultimately leads Dante to the love of God Himself.
The author concedes that she has chosen to cover a long and diverse historical time period. Yet she argues convincingly that there is a theme which unites these different characterizations of women, that of "reason versus passion". In many traditions, including that of Greek philosophy and much of Christian thought, women are seen as representing the lower passions and even as using their wiles to divert men from the true paths of reason and virtue. Men are often represented as the embodiment of reason. The images of women as representatives of philosophy and wisdom discussed here differ radically from such representations. These women embody reason, linked to virtue and nobility of character. Penelope represents theoretical thought, Macrina reason in the face of irrational passion, Lady Philosophy as insight into philosophical truths, Beatrice as true guide to the love of God. Besides representing reason, they also stand for the noble passions, such as that of love and compassion. These noble passions could very well be even more desirable than reason itself.
The men who admire these women are seen as rational, yet at the same time they are also passionate. This passion expresses itself in their admiration and love, and in their desire that the women lead them on the path to true insight into truth, morality and the divine.
This means that the commonly held view that in western thought women are seen to represent passion of the lower kind and men reason, must be reconsidered. Passion must be differentiated into lower and higher passions. Both men and women are seen as capable of the use of reason and the expression of the noble passions. But to what extent are the women portrayed as objects of desire — the desire of men for the great emotional and intellectual goods which they represent? Do these women have subjectivity of their own?
The author concludes that the women portrayed here are not simply objects, they are also truly subjects in their own right — making decisions, acting wisely, having insight, feeling love, and expressing compassion.
The main contribution of this work is to be found in the extensive scholarly research into the history of the literary style through which the allegories of the feminine are developed, and in the detailed discussion of interpretations of these allegories, both those written in the past and those given by the author herself. The author demonstrates that female personifications of intellectual and moral virtues should be taken seriously as a theme in the history of western thought. At the same time, this project opens up new questions. One of the issues of concern to feminists, mentioned earlier, that of the implications of allegories of the feminine for the lives of women, remains to be investigated. Did women in any way profit from these images, or were the images developed in the context of the repression of women? Are the female personifications completely separate from the lives of women themselves, or are they reflections of the capacities of concrete historical women? Another set of issues which give rise to further investigation is that of explaining why men are attracted to such female personifications. Does this tendency arise from literary conventions or is there a deeply rooted admiration for the feminine within the male psychological makeup?
This work is of interest to scholars doing research in various fields: that of women's studies, literary theory, philosophical anthropology and ancient and medieval philosophy. In addition, it is suitable for use as a textbook for a course in these areas. Through this work, readers will gain new perspectives and ask new questions concerning the convention of the allegorization of the feminine.
The world of Greco-Roman antiquity knew its sages, wise men and philosophers, all of them typically male. Yet literary depiction of Wisdom or Philosophy personified her as a woman. Pythagoras' classic definition of philosophy as the desire, love or search for wisdom made its own contribution to such personification, for love and desire are human characteristics.' In their personification the philosophers almost invariably depicted Philosophy or Wisdom as a young and beautiful maiden, a maternal figure or nurse, a physician, a teacher or guide.2 The Greeks were not alone in personifying Philosophy or Wisdom in this way. The Lady is well-known from the biblical account of Proverbs, where we hear of her as the companion of God, assisting in the work of creation. In fact within the Christian context, Philosophia has often been regarded as an figure who could be assimilated or equated with Sophia, Lady Wisdom. The search for wisdom was itself considered to be an important part of wisdom.
Lady Philosophy, as such, is probably best known from Boethius' unforgettable portrayal in his De Consolation Philosophiae. in philosophical literature the theme of "philosophy as a lady" can be traced hack to Plato's discourse with the Sophists. Stretching the proper meaning of the adjective "philos," Plato was`fond of using erotic language to describe the student's pursuit of philosophical knowledge. The theme was developed in Hellenistic schools of philosophy, especially among Cynics and Stoics who allegorized epic poetry, taking the figure of Penelope to add a measure of status for the study of philosophy. They also allegorized the story of her weaving to symbolize the important introductory role of logic. Non-Christian Neoplatonism of late antiquity regarded Penelope as a model of contemplative wisdom.` Gregory of Nyssa must have been aware of that feminine model of wisdom when he portrayed the life of his sister Macrina as one in which "she raised herself to the heights of virtue I through philosophy." Fourth century Christian literature used the term "philosophy" to depict a life of wisdom characterized by integrity of thought, word and action, a lifestyle first exemplified by the martyrs, and later by those pursuing an ascetic life. Gregory uses the Stoicizing Platonic formula of "reason in opposition to the passions" to express victory achieved over the flesh as the source of sin and separation from God.8 Thus Gregory portrays Macrina as the Christian answer to the pagan portrayal of philosophy as a wise woman.
Feminine personification of Wisdom, from Homeric Penelope and the Christian Macrina comes to a climax with the late medieval portrayal of Beatrice in Dante's masterpiece, the Divine Comedy. But this medieval presentation can hardly be understood without due recognition of Boethius' Philosophia, or Lady Philosophy, the central figure in the Consolation of Philosophy. Philosophia takes on the role of a master physician when Boethius languishes in prison; she diagnoses the illness from which he suffers as an overdose of passion, to be overcome by use of reason. With patient and persistent argumentation Lady Philosophy brings Boethius around to a far more healthy perspective on his condition, preparing him for the important battle which lies ahead, his confrontation with death. Lady Philosophy knows how to take charge, but her work of "reason" is also characterized by love and compassion. Feminine personification helps Boethius present Philosophy in a role that is new and appropriate in a Christian context.
Dante tells us explicitly of Boethius' Lady Philosophy coming to his aid when he was inconsolably troubled by the death of Beatrice. This philosophical lady provided the important source for Dante's allegorical personification of philosophy in the Convivio. But she also provides an important source for his depiction of Beatrice in the Comedy, coming to rescue her protégé from the depths of despair, and setting him on the road to highest bliss. As a lady she may be the object of desire, but in the epic poem she draws attention not to herself but to God, as she guides him to the summit of human achievement, the beatific vision of God. Although literary. Romanticism encouraged a literal and historical reading of Dante's presentation of Beatrice in the Vita Nuova, and even in the Commedia, a good case can be made for regarding her allegorically as Lady Wisdom. Like other medieval writers, Dante often conflates Wisdom and Philosophy (Sophia and Philosophia). And like Macrina, as well as Boethius' Lady Philosophy, Beatrice represents the rule of reason over the passions.
The present study focuses on four variants in ancient and medieval literature presenting a personification of Wisdom and Philosophy as a lady. They differ significantly in origin and in literary presentation. Based on Homeric epic, the story of Penelope is allegorized by later schools of philosophy who use her primarily to enhance various aspects of their own position. Macrina, on the other hand, has a secure historical basis; but the story of her life, as depicted in the Life (Vita) and the dialogue, On the Soul and the Resurrection (De Anima et Resurrection, abbreviated DAR) presents her in terms of a central philosophical ideal, the rule of reason over the passions.
Boethius' Philosophia provides us with a case of compositional allegory, the first substantive and creative portrayal of philosophy as a woman. Depicted initially with many a reminiscence from Homeric literature, she also speaks of having followers among well-known representatives of pagan philosophical schools, from Socrates and Plato on. Thus Boethius authenticates the lady as truly representative of the philosophical tradition going back to pagan antiquity. Her presentation in subsequent books of the Consolation demonstrates that she is not restricted to that context. Feminine depiction helps Boethius show that she belongs equally in the social and scholarly context of sixth century Christian Alexandria and Italy.
And finally Beatrice, the lady at the centre of love poetry in the Vita Nuova, the one to whom Dante appealed as the true source of happiness and salvation. Via Lady Philosophy of the Convivio, she comes back in the grand epic poetry of the Commedia to console, to heal, to restore and guide the author. Literal analysis cannot adequately account for the language applied to Beatrice. Commentators who took his words literally accused Dante of blasphemy for the claims he made on her behalf. The answer, as we hope to show, is to be found in the tradition which can be traced back to Macrina, whom Gregory presents as a type of Christ, not a "type" in the sense of Old Testament typology, but as representative of a tradition which regards Christ himself as the "prototype".
In our study of these four ladies, our first aim is to give authentic presentation, true to the respective textual traditions as these have come down to us. Our analysis in each case is rooted in a text, and these texts vary in character and genre. In each case we seek to be true to what the text tells us, not simply to read in meaning from a later perspective. Our work therefore has an undeniable literary component. The texts we are dealing with also have a long history, being composed in historical and cultural contexts very different from our own. Although our understanding will inevitably reveal a subjective element, it is also important check our interpretation against other literature of the time, to make sure that we have not misunderstood intentions of respective authors.
The next element involves philosophical analysis. Lady Philosophy is, in each case, representative of traditions rooted in the schools of philosophy of classical antiquity and the middle ages. But for literary depiction we also recognize that the understanding or definition of "philosophy" may not be as narrow or exact as one could expect in a more "academic" or technical philosophical treatise; this is certainly a factor in our reading of Boethius' Consolation. Nor does philosophy, as such, have an exclusive claim on "wisdom", for wisdom has pedagogical, social and religious roots. Compared to philosophical writing of more recent times, philosophy in antiquity was never far removed from mythology and religious concerns; when philosophy entered the dialogue with Christianity it took on a religious coloring of a different kind. For ancient and medieval philosophy an understanding of wisdom can certainly not remain oblivious to the religious root of issues to which it gives attention.
When philosophy is personified, the ladies who represent it in each case also represent an important way of understanding the cultural or educational role of philosophy, whether in the context of Hellenistic Stoicism, Stoicizing Platonism or Neoplatonism of later antiquity. Allegorization of philosophy as Penelope contrasts her role with that of preliminary subjects in the curriculum. As a philosophical figure Macrina takes a role rooted in martyrdom and asceticism. Boethius may not have had direct connections with Cappadocian thought, but he was certainly in touch with the Alexandrian Platonist tradition of his time, the early sixth century. And while Dante was not a professional philosopher, we discover from his work that the Alexandrian tradition of Christian philosophy rooted in Christ as both Sophia and Logos, comes to a climax of allegorizing representation in the Divine Comedy.
A study of these four ladies has intrinsic merit, for they represent the philosophical enterprise in various ways, representing different periods in literature and history, and differing philosophical schools of thought. However, the present work also wishes to address these representations with new questions. One important issue which arises almost immediately from discussion of these ladies is the significance of gendered aspects of their presentation; closely related is the question of actual historical participation of women in the schools of philosophy of the time. Even though philosophy and wisdom are represented by women, we know that women were rarely engaged in philosophy as such.9 Some feminist studies have used such literary representation of women in the personification of wisdom and philosophy to argue that women are perfectly capable of philosophical work.° Even if we should agree with that particular assumption on the abilities of women, this approach does not help us in our analysis of the ancient or medieval historical context; history cannot be reversed." Although our study will certainly pay some attention to gendered aspects of the portrayal, the first and basic approach to answering this question has to come through an examination of literary aspects of these portrayals, as allegorical personification. We begin with a brief analysis of allegory as such.
Aside from the inherent interest of the four accounts of philosophical women, we know that historically "real" women were hardly considered capable of philosophical work, whether in the ancient world of Greece and Rome, or Christian middle ages. Nor have we found solid grounds to argue for an intellectual transfer from feminine personification of philosophy to recognition of philosophy as a preoccupation eminently suited for women. Even when philosophers like Plato were ready to accept women as perfectly capable of philosophical discussion, an undeniable distance remains between these accounts and the reality of everyday life when it came to presence of women in scholarly pursuits.
So what have we accomplished by calling attention to feminine allegorical portrayal? It is time to turn to literary and rhetorical aspects of these literary portrayals. The four ladies on whom the present study has focused come from different cultural and philosophical contexts, and are used by our authors to elaborate different issues. But they share common ground with respect to the central philosophical motif through which they are presented with imagery and metaphors based on the life of women, all of them portrayed with some connection to the issue of reason versus passion. This alerts us to the significance of allegory and personification for this study. Aside from Macrina, allegory plays a significant role for each of them; and even for Macrina we recognize a need to read the account, or at least some of the terminology, on more than one level of meaning. The story of Penelope is allegorized for new meaning in terms of central concepts related to philosophy, while the accounts of Lady Philosophy and Beatrice, as noted, give compositional allegory of wisdom, and allegorize philosophy as desire for and realization of wisdom.
There are different kinds of allegory. The stories of Penelope were approached with interpretive allegory, attributing a second underlying meaning to a well-known text. An underlying meaning constructed or invented, as it were, within a philosophical context, is applied to give the words of the text a new meaning, based on a different perspective. There must be a connection of similarity; but allegory can be unpredictable, as our study has shown. One text may well be the source of different and competing allegorical interpretations.
The approach in allegorizing may also be creative or compositional, as in the case of Boethius' Lady Philosophy, who is presented as a literary construct, metaphorical in meaning and intent. Here the surface text is also said to hide the real meaning underlying the text; the text functions like a dramatic persona, a facade, or mask for the real person, or real intention. The literal text may have its own validity, but the author's message, typically more abstract in nature, lies hidden under the surface of words, with some indicators that a second meaning is intended. In the first type of allegory we recognize that allegorical interpretation is secondary to the text itself, since it is unlikely that the original author would have intended to insert the second meaning. With the second type the allegorical presentation may be thought to be secondary with respect to the underlying message introduced (intentionally) by the author; however, for both Boethius and Dante, the literary skill and care with which they have presented the text belies that assumption.
Personification is perhaps the most important kind of compositional allegory. Like Wisdom, Philosophy is personified as a woman. Many comparable personifications of abstract concepts, of cities, or peoples can be identified in ancient literature; personification itself is common enough, if not so common in the extended form which Boethius presents. Allegory as creative composition, recognized for Lady Philosophy and Dante's Beatrice in the Divine Comedy, helps to enliven discourse through dramatization and appeal to the emotions; it supports the persuasive nature of the text.
Use of allegory in this sense may have begun with Orphic or Pythagorean mystery religion which forbade initiates to speak of the central message. Members wishing to communicate with one another without divulging the truth to outsiders, might construct a surface text actually meant to mislead, giving some indications embedded in their tale to indicate that a different underlying message was intended. Only insiders, or initiates, would know what was actually meant. Another approach on the origin of personification recognizes it as a type of character invention meant to give life to abstractions, like the virtues, thereby deifying them as well as anthropomorphizing, in somewhat the same way that
God is given eyes and hands in Old Testament accounts. This is but one possible reconstruction of religion arising among primitive Greeks. Xenophanes complained about anthropomorphism in religion, and the result was a more philosophical approach on attributes and portrayal of deity, as in Plato (Republic 2). But character invention is not necessarily the same as anthropomorphism. And in neither case does personification necessarily mean deification.
Although identification of allegorizing features for the literary texts studied in this work is not itself controversial, it is also true that the long prominence of Romanticism in literary theory meant a degree of embarrassment in recognition of allegorical technique. The nineteenth century Romantic movement took a serious interest in the work of Dante, particularly focusing on Beatrice as object of desire; convinced of her historic reality, they were more reluctant to recognize her portrayal as greatly idealized, representing the divine feminine, taking on the significant role of leading the lover beyond corporeal to unearthly love, such that it would lead to union with God. In the past few decades this attitude to allegory has changed. Postmodern literary theory is only too well aware of double layers in a text. Imaginative reconstruction is appreciated, along with a more subjective approach in literary criticism.
What is the advantage of recognizing aspects of allegory and personification? What does it mean to use allegory, and under what conditions was allegory useful? Has it meant any gain for philosophy itself? What is missed if the allegorical element is not detected as such? Both for Lady Philosophy and for Beatrice we noted that it is important not to ignore indicators for an allegorical reading, particularly if such ignorance leads to charges of blasphemy for Dante's description of Beatrice; by reading praise for Beatrice in the metaphorical and allegorical tradition of Macrina, such misunderstanding can be avoided.
Of course, the important issue for our study is not only the correct recognition of personification in allegory, with corresponding double presentation, but also an examination of implications for feminine personification.
Is gendered imagery determinative for the personification? Are gendered aspects used effectively? Contemporary discussion recognizes that feminine grammatical gender of words like Sapientia or Sophia is not to be regarded as determinative of the way allegorical ladies are portrayed. Even if we should agree with that claim, it is still necessary to discover the true significance of gendered characteristics. What can we say about gendered representation of women in the respective texts; how are we to understand a relationship to actual lives of women, particularly in the ancient world? We have already noted the illegitimacy of argument from feminine depiction of philosophy to the engagement of women in philosophy. A closely related issue which demands attention is whether gendered aspects of these representations tell us anything useful about the enterprise depicted? Can we detect a correspondence between literary and social factors?
The depiction of Penelope, who is admired and sought out by suitors, clearly reveals some characteristic aspects of feminine life and social realities, particularly with her work of weaving. Penelope is a heroine of noble status and high social pretension; allegorizing interpretation extends the significance of that status to philosophy (and especially logic) as a noble enterprise. Macrina is a real, historical woman whose life reflects involvement in feminine activities. However, from the age of maturity, when she is ready for marriage, we find her making decisions against the grain of expectations for women, rejecting what she calls "re-marriage", for she does not believe that the groom intended for her is really dead. She remains with her mother, frees the slaves, and turns the home into a monastic establishment. As in Penelope's efforts to delay a second marriage, Macrina too went beyond traditional expectations of women.
With the portrayal of Boethius' Lady Philosophy as compositional allegory the important question arises: was feminine personification truly more than a matter of convenience in using the feminine grammatical gender of her name Philosophia? Our study has revealed that Boethius portrays her in terms of traditional expectations of women, like weaving, or taking the maternal role of nursemaid. Yet that is not the complete answer, for she is also portrayed with the more masculine roles of physician and teacher in philosophy. Boethius did make positive use of feminine personification, presenting Philosophia with feminine characteristics as these are well-known and widely accepted for her role as nurse. Yet we know that allegorical personification was just as likely to present women in roles totally out of character for what was socially accepted in antiquity, as in Prudentius' depiction of the Virtues as fighting soldiers. Even if the Greeks knew of mythical Amazon female fighters, and some philosophers conceded that actual historical women might be capable of philosophical discussion, it is clear from our literary examples that passages using metaphor, rhetorical technique, or allegorical personification are probably not the best source for affirmation of actual involvement of women in such roles. And the rhetorical use of the life of women was as likely to reinforce negative popular stereotyping of women (as courtesans or prostitutes), as to provide grounds for a more positive appreciation.
To sum up the results of these literary studies, and to risk a statement of the obvious, I believe it is important to recognize that the rhetorical portrayal of the respective ladies is not to be read as an end in itself. Literary technique, especially in allegory and personification, serves the cause of that which the text seeks to communicate. Our study should serve as a warning for those who would examine literary usage of allegory and metaphor to detect a role for women not otherwise indicated. Whatever the significance of these ladies as such, and the significance of the roles they assume in their families or society, in literature or art, we need to recognize literary portrayal and rhetorical usage in literature as a means to an end, not just an end in itself. This is one of the significant conclusions derived from discussion of the underlying theme which connects our various portrayals, that of "reason opposing the passions".
Just as significant is a correct understanding of a major theme used in portrayal of women, that of erotic desire, a theme that surfaces particularly in stories of Penelope and Beatrice. Desire is a human quality, and it was not difficult for writers to find examples from everyday life, especially from language of erotic desire, for metaphorical portrayal of philosophical desire. In literary and philosophical discussion desire is ordinarily attributed to the philosopher, as the (masculine) student seeking wisdom; the lady (representing the object: wisdom) would function as object of desire. Of course, Penelope does not quite fit that model, since she may have been object of the suitors' desire, but is by no means passive; her activities in weaving have a positive role in delaying the dread day of remarriage, but also function subversively, in hidden unweaving, to thwart desire. Macrina too was not passive in her varied feminine roles; Gregory portrays her active in using philosophy to attain to virtue.
Is it possible for the woman to be presented truly as subject when the author is masculine? Or can she be appreciated only as the object under those circumstances? Can only a female author do justice to the lady as a subject in her own right? These questions cannot possibly receive adequate attention at this point, for they open up a new area for investigation; they are raised only to uncover an assumption which often operates silently in discussion of feminine presence in the text of a male author. Certainly, women are all too often used as sexually attractive models not to have their own beauty appreciated, but for a secondary purpose of using that attractiveness in advertising products, like a good wine, or automobile. To appreciate the matter we need to remember that erotic and sexual desire in general represents one of the strongest human emotions, classified with the passions. But in the context of the popular philosophical motif of "reason opposing passion", use of a woman to represent wisdom, while the male student or philosopher represents desire for wisdom, has a strong potential for subverting the image of the student, while the woman, even as object of desire, retains a positive value. And I believe this is the clue to the significance of Penelope allegorized as representative of philosophy and wisdom, as a positive portrayal of the feminine figure.
If allegorizing was meant to call attention to Penelope's suitors as overcome with passion to the point that they abandoned respectable behavior, we find that Penelope herself emerges from the event positively, since her strategy in outwitting them may well be understood as representing the victory of reason over the passions. Of course, we are reading back into the allegory the more specific use of the motif given in the story of Macrina; but such a reading is consonant with Gregory's and also Boethius' use of the motif, particularly from Lady Philosophy's rebuke of the prisoner's fascination with Fortune (Cons. 2). What is at issue here, the role of the lady as subject as well as object of desire, remained submerged for the most part as a topic of consideration for ancient writers, but it came out into the open for discussion in Dante's Convivio, where he resolves the subject-object relationship by determining that the Lady represents both aspects when he identifies her in terms of "loving use of wisdom" (Conv. 3.12). Indeed, as we have noted, Dante was open about identifying Philosophy and Wisdom. Portrayal of the lady as emblematic of both wisdom and the desire for wisdom, poses less difficulty in a context where the distinction between philosophy and wisdom has for the most part evaporated.
We have studied the accounts of four ladies who in varied ways represent the victory of reason over passion. We have discovered that the feminine figure could be used in surprising ways, as in apologetic use of stories to correct popular perceptions of women in Christianity. There was a message for those who would allow passion to overcome reason. Penelope emerged as a lady whose reflective strategy was crucial in maintaining her home, family and marriage. The loom did function as the true symbol of stability of the household. As a feminine portrayal of wisdom the story of Penelope maintained its appeal even for late antiquity. Our reading of the account of Macrina shows that Christians could take on such a pagan model as a challenge, and counter its impact with a Christian depiction of the wise woman. As an embodiment of logos, Macrina's story can be understood as a capstone of apologetics in its attempt to answer traditional accusations of the role of "unreasoning" women in the transmission of the Christian faith. With Boethius' Lady Philosophy we have argued that feminine portrayal should not be taken for granted, for she claims the role of teacher and physician, as well as the more maternal role of nurse. The truly important contribution of feminine portrayal in that story is the compassionate aspect so well portrayed with the feminine maternal role. What about Lady Beatrice? In the Vita Nuova she represents Love, being valued almost exclusively as object of love. That changes decisively in the Commedia, where she is represented as subject of love, while also taking an active role redirecting "Dante's" passion. Accepting his ongoing desire for herself, she reroutes it to a highly appropriate goal, God himself. For Dante, as indeed much later for Solovyov, sexual corporeal love for the beauty of body represents the first step in a series taking one from material to spiritual levels of love, toward union with God himself. That theme, which remained at the heart of an important tradition in mystical devotion, takes us back via Augustine to Plato's Symposium. But even in the story of Macrina, love for the human beloved is consummated in higher forms of love.
We have not hesitated to acknowledge that even such very positive portrayal of women in the use of reason had no immediate or direct application for real life, for roles of women in academic application of reasoning capacities. Presence of women in the universities of Europe and the West was not at all common until the twentieth century. We have examined literary figures, rhetorical in nature. But more positively, we may conclude by noting that portrayal of the feminine figure in terms of a wisdom that overcomes the passions would eventually make its own contribution; for it carried the potential of reducing the threat posed by the feminine within a Christian tradition that all too often equated masculinity with reason, and femininity with passion and emotion, viewing the woman as a temptress, leading men astray, diverting them from better purposes in life. It could also make its contribution in undermining the view of women that was so strong in the Romantic tradition, woman as representative of the body, passivity and emotion.
We would not pretend to have exhausted the potential of the subject, even as it pertains to the limited examples brought forward in this discussion. Our study has revealed only some aspects of Philosophia and Sophia as Lady Wisdom, a topic which will undoubtedly continue to attract attention and fascination. Hopefully something of the inherent interest of these feminine portrayals of philosophy and wisdom has been communicated in the present work. It is important not to underestimate the impact of literary factors, especially allegory and the allegorizing potential of literature. It was our intention to draw out some of the meaning and significance of these literary and philosophical feminine portrayals, but also to advise caution for those who might overestimate the significance of feminine personification. We encountered the role of "reason versus passion" and, in a Christian context, its strong connection with Logos theology. Whether or not one is inclined to appreciate rhetorical technique and allegory, or the role of Logos theology, is beside the point. One cannot appreciate the presentation of these ladies without recognition of these themes.
From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature by Barbara Newman (Middle Ages Series: University of Pennsylvania Press) Why did hagiographers of the late Middle Ages praise mothers for abandoning small children? How did a group of female mystics come to define themselves as "apostles to the dead" and end by challenging God's right to damn? Why did certain heretics around 1300 venerate a woman as the Holy Spirit incarnate and another as the Angelic Pope? In From Virile Woman to WomanChrist, Barbara Newman asks these and other questions to trace a gradual and ambiguous transition in the gender strategies of medieval religious women. An egalitarian strain in early Christianity affirmed that once she asserted her commitment to Christ through a vow of chastity, monastic profession, or renunciation of family ties, a woman could become "virile", or equal to a man. While the ideal of the "virile woman" never disappeared, another ideal slowly evolved in medieval Christianity. By virtue of some gender-related trait (spotless virginity, erotic passion, the capacity for intense suffering, the ability to image a feminine aspect of the Godhead) a devout woman could be not only equal, but superior to men; without becoming male, she could become a "womanChrist", imitating and representing Christ in uniquely feminine ways. Rooted in women's concrete aspirations and sufferings, Newman's "womanChrist" model straddles the bounds of orthodoxy and heresy to illuminate the farther reaches of female religious behavior in the Middle ages. From Virile Woman to WomanChrist will generate compelling discussion in the fields of medieval literature and history, history of religion, theology, and women's studies.
Excerpt: Of the myriad "defenses of women" produced in Renaissance Europe, the most flamboyant and fascinating is one of the first. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535), already a polymath and occultist of some fame, was but a young man of twenty-three, preparing to teach his first course at the University of Dole in Burgundy, when in 1509 he delivered the brilliant inaugural lecture that became the kernel of his treatise De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus (On the Nobility and Superiority of the Female Sex).' The oration was dedicated to Margaret of Savoy, princess of Austria and Burgundy and de jure president of the university, whose patronage Agrippa wished to secure. Unfortunately for the young scholar's career, however, he roused the ire of the Franciscan Jean Catilinet with his ensuing course, a series of lectures on Reuchlin's kabbalistic text De verbo mirifico. Within a year the friar's diatribes would force Agrippa out of his post and out of town. After this summary denial of tenure, it was not until twenty years later that he published De nobilitate, with its original dedication, in the Antwerp edition of his works (1529).
Once in print the treatise enjoyed a virtual succès de scandale. A second edition appeared in 1532, others in 1567, 1603, and 1643. Shortly after its publication the work was translated into French and Italian; within fifteen years it was also available in German and English. A Polish version came out in 1575, a Dutch one in 1611. Between 153o and 1801 at least eighteen separate translations appeared, not counting reprints and innumerable plagiarisms by other writers. But despite this enthusiastic reception, Agrippa's translators and publishers proved to be radically at odds over the interpretation of his remarkable tract. At the same time that seventeenth-century feminists were appropriating De nobilitate as a precursor text, misogynists were promulgating it as a satire on women.' Nor have modern interpreters reached agreement about its author's intentions. Its shifting tonal registers and teasingly contradictory arguments make this "defense of women" more than usually susceptible to interpretive bias.
Given its long and checkered reception history, the question of the work's original context is crucial. Understandably, most recent critics have read De nobilitate as a document in the querelle des femmes, that prolific and seemingly interminable pamphlet war between attackers and defenders of women. In her admirable study of Renaissance feminism, Constance Jordan takes De nobilitate as a serious work, "the most explicitly feminist text to be published in England in the first half of the [sixteenth] century." 3 Others have been less convinced. Ian Maclean maintains that while Agrippa's ringing finale "may appear to be a clarion call to radical change, . . . it would be safer to regard it as part of a rhetorical exercise in declamation." In fact, the slippery genre of declamatio or paradox is responsible for much of Agrippa's ambiguity. According to Linda Woodbridge, paradox works by "over-correction, pointing up the untenable nature of one extreme position by demonstrating the feasibility of arguing its opposite." Agrippa's goal, in her view, was neither serious argument on behalf of female superiority nor ironic mock-praise of women, "but a graphic demonstration of the absurdities one must resort to if one claims superiority for either sex."
The strategy of the declamatio is not to pursue a consistent line of argument, but to assemble all possible arguments, valid or invalid, that might support the case at hand. De nobilitate is a tour de force in this genre, handling its reasons and exempla deftly enough to keep the reader constantly guessing which are serious, which frivolous. Sliding between straightforward eulogy of women and bold inversion of misogynist topoi, the treatise escapes the usual confines of the querelle des femmes. Unlike most defenders, Agrippa expresses no outrage against antifeminist invective and makes no show of refuting some prior attack. His voice is not defensive or indignant, but supremely confident, now dazzling readers with his erudition, now entertaining them with hyperbolic claims, yet closing with what appears to be a sincere and carefully pitched appeal to reason.
Efforts to gauge Agrippa's seriousness through biographical criticism have been inconclusive. In 1900 Harriett Mcllquham praised him as "a man of noble aspirations, unsullied life, of infinite genius and resources .. . Just and tender to all, he was especially so to women. He ever constituted himself their chivalrous champion." As evidence that his feminism was sincere, she cited his two happy marriages (his third ended in divorce) and his successful defense of an accused witch in 1518. Agrippa also penned a treatise commending marriage, dedicated to Marguerite of Navarre—a
work more traditional than De nobilitate but still radical enough to be unkindly received in court circles.' On the other hand, in an apologia for yet another controversial text, the sly humanist observed that declamations like his De nobilitate contain many invalid arguments and jokes.' And in 153o, after quarreling with Louise of Savoy and falling from Princess Margaret's favor, he "[cried] out against the fickleness and gullibility of the sex."
My purpose here is neither to decide whether Agrippa was sincere nor to determine whether, by present-day standards, De nobilitate is a genuinely feminist text. I would like instead to offer a new reading that may shed some light on its esoteric subtext as well as its deliberately ambiguous tone. For the slipperiness of De nobilitate is not a unique feature of this text or a trait due to its rhetorical genre alone, but a characteristic of Agrippa's oeuvre as a whole. We are dealing with an impish spirit who shocked contemporaries in what would seem to be two opposite ways at once: by compendious occultism and thoroughgoing skepticism. His two major works were a definitive handbook of the occult sciences (De occulta philosophia, 151o/1533) and a declamation on the vanity of all sciences, especially the occult ones (De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum, 1526). Seven years after he penned this expose, Agrippa decided to publish the first edition of his previously written handbook, undaunted by his own critique of the magical arts? Adventurer that he was, he had a penchant for pursuing intellectual extremes without troubling unduly about the contradictions they might engender.
It is significant that both De nobilitate and De occulta philosophia, begun in the author's early twenties but later revised and expanded, were not committed to print until he had reached his mid-forties. In the interim he had become friendly with John Colet, Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, and other reform-minded Catholics whose biblical humanism came to balance his devotion to occult learning. The sweeping skepticism of D e vanitate has been ascribed to the author's profound discouragement at a time of personal, professional, and financial crisis;" but an alternative reading of this work is also possible. Frances Yates concluded from it that Agrippa was at heart not a true skeptic but an evangelical who, for all his learning, was finally prepared to know nothing but the Word of God. Judging from his continued interest in magical and occult studies, however, it appears that none of these competing tendencies in Agrippa's thought ever succeeded in banishing the rest. Rather, he combined a lifelong thirst for esoteric wisdom with a longing for the simple, biblical faith that would put all doubt to flight. Neither a Protestant nor a traditional Catholic, Agrippa gave vigorous expression to the intellectual and spiritual cross-currents of his tumultuous age. I will argue that in De nobilitate, his earliest known work, he was already balancing extremes, using the fashionable topic of women as pretext for a daring experiment in applied theology. Whatever he may have said at Dole, in the published text of 1529 he adopted the eulogy of women to forge a link between his esoteric prisca theologia and a kind of evangelical humanism. In the process he distilled a rare and volatile elixir of feminist thought.
Most of Agrippa's critics, coming to De nobilitate from the standpoint of secular feminism, have failed to appreciate the scope and originality of his theological arguments. But his latest interpreter, Roland Antonioli, notes that Agrippa's feminism is part of a broader esoteric outlook: "It is illumined by a distant, kabbalistic, and Neoplatonic light, which sees in woman an immediate manifestation of the divine, a pure and original principle of life, capable of working miracles that manifest in her body the absolute power of spirit over matter." In fact, the theology of gender set forth in De nobilitate is an amalgam of diverse materials: hermetic and kabbalistic lore, Neoplatonic reverence for ideal beauty, traditional and notso-traditional praise of "good women," subversive counter-reading of the Eve myth, and evangelical feminist exegesis based on Pauline doctrine and early Christian praxis. Theoretically, these approaches can be reconciled only by the most generous accommodation, and to complicate matters, not all the arguments are set forth with equal seriousness. It is no wonder if the resulting blend, like the marriage of sulphur and mercury, is pungent as the one and unstable as the other.
The underlying conflict in De nobilitate stems from its two ultimately incompatible premises. On the one hand, Agrippa is arguing for a romantic, essentialist feminism that posits the innate superiority of women. This case is built partly on kabbalistic and hermetic grounds, partly on the Neoplatonic refinements of courtly love. On the other hand, he is arguing for an egalitarian, individualist feminism that posits the equality of the sexes. Christian Platonism in a different form comes to his aid here, assisted by some very un-Platonic arguments about evangelical freedom, the authority of the Spirit over the letter, and the successive ages of salvation history. Since these two conflicting strands of argument are intertwined throughout the text, even a sympathetic reader might be uncertain whether Agrippa was calling for a gender-blind, equal-opportunity Church or a form of woman-worship. Readers who noticed the contradiction might take the romantic case as a rhetorical overstatement meant to make the egalitarian case more persuasive, or conversely, as a brilliant satire designed to undermine it.
Both the conflicting premises are stated explicitly at the outset. In his first paragraph Agrippa proclaims that there is absolutely no difference between the sexes except in their reproductive organs. As far as the "form of the soul" and its faculties, reason and language, are concerned, men and women are identical. What is more, both are gifted with the same "innate freedom" and called to the same beatitude. This platonizing stance assumes that the human person is essentially soul or mind; the ephemeral body is of no ultimate importance. Buttressed by the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei, this teaching was used by the Greek Church fathers to support the equality of the sexes in martyrdom, continence, asceticism, and the pursuit of virtue. Although overlaid by androcentric bias, the idea of the equality of souls had long been fundamental to Christian anthropology and especially to the monastic ideal.
But this doctrine does not advance Agrippa's purpose of proving female preeminence, unless he should wish—as, incidentally, he does—to assert the superiority of the female genitals. He adds, therefore, that "apart from the divine essence of the soul," in all other respects "the noble feminine stock almost infinitely surpasses the harsh race of men." 16 Many of Agrippa's "proofs" involve claims about the female body and its occult properties, but others pertain to traits he has ostensibly excluded, namely the intellectual, moral, spiritual, and even linguistic prowess of the two sexes. The bulk of his treatise makes the novel case for female superiority at the expense of human equality, although the latter would be the more serious and arguably the more radical claim. In his final peroration, however, Agrippa hammers home the injustice of social and political constraints on women, urging their liberation from all disabilities in both civil and ecclesiastical law. At this point the two strains of thought finally come together, so that women's "natural superiority" becomes an argument for abolishing sex barriers. If females are of such mettle that even untrained women surpass trained men in such talents as eloquence, Agrippa asks, how much more could women accomplish if they had free access to education and to religious and political office? Thus the case for female superiority, although philosophically at odds with the case for equality, is at last made to support the same practical agenda.
The specifically esoteric features of De nobilitate include such doctrines as divine androgyny; a kabbalistic interpretation of Eve; veneration of Woman as the instantiation of God's partner, the divine Wisdom (Sophia) or Shekinah; adoration of feminine beauty as an act of worship; and reverence for occult virtues ascribed to the female body. These elements, although muted by Agrippa's characteristic skepticism and wit, nonetheless comprise a distinct subtext that most of his translators suppressed or missed altogether. A discerning occultist would note, in the very first sentence, a cunning conflation of Genesis 1:27 with the Asclepius, a hermetic dialogue in vogue among Renaissance makes:
Deus Optimus Maximus, cunctorum genitor, Pater ac bonorum, utriusque sexus foecunditate plenissimus, hominem sibi similem creavit, masculum et foeminam creavit illos.
God the Best and Greatest, source of all things and Father of the good, abundantly full of the fertility of both sexes, created humankind in his likeness; male and female he created them.
The tag I have emphasized comes from a celebrated passage on the androgyny of God:
—The sole God, therefore, like all things, abundantly full of the fertility of both sexes, always pregnant with her own will, constantly gives birth to whatever s/ he wishes to procreate. . . .
—So, Trismegistus, are you saying that God is of both sexes?
—Not only God, Asclepius, but all animate and inanimate beings . . . For each sex is full of procreative power, and the joining of both or, to speak more truly, their incomprehensible unity, is what you could rightly call Cupid or Venus or both . . . in which the supreme charity, joy, gladness, desire, and divine love reside.
Recalling this dialogue, our hermetic hermeneut might infer that Agrippa's text means more than it says. Woman no less than man is created in the divine image, not only because the imago Dei rests in the genderless soul, but more expressly because God is an androgyne. The Asclepius uses this idea to ground a theological affirmation of sexuality that also, however covertly, underlies Agrippa's celebration of erotic love, procreation, and motherhood. The notion of a dual-gendered God had already been used as an argument for gender equality in one of Agrippa's sources, Mario Equicola's little-known treatise De mulieribus (circa 1501), and it was taken up again by Giuliano de Medici, the defender of women in Castiglione's Cortegiano (published 1528) Aside from these closely related texts, however, the teaching proved too esoteric and heterodox to become a staple of the genre.
Agrippa goes on to argue that Eve, the archetype of woman, surpasses Adam because her name means "life" while his means only "earth" (Gen. 2:7, 3 : 20). But he transforms this commonplace by adding that, "according to the mystical symbols of the kabbalists, the woman's name has a greater affinity than the man's with the ineffable name of the divine omnipotence, the Tetragrammaton, for the man's name does not accord with the divine name in characters, in figure, or in number." This resemblance of the Hebrew names Hawwah (Eve) and YHWH (God) is invoked to suggest a kind of natural divinity in women. Its implications are spelled out in the important passage that follows. Woman is God's consummate creature, the nexus that unites and perfects the whole universe, and the final cause for which it was made.
Then [God] created two humans in his likeness, first the male and then the female, in whom the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their embellishment [Gen. 2:1]. For the Creator, coming to the creation of woman, rested in her [Ecclus. 24:12], as he had nothing more noble at hand to create; and in her were enclosed and consummated all the wisdom and power of the Creator. Beyond her no other creature exists, nor can be imagined. Since woman, therefore, is the last of creatures and the goal, the most perfect completion of all the works of God, and the perfecting of the universe itself, who will deny that she is most worthy of preeminence over all creation . . . ? When the world was created, woman was the last in time among all created things, but in authority and dignity she was the first of all in the conception of the divine mind, as it is written of her by the Prophet: before the heavens were created, God chose her and foreordained her.22 . . . As the final work of God, woman was brought into this world by God, led as its queen led to the palace already prepared for her, embellished and perfected with every gift. Rightly, therefore, every creature loves, venerates and serves her, and all creation is rightly subject and obeys her, the queen and end of all creatures, their perfection and consummate glory in all respects. Wherefore the Sage says of her: he glorifies the noble birth of the woman who has cohabitation with God, for even the Lord of all has loved her [Wisd. 8:3]
In this passage Agrippa makes two daring exegetical moves. First, he transfers theological tropes about man (homo) as the crown of creation to woman: she is the last to be formed because she is the goal of the entire process, the one for whose service and pleasure all things were made. Eve's belatedness thus becomes a proof of her superior rather than subordinate status. Second, Agrippa takes biblical verses describing Sophia, the feminine persona of Divine Wisdom, and boldly applies them to woman per se. In patristic theology these texts had been referred to Christ, in whom "the Creator's power and wisdom" were totally enclosed (I Cor. 1:24, Col. 1:1520). From the seventh century onward they were gradually introduced into the Marian liturgy, fostering an assimilation of Sophia to the Virgin which eventuated, by the twelfth century, in the doctrine of Mary's eternal preexistence in heaven. By quoting the central texts of sapiential Mariology and applying them to Eve, that is to woman as such, Agrippa makes an audacious, original leap from the orthodox exaltation of one woman to a full-fledged esoteric feminism.
As a kabbalist, Agrippa may have associated the biblical Sophia with the Shekinah, her descendant and counterpart in Jewish mysticism. The Shekinah or "glory of God" is the exiled feminine partner with whom the Holy One, blessed be He, continually seeks reunion. Frequently described as God's bride, she was also called the daughter or princess and associated with the Sabbath day. Thus the Creator's sabbath "rest" in the woman, to Christians a figure of Christ's incarnation through Mary, would to kabbalists also suggest the mystical union of the Holy One and his Shekinah. Pious Jews could advance this eschatological goal by fulfilling Torah and, more specifically, by obeying the sacred command of marital union on the Sabbath eve. The kabbalistic rapprochement of YHWH with Hawwah had already suggested Woman's role as an embodiment of God's partner, the Shekinah/Sophia, and this identification is confirmed by the assertion that "the Lord of all has loved" not Wisdom or Mary, but simply "the woman." Their sacred marriage also reinforces the hermetic notion of divine androgyny.
From this esoteric praise of women, which an uninitiated reader might take for nothing but playful hyperbole, Agrippa moves on to another double-coded passage, a portrait of ideal feminine beauty. His enumeration of bodily features, each singled out for extravagant praise, has multiple roots in the rhetorical tradition of ekphrasis, the medieval courtly romance, and the Renaissance blason. From one point of view, it is the apotheosis of the male gaze, and many of Agrippa's translators took it in that sense, heightening the sensuality and eroticism implicit in his rather pedantic prose. But the pedantry of the Latin text is not a stylistic lapse. As Antonioli observes, the description is constructed to emphasize scholastic canons of beauty—proportion and radiance—rather than sexual allure?' Agrippa tunes his praise to a standard Neoplatonic definition of beauty:
Beauty itself is nothing other than the splendor of the divine light and countenance inherent in things, shining through beautiful bodies; [this splendor] plainly chose to dwell in women and fill them far more abundantly than men. . . No one who is not utterly blind can fail to see that God gathered all the beauty of which the whole world is capable together in woman, so that all creation might be dazzled by her, and love and venerate her under many names.
By enclosing the objectified female body within these theological brackets, Agrippa implies that man's desire for woman is equivalent or at least parallel to his desire for God. His Neoplatonism makes explicit the quasi-religious yearnings expressed in courtly adoration of woman, whether as Lady or as Virgin. At the same time he traces a circular movement of divine/ human desire, complementing his earlier assertion that God's own desire for woman is the source of her beauty. Even demons cannot resist loving women, he adds mischievously, with a chain of mythological exempla.
Agrippa does not stop with external beauty, but goes on to celebrate the internal mysteries of the female body, drawing on the discourse of biology and medicine. If women's souls are equal and identical to men's, their bodies are remarkably different and superior, surpassing men in their beauty, purity, fertility, and quasi-miraculous physical abilities. This idealized female nature is also credited with traits that would normally be ascribed to the spirit, e.g., women are said to be more eloquent than men and more prophetic." Many readers have taken the author's biological arguments to be frivolous, and some at least are undoubtedly so. Women, for example, are said to be spared both the deformity of baldness and the sordid growth of facial hair; and their natural decency is proven by the "fact" that drowned women float in a prone position, while men float supine."
But even here, the broad humor masks a core of esoteric teaching. Two examples must serve for many. Menstrual blood, Agrippa claims, is not only a panacea for the sick but also "quenches fires, calms tempests, wards off perilous floods, banishes all noxious things, destroys witchcraft, and puts demons to flight."" Much more common, of course, was the opposite view as taught by Pliny: the same blood "turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, . . . hives of bees die, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air."" In his De occulta philosophia, Agrippa follows Pliny in listing curative as well as harmful powers of the menses, but indicates that menstrual blood can banish fevers, vermin, and serpents only because "the power of this poison is so great that it is a poison even to poisonous creatures."" Here as elsewhere in De nobilitate, Agrippa gives his material a pro-woman slant by stating only the favorable aspect of a belief he expressed with greater ambivalence elsewhere. This strategy gives his claims a peculiar status, locating them midway between uproarious parody of received wisdom and genuine occult philosophy.
Following Galen and Avicenna against Aristotle, Agrippa also neatly inverts the scholastic biology of reproduction. He asserts that since the "female seed" provides the matter and nourishment of the fetus, the man's contribution is merely added to it "as an accident to the substance." Children, therefore, take after their mothers: a wise mother will raise smart children and a stupid mother, dull ones. "Nor is there any other reason why mothers love their children more than fathers do, save that mothers see and actually have much more of themselves in them. For the same reason, I think, we are also endowed with stronger feelings for our mothers than our fathers, so that`while we may cherish (diligere) our fathers, we love (amare) our mothers alone."" Whether empirically true or not, this observation not only reverses conventional ideas of filial piety, but has potentially alarming consequences in the theological sphere. For even God's mother is no exception, but the crowning example that proves the rule. She is "Christ's true and natural mother" and he is called "son of man" (filius hominis) on his mother's account, not his father's." This statement is not technically unorthodox, yet many translators felt compelled to alter it. One perceived danger may have been too naturalistic a view of the Incarnation, minimizing its unique and miraculous character. Another, more subtle threat lay in treating Mary (like Divine Wisdom earlier) as a normative woman, rather than the unique paragon who puts all others to shame.
Even when he is not infusing his defense of women with esoteric motifs, Agrippa refurbishes and exaggerates its standard topoi. In his obligatory remarks on Genesis, for example, he points out that Eve was fashioned in Paradise but Adam outside of it." Moreover, Eve was made of a purer material than Adam (human flesh compared to mud) 40 The Virgin Mary, as the worthiest woman who ever lived, is nobler than the worthiest man (John the Baptist), while the worst man (Judas or Antichrist) is baser than the worst of women. In another stock exemplum, Agrippa recalls that the risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene and other women because they alone remained faithful to him in his passion. Most of these observations date back at least as far as Abelard's proto-feminist epistle to Heloise (circa 1135) and possibly earlier. They are concisely summed up in a late-medieval English manuscript:
Woman is to be preferred to man, to wit: in material, because Adam was made from clay and Eve from the side of Adam; in place, because Adam was made outside paradise and Eve within; in conception, because a woman conceived God, which a man could not do; in apparition, because Christ appeared to a woman after the Resurrection, to wit, the Magdalen; in exaltation, because a woman is exalted above the choirs of angels, to wit, the Blessed Mary.
But even these chestnuts receive a gourmet roasting at Agrippa's hands. From Eve's creation in Paradise he deduces that women do not suffer vertigo, since they are accustomed to heights, and from the story of Adam's rib, he concludes that man is a work of nature but woman the handiwork of God.
For Renaissance defenders of women, the task requiring the greatest ingenuity was exonerating Eve's conduct in Eden, since the normative exegesis of Genesis 3 formed the mainstay of their opponents' case. By Agrippa's time a number of options were available. One could protest that the Fall was fortunate because it "merited so great a Redeemer," as the Easter liturgy proclaims, and add that Eve's disobedience was outweighed by Mary's obedience. One could point out that Eve was but an individual woman who made a mistake, not an exemplar of all her sex; or one could excuse her by making Adam at least as guilty, if not more so. Agrippa took the final option, but typically carried it to a new and outrageous extreme. Citing Bernard of Clairvaux, he remarks that Satan tempted Eve out of envy, recognizing that her angelic beauty made her Adam's superior. Moreover, Eve sinned only in the slightest degree because she was never subject to the prohibition in the first place:
The fruit of the tree was forbidden to the man, not the woman, who had not yet been created; for God from the beginning wished her to be free. The man therefore, not the woman, sinned by eating; the man, not the woman, brought death. And we have all sinned in Adam, not in Eve, and we contract original sin from the male and not the female parent. For that reason the old law commanded every male to be circumcised, but let females remain uncircumcised, decreeing that the original sin should be punished only in that sex that had sinned.
This exegesis cleverly plays up a pro-female aspect of the orthodox teaching on original sin, said to be transmitted through male concupiscence and semen and hence absent in the virgin-born Christ, in order to draw the heretical conclusion that Eve was sinless. In his later treatise De originali peccato (1518/1529), Agrippa was to make the same assertion about Eve's lib erty with a somewhat different but equally unorthodox twist, more clearly revealing the esoteric basis of his thought. Eve, he there remarks, is an allegory of reason (ratio libera), which is logically posterior to faith, symbolized by Adam. The tree of knowledge was forbidden to Adam lest we place our faith and hope in creatures, but permitted to Eve because human reason may speculate freely about all things. Adam's sin thus represents the seduction of pure Christian faith by speculative thought, in particular by the occult sciences." This allegory expresses Agrippa's typically ambivalent attitude toward his favorite studies.° In a different vein, however, he goes on to name the original sin as carnal intercourse, for the serpent is none other than the phallus (membrum reptile, membrum serpens): "I think it was no demon but this one that tempted Eve." This gnostic reading then leads to a celebration of virginity, conflicting with the praise of fertility and marriage to be found in De nobilitate and De sacramento matrimonii. The hobgoblin of little minds clearly did not trouble Agrippa's capacious spirit. But at least his interpretations are united in shifting blame for the Fall as far as possible from woman.
Agrippa's assertion about Eve, however radical, pales before the startling Christology he derives from it. Extending the Pauline concept of Christ as new Adam, he argues that the Redeemer was born male because the male sex stood in greater need of redemption, and also because of God's great humility: "Christ was born into this world most humbly, and in order to expiate the pride of the first parent's sin by his humility, he assumed the male sex as the humbler one, not the more sublime and noble feminine sex." 5' Given that Agrippa's God was androgynous and that the feminine Sophia was conventionally taken as a figure of Christ, a female incarnation would certainly have been conceivable. Hence it is, refreshingly, the Savior's maleness that needs explanation." For similar reasons, the priesthood was committed to men: it is true that the male priest represents Christ, as orthodoxy claims, but only because Christ represents Adam, the first sinner. The supreme bastion of male privilege is thereby turned on its head. If Agrippa had taken his own reasoning seriously, he would have had to deduce that women need no sacrifice, no atonement, and no redemption.
Of course he does nothing of the sort. But if Eve's transgression and Christ's maleness can both be seen to prove the superiority of women, we should not be surprised to find lesser exempla turned on their heads as well. One of the most familiar and tiresome strategies in the querelle des femmes was the flaunting of endless catalogues, as if the moral stature of the female sex could be assessed by drawing up a balance sheet of good women against bad. Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris had supplied a large stock of biographies, mainly classical, that could furnish exempla on both sides of the quarrel, supplemented as need be with figures from biblical history or illustrious contemporary women. Christine de Pizan's Livre de la Cite des Dames relied largely on such exempla to refute misogynist libels. In her work, as in Agrippa's, the typical "good women"—virgin martyrs, faithful wives, biblical heroines—are of less interest than the rarer "bad women" who insinuate their way into the feminist casebook, challenging the criteria of judgment and expanding the scope of female achievement. Christine, for example, did not hesitate to rewrite Xanthippe and Dido as good. Agrippa includes several notorious "bad women" in his list of female paragons: thus the magicians Circe and Medea win praise for performing "deeds more miraculous than Zoroaster himself, the founder of this art."" The quality extolled here is not feminine or Christian virtue, but the Renaissance viral, whose sole criterion is success.
Like that other ambiguous champion, the Wife of Bath, Agrippa inverts his exempla so brazenly that the nonfeminist reader will suspect satire, while the feminist may admire the ingenuity of his case. With the praise of famous viragos, as with his exoneration of Eve, Agrippa clearly risked straying across the invisible line into self-parody. But in the face of generic misogynist proof texts, ridicule may be the best if not the only refutation. The most egregious of the lot, the proverb that "a man's iniquity is better than a woman who does good" (Ecclus. 42:14), inspires Agrippa to open parody. He supplies a deliciously wicked list of cases where God punishes men for good deeds and rewards women for bad ones: Rebecca's cunning, Jael's treacherous murder of Sisera, and the incest of Lot's daughters are preferred to Cain's sacrifice, Esau's filial piety, and Uzzah's solicitude for the Ark. This display of divine favoritism issues in a rhetorical challenge to the whole threadbare tradition:
Ite nunc viri fortes et robusti, et vos praegnantia Pallade, ligata tot fasciis scolastica capita, et totidem exemplis contrariam illam probate sententiam, quod melior sit iniquitas viri quam mulier benefaciens.
Goe now yee stout and valiant men, go yee great Schollars, that have Pallas and the Muses most propitious to you, goe I say, & by as many examples (which all your Poetical helps are too few for) prove the contrary opinion, namely, that the wickednesse of a man is better than a woman well doing .
Tweaking another stereotype by the nose, Agrippa takes up the Pauline motif that God chooses the weak to confound the strong (1 Cor. 1:27-29), a theme long favored by hagiographers to laud female saints." In De nobilitate, however, the "weak women" are not pliant instruments through whom God providentially acts, but the very exempla cited by misogynists as destroyers of good men. No man has ever been more gifted than Adam, stronger than Samson, more chaste than Lot, more pious than David, wiser than Solomon: yet women overthrew them all. Satan himself could not shake the patience of Job, "yet a woman provoked him, superior to the devil and more confident."" Worse yet:
If it is legitimate to call Christ himself into this comparison—and none is more powerful or wiser than he, the eternal wisdom and power of God—did he not allow himself to be vanquished by that little Canaanite woman? [Matt. 15:22-28] . . . for when Christ had seen that he could not get the better of her in argument, he blessed her, saying: Let it be for you as you wish. Who was more fervent in faith than Peter, the first of the apostles? A woman seduced him, not the lowliest pastor of the Church, into denying Christ.
If this be praise, it rings with the echo of faint damns. But the purported eulogy of "weak women" actually demonstrates women's power, regardless in this context of their moral stature. Most writers predictably used exempla to prove either the excellence or the evil of women, but Agrippa marshals them to show that women have made their mark in history, for better and worse.
This revisionist strategy pulls his case in another direction as well. If historical exempla can subvert conventional definitions of "good" and "bad," they can also undermine supposedly timeless strictures on women's activity. For while Agrippa takes an essentialist view of female nature, he evinces a strikingly modern historicist outlook on gender in society. Thus, in the last section of De nobilitate he aims to prove that women's status has not always been subordinate, but has changed over time and can presumably change again. Entering into a legal debate that continued through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries," he maintains that women enjoyed equal or privileged status in Roman, barbarian, and feudal law before their disempowerment by the contemporary legal system and the Church. In defense of their right to religious authority, he mounts a two-pronged argument resting partly on exempla and partly on New Testament exegesis. This "evangelical" strand in Agrippa's feminism is as rare in the Renaissance querelle des femmes as it is common in the history of women's struggle for equality in the Church. Essentially similar arguments for female ministry recur from the egalitarian New Prophecy movement of the second and third centuries to the voluminous literature of contemporary Christian feminism. At the time of writing, of course, Agrippa could hardly have expected such ideas to be taken seriously, and by inserting them in a witty declamatio he left himself a plausible line of defense in case of prosecution. But even if the times were not propitious, this line of argument suggests a serious theological purpose, and in subsequent eras, no element of De nobilitate was more vehemently attacked by champions of the status quo. Unlike the esoteric aspects, the evangelical arguments were impossible to dismiss as harmless window-dressing.
Agrippa does not pursue the dangerous logic of his Christology and proclaim that women have no need of Christ and the Church; he retreats to a safer but still controversial stand. Women, he declares, have always been Christ's most faithful followers and pillars of his Church, and are most unjustly deprived of the religious equality that is their due. Their greatest ecclesiastical disabilities were (and still are) exclusion from the priesthood and the prohibition ascribed to St. Paul: "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men" (I Tim. 2:11-12). Agrippa challenges these proscriptions by claiming that saintly women in the past did serve as priests and teachers with authority. In the story of Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26, Rom. 16:3) he finds a perfect example: "What shall I say of that most holy woman, Priscilla, who instructed Apollos, an apostolic man and the very learned bishop of Corinth? It was no shame for an apostle to learn from a woman who was teaching in the Church." As for female priests, Agrippa claims that Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, entered the sanctuary with them and was therefore held to be a priest (Num. 12:4-5). He does not mention, of course, that God called her into the tabernacle only to smite her with leprosy for having dared to speak against Moses.
But in our religion, although the function of priesthood is forbidden to women, we know nevertheless, as histories tell, that a woman who concealed her sex once rose to the pinnacle of the papacy. Nor are we ignorant of so many holy abbesses and nuns among us, whom antiquity did not scorn to call priests.
I have been unable to locate any source that gives this title (sacerdotes) to nuns or abbesses, although holy women enjoyed a charismatic authority that could, in some cases, bypass the power of the clergy. But Agrippa's female pope is well known. She is none other than the legendary Pope Joan, whose historicity was accepted widely enough to pose a problem for fifteenth-century writers on the papacy." As usual with Agrippa, the exemplum is double-edged. He does not refer to the scandalous outcome of Joan's legend, as reported by Boccaccio and others: after taking a secret lover, she allegedly gave birth during a papal procession and was driven from office in disgrace." The unsavory end of the tale, though suppressed in this allusion to it, might have persuaded readers that the exemplum was a jest. Yet on another level, it calls the maleness of the priesthood into question once again. If Agrippa's unconventional views on Eve and Christ imply that women do not need priests, the case of Pope Joan shows that all the same they can be priests, with no one apparently the worse for it. Thus Jean Wirth has argued that, under the guise of proving female superiority, Agrippa was really attacking the priesthood and orthodox Church discipline.
Although he never left the Catholic fold, he closes his case for women's equality with an interpretation of St. Paul that would become typical of sectarian exegesis a century later. To counter the weight of standard antifeminist prooftexts, he invokes the authority of the Spirit over the letter and proposes his own version of dispensationalism. The charter text of Christian feminism, Galatians 3:28, is pressed into service too, in a way that challenges both historical precedent and patriarchal bias.
Women are repulsed from preaching the word of God against the express statement of Scripture, wherein the Holy Spirit promised them through Joel: "And your daughters shall prophesy" [Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17]. It is known that even in the age of the Apostles women taught in public, like Anna the friend of Simeon [Luke 2:36-38], the daughters of Philip [Acts 21:9], and Priscilla the wife of Aquila [Acts 18:26].
... Yet there are some who use religion to usurp authority for themselves against women, and they justify their tyranny by means of sacred Scripture. The curse of Eve is constantly in their mouths: "You shall be under your husband's power, and he shall rule over you" [Gen. 3:16]. If one answers them that Christ took away the curse, they will object again from the sayings of Peter, with whom Paul too agrees: "Let women be subject to their husbands" [I Pet. 3:1]. "Let women keep silent in church" [1 Con 14:34].
But anyone who knows the various tropes and dispositions of Scripture will easily discern that these texts are only superficially opposed. For there is an order in the Church by which men are set before women in ministry as Jews were set before Greeks in the promise. Yet God is no respecter of persons [Rom. 2:r1]: for in Christ there is neither male nor female [Gal. 3:28], but a new creation [Gal. 6:15]. Moreover, many things were permitted to men because of their hard-heartedness against women, as divorce was formerly conceded to the Jews [Matt. 19 : 8]; but these things in no way prejudice the dignity of women.
Indeed, when men fall short and go astray, women have the power of judgment, to men's disgrace. Even the queen of Sheba is to judge the men of Jerusalem [Luk. 31]. Therefore all men who, being justified by faith, have become sons of Abraham [Rom. 4], which is to say sons of the promise [Gal. 3:29], are subjected to woman and bound by the command that God gave to Abraham, saying: "Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice" [Gen. 21:12].
This dense biblical argument draws chiefly on Romans and Galatians, the epistles in which St. Paul had wrestled with problems of religious status and hereditary privilege in the nascent Church. Agrippa uses Paul's discussion of Jews and Greeks to propose an analogous case for men and women, as the apostle himself suggests in Galatians 3 : 28. By this logic, the age of male dominance parallels the age of Jewish exclusiveness in salvation history; but when Christ established a new, more inclusive dispensation accepting Jews and Gentiles on equal terms, he meant at the same time to abolish gender privilege. The male priesthood, like Jewish Christians in the Pauline Church, is declared to have only a historical and by no means a spiritual priority. If male supremacy still prevails in spite of Christ's intention, it is only because of the "hard-heartedness" of men, which women are entitled to judge and find wanting.
After citing precedents for the ministry of women in the time of Christ and the Apostles, Agrippa returns to the matriarch Sarah because, in Paul's allegorical reading of Genesis, she is the "free woman" who represents "the Jerusalem above," mother of the elect (Gal. 4:21-31). If Christians are metaphorically children of Abraham, "not according to the flesh but according to the promise," they must also be sons and daughters of Sarah: "We are not children of the slave but of the free woman" (Gal. 4:31) 67 Agrippa's originality lies in wresting a concrete political meaning—liberation for all women—from an allegory whose original sense had become obsolete. In this way Sarah's authority over Abraham, like the sapiential praise of Mary, ceases to be an exceptional or merely allegorical privilege and becomes a norm by which contemporary gender relations can be judged.
Despite the recurrence of this characteristic strategy, Agrippa's argument here differs markedly from the hermetic, kabbalistic, and sapiential theology that he had used earlier to establish woman's exalted status in creation. No longer is he drawing on esoteric lore or indulging in scandalous inversions of orthodox dogma, as he did in his account of original sin and redemption. Instead, he constructs an evangelical feminist argument that revolves around Luther's favorite epistles, relies on a humanistic style of exegesis, and incorporates historical criticism. On these grounds I would speculate that Agrippa did not include this passage in his oral declamation of 1509, but added it for the published edition after his prolonged immersion in biblical studies. The linkage he creates between women's authority and justification by faith, a key Reformation tenet, could have struck a particularly sensitive nerve in 1529.
Interwoven with the apologia for female priests is another novel line of argument that would remain central to feminist discourse from the sixteenth century through Mary Wollstonecraft and beyond. Following Equicola's De mulieribus, Agrippa launches a frontal attack on male tyranny that goes far beyond the conventional defense of women, for he explicitly disallows natural law and the will of God as sources of patriarchal privilege.
Thanks to the excessive tyranny of men, prevailing against divine right and the laws of nature, the freedom given to women is now banned by unjust laws, abolished by custom and usage, and extinguished by upbringing. For as soon as a woman is born, she is kept home in idleness from her earliest years, and as if incapable of higher employment, she is allowed to conceive nothing beyond her needle and thread. Then once she has reached the age of puberty, she is handed over to the jealous rule of a husband or cloistered in a perpetual prison of virgins. Public offices, too, are denied her by law. No matter how intelligent, she is not allowed to plead in court. Women moreover are barred from jurisdiction, arbitration, adoption, mediation, administration, wardship, trusts, and testamentary and criminal cases.
. . . So great is the wickedness of recent legislators that they have made void the command of God for the sake of their traditions [Matt. 15:6], as they pronounce women, who in other eras were most noble by virtue of their natural excellence and dignity, to be of baser condition than all men. By these laws, therefore, women are forced to yield to men like a conquered people to their conquerors in war, not compelled by any natural or divine necessity or reason, but rather by custom, education, fortune, and tyrannical caprice.
A theological case for the "nobility and preeminence of the female sex" has laid the groundwork for this blunt defiance of patriarchy, challenging its ideological basis as well as its perpetuation by means of legal and domestic oppression. While many of Agrippa's arguments might be taken as arcane or flippant, there could be no mistaking the radicalism of this appeal. It could be resisted in theory and ignored in practice, but unlike the reversible topoi employed elsewhere in De nobilitate, it could not be bounced back and forth like a tennis ball between misogynist and feminist courts.
This reasoning may have been seriously meant and was at times seriously received, yet Agrippa himself was more interested in theology than in social change. I have argued that what is most distinctive and interesting about his tract is not its feminism per se, but its use of the "defense of women" genre to explore some novel implications of both esoteric and evangelical theology. Indeed, it is precisely because of this theological boldness that Agrippa, even allowing for his desire to shock and entertain, was nonetheless able to construct a feminist case more radical than anything that earlier or later defenders of the sex had to offer. But he was not the only theorist of his age to believe that, when a test case is needed for a hermeneutic experiment, "women are good to think." Late in the century, at least one other writer seems to have tried a similar project—from the opposite side of the court.
In 1595 there appeared in Germany a Disputatio perjocunda qua anonymus probare nititur mulieres homines non esse (Comic Disputation in which an anonymous author tries to prove that women are not human). This satire was reprinted as often as De nobilitate, frequently with a rebuttal, for a number of authors took it seriously enough to field a whole squadron of proof-texts against the anonymous writer's exegesis. It appears, however, that the satirist himself was not even fundamentally concerned with women. His real object was to skewer the anabaptists: using their absurdly literal hermeneutics, he would "prove" from the Scriptures that if Christ was not divine, neither were women human. But the intended analogy failed to convey its point, for the satirist's "absurd" case struck many readers as no more or less absurd than Agrippa's case for female superiority. Anabaptists aside, his tract was received as an outrageous rant against women, while De nobilitate was received as an outrageous defense, its theological subtleties largely ignored or suppressed. In 1650 a Lutheran pastor, Johannes Bellin, played both sides against the middle, responding to a new edition of the Disputatio with a polemical translation of De nobilitate. In this defense of seventeenth-century "family values," he tried to strike a conventional balance between the satirist's misogyny and the esoteric humanist's feminism.
Yet Agrippa's peculiar brand of feminist theology was not without successors. In one line of development, De nobilitate points toward the still stranger "feminism" of Guillaume Postel, like Agrippa a kabbalist and a scholar of prodigious and eccentric learning. Postel designed an apocalyp tic scheme of world history wherein "the Mother of the World," a female savior heralded by Joan of Arc, was expected to complete Christ's work of redemption and inaugurate a new world order under feminine rule!' Agrippa's interest in divine androgyny would emerge anew in the theologies of such sects as the Behmenists, Philadelphians, Quakers, and Shakers. The first two groups, inspired by the esoteric mysticism of Jakob Boehme, cultivated visions of "the noble Virgin Sophia" and accepted the leadership of inspired women, in continuity with the late-medieval tradition of female prophecy!' For the Quakers and their offshoot, the Shakers, gender equality and female leadership were justified by Pauline exegesis in the same vein as Agrippa's: the new creation in Christ and the new dispensation of the Spirit overthrew the old barriers of sex and class!' Ironically, however, it was not these sectarians who appropriated De nobilitate, but a succession of mainline Protestants, liberal Catholics, and antireligious freethinkers with agendas that occluded precisely what is most original about that work. Contemporary feminist scholars can avoid the same error by turning from the clichés of the querelle des femmes to read Agrippa's tract in the highly charged religious context of its age.
Wisdom's Root Revealed: Ben Sira and the Election of Israel by Greg Schmidt Goering (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism: Brill Academic Publishers) interprets the theme of election in the book of Sirach. Previous scholarship has often understood Ben Sira’s worldview to be dualistic, and has approached the sage's correlation of Wisdom and Torah as either a nationalization of Wisdom or a universalization of Torah. By probing Ben Sira’s ideas about election, this book suggests that Ben Sira does not collapse the traditional sapiential dichotomy wisdom/folly into a dualistic worldview, and that his understanding of the relation between Wisdom and Torah proves to be far more subtle than previous interpretations have allowed. The study demonstrates that the concept of election enables a profitable discussion of the relation of Wisdom and Torah in the thought of this pivotal Second Temple sage.
Excerpt: This study interprets the theme of election in the book of Sirach. When I first undertook this project, I never imagined that the end product would focus entirely upon Sirach, nor that it would treat the theme of election.
Perhaps as long as humans have existed, so has their cultural tendency to organize themselves into groups. As cultural anthropologists have shown, group identities are often formed by drawing boundaries between insiders and outsiders. I have long been intrigued by the formation of communal identities, especially as persons create these identities in order to traverse the ever-present terrain of exclusiveness and openness. I am particularly drawn to the ways in which members of a community ask and answer questions about their relationship to those outside their community. My interest in these questions originates, in part, because I was raised in the United States in a small religious and ethnic minority group where discussions frequently focused on who was a Mennonite and who was not. Only later did I learn that this discourse on inclusivism and exclusivism resonated with the perennial question posed within Judaism, "Who is a Jew?" Thus, when I first began to study Wisdom literature from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Israel, I was struck by the largely non-theistic and non-national idiom in which the sages communicated a wisdom ethos. I was also fascinated by the focus in this literature upon the individual, rather than the nation. Moreover, the exchange across national boundaries of wisdom ideas and genres—even literal borrowing in some cases—suggested a cosmopolitan outlook seemingly unconcerned with religious and ethnic boundary marking.
Yet, despite this apparent internationalism, a nagging question persisted. If much of the ANE Wisdom tradition could be characterized as cosmopolitan, what made a certain wisdom work distinctly Egyptian or Israelite? I began to research older Israelite Wisdom texts—such as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes—for indications that, despite their apparent disinterest in the national traditions of ancient Israel, they nonetheless were products of Israelite sages who attempted to inculcate a specifically Israelite identity. I intended to conclude my study with Sirach, given the author's obvious concern to combine the cosmopolitan wisdom tradition with Israel's national heritage. Thinking that Sirach would be the easiest case of all to examine, I began my research with Ben Sira's book. It soon became apparent that the question of how Ben Sira relates Israel's national heritage to universal wisdom would fill a monograph in and of itself.
Even once I had focused my exploration on the interplay of universalism and particularism in Sirach, the theme of election did not immediately present itself. A central problem in the interpretation of Sirach concerns the relation of Wisdom and Torah. Many scholars have interpreted Ben Sira's juxtaposition of the universal Wisdom tradition with Israel's particular traditions of Torah as "identification." Scholars have understood this identification as either a nationalizing of Wisdom or a universalizing of Torah. Initially, I was inclined to choose between the nationalizing and the universalizing interpretations of Sirach. But as I inquired into the details of Ben Sira's wisdom teaching, both interpretations seemed to tell only half of the story. In particular, it was my discovery of the election motif in Sir 33.7-15 that proved to be the "aha! " moment. For there I found a reading of that poem that not only persuaded me of the incorrectness of the widely held dualistic interpretation of Sirach but also provided an interpretative key, which could make sense of other puzzling features of the book. The purpose of my study, then, became to show that the concept of election enables a profitable discussion of the relation of Wisdom and Torah in the book of Sirach.
I began my study with the observation that Ben Sira's correlation of Wisdom and Torah represents an attempt to relate the universal and the particular. Most scholars suggest that Ben Sira "equates" Wisdom and Torah. If Wisdom and Torah are essentially the same thing, then Ben Sira's correlation of the two amounts to either a universalization of Torah or a nationalization of Wisdom. But as I have shown, Ben Sira's understanding of the relation between Wisdom and Torah is more subtle than the asyndetic juxtaposition of the two terms initially suggests. Ben Sira does not nationalize wisdom, because he believes that all humans partake in a general wisdom that YHWH poured out upon the natural world. Neither does the sage universalize Torah, for Torah represents the special wisdom bequeathed to the elect people of Israel alone. Thus, the relation between Torah and Wisdom, in Ben Sira's mind, is more complex than the notions of "identity" or "equality" allow.
Like his predecessors in the Israelite Wisdom tradition, Ben Sira distinguishes between two classes of human beings. Older wisdom tended to refer to two categories of humans: wise and foolish, or righteous and wicked. Ben Sira also uses these terms. But the nature of the distinction between the two groups in the book of Sirach is not opposition, as many scholars have assumed. Rather, Ben Sira distinguishes his two groups of human beings based on the notion of election. According to the sage, YHWH "set apart" one group of human beings from all the rest, in order to confer on them a special wisdom. The chosen group consists in Israel and the special wisdom amounts to the Torah. Ben Sira derives this anthropological classification of the elect and the non-elect from a cosmological observation about the respective functions of the sun and the moon in marking profane and sacred time. Moreover, he alludes to biblical texts that describe the election of Abram from the nations and the choosing of priests from among the Israelites. This suggests that Ben Sira's understanding of election also represents an appropriation of the doctrine from the biblical tradition.
It is Ben Sira's appropriation of the doctrine of election, I maintain, that makes sense of his relation of the universal and the particular. In his understanding of election, a part is distinguished from the whole. Although the chosen entity is set apart from the whole, it nonetheless maintains a basic connection to the whole. In the same way that sacred days distinguished by the moon share with profane days the light of the one sun, so also the elect Israelites share with the non-elect the fact of their creation from the dust of the earth. Similarly, the Torah as Israel's special wisdom partakes in the general wisdom bestowed upon all human beings. The Torah as Israel's inheritance consists in a subset—a root, if you will—of general wisdom that has been set apart for YHWH's elect.
Ben Sira's notion of election extends beyond the mere idea that YHWH distinguishes a part from the whole. The divine act of distinguishing one particular people and one portion of universal wisdom furthers a purpose. For example, Ben Sira understands the Torah to be Israel's book of sapiential instruction given by the divine sage YHWH. In the same way that the older Wisdom tradition viewed performance of wisdom instruction (torah) as the means to bring one's life into harmony with the cosmic order, so also performance of the ritual and ethical commandments of the Torah brings the Israelite's life into harmony with the covenantal order. Moreover, Ben Sira's association of wisdom with the Jerusalem temple indicates that he views participation in the cult as having the effect of sustaining and renewing the cosmic order upon which the world is founded. In this sense, the "election" of the Torah and the election of Israel as the people obliged to practice a Torah piety serve purposes beyond the confines of the covenantal community. Torah observance benefits all humankind, indeed the entire created world.
Moreover, Israel is not the only people with obligations. In Ben Sira's view, all peoples ought to observe the instruction (torah) of the international wisdom tradition and practice a general piety. This general fear of YHWH involves the expression of awe at his creation and acknowledgment of him as the creator of the world. By virtue of the general wisdom available to them as creatures, all humans are capable of this general piety. Nonetheless, the nations do not always fulfill their duty to fear YHWH in the general sense. If the nations fail to express the proper fear of the creator and oppress his elect people, YHWH rescues Israel and uses the opportunity to demonstrate his "shock and awe" to the nations. Thus, the election of Israel also serves the larger divine purpose of bringing about an eschatological reality in which the nations practice a proper fear of YHWH.
This purposeful election of the part from the whole structures numerous elements in the book of Sirach. YHWH bestows general wisdom upon all humanity, including upon Israel, and he additionally bequeaths a special wisdom to Israel. General wisdom is codified in the instruction (torah) of the sages, which all humans are obligated to follow, including the Jews, while Israel's special wisdom is codified in the Torah, the observance of which is enjoined upon Israel alone. The nations are obligated to practice a general piety of awe, while Israel additionally must practice the particularities of a Jewish piety. In each of these cases, it is impossible to say that wisdom, instruction, and piety are wholly universal or wholly particular. Rather, Ben Sira maintains the universality of the international wisdom tradition while, at the same time, he portrays the distinctive features of Israel's historical traditions as a kind of particular wisdom. Israel's wisdom, instruction, and piety represent particular subsets of the universal wisdom, instruction, and piety accessible to the nations. The notion of election as the purposeful distinction of a part from the whole allows Ben Sira to hold in tension the universal wisdom tradition and the particular national traditions of Israel. Moreover, the notion of election provides a justification for maintaining an interest in the universal and the particular, and a means for relating the two: the particular serves to enhance the universal.
Ben Sira's appropriation of Israel's election represents an astonishing transformation of the Jewish Wisdom tradition. The motif of election is at best nascent in the portrait of Job as a favored patriarch or in proverbial statements that God favors the upright) Older Israelite wisdom literature betrayed little interest in the historical traditions of ancient Israel. As a result, the outlook of books such as Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet tended to be universal. Anyone, regardless of national identity or religious practice, could perform the instruction of the sage and pursue wisdom. As a corollary, the specific Jewish customs of Torah and cult, for example, seemed to matter very little to these authors. Ben Sira alters immeasurably this worldview of traditional wisdom. By incorporating the particular customs of Israel and relating them to the international wisdom tradition through the notion of election, the sage created a new synthesis between universal wisdom and the particular traditions of ancient Israel.
Moreover, the sage's location of his doctrine of Israel's election in his theology of creation represents a remarkable development in the biblical traditions concerning election. In general, the Hebrew Bible portrays YHWH's election of an individual or of Israel as a whole as a historical event. In contrast, Ben Sira suggests that Israel's election results from a primordial divine act. The difference between the two models of election perhaps finds an analogy in the different motivations given to Sabbath observance in the versions of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy and Exodus. Deuteronomy provides a historical motivation for Sabbath observance, citing YHWH's rescue of Israel from Egyptian slavery (Deut 5.15). The Exodus version, in contrast, grounds observance of the Sabbath in a creation myth similar to Gen 1.1-2.4a, in which the deity rested on the seventh day (Exod 20.11). While Ben Sira considers Israel's election to be the result of a primordial decision, he nonetheless sees it as a drama unfolding in history. Thus, in the same way that the biblical tradition preserved both cosmological as well as historical motivations for observing the Sabbath, Ben Sira blends cosmological and historical aspects of Israel's election. The sage develops the biblical tradition by elevating election over the historical to the cosmological realm while at the same time retaining its rootedness in history.
Thus, Ben Sira's understanding of Israel's election influences his view of "history" from beginning to end. In the past, Israel's election originated in a primordial decision. In the present, Israel's separateness influences how they are to behave: they must observe the ritual and ethical requirements of the Torah, as well as the sapiential instruction. In the future, their election plays an important role in his eschatological vision for bringing the nations to a proper fear of YHWH. While Ben Sira's grounding of election in creation represents a significant development from the biblical tradition, such a move is not without parallel in the Second Temple period.
Why did Ben Sira choose the via media? While it is unlikely that the sage's sociohistorical context determined his response to the problem of the universal and the particular, it nonetheless must have an intimate relationship with the Jewish deity through the philosophical quest of seeing God. Nonetheless, because Philo inherited the biblical tradition of Israel's covenant with YHWH, he also retained certain particularistic understandings. One could situate each of these late Second Temple authors on a continuum defined by particularism on one end and universalism on the other. Due to his portrait of Jews as different in kind—and therefore radically separate—from other human beings, I would locate the author of Jubilees near the particularist end of the continuum. Given the universalizing effects of Philo's allegorical approach and his openness to proselytes, I would situate him somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but more toward the universalist end. Since Ben Sira betrays no interest in having non-Jews convert to Judaism, I would place him somewhere in the middle. Ben Sira's approach represents a via media between the extremes of universalism and particularism, even between the positions occupied by Philo and Jubilees, respectively.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY
By comparing Ben Sira's view of Israel's election to that of Philo and the author of Jubilees, one can see that other Jewish authors in the late Second Temple period also responded to the problem of universalism and particularism. Moreover, from the range of responses observed, it is clear that in this period, various strategies existed for addressing the problem of the universal and the particular. Jubilees represents one extreme position, that of the particularist. Philo embodies an opposing position, that of the universalist. Ben Sira exemplifies an intermediate position. He recognizes the inherent tension between universalism and particularism, and adapts the ancient Israelite notion of election as a device by which to mediate between the two extremes. He affirms that Israel is a particular people with a special relationship to God but recognizes that Israel's existence and behavior have universal implications.
Like Ben Sira, Philo notes the universal benefits of Israel's election. In some passages, Philo suggests that the Jewish people as a whole function as priests for all humankind. Specifically, the Jews as a priestly people offer prayers and sacrifices for the other nations.' Moreover, Philo suggests that the Jewish high priest prays and offers sacrifices for all humanity as well as for the natural world.' Both Philo and Ben Sira, then, associate the universal benefits of Israel's election with the role of the Israelite high priest.
Like Ben Sira, but unlike the author of Jubilees, then, it seems that Philo wrestled with the tension between the universal and the particular. In general, Philo tended toward a universal view, in played some role in shaping his intermediate approach. Whereas the author of Jubilees may have experienced the turbulence of the Maccabean period and developed his radically particularist understandings of Israel in response to it,' Ben Sira lived before the crisis brought on by Antiochus IV.' Given the cosmopolitan demographic of the city of Jerusalem, resulting in part from successive foreign occupations, Ben Sira's world confronted him with the problem of the universal and the particular. Moreover, the relative benevolence of Seleucid policy toward Jerusalem in the sage's day lent itself to a more charitable attitude toward non-Jews.' Ben Sira's social location also differed from that of Philo. Whereas Philo, as part of "the rich provincial elite of the Greek East," was active in political affairs in a largely non-Jewish city of Alexandria, indeed in the larger Roman empire,' Ben Sira served the Jewish priestly ruling class in a predominantly Jewish Jerusalem. It seems likely that this sociohistorical world in which Ben Sira wrote formed the crucible for his revolutionary synthesis of the universal wisdom tradition and Israel's particular customs.
In this relatively tolerant milieu, Ben Sira did not take the path of the dualist, as so many modern interpreters have suggested. The dualist tends to associate good with "us" and bad with "them." And it is easy to imagine how a synthesis between the older wisdom dichotomy of wise/foolish and righteous/wicked, on the one hand, and the biblical election tradition, on the other, could have led to a strict dualism. But in Ben Sira's case, it did not. While Ben Sira saw the world in terms of Jew and non-Jew, he did not associate wisdom and righteousness entirely with the Jew, and folly and wickedness wholly with the non-Jew. In his work, the sage portrays both Israelites and non-Israelites as good and bad. His view that good and bad reside both within Israel and without contrasts sharply with the acknowledged dualism of other late Second Temple Jewish works, such as 4Qlnstruction. And that he does not turn the good and bad within every human being into a principle of cosmic structure distinguishes his work from a text such as The Treatise of the Two Spirits in the Rule of the Community The dualist is concerned with the well-being of a particular people alone—everyone else be damned. In contrast to the dualist, Ben Sira is concerned with the well-being of all human beings, especially with their acquisition of wisdom, which aids them in recognizing the creator and living a good life. Consequently, the widely held assumption among scholars regarding Ben Sira's supposed dualism must be abandoned. Ben Sira's notion of election—unlike that of Jubilees, for example—does not collapse into a dualism. Rather, election serves as a means for the sage to meaningfully relate the particularities of Israel's existence to the universal well-being of humankind.
Culture and Explosion by Juri Lotman and Marina Grishakova (Semiotics, Communication and Cognition: Mouton de Gruyter) Culture and Explosion is the English translation of the final book written by legendary semiotician Juri Lotman. The volume demonstrates, with copious examples, how culture influences the way that humans experience "reality". Lotman's renowned erudition is showcased in a host of well-chosen illustrations from history, literature, art and right across the humanities. Now appearing in English for the very first time, the volume is made accessible to students and researchers in semiotics, cultural/literary studies and Russian studies worldwide, as well as anyone with an interest in understanding contemporary intellectual life.
In 1990 Umberto Eco wrote a brilliant introduction to Ann Shukman's remarkable translation of Lotman's book, Universe of the Mind. By focusing on the emergence of the terms semiotics and structuralism in the European academic community and their interrelationship, Eco contextualizes Lotman's work historically and presents a slice of Lotman's contributions that successfully captures the essence of this powerful scholar and thinker. It is difficult to imagine an introductory article that can attain the profundity and scope of Eco's evaluation of Lotman's work, which makes the present task quite daunting. However, the central ideas given in what was to be Lotman's final monograph, Culture and Explosion, which he dedicated to his wife, the notable literary scholar Zara Grigorievna Mints, are sufficiently robust that they have already been the subject matter of a series of analyses attempting to further the study of the semiotics of culture, and it is to these ideas that we turn the readers' attention.
It would be impossible to discuss the ideological fundamentals of Culture and Explosion without evocation of Lotman's concept of the semiosphere, originally introduced in 1984. The semiosphere is the prerequisite space that guarantees the potential for semiosis, which is in essence the generation of meanings. In Lotman's own words, the semiosphere is "the semiotic space necessary for the existence and functioning of languages, not the sum total of different languages; in a sense the semiosphere has a prior existence and is in constant interaction with languages... a generator of information." Semiospheric space is the precursor to and the result of cultural development. Lotman outlines the fundamental organizing principles of the semiosphere in Universe of the Mind as heterogeneity of the space, asymmetry of internal structures, binariness of internal and external spaces, boundaries defined as bilingual filters that allow for the exchange of semiotic processes, and the "development of a metalanguage" as the final act of the system's structural organization. Of these five points, only one is discussed in Culture and Explosion. (In fact, the term semiosphere only appears in Culture and Explosion on two occasions.) Specifically, in the chapter entitled The Logic of Explosion, Lotman focuses on the notion of heterogeneity as a characteristic of not only spatial differentiation, but even different rates of change between and within individual subspaces of the semiosphere:
Semiological space is filled with the freely moving fragments of a variety of structures which, however, store stably within themselves a memory of the whole which, falling into a strange environment, can suddenly and vigorously restore themselves...Completely stable invariant semiotic structures apparently do not exist at all.
Lotman's reiteration of the importance of a complex dynamic within and around the semiosphere speaks to its critical role in capturing the essence of its explanatory power as a modeling system. Peeter Torop, one of the central figures of contemporary Tartu semiotics, explains the multiple perspectives from which the concept of semiosphere is explicated, which include a universal research level, a concept encompassing all facets of cultural semiotics, and as a functional mechanism to understand diachronic and synchronic dynamic processes. Although the term itself is hardly mentioned, it is clear that there is a profound relationship between Lotman's earlier work on the semiosphere and his work in Culture and Explosion. It is precisely this relationship that will be the focus of the following remarks.'
We are constantly reminded of the fundamental tenet of Lotman's approach to semiotics, which is the importance of semiotics as a dynamic process of semiosis, which is a system-level phenomenon engaging multiple sign complexes that are given simultaneously across spatio-temporal boundaries, and not merely the study of individual signs artificially frozen into one slice of the space/time continuum. As Lotman's work is contextualized into the broader fields of structuralist and non-structuralist semiotic paradigms (e.g. comparisons with the works of Saussure, Hjelmslev, Peirce, Jakobson and others) and even the cognitive sciences, it is crucial to understand Lotman's decision to target his theoretical models at the system level, and not at the individual sign level. This fact may explain, for example, why Lotman does not devote more works to explications of sign types using iconicity, indexicality and symbolic distinctions.
Lotman's work has often been read through the prism of other semiotic contributors of the twentieth century, resulting in what often appears to be an attempt to position Lotman as more of a borrower of ideas than an innovator of ideas. While it is certainly true that Lotman was deeply influenced by his own professors and some of the most outstanding intellectuals of his day, Lotman's work is unique in its achievement of a broadly-based metalanguage for the mod elling of cultures, a system of systems. Lotman's formulation and explication of semiospheric space is the single most powerful contributing factor to his success in presenting a usable metalanguage for cultural analysis. Vjacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, Lotman's colleague and co-founder of the Tartu-Moscow School, is very emphatic in his refocusing of the semiotic agenda to contextualize itself within the defining principles and mechanisms of the semiosphere itself.
The discipline of cultural semiotics as viewed by Lotman has caused a significant shift away from more traditional structuralist models of semiotic space. Specifically, Lotman defines this new discipline as focused on analyzing the interaction and mutual influence of diversely-structured semiotic spaces, the ever-present irregularities and unevenness contained in the structures of semiotic space, and an obligatory shift to cultural and semiotic polyglotism. It is precisely the last point that is featured early on in Culture and Explosion and emerges many times throughout the book. In the opening chapter, Lotman outlines the importance of a minimum of two languages in order for semiotic space to realize its meaning-generation potential, and it is precisely these languages ("a minimum of two, but in all actuality the list is open-ended" that, by definition, mutually require each other in order to provide the inevitability of the other. Furthermore, he notes that those spaces beyond the boundaries of a given semiotic space (which he calls "reality" or the "external world") also can never be captured by a single language; rather, only an aggregate of languages can meet this requirement. The idea of a single, ideal language is, at best an illusion and must be abandoned. Ironically, the desire to achieve a single, universal language is one of the trends that helps create cultural space.
Lotman's requirement of multiple languages as "the minimal meaning-generating unit" may be interpreted in a variety of ways and on a variety of levels. For instance, these different languages could be the languages of the internal spaces of the semiosphere and the surrounding spaces in which the semiosphere is situated or could include Lotman's fundamental distinction between I—I (also called autocommunication) and I-s/he models of communication as presented in Universe of the Mind. Although not mentioned in Culture and Explosion, the concept of autocommunication is one of the most powerful concepts given by Lotman for defining mechanisms for the generation of meaning within the semiosphere. The primary function of autocommunication is to create new information at both the cultural and individual levels. This new information displays an important series of characteristics, including (1) its qualitative reconstruction, (2) not being self-contained or redundant, and (3) the doubling and redefinition of both the message and the code.
This is an appropriate point to mention Lotman's baseline requirement, which is actually a corollary of the requirement of a minimum of two languages: all phenomena must be translated in order to be perceived in semiospheric space. Such a formulation brings Lotman close to the non-structuralist semiotic theory of C. S. Peirce. Furthermore, all translations necessarily change meaning, and the act of non-comprehension is as salient as the act of comprehension. The importance of non-comprehension deserves further explication.
The relationship between translatability and nontranslatability in Lotmanian theory is an important source of tension, which is a basic structural principle of all semiotic space that plays an integral part in the realization of discontinuities in the dynamic form of explosions. In the introductory chapter of Culture and Explosion, Lotman describes the interrelationship of the multiple languages that lie at the heart of semiotic space and their mutual untranslatability (or limited translatability) as the "source of adjustment of the extra-lingual object to its reflection in the world of languages." Lotman expands this description in his definition of semiotic space:
Semiotic space appears before us as the multi-layered intersection of various texts, which are woven together in a specific layer characterized by complex internal relationships and variable degrees of translatability and spaces of untranslatability.
While it is generally true that the internally distinct and bilingual filter-like boundaries within semiotic space provide a baseline for potential translatability, it is also the case that cultural spaces and texts in a diachronic perspective may contain pockets of information that are not accessible to particular synchronic spaces because of the different languages and codes used, or even due to a breakdown in the cultural knowledge of the codes defining the internal spaces. In each of these cases, the heterogeneous structure of semiotic space gives rise to different types of tension, including the tension that gives value to the "translation of the untranslatable." In short, there are two types of contradictory tension that are at work simultaneously in all communication acts: (1) the attempt to make comprehension easier by expanding the intersecting spaces of the addresser and addressee, accompanied by (2) an attempt to increase the value of the communication by maximizing the non-intersecting spaces of the addresser and addressee. Extracting knowledge and new meanings from these less accessible textual spaces increases the value of the content of the utterance.
One of the most significant outcomes of the interplay of tension in the semiotic act is reiteration of the fact that the semiotic process does not guarantee a veridical outcome. It is on this point that Lotman and Peirce are in profound agreement. Lotman notes that misunderstanding and breakdown in communication are as significant as successful transmissions, while Peirce talks about the role of false signs and underdeveloped signs. And thus, "misunderstanding (conversation in non-identical languages) is as valuable a meaning-generating mechanism as understanding."
Lotman's definition of tension and explosion are at the heart of his final monograph. Tension, as we have shown above, is manifested in a variety of guises, some of which are contradictory in nature. It serves as a structural principle for endless dynamic change in semiotic space that leads to different levels of information growth. Tension is at the basis of the primary mechanisms of gradual and explosive cultural change. These two mechanisms are inextricably linked, both coexisting and alternating in space-time, and illustrate and explain cultural evolution. One of the ways to contextualize the importance of these two types of mechanisms is to look more closely at the connection between discontinuity and explosion conceptually. As we noted earlier, the notion of boundedness is one of the central defining characteristics of the semiosphere. With boundedness comes the implication of discontinuity and discreteness of structures. In any given cut of semiospheric space, Lotman guarantees that both continuous and discrete (explosive) processes occur in an feedback configuration, such that continuity guarantees discontinuity, and discontinuity guarantees future continuity. I have argued elsewhere that the "moment of explosion" clarifies Lotman's understanding of gradual and explosive processes. Specifically, the inception of the explosion (discontinuity) is the beginning of a new stage of development for the semiotic system that is a focal point for extraordinary expansion of information on the one hand, and a signal of the beginning of a new era on the other; however, this new stage is of a cyclic, not linear, nature, and the force of change in one area evokes an equally powerful change in the other. Furthermore, Lotman is careful to distinguish between actual discontinuity and the perception of discontinuity. Periodsof cultural self-awareness are "usually recorded as intermissions," resulting in an asymmetrically-defined culture text. This asymmetry is clearly seen in the relationship constructed between the past and the future:
The spectator, having mentally placed himself in that "present moment" in which the text was realised ... , seems then to turn his attention to the past which converges in a cone, whose apex touches the present moment. Facing the future, the audience is immersed in an array of possibilities which have not yet met with potential selection. The uncertainty of the future allows significance to be assigned to everything.
Lotman's definition of explosion is differentiated into distinct segments and incorporates the viewer/participant's perspective by establishing specific relationships of present to future or present to past. In the first case (present to future), one has "a flash of a space of meaning not yet unfolded," where potentially everything is meaningful, whereas in the second case (present to past), the situation becomes regularized, law-based, the result being interpreted as inevitable and other possibilities becoming unthinkable.
One of the distinct segments of the moment of explosion identified by Lotman is the moment of exhaustion of the explosion, a turning point in the process that is realized as both the "moment of future development" and the "place of self-realization" (see below and 1992a: 30). Self-realization leads to a qualitative re-evaluation of the process that has just occurred, and facilitates the interpretation of what was, in fact, a purely random event as the only possible outcome.
I have often been struck by an important philosophical overlap between Lot-man's characterizations of tension and explosion and manifestations of these notions in the fiction and philosophical writings of E. I. Zamiatin and have found that many of Lotman's central theoretical principles seem to speak directly to Zamiatin's work. I have imagined what insightful analyses Lotman could have provided on Zamiatin, especially given Lotman's rich body of literary, historical and semiotic analyses of Russian texts and Russian culture. However, Zamiatin's works were forbidden and removed from the Russian canon in the early 1920s and his works only reappeared in print in the Soviet Union in 1988. Zamiatin's works provide a wonderful set of case studies that reinforce Lotmanian principles on the creation of culture texts and characterizations of cultural space. I would like to mention here that there are two passages in Culture and Explosion that could be substituted into the narrative of Zamiatin's novel We, and no one would notice them as "foreign" texts; namely Lotman's discussion of individual and collective behavior in chapter one, and his statements on removing ambiguity and "straightening all contradictions" in chapter 16.
While much of Culture and Explosion remains unexplored in this essay, I would like to make one more observation that speaks to the richness of the analyses presented in Lotman's last work — his contributions to the study of Russian culture and Russian culture texts. Lotman himself serves as a profound model of his conceptualizations of semiospheric principles as universal mechanisms of cultural spaces and individualized strategies for understanding culture texts. Lotman gently inundates his entire work with wonderful examples and studies taken from Russian cultural space. His references to masterpieces of Russian literature and important critical contributions to the study of Russian literature, history and culture are vibrant examples of the unprecedented depth and breadth of his knowledge and profound critical understanding of Russian culture texts. Ivanov notes that Lotman had no equals in his knowledge of Russian culture in general, and specific subcultural phenomena. Ivanov mentions Lotman's knowledge of the specific rules of Russian duels and the special features of Russian dueling weapons as one example of his "bottomless" knowledge (1998: 705). Culture and Explosion is an invaluable source of information about Russian culture and is an important link that synthesizes a large cross-section of Lot-man's contribution to a theory of semiotics with individual representations of cultural meanings. This synthesis includes important moments of intersection with Lotman's unforgettable series of lectures entitled "Dialogues on Russian Culture," which were first televised in 1986.
Culture and Explosion is a remarkable contribution to the study of cultures and cultural spaces, semiospheres and the mechanisms of meaning-generation that define these spaces. It is a brilliant conclusion to the body of invaluable contributions made by Juri Mikhailovich Lotman, a scholar whose lifetime of work is characterized not only by extraordinary and original research, but also by unlimited generosity to his students and colleagues.
Culture and Explosion opens with the paradoxical question of how a system (here, the system of culture) can develop and, at the same time, remain true to itself.
In 'Statement of the problem', Lotman draws attention to the relational aspects of his semiotic theory of culture and the notion that culture is not a 'closed' system but, rather, proceeds to a process of self-description only in terms of its relation to the extra-system, which he describes, here, as 'the world beyond the borders of language'. This positioning of culture as but one element within a polylingual semiotic reality is used to introduce the notion of dependency and reciprocity between co-existent systems, neither of which — alone — can wholly reflect the 'space of reality'. This inadequacy points to the 'necessity of the other (another person, another language, another culture) and thus produces the need for a form of translation to be effected between systems and at the same time reflects the multilayered complexity of semiotic space and the tensions and boundaries that are generated between the disparate systems that occupy it.
Lotman continues this theme in Chapter 2 where he uses Jakobson's communication model to elaborate on these notions of tension and translatability in the lingual spaces of communication. Differentiating between 'code' and 'language', he suggests that the former is an artificially created structure that implies no history, whereas the latter 'is a code plus its history'. He distinguishes between the linguistic and the lingual, suggesting that 'lingual communication reveals itself to us as the tense intersection between adequate and inadequate lingual acts' and uses the example of an exchange of codes, e.g. 'cat' and 'gato' as a relatively easy translation between two closely related languages, whereas a translation from poetic language to that of music is presented as much more problematic, if not impossible. In these notions of adequacy and inadequacy of the translation act, and the concomitant increase in informativity in the system generated by ambiguity and the apparent impossibility of translation Lotman, here introducing the notion of extra-lingual reality, not only distances himself from common perceptions of the relationships between language and culture, but also begins to sow the seeds of the concept of 'explosion'.
In 'Gradual progress', Lotman returns to the concept of cultural development, exploring this in terms of predictability and unpredictability, continuity and discontinuity and the stability and instability of the system and how these dynamic processes contribute to the gradual or radical development of culture. To gradual processes, he assigns the metaphor of a fast flowing river in spring; to radical ones, he assigns the metaphor of 'a minefield with unexpected explosive points'. That these two are mutually co-dependent, complex and antithetical isdemonstrated in the examples Lotman gives of the relationships between the dandy, his artifice and his audience. In this chapter, Lotman also elaborates his view of the positive qualities of 'explosion' as a creative phenomenon reflected in the epoch of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment in contrast to the common perception of 'explosion' as a destructive tendency linked to gunpowder and nuclear fission.
The theme of 'continuity and discontinuity' is elaborated in more detail in chapter 4. Building on the notion of gradual and radical development introduced in the previous chapter, Lotman constructs a complex picture of the unfolding of cultural development in a multilayered synchronic space. Where gradual processes ensure succession, explosive ones ensure innovation. However, the multi-discursive nature of culture ensures that its component parts develop at different rates and, in this sense explosive moments in some layers may be matched by gradual ones in others. In this way, Lotman describes culture as being immersed in a semiotic space that is greater than the sum of its parts and which forms a unified, integrated semiosic mechanism.
In chapter 5, Lotman draws an interesting limitation in relation to the use of metaphor and mathematical models to represent the intersection of semantic spaces and the explosive tension this creates. He suggests, instead, that we have in a mind a mental model which comprises a 'specific semiotic mass whose boundaries are framed by a multiplicity of individual uses'. This notion of the indeterminate structure of the semiosphere and its boundary spaces echoes Lot-man's earlier work in Universe of the Mind where the boundaries are described as permeable, filtering mechanisms, which intersect with the 'other' at multiple points and levels rather than boundaries in the sense of a solid line 'drawn in the sand'.
Lotman draws on the writings of Pushkin and the idea of 'inspiration' as a form of creative tension to illustrate the dynamic processes at work in the interactions of the individual in relation to the semiotic mass (that is the semiosphere). He frames 'inspiration' as the product of ambiguous tension in semiosic processes in which understanding is achieved and framed retrospectively as an element of 'discovery' that is simultaneously creative and logical. In a sense, Lotman, here, presents the notion of 'inspiration' as the 'moment of explosion' as an element which, as stated earlier, is 'out of time' and recognizable only in retrospect, at which stage it is no longer viewed as explosive but is framed by its participation in the gradual development of culture.
In 'Thinking reed', Lotman develops his notion of culture's opposition to non-culture which he relates to 'nature'. Lotman uses notions of harmony and disharmony in nature to frame man's disruptive presence. Whilst he acknowledges the signifying acts of animals, Lotman draws on the work of Tyutchev to distinguish these ritualized processes from those of man: 'as a "thinking reed" —he constantly finds himself at odds with the basic laws of his surroundings' whose behavior 'gravitates towards the invention of something new and unpredicted'. Thus, we see in man's capacity to generate a mental model of reality, a unique form of semiosis linked to culture, memory and representation.
In chapter 7, Lotman takes up this notion of representation, focusing on man's use of language and the use of proper names to categories and classify cultural artifacts. He uses this to highlight the concepts of choice, selection and the mental positioning of the individual within the dual framework of 'I' and `Other'. Once again, the distinction between 'one's own' and the 'other' or alien is made, generating a sense of boundary in the individual's social and cultural construction of the world. At the same time, he makes much of the ludic qualities made available to humans in their use of language in the interplay between the general and the specific, the individual and the collective. In 'The fool and the madman', Lotman considers the positioning of semiotic value in terms of 'the norm', however, he introduces the notion of a ternary structure where the more traditional structure of the binary opposition is refrained as a semiotic continuum marked by the extremes of 'the fool' on the one hand and the 'madman' on the other, each of which is balanced or 'measured' against the notion of 'the wiseman' which is the norm. Focusing on the 'madman' as an unpredictable entity Lotman suggests that there are, nevertheless, moments (of explosion) in which the madman is able to present his 'madness' as a moment of genius or effective exploit, e.g. in extreme circumstances, such as war, where the unpredictable behavior of the madman works to his advantage. He draws on examples from folklore, myth, war, chivalric literature and the theatre to demonstrate the use of 'folly' as permissible behavior with alternating semiotic values and as a harbinger of explosive potential.
Whereas in the previous chapter, Lotman focuses on the unpredictability of the text (in the sense of a singular scenario), in chapter 9, 'The text within the text', he turns his attention to the unpredictability of the system as a whole. He argues that semiotic space is populated by multiple systems that are in constant and dynamic interaction not only with each other but also with fragments of those systems which have been 'destroyed' as a result of which these systems are in dialogue not only with themselves but with others with which they frequently collide, occasionally producing a third, new and unpredictable phenomenon. As an interesting example, he refers to the `Frenchification' of the culture of the Russian nobility at the turn of the 18th century and the use of French language by Pushkin and Tolstoy as a reflection of everyday reality of the period, alongside Griboyedov's critique of the practice. In chapter 10, Lotman uses the example of the trope as a destruction or disruption of the norm to further elaborate the
value of the unpredictable as a measurement of cultural development, describing it as a 'complex dynamic reservoir' which constantly pushes 'the boundaries of the permissible'. He presents an interesting range of examples around fashion, cultural values and the 'signifying function of clothing' to demonstrate the relationship between ritualistic behavior on the one hand and eccentricity on the other. Describing this inverted world as 'the dynamics of the non-dynamic' he makes the point that explosive moments may also arise out of unexpected shifts in fashion, ritual, and other forms of behavior which pass beyond the bounds of the norm (e.g. tyranny, role-swapping — whether by gender, status or intellect, and homosexuality) which are subsequently 'normalized' as forms of social ritual.
In 'The logic of explosion', we are returned to the paradox of language and culture and the struggle to free ourselves from its limits. Lotman writes:
We are immersed in the space of language. Even in the most basic abstract conditions, we cannot free ourselves from this space, which simply envelops us, and yet it is a space of which we are also a part and which, simultaneously, is part of us.
Here, again, Lotman draws a contrast between the seemingly stable, isolated texts of formalism and early structural studies and the heterogeneous, dynamic and (at least partially) chaotic nature of the semiosphere. Lotman presents the work of Charlie Chaplin as an example of 'a chain of sequential explosions, each of which changes the other, creating a dynamic multi-levelled unpredictability'. He points to the transfer of circus language (pantomime and gesture) to the film screen, which then developed into a completely different genre characterized by the sharp contrast between gesture and theme, e.g. the comic origins of pantomime and the depiction of life in the trenches during the First World War. The latter, in turn, paves the way for Chaplin to develop further semiotic distance between his initial forays into film and the complex mélange of language and topic theme apparent in his later movies such as 'The Great Dictator'. Thus, in this final satirical frame, we find traces of the previous semiotic systems framed by circus language and early cinematic slapstick comedy.
In 'The moment of unpredictability' Lotman reiterates the view that the `moment of explosion' is unpredictable not in the sense of randomness but in terms of 'its own collection of equally probable possibilities... from which only one may be realized'. At the point in which the explosive moment is realized, the 'others' are dispersed into semantic space, whereupon they become carriers of semantic difference. In chapter 13, Lotman explores culture from the point of view of its internal structures and external influences. He argues that culture is traditionally viewed as a bounded space and suggests that it is wrong to view culture this way. He posits culture as a dynamic entity which is in constant collision with the extra-cultural sphere within which it is immersed, whose development is the result of a 'constant transposition of internal and external processes'. In this sense, culture is seen to be in constant dialogue not only with itself but also with the greater semiosphere. What is internal is regarded as orderly, one's own, whereas what is outside is regarded as chaotic or alien. The perception of chaos is relative to culture itself and, Lotman suggests, the chaotic space is nevertheless organized in its own terms, albeit in a language unknown to the culture of origin. When the spaces of culture and extra-culture collide in this way, new texts are drawn into the cultural space, generating an act (or multiple acts) of explosion. In the avalanche of possibilities this presents, some elements are assimilated, whilst others are rejected and expelled. Those that are assimilated by the culture contribute, in turn, to the gradual or radical development of the cultural space.
In 'Two forms of dynamic' Lotman returns to the distinction between explosive and gradual processes. He is particularly at pains to emphasize that neither concept should be taken literally. In chapter 15, Lotman returns to the unique human trait of consciousness, contrasting this to the natural impulse of stimulus-response, which he links to the notion of memory and the development of the activity of mental representation and the translation of activity into a sign. The important element here is the notion of abstraction, the unique ability of man to generate meaning independently of the immediacy of the stimulus-response action. However, in this chapter, Lotman does not journey from symptom to language but rather, points to the threshold of meaning previously suggested in the chapter on 'inspiration' which is, here, evidenced as the dream. Interestingly, and almost in analogy to the phrase 'semiotic mass' used in chapter 5, Lotman uses the Russian word klubok (literally 'woollen ball') to describe the tangled web of meaning potentials and the polylingual nature of the dream space. In a beautifully expressed metaphor, he suggests that the space of the dream 'does not immerse us in visual, verbal, musical and other spaces' rather, it immerses us in their 'coalescence'. The 'coalescent' space is unpredictable, uncertain and indeterminate and, in Lotman's word equates to 'zero space' or a space absent of meaning, except in its correlation to the 'carriers of communication' which occupy it and which, in turn, are dependent on the 'interpreting culture' which generates them. To this 'zero space' Lotman assigns the value of an essential function in the development of culture, the provision of a 'reserve of semiotic uncertainty' which may act as a stimulus for creative (explosive) activity.
Following on from this Lotman, focusing on the artistic text, looks again at culture from the point of view of the move from the individual (unique) to theuniversal (general) and suggests that the structure "I" is one of the basic indices of culture. He points to the rationalist tendency to 'streamline contradictions' and to 'reduce diversity to singularity' but suggests that more needs to be understood about the contradictory nature of the artistic text.
In 'The phenomenon of art' Lotman outlines the transformative interaction between the 'moment of explosion', the modelling of consciousness and the act of memory, which he describes as the 'three layers of consciousness'. Turning from the realm of the dream, he focuses on the nature of art, its relation to freedom of action and, through this its ability to transform the real to the unreal, the illegitimate to the legitimate and the forbidden to the permissible. Art is construed as an experimental domain which creates its own world. As such, and like the inverted world of the trope discussed above, it generates a reservoir of dynamic processes which contribute to the explosive potential of the semiotic space of art. Here, too, Lotman provides with a much greater degree of clarity his understanding of the dynamic processes of the semiotic world.
... the dynamic processes of culture are constructed as a unique pendulum swing between a state of explosion and a state of organization which is realized in gradual processes. The state of explosion is characterized by the moment of equalization of all oppositions. That which is different appears to be the same. This renders possible unexpected leaps into completely different, unpredictable organizational structures. The impossible becomes possible. This moment is experienced out of time, even if, in reality, it stretches across a very wide temporal space. [... This moment concludes by passing into a state of gradual movement. What was united in one integrated whole is scattered into different (opposing) elements. Although, in fact, there was no selection whatsoever (any substitution was made by chance) the past is retrospectively experienced as a choice and as a goal-oriented action. Here, the laws of the gradual processes of development enter into the fray. They aggressively seize the consciousness of culture and strive to embed the transformed picture into memory. Accordingly, the explosion loses its unpredictability and presents itself as the rapid, energetic or even catastrophic development of all the same predictable processes.
In chapter 18, the notion of the 'end' and the principles of continuity and discontinuity are reflected in the stark boundary between life and death. Death is marked out as both the beginning and the end. Lotman speaks of the 'special semantic role of death in the life of man'. It is the boundary which frames all meaningful activity and which, simultaneously, marks the contradiction between life in the general sense and the 'finite life of human existence'. And yet, what is finite, is continued in the memory of the 'son' so that even the boundary of ' death', as it were, is permeable and filtered.
In 'Perspectives', Lotman reiterates the view that explosion is part and parcel of linear dynamic processes. He distinguishes between binary and ternary structures, emphasizing that explosion in the latter takes the form of a specific form of dynamic, whereas in the latter it permeates the multiple layers of semiotic space at different speeds and different intervals, such that whilst its effects are felt throughout all the layers of culture, traces of the old remain to which the ternary system strives to adapt itself, transporting them from periphery to centre. In binary structures, by contrast, the explosion penetrates life in its entirety, replacing all that previously existed in an apocalyptic manner. In these concluding remarks, Lotman expresses the hope that the events of the early 1990s in Russia reflect a shift in Russian culture from a binary structure towards a more accommodating ternary system, capable of generating renewal and innovation.
In the final chapter, Lotman offers his concluding remarks on the paradox of cultural development, returning to his initial question as to how a system (culture) can develop and at the same time, remain true to itself. He argues that the starting point of any semiotic system is not the isolated sign or model but, rather, semiotic space which itself is characterized as a 'conglomeration of elements whose relations with each other may be encountered in a variety of ways'. This interconnectivity of the system and the polylingual elements which populate it can, he argues, only be understood 'in terms of the ratio of each element to the other and all elements to the whole'. The foregrounding of the relational and interactional elements of culture in its immersion in semiotic space, and the sense that in these terms, culture is viewed as embedded in a semiotic network far greater and more inherently dynamic than itself, coupled with the heterogeneity and explosive potential of that structure, has important implications for the future study not only of culture, communication, and new trends in technology but also for the generation of new strands of interdisciplinary research into the ever expanding world of semiosis. In particular, this dynamic systemic approach to cultural analysis and semiosis offers interesting potential in the realm of new media technologies, cultural studies, and recent streams of semiotic study such as multimodality, nexus analysis, semiotic remediation, and, of course modeling systems theory itself.
In the closing chapters of the book, Lotman reflects on endings and new beginnings. It is particularly poignant in the titling of chapter 18 — 'The end! How sonorous is this word' if we consider that at the time the book was produced, Lotman himself was sufficiently ill that this book was dictated rather than written by him and, indeed, he died less than a year after the book was published. In addition, his wife of many years had died shortly before the book was produced.
And, last but certainly not least, the former Soviet bloc was undergoing a period of immense change. The final chapter, 'In place of conclusions' is particularly interesting as Lotman, rather than drawing conclusions, invites us, instead, to look forward ... with an eye to the past, and our feet firmly in the present.
And to finish, a parting remark made by Professor Mikhail Lotman in the closing discussions of the 1st International Conference on Semiosphere, which may serve to illustrate Lotman's contribution to our ongoing researches:
"For my father there were two types of scholar - the one who has the questions and the one who has the answers. He belonged to the first."
Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set) by David Kelsey (Westminster John Knox Press) What does it mean to be a human being? Kelsey expertly probes this complicated issue in his exhaustive and ambitious examination of theological anthropology. Divided into three parts, Kelsey’s work posits that humanity’s relationship to God is a basic claim of Christianity and that God actively relates to human beings in three major ways: God creates them; God is there at the end of all things eschatological; and God reconciles humans when they are alienated from Him. The result of this seminal theological work is a textured affirmation of humanity’s relationship with God and with each other. It represents the culmination of decades of theological thought and is certain to be recognized as a major achievement.
The title offers a hint of how Kelsey attempts to reconcile his theological anthropology with the tradition out of which it stems: Kelsey accepts modernists definitions and scientific orientation to ground human becoming in partiality. Hence the eccentricity. He then asks big questions to emphasize how our human being is inadequate to hold the full image of God without serious distortion, despite the mystery of Christ; and then, he grounds the triune God in privileging the narratives of the Synoptics as a trivocal humanism. This work will appeal to modernist apologetic theologians and educated Christians who are more scientific than religiously oriented. It is more rational and stroty-formed than is it liturgical and sacramental.
Excerpt: I suggest that the claims about human beings that are nonnegotiable for Christian faith are claims about how God relates to human beings. These claims are as follows: (a) God actively relates to human beings to create them, (b) to draw them to eschatological consummation, and (c) to reconcile them when they are alienated from God.
These claims describe human beings' ultimate context, and they deeply shape descriptions of human beings' proximate contexts. Christian anthropology's remarks about human beings take them in their ultimate and proximate contexts. Hence such anthropological remarks are nonnegotiable to the extent that they are implied by Christian beliefs about our ultimate and proximate backgrounds.
Theological anthropology's background beliefs about our ultimate and proximate contexts do not generate all of the content of a theological anthropology. However, they do provide the criteria of selection regulating what anthropological wisdom is borrowed from Christian communities' current host cultures. They also generate the conceptual pressures under which that borrowed wisdom is conceptually bent as it is used in Christian theological anthropology.
In the famous opening to Institutes of the Christian Religion, quoted as the epigraph to this chapter, John Calvin points out: "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and which brings forth the other is not easy to discern?' Calvin subsequently elected to begin with questions about knowledge of God. Although I do not follow Calvin by focusing first on questions about knowledge of God, I do propose to follow Calvin's example by subordinating claims about humankind to claims about God. Although our questions are anthropological, we should frame the questions and the proposed answers in terms governed by a doctrine of God.
Accordingly, the root question to which this Christian theological anthropology proposes answers is this: What is implied about human being by the claim that God actively relates to us to create us, to draw us to eschatologiocal consummation, and to reconcile us when we have become estranged from God? Correlatively, the three perennial anthropological questions, "What are we?" "Who are we?" and "How ought we to be?" should be refrained in ways shaped by Christian background beliefs about our ultimate and proximate contexts.
These background beliefs that help frame the questions asked, as well as the answers proposed, by Christian theological anthropology are rooted in the common life of Christian communities whose traditions are conflictual. For Christians the ultimate context of life is God and God's ways of relating to us, as Christians understand these matters. And the way Christians understand these matters is shaped in some way by their beliefs about Jesus Christ and God's relation to him. That is ultimately what qualifies theological answers proposed to anthropological questions as authentically Christian theological anthropology. At the same time, the phrases "as Christians understand these matters" and "in some way" are place-holders for seams and stark breaks within and between Christian communities generated by ongoing arguments and conflicts through which Christians negotiate their individual and communal identities. They disagree precisely on how to understand God's ways of relating to us, how to understand God's relation to Jesus, and in what ways the latter should shape the former. To insist on framing anthropological questions and proposals theocentrically is not a move that makes theological anthropology easy by giving it a pre-formed "basis" and a consensus conceptual scheme. Quite to the contrary, theological anthropology merely identifies a set of continuing arguments that it must engage.
The Tone of Voice and Structure of the Project
I consider this entire project in theological anthropology to be in the mode of making theological proposals so that it repeatedly has the form: Here is an important theological question; try looking at it this way. In that fashion, this project seeks to promote and provoke further exploration of the issues and further discussion, rather than assert conversation-stopper pronouncements of what Christians must say on a given topic.
I also consider the project to be in the hypothetical mode, in this fashion:
1. Assume with me that there are communities that describe themselves in self-involving ways as communities whose common life and whose members' individual lives seek to be formed as appropriate responses to the ways God relates to all else. I propose that we characterize the communities' common life as consisting of sets of social practices whose enactments express appropriate responses to God's ways of relating to all else, that enactments of those practices constitute some of the members' "existential hows," and that the practices themselves shape the communities' identity and the members' individual identities.
2. Assume with me further that some such communities include in their self-involving self-descriptions that the ways in which God relates to all else are mediated to them in part through the ways in which they live with the writings of canonical Christian Holy Scripture in the practices that constitute their common life of response to God and that shape their collective and individual identities.
3. Assume with me that some such communities also include in their self-involving self-descriptions that they hold themselves accountable to be self-critical about whether they are indeed responding appropriately in their current contexts to the ways in which God relates to them (judgment begins at home), that self-critique is a rational endeavor, and that it is responsible in particular to the accounts given in canonical Christian Holy Scripture of the ways in which God relates to all else, as norms of what count as "appropriate" responses.
Note that the practice of self-critical examination of the appropriateness of the communities' other practices as "appropriate" responses to the ways God relates to all else itself has two levels. The practice of primary theology is usually ad hoc critique of current concrete enactments of communal practices that employs received conceptualizations and formulations (creeds, confessions, and traditional locutions) as criteria. The practice of secondary theology (the second level of the practice of theology) is enacted when the adequacy or appropriateness of the received conceptualizations and formulations themselves come into question. I think of Eccentric Existence as a set of remarks regarding three types of anthropological questions (the "what?" "who?" and "how to be oriented to proximate contexts?" questions) that are made as enactments of the communal practice of secondary theology. A major hypothesis is that there are now a lot of reasons to reexamine the adequacy of received theological anthropological formulations used in current primary theology.
The intersection of the rationally self-critical character of secondary theology, the three ways in which God relates to all else as narrated in canonical Christian Holy Scripture, and the three types of perennial anthropological questions generate a structure for Eccentric Existence that has four sections:
Introductions (chaps. 1A and B, 2A and B, 3A and B). These address questions about the nature of this kind of theological project, questions about how the Bible is read and used in this project, and questions about how the God who relates to humankind is to be understood (answer: in a Trinitarian way).
Part 1. Living on Borrowed Breath (chaps. 4A and B, 5A and B, 6-8, 9A and B, 10, 11). These explore the anthropological implications of the theological claim that God relates to all else creatively.
Part 2. Living on Borrowed Time (chaps. 12A and B, 13, 14, 15A and B, 16, 17). These explore the anthropological implications of the theological claim that God relates to all else to draw it to eschatological consummation.
Part 3. Living by Another's Death (chaps. 18, 19A and B, 20A and B, 21A and B, 22-25). These explore the anthropological implications of the theological claim that God relates to all else when it is estranged to reconcile it to God.
Each of these three parts has the same structure:
— An account of human beings' ultimate context entailed by the way in which God relates that is under consideration.
— An account of human beings' proximate contexts (i.e., lived worlds) entailed by the way in which God relates that is under consideration.
— An address to the anthropological "What?" question.
— An address to the anthropological "How?" question.
— An address to the anthropological "Who?" question.
— Exploration of ways in which human "existential hows" may be distorted and human flourishing compromised (i.e., "sins in the plural") and how such distortion is possible.
— Exploration of ways in which human personal identities (who they are) may be in bondage to living deaths and their flourishing obscured (i.e., "sin in the singular").
Codas (Coda: Introductions A & B; Coda). These exhibit how the three parts hold together as a systematically unsystematic whole in which they are related to one another in a triple helix as facets of the way in which human beings are imagers of the image of God, Jesus Christ.
The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa (Destiny Books)
La via del tarot/ The Way of the Tarot (Spanish Edition) by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa (Grijalbo Mondadori)
La Via Dei Tarocchio (Italian Language) by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa
The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Creator of El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Park Street Press)
The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando y Lis / El Topo / The Holy Mountain) DVD ~ Alejandro Jodorowsky (Starz / Anchor Bay)
Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) 2-DVD Special Edition (1989) directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Anamorphic)
Psicomagia (Debolsillo)) (Spanish Edition) by by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Grijalbo Mondadori) Psicomagia es el documento mas completo sobre la evolucion de la obra creativa y terapeutica de Alejandro Jodorowsky, e incluye la version integra, inedita en Espana, del texto fundamental para comprender la psicomagia. En este libro el autor nos muestra el camino que le llevo a la psicomagia, desde sus primeros actos poeticos y teatrales hasta su aprendizaje para controlar el mundo onirico. Estos pasos imprescindibles, junto con el conocimiento que maestros, curanderos y chamanes le transmitieron, fue lo que dio origen a sus tecnicas para sanar, conocidas como psicomagia y psicogenealogia. El libro ofrece tambien al lector una reciente entrevista con Jodorowsky, en la que nos habla de la muerte, del destino, las religiones, la clonacion humana, su idea sobre el futuro de la humanidad o la necesidad de despertar nuestra mente. El volumen lo cierran un curso con ejercicios, donde el autor nos muestra como es posible desarrollar nuestra creatividad y utilizarla para que nos libere de roles e ideas preconcebidas, y un apendice con 12 casos psiquiatricos reales cuyos pacientes fueron curados al serles prescritos actos de psicomagia.
The Feminine Personification of Wisdom: A Study of Homer's Penelope, Cappadocian Macrina, Boethius' Philosophia and Dante's Beatrice by Wendy Elgersma Helleman (Edwin Mellen Press)
From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature by Barbara Newman (Middle Ages Series: University of Pennsylvania Press)
Wisdom's Root Revealed: Ben Sira and the Election of Israel by Greg Schmidt Goering (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism: Brill AcademicPublishers)
Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set) by David Kelsey (Westminster John Knox Press)
Culture and Explosion by Juri Lotman and Marina Grishakova (Semiotics, Communication and Cognition: Mouton de Gruyter)