Illumination from Hortus deliciarum
Herrad of Landsberg, Abbess of Hohenburg, ca. 1180

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Herrad of Landsberg was abbess of the convent Hohenburg on Mount St. Odile in Alsace. She was the author of the Hortus deliciarum, a massive illuminated manuscript that distilled "the nectar of the various flowers plucked from Holy Scripture and philosophical works," compiled for the edification of the nuns and others at the abbey. The 324-folio volume contained more than 600 illustrations. It was destroyed during the bombing of Strasbourg in 1870, but by then many copies had been made.

Philosophy, the Queen, sits in the center of the circle. She wears a crown with three heads labeled ethica, logica, and physica (a traditional Platonic division of philosophy that was common in the early Middle Ages). The scroll she holds reads, "All wisdom comes from the Lord God; the wise alone achieve what they desire." To Philosophy's right is an inscription which says that "seven streams of wisdom, called the Liberal Arts, flow from Philosophy." To her left the inscription asserts that the Holy Spirit inspired seven liberal arts: grammatica, rethorica, dialectica, musica, arithmetica, geometa, and astronoma. The legend on the inner circle tells us "I, Godlike Philosophy lay out seven arts which are subordinate to me; by them I control all things with wisdom."

Below Philosophy, seated at desks, are Socrates and Plato, identifed as those scholars of the Gentiles and sages of the world who first taught ethics, natural philosophy, and rhetoric.

From Philosophy emerge seven streams, three on her left and four on her right. These are the seven liberal arts, inspired by the Holy Spirit: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

Arrayed around the circle are the liberal arts. Three correspond to the rivers which emerge from Philosophy's left and are concerned with language and letters: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Together they comprise the trivium. The four others, which emerge on Philosophy's right, form the quadrivium, arts which are concerned with the various kinds of harmony: music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Each of the seven arts holds something symbolic, and each is accompanied by a text displayed on the arch above it.

Grammar (at 12 o'clock) holds a book and a whip. The text reads: Through me all can learn what are the words, the syllables, and the letters.

Rhetoric (at 2 o'clock) holds a tablet and stylus. The text reads: Thanks to me, proud speaker, your speeches will be able to take strength.

Dialectic (at 4 o'clock) points with a one hand and holds a barking dog's head in the other. The text reads: I allow arguments to join, dog-like, in battle.

Music (at 5 o'clock) holds a harp, and other instruments are nearby. The text reads: I teach my art using a variety of instruments.

Arithmetic (at 7 o'clock) holds a cord with threaded beads, like a rudimentary abacus. The text reads: I base myself on the numbers and show the proportions between them.

Geometry (at 9 o'clock) holds a staff and compass. The text reads: It is with exactness that I survey the ground.

Astronomy (at 11 o'clock) points heavenward and holds in hand a magnifying lens or mirror. The text reads: I hold the names of the celestial bodies and predict the future.

The large ring around the whole scene contains four aphorisms and the stages through which Philosophy works (investgation, writing, and teaching): What it discovers is remembered; Philosophy investigates the secrets of the elements and all things; Philosophy teaches arts by seven branches; It puts it in writing, in order to convey it to the students.

Below the circle are four men seated at desks -- poets or magicians, outside the pale and beyond the influence of Philosophy. According to the text they are guided and taught by impure spirits and they produce is only tales or fables, frivolous poetry, or magic spells. Notice the black birds speaking to them (the antithesis of the white dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit).

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