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

[Return to illumination]

Philosophy, the Queen, sits in the center of the circle. The three heads extending from her crown represent Ethics, Logic and Physics, the three parts of the teaching of philosophy. The streamer held by Philosophy reads: All wisdom comes from God; only the wise can achieve what they desire.

Below Philosophy, seated at desks, are Socrates and Plato. The texts which surround them state that they taught first ethics, then physics, then rhetoric; that they were wise teachers; and that they inquired into nature of all things.

From Philosophy emerge seven streams, three on the right and four on the left. According to the text these are the seven liberal arts, inspired by the Holy Spirit: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. The ring containing the inner circle reads: I, Godlike Philosophy, control all things with wisdom; I lay out seven arts which are subordinate to me.

Arrayed around the circle are the liberal arts. Three correspond to the rivers which emerge from Philosophy on the right and are concerned with language and letters: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Together they comprise the trivium. The four others 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: My arguments are followed with speed, just like the dog's barking.

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: 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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