26 June 2010

The Nuremberg Chronicle

The catching of the lion-fish, from a typical page of the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Hello! Today I would like to share with you, my faithful readers, the story of (and several illustrations from) a weighty tome that we Anglophones call the Nuremberg Chronicle. Published in 1493 in the German city of Nuremberg, the Schedelsche Weltchronik, as it was known in the HRE, the book actually had no title. This gave rise to the popular schoolboy's rhyme:

"In fourteen-hundred and ninety-three,
In Nuremberg a historically important untitled world chronicle with numerous colored woodcuts came to be!"

Indeed, as the verse says, the book was no less than a complete chronicle of world knowledge. An envious achievement, the large-size folio was one of the most lavishly illustrated of early printed works. It covered the events of the Old and New Testaments, world cosmography, and profiled famous intellectuals, martyrs, and peoples from throughout recorded history.

The 1490s were heady days indeed in Europe. In the same year as the publication of the NC, in the Kingdom of Croatia (also home to Europe's first arboretum), the Battle of Krbava Field was fought between Croatia and the Ottoman Empire, the great alchemist Paracelsus was born, and Charles VIII of France signed the Treaty of Barcelona!

What were all these crazy woodcuts about, you ask? Here I present a sampling of some of my favorites. Perhaps you will have seen some in other early modern works, for authors and printers have always used these images like early modern clip art.

The Creation of Eve. Note the great rock-climbing opportunities afforded by the Garden of Eden. Also, look at those intricately woven fig leaves God is wearing.

A large world map drawn (and held up by) Noah's three sons, Sem, Cam, and Iaphet. Note the photo booth roll of diverse peoples on the left side. From top: Ganesh, the Green Man, the Six-fingered Saracen, Mr. Tumnus, Socrates, Janus, and some giraffe dude.

Ever been caught in a rainstorm and wished you could use your single foot as an umbrella? Look no further than this antipodean gentleman of the deepest Orient!

In addition to the fantastic illustrations of unknown peoples, there were woodcuts of more familiar peoples, like this barefooted Turk gentlemen.

The "Danse Macabre," a favorite decorative print in the homes of those whose families had perished in the Black Death. We all fall down!

Illustrating the socio-economic differences of the late Middle Ages.

The great first-century writer and philosopher Seneca engaged in his favorite activity, being bled while rub-a-dub-dubbing. This depicts Seneca shortly before being beat to death by a violin by the emperor Nero, who later replaced him with the indestructible robostoic, Pseudoseneca.

This scene seemingly depicts the punishment of the heretical Christian sect the Lollards. The English Inquisition dreamt up a unique punishment for these breakaways, where the guilty parties were buried up to their shoulders with several of their fellows and then set on fire. Interestingly, this torture technique was last used in Ireland during the 1980s.

This woodcut illustrates the biblical story of the stubborn Balaam. In this scene, Balaam prepares to beat his ass, not knowing that the animal refuses to move because an angel bars his way. Also, it seems like there isn't much of a road past the angel anyway.

Mythic and pseudo-biblical stories also inspired several illustrations in the NC. In this scene, the Devil abducts Lady Godiva just as she is enjoying a picnic lunch at the Coventry Municipal Park. Note the example of the once-popular knee mask that the Devil is wearing.

Do you believe they put a man on the Moon?

I'm not really sure what this one is, to be honest. Send in your guesses, and win a free Cabinet of Curiosities pie safe!

Well, I hope that you have enjoyed these pix from the famous Nuremberg Chronicle. Check them out yourself on that great treasure trove of adventures in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Until next time, good morrow!

16 June 2010

Sir Walter Ralegh's Verse

Figure I: A Comely Frontispiece!

Good morn, fair reader! In these sultry days of midsummer, I bring you a tale from Ye Olde Elizabethan England. Anon!

Perhaps you have heard of Sir Walter Rale(i)gh (1552-1618), that great explorer, courtier, and cad. But did you also know he was also a first-rate versifier in an age saturated with bards of varying quality? Just one in a long line of Briton explorer-poets, Ralegh's rhymes far outrank the efforts of his fellows, like Sir Francis Drake's erotic blank verse epic Mine Golden Hind, or Cristobal Colon's misguided collaboration with cycloptic soldier-poet Luis de Camões to put his ship logbooks into heptameter, "Doubt Thee I Ye Indies Found?".

Figure II: The company's slogan (original: "Sooner or later - thine favourite Tobaccoe") is a line from Ralegh's 1603 poem, "A Blaste for Tobacco"

Below I will share some of Walt's work, notable for its brevity in an age of long-winded ramblings and its direct language (minus some abominable sixteenth-century spelling, thankfully modernized). Ralegh felt that publishing his poetry was ungentlemanly, so much of his work was printed only after his unfortunate execution for potato smuggling in 1618.

Figure III: Ralegh served as a Chironic poetical tutor to a 'young John Donne' -- sayeth that thrice with haste!

Despite his great enthusiasm for the pleasures of Elizabethan life, Ralegh abhorred that great English vice, gambling (not to be confused with another popular pastime in that age of unstandardized spelling, gamboling). To this end, he composed a "squared quatrain" that illustrated the folly of card and dice games in apocalyptic language:

On the Cards and the Dice

Before the sixth day of the next new year,
Strange wonders in this kingdom shall appear:
Four kings shall be assembled in this isle,
Where they shall keep great tumult for awhile.

Many men then shall have an end of crosses,
And many likewise shall sustain great losses;
Many that now full joyful are and glad,
Shall at that time be sorrowful and sad;

Full many a Christian's heart shall quake for fear,
The dreadful sound of trump when he shall hear.
Dead bones shall then be tumbled up and down,
In every city and in every town.

By day or night this tumult shall not cease,
Until an herald shall proclaim a peace;
An herald strong, the like was never born,
Whose very beard is flesh and mouth is horn.

Figure IV: Ralegh often wrote under the nom de plume "Gualtheri Ralegh" to confuse his enemies at Elizabeth's court. 

But Ralegh did not write only on such frivolous subjects. One of his best-known essays at verse is "On the Life of Man," an extended simiphor on how the the human experience is not unlike that of players on a stage. Sound familiar? Perhaps that is because the well-known plagiarist, "William Shakespeare," appropriated Ralegh's theme for his own verse in the play "As You Like It," beginning with "All the world's a stage..." So, without further ado (about nothing):

On the Life of Man

What is our life? A play of passion,
Our mirth the music of division,

Our mothers wombs the tiring houses be,
When we are dressed for this short comedy,

Heaven the judicious sharp spector is,
That sits and marks still who doth act amiss,

Our graves that hide us from the searching sun,
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done,

Thus march we playing to our latest rest,
Only we die in earnest, that's no jest.

Figure V: Poetical rival Christopher Marlowe, prone to unwise oaths and wanton drinking.

A devoted father as well as a polymath, Ralegh composed the following lines of parental advice for his son, Walter, Junior. Among other things, Ralegh seems to endorse cannabis smoking in the poem! 'Twere that I had received such practical, rhymed advice from my father:

Sir Walter Ralegh to His Son

Three things there be that prosper up apace,
And flourish while they grow asunder far;
But on a day, they meet all in a place,
And when they meet, they one another mar.

And they be these: the Wood, the Weed, the Wag:
The Wood is that that makes the gallows tree;
The Weed is that that strings the hangman's bag;
The Wag, my pretty knave, betokens thee.

Now mark, dear boy—while these assemble not,
Green springs the tree, hemp grows, the wag is wild;
But when they meet, it makes the timber rot,
It frets the halter, and it chokes the child.

Figure VI: Ralegh's literary example inspired many young Englishmen to learn sailing and versifying.

Finally, the Cabinet leaves you with Ralegh's self-penned epitaph. I hope that you have enjoyed this sampling of our benighted Walter's verse. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, "The Performance Art of Sir Martin Frobisher," highlighting his great one-man show, Passages.

Even Such is Time

Even such is time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who, in the dark and silent grave,

When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days:
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

07 June 2010

Owls in Print

As some of you might know, I am a great fanatic of owls. Not just of the birds themselves, it must be said, but of depictions of owls in art and in the culture.. Join me around the samovar as I essay a visual celebration of that wisest of orniths, the owl! Hootray! Hootzah!

The above was a book plate used by the printer Elliot Stock of London. It was printed in the 1770 first edition of the journal of Captain James Cook's first voyage (in which the British Crown sent him to the South Seas to observe the transits of Venus and find the elusive Great Southern Continent populated by Antipodes).

The above illustration is the front cover of an 1886 advertising almanac(k) for Merchant's Gargling Oil of Lockport, N.Y., selling "Liniments and Worm Tablets for Man and Beast." Owls were well-known in nineteenth-century America to be masters of interpreting dreams and acting as augurs to predict the future. They also had an eye for ladies with Gibson Girl style! What is less known is that they were great entrepreneurs, selling all sorts of tonics, toilet waters, and medicinal oils to the burgeoning population of the urban Northeast.

"Hoo! Hoo!" advises the owl depicted on the cover of the sheet music for Arthur J. Lamb and H.W. Petrie's "The Owls Serenade," from a duo perhaps best known for their songs "Dear Dorothy" and "Etc., etc., etc." The "hooting" of popular songs, where the singers mimic the sounds of an owl to carry the melody, allegedly was first promoted by Stephen Foster and, much like the fern, became the rage of the late Victorian parlor. Lamb and Petrie hoped to cash in on this hooting craze with "The Owls Serenade." Yet, sadly, the song failed to find a lasting audience, as hooting quickly became passé as the singing in the manner of the great apes came into vogue as Darwin's provocative theories captured the zeitgeist.

The nineteenth-century English author, poet, and artist Edward Lear drew these illustrations for his poem "The Owl and the Pussy-cat" (1862) Lear dedicated the book that contains these illustrations, Nonsense Books, to the "Great-Grandchildren, Grand-Nephews, and Grand-Nieces" of Edward Stanley Smith, 13th Earl of Derby, and father of the infamously boring horse-race and hat-enthusiast 14th Earl of Derby (later Prime Minister)! With the poem, social realist Lear exposed some of the secret talents of British owls, including the ability to play a ukulele, purchase pies, and their preference for water-based transport. 

The above is the cover of The Owl, a self-described "Wednesday journal of politics and society" run by someone named Minerva and published during the mid-nineteenth century in London. Consisting entirely of stories, poems, and news about our feathered friends, the publication is now famous for recognizing the talent of Thomas Hardy, a young intern who later would write a series of famous novels (including Far from the Madding Owls and Hoot the Obscure) set in a fictional, owl-infested version of Dorchester called Wessex, ruled with an iron talon by a "Parliament of Foules." 

And finally, here is an illustration by Carlo Farneti from a 1935 edition of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du ChuetteModeled, in part, on John Bunyan's seventeenth-century allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, Baudelaire's surrealistic poem follows the journey of an anonymous narrator on his journey through a menacing, barren landscape forever enveloped in twilight and haunted by giant, demonic owls.

Well, those are all I have for now. Owls: dominant force in the last three centuries of print culture? I will leave that weighty topic for another day! Which is fortunate, because I have run out of Lepidendron 'wood' to stoke the samovar. Goodbye, and I hope to see you again for the next installment of the Cabinet.

04 June 2010

Ouroboros Zwei

Figure E: Seal of the Theosophical Society

Welcome back, beloved English-language readers. I will now resume my tale of the Ouroboros, or circular serpent, throughout history. If you didn't fall asleep during our last installment, you may find this installment to be a powerful sedative.

Although you probably know the Theosophical Society for their pioneering work inventing and promoting the game of baseball from their secret, elysian headquarters in Jamesfenimorecooperstown, New York, they are, in fact, a pseudo-mystic religious organization founded in the nineteenth century. Established in 1875 in that "City of the Peoples of the Book," Brooklyn, by three mysterious white people, the Society originally intended to investigate medium-based psychic phenomena. Secretly, however, they were searching for the reincarnated World Serpent-Teacher, also know as the Maitreya, who would lead all men and snakes to a lasting spiritual harmony and peace, ushering in the Age of Aquarius. (Let the sunshine in!)

The original World Teacher had lived in Atlantis, reincarnated several times there before the angry serpents, which would later destroy that other great empire, Rome (see "Gibbon, Edward" in Ouroboros Eins) drowned the island continent in their wrath. The Maitreya had later taken over the body of Jesus of Nazareth to form Master Jesus. a great moral teacher and guild-certified carpenter. Some in the group, which was prone to schism, believed that the maitreya was a malevolent force that had brought destruction on Atlantis, believing that it had inhabited that first sentient and bipedal serpent in the Garden of Eden.

One sect of the Theosophists was combing the world for the next reincarnated vehicle of the Maitreya. A shoe-in for winner of the annual Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest, leader and former Anglican priest Charles Webster Leadbeater (who, coincidentally, owned a baker's dozen of six-toed cats that he believed were incarnations of the twelve apostles, including both Judas AND Matthias) accidentally stumbled upon a young Indian boy with blue skin named Krishnamurti on the beach while on holiday in Bombay. Leadbeater took the child home and raised him, indulging his penchant for speaking to snakes in an enigmatic, hissing serpent language.

Figure F: Krishnamurti -- dashing young blue-skinned Brahmin or reincarnation of Master Jörmungandr?

The Theosophists were not the only nineteenth-century secret society interested in the Ourobouros. A strange group of European men called the "Psychologists," based in the city of Vienna, put the serpent at the center of their neurocult. Their leader, Austrian Sigismund Schlomo Freud (who famously said, "sometimes a vial of cocaine is just a legally obtained narcotic") and his lieutenant, the Swissman Carl Gustav Jung, looked to the ancient symbol as a dream-sign indicating the cyclic nature of the human subconscious.

At their semi-annual meetings, Freud and Jung were joined by transatlantic colleagues to form the Fraternal Order of Jörmungandr. At these gatherings, held in October in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts (near Boston) to anger rival and noted Swedenborgian William James, and in Vienna in March, the group met in underground chapels (not like those in New Haven, Connecticut) to conduct secret serpentine rites. They also devoted much of their energy to fighting Leadbeater and the Theosophical Society over the true origins and provenance of the Ourobouros.

Figure G: The Fraternal Order of Jörmungandr Annual Meeting, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1909. Bottom left, Sigmund Freud; bottom right, Carl Jung

The FOJ's feud with the Theosophical Society was a bitter one. Over the period of several years, Freud and Jung worked in a secret Thought Laboratory Annex, or Geheimengedankenlabor, in the Vienna chapel, to construct a Unified Theory of metaphysic philosophy to combat the the Theosophists. Although we now refer to their creation as "Pyschology," the FOJ knew it as der Gottmaschine. They also published an annual journal called the Yearbook for Psychoanalytical and Psychoserpentine Research. Sadly, the FOJ never realized their dream of completing the Gottmaschine. After an infamous falling-out between Freud and Jung because the former failed to visit the latter in Zurich while visiting his colleague Ludwig Biswanger in nearby Kreutzlingen.

Figure H: Jung's preliminary (and very literalist) sketch for der Gottmaschine

A semi-annual assemblage of Jung's grandsons now preside over the remnants of the Fraternal Order of Jörmungandr. Last year, on the 48th anniversary of Jung's "transfiguration," the team of petit-fils finally resolved to break into Jung's private Swiss bank after a vault to ransack its treasures, fearing they would be confiscated as back taxes. Expecting at least a life-size mock-up of the Gottmaschine, they found only a folio-sized book bound in red containing some Gothic ramblings, psychedelic drawings, and some lead bars.

Although both Theosophism and Psychology no longer have much influence today, the Ourobouros, like the proverbial bad half dime, will continue to reappear in our culture, a reminder of the cyclical nature of man. Or something like that.

Wake up! We're finally here -- the end of our story. I hope to telepathically communicate with you soon with my own version of the Gottmaschine, this blog.
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