Ab Jove Principium

The coral-colored incipit on folio 6r of this manuscript (Vat.Pal.lat 1741), which was composed in Heidelberg c.1450-1500, might claim incipit fabularia supra XII libros metamorphoses, but the text has less to do with Ovid than with the late-antique mythographer Fabius Planciades Fulgentius, as the opening reference to Diophantus of Sparta makes clear. In any case, the genealogies of gods could be quite confusing, and the image above (fol.4r) attempts to correct matters with a tree diagram, centered on a large circular node representing Jupiter. One branch leads to Athena (this is more of a twig), another, to the nine muses arrayed like a dandelion in the upper left. Aeolus has a number of subsidiaries, although Sisyphus is placed in two distinct circles. The diagram is based on a model with a highly complex manuscript tradition, which generates some contradictions, but it remains a remarkable example of creative visualization. Notice that the very human characters Antigone and Phaedra occupy the edges, linked to myth through lines. In fact, the central vertical line which bisects the page ultimately leads to Demogorgon, and reveals the misreadings of Giovanni Boccaccio. But still, I’m reminded of the basic rules of a directed acylic graph, and of the the brilliant idea to use simple components like this┬áto depict complex hierarchical relationships, with vertices and nodes. In a way, this is an early example of the railway timetables, data maps, and whiteboard UX illustrations that flood our modern lives.