The palimpsest, and broken hive.

While other Millions were employ’d To see their Handy-works destroy’d…   When he first composed his Fable of the Bees in 1705, Bernard Mandeville had centuries of precedent to harvest. Indeed, book IV (1-285) of Virgil’s Georgics consists of an extended meditation on bees. In dactylic hexameters, he discussed the best places for their apiary […]

A multifoliate rose of visual rhetoric.

After the Jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner made his first observations of sunspots from Ingolstadt in 1611, but long before he depicted the Duke of Bracchiano surrounded by a beaded circle of roses and identically mottled suns in the lavish Rosa Ursina of 1630, the Disquisitiones Mathematicae was released. Supposedly based on theses defended by Scheiner’s […]

Joseph Scaliger, reading the architecture of night.

Just past the oak-leaves of the historiated capital N, Joseph Scaliger quietly corrected accents in brownish ink, and wrote corrections in the margins of his 1552 edition of Vitruvius, De architectura libri decem, which is now Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht ex. AA qu 39. There are more interesting annotations, but I would like to set up a […]

…there when the wave has gone by.

  Common knowledge: John Conduitt recorded a memo on the last day of August in 1726 that mentioned a common glass prism purchased from Stourbridge Fair (a short walk along the Cam from Trinity to a broad green summer meadow in 1665, presumably worn to tan earth from the passage of crowds). We can easily […]

Reading the geometrical point.

Although my first few thoughts on the visual representation of the geometrical point have been lost beneath the layered digital strata of more recent posts, I thought that I might examine a single faint fragment of marginal Greek from folio 3r of ljs194, which is a XII–century Austrian edition of the Isagoge Geometriae of Gerbert […]

Ole Worm and the copperplate lemming.

Among descriptions of Ethiopian manuscripts and Mesoamerican glyphs, the collected narwhal tusks, tortoise shells and fossils of the renowned wunderkammer of Ole Worm (1588-1654) we find this engraving in the posthumous catalog of his collection, the Museum Wormianum, seu Historia Rarum Rariorum (Amstelodami, 1655) on page 325. It’s a well-known topic, for anyone who has […]

Euphrasy and rue.

We might imagine Darwin’s first quick sketch of the tree of life from 1837 in his tiny (17x 9.7cm) Notebook B. Or we could picture the luxuriously illuminated branches and nodes which connected the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman II (1642-1691) with Adam, composed after his life was spent confined in the lapis lazuli and cerulean-tiled kafes […]

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, […]

Tempus edax rerum

Long before Conrad Dasypodius began work on the clock in Strasbourg Cathedral, the topic of time had crossed his mind. In 1558 he inscribed an interleaved edition of the Liber Emblemata of Andreas Alciato, which a certain Phillipus Anshelm had made into an album amicorum (Den Haag KB:133 M142, 172r); among the hasty quill-stroke heraldry, […]

Clockwork, print, and the passage of time.

On New Year’s Eve, the pine-boughs through the window were white with snow, and the afternoon landscape was perfectly silent, save for the distant sound of crows. Before I left home for the evening, I thought of the passage of time, and the frontispiece to the little treatise on mechanics, and encomium on Hero of […]

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