The Discarded Image
I. A Bookish Cosmology
A. The medieval mind was one which represented a literate culture which had lost most of its books. Consequently, they had to make do with what few books they had. This meant that they were not quick to set their books at odds with one another.
B. The temperament of the medieval man was one of organization. What the universe needed was a little tidying up.
II. The Cosmology Itself
A. “I assume that everyone knows, more or less, its material layout: a motionless earth at the centre, transparent spheres revolving round it, of which the lowest, slowest, nearest and smallest carries the Moon, and thence upwards in the order Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn; beyond these, all the stars in one sphere; beyond that, a sphere which carries no light but merely imparts movement to those below it; beyond that, the Empyrean, the boundary of the mundus, the beginning of the infinite true “Heaven” (Imagination and Thought” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, p. 45)
B. “Go out on any starry night and walk alone for half an hour, resolutely assuming that the pre-Copernican astronomy is true. Look up at the sky with that assumption in your mind. The real difference between living in that universe and living in ours will then, I predict, begin to dawn on you” (Ibid., p. 47).
1. You will be looking at a universe, immense but finite. In a finite universe, the word small (as applied to earth) has meaning. In an infinite universe, small and large are equally meaningless.
2. You will be considering the aspect of height.
3. You would be looking at something which is structured, or built.
III. The Music of the Spheres
A. Medieval man did not think that everything moved in obedience to impersonal laws, like the law of gravity. Rather, he felt that everything had its natural station and sought to get there. Many of the things which we today regard as inanimate were considered by them to be intelligent creatures.
B. With regard to the spheres, they moved in accordance with love. God, the immutable one, could not change. So how could such a creature imitate this perfect God? The closest imitative approach would be to travel in a perfect figure, i.e. a circle.
1. The medievals debated a mind/body problem with regard to these spheres. One option was that these Intelligences were resident in their spheres, the way a man’s soul is resident in his body. In this case, the spheres would be great animals.
2. The other option, which generally won out, was the notion that these Intelligences rode the spheres, the way a pilot rides an airplane.
IV. Angels & More Angels
A. Angels is a term which was used of all the celestials, but we must remember that it was also used to speak of the lowest rank of celestials. There were, for the medievalist, nine classes of angels — a triad of triads. The first was composed of Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. The second was Dominations, Virtues and Powers. The third was Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
A. The planets themselves (embedded in the spheres) are also active. Their beams penetrate the earth’s crust and turn the soil into the appropriate metal.
B. The influence (note that word) was also exerted on people. Born under Saturn you tended to melancholy. Under Jove, you were jovial. Under Venus, you tended to amorousness.