Bernie Silver’s Cosmographia

Presented by: Anthony G. Cirilla

Key Background Texts: The Book of Genesis, Plato’s Timaeus, Aristotle’s De Caelo, Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, Virgil’s Aeneid, Plotinus’s Enneads, Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Claudian’s De raptu Proserpinae, Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy

Influenced: Alan of Lille’s Plaint of Nature and Anticlaudianus, Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose, Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowles, the Plaints (Mars, Venus, Pitee, Fortune), Dante’s Commedia, C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy

Biography: c. 1085-1178. Said to have presented the Cosmographia to Pope Eugene III in 1147. Associated with the city of Tours, although part of his education may have been in Iberia. He also learned under Thierry of Chartres, a master of the trivium to whom the Cosmographia is dedicated. John of Salisbury appears to have been familiar with his work. He wrote an extensive allegorizing commentary on the first six books of the Aeneid, as well as the Mathematicus (a poem about math), and the Experimentarius (a poem about science).


Dedication to Thierry of Chartres (65): Bernardus calls Thierry a “doctor most renowned for true eminence in learning,” offering his work with entirely sincere protestations of humility.

Summary (65-66): Yes, I am summarizing the summary for you, that’s how nice I am. The first book, Megacosmos, is about how “Nature, as if in tears, makes complaint to Noys, or Divine Providence,” and Noys obliges by shaping matter into the universe. Everything in the known Neoplatonic universe gets a quick portrait. Then the second book is the Microcosmos, about how Noys send Nature on a mission to find Urania and Physis to make man.

Megacosmos (67-90)

Ch. 1 (67-9): In a highly rhetorical speech structured in the manner of a deliberative court argument, Nature argues that “bountiful Noys” ought to provide order to Silva/Hyle, insisting that it is not in keeping with God’s ethos to leave prime matter unshaped.

Ch. 2 (69-75): Noys is all like, Nature, you’re definitely my girl. Check it out – I am a personification of God’s knowledge. But “the nativity of creatures is celebrated in the divine mind; the effect which is secondary.” The plan you propose based on instincts was my plan, and now, “because you appeal at the proper time,” Make it so, Number One. (This is both a Star Trek reference and a HILARIOUS Platonic pun.) Hyle is out of control, but I’ll fix her up, and you’ll help. Nature is delighted. We are told that “Hyle was Nature’s most ancient manifestation.” We are told how Providence, using her sweet imagination, brings order to the contrary impulses within Hyle/Silva. How the four elements work and interact is discussed. Having brought “a median tendency from the imposition of law” upon matter, Noys takes a moment to congratulate herself (more of this latter). But concerned that the race of man won’t survive in the unstable world, Noys decides to fashion a world-soul, “the fountain of light,” in whom “are the images of unfailing life, the eternal likeness, the intelligible universe, sure knowledge of things to come.” And so Endelechia, the World Soul and child of Noys, is married to Silva’s offspring, the Universe. Endelechia prefers the heavenly regions to the earthly ones though… Marriage isn’t easy, you know.

Ch. 3 (75-86): Now for some plenitude principle – basically, any imaginable sphere of existence has something that dwells there. So you’ve got the Cherub, Seraphim, Thrones, Powers, Principalities, Dominions, Virtues, Archangels and Angels. Then you have the stars, their constellations and the influence they have over the fate of humanity. Then there’s the seven planets and their functions. Various rivers, seas, and mountains are described, as well as animals and the seasons. Certain lands have favor from Nature, and just as Endelechia is the soul of the world, so there is a sub-soul for various lands (83). Description of plants, fish, and birds conclude the section.

Ch. 4 (86-90): Doctrine of celestial influence and everything in its place. Relationship of fire and earth. Eternality of universe due to its perfection in creation. The universe depicts the perfect will of God. Relationship of Hyle to the cosmos reiterated. “Thus from the life of the divine mind, from the spirit of Silva, from the world soul, from the growth-principle of created life, the eternity of the universe has its rise” (88). Intelligent design, but way prettier rhetoric than your street corner creationists’. Fascinating discussion of time. Intellectual universe, then sensible universe. “Setting out from eternity, time returns again to the bosom of eternity, wearied by its long journey” (89). Bernardian time travel? Nietzsche’s Cosmic Dancer much? Time and eternity mirrors of each other. Noys is ‘pregnant of the divine will,’ giving to Endelechia “the images she conceives of the eternal patterns,” who ‘impresses them upon Nature,” who “imparts to Imarmene what the well-being of the universe demands.” Endelechia supplies souls, Nature the bodies for the souls, and Imarmene the “temporal continuity” in which those beings live.

Microcosmos (91-127)

Ch. 1 (91-3): Noys summons Natura and bids her to check out her sweet labors, which she has ‘endowed” with ‘their reforged essences with the splendor that befits them.” More firmament stuff. Motions of the planets. Celebration of the sublunary realm.

Ch. 2 (93-4): Silva is one hot cosmic matter.

Ch. 3 (94-7): Some day Noys might stop talking. Since making humanity is especially difficult, Noys bids Natura to seek out Urania and Physis. She decides to seek out Urania first. She visits Anastros, but Urania isn’t there. Now she explores the “five parallel bands set between the poles of the firmament” (95). Then she travels the Milky Way “like a highway,” She sees souls destined to be mortal, weeping over their earthly fates. But Urania is nowhere in the Zodiac, so she visits Aplanon, “highest and outermost limit of the firmament.” Apparently the universe is a Bruce Willis movie. Here in the realm of the fifth element se finds Genius/Usiarch/Pantomorphos/Omniformis, who is very shapely. Genius greets her and turns her gaze to Urania, who is star-gaizing, and Urania gets down to business immediately.

Ch. 4 (97-8): Urania recognizes Nature as coming as vicar of God and Providence’s desire for harmony. Urania notes their relationship as “sisters” born of Noys. She is reluctant, but concedes to the task because man is made from archetypal patterns. She claims the minor duty of guiding the human soul. Urania agrees to follow Natura.

Ch. 5 (98-104): Impressed, Natura goes with Urania to hang out for a beat with the “supreme and super-essential God.” Discussion of the ranks of the spirits. Tugaton, home of divine awesomesauce. They pray to the Trinity. They pass from the ethereal firmament to the realm of the planets. Here they meet the Usiarch of Saturn, whom Natura encounters in terms of his earthly impact (which is negative). T hen they pass through the realm of Jove, from which comes pleasant influence, and where lives Clotho, a human-centered version of Imarmene. Then they pass through the belligerent sphere of Mars, and come to the Helin highway, with its four seasonal influences. Sun as both warrior and poet, daughters Psyche and Swiftness. Urania loves the sphere of the sun, but suggests they stop by Lucifer and then move on to Mercury and Venus. Mercury’s influence is to heighten the influence of whatever sphere he is closest to. Magisterial Venus and her benevolent role. Moon mediating between the ether and the atmosphere. The moon is the lowest of the spheres, but transmits “Aethericon,” the “essence of bodily growth,” to the lower world. Ptolemy calls her the planet of the sun because her light is borrowed. Lucina/Huntress/Hecate.

Ch. 6 (104-5): Summary of the impressive sights just seen.

Ch. 7 (105-8): Natura sees a throng of spirits hanging out in the translunary sphere. Urania gives a lecture. 4-fold spheres: firmament, ether, atmosphere, earth. Each of these realms “has its spiritual realm, each has its angels.” God occupies the highest sphere, man the lowest. Angels and more badasser angels. The lower down the ladder, the lesser the angel. Each person granted such a being as a guardian angel. Moar higher archy: first class of awesome sublunary spirits, second class which is benevolent, third which are evil:  guardians, intermediary spirits, and renegade angels. AND FAIRIES!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!! And Summanus, Lord of Deathly Deadly Death and Dying Dead. So there you go.

Ch. 8 (109-10): So here’s what Natura has learned. Don’t be freaked out by death. Be all philosophical and stuff.

Ch. 9 (110-12): Urania is freaked out by sublunary disorder. They come to Granusion, a secretive earthly paradise. Physis is there with her daughters Theory and Practice, mediating between the elements and animal life. Physis was thinking about Nature and humanity in “a highly imaginary way,” Theory notices the guests and they are all like OMG OMG OMG HAIIII. Then Noys interrupts for more speechifying.

Ch. 10 (113-4): Noys is going to create humanity to finish the chain of being, because humans are an intermediary of earthly and divine things. His job on earth is to know stuff, and after death he’ll join us in heaven.

Ch. 11 (114-7): Your mission, which you are choosing to accept, is to form a soul from Endelechia (for Urania), a body from matter (for Physis), and unite the two through the powers of the cosmos (for Natura). To help with these tasks, Urania is given the Mirror of Providence, Natura the Table of Destiny, and Physis, the Book of Memory. The Mirror has the forms, the  has the progression of time, and the book of memory is the intellectual organization of the sensible world. “Amid so great a host of earthly natures Physis discovered only by great effort the image of man, faintly inscribed at the very end of the final page” (117).

Ch. 12 (117-8): They set to work, but Physis is frustrated by the malignity made possible by Silva.

Ch. 13 (118-122): The principles of life, unity and diversity, are used by Physis. Struggle to master the fluctuations of Silva, uniqueness of human nature. The humors, the meaning of the arrangement of the body, which is an image of the cosmos. The heavenly brain made soft so that it can learn stuff. Functions of the soul mirrored in construction of the brain: imagination, memory, and reason. Sensory perception.

Ch. 14 (123-7): Discussion of the learning faculties of man: the exalted nature of sight, inferior but indispensable hearing, tongue essential for the Arts but prone to evil and ability to taste, and smell which “both undermines and stimulates the work of the brain.” Sluggishness of touch. Dignity of the heart. Elemental components: heart is fiery, brain is wet, blood is airy, liver is earthly. The genitals are in a war against death of the race. Weakness of the body. Physis bestows the limbs, a sign of our sublunary nature.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What exactly is the role and purpose of personification in this text? Why is Noys always doing what she is asking her personifications to do?
  2. What exactly is this text? Literary? Philosophical? Scientific? Surely a mixture – but how do these fit together?
  3. Why didn’t Bernie Silver write more about the fairies????

Over the course of this past semester, I confessed to several of you that I was actually pretty miserable. About three weeks into the semester, as my son was screaming in my ear about an hour past his bedtime, I told my partner “I quit.” At the same time, I regularly tell people how lucky I am. I love my job. I have colleagues telling me that I’m doing a “good job.” And, presently, I’m still here, here being in this PhD program, and I don’t have any actual intention of leaving, leaving being not completing the degree program requirements.  How does that make any sense? It’s not at all a case of indecision – I think instead it’s a symptom of the multiple stresses in my life right now. And I also think it’s a matter of intention and choice in working to manifest the present I want, and not quite yet succeeding.

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Astrology in the Middle Ages

 A Brief Overview: Astrology as Natural Science

Lynn Thorndike has called astronomy/astrology “the supreme natural science of the medieval world” (Carey 888). Hilary M. Carey notes: “It permeated most aspects of mediaeval intellectual, cultural and political life, and it is not possible to enter sympathetically into mediaeval society without understanding it” (888). We might consider as analogous modern day germ theory; while the non-medical professional doesn’t necessarily understand the science of microbes, this theory is still one epistemological model through which we understand our world. Therefore an in-depth knowledge of astrology is not necessary (we do not all need to read Ptolemy or Albumasar [Abu Ma’sar]), but a general awareness is helpful.  For example, to anyone who has read the works of Chaucer it should be apparent that a basic understanding might be helpful for understanding his work.

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Unexpected being the key word, in this case.

If you’ve been following this blog with any regularity, you know that Wood-walkers just put on a symposium on the subject of The Hobbit.  While the presentations there did tie in with the new Peter Jackson three-part epic of the same name, quite a few of them (and in turn, quite a few of us) were more focused on the original text as a part of Tolkein’s work. Don’t get me wrong- we did talk about some of the later versions of The Hobbit, and the keynote address about different illustration styles used across the globe was absolutely fascinating – but these were usually in context of how the variations were more or less faithful to the original. There was a good bit of good-natured trash-talk about the animated version, for instance, which seemed to be widely considered… well silly. Unfaithful to the original, certainly, and at least a little nonsensical in how it had changed the story.  We weren’t all clear on how Tolkein’s slim children’s book would translate into three movies of at least two hours, not yet, but surely it couldn’t be worse than that Rankin and Bass tomfoolery.

So it was with the symposium in mind that I went to the pre-screening of The Hobbit, with a copy of the book in my bag and, if not exactly high expectations, then at least expectations of something good. What I got instead was confusing. (Here There Be Spoilers.) Continue Reading »

Here are the individual presentations and papers that will be delivered at the Woode-walkers Symposium commemorating the 75th anniversary of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For more information on the event, please see the Hobbit Symposium Tab at the top of this blog.

  • 9:00 am—Roundtable: Teaching the Inklings in High School and College

Session Moderator: Matthew Miller, St. Louis University

Charles Hussung, St. Louis University High School: “Teaching Charles Williams in High School”

Paul D. Nygard, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley: “Teaching Tolkien at St. Louis Community College”

Paul L. Fortunato, University of Houston- Downtown: “The Hobbit as Religious Literature: Teaching College Students about Bilbo’s Quest”

Justin T. Noetzel, St. Louis University: “The Bird and Baby Blog: Community and Collaboration while Studying the Inklings”

Matthew R. Bardowell, St. Louis University: “Of Scribblers and Inklings: Teaching Tolkien in a Writers Community”


  • 10:45 am—Session I: The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Life and Scholarship

Session Moderator: Ashley Nolan, St. Louis University

Nora Alfaiz, George Washington University: “‘We Are Your Friends, Frodo’: Relationships and the Relation between Tolkien’s Life and Works”

Paul Acker, St. Louis University: “Tolkien, Old Norse and Philology: Dwarf Names in The Hobbit

Anthony Cirilla, St. Louis University: “‘Not the Hobbit you once Were’: The Prosimetric Structure of Tolkien’s Hobbit”

Priya Sirohi, St. Louis University: “Tolkien and The Hobbit as Juvenile Literature”


  • 1:15 pm—Session II: The Hobbit among Tolkien’s Greater Mythology

Session Moderator: Beth Kempton, St. Louis University

Chelsea A. McGuire, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley: “Standing Tall beside Giants: The Hobbit as the Essential Introduction to Middle-earth”

Brian Kenna, Marquette University: “Labours and Sorrows: The Role of Memory in The Hobbit

Amanda Cherian, St. Louis University: “The Aesthetics of Song and Map in The Hobbit

Ruthie Angeli, St. Louis Community College-South County Center: “Separating Truths from Myths of Tolkien’s Female Characters”


  • 3:00 pm—Session III: Myth and Mediation: Tolkien Films, Video Games, and Songs

Session Moderator: Thomas Rowland, St. Louis University

Trish Lambert, Mythgard Institute: “Snow White and Bilbo Baggins: Disney, Tolkien… and Jackson”

Paul D. Nygard, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley: “The History of Middle-earth Network Radio”

Jasmine Tillotson, St. Louis University: “An Unexpected Story: Consequences of Japanese Influence on Sierra’s The Hobbit Video Game”

Paul Hahn, St. Louis Symphony and Chorus: “Singing in Elvish: Adapting Tolkien in Music and Song”


  • 5:00pm—Plenary Address: “Annotating and Illustrating The Hobbit

Douglas A. Anderson, Independent Scholar and editor of The Annotated Hobbit, Tales Before Tolkien, and other fantasy literature and Tolkien criticism.

All of the Tolkien fans out there have a busy and exciting few weeks coming up. The Woode-walkers are of course most excited about our symposium on The Hobbit, and as always, you can read the specific details at our symposium website. There are also a lot of other events and stories, and I have collected just a few here. Please add links to anything that I have missed in the comments below!

Before you read anything else, check out The Hobbit Blog, where you can read about Gollum attacking Wellington airport, watch an unexpected airline briefing video, and hear Peter Jackson talk about the entire movie-making process. That last video is the final video in a series of eight that premiered over the summer, and I recommend all of them.

A man named Emil Johansson, a university student in Gothenburg, Sweden, and my new personal hero, spent the last few years assembling a comprehensive census and family tree for the more than 900 of Tolkien’s Middle-earth characters. You can see the project here, and prepare to be blown away! Seriously, there are enough charts and statistics and maps and information to keep you busy for a whole weekend.

The Audience Research Unit at the University of Waikato (New Zealand) with Ryerson University (Canada) is conducting research into audience perception of the upcoming films, and you can find their 30 minute survey here. For more information, please see here.

Former St. Louis U. professor Tom Shippey wrote a piece for the Telegraph in which he discusses why The Hobbit is still so popular 75 years after its release.

NPR has a short interview with Corey Olson, the author of Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, one of the books that we will be raffling off at the symposium.

Geek Dad, one of my favorite blogs, has an interview with Noble smith, who tells you how to eat like a Brandybuck, drink like a Took, and otherwise live a long and happy life in The Wisdom of the Shire. Part two of the interview is here.

Valparaiso University is hosting a Tolkien Conference in early March that will feature some great plenary speakers, a symphonic performance, a themed banquet dinner, and a ground-breaking presentation on Beorn and Tom Bombadil on Sunday morning at 10:30 by an up and coming young scholar.

Oh, and there is a movie coming out in a few weeks that you might be interested in seeing…

As part of my assistantship in the VFL I was assigned the job of curating an exhibition in the lobby of Pius XII Memorial Library, on display Oct.1-Nov.1 2012 . Below are some representative images and further information on its organization and content:


“How shal the world be served?” Aspects of the Medieval Secular World

Curated by Ashley R. Nolan

Though the term secular might suggest any range of discourses concerning the separation of church and state in contemporary culture, for the medieval audience this differentiation is much more complex. In fact, the medieval application of the word secular distinguishes the spaces of religious life—a person who lives ‘in the world’ (secular)—from a person who lives in monastic seclusion (religious).

The first part of this exhibition’s title takes its sentiment from the monk of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, whose exclamation “How shal the [earthly] world be served?” expresses his interest in earthly, rather than spiritual realms. The monk’s lavish clothing and yen for hunting further sets him at odds with the discipline of solemn study and physical labor followed by his Benedictine order, revealing fluidity—perhaps problematically—in what constitutes religious and secular pursuits. This exhibit of medieval manuscript facsimiles focuses on secular themes in vernacular and Latin manuscripts:

Secular Origins features manuscripts concerned with The Matter of Troy, or the texts that adapt the classical stories of the Trojan War, including the adventures of Aeneas.

Secular Adventure encompasses a wide assortment of early adventure narratives that span the regions of Germany, Budapest, and Spain; these facsimiles include some of the oldest and best-known manuscripts of this genre.

Secular Leisure develops the idea that those who had lots of money also had lots leisure time. These facsimiles detail some manifestations of this leisure in the hobbies of hunting and falconry, as well as in courtly love (amour courtois), and will demonstrate that the range of leisurely activities often extends into discourses of love.

Secular Health brings together a variety of texts concerned with health and wellbeing, and includes medical miscellanies, anatomical images, and herbal treatises.

Secular Animals displays an assortment of realistic and imaginary illustrations of animals. Perhaps the greatest appeal of these representations lies in the proximity with which humans interact with these animals and the imaginative influence they aroused in the medieval artists who rendered them.