Alciati’s Emblematum Liber

March 23rd, 2007

Three emblems from Andrea Alciati‘s Emblematum Liber (1549 edition), recently translated by John F. Moffiit.

“The term ‘emblema’ was frequently taken by Alciati’s contemporaries to represent the modern equivalent of the ancient hieroglyphs, for these also combined an enigmatic image with a mostly inscrutable text” (Moffit’s introduction, p7). Or, as Alciati’s teacher Filippo Fasanini described them, “short sayings… which can, in combination with painted or sculpted figures, wrap in shrouds the secrets of the mind” (p6). In Emblematum Liber, Alciati encoded 212 such emblems with moralistic allegories, lessons, histories.

Ass bearing Isis

Emblem 7 (p23)

NOT FOR YOU, BUT FOR RELIGION

A dim-witted ass was carrying an image of [the goddess] Isis, so bearing upon its bent back the venerated mysteries. Every passerby along its route worshipped the Goddess with reverence, falling to their knees to offer her their pious prayers. The ass, however, assumed that the honors were only being given to himself, and he swelled up with pride. This stopped when the donkey driver, correcting him with some whiplashes, told him: “You are not God, you half-baked ass, but only the bearer of God.”

The hand with an eye

Emblem 16 (p33)

LIVE SOBERLY AND DO NOT ACCEPT BELIEFS HEEDLESSLY

States Epicharmus: “Never be credulous nor cease to be sober.” These are the sinews and members of the human mind. Behold the hand with an eye upon it; it only believes what it sees. Here is shown the mint, the herb symbolizing ancient sobriety. Brandishing this plant, Heraclitus pacified and soothed the maddened mob bursting into frenzied revolt.

Proteus

Emblem 182 (p211)

WHATEVER IS MOST ANCIENT IS IMAGINARY

“Old man from Pallenia, oh Proteus, you have as many shapes as an actor has roles. Why are your members sometimes that of a man, and sometimes that of an animal? Come on, tell me, what can be the reason for you to change into all manner of shapes, and yet you have no fixed form of your own?” “I reveal the signs belonging to the most remote ages, ancient and prehistoric, and each man imagines them according to his whimsy.”

One Response to “Alciati’s Emblematum Liber”

  1. Greg Pass Says:

    The Memorial University of Newfoundland has made available an online edition of the complete work.

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