15. Thinking in fours

Historical occurrences of tetradic thinking

The search for tetradic thinking will initially be focused on the occurrence of four-fold imagery. The assumption that people thinking in ‘fours’ will express themselves in ‘fours’ seems a reasonable one. A particular quantity (of something) at a certain point of a communication (in place and time) offers the opportunity to measure and evaluate. This deductive approach is the hallmark of modern scientific research.

However, it is good to realize, that ‘quantity’ has a different connotation in quadralectic thinking. A multitude of presence (imagery) is typical for the Second (II) and Fourth (IV) Quadrant. A deductive procedure in these particular areas of a communication will lead to an ‘idea’ (in the Platonic sense, called a ‘muun’ in the quadralectic philosophy) or a ‘whole’, as initially described by Jan SMUTS (1926/1936) in his excellent book ‘Holism and Evolution’.

A search for occurrences of tetradic thinking – in a quadralectic context – has to go further than the established scientific method. It has to take the notion of the different types of identities (in the various quadrants) into account. Only an understanding of the nature of a communication in terms of a division pattern can offer progress.

An image offers the chance to reconstruct its position in a chosen type of division-thinking. A survival strategy prefers opposites, and it is possible to see all imaginary accordingly. The status of the ‘facts’, which are gathered in this way, will always be limited by the lower division status (of ‘yes’ and ‘no’). The three-partition adds a stage of contemplation in the interaction. Observations, which are made in this conceptual frame (like the Christian faith did in its imagery of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), will always bear the limitations of their initial intellectual setting.

Finally, it is possible to observe in a four-division mode. This type of observation will lead to various types of ‘facts’, depending on the position held in the communication. The ‘scientific’ process is completed with a description of this position on the full communication cycle.

An observation must be placed in the right context, i.e. as a (conscious) notion of division thinking. The ‘biased’ character of such a psychological act must be accepted. The ‘objectivity’ of the old-fashioned dualistic-scientific frame work should be questioned. This cherished impartiality is, in the words of Richard WRIGHT (1957), ‘a fabricated concept, a synthetic intellectual construction devised to enable others to know the general conditions under which one has done something, observed the world or an event in that world’.

And he continued: ‘The basic assumption behind all so-called objective attitudes is this: If others care to assume my mental stance and through empathy, duplicate the atmosphere in which I speak, if they can imaginatively grasp the factors in my environment and a sense of the impulses motivating me, they will, if they are of a mind to, be able to see, more or less, what I’ve seen, will be capable of apprehending the same general aspects and tones of reality that comprise my world, that world that I share daily with all other men.’

Objectivity and subjectivity lose their general meaning in higher division thinking. They are still part of the communication-as-a-whole, but their oppositional nature is restricted to the limited context of lower division thinking. Classical science has to realize that ‘subjectivity’ will always be part of the equation.

These philosophical reflections do not mean that an investigation should not start in an area of moderate to a high empirical presence. An eternal search for the unique is just as pointless as the intention to cover an unlimited multiplicity. Limits are important and should be given. They give subsequent researchers the means to criticize the assumptions, propose other boundaries and continue to scale the scientific findings.

An initial reconnaissance of tetradic images can start with a symbolism of the sun. The sun wheel, swastikas, stars, rosettes and cross-figures in a wide variety of shapes occur in very different, global locations from Indian pottery in America (fig. 75), a bullhead from Crete (fig. 76), early Chinese objects, in proto-Elamic art, plates from Mesopotamia and pottery from archaic Boeotia (Eastern Turkey), to mention only a few (fig. 77).


Fig. 75 – Some quadripartite designs on plates of the Mount Builders in Tennessee (1 – 3) represent the ‘four worlds’ concept. Similar motifs are found on pottery, stone, copper and shells of regions in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas. 4 – 6: Bird’s motives on shells from Tennessee. Many Indian cultural expressions point to a tetradic background and a firm understanding of the ‘four worlds’ as a frame of mind. In: NAYLOR, 1975.


Fig. 76 – This head of a bull is decorated with tetradic motifs in the shape of clover-leafs. The popular belief of the fortune-bringing four-leafed clover might be well related to the ancient way of depicting tetradic motifs like the ones shown here. The meaning of such signs is understood to represent a balanced four-parted universe. Crete, 1600 BC. British Museum, London.


Fig. 77 – Some examples of tetradic symbols on ceramics from various places of the world. 1. Ceramics from Ma-tch’ang; 2. Painted ceramic from Yang-chao. The tetradic thought is visualized in a whirl. The half-moons point to a division under a good cosmic constellation; 3 – 5. Ceramic (plates) from Susa I; 6. An archaic bowl from Boeotia (with an ‘oriental influence’), seventh century, Lake Van, East Turkey. The Magna Mater protects the cattle against the wolves. In: HENTZE (1932).

ROES (1933) called attention to the influence of the sun-symbolism on the Greek geometric art. Such lines can be drawn, but the correspondence is not necessarily due to sun-worship practices. They may find their frame of reference in a common type of division-thinking, which results in an associated symbolism. The sun, as a unifying element of primal light, would be – in a modern interpretation – the representation of the First Quadrant, the invisible invisibility. Many signs and features of ‘primitive’ art might have been inspired and executed by tetradic experiences.

To cover all occurrences of quadruple symbolism in different cultures would be virtual impossible. Therefore, a selection of four major cultural units is made (Egypt, Greece, Rome and Europe) and even within these groups a drastic reduction of examples is necessary. The choice is inspired by the importance of these civilizations on the writer’s outlook of the world in time and place. It is also a quest for the inspiration behind the quadralectic way of thinking, and for the local roots of this timeless communication tool. It would be satisfying if a true picture of a philosophical reality emerges in the four-fold world. In the end there will be nothing to prove, only to suggest. Wisdom is the width of thinking and therefore, Pythagoras was right: the number (of the initial division), determining the dimensions of our view, is the base of all.


HENTZE, Carl (1932). Mythes et symboles lunaires (Chine ancienne, civilisations anciennes de l’asie, peuples limitrophes du Pacifique). Editions ‘de Sikkel’, Antwerpen.

NAYLOR, Maria (Ed.)(1975). Authentic Indian Designs: 2500 illustrations from reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Dover Publications, New York. ISBN 0-486-23170-4

ROES,  Anna (1933). Greek Geometric Art. Its Symbolism and its Origin. H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon N.V., Amsterdam/Oxford University  Press, London.

SMUTS, J.C. (1926/1936). Holism and Evolution. Macmillan and Co., Ltd., London.

WRIGHT, Richard N. (1957). White Man, Listen ! Doubleday, Garden City, New York.

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16. A journey to holiness

Gods in Egypt


The Egyptian cultural period offers a well-documented development of division thinking in a cultural unity over a long period. The major two-division is between North and South and the political powers, which originated in either the northern (Heliopolis) or southern (Memphis) region. However, there is also an eastern and western side of the Nile. The first to represent the living (the present) and the second to bury the dead (the great beyond)(KEES, 1926/1956; HORNUNG, 1972; TEICHMANN, 1978). A combination in a natural division of two pairs of opposites results in a four-parted unity.

The topographical division can be experienced on a higher spiritual level as a classification of the universe. These thoughts took shape in the Old Kingdom (2635 – 2155 BC.) when the pyramids were surrounded by various functional representations, complementing the four-fold structure (fig. 78).


Fig. 78 – The pyramid complex in the Old Kingdom can be seen as a four-staged journey to holiness. The mental movement follows the light from the east (where the sun comes up) to the west (where the sun goes down) and can be divided in four stages:

1. The temple near the river Nile connects the living with earth, water and day-to-day life;

2. The (covered) road represents the choice in a visible world and leads in a linear direction towards the holy;

3. The temple of the dead in front of the pyramid is the preparation at the end of the road;

4. The pyramid is the ultimate four-fold manifestation of the world of the dead and afterlife on this world.

The pyramids are, without doubt, a monument of a particular form of tetradic thinking, despite all the nonsense, which is written over the years on their shape, measurements, position and so on. The (tetradic) thoughts may not have been spelled out at the time of the building, but can be reconstructed.

This effort to understand the actual meaning of the historical builders started in the Egyptian culture itself, in the Middle and New Kingdom, and was taken up in the European cultural history at the end of the eighteenth century. Although much has been discovered since, there is still not a definite clue of the ‘tetradic spirit’, which initiated the building of the most impressive buildings ever erected by man.

The  ‘Book of the Gates’, covering the walls of graves from king Haremheb (1333 – 1306 BC.) onwards – and is prominent in the grave of Ramses I – is a simplification of the ‘Book of Amduat’. The scenes with the sun-barque are reduced from nine to three. Gods are more represented in groups (fig. 79) and the names are less important (HORNUNG, 1972).


Fig. 79 – Some four-fold divisions in the ‘Book of the Gates’. 1. The god Atum and the four directions (8th scene); 2. Apes worships the sun; 3. Gods carrying a light  (82nd scene); 4. Four gods (87th scene); 5. Gods with rams-heads and Uas-scepter (85th scene); 6. Four apes with human fist (90th scene). In1. HORNUNG (1972) (1, 3-6) and ERMAN (1909) (2).

The cyclic nature in the four-fold division of the world of the gods is well developed in northern Egypt (Heliopolis), and particularly in the later dynasties (GOFF, 1979; WOLDERING, 1981). The framework of the supra-natural universe is a combination of two- and fourfold units adding up to a nine-fold unity, the so-called ‘Ennead of Heliopolis’ (fig. 80). The creation-myth starts with Atum (generated from his own)(I), begetting Sjoe and Tefnoet as female and male children (II). This couple begets Geb (earth) and Noet (heaven)(III). They, in turn, have four children: Osiris, Isis, Seth en Nepthys (IV). In a later stage a differentiation of the four-fold division takes place: Isis and Horus are a holy nine-fold and Nepthys and Osiris create Anubis. The basic division is, however, as follows:


Fig. 80 – The ennead of Heliopolis represented as a possible development of division thinking.

The division of Creation is a combination of two pairs of opposites, made up by the top-members of the ennead (1 – 4; 2 – 3):

                                                                    1.  Re       (sun and heaven),

                                                                    2.  Shu     (the air),


                                                                    3.  Geb     (the earth)

                                                                    4.  Osiris   (the underworld),

The scheme in Memphis (Sakkara), south of Cairo, is different, although there are also nine gods involved. The southern influence of (the eight gods of) Hermopolis is joined here with Ptah (the creating god) into a unit of nine. The text which describes this event is engraved into the ‘Shabaka Stone‘, around 700 BC. and now in the British Museum. The sources of this text are much older and go back from the First to the Fourth Dynasty (2925 – 2450 BC.).

The suggestion in fig. 81 is an effort to visualize the spiritual development of the gods of Memphis, who reached a strong presence in the Nineteenth Dynasty (1307 – 1196 BC.), under pharaohs like Seti I and Ramses II.

The primal unity, the god Horus (I), generates a primary four-fold division, represented by his sons (II). The two-fold division of Ptah and Sechmet (III) makes up the visible part of the spectrum and is – later – jointed by Nefertum to form a trinity, sometimes expanded by Imhotep, the builder of the step pyramid of Zoser (2630 BC.), into a tetradic pluriformity. The third quadrant (III), as the position of the physical observations and creations, remains the most important. Pta, ‘the very great one’, is historically the centre-point, who joins with the local goddess Sechmet, shaped as a lion.


Fig. 81 – The different gods of Memphis are given here in a quadralectic reconstruction based on the associated numbers in the various stages. The creation-theory of Memphis is, more then the spiritual-physical orientated one of Heliopolis, put forward as an intellectual system, nurtured by a human point of view. Thinking and saying (‘sia’ and ‘hoe‘) are the real creative powers. The alternation between unity and multitude is another characteristic.

The city of Hermopolis, situated in Middle Egypt, had a particular worship of the gods based on eight basic powers (KEES, 1956). They are divided in four pairs, the so-called ‘ogdoade‘ of Hermopolis:

                                                Noen  +  Naoenet  (the primal water)

                                                Hoeh  +  Haoehet  (the endless space)

                                                Koek  +  Kaoeket  (the darkness)

                                                Amoen +  Amaoenet (the unknown)

The male powers are figured as frogs and the female gods as snakes (fig. 82). The four pairs are the synthesis of a two- and a fourfold way of thinking, which is typical for the Egyptian cultural period.


Fig. 82 – The ogdoade of Hermopolis. The sun god Ra sits on a lotus blossom in the Messer Lake and appears for four gods with frogs’ heads alternating with four gods with snake heads. In: STRELOCKE, 1979.

In other places in Egypt, there is also a concentration of worship caught in a four-fold structure: the four crocodile-gods of Fajum, the four bulls of Hermonthis, Tuphium, Karnak and Medamud and the rams-heads of Chnum in Elephantine, Esna, Hypsele and Antinoë.

The god Chnum is the Creator, the father of all fathers and the mother of all mothers and finally the whole world (LURKER, 1974/1980). Sometimes Chnum is depicted behind a potters wheel, where a young king is created from the clay (fig. 83).


Fig. 83 – The creation of man on a potters wheel. Chum shapes the young king and his ‘ka‘, while the goddess Hathor holds the ‘ankh‘, the symbol of life. On a monument of Amenhotep III (1405 – 1370 BC.) at Luxor. In: BRANDON, 1969/1973.

Another creation-story was concerned with the division of heaven and earth and was reconstructed by Maspero (ERMAN, 1909). The god Nut is lifted by the sky-god Schu, while Keb, the god of the earth, lies on the ground. This representation seems like a three-fold affair, although in some cases – like in the Book of Dead of Deir el Bahrti (Greenfield papyrus, XXI Dynasty, tenth century BC.) – Sjoe is assisted by two other goddesses, bringing the total of contribitants of the creation to five.

The god Osiris is responsible for the return of the seasons and rebirth. Later this cyclic renewal is symbolized by the bird Phoenix (also called Bennu or bnw) (RUNDLE CLARK, 1949/1950) (fig. 84). The House of Bennu is closely related to the creation-myth of Heliopolis.


Fig. 84 – The bird Phoenix is the symbol of cyclic periods in time and therefore closely related to an important aspect of the (modern) quadralectic way of thinking. In: GERU, 1974.

The length of a period, as stated by several classical authors, can vary (WALLA, 1969). Most common is a period of five hundred years, mentioned by Herodotus (480 – 430 BC.) and Ovidius (in the ‘Metamorphoses’). Others, like Plinius, Martial, Laktanz and Claudian, report a thousand-year period.

GUTBUG (1977) noticed – in an article on the ‘Four Winds’ in the temple of Kom Ombol (Upper Egypt) – that the four directions occur in the early pyramid times as half gods in an undifferentiated shape and only much later as distinct figures: ‘Es ist bemerkenswert, dass die vier Winde als geschlossene Darstellungsgruppe nur auf Reliefs der ptolemäischen und römischen Zeit vorkommen’ (p. 337) (It is remarkable that the four winds as a representational unit only figure on reliefs in the Ptolemaean and Roman times). From the second century BC to the second century AD about eighteen theriomorphe (or mixed) figured like the four-headed rams-heads (fig. 85/86/87) are known (GUTBUG, 1977; p. 241). There is also a connection with Schu, the son of Re, who sends the winds to the Four Corners of the world.


Fig. 85 – Sun god as a ram with four heads New Kingdom (1150 – 1050 BC.). This is an early occurrence of the motif. In: GUTBUG, 1977.

These few examples are only fragments of a much wider occurrence of division-orientated thinking within the Egyptian cultural period. SETHE (1916) draws attention to the ‘runde oder heilige Zahlen‘ (round and holy figures), which are used over a long period of time. The figure four is, in his view, of prime importance: ‘Die Vier ist die eigentliche heilige Zahl der Ägypter‘ (The figure four is the real holy number of the Egyptians). And he added (p. 32): ‘In den späteren Zeiten der ägyptischen Geschichte scheint die Zahl 4 als heilige Zahl mehr und mehr hinter der 7 zurückzutreten‘ (In the later period of the Egyptian history the figure four as a holy number seems to be outshine by the number seven).

These observations are of importance in a modern, quadralectic approach to history. Not only is the timing of the sphere of interest of the observer (i.c. the European cultural period) with regard to the Egyptian history of significance, but also – in the same interaction – the interpretation of the various periods of prominence of a certain type of division-thinking. This type of historical research, based on a philosophical framework, has only recently been discovered.


Fig. 86 – Left: The God Chum, the Creator, with four heads of a ram (In: CHAMPOLLION, 1823); Right: The god Amun-Re with the spirit of the four directions. From the New Kingdom. (In: JUNG,  1953/1968) and ENDRES & SCHIMMEL, 1984).


Fig. 87 – The Four Winds as a lion with four heads. From the time of Ptolemaeus XI Neos Dionysos (80 – 51 BC.); Dendara, Egypt. In: GUTBUG, 1977.

The four-parted element in the Egyptian culture was associated with creation and death. Beginning and end, the marker pointing to a dichotomous view, are intrinsic constituents of tetradic thinking. They provide the range of physical visibility in a communication.


Fig. 88 – The four sons of Horus. The urns with intestines of the dead were closely related to tetradic symbolism. The canopic vessels represented, from left to right: Hapy (baboon), Doeamoetef (jackal), Amset (human) and Kebehsenoef (falcon). They contained the vital parts of the body: Hapy guarded the lungs, Doeamoetef the stomach, Amset the liver and Kebehsenoef the intestines. In: GUTBUG,  1977.

The children of Horus were an important element in the Egyptian funeral-cult. They were shaped in so-called ‘kanopen‘ (fig. 88). These were vessels, which contained the ashes of the dead:

                   Sons of Horus                             Shape                                   Content


                        Amset                                      human                                   liver

                        Hapy                                        baboon                                  lungs

                         Doeamoetef                           jackal                                    stomach

                        Kebehsenoef                           falcon                                   intestines

The custom to preserve the body parts in vessels went back to the earliest dynasties: the oldest known kanopen-chest was of the mother of Cheops, Queen Hetepheres (RAVEN, 1992). The funeral custom of the kanopen became interrupted during the XXth Dynasty (1196 – 1080 BC), because King Ramses V (1156 – 1151 BC.) had his primary organs stored in four separate packages in the abdominal cavity. This type of tradition lasted for about four hundred years.  The use of the vessels was only restored in the Egyptian renaissance of the XXVth and XXVIth Dynasty (713 – 525 BC). However, the kanopen were produced in the intervening period (Third Intermediate Period, 1070 – 713 BC), but only as fake vessels or statues. They were not used to contain the vital organs of the dead.

Another occurrence of tetradic imagery in the afterworld is the Lake of Fire, which is represented in the ‘Book of the Dead’ (WALLIS BUDGE, 1901/1905) (fig. 89).


Fig. 89 – Two examples of tetradic symbolism in the Egyptian mythology are given here. Above: The Lake of Fire from the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’. Below: The same motif from the papyrus Ani.

The pyramids of the Old Kingdom (2600 – 2100 BC) are the hallmark of Egypt and a cultural statement of prime importance. These signs have to be understood in the tetradic spirit. Unfortunately, many statements about the pyramids, presented under the mimicry of science and pseudo-science, demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the Egyptian historical background.

The tendency to bring the ‘unconscious’  ideas of the Old Kingdom down to earth is immanent in the ‘realistic’ Middle Kingdom (2000 – 1600 BC). Details are now important, leading to an increased visibility, but a loss of the width of the spectrum. In the New Kingdom (1500 – 1070 BC) the historic visibility reached a climax. By that time, the representational aspects (of power) developed into a cult.

The urge to visualize ideas means a shift into the world of opposites. Delineation and putting a mark are the means to achieve visibility in an invisible world. By doing so, the invisible world looses its wholeness and becomes intelligible. All (cultural) entities, which reach a degree of prominence in historical hindsight, have to go through this stage. The old ideas and images are reworked and get a new meaning. They are consciously blending with modern elements to reach an explicit expression and driven by the intention to fit the past into a new understanding.

The euphoria of this understanding cannot last forever, although it endured for nearly five hundred years in the Egyptian cultural history. It will fade away in its own understanding. In Egyptian history this period is sometimes called the Third Intermediate Period (1070 – 713 BC) (KITCHEN, 1972).

A new consciousness of the past emerged towards the end of the cultural presence of Egypt, in the XXVth and XXVIth dynasty. Old ideas revived, up to a point of decadence. Any person who has visited the graves of the Apis-bulls (Serapeum or Serapeion) in Sakkara, knows what that means. Psammetich I built, around 600 BC, a long, under-ground tunnel with enormous tombs to bury the bulls. The twenty-four red granite and black diorite sarcophagus weigh up to sixty-five tons, and were shipped from Assuan, some 750 km to the south. It was the last, incredible engineering performance inspired by religion, before the dawn of a great historical and cultural presence started to fall.

BRANDON, S.G.F. (1969/1973). Religion in Ancient History. Studies in Ideas, Men and Events. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London.

CHAMPOLLION,  Jean-François (1823). Pantheon egyptien. Collection des personnages mythologiques de l’ancienne Égypte, d’après les monuments/avec un texte explicatif, par M. J.-F. Champollion le jeune ; et les fig., d’après les dessins de M. L.-J.-J. Dubois. Editeur: F. Didot (Paris).

ENDRES, Franz Carl & SCHIMMEL, Annemarie (1984). Das Mysterium der Zahl. Zahlensymbolik im Kulturvergleich. Eugen Diederichs Verlag, Köln. ISBN 3-424-00829-X

ERMAN, Adolf (1909). Die Ägyptische Religion. Handbücher der  Königlichen Museen zu Berlin. Georg Reimer, Berlin.

GERU,  M.A.  (1974).  Het Egyptische Dodenboek.  Uitgeverij Ankh-Hermes, Deventer.

GOFF, Beatrice L. (1979). Symbols of ancient Egypt in the Late Period: the Twenty-first Dynasty. Religion and Society 13. Yale University/ Mouton, The Hague.

GUTBUG,  Adolphe (1977). Die vier Winde im Tempel Kom Ombo (Ober ägypten).  p.  328 in: KEEL, Othmar (1977).  Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst. Stuttgarter Bibelstudien 84/85. Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart.

HORNUNG, Erik (1972). Ägyptische Unterweltbücher. Artemis Verlag, Zürich/München. ISBN 3 7608 3507 4

JUNG, C.G. (1953/1968). Psychology and Alchemy. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 12. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

KEES, Hermann (1926). Totenglauben und Jenseits Vorstellungen der Alter Ägypter. Grundlagen und Entwicklung bis zum Ende des Mittleren Reiches. J.C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, Leipzig.

– (1956). Der Götterglaube im alten Ägypten. Akademie Verlag, Berlin.

KITCHEN, K.A. (1972). The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100 – 650 B.C.). Aris & Phillips, Oxford. ISBN 0-85668-298-5

LURKER, Manfred (1974/1980). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt. An Illustrated Dictionary. Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.

RAVEN, Maarten J. (1992). De dodencultus van het Oude Egypte. Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden. De Bataafsche Leeuw, Amsterdam. ISBN 90 670 7300 8

RUNDLE CLARK, R.T. (1949/1950). The Origin of the Phoenix. Historical Journal. University of Birmingham. Part I (1949): Pp. 1 – 29; Vol. II, No. 1; Part II (1950): Pp. 105 – 140; Vol. II. No. 2.

SETHE, Kurt (1916). Von Zahlen und Zahlworten bei den alten Agyptern und was fur andere Volker und Sprachen daraus zu lernen ist. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte von Rechenkunst und Sprache. Schriften der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft in Strassburg 25.Heft. Karl J. Trubner, Strassburg.

STRELOCKE, Hans (1979). Egypte. geschiedenis, kunst en kultuur in het Nijldal. DuMont Buchverlag, Köln/Uitgeverij Cantecleer bv., de Bilt. fig. 95, p. 107.

TEICHMANN, Frank (1978). Der Mensch und sein Tempel. Ägypten. Verlag Urachhaus Johannes M. Mayer GmbH. & Co. KG, Stuttgart.

WALLA, Marialouise (1969). Der Vogel Phoenix in der antiken Literatur und der Dichtung des Laktanz. Dissertation der Universität Wien. Notring, Vienna. (Review of Marialuise WALLA SCHUSTER, Der Vogel Phönix, see: Pp. 208 – 210 in: Gnomon 45 (1973).

WALLIS BUDGE, E.A. (tr.; 1901/1905). The Book of the Dead. Vol. I: The Book of the Am-Tuat; Vol. II: The Book of Gates; Vol. III: The Egyptian Heaven and Hell. Books on Egypt and Chaldaea. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., London.

WOLDERING, Irmgard (1981). Egypte – De Kunst der farao’s (Serie : Kunst der wereld) ; Ägypten, die Kunst der Pharaonen. Holle Verlag, Baden Baden (1962). Uitgeverij Elsevier, Amsterdam/Brussel. ISBN 90 10 03837 8

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17. To the tetrapharmacon

Philosophers in Greece


The beginning of the classical Greek history-as-a-cultural-unit is marked by Homerus’ composition of the ‘Iliad‘ and ‘Odyssey‘ (eighth century BC) and the works of the poet Hesiod (c. 750 BC), ‘Opera et dies’ (Works and Days) and the ‘Theogony‘. These literary masterpieces coincided more or less with the beginning of the Greek calendar, calculated from the first Olympiad in 776 BC. The games were held every four years (up to its discontinuity in 394 AD).

Just like any major cultural appearance, the first visible presence (or ‘beginning’) is not an absolute event, but it is interpreted from the present point of observation. In the case of the Greek antiquity the matter of (first) cultural appearance is further complicated by the topic of geographic definition: are the Minoan (Cretean) and Cycladic cultures part of the greater Greek civilization or not?

There is an extensive literature on the early-Greek heroic poems. One particular aspect is highlighted here: the so-called ‘epic circle’ (WHITMAN, 1958/1965). The ‘epic circle’ is a symmetric pattern in the way stories were told. In the composition is a precise repetition of certain motifs. Epic events have a clear sequence and order, which cannot be attributed to coincidence (FENIK, 1968). The ‘epic circle’ is, more likely, developed in a natural way as a mind-trajectory, used by the reciter to remember the events.

OOSTENBROEK (1977) indicated that the ‘Theogony‘ of Hesiod was a philosophical rather than a mythological work. Some distinct thought-directions are given in the poem. Eris (strife) and Eros (love) are complementary. In a cyclic process (described in the ‘Works and Days’) there is a strife with nature and eventually a victory of the good of nature. The basic (two-fold) concept of unity (love) and separation (strife), in a constant cycle of transformation, was elaborated in the ‘Theogony’ and therefore, earlier than Heraclites and Empedocles, who followed the same line of thought.

 Pythagoras (c. 570 – 500 BC)

The first, major philosophical system based on division thinking was founded by Pythagoras (and his school), centred on Croton in Southern Italy. The system provided the intellectual base for a model, which visualized the human mind as an entity, which could be divided in parts. The parts were associated with numbers and communication.

The primary sources of Pythagorean thoughts are fourfold (HENINGER, 1974): 1. In the ‘De vitis, dogmatibus… libri X’ of Diogenes Laertius; 2. From the ‘Pythagorae vita’ of Porphyry (234 – c. 305 AD.); 3. A book with the same title with additions by Jamblichus (c. 250 – c. 330); and 4. From the ‘Myriobiblon‘ of Photius (c. 820 – 891), a patriarch in Constantinople.

These sources were also mentioned by JOOST-GAUGIER (2006), but she added a much wider range of Pythagoras’ influences in her excellent book. The list includes Xenophanes of Colophon, Alcmaeon, Pherecydes of Syros, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Ion of Chios, Empedocles and others in the Greek world. The memory of Pythagoras lingered on in the Roman world by representatives like Cicero (‘who uses the historical Pythagoras as an emblem of a holistic mode of thought’), Livy, Varro, Ovid (Metamorphoses, fifteenth book, Pythagoras was not mentioned by name), Pompeius Trogus, Nicomachus, Plutarch, Apuleius, Theon of Smyrna and others.

The role of numbers is crucial in the Pythagorean world view: ‘Numbers are the ultimate constituents of reality. Number is pure form.’ Every communication was, in Pythagoras’ view, constituted of accountable parts that interact with each other. It is the emphasis on the analogical element of thought, which makes his approach so fruitful for the (modern) fourfold-way of thinking.

Unfortunately, the intellectual inheritance of Pythagoras was, in later ages, handled with incomprehension and simplification. For instance, the so-called ‘Sphere of Pythagoras’ was a device to predict the outcome of an illness by means of comparing certain symptoms with particular days in a month (fig. 90). The outcome – Vita (alive) or Mors (death) – points to a straightforward use of oppositional thinking.


Fig. 90 – The ‘Sphere of Pythagoras’ – Vita and Mors. Wenen, MS 67, fol. 174. Fig. 9 in: CAVINESS (1983).

An upsurge of Pythagoreanism in later ages did not coincide with broadminded thinking. The original message was, more often then not, wrongly understood. The emphasis on numerology, associated with mystical elements, drifted away from the functionality of numbers as indicators in a dynamic analogy (communication). Many sixteenth and seventeenth century authors paid their tribute to Pythagoras, like Gregor Reisch in the encyclopedic ‘Margarita philosophica‘ (Freiburg, 1503) (fig. 91), Cornelius Gemma in ‘De arte cyclognomica‘ (Antwerp, 1569), Johannes Kepler in ‘Harmonices mundi’ (Linz, 1619) and Athanasius Kirchner in his ‘Arithmologia‘ (Rome, 1665), to mention only a few. The interest in the number-symbolism was waning at the end of the eighteenth century and at that time one could make a mockery of the ‘somnia Pythagoraeorum‘ (BOLL & BEZOLD, 1931).


Fig. 91 – ‘Margarita Philosophica Nova’ with the seven liberal arts.  To the left the trivium (Logica, Rhetorica and Grammatica), in the middle and to the right the quadrivium (Arithmetica, Musica, Geometrica and Astronomica). Under the watchful eyes of the four Church fathers Augustine, Gregorius, Hieronymus and Ambrosius. In: WOLFF (1971).

pythagoras2Fig. 92 – Pythagoras with arithmetica, as depicted in: Thomasin von Zerclaere – Der Welsche Gast (1408). Munchen, Staatsbibl. Cgm 571, fol. 71r. Fig. 15 in: TEZMEN-SIEGEL, 1985. This didactic poem – translated as ‘A Visitor from Italy‘ – was written by a young cleric from Friaul (Italy) in 1215 (TESKE, 1933). Thomasin distributed such one-liners as ‘Hie sprich ich, daz dehein dinch ist guot, daz unmazze ist‘ (Here I say that no thing is good which is immoderate; Part 8).

The philosopher Ralf Cudworth (1617 – 1680), in his book ‘The true intellectual system of the universe‘ (London, 1678) presented Pythagoras as ‘the most eminent of all ancient Philosophers’, but his appreciation of the philosopher was probably fed by completely the wrong arguments.

The English theologian and writer Thomas Burnet (c. 1635 – 1715) was – in his ‘Archaeologiae philosophicae’ (1692/1728) – a staunch enthusiast of the numerical procedure attributed to Pythagoras. Chapter XI of Burnet’s ‘Archaeologiae‘ was dedicated to ‘De Pythagora & secta Pythagorica‘, with subjects like the Systema Pythagoricum, the Tetractys (fig. 93) and the Numerus Quaternarius, Pythagoricus.


Fig. 93 – Tetractys was an ordering principle of the first ten numbers attributed to Pythagoras and described by Theon of Smyrna (2nd cent AD). The first four numbers/ rows symbolize the harmony of the the spheres: the unity (1) is divided in a dyad (2), related to the peras/apeiron (limit/unlimited). The third number (3) stands for harmony, while the number four (4) represents the kosmos. (GUTHRIE, 1987). The musical intervals, which can be measured on a string, have an affinity with the ‘tetractys‘ as a division principle: 4 : 3 (the fourth), 3 : 2 (the fifth) and 2 : 1 (the octave).

Thomas Burnet gave a four-fold description of the Cabala and the ‘Quatuor Mundi Cabalistici’ (in Ch. VII of the ‘Archaeologiae‘ ) corresponded in his objectives:

————————-         1. Aziluth           Mundus Emanationis

————————-         2. Briah             Mundus Creationis

————————-         3. Jetzira           Mundus Formationis

————————-         4. Ashiah           Mundum Fabricae vel Factionis

Burnet mentioned further as contemporary supporters of Pythagoras:  ‘Joh. Meursium’ (Johannes van Meurs, 1579 – 1639; Denarius Pythagoricus ,1631), ‘Fab. Paulinum’ (Fabius Paulinus, c. 1535 – 1605) and ‘Petrum Bongum’ (Pietro Bongo (d. 1601), the writer of the ‘Numerorum Mysteria’, 1584).

Thomas Taylor (1758 – 1835) and Fabre d’Oliver (1767 – 1825) are other scholars caught by the (numerological) ideas of Pythagoras (GUTHRIE, 1987). Thomas Taylor translated the ‘Mysteries‘ of Jamblichus’ (TAYLOR, 1895). Jamblichus – called by CLARK (1989) ‘a notoriously unclear writer’ – wrote in a spirit of theurgy: ‘a ritual invocation of divine presence, dangerously close to magic’.

Pythagoras’ ideas should be treated in their own right. It might well be that Pythagoras’ system of thoughts – initially based on numbers as the representations of a communication – contained similarities with the present four-fold approach. ‘Visibility’ in terms of a particular number are an integrated part of modern quadralectic thinking, which is directly indebted to Pythagoras.

Empedocles (c. 450 BC)

Whereas Pythagoras provided the base, it was the Greek Empedocles, with his theory of the four elements, who actually shaped a philosophy of the fourfold way of thinking. The philosopher lived from c. 494 to 434 BC. and was banished from Acragas (Agrigentum), on the south coast of Sicily. He traveled extensively and was ‘the mixture of philosopher, prophet, man of science, and charlatan’ (RUSSELL, 1945). Parts of his epic didactic poem ‘Peri physeos’ (About Nature/The Physics, in two books, concerning the formation of things), and the ‘Katharmoi‘ (Purifications, about four hundred-and-fifty lines) are preserved.

Empedocles joined the number-based-thinking of Pythagoras (with the emphasis on the ‘accountable’ world) and the philosophical ideas of Parmenides about being (of the invisible One; AUSTIN, 1986) into a new doctrine. CORNFORD (1912) pointed to the concurrence of a mystical/theological origin, which he called ‘Italiotic‘ (Pythagoras) and a ‘scientific’ source (Anaximander, atomism), provided by the Ionian (Western Turkey) tradition. Empedocles’ ideas are a compromise between the balance of (opposite) forces, put forward in the medical theory of Alcmaeon, and the more extreme approaches of the early Ionian physicists (VLASTOS, 1947).

Empedocles carried the idea of equilibrium from the physical (medical) to the philosophical world and promoted the ‘isomoiria‘ (equal division) of the basic principles. Strife (Neikos) is the equivalent of illness and indicates a wrong mixture of the basic ingredients. Love (Philia) means the right mixture (harmonia) of constituents.

The four basic components (of all being), which remain unaltered in the process of observation, are: the sun, the air, the earth and the sea. Empedocles defined his basic elements therefore as fire, air, earth and water. These elements are, in the classical view, considered to be indivisible, unchangeable and for ever. Their combination offers a theory of nature, which is originated in the fourfold-way of thinking and applicable on different levels of human endeavor and physical investigation (fig. 92).


Fig. 92 – The Creation. This illustration from a German Bible, printed by Heinrich Quentell in Cologne around 1479, shows the four elements in a cyclic fashion. Central is the earth, where the act of creation is visualized: God the Father sends the Holy Spirit to the World and, through Christ, creates Eve from the rib of Adam. Around the world is the sea (water), with fish and a mermaid. The air is portrayed as a fringe with stars and sun and moon. The outer circle (fire) is crowded with angels and at the top sits God. Four winds blow to different directions. In: PILTZ (1981).

CORNFORD (1912) called Empedocles ‘a candid dualist’ and determined that ‘Platonism (theory of Forms or ‘Ideas’) was another offshoot of Pythagoranism, another attempt in relating the one God, who is good, to a manifold and imperfect world’. This statement does not justice to the width of Empedocles’ world and emphasized the two-fold aspect.

A more plausible postulate was put forward by MONDOLFO (1958, p. 77): ‘Empedocles cosmic cycle, abstractly reduced by Plato to two opposite phases, unfolds itself in reality in four; two extremes, the total mixture of the elements and their complete separation, and two intermediate phases, or phases of partial mixture and distinction’ (fig. 93).


Fig. 93 – The fourfold way of thinking according to Empedocles. The four phases are divided in two kinds: two of unity and two of plurality. The first is symbolized by Love and rest and the second is characterized by Strife and movement.

The cyclic system of Empedocles was thoroughly studied by O’BRIEN (1969). Four elements are governed by two forces: love aims at unity and happiness, while strife leads to pluriformity, division and misery. The sphere is the symbol of unity, where everything is at rest. In pluriformity (of parts) the interaction is caused by displacement. Therefore, a cyclic movement is, according to Aristotle in his ‘Physics‘, an alternation between rest and movement. Most scientists are now of the opinion, that the system consists of four periods (O’BRIEN, 1969; Ch. 8).

Clara Elizabeth MILLERD (1908/1980) presented an excellent PhD. -thesis on the subject in 1901 to the University of Chicago. She described the ‘cycles of transformation’ between the poles of Love (Philia), which unites and Strife (Neikos), which separates. In a later development Empedocles’ cycles were translated in a Neo-Platonic antithesis and the influence of the tetradic nature of the interaction between the elements was diminished. Much of the occasional misunderstanding about the original intentions of Empedocles can be traced back to the inability to visualize a tetradic system.

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

The thoughts of the Greek philosopher Aristotle offer the most comprehensive summary of the four-fold way of thinking. In many ways, he reaped the philosophical fruits of his predecessors and presented them in a logical framework (fig. 94).


Fig. 94 – The square of opposition. This demonstration of the different types of categorical propositions is put forward in the logic of Aristotle (in his ‘Perihermeneias‘/On propositions). Top left (type A) is universal affirmative. Top right (type E) is universal negative, bottom left (type I) is particular-affirmative and bottom right (type O) is particular negative. The relationship of A to O and E to I is contradictory. From the ‘Tractatus duodecim’ of Petrus Hispanus, printed by Johannes Knob in Strassburg in 1514.

Aristotle provided, in his ‘Categories‘ (Praedicamenta) and the ‘Perihermeneias‘, a theory of interactions in a communication. It is the rediscovery of Boëthius’  translations of these works and of the ‘Isagoge‘ of Porphyrius, which set the spark – in the eleventh century – for a new level of thinking in Europe (PILTZ, 1981).

The (tetradic) thoughts of Aristotle have, in a wider historical sense, close links with the development of practical ideas, initiated by the physicists. Philistion, head of the medical school in Sicily, a contemporary of Plato and a follower of Empedocles extended the concept of a medical, two-fold equilibrium theory of Alcmeaon to a fourfold equilibrium. According to HAHM (1977, p. 99) ‘he took the easiest course of all and simply identified fire with the hot, air with the cold, water with the wet, and earth with the dry.’

  …………………………………………..      fire         –       hot

…………………………………………….     air           –       cold

…………………………………………….     earth      –       dry

…………………………………………….     water     –       wet

The theoretical-philosophical division was, in this way, connected with human qualities and became an empirical tool (LONIE, 1981). Illness had to do with a surplus or deficiency of a certain quality. There might be a contact between Philistion of Locri and Plato, by  means of Timaeus (originated from Southern Italy). Plato staged Timaeus – in a book with the same name – as a person, who explains his theory of nature.

Hippocrates (c. 400 BC) had earlier postulated the actual theory of the four ‘humores’ as the essential parts of a human body. ‘The humours are nothing but the original elements relabeled for use in the medical laboratory’ said ROSS (1987) in his discussion of the ‘Georgica‘ of Vergil. The Hippocratic treatise ‘Over air, waters and places‘ favors a holistic approach to the medical profession: ‘He who studied the medical science has to know all there is about seasons, the winds, the water, the use of the land and the way of living of its inhabitants.’ Climate and the time of the year are of direct influence of the ‘crasis‘, the balance of the opposing elements.

Hippocrates and his followers placed the human humours and qualities in a cosmic context:


This scheme got a further ‘update’ in the second century AD. by the Greek physician Galen (129 – 199). He originated from Pergamum and was educated in Smyrna, Corinth and Alexandria in Egypt. It might be in this last city that he got more acquainted with the four-fold approach, and applied them on the elements in relation with seasons, humours and temperaments. After his return to Pergamum, he practiced as a physician, but due to political troubles he was forced to leave and went in 164 to Rome. He became the personal physician of Emperor Commodus (161 – 192 AD) and was particular involved in the care for the gladiators. He wrote (in Greek) many books of which the majority got lost, but about eighty medical books survived. His ‘Methodi medendi libri XIV’ is concerned with the medical methodology in general. More anatomical and physiological treatises, like ‘De anatomicis administrationibus’, and works on the causes of illnesses, as ‘De causis momborum’ and ‘De morborum differentiis’ are some of the books, which delineates his ideas. This corpus of works, added with many commentaries by others, provided the fertile grounds for the medical practice in the European Middle Ages.

The classical fourfold-scheme (or ‘Viererscheme‘, SCHÖNER, 1964), often attributed to Aristotle, but ‘we may be sure that the qualities of the four elements had been fixed long before Aristotle’ (ROSS, 1987) can be given as follows (modified after JACQUART & THOMASSET, 1985) (fig. 95):


Fig. 95 – The classical four-fold scheme. Many of the numerological expressions of the four-fold find there origin here.

This general scheme has been presented in many different forms. The topological setting and the sequence of the four elements depends on the depth of understanding of the pluriform way of thinking. In many cases, it was only used in a dualistic or numerological way, or – like Paracelsus – fitted into a three-fold representation, in which a corpus consists of three elements (salt, sulphur and mercurius).

LLOYD (1964) pointed, in a clarifying essay on ‘The Hot and the Cold, the Dry and the Wet in Greek Philosophy‘, to the abstract meaning of the pairs of opposites in the original – teleological – meaning of Aristotle. His book ‘Polarity and Analogy‘ (LLOYD, 1966/1992; p. 60) was a further elaboration of this theme. The opposites must be seen in a symbolic association. In Aristotle’s view, expressed in his ‘On Generation and Corruption‘, ‘hot’ means a capacity to combine things of the same kind.

‘Cold’ brings together homogeneous and heterogeneous things alike. ‘Wet’ is readily delimited (i.e. by something else), but is not determined by its own boundary. ‘Dry’ is not readily delimited (i.e. by something else), but is determined by its own boundaries.

Aristotle’s dynamic interpretation (of limitations) and his ingenious explanation for the transformation of elements – matured in ‘On Generation and Corruption‘ – fits into a general appreciation of the tetradic way of thinking. A quadralectic representation could be as follows:

    Quadrant   I                 Quadrant    II                   Quadrant III                  Quadrant IV  ——————————————————————————————————————————————            hot                                     dry                                         cold                                      wet

           fire                                     air                                          earth                                  water

 joining same kind      not readily delimited             joining different             readily delimited


Aristotle discussed the principles (or ‘archai’) in a dynamic environment. He thoroughly investigated the relation of Empedocles’ four elements with the four powers (hot, dry, cold, wet) and knew that the discussion of ‘archai’ was of prime importance, because it provides the cornerstone of a cosmological philosophy. The element water was the ‘arche‘ in the philosophy of Thales. Air was crucial in Anaximenes’ thoughts. Fire was the leading principle to Heraclitus (and later the Stoics).

Aristotle was a seeker after truth and not so much concerned with the development of a ‘system’ – like the Stoics, where Zeno aimed to produce a unified system based on Aristotle’s legacy (HAHM, 1977; p. 102). Therefore, Aristotle did not care to stray of the four-fold path in order to reach his aims. In his description of the cosmos (in a book called ‘On the Heavens‘) he introduced a fifth element at the periphery, distinct from the familiar four elements. He did not give this element a name, but indicated that the ancients were calling it ‘aether’.

The element ‘fire’ and ‘the hot’ (situated in a quadralectic ‘First Quadrant’) caused most of the problems in relation to matter (a ‘Third Quadrant’ commodity). In addition, the status of ‘air’, being either warm (in ‘On Generation and Corruption’) or cold (as a refrigerant, in ‘On the Parts of Animals‘) was not consistent in a comparison with the visible matter. Theophrastus of Eresus (372 – 287 BC) – who took over the position of Aristotle in the Peripatetic School – was also unable to solve the position of fire in relation to air, water, and earth (in his treatise ‘On Fire’). The latter elements could change into each other, but fire changes into no other.

‘Aristotle’s influence, which was very great in many different fields, was greatest of all in logic’ according to RUSSELL (1945; p. 195). Even so, his doctrine of the syllogism, which was the outcome of his logic and described in his book ‘The Prior Analytics’, was essentially a step back towards a three-fold system, because this logic instrument is an argument composed of three parts: a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion.

Aristotle was, in his metaphysics and the treatment of ‘causes’ (the so-called ‘entelecheia‘), as much a four-fold thinker as one can be. An act of creation (or a cause of change) consisted in his view of four phases: final, formal, material and efficient (fig. 96).


Fig. 96 – The four causes (Entelecheia) of change in Aristotle’s metaphysics corresponds with the various types of interaction in a quadralectic communication.

These stages corresponded with the various positions of an observer in a communication:

1. The final cause is the realm of the invisible invisibility or ultimate communication (where boundaries are not yet drawn);

2. The formal cause is on the borderline of visible and invisible communication, where boundaries are proposed, established and/or rejected;

3. The material cause is the area of visible visibility, where boundaries are accepted for the sake of interaction, in short the physical world around us and,

4. The efficient cause is again on the boundaries of visibility, where communication is searching for (lost) frontiers in the multitude.

Aristotle regarded the craftsman as a model of the way nature operated (MANSION, 1913/1946). He used this example in his books ‘Physics II‘ (a discussion of the concept of ‘physis‘), and ‘On the Parts of Animals I’ (an introduction to the study of biology). His teleological view of nature – in which all actions have some purpose – is related to the two-fold way of thinking and can be demonstrated in this model: material and efficient causes are instrumental to formal and final causes.

Epicurus (c. 342 – 270 BC)

The philosopher Epicurus is the fourth and last in the chain of tetradic thinkers in classical Greek history, following Pythagoras, Empedocles and Aristotle. He was born around 342 BC on the isle of Samos. He journeyed to Athens when he was eighteen. Later he started a school in Mitylene (on the isle of Lesbos) and in Lampsacus and resided from 307 in Athens, where he died around 270 BC.

The philosophy of Epicurus was centered on the finding of a happy and useful life. He aimed at a state of ‘ataraxia‘ (freedom from disturbance and negative influences) and the absence of pain: ‘Absence of pain is in itself pleasure, indeed in his ultimate analysis the truest pleasure’ (BAILEY, 1928). This search for happiness was, essentially, the reaction of a pessimistic mind to the uncertainties of life and, in later ages, often misinterpreted as hedonic and egocentrical. The word ‘epicuric‘ is still synonymous with gluttony.

HICKS (1910) described Epicurus as ‘no man was ever more vilely slandered or more cruelly misunderstood’. The ‘pleasure principle’ was, wrongly, placed in a world of opposites, leading to false conclusions. The idea that Epicurus thoughts were the last stage in a tetradic philosophy, was even less understood. Epicurus’ scientific method (ASMIS, 1984) has all the characteristics of a pluriform system. His book ‘Rules‘ was lost, but excerpts from Diogenes Laertius and Sextus Empiricus, enable a reconstruction. Two basic rules were central in the method of inquiry:

1. There are certain ideas (concepts) visible before they are formulated;

2. Empirical observations point to an invisible world.

These rules refer to the position of an observer in a dynamic environment. The first rule pointed to various stages of (visible) invisibility, looking backwards. The Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900 – 1958) said the same thing in a different way (quoted by Heisenberg): ‘All understanding is a protracted affair, inaugurated by processes in the unconscious long before the content of consciousness can be rationally formulated’. The second rule noted a world behind the (visible) visibility, aiming at the future.

The ‘Epicurean way of seeing’ is the apotheosis of the Greek tetradic philosophy (fig. 97).


Fig. 97 – A schematic survey of the ‘Epicurean way of seeing‘ or the major constituencies of a tetradic communication. The similarities with Empedocles’ theory of attraction and separation are evident.

The Epicureans – or ‘those from the gardens‘ – renounced worldly ambition and the pursuit of wealth, power and fame, because they surpassed these material obsessions. Instead, there should be the joy of friendship and a dedication to the principle of ‘isonomia‘ or balance. The rules of Epicurus provide the continuity of thoughts in any communication. They read in a quadralectic interpretation:

An observer uses information of a partly known (II) and fully unknown (I) past, to construct an empirical observation (III), which can be transposed to a partly known (IV) and a fully unknown (I) future.

This statement is, in a nutshell, the essence and dynamics of the four-fold way of thinking: an interplay of several positions taken by an observer, based on a distance, which expresses itself in a degree of visibility.

The ideas of Epicurus are summarized into a remedy for a happy life. This recipe is called the ‘tetrapharmacon’ (fig. 98). The principles are described in his ‘Letter to Menoeceus‘ (WALLIS, 1972/1995)(fig. 98):


 Fig. 98 – The ‘Tetrapharmacon’ of Epicurus as a recipe for moral health.

ASMIS, Elisabeth (1984). Epicurus’ Scientific Method. Yale University Press. ISBN 13 9780801414657

AUSTIN, Scott (1986).  Parmenides. Being, Bounds, and Logic. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

BAILEY, Cyril (1928). The Greek Atomists and Epicurus. A Study. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

BOLL, Franz & BEZOLD,  Carl (1931).  Sternglaube und Sterndeutung. Die Geschichte und das Wesen der Astrologie. B.G. Teubner, Leipzig/Berlin.

BRIEN, O’, D. (1969). Empedocles’ Cosmic Circle. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 521 05855 4

CAVINESS, Madeline H. (1983). Images of Divine Order and the Third Mode of Seeing. pp. 99 – 120 in: Gesta XXII/2. The International Center of Medieval Art 1983

CLARK, Gilliam (tr.) (1989). Iamblichus. On the Pythagorean Life. Translated Texts for Historians, Vol. 8. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

CORNFORD,  Francis M.  (1912). From Religion to Philosophy. A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation. Edward Arnold, London.

FENIK, Bernard (1968). Typical Battle Scenes in the Iliad. Studies in the narrative techniques of Homeric battle description. Hermes. Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie, 1968. Heft 21. Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH, Wiesbaden.

GUTHRIE,  Kenneth S. (1987). The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library. An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy. Phanes Press, Michigan, U.S.A. ISBN 0-933999-50-X

HAHM, David E. (1977). The Origins of Stoic Cosmology. Ohio State University Press, Columbus (Ohio). ISBN 0-8142-0253-5

HENINGER Jr., S.K. (1974). Touches of Sweet Harmony. Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California. LCCC 73-78049

HICKS, Robert D. (1910). Stoic and Epicurean. C. Scribner’s sons, New York/Langmans Green & Co., London.

JACQUART, Danielle & THOMASSET, Claude (1985). Sexualité et savoir medical au Moyen Age. Presses Universitaires de France (Les Chemins de l’Histoire). ISBN 2 13 0390145

JOOST-GAUGIER, Christiane L. (2006). Measuring Heaven: Pythagoras and His Influence on Thought and Art in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press. ISBN 10 0801443962

LONIE, Ian M. (Ed.) (1981). The Hippocratic Treatises ‘On Generation’, ‘On the Nature of the Child’, ‘Diseases IV’. Band 7 – Ars Medica. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York. ISBN 3-11-007903-8

LLOYD, G.E.R. (1964). The Hot and the Cold, the Dry and the Wet in Greek Philosophy. Pp. 92 – 106 in: Journal of Hellenic Studies, 84.

– (1966/1992). Polarity and Analogy. Two Types of Argumentattion in Early Greek Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge/ Hackett Pub. Co. Inc.

MANSION, Auguste (1913/1946). Introduction à la physique Aristotelicienne. Institut supérieur de philosophie. J. Vrin, Louvain/ Paris.

MILLERD, Clara Elizabeth (1908/1980). On the Interpretation of Empedocles. Garland Publishing Inc., New York & London. Ph. D. Univer-sity of Chicago (1901). University of Chicago Press, 1908. ISBN 0-8240-9591-X.

MONDOLFO, Rodolfo (1958). Evidence of Plato and Aristotle relating to the Ekpyrosis in Heraclitus. Pp. 75 – 82 in: Phronesis, A Journal for Ancient Philosophy, 3 (1958).

OOSTENBROEK, Lucette M. (1977). Eris – Discordia. Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der ennianischen Zwietracht. Proefschrift Rijksuniversiteit van Leiden. Dutch Efficiency Bureau, Pijnacker. ISBN 90 6231 25 7

PILTZ,  Anders  (1981).  The  World of Medieval  Learning.  Basil Blackwell, Oxford. ISBN 0-631-12712-7

ROSS, Jr, David O. (1987). Virgil’s Elements. Physics and Poetry in the Georgics. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-06699-X

RUSSELL, Bertrand (1945). A History of Western Philosophy. And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Simon and Schuster, New York.

SCHÖNER, Erich (1964). Das Viererschema in der antiken Humoral-pathologie. Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, Heft 4; Wiesbaden.

TAYLOR, Thomas (tr.) (1895). Iamblichus on ‘The Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans and Assyrians’. Bertram Dobell, London.

TESKE, Hans (1933). Thomasin von Zerclaere, der Mann und sein Werk. C. Winter, Heidelberg.

TEZMEN-SIEGEL, Jutta (1985). Die Darstellung der ‘septem artes liberales‘ in der Bildenden Kunst als Rezeption der Lehrplangeschichte. tuduv-Verlagsgesellschaft, Munchen. ISBN 3-88073-167-5

VLASTOS, Gregory (1947). Equality and Justice in Early Greek Cosmologies. Classical Philology. Vol. XLII, No. 1 (jan. 1947). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

WALLIS, Richard T. (1972/1995). Neo-Platonism. Gerald Duckworth & Company, London/Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

WHITMAN,  Cedric H.  (1958/1965). Homer and the Heroic Tradition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts/W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. LCCC 58-7252/ISBN 0393003132

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18. Roma quadrata

Builders and poets of Rome

The character of the Roman cultural period, which was prolific in a number of successful expansion-wars and architectural developments, was based on power play and the expression thereof. Whereas the Egyptian cultural heritage can be seen as a product of First Quadrant-thinking (living with the gods) and the Greek cultural period as a Second Quadrant phenomena (living with the philosophers), so the Roman Empire seemed to be a representation of the Third Quadrant stage in a quadralectic approach (living with the warriors). Naturally, this is a gross simplification of historical reality, which does not account for all the atrocities committed by the Egyptians and Greek in their fights, but can, nevertheless, be used as a global characterization of the major classical civilizations (from a modern point of view).

Furthermore, the Roman warriors got, returning from their battles, an appetite for the spiritual things in life. A lack of ‘culture’ became immanent following the military successes in the third century BC, while fighting the Punic wars against the Carthaginians. The occupations of artist and warrior were difficult to combine. The Romans were of the opinion that ‘art’ was not man-like and more suited for foreigners, who lost their dignity as fighting man (GRIFFIN, 1986). Consequently, Rome had to import its culture. In particular, between 250 and 200 BC a great interest in Greek culture was aroused. The years between 200 and 100 BC saw a Roman world flooded with (foreign) art. And from 133 BC onwards, HAFNER (1983) speaks of a downright plundering.

It was, maybe due to the above described violent nature (of acquiring visibility), that the fourfold way of thinking was a relative late development in the Roman cultural period and took mainly place after the conquest of Greece (133 BC) and the subsequent robbing of its cultural and philosophical heritage. If the Roman cultural period is dated between 750 BC and 500 AD, this visibility-point (of the tetradic way of thinking) is about halfway in time, i.e. in the middle of the Third Quadrant.

However, it must be remembered that the first Greek influences on the Roman civilization already started around 480 BC. Therefore, it can be concluded, that the acquaintance with certain aspects of Greek thoughts (including the tetrad form) must have taken place from this earlier date onwards.

Attention is drawn here with regards to the anticipation of tetradic thinking, to the use of the term ‘Roma quadrata’. This description, as part of the history of the city of Rome, pointed to a four-fold division of Rome (Urbs quattuor regionum) and will be briefly described in its historical context.

In the pre-Etruscan times, there were two primary settlements of the embryonic ‘Rome’, one on the Palatine Hill and the other on the Quirinal, which were closely bonded. The Sabinic tribe extended towards the Viminal hill and the Latin tribe expanded to the Velia (east of the Forum), on the Subura and in the Etruscan times on the Janiculum, towards the right bank of the Tiber.

In Etruscan times the Quirinal became the central point of the emerging city, but after the autonomy of Rome in the fifth century BC, the eastern and southern suburbs were incorporated in the city, making up three different parts. After the invasion of the Gaul (in 390 BC), it became clear that the protection of the acropolis was insufficient. At the beginning of the fourth century and the establishment of the republic, the Palatine Hill was included in the still-expanding city, which now consisted of four parts (VON GERKAN, 1959). The ‘Urbs quattuor regionum’ became a historical entity (fig. 99). The characterization of Rome as a ‘city-on-seven-hills’ might have some topographic references, but was never used in an administrative sense. The ‘Septimontium‘, described by Varro (116 – 27 BC) in his ‘De Lingua Latina’ (6, 24), was the name for a celebration, which took place in Rome, but it cannot be shown that the ‘Septimontium‘ had any connection with the division of the town in any part of its development.


Fig. 99 – A map of the Rome in Servianian times, when the city was divided in four districts, the ‘Urbs quattuor regionum’. The main topographic features and the boundaries of the areas with the same name are indicated: I: Suburana; II: Esquilina; III. Collina; IV: Palatina. According to Von GERKAN (1959).

The actual character of the four-parted Rome and its precise boundaries are a matter of scientific debate. MÜLLER (1961) gives four types of division of the regions in Rome (fig. 100). After its initial two-part development the unity of Rome was moulded from four districts or sectors of which MÜLLER (1961) said: ‘Vier Sektoren: Der Gedanke an ‘Roma quadrata’ drängt sich auf, was richtigerweise wohl mit ‘viergeteiltes Rom’ anstelle von ‘quadratisches Rom’ übersetzt werden muss’.


Fig. 100 – The four regions in Rome, according to Kiepert (1837), Richter (1901), Hülsen (1901) and von Gerkan (1953).

Since the establishment of Rome on the Palatine Hill, there never was a square form in its (natural) design. The Greek biographer Plutarch (46? – 120? AD;) described – in his ‘Romulus‘ (11) – the genesis of Rome as a circle-shaped plan with four gates. Representations of the city of Rome in a square form were based on fantasy.

The Ravenna-born Fabio Calvo planned a pictorial reconstruction of ancient Rome together with the painter Raphael. The death of the latter (in 1520) prevented this plan. Calvo described in his book ‘Antiquae Urbis Romae cum regionibus simulacrum‘ (Rome, 1527) a whole series of (fantasy) drawings in which the city of Rome is respectively round, square (fig. 101) and with eighth- and sixteenth corners (BENEVOLO, 1980). The different geometrical forms relate, in Calvo’s view, to the subsequent periods of government in the history of the city. They were derived from a Renaissance mind, who tried to establish some preconceptual ideas about geometry and division thinking in the features of the past.


Fig. 101 – Fantasy representation of ‘Quadrata Roma’ at the time of the founding of the city by Romulus (eight century B.C.). Part of a series of different geometrical shapes of Rome in the ‘Antiquae Urbis Romae cum regionibus simulacrum’ by Fabio Calvo, published in Rome in 1527. In: BENEVOLO (1980).

EHRHARDT (1945, p. 182) pointed, in a most instructive article, to the cosmological implications of a city building plan: ‘The ideal city is built in a square, or at least its roads meet in right angles, in order to express the fact that the political system, likewise, derives its rules from the spiritual form of the cosmos’.

The square shape is associated with the Greek term ‘dikaiosyne‘, pointing to a divine justice, which in turn, is closely connected with the number four. The ‘dikaiosyne‘ is the first of the four cardinal virtues and generates the bond between the divine macro- and the human micro-cosmos (not unlike the quadralectic relation between First and Third Quadrant). There is a ‘quadrata iustitia’ and a healthy body is called a ‘quadratum corpus’. A good character is a ‘signum quadratum‘ (from the Greek ‘kallokagathos’).

In the Greek sculptural art these geometric implications were elaborated by Polykleitos in his ‘Canon’. This title means literally a ‘ruler’. It indicated a scheme of proportions, which had to be the base of every piece of art to comply with to the pursuit of beauty (to kallon). Beauty, in Polykleitos’ view, is the conscious perception of relations (s’ JACOB, 1987). The ideal proportions of the human body consist of four parts: from the feet to the knee, from the knee to the crutch, from the crutch to the armpits and from the armpits to the crown. A person built in this way is a ‘tetragonos aner’.

The Romans adopted these Greek notions in a practical sense in their town planning. They followed the fifth-century BC Greek architect Hippodamus, son of Euryphon of Miletus, who built cities according to the ‘Hippodamian principles’, i.e. as a grid. The cities of Olythus, southeast of Thessaloniki, and Priene, in the valley of the Meander, were outstanding examples of the Greek grid towns. The Roman town builders copied the grid system, but they started with a cross-shape, which was ‘filled up’ to a grid (fig. 102).


Fig. 102 – The city plan of Timgad in Numidia (Algeria) is a good example of a Roman settlement, based on a regular pattern. The main axis, called ‘decumus maximus‘ and ‘kardo maximus‘, were first laid out as a cross. The city-square and the amphitheater were positioned along the southern part of the kardo maximus. The buildings were, in this particular case, organized in four blocs (5 x 6 and 6 x 6), to make up an extended ‘centurio‘. After: VON GERKAN (1939). Kolonial-städte der Antike.

The Roman land surveying started with the positioning of a ‘groma’, a measure apparatus with a ‘tetrans’ and ‘stella‘ as a cross-shaped sight. The location of the groma was in the centre of the area in which building was planned. Two lines were surveyed from this central point: the shadow of the sun provided the north-south axis, the ‘kardo‘. The so-called ‘decumanus‘ was drawn perpendicular on this line, resulting in a cross as a frame of reference. The major axes (being the initial main streets) were denominated the ‘kardo maximus’ (KM) and the ‘decumanus maximus’ (DM) (DILKE, 1971; 1987) (fig. 103).


Fig. 103 – This illustration of the main pivots in a building project was given in a mediaeval manual for Roman surveyors. The original books from the first to the fourth century BC were copied in the Middle Ages, but the art to draw maps to scale was lost. The diagram shows the base lines in a square: DM = decumanus maximus (E – W) and KM = kardo maximus (N – S).

At the end of the main streets four gates were built and the quadrants were further divided in twenty-five blocks (or ‘centuriae‘) each (fig. 104): ‘Ab uno umbilico in quattuor partes omnis centuriarum ordo componitur‘. This method of surveying was also frequently used in the ‘castrametation‘, the  military practice, when a (temporary) army camp had to be set up.


Fig. 104 – The theoretical base of Roman surveying consisted of two axes, four quadrants and hundred squares: ‘Ab uni umbilico in quattuor partes omnis centuriarum ordo componitur‘. The four-partitioning of space was a fundamental feature in Roman geodesy, often used in  military practice to put up camp, and in a more elaborate form, in subsequent town planning.

An example can be found in the square outlines of several army-camps used by the siege of Masada (Israël), the Jewish mountain-fortress, in 73 AD – ending with the collective suicide of nine hundred and sixty defenders (YADIN, 1966). The names of the main streets were not ‘via kardinalis‘ and ‘via decumana‘ in military practice, as to be expected, but ‘via principalis‘ and ‘via praetoria‘.

There are many examples of the influence of the Roman ‘agrimensores‘ in city development (BENEVOLO, 1980): Aosta (in Italy), Cologne and Trier (Germany) and Silchester in England (fig. 81 right). More examples can be found, in particular, in the newly conquered areas during the expansion of the Roman empire. However, not every cross-shaped street-plan is of ‘Roman’ origin. Many demographic developments took place after the Romans had gone. The importance of a town or city in the Middle Ages, and its subsequent expansion, depended often on its geographical position on crossroads between areas of (early) economic activity.

Vitruvius’ book on architecture – published by Cesare Cesariano in Como, 1521 – gave a scheme of the theoretical division of a Roman town in ‘insulae‘ (fig. 105 left, from the edition of 1536). The city of Silchester (England) is one of the many examples of settlements with their Roman roots still visible (fig. 105 right). These two illustrations of a theoretical design and a practical appearance of a Roman town indicate also the flexibility of Roman engineering.


Fig. 105 – Left: From Vitruvius’ book ‘De Architectura‘ (edition 1536). The Italian Renaissance showed a great interest in geometrical compositions as part of the pursuit of clarity in architecture and sculpture. Right: The Roman city of Silchester in England. The grid-work of ‘insulae‘ around the central ‘Forum‘ is clearly visible on this map of the excavation area. The transition from a well-designed army camp into a small town, which was best observed at the geographical borders of the Roman Empire during its greatest extension, was often a gradual one.

There is substantial evidence for division-thinking in architecture in the later centuries of the Roman Empire. The subject is, as far as known, never studied from this particular angle. The great building activities of the Roman emperors Trajan (98 – 117) and Hadrian (117 – 138), in particular,  demonstrate an explicit concern with a functional division in their design. The principle of two-side symmetry (related to dual thinking) is most prominent,  but there is also evidence of the four-fold division. The question of a numerological origin or a genuine application of a form of tetradic thinking in the ‘Hadrian architecture’ will be a subject of further study.

Building became an expression of power. It was a time of architectural innovations. WHITE (1984) said: ‘By the first century AD builders had discovered that two vaults could be made to intersect at right angles without any danger to the stability of either. Such ‘groined’ vaults could be used to roof a large rectangular space, the roof supported by piers at each of the four points of intersection. Once this scheme had been put into practice, it was a simple matter for the architect to minister to the expanding tastes of emperors obsessed with notions of size and splendour by multiplying the number of intersecting elements, creating such vast and imposing structures as the Bath of Caracalla or the Basilica of Maxentius.’

The well-known Pantheon in Rome, completed during the reign of emperor Hadrian, exhibit the ultimate possibilities of the new construction methods and materials (brickwork) and can be seen as a highlight of division-thinking in practice (MACDONALD, 1976)(fig. 106).


Fig. 106 – The Pantheon in Rome. The building was founded by Marcus Agrippa, the son-in-law of Augustus, in 27 AD. After a fire it was rebuilt by Hadrian between 118 and 128 AD. The building is a symbiosis of linear and cyclic thinking, aiming at the ultimate architectural representation of (double-four) division-thinking. Ground plan by F. Coarelli.

Hadrian’s palace in Tivoli near Rome and the baths at Lepcis Magna in Libya (fig. 107) gave further evidence of a well-developed consciousness of division-thinking translated into architectonic visibility.


Fig. 107 – The baths of the Roman Emperor Hadrian at Lepcis Magna in Libya (126/127 AD) show a bilateral symmetry along a vertical and is divided in four parts in a horizontal plan. The four main areas are, from top to bottom: 1 (a). natatio (swimming pool); 2 (b/c). frigidarium (cold bath); 3 (e). tepidarium (lukewarm bath); 4. (f) calidarium (hot bath).

Hundred years later the bath of Caracalla (212 – 216 AD) used the same four-fold scheme (fig. 108/109). A strong bilateral symmetry is prominent, but also the four different types of baths along the vertical axis provide their own, symbolic meaning. The round ‘calidarium‘ (C), the ‘tepidarium‘ (T), ‘frigidarium‘ (F, with four water basins in the corners) and the ‘natatio’ (N) are stages in a process of mental and bodily cleaning. In the lateral buildings, like the change-rooms (A, apodyterien) and the areas for exercise (B, the ‘palaistra‘), the strict division-order is loosened.


Fig. 108 – The ground plan of the baths of Emperor Caracalla (M. Aurelius Antoninus) or ‘Thermae Antoniniae‘. The complex was built between 212 and 216 AD along the Via Nova in Rome and measured 220 x 114 meters. These baths are one of the best preserved and prominent features of Roman architecture.


Fig. 109 – Part of the Bath of Caracalla in Rome (212 – 216 AD). Photo: Marten Kuilman (2000).

Emperor Diocletian (298 – 305 AD) constructed, nearly another century later, the biggest bath complex in Rome: 376 x 361 meters with a three-partion (calidario, tepidario and frigidario) of the bath-section. Instead of a ‘natatio‘ there was a walled area around the whole complex, providing an area for preparation, and making up the four-division, which is so typical for the older baths.

Further variations on the same theme of bilateral symmetry and four-fold division can be found in the Roman baths at Badenweiller (Blackforest, Germany) (PÖRTNER & TADEMA SPORRY, 1959/1976) and the bathing complex in Trier (Germany) (WEITZMANN, 1979) (fig. 110).


Fig. 110 –  A plan of the Imperial Baths in Trier (Germany) shows the symmetrical lay-out and an elaborate development of the four-fold scheme of Caldarium (C), Tepidarium (T), Frigidarium (F) and Natatio (N). The Imperial Baths were one of three bath houses in Trier (Augusta Treverorum) and constructed during the reign of Constantine the Great (306 – 337 AD).  Only the eastern side has survived as a ruin. The external masonry, with alternating blocks and brickwork, is of architectural importance. In: WEITZMANN (1979).  A plan of the Imperial Thermae in Trier is  also given (p. 300) in: FLETCHER (1975).

The triumphal arch is a distinct, but somewhat confusing type of architectural evidence with regards to division-thinking. This particular type of arch is closely related to the folly, a building without a function except to satisfy the vanity of its builder. The basic pattern is a framework of four pillars. It can be integrated in a wall with either one – like the triumphal arch of Titus on the Velia, erected in 81 AD – or three passages – of which the arch of Septimus Severus (203 AD), on the north-side of the Forum in Rome, is most characteristic.

The style reflects the straight-forward way of thinking of the emperors, who had these extravagances erected. Battle scenes were the favorite subject on the reliefs placed on the inner and outer walls of the arch. As such they are monuments for the power-motivated and strife-orientated way of thinking, which is typical for the empirical Third Quadrant (in a quadralectic visibility-cycle). Two- and three-fold division is of prime importance, but in later developments the four-fold division had an ambivalent role.

The fore-mentioned emperor Septimus Severus had a four-parted arch (or ‘tetrapylon‘) erected in Lepcis Magna (in Libya, fig. 111) at more or less the same time as the ‘classical’ arch with three passages in Rome. The four monumental reliefs on the inside of the arches were transferred to the museum of Tripoli.


Fig. 111 – The triumphal arch (tetrapylon) of Septimus Severus (200 – 210 AD) at Lepcis Magna (Libya). This four-fold design is a further development in the history of triumphal arches. Their three-fold origin is firmly embedded in the power-thoughts of the Flavian emperors. In: GIEDION (1969).

An arch of Janus or ‘Janus quadrifrons‘ was erected on the Forum Boarium (cattle market) of Rome in the second half of the fourth century, during the reign of Constantine I (the Great) (fig. 112). It was glorified in its decay by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who made a great number of copper-etchings of the classical buildings of Rom at the end of the eighteenth century in his ‘Vedute di Roma‘. This arch, built from marble and covered with brick (now disappeared) was called ‘Janus Quirini‘ and dedicated to the war god Quirinus, another disguise of Mars. The structure had four large entrances (GIEDION, 1969).


Fig. 112 – The ‘Arcus Quadrifons‘ or ‘Ianus Quadrifrons‘ – a tetrapylon – is seen here on the Forum Boarium near the River Tiber in Rome. Giovanni Battista Piranesi made a copper etching of the arch in 1771. Photo: Marten Kuilman (2000).

The four-fold division was popular as a symbolic entity at the end of the third century AD. This emblematic awareness was expressed in architecture, but also in sculpture and even in politics. The quadriga, as a metaphorical carriage, was a popular artistic motif, expressing the powerful aspects of the four-fold.  Emperor Diocletian (emperor from 284 – 305 AD) introduced a type of political system, the so-called tetrarchy, based on the division of political powers in four geographical units. Diocletian and Maximianus – with the titles of ‘Augustus‘ – ruled in respectively the east and west-side of the empire. Constantius Chlorus and Galerius – titled ‘Caesar‘ – were their co-rulers (KOLB, 1987).

Sextus Aurelius Victor, a Latin historian around 360 AD, remarked that all rulers of the First Tetrarchy came from the area of Illyrium and showed a lack of ‘humanitas‘. The (first) tetrarchy collapsed in a power struggle and dead: Maximianus resigned in 305 AD, but had himself reinstated during the reign of his son Maxentius in 306 and later committed suicide. Constantius Chlorus died in 306 and Galerius died in 311.

Only Emperor Diocletian survived his own political system and retreated voluntarily in 305 AD to live in Illyria, his country of  birth. He built an enormous castle with a strong tetradic outlay in Spalato (Split), on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Diocletian died in 311. His mausoleum, in the enclosure of the castle, has an octagonal shape (fig. 113).


Fig. 113 – Top: Reconstruction of the palace of Diocletian in Split. The extended building was erected in the fourth century A.D. and used by the emperor in his retirement. The design of the palace followed the standard Roman surveying techniques, with two crossing main streets, the ‘decumanus maximus‘ (DM) and the ‘kardo maximus‘ (KM). Below: The mausoleum of Diocletian, build within the palace, had an octagonal base.

The most prolific treatment of the fourfold division can be found in Roman poetry. The Roman poet Quintus Ennius (239 – 169 BC) was strongly influenced by the Greek classical authors. He introduced the Greek hexameter in Rome and spoke three languages, a ‘vir trilinguis‘. In 204 BC – during the Second Punic War – he was a centurion in the Roman army and later became a teacher (in the Greek language) in Rome.

Ennius was instrumental in the introduction of Empedocles’ four-fold cycle of creation in the Roman culture (the so-called ‘paluda virago‘-fragment: Empedocles 17 = Ennius 522; OOSTENBROEK, 1977). He also knew the Greek playwright Euripides (c. 480 – 406 BC), author of tragedies like ‘Alcestis‘ (last piece of a tetralogy) and the ‘Medea‘. These plays dealt with philosophical, religious and political themes. Euripides was influenced by Archelaos, a follower of Empedocles.

RAMSAY (1927) indicated the ‘Asiatic’ element in the Greek-European way of thinking. He staged  the four Ionic tribes (chapter XVII) and concluded: ‘In Ionia (the Greek colony in western Turkey), in European Greece, on the Anatolian plateau, and in India we must suppose that there did exist once a social state which was adapted to the fourfold way of life.’

Euripides described the four sons of Ion as the leaders of different tribes (or phylae). ‘Four tribes’, according to RAMSAY (1927), ‘indubitably Asian in origin’: Geleontes (or Gedeontes), Aigikoreis, Argadeis (or Ergadeis) and Hopletes. Furthermore, Aristotle (in the ‘Politeia‘, ch. 41) mentioned this division, which was later (for instance by Strabo) associated with specific tasks and functions.

Even more important for the incorporation of the tetradic thoughts in the Roman cultural period was the poem called ‘Georgica‘ by Vergilius. The writer, Publius Vergilius Maro, was born in 70 BC at Mantua and reached great fame during his life (GRIFFIN, 1986). His first ‘bucolic’ or pastoral poems, titled the ‘Eclogues‘, dated from around 40 BC. Vergilius proclaimed to follow the tradition of the poet Theocritus, a Greek from Syracuse, who wrote pastoral poetry around 280 – 260 BC. Around 29 BC followed the ‘Georgica‘ (circa two thousand lines), using Hesiod of Ascra’s’ ‘Works and Days’ as an example. And finally the ‘Aeneid‘, unfinished at his death in 19 BC, consisting of circa ten thousand lines. Here the story of the ‘Iliad‘ and ‘Odyssee‘ of Homer were reduced to twelve books.

Vergilius’ ‘Georgica‘ is a tetradic epos. The first book is written in the style of the ‘Works and Days‘ (ROSS, 1987). The relation between heaven and earth is a mediator and there is a strict discipline enforced. In the second book, the emphasis is on the life of plants in relation to the soil and growth. A mythic-magical element is interwoven in the text. The third book deals with reality: animals, sexuality and death are the themes. The continuity of the name is safeguarded. The fourth book discussed the physical force and mental understanding, or the highest aims in human life. The first and the third book start with a long introduction and end with death and disaster. The second and the fourth book have a short prelude and come to an end with a song of praise or an enchanting story (PUTNAM, 1979).

This presentation echoed Empedocles’ cycle of love and strife: the arcadic and static first position (of love) is followed by the vigorous growth and development (with strife) in the second location. The development crystallizes in a static reality and identity (of love) in the third setting and turns into the highest, dynamic aims and understanding in the fourth quarter (in strife).

Finally, the poet Ovidius (43 B.C. – c. 17 A.D.), in his ‘Metamorphoses‘, did a great deal to record the old (Greek) mythological stories. The book starts in a fourfold mood with the creation-story of the earth. First, there is a two-division from a shapeless uncoordinated mass (Chaos) in strife to a separation by a god into elements, forming a harmonious union.

This episode is followed by the creation of man – either by a Creator, or else Prometheus, son of Iapetus. A summary of human history is given in four parts, which is a modification of Empedocles’ cycle of Love and Strife. The Golden Age (of unbound happiness) was followed by the Age of Silver with the institution of the cycle of four seasons and agricultural labour. Then came the Age of Bronze with a fiercer character, but still free from wickedness and finally the Age of Iron, without modesty, truth and loyalty. Book II of the ‘Metamorphoses‘ begins with Phaeton in his quadriga with the horses Pyroïs, Eoüs, Aethon and Phlegon. The last book deals with the teachings of Pythagoras, including the ‘Four Ages of Man’ (Bk XV: 199 – 236).


Theme from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. ‘At the top of the sheet, Jupiter sits on his eagle and hurls a thunderbolt at Phaethon, son of Apollo, who plunges from a horse-drawn chariot. Phaethon had asked to drive the chariot of the sun, but he lost control and to save the earth Jupiter destroyed him. Underneath, his sisters, the weeping Heliades, are changed into poplar trees while another relation, Cycnus, has become a swan. The reclining male figure is the river god, Eridanus into whose river (the River Po in Italy) Phaethon fell.  At the very bottom is a message in Michelangelo’s handwriting addressed to the recipient of this ‘presentation drawing’, the young Florentine nobleman, Tommaso Cavalieri. The message states that if Cavalieri does not like this unfinished drawing, Michelangelo will draw another the next evening or, if he does, the artist will finish it. As the drawing is finished, Tommaso must have liked it. The specific meaning of the composition for both Michelangelo and Cavalieri is not known. On a general level, it may refer to the dangers of pride as a moral warning from an older man to a youth. Michelangelo also drew a lost portrait of Tommaso and gave him several other ‘presentation drawings’ with allegorical and narrative themes. The creation of such works reflects the growing appreciation in the Renaissance for the intimate medium of drawing, particularly those created by the most advanced artists of the period’. (www.britishmuseum.org). Michelangelo, Royal Library Windsor. HETZER (1987).

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– (1987). Mathematics and measurement. Reading the Past Series, British Museum Publications, London.

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WEITZMANN, Kurt (1979)(Ed.) Age of Spirituality. Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century.  Metropolitan Museum of Art,  New York. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. Catalog  exposition, Nov. 19, 1977 – Febr. 12, 1978.

WHITE, K.D. (1984). Greek and Roman Technology. Thames and Hudson, London/ Cornell University Press.  ISBN  0-8014-1439-3

YADIN, Yigael (1966/1972). Masada. Herodes’ burcht en het laatste bolwerk der Joden (Tr. : Masada. Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand). Unieboek B.V., Fibula-Van Dishoeck, Bussum. ISBN 90 228 3926 5/1566490332

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19. The wisdom of age

Tetradic Europe

The history of the tetradic way of thinking in Europe can be divided into several periods, based on a degree of ‘visibility’:

I. The primeval phase of tetradic thinking can be recognized long before ‘Europe’ was established as a cultural entity. Many artifacts of the Bronze (16th – 5th century BC) and Iron Age (450 – 1 BC) display motifs, which are linked with a tetradic division (fig. 114). In particular, in the Iron Age (La Tène) there is a strong Celtic expression in art, which could be regarded as proto-European.


Fig. 114 – Expressions of tetradic ornamentation of jewellery and implements are seen here, dating from a proto-European period, before the actual (visible) delimitation of such an era (starting in 750 AD). These objects indicate that the four-fold imagery, possibly incorporated in some sort of sun worship, must have been part of the ancient ‘Celtic’ frame of mind, which preceded the arbitrary start of the socio-political presence of ‘Europe’ as a historic entity. Top left: A silver plate from the grave of the ‘princess’, Hassleben, Erfurt (Germany), third to fourth century AD. The ‘Fürstinnengrabes von Hassleben’ was discovered in 1913. See for the original research results also: Walter SCHULZ (1931). Das Fürstengrab von Hassleben. Berlin/Leipzig. Top right: a swastika-motive from a grave. Below: two richly ornamented brooches from a Roman grave in Denmark, with a swastika motif. Iron Age. National Museum, Copenhagen.

II. The gradual withdrawal of the Romans as a political force from (western and central) Europe and the migration of tribes within the territory, changed the cultural scene from the fifth century AD onwards and gave way to new developments. The strong ‘revival’ of the Celtic element – from 600 – 700 AD – prepared the formal visibility of ‘Europe’. The missionary work of the Irish Christians during this period – generated in their own Celtic cultural background – brought large areas of west and central Europe in contact with a forgotten heritage (fig. 115/116).


Fig. 115 – Early Celtic number symbolism. a. Bronze decoration from Luristan; b. Old Kilcullen Cross; c. Kells, Market cross; d. Gilt bronze disk, Togherstown (NMD); e, Book of Kells; f. Broze plaquette in Trondheim Museum. In: HENRY (1967).


Fig. 116 – Celtic four-fold symbolism occurs, enigmatic but widespread, in a number of spiritual books written by Irish and English scholars. This illustration is a page from the Book of Lindisfarne, created by the clergyman Eadfrith and Ethelwald between 688 and 698 AD. The book consists of 258 folio’s (24 x 34 cm), British Library Cotton MS Nero D. IV.

III. The major discussion – and subsequently in historical hindsight its visibility – on the different types of division-thinking took place in the eleventh and twelfth century in a small, but influential intellectual environment. A strife flared up between Christian scolars over the dominant type of division thinking: either the four-fold (or the old way) or the three-fold (the new way).

The Holy Trinity was the new symbol, which was better suited for the worldly ambitions of power of the Roman Catholic Church. Or, like ALLERS (1944; p. 372) expressed it rather cryptically: ‘Although the Monad retained much of its importance also during the Middle Ages, the Three there plays, for obvious reasons, a predominant role.’

An example of the new spirit of division can be seen in fig. 117, where the Unity of God (Deus) is divided in a soul (Spiritus) and a body (Caro), together making a trinity. Each of these parts is connected individually with four categories: Bonum – Qualitas – Quantitas – Motus.


Fig. 117 – The trinity Deus, Spiritus en Caro is seen here as an expression of division thinking at the end of the twelfth century in Europe. God (Deus) represents a unity, which divides in two: Spiritus (Soul) and Caro (Body) to make up a trinity. The three units are connected with four descriptive characteristics: the ultimate Good (bonum), quality (qualitas), quantity (quantitas) and motion (motus).

The intellectual blend of Celtic (with four-fold elements) and Christian (with two-fold principles) division-thinking resulted, during the smooth transition into the Carolingian period, in the first visibility of Europe-‘as a unity’. This moment is arbitrary chosen – from an early twenty-first century view point – around the year 750 AD, when Charlemagne started his, partly successful but temporary, effort to unite Europe.

Tetradic thinking was further elaborated at the Carolingian court schools, without formulating a theory (maybe except for John Scotus Eriugena). Its character, like it has always been, is one of modesty. It searches, in an ‘Epicurean’ way, to ‘isonomia‘ or balance (between the four types of visibility in the different quadrants). Expression is not the explicit aim of a tetradic approach, because the dynamic element will be partly lost at the very moment that a material visibility is established.

IV. The European cultural history reached a climax in perceptible existence in the Renaissance and the ‘Golden Age’ (1450 – 1700). Expansion and discovery resulted in growing trade and industry, art and creativity. However, the emphasis on the material aspects of life had a detrimental effect on the width of division thinking. The lower forms of division thinking, and the spirit of opposites, turned out to be extremely useful in conquering the world and exploiting its wealth (like the Romans had shown before). No questions were asked, in the process of strife and submission, to the Indians, Aztecs, Incas or the people along the African coast, who saw their cultures damaged or destroyed.

A publication by the Scottish Reverend Thomas Boston (1676 – 1732) called ‘Human Nature in its Fourfold State or Primitive Integrity, Entire Depravity, Begin Recovery, and Consummate Happiness or Misery‘ is a representative book for this period. This publication, which is now virtually unreadable, gives the impression of a tetradic division, but is basically a collection of polarities, using the quaternary as a numerological summary. His four phases (1. Innocence; 2. Nature; 3. Grace and 4. Eternal happiness or misery) expressed the characteristics of opposites, the either… or and nothing in between. The material Golden Age of Europe and its temporary world-domination was, above all, a period of the Narrow View.

V. The wisdom of age and a wider view became dominant in Europe after 1800 AD, when Europe entered the last quadrant of its visible existence. Often, the spirit of the time is described as ‘Romantic’, but fundamentally it was the challenge of the four-fold way of thinking entering the intellectual climate.

This conceptual revolution is observable in different areas of human activity. The ‘Essai sur la Philosophie des Sciences’ (1834) of André-Marie Ampère (1775 – 1836) articulated a new feeling of confidence in the division of nature, which was reached after a ‘long travail‘ from 1804 to 1820. In his own development Ampère distinguished four stages: ‘quatre epoques correspondent aux quatre sortes de conceptions‘. This division corresponds, by-and-large, with the characteristics of the (quadralectic) quadrants and their type of visibility:

Ampère                                          Quadrant                                 Type of Visibility


Sensations                                        First                                      invisible invisibility

Decouvre l’existence                       Second                                 invisible visibility

Donner un nom                               Third                                    visible visibility

Réuni                                                  Fourth                                 visible invisibility

It is clear, that Ampère’s activities were centred in the last two areas. Multitude of knowledge did not scare him. He was grown up with Diderot’s ‘Encyclopaedie‘ and – just like the celebrated encyclopaedists – determined to name it all. All knowledge, was his strong opinion, can be united into a universal system. He gave a synopsis towards the end of his essay with an ‘Explication des tableaux synoptiques des sciences et des arts‘. And if that is not enough, he concluded with a ‘Carmen Mnemonicum’, a Latin poem to remember the classification.

VI. At present, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there seems to be a renewal of the tetradic thinking and a fresh understanding of the limitations of lower division thinking. The atrocities of two World Wars have proven, without doubt, that the thinking-in-opposites leads to moral bankruptcy (fig. 118). Love and hate are too meager ingredients for human interaction. The range should be wider and more flexible.


Fig. 118 – The four horses of the apocalypse (1925) by Friedrich Viegener (Soest 1888) in: BLOCK  (1966).

Our present activity has to be one of mapping the past and the future with new and better measures, leaving enough space for options and other interpretations. In the end (which is also a beginning) their is no ultimate truth, only a newly gained wisdom.

The description of the complete history of tetradic thought in Europe would be an enormous task, which might be too gigantic to undertake. The present overview will only be an outline of possible indications. The above mentioned periods will be followed and from each period some examples of tetradic imagery or thought are presented. Most important of all is the notion that such a history could be written and will provide, in the end, a better insight.

BLOCK, Werner (1966) – Der Arzt und der Tod in Bildern aus sechs Jahrhunderten. Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart.

HENRY, Francoise (1967). Irish Art. During the Viking Invasions (800 – 1020 AD). Methuen & Co., Ltd., London.

SCHULZ, Walter (1931). Das Fürstengrab von Hassleben. – R. Zahn, Die Silberteller von Haßleben und Augst (Berlin 1933). Hist. Zeitschr. 153, 1935, 169-170. Berlin/Leipzig.

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20. Celtic consciousness

The Celts

The name ‘Celts’ is used here as a description for the conglomerate of tribes making up the primal inhabitants of the core of what later became the European cultural area. It also includes the subsequent scattering of certain tribes towards the fringes (fig. 119). Their origin can be found in the hunters and nomadic people, which moved – around 2500 BC – from the Russian tundras towards the west (LAING, 1992).


Fig. 119 – Cultural provinces and expansions of the Celts, according to ROSS (1970/1986).

The Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus used the name ‘Keltopi‘ in the fifth century BC to describe the tribes north of the Alps. Julius Caesar gave in his book on the Gallic wars (‘Commentarii de bello Gallico‘) an extensive account of the ‘Galli‘ and the ‘Celtae‘. The main source is, however, the lost work of Posidonius, but recorded by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo (DILLON & CHADWICK, 1967).

The connection with a wandering lifestyle was strongly present in the early artistic expressions. Relative small art- and domestic implements were easy to carry. KITZINGER (1940/1983, p. 46) said: ‘This northern art was the opposite of Mediterranean art in almost every aspect; associated in its origins with wandering tribes, it was almost entirely confined to such portable objects as personal ornaments, weapons and implements and did not include monuments such as stone buildings, fresco paintings, mosaics or large-scale sculpture. Goldsmiths’ work, enamelling, the casting of small bronze objects and the carving of bone were the crafts at which the northern artists excelled.’


Fig. 120 – A reconstruction of a fibula (brooche), used to fasten clothing. In: HAFFNER  (1989).

An artistic craftsmanship can be observed in the decorations of jewellery, household implements, weaponry and saddles (fig. 120). Spirals, zigzags and step-patterns were placed in a geometric setting, sometimes with motifs of (stylistic) animals. Fine examples of such art products are the assemblages of horse-harnesses from the fifth century BC, made up from circles and swastikas in a three- and four-fold setting (fig. 121). In particular, the metal parts of a harness, like a snaffle, cinches, chest plate, and the part under the tail were very suitable for decoration.


Fig. 121 – Parts of a horse-harness with three- and fourfold symmetry. Left: From a grave in Somme-Bionne (Marne, France), fifth century BC; Right: Ornament with open work from a horse-harness, end of the fifth century BC, British Museum, London.

The (arbitrary) limitation of the period of the Celtic cultural prominence is from about 1000 BC until the beginning of the Christian era. Archaeologists have subdivided and named this period after the two main locations of artefacts: Hallstätt, near Bad Gastein in Austria (fig. 122) and La Tène, near Neuchatel in Switzerland (fig. 123; for the locations see also fig. 119).


Fig. 122 – A view of the Hallstatter See (Salzkammergut, Austria) (Photo: Marten Kuilman, March 2007).


Fig. 123 – La Tène, (meaning: the shallows) is situated at the northern part of Lake Neuchatel (Suisse) is another major archaeological location in relation to the Celt. Soon after the discovery in the mid 19th cent., the La Tène Culture (LTC)/La Tène Period was recognized as typical of the later Iron Age in much of Central Europe. (Photo: Marten Kuilman, Febr. 2012).

The Hallstatt-culture is dated between 1000 and 500 BC (FINLAY, 1973). Georg Ramsauer, director of the salt mine of Hallstätt, discovered the prehistoric burial field, where the first implements were found, in 1846. He excavated between the years 1846 and 1862 nearly thousand graves. From 1876 onwards also scholars from the Academy of Science in Vienna studied the salt mines and the burial-grounds and defined the bulk of material as a ‘culture’, which had reached its prominence around 770 BC (fig. 124).


Fig. 124 – A historic view of Salzkammergut in Austria. Salt production took place in the area near Bad Gastein from prehistoric times. The remnants of activity of the ‘Keltoi‘, preserved in the mines and burial fields, provided the material that was (later) scientifically identified as the Halstätt-culture, flowering between 1000 and 500 BC.

The La Tène-culture is younger and divided in three periods: La Tène I (450 – 250 BC), La Tène II (250 – 100 BC) and La Tène III (from 100 BC) (BRUNAUX, 1987). The rich source-area is situated near the eastern part of the Lake of Neuchatel (La Tène means ‘the shallows’). The research started in 1858, after the water had fallen to an unusual low level and prehistoric woodwork became in sight. Archaeologists found many works of art. The abundance (in details and quality) surpassed the finds in the Hallstatt area and pointed to a higher level of civilization with a cosmopolitan character. The ‘Latenium’ (Musée Cantonal d’Archeologie at Hauterive, Suisse) has a large collection of the material, which was found at the site along the lake.

The Irish folk tale ‘Tain Bo Cualnge‘ (The Cattle Robbery of Cooley) gave an insight of a European society in the fifth century BC. Ireland was at that time divided in four provinces, called ‘coiceda‘. The names of the four kingdoms (Ulaid, Connachta, Laigin, Mumu) live on through the names of the present provinces in Ireland: Ulster, Connacht, Leinster en Munster. ‘Coiceda‘ means literally ‘fifth’ and is associated with the central province Meath (Mide), but this one is never mentioned as such (fig. 125).


Fig. 125 – The historic division of Ireland. The four provinces are Connaught, Ulster, Leinster and Munster, with Meath as an undescribed unit in the middle. They formed the political division of Ireland up to the year 1066 (left). The clerical division, as made up by the Roman Catholilc Church from the twelfth century up to the Reformation, is shown to the right. According to MÜLLER (1961).

Together with the division in geographical place, there is also a division in time (seasons). The Celtic year constituted of festivities based on the sun- and moon cycle. Four important moments are recognized in the year:

1. Samain (Samhain). The new-year celebration in the night of the 31st of October and the first of November. The cattle was gathered and brought to the shelters for the winter. It was a time of contact with the Other World. Particular attention was paid to the dead, story telling, and predicting the future (MATTHEWS, 1989/1993). Bonfires were lit. At present, this event is still known as Hallowe’en in Anglo-Saxon countries. In a christianized form this is the celebration of All Saints Day (2 November). The bonfires are shifted (in England) to Guy Fawkes Night on the fifth of November.

2. Imbolc (or Oimelg). This festivity was, originally, a observance of the shepherds, on the first of February, when the worst of the winter was over. New lambs were born, providing a fresh supply of milk. Spring was in the air, and new life was immanent.

3. Beltaine (or Beltene) was the summer celebration on the first day of May. The winter quarters were left, and everybody was ready for a new start. The war god Belenos was worshiped to provide a rich harvest and well being of the cattle. Beltaine is still alive in the Celtic areas of Northern Italy, France, Great Britain and Ireland. Driving the animals between two fires symbolically cleans the cattle.

4. Lugnasad (Lughnasadh) was the moment of gathering of the whole tribe in the midst of summer (1st August). The time of bailing hay was over and the harvest of wheat and barley was immanent. This was the time of horse racing and other games and matches. In addition, marriages were arranged: by putting their hands through a hole in a rock the young pair promised to stay with together for one year and a day and then decide to continue or to divorce.

The Celtic power in ‘Europe’ reached a peak about 300 BC and developed into an authentic ‘European’ culture. The greatest geographical extension was in the second century BC when the whole of central-Europe, from Ireland to Istanbul could be called ‘Celtic’. Specific coins – always a good indicator of a civilization – occured from the late fourth to the midst of the first century BC (NASH, 1987).

The remains of Celtic sanctuaries, as found from Southern France (Roquepertuse) to Ireland, showed the depth of its influence. The heads of four horses (fig. 126) and a cult of the death – exhibit in the Musée Borely in Marseille – are fairly typical examples of this period. Much, however, has still to be discovered of the Celtic rural life-style and particular of their way of thinking.


Fig. 126 – Four heads of horses in a Celtic sanctuary in Southern France, found near Roquepertuse (Bouches-du-Rhone). This decoration, which was probably used as a girder above a door, is now in the Musée archeologique at Marseille (Chateau Borely). Third century BC. Length 63 cm. The importance of the symbolic meaning of the four horses can not be established in this particular piece.

The original ‘invisible’ tetradic thinking, which might have been practiced in an animistic way by early Celtic tribes in Central Europe (like Halstatt and La Tène), reached the fringes of Europe during the expansions of the Celts (‘Keltenwanderungen‘, wanderings of the Celts; FINLAY, 1973) in the late fifth to the mid-third centuries BC.

Subsequent contact with Roman expansion resulted – at the beginning of the Christian era – to a rift in the (declining) influence of the Celtic culture in Europe: the river Rhine delimited approximately the boundary between the Roman (and Christian) predominance to the west and south and the established ‘Celtic’ tribal setting to the north and east.

A process of visualization of ideas started in the Roman controlled areas due to its relative openness to (Christian) influences – with its emphasis on identity and manifestation. This fermenting process led, in the early seventh century AD, to local centres of culture in Spain (Isidorus, bishop of Seville) and in Ireland. These centres provided – in historical hindsight – the archetypal Celtic-Christian visibility, which is the backbone of the early cultural presence of Europe-proper.

The synthesis of thoughts, which took place in the revival of the Celtic culture in the seventh to tenth century AD, can be seen as a merger of dualistic and quadruple backgrounds. The Books of Kells, Durrow, Durham, Lindisfarne and many lesser masterpieces (fig. 127) reflect the beauty, which resulted of this merger.


Fig. 127 – The Tree of Life, from a miniature in the ‘Litterae paulinae‘, Northumberland, eighth century. It is good to realize that – besides the known masterpieces – there is a large number of lesser virtuous Celtic-Christian books, which contributed to the early visibility of the European culture.

The first emigrations from the cultural centre of Ireland took place in the middle of the sixth century: Colmcille left from Iona (in Scotland), Aidan from Iona to Lindisfarne (Northumbria). The prime motivation of the monastic movement was ascetically rather than evangelical in search for penitential surroundings (like the Irish islands of Skellig and Aran). In short: a search for extremes.

When the Irish monk Columba (born in 543 AD) and his companions sailed for the continent, shortly before 600 AD, he was one of the first generations of ‘Scotti‘, who had the intention to spread Christ’s kingdom in the ‘terra ignota‘ (MACKEY, 1989). The ‘peregrinatio‘, as the spiritual inspired abandoning of the homeland was called, was important for a century and a half: from 600 to 750 AD.

Columba traveled from Bangor (in Wales) to the Vosges, where he founded the monastery of Annegray on the ruins of an old Roman fort destroyed by Atttila in 451 AD. Later he extended his influence to Luxeuil, eight miles to the west. He composed the ‘Regula Monachorum’: severe rules for the monastery in which obedience and fidelity were the highest aims. The ‘Regula Coenobialis‘ was a series of punishments with the emphasis on personal confession of faults. The ‘Penitential’, written for the laity, was a culmination of two-fold thinking:

‘the talkative is to be punished with silence,

the restless with the practice of gentleness,

the gluttonous with fasting,

the sleepy with watching,

the proud with imprisonment,

the deserter with expulsion’

Hundred and twenty days on water and bread was the punishment for sinners. This rigorous diet had some followers in France, but also met with opposition. Columba was driven out of Luxeuil in 610. He moved to Bregenz (Austria) and subsequently to Bobbio (Italy). He died in 615 AD.

Fiachra and Goban (‘little mouth’) also belonged to the first generation of Irish missionaries. The former lived around 630 in a hermitage in the forest of Breuil, in the Brie country east of Paris near Meaux. He founded the first hostel for Irish pilgrims, and his vegetable garden was famous. This gained him the patronage of gardeners (St. Fiachra and the spade). He died around 670. Goban was murdered on the 20th of June 670 to the west of Laon.

St. Kilian, St. Anian and St. Marin went to Central Europe. St. Kilian was tortured in Würzburg in 689 and St. Marin suffered the same fate in November 697 in Wilparting. Virgil of Salzburg was an Irish missionary in Austria. He was born as Fergil in the Trim area (Central Ireland) and known as the author of a book on cosmography (LÖWE, 1982).

The second generation ‘Scotti peregrini‘ – now used as a collective noun for all the religious wanderers from (North) England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – started in the ninth and continued to the second half of the twelfth century and covered the greater part of Europe (fig. 128). Sedulius Scottus (in Liège) and Johannes Scottus Eriugena (in Laon) were two prominent representatives in the Carolingian world (HELLMANN et al., 1906). Other members of the Laon-group of scholars comprised Martin, Aldelm (brother of Eriugena) and Elias (bishop of Angoulême).


Fig. 128 – Some of the major places of settlement of Celtic monks on the continent of Europe between the seventh and ninth century AD, according to McNEILL (1974). The map represents the places where the influence of the first and second generation of Irish missionaries (‘Scotti‘) were felt. Before the year 1000 some ten manuscripts were recorded on Irish soil, while more than fifty could be found in Continental libraries like Würzburg, St. Gallen and Milan (MACKEY, 1989).

A good example of the intellectual climate in this period is given by William of Malmesbury and recorded by RUSSELL (1945, p. 403) and MACKEY (1989). Charles the Bald (died in 877) dined with Eriugena, and asked him: “Quid distat inter sottum et Scottum?” (What separates a fool from an Irishman?), and John replied: “Tabula tantum” (Only the dinner table)(well-stocked with wine). This answer was regarded for a long time as the best ‘bon mot‘ of the Middle Ages.

McNEILL (1974) described, in his history of the Celtic churches between 200 en 1200 AD, the influence of the Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries on the European continent. ‘Schottenklöster‘ (monasteries of the ‘Scotti‘) were founded in Würzburg (1134), Nürnberg (1140?), Konstanz (1142), Vienna (1156), Erfurt (1183) and even as far as Kiev (up until 1241, when the invasion of the Mongols made further communication impossible). The first five abbots of the Waulsort monastery (in Belgium) were Irish.

The royal pilgrim Colman, son of Maelseachlainn Mor and grandson of Brian Boru, was hanged as a spy on the 17th of July 1012 at Stockerau near Vienna, on his way to the Holy Land. His body was brought to Melk, where around his tomb the great Benedictine Abbey arose from 1089 on. St. Koloman (Colomanus) is still the patron saint of Austria. An illustration of Albrecht Dürer (from 1513) showed him as a pilgrim, with the emblems of church and synagogue on his hat (fig. 129).


Fig. 129 – Koloman (Colomanus) as an Irish pilgrim, who was murdered on his way to the Holy Land at Stockerau near Vienna in 1012. The woodcut is of Albrecht Dürer and dated from 1513.

Both the first and second generation ‘Scotti‘ contributed to a ‘feed-back’ of Celtic (Christian) culture to the areas of the Celtic ‘home ground’ in central Europe. However, there was also – simultaneously – a movement from the south, where the Roman Church expanded her version of Christianity to the areas north of the Alps (LAWRENCE, 1984).

PORTER (1931) gave an accurate account of the threat which was posed by the intellectual exodus of the islands to the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, and the choice which had to be made: Rome or Armagh (in particular in such matters as the kind of tonsure and the computation of the date of Eastern). These issues became – and this has never been highlighted – above all a struggle for the roots of visibility.

The first (Celtic) version had a close connection with the tetradic frame of mind and emphasized the four ‘senses‘ as a communication model. The Venerable Bede (673 – 735) and later Alcuin (735 – 804; his ‘Commentarium in Apocalypsin‘ (I,1) opened with the ‘perfectio‘ of four) were the theologians, who vigorously propagated these ideas.

The second version of the Roman Church was dominated by the thinking in opposites, based on the same principles, which had resulted in the Roman Empire: expansion by force, hierarchic organization and guarding the identity (by establishing civil rights). Pope Gregory the Great, in the papal office from 590 – 604, choose England as his field of battle. He sent, as a countermeasure, a ‘heavy-weight’ like Augustine (of Canterbury; not to be confused with St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church fathers) to England in 597 and visited England himself in 601, accompanied by forty monks, sacred vessels and many manuscripts, to turn the ‘Anglo’s into angels‘  (OGILVY, 1936).

The spiritual clash on the eve of the European transition to cultural visibility is one of the most fascinating episodes in its history. It was never posed as an intellectual struggle between higher and lower division thinking. Nevertheless, it is here, in the period leading to the eight century AD, that the visibility of Europe as a cultural unity was established. And in hindsight, it was the victory of dualism or ‘Roman’ way of thinking, which contributed most to the birthright of the young European culture. The alternative – the ‘Celtic’ spirit of tetragonism – would have resulted, most likely, in a society of quarreling tribes and clans – not unlike the history of Africa in the present day, but not in a united Europe, as we know it today.

The same devotion as shown in the Gospel books can be found in the Celtic high-crosses, which are fairly widespread over Ireland and a part of England (HARBISON, 1983). Pagan and Christian elements are joined in harmony in the sculpture of the crosses. A good example is the Gosforth-cross (in Northumbria) with motifs from the Nordic mythology. It shows the end of the world or ‘Ragnarok‘ (BLACKER & LOEWE, 1975; BAILEY, 1980). Fig. 130 gives an illustration of the named cross from the work of COLLINGWOOD (1927/1989) on the Northumbrian Crosses of the pre-Norman Age.


Fig. 130 – The four sides of the high-cross in Gosford, Northumbria are decorated with illustrations of Nordic mythology, indicating the end of the world (Ragnarok/ Doomsday). A short description is given in the text. From W.G. Collingwood’s pioneering book on the ‘Northumbrian crosses of the preNorman Age’ (1927/1989).

The east side of the cross (right) showed a crucifixion, where the lanse-bearer Longinus stands opposite a woman. It is the only explicit Christian element in the decoration of the cross. The rest of the story is a depiction of the overthrow and destruction of the gods in the Nordic mythology (Ragnarok), as described by the Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson (1179 -1241) in his ‘Edda’.

The west side of the cross (second from the left) described two scenes: the god Heimdallr with a Gjallar horn. Below is the traditional enemy, the god Loki (or Loptr), son of the giant Farbauti, who is punished for the death of the innocent Baldr. Loki is attacked by a snake, which spit poison on his forehead. His wife Sigyn collects the poison in a dish. The other sculptures are more difficult to interpret. It seems that a connection is sought between the transitional episodes in the world of Odin, Christ and the end of the world (Doomsday).

The siting of the crosses had a protective significance and marked the boundaries of monasteries (RICHARDSON & SCARRY, 1990). The eighth century ‘Book of Mulling’  (Dublin, Trinity College Library MS 60 (A. I. 15) gave a plan of a monastery with the position of the crosses (fig. 131). The North-cross is dedicated to St. John, the East-cross to St. Matthew, the South-cross to St. Mark and the West-cross to St. Luke. In a plan, they form a cross, with the monastery is the centre. Associated with the high crosses are, in an ideal setting, the so-called Evangelist- and Prophet crosses. They are dedicated to the Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Van SCHALKWIJK (1989) positioned them at the intermediate wind-directions.


Fig. 131 – The position of the high crosses in their ideal setting, according to the ‘Book of Mulling’ (eighth century) and recorded by RICHARDSON & SCARRY (1990)/van SCHALKWIJK (1989).

The Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks, with their Christian message covered in Celtic wrappings, were not alone to emphasize the elements of the tetradic way of thinking. The artists in the silver workshops in Kent expressed – in the seventh century AD – the same thoughts as the monks in the scriptoria of the monasteries in Ireland, Middle England and Northern Spain. The sculptors of the high crosses used artistic metaphors, which were closely related to the motifs on closing slabs of the Longobardic stonemasons (fig. 132). All these artists drew from the wells of (pre)historic Celtic ideas, endemic in Europe. This pattern of crosses was used until the twelfth century, when the Latin crosses and the crucifix took over. This transition was gradual, and intermediate forms, like the circle-heads and rings-heads from the Viking-times, can be distinguished.


Fig. 132 – The imagery of the early Middle Ages indicated a preference of the tetradic motif. The expansion of the Vikings brought Norse craftsmanship under the attention of the conquered people and attributed to a further tetradic appreciation. 1. Brooch from Suffolk, early seventh century; 2. Anglo-Saxon brooch, Colchester, tenth century; 3. Closing slab from Malles, San Benedetto, Carolingian times; 4. Byzantine decoration in the San Marc, Venice, tenth to eleventh century.

The ‘Celtic’ language of symbolism, which is remarkable consistent over large areas in place and time in Europe, has found in the Christian imagery, derived from the melting pot of Egyptian, Persian and Assyrian cultures, a point of reference. The recognition lies in the handling of the universal tension between lower and higher forms of division thinking. And also in the dealing with the position of an observer in the dynamic field of creation and devotion, with the ultimate consequences for the value as a human being.

BAILEY, Richard N. (1980). Viking Age Sculpture in Northern England. Collins Archaeology. William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., London. ISBN 0 00 216228 8

BLACKER, Carmen & LOEWE, Michael (Ed.) (1975). Ancient Cosmologies. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London. ISBN 0 04 1000038 2

BRUNAUX, J.L. (1987). The Celtic Gauls. Gods, Rites and Sanctuaries (tr. Daphne Nash). Seaby, London.

COLLINGWOOD, W.G. (1927/1989). Northumbrian Crosses of the Pre-Norman Age. Faber & Gwyer, London/Llanerch Press (facs.)

COOK, Roger (1975). De levensboom; symbool van het middelpunt (vert. E.A.M. Scheltema-Vriesendorp). Thames and Hudson Ltd., London (1974); Unieboek/De Haan, Bussum. ISBN 90 228 4024 7

DILLON, Myles & CHADWICK, Nora K. (1967). The Celtic Realms. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

FINLAY, Ian (1973). Celtic Art. An Introduction. Faber and Faber Ltd., London. ISBN 0 571 08678 0

HAFFNER, Alfred (1989). Graber. Spiegel des Lebens. Totenbrauchtum der Kelten und Romer. Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier. Verlag Philipp von Zabern. Mainz am Rhein.ISBN 3-8053-1044-7

HARBISON, Peter (1983). Keltische hoogkruisen. Pp. 210 – 213 in: HARBISON, Peter et al (1983). Gouden eeuwen in Ierland (tr. Bernadette Schuddeboom-Tolenaar). Openbaar kunsbezit, Weesp. Kunstschriften, jrg. 27, no. 6, nov/dec. 1983. ISBN 90-6515-023-4

HELLMANN, S. (1906). Sedulius Scottus (Band I, Heft I). RAND, Edward Kennard (1906). Johannes Scottus (Band I, Heft II). PLENKERS, Heribert (1906). Untersuchungen zür Überlieferungsgeschichte der ältesten lateinischen Mönchregeln (Band I, Heft III). C.H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung. Oskar Beck, München.

KITZINGER, Ernst (1940/1983). Early Medieval Art in the British Museum  and British Library. British Museum Publications, London. ISBN 0 714 105 287

LAING, Lloyd & Jennifer (1992). The Art of the Celts: From 700 BC to the Celtic Revival. Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.

LAWRENCE, C.H. (1984). Medieval Monasticism. Forms of religious life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Longman, London and New York. ISBN 0-582-49185-1

LÖWE,  Heinz (Ed.)(1982). Die Iren und Europa im früheren Mittelalter. 2 Vol.; Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart. ISBN 3-12-915470-1

MACKEY, James P. (Ed.) (1989). An Introduction to Celtic Christianity. Pp. 101 – 139 in: O’FIACH, Thomas (1989). Irish Monks on the Continent. T & T Clark, Edinburgh. ISBN 0 567 09507

MATTHEWS,  Caitlin (1989/1993). De Keltische traditie (The Celtic Tradition). Ankh- Hermes, Deventer/Element Books, Longmead, England. ISBN 90-202-1032-7

MÜLLER, Werner (1961). Die heilige Stadt. Roma quadrata, himmlisches Jerusalem und die Mythe vom Weltnabel. Verlag W. Kohlhammer GmbH., Stuttgart.

NASH,  Daphne (1987).  Coinage in the Celtic World.  B.A.  Seaby Ltd.,  London. ISBN 0 900652 85 3

McNEILL,  J.T. (1974). The Celtic Churches. A History A.D. 200 to 1200. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago/London.

OGILVY, J.D.A. (1936). Books known to Anglo-latin writers from Aldhelm to Alcuin (670 – 804). The Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge, Mass.

PORTER, A.K. (1931). The Crosses and Culture of Ireland. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yale University Press, New Haven.

RICHARDSON, Hilary & SCARRY, John (1990). An Introduction to Irish High Crosses. The Mercier Press, Cork/Dublin. ISBN 0 85342 941 3

ROSS, Anne (1970/1986). The Pagan Celts. B.T. Batsford Ltd., London. ISBN 0 7134 5527 6

RUSSELL, Bertrand (1945). A History of Western Philosophy. And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Simon and Schuster, New York.

SCHALKWIJK,  van, H. (1989). Kruisen – Een studie over het gebruik van kruistekens in de ontwikkeling van het godsdienstig en maatschappelijk leven. Uitgeverij Gooi en Sticht BV., Hilversum, Holland.

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21. Early beginnings of Europe

The Carolingian age (750 – 1000 AD)

The Carolingian age is, in the present survey, defined between 750 and 1000 AD. This is the period between the ‘first’ emergence of Europe as a geographical and political unity, established under Charlemagne, and the subsequent eventful continuation into the ‘Romanesque’ period, in which the Roman Catholic Church provided the intellectual bond towards a cultural consensus.

The notion of ‘Europa’ – expressed in a noun – became in wider use in this period. OAKLEY (1979, p. 29) observed: ‘already in Charlemagne’s day ecclesiastical writers had begun to equate the term Europe with the territories over which he ruled.’ The name itself is, according to HEER (1966), much older: the Roman writer Dio Cassius (199 AD) distinguished in his ‘Historia Augusta’ different groups in the army of Septimus Severus. Together with the Syrians he mentioned a ‘res europeenses‘ and ‘europeenses exercitus‘.

In the period of ‘first visibility’ of Europe (from 750 AD onwards) the tetradic way of thinking is widespread – laid down in innumerable relics of that period – but it is a frame of mind, rather than a conscious division-model. It was a collective ‘knowing’ of ideas, not yet placed in an intellectual straitjacket of theory. Numerology was virtually unheard of, because this approach uses preconceived ideas.

A good example of symbolic meaning is the signature of Charlemagne, who could hardly read or write. He employed the quadripartite imagery of the eighth and nine century to affirm the generally known greatness of multiple division thinking (fig. 133).


Fig. 133 – Some autographs and signatures of the beginning of European visibility are given here, characterized by four-fold references. 1. King Henriquez of Portugal, 1159; 2. Charlemage (K-R-L-S; Karolus), around 800 A.D.; 3. Konrad I (C-N-R-D), Würzburg, 912; 4. Notker the Physician, St. Gallen, 925; 5. Cruciform emblems, drawn in the monastery of Lorsch under the authority of Folcwich, bishop of Worms. Second quarter of the nineth century A.D.; 6. Cruciform text. Ambros. B 80 Sup., 13r, 1071 – 1178 AD, Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana.

The power of signatures and seals (signa) as a spiritual meaning (repraesentatio) of a world view reached a widespread visibility in the middle of the eleventh century and arrived at static and monumental proportions in the twelfth century. Axials, rota and ‘benevalete’ (BTE) had an institutionalized character. The ‘in hoc signo‘ (IHS, in this sign) became ‘Jesus hominum salvator‘ (JHS; KOCH, 1926/1984) and the believers knew in both cases exactly the precise meaning.

A change of division thinking to a lower level resulted in a process of ‘Verblassen der sinnlichen Wahrnehmungsbereitschaft‘ (fading of the effort to make sensory perceptions). The signs and symbols are still recognized in dichotomous thinking, but their unity with signals or a language is broken. They are regarded as individual parts, without structural connections in a wider communication. The essential difference between a signal (I) and a sign (III) disappeared and also the distinction between symbolic meaning (II) and language (IV) faded away.

The book of Johann Christoph Gatterer (1765), titled ‘Elementa artis diplomaticae universalis‘  was published in Göttingen. It marked a sublime summary of the above-mentioned process. The chrismologia, semiotica notarilis, symbolica, staurologia (the doctrine of the crosses), mono-grammatica, sphragistica (knowledge of the seals) and even a form of stenography, called brachygraphia, was extensively treated to build up a ‘habitus diplomatum’. There is no vestige of structural thinking in Gatterer’s encyclopedic descriptions. The facts were given with the intention to show how to become a versatile diplomat (fig. 134).


Fig. 134 – Table VIII from Gatterer’s ‘Elementa artis diplomaticae universalis’ (Göttingen, 1765), a diplomatic manual, with many cruciform signatures from various periods in European history (Photo: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague).

The Carolingian period is for the historians of the nineteenth and twentieth century ‘school of violence’ the first highlight in European history: Charlemagne’s empire, it subsequent disintegration and the disrupting intrusions of the Vikings along the western coast of Europe provided the material of which a certain kind of history was made. A history of traces, carved in time by human misery. Europe experienced in the Carolingian period a sense of identity and felt the associated pain of growing.

The visibility of Europe-as-a-cultural-unity developed – for an observer at the beginning of the twenty-first century – in a blend of Celtic/Nordic cultural heritage and Roman Christianity, with its ‘classical’ elements derived from the succumbed Roman Empire.

 John Scotus Eriugena

John Scotus Eriugena (810 – 877 AD) was a distinguished member of the group of intellectuals and missionaries, who embarked from Ireland on a mission to the continent. His name, as given by Archbishop Usher of Dublin in 1632 in his ‘Veterum epistolarum hibernicarum sylloge‘, is pleonastic (O’MEARA, 1987). Both ‘Scotus’ and ‘Erigena’ had in the ninth century the meaning of ‘born in Ireland’.

Eriugena made his way to France around 848 and became a protege of Charles the Bald (823 – 877), the grandson of Charlemagne. In 851 he joined as a member of the Palace school of Charles, which followed the king in various places in northeastern France. There was a close connection with the Cathedral school in Laon, which had a strong Irish background, due to earlier missions (fig. 135).

laonFig. 135 – Cathedral of Laon (France).

The position of John Scotus Eriugena is a crucial one for the history of tetradic thinking in Europe. He elaborated, in his book ‘De Divisione Naturae’ (the Division of Nature), on a visualization of this ancient philosophical system, which influenced the writers of the eleventh and twelfth century. The book, possibly for reasons inherent to its message, never reached general acclaim or seemed to have changed the course of history. Even nowadays, its importance is hardly understood, and a curious modern reader has difficulties to get hold of a copy (in contrast, for instance, to Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’).

My first acquaintance of the book was the (German) publication of NOACK (1870), dating back from more than a century ago. The modern (English) edition of SHELDON WILLIAMS (1968/1972; 1987, edited by John J. O’Meara) is far more accessible. The book is stimulating reading for those interested in the history of tetradic thinking, taking its seven hundred-and-twenty-two pages in stride. Alice GARDNER (1900) wrote a brilliant study of his life and work at the beginning of this century. She portrayed the ‘Philosopher of the Dark Ages’ into a new light and mentioned him as an instigator of one of the ‘three critical periods in world’s history in which religious life becomes inspired by sane and free philosophy’.

John Scotus’ book – also called in Greek ‘Periphyseon’ – was, above all, an unmistakable sign, that tetradic thinking had reached visibility. Or, like HEER (1966) put it in a more roundabout way:  ‘Eriugena united the Greek doctrine of deification (as in Clement, Origen and Dionysius) with Celtic-Germanic beliefs regarding rebirth and return’.

The fourfold division of nature is put forward on the first page of Book I of Eriugena’s book (and later repeated in Book II and III) by  the Nutritor (Master), who speaks to the Alumnus (Disciple):

‘It is my opinion that the division of Nature by means of four differences results in four species, being divided first into that which creates and is not created (quae creat et non creatus), secondly into that which is created and also creates (quae et creatur et creat), thirdly into that which is created and does not create (quae creatur et non creat), while the fourth neither creates nor is created (quae nec creat nec creatur).’

DUHEM (1958, Tome III, p. 53) typified the work of Eriugena as neo-Platonic: ‘la philosophie neo-platonicienne de Scot Erigene s’inspire surtout de Chalcidius‘ (the neo-platonic philosophy of Eriugena, who was inspired by Chalcidius (and his commentary of the ‘Timaeus‘ of Plato). He is also portrayed as a ‘Greek’ mind in a ‘Latin’ world (LEFF, 1958).

It is perhaps apologetic to call every visualization of division thinking in the European cultural history ‘neo-platonic’, but the association of this term with the neo-platonic writers of the early centuries AD (like Ammonius Saccas (Saccas being a nickname meaning ‘uncertain interpretation’; WALLIS, 1972/1995), his pupil Plotinus, Jamblichus, Porphyrius, etc.) is an unhappy one. Furthermore, the connotation does not give credit to Aristotle, who might be regarded as the main architect of the tetradic mind. Robert O’NEILL (2011) wrote a very clarifying article on Neoplatonism.

It would be better to consider John Scotus Eriugena as a representative of an ‘European’ development of the visible stage of tetradic thinking, as the builder of a cognitive structure which could support a greater width of thinking in the ages to come. The historical link with Pseudo-Dionysius (also falsely identified with Dionysius the Areopagite, around 532 AD) is important, but must not be overrated. This rather obscure Syrian writer (CROSBY, 1987), lightly touched by monophysitism (O’MEARA in: SHELDON-WILLIAMS, 1987), provided a point of recognition in Eriugena’s own development. The same holds for Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa and Martianus Capella.

The conflicting ideas about divine predestination, which flared up in the ninth century, were closely related to division thinking. The controversy found in Hincmar, bishop of Reims and the monk Gottschalk (Godescalc)(c. 805 – 866/9) strong opponents. Eriugena was asked to support the bishop. He tried to disprove the thesis of Gottschalk of a double predestination in his book ‘De Praedestinatione’, written in late 850 or early 851 AD (GARDNER, 1900; RYAN, 1967; SCHRIMPF, pp. 819 – 865 in: LÖWE, 1982).

The conflict of divine predestination was about the values of visibility and the position of man. The question can be stated as follows: if God rules everything and has an unbounded wisdom and knowledge, he would know every moment and decision in a human life and there would be no free will for a human being to do otherwise. By putting it this way, a deliberate attempt was made to compare the power of God with the power of man and visualize life as a power struggle between two Wills.

Gottschalk was the representative of the (new) approach, looking for confrontation. He thought in opposites and tried to solve the paradox of foreknowledge and freewill in a two-fold division: predestination is double (dupla) or a twin (gemina).

Eriugena – as a tetradic thinker of the ‘old’ school – rejected the idea of predestination in relation to God. Action and being are in God identical. ‘The Word is the cause of the causes. He descended into the effects of the causes. Christ is neither created nor creating. He is redeeming his own creation, return to its End in Himself’ (YATES, 1982). God and his predestination are identical: ‘Divine predestination is not double, it is not predestination at all’ (MARENBON, 1983). Predestination and free will are reconstruction-elements, which can only be developed after a choice in division is made. As long as the communication is situated in the invisible invisibility of the First Quadrant (of modern quadralectic thinking), no notion of time and place exists, and subsequently there is no before or after.

These basic problems – ‘on the fringe of the great mystery of man’s relation to his environment’ – are, as far as known, never put in the context of division thinking. The ideas concerning power and identity (of God and man) – that is what the controversy is all about – point strongly in that direction. The discussion of power and the independence of God and man is, in itself, – just like the ‘heresies’ of Arianism and Pelagianism – an indication for a change in attitude towards tetradic thinking. It is possible – on a lower level of division thinking – to read the early-Christian history as a continuous struggle between the dualistic and the quadralectic mind.

The four-fold way, with its peaceful intentions, had strong supporters. Beda (672 – 735) – as ‘the first English historian and most learned man of his time’ (LEFF, 1958) – reworked the contribution of Augustine on this subject (‘De gratia et libero arbitrio’ and ‘De praedestinatione sanctorum’) into a more palatable tetradic form. He softened, just like Eriugena did more than a century later, the extreme positions of Augustine, who thought of an unrelenting predestination and full dependency on the mercy of God.

Communication consisted, according to Beda (De Praed., 2,2), of four phases, which are directly related to a tetradic frame of mind:

—————————–   1. esse                 –   the essence, the Source

—————————–   2. sapare           –   the knowledge or insight

—————————–   3. scire               –   the investigation

—————————–   4. destinare      –   the positioning

Beda defined the ‘sacred’ tetradic way of thinking, which leads up to the ‘ratiocinationes quadrivium‘ as an established method of communication. The ‘quadriformis ratio is the name, which was (later) given to the cognitive mechanism, which ruled the interaction between people (and God). The mind is divided in four quadrants, with their own specific type of visibility. This was not explicitly described, but felt in the four senses (or interpretations), which were ways of seeing.

More than a century later Eriugena’s ‘De Divisione Naturae’ put a crown on the early period of tetradic thinking, by describing its conceptual territory. The book was not to the liking of those, who sought dogmatic knowledge. Bishop Hincmar of Reims, who gave Eriugena the assignment, was the first to be embarrassed by his work and avoided any notice of it.

A rejection followed in 855, at the Council of Valence. Eriugena was labeled as a heretic. However, in 860 the tide turned at the Council of Toucy, and the four articles of Chiersey, who expressed the moderate view of bishop Hincmar (and Eriugena), prevailed (GARDNER, 1900):

————————–       1. There is only one predestination of God;

————————–       2. The free will of man is restored by grace;

————————–       3. God wills all men to be saved;

————————–       4. Christ suffered for all.

These articles and the work of Eriugena were no further questioned in the following two centuries, but a new condemnation followed by the Councils of Vercelli in 1050 and of Rome in 1059. Later, the sympathetic interest to his doctrine by Gilbert of Poitiers, Almaric and David of Dinant urged for action. In 1225, on the apex of power of the Roman Catholic Church, the fear of a balanced view grew to paranoia (fig. 136).

innocentius3Fig. 136 – Pope Innocent III (papacy 1198 – 1216) represented the Roman Catholic Church at the height of its power. He instigated crusades against heretics in southern France (Albigensen), the Muslims in Spain and organized the Fourth Crusade to the Holy Land (Jerusalem). Constantinople was sacked in 1204.

Pope Honorius III, succeeding Innocent III, prohibited Eriugena’s book, and ordered confiscation and burning. The book escaped attention at the Council of Trente (1545–63) and was not placed on the Index (GARDNER, 1900). Its ‘rediscovery’ took place at the end of the seventeenth century by Thomas Gale (in 1681). Subsequently, Pope Innocentius XI placed the book in 1685 on the Index.

STOCK (1979) indicated that the discourse on the ‘Categories‘ of Aristotle – which is treated in the first book of ‘De Divisione Naturae‘ (463A) – can be found in a slightly different form in the ‘Tractatus de Catagoriis Aristotelis’ (Decem Catagoriae). This treatise from the fourth century AD was written by a successor of Themistius, probably Agorius Praetextanus. The text gave continuity between the tetradic thoughts of Aristotle and the European interpretation of Eriugena. The resemblance is as follows (STOCK, 1979):

 Eriugena                                                                                  Decem Categoriae (Aristotle)


1:  quae creat et non creatus                                                       in solo et in omni

2:  quae et creatur et creat                                                          in solo et non in omni

3:  quae creatur et non creat                                                      in omni et non in solo

4:  quae nec creat nec creatur                                                    nec in solo nec in omni

The primal deed of creation is fixed in the first principal, or the Source, that Eriugena attribute to God, the Creator, who hasn’t been created. God transcends all the categories of Aristotle. The second act deals with the primordial causes, things that are created and they create. They make up the origin of thoughts, ideas and theories.  It can be noted that the first two comparisons from the ‘Decem Categoriae‘ have to be reversed, to fall in line with the sequence of John Scotus Eriugena.

The third stage of creation (or ‘book’ in the ‘De Divisione Naturae’) is concerned with the universe, which is created, but does not itself create.

‘For it is agreed that this visible world is composed of the four elements as of four general parts, and is, as it were, a body built up of its parts, from which, namely from these universal parts, coming together in a wonderful and ineffable mingling, the proper and individual bodies of all animals, trees, and plants are composed, and at the time of their dissolution return to them once more’ (De Div. Nat., I, 475D).

The fourth stage of creation, treated by Eriugena in the fourth and fifth book of the ‘Periphyseon’, deals with God as End. To complete the cycle of being from the expulsion of man from Paradise to its Return in order to consummate a new, incomprehensible universe (nec creat nec creatur). The end is, like in any cyclic movement, in fact a beginning:

‘For that which as the source of movement is called “beginning” is the same as that which, when motion is consummated in it, is called “end”. (De Div. Nat, V, 867C).

Or, as Eriugena quoted ‘the Blessed Maximus in the Twenty Eighth Chapter of the ‘Ambigua‘:

‘It is wrong, I think, to call the end of this present life death: rather it is a separation from death, a release from the corruption, a liberation from slavery, a rest from turmoil, an end to warfare, a way out of confusion, a return from darkness, an easement from sorrows, a silence from ignoble pomp, and leisure from instability; it draws a veil over baseness, and affords a refuge from the passions; it is the wiping away of sins, and in short the end of all evils.’ (De Div. Nat., V, 875D)

The aim of creation is – according to Eriugena – to reach this end by means of the ‘Seven Steps to Heaven‘. They consist of a ‘human’ four-division (four steps) and a ‘holy’ three-division (three steps), leading to the consummation of all things (GARDNER, 1900; O’MEARA in: SHELDON-WILLIAMS, 1987; p. 20, 541):

                  Unification of a lower kind (leading humanity to a perfect unity):

 —————————     1. the earthly body knows a vital motion;

—————————     2. this vital motion is registered by sense;

—————————     3. the sense can be ordered to a reason;

—————————     4. the reason shapes the character of the soul (intellect).

                      Unification of a higher kind (leading the unified soul to the light):

 ————————–      5. the soul (intellect) develops into knowledge;

————————–       6. the knowledge grows to wisdom;

————————–       7. the wisdom reaches into the impenetrable light.

The first stage of the return – expressed in the four-fold sequence of a body, going through vital motion, sense, reason and intellect – is within the limits of a visible nature. The sensible man is a point of reference in a world, which is created by the Wisdom of God:

‘The essence of sensible things, which is what the Holy Father Augustine meant by “nature” will, as true reason faithfully teaches, abide for ever, for it is created unalterably in the Divine Wisdom beyond all space and time and change.’ (De Div. Nat. V, 867B).

The second stage of return (ascent) – of a soul going through knowledge, wisdom and into the darkness of incomprehensible and inaccessible light – is supernatural and essentially within God himself and therefore, in the realm of the invisible.

Eriugena positioned – in a quadralectic assessment of a full cycle of being – the four-fold division in the Third Quadrant and the three-fold division in the First Quadrant (or as a matter of better definition, on the borderline of First and Second Quadrant, after a decision on division has been made). By doing so, and placing (all) divisions in the framework of an Ultimate Unity, the end of division thinking is reached. Thinking has arrived at its Source.

A revival of tetradic ideas took place in the eleventh and twelfth century. A work of Honorius Augustodunensis – titled ‘Clavis physicae’ (The Key of Nature)(Paris Bibl. Nat. Lat. 6734) – provided a powerful, although somewhat distorted, resonance of Eriugena (fig. 137). The manuscript, which was never printed, was written around 1156 and gave a summary of Eriugena’s division of nature (d’ALVERNY, 1954; YATES, 1960; PÄCHT, 1984).


Fig. 137 – The division of nature according to Honorius Augustodunensis in the ‘Clavis physicae’ (The Key of Nature). The manuscript is preserved in the Michelsberg Cloister near Bamberg, but probably written in the area of the Meuse, mid-twelfth century (Paris, Bibl. Nat. lat. 6734). The definition of the four phases in nature differs from the original interpretation of Scotus Eriugena, in particular with regard to the First and Fourth Quadrant, which are ‘reversed’.

The illustration in the ‘Clavis physicae‘ (fig. 137) showed four sections:

Section 1 (upper):   eight ‘causae primordiales

———————————————–      central     :     bonitas  ——————————

     left (4):               iustitia                                                                       right (3):  essentia

                                  virtus                                                                                            vita

                                  ratio                                                                                              sapientia


Section 2 :  three ‘effectus causarum‘      :    tempus

                                                                                 materia informis


Section 3 :  four elements                           :    fire




                     (natura creata  non creans)

Section 4 (lower):   God/Christ                      finis


Between the interpretation of Honorius and Eriugena is a significant difference, which indicated a development within the four-fold way of thinking itself. Eriugena’s ninth-century tetradic manifest (Book I) opened with a ‘First Principle of Nature’, which was creating and not created (quae creat et non creatus). Dionysius the Areopagite described this principle as a ‘Divinity Who is above Being’. The realm of this Divinity is a Unity, a monad, and a place before division. This is understood (by Eriugena) to be the invisibility of God-self, who was not created, but is the origin of all creation. Creation is, in a quadralectic view, the state of a communication after a decision on division has been taken.

The first section (I) is, in Eriugena’s opinion (following Aristotle in his four-fold way of thinking), typified by the ‘potency’ (possibility) of division. The division has not yet taken place.

Honorius positioned the eight ‘primordial causes‘ in the ‘First Quadrant’. His ‘First Principle’ is not a unity, but a plurality (4 + 1 + 3), reflecting the ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ (in which Bonitas is the representative of God). Honorius applied the ‘ratiocinationis quadrivium‘ and defined the first stage in a multitude of human-oriented causes.

The second section (II) of Honorius’ illustration is a three-division of Time (Tempus) and Place (Locus) with the ‘Materia Informis‘ in the middle. Aristotle’s potentiality surfaces here in a material, human-directed form, with four faces and five eyes (fig. 138), anticipating the four visible elements of the ‘Natura creata, non creans‘ (and the ‘quitessentia’?).

materiainformisFig. 138 – The ‘materia informis’, or potential matter, is placed by Honorius in the second stage of his division of nature.

The third stage gives the four elements in the sequence (from left to right): fire (three holy men), air (birds), water (fish and a source) and earth (crop, three animals and a couple). This ‘evolutionary’ depiction differs from the quadralectic sequence based on visibility: fire, air, earth and water.

Honorius’ last quadrant (IV) is solely attributed to God, closing the stage (‘finis’). Eriugena saw the last quadrant as a human affair, summing up all creation within himself. He even mentioned at this stage – following Maximus in the thirty-seventh Chapter of his ‘Ambigua’ – a five-fold division of all created nature: 1. God; 2. Sensible and intelligible nature; 3. Heaven and earth; 4. Paradise and the habitable globe and 5. The final division segregates mankind into male and female (Periph. V, 893B).

The differences of interpretation between the ninth (Eriugena) and twelfth (Honorius) century indicate a shift within the four-fold division from a God-orientated to a man-orientated interpretation of  being.

Honorius Augustodunensis was instrumental in the simplification of division thinking. He noticed, in his book ‘Elucidarium’, that the universe was built from four elements and that Man, as micro cosmos, consisted of four elements: the flesh (earth), blood (water), breathing (air) and body heath (fire). He also spoke of three heavens: a material or visible heaven, a spiritual heaven, filled with spiritual substances like the angels, and an intellectual heaven with a confrontation of the mortal soul with the holy Trinity (LeGOFF, 1984/1987, p. 174, 191).

The cultural move from a Celtic to a Gothic world in Europe, which took place in approximately six hundred years (from 600 to 1200), can be seen as the result of a change in division thinking. The Carolingian ideas, steeped in a Celtic heritage, were filled with conceptions based on four types of visibility. The emphasis was gradually changing from the invisible (invisibility, worship of God without questioning) to the visible (visibility, worship of the material/human, associated with a questioning of God).

The European intellectuals moved from a God-centered universe (of the ninth century) to a man-centred world from the twelfth century onwards. In the latter interpretation God still pulls the cords, but only at the end of the story. The period of actual visible transition, around the year 1200, is of utmost important in the history of European division thinking. It is newly-coined as the ‘Tetractus‘-Age and will be discussed next.


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