43. The End of Times



The apocalypse or the end of times is a typical feature in a linear time-perception. Time is visualized as a part with a beginning and an end. Creation and its mythological symbolism are the beginning and the apocalypse and its consequences mark the end. The idea of an afterlife contributed to the absolute character of the division. The journey of the soul reached a dramatic point of decision in the Last Judgement, which was so vividly described in St. John’s Apocalypse. Redemption and grace either led to eternal bliss in Heaven or the soul was condemned to perpetual punishment, tormented by demons, dragons and serpents in Hell.

The view of time as an actual ‘part’ is, from the wider perspective of (tetradic) thinking, an indication of a communication, which is situated in lower division-thinking. This particular observation point is typified by an emphasis on (empirical) boundaries. Apocalyptic manifestations and the attention paid to the end of times is a sign of oppositional thinking. This concern can lead to sectarian behavior with the chosen ones waiting for the grand finale (GRAHAM, 1983). The sharp boundary between good and bad, God and satan, Christ and the Antichrist will facilitate the procedure on Judgement Day.

COHN (1970) attributed ‘salvationism’ with the following qualities: collectivism, an earthly character, the immanence (the expectation of events happening at short notice), the universal and the miraculous. These specific points are often in great supply when times of uncertainty arrive and the search for a (new) solidarity is on.

The Monastic Revival in the tenth century of the history of Europe was a good example of the close relation between a ‘strictness in thinking’ (the orthodoxy of the Benedict’s Rules; LAWRENCE, 1984), the search for identity and its divine and material rewards. The foundation of the monastery of Cluny in 910 by William Duke of Aquitaine (William the Pious) hallmarked the beginning of a distinct spiritual movement. The Cluniac reform spread rapidly from France southwards to Italy and Spain, eastwards to Germany, Hungary and Poland and northwards to England, all within a period of little more than a century.

The millennium-year 1000 AD was situated within this period. There might be some significance in a numerological sense, but historical research has not revealed a special celebration of that year. The ‘European mind’ must have been far too diverse at the time to pay attention to such an absolute event. It can be concluded, in hindsight, that the silent, creative forces of a higher division notion were still fully active, maybe even in the worship of silence and prayer of the Benedictines themselves.

Gary SCHMIDT (1995), in his interesting description of the iconology of the mouth of hell (fig. 295), noted a dramatic shift after the twelfth century from the private and devotional representation of this component of the Last Judgement to the public domain: ‘Its symbolic meaning was so accessible that it became the most common way of envisioning hell in the Middle Ages, particular when the audience was a popular, non-literary audience.’


Fig. 295 – Martin Luther on the pulpit. Protestants to the left and the Catholics in the mouth of hell to the right. Woodcut by L. Cranach the Younger (1515 – 1586). In: PALLOTTINO  (1966).

Frits VAN DER MEER (1978) composed a richly illustrated and informative book on the biblical Apocalypse (of St. John). He described the major medieval occurrences in manuscripts, cathedrals, paintings and carpets. The iconology of the apocalypse was based on the Bible book ‘The Revelation of St. John the Divine’, where the end of times is announced by the opening of the seven seals (fig. 296/297):

seven seals

Fig. 296 – The opening of the seven seals. Beatus of Gerona, around 975 A.D.; Gerona, Archivo de la catedral  I, f. 109. In: MEER, van der (1978).  Also in: PALOL  & HIRMER  (1965).

‘And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse: and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny: and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth’ (Revelation 6: 1 – 8).

Then another three seals are opened, but no horses appear anymore: the fifth with the souls of them that were slain for the word of God; the sixth is the great day of wrath, with earthquakes, a black sun and a moon as blood, when ‘the stars of heaven fell unto the earth’ and finally the seventh seal was opened (Revelation 7: 1 – 3):

‘And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the winds should not blow on the earth, or on the sea, nor at any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.’


Fig. 297 – The Lamb, Christ and the opening of the Seven Seals. Petersburg Apocalypse. In: QUISPEL (1979).

The four horses, with their colors, are a metaphor of the periods of time in the history of the world (SIMMONS GREENHILL, 1954):

             HORSE                      COLOR                        ERA                               TYPE

——    albus                           white                 Adam to Flood                    ignorantiam

——    rufus                           red                     Flood to Incarnation         sin/punishment

——    niger                           black                   Incarnation to Present     martyrs

——    pallidus                     pale (grey)          Beatus of Gerona

Beatus’ ‘Commentaries on the Apocalypse’  was a much copied work from the monastery of Liebana (Cantabria, Spain). The first vellums were written in 776, and a second version was made in 784 AD. They provided an early example of the four horses as a sign of the end of times (fig. 298).


Fig. 298 – A copy of the  Beatus’ ‘Commentaries on the Apocalypse’ from the cloister of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain. Early twelfth century (in 1109). The manuscript was acquired in 1840 by the British Museum in Londen (The British Library Add. Ms 11695).


Fig. 299 – The four apocalyptic horses from the Beatus of Fernando and Sancha, f. 135. The horses are typified as follows: I: albus (white): days of innocence; II: rufus (red): learn to live with mistakes; III. niger (black): the present with a verdict; IV. pallidus (grey): the end of times. In:  QUISPEL  (1979) and  WILLIAMS (1978).

A cursory examination of the material, guided by the work of KLEIN (1976), learned, that the (original) ‘Beatus’ is not a specific tetradic work. The four (apocalyptic) horses are part of the story, and there are other tetradic features in decorations as well (fig. 300), but there is no dominance of the motif.


Fig. 300 – Some tetradic decorations from various Beatus-manuscripts are given here (KLEIN (1976). In particular, the ‘Arca testamenti’, with its quadrifoil, was a recurring motif. 1.  Explenatio Supra Seculpre.  Burgo de Osma,  Bibl. Cat. Ms. 1,  fol. 116v. Fig. 102:
KLEIN  (1976).  2.  Paris,  BN lat.  8878,  fol 77v.  Fig. 72 in: KLEIN,  (1976).  3. Arca Testamenti. Lissabon Arqu. Nac. Torre do Tombo, cod. 160, fol. 152r. Fig. 99 in: KLEIN,  (1976).  4.  Arca Testamenti.  Escorial, Bibl. Mon. cod. &.I.5, fol. 103v. Fig. 100 in: KLEIN,  (1976).

The topic of the four horses of the Revelation gained again momentum in a woodcut of Albrecht Dürer (fig. 301). The theme was popular at the time: tapestries in the chateau of Angers, designed by Jan Boudolf around 1377, showed six apocalyptic horsemen (actually on half-horse half-lion!) (SMEYERS et al., 1993; fig. 302). And Bartholomaeus von Unkel used the subject in the Cologne Bible of 1478 (WEHMER et al., 1971; fig. 303).


Fig. 301 – The four apocalyptic horsemen from the ‘Revelations of St. John’ as markers of the pivotal point in the European cultural history. Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, printed in Nürnberg (1498), 39,2 x 28,4 cm. This is number five from a series of sixteen woodcuts. The quaternion is activated within the context of dualistic thinking: the four horsemen are the negative figures contrasting with the benevolent archangel-guardians of the four directions. They represent war, famine, illness and death as the powers, which destroy mankind. Fig. 14 in: CRAIG & BARTON (1987).


Fig. 302 – A fragment of the tapestries with the Apocalypse, designed by Jan Boudolf, ca. 1377. In the castle at Angers (France). In:  SMEYERS et al. (1993).  Complete illustration: p. 195 in: STEMBERGER  (1977/1979).


Fig. 303 – From the ‘Kölner Bible’ of Bartholomaeus von Unkel, around 1478. Attributed to the printer Heinrich Quentell (d. 1501). In:  WEHMER et al. (1971). And:  MARLE, van,  (1932). And: MEER, van der,  (1978). p. 278, fig. 182.235: British Museum, London. MS Add 11695, f. 240r. And: SMALLEY,  Beryl (1974). Historians in the Middle Ages. Thames and Hudson,  London.


Fig. 304 – The Four Horsemen by Hans Holbein. In: QUISPEL (1979).

The motif of the pale horse (pallidus) as the representation of the end of times was also separately used in pictures and paintings, like the majestic mural in the Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo (Italy) (fig. 305)


Fig. 305 – The Triumph of Death in the Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo (Italy). The fourth and final horseman is named Death and seen here with a bow and arrow (Photo: Marten Kuilman, 2012).

A more recent effort to depict the scene was done by the author in 1988 (fig. 306):


Fig. 306 – Death on a Pale Horse (on paper,  75 x 100 cm) by Marten Kuilman (1988).

The imageries of St. John, as described in his Revelations, are a distant echo of the visions of vocation by the prophet Ezekiel in the Bible book named after him. This prophet-priest assumed his position as ‘watchman’ over the exiled people of Israel. His book contained forty-eight chapters, divided at the halfway point by the fall of Jerusalem. The four creatures, with four faces and four wings, figured right in the beginning of the book, when ‘the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God’ (Ezekiel 1 : 5) (fig. 307).


Fig. 307 – The apocalyptic animals in the Bible (Ezekiel/Revelations). The four beasts (a lion with eagle wings, a leopard with four heads, a bear and a beast with eleven horns) signify the four world monarchies. British Museum, London. MS Add 11695, f. 240r. In: SMALLEY (1974).

The prophet Ezekiel, when in exile in Babylon, provided (much later in time) the imagery of St. Matthew as an angel (or man), St. Mark as a lion, St. Luke as a bull, and St. John as an eagle, in turn from the Assyrians (CAMPBELL & MOYERS, 1990). Their palaces were decorated with sculptured creatures, featuring the head of a man, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle and the feet of a bull (fig. 308). They were the four signs of the Zodiac chosen as a guardian at the gate.


Fig. 308 – The Assyrian winged bull. These types of sculptures were used as guardian at the gates of palaces. They represent the four Zodiac sign of man, lion, eagle and bull in one creature. The prophet Ezekiel, who was exiled in Babylon, must have known this symbolism. The signs were used, in the later (Medieval) interpretations, to indicate the character of the four evangelists: St. Matthew (man), St. Mark (lion), St. Luke (bull) and St. John (eagle). In: GLOAG (1975).

The reputed apocalyptic mood around the year 1000 has been discussed earlier (A time of transition; ORTEGA Y GASSET, 1904; SWOBODA, 1979). The fatalistic nature around the year 1350, associated with the deadly pest, was historically better documented. However, the great thoughts about the end of times were only recorded after the pivotal point (PP) in the European cultural history, established at the year 1500 AD. CHASTEL (1983) mentioned in the period between 1520 and 1530 fifty-six authors and hundred-and-thirty-six pamphlets, which were concerned with predictions and astrological calculations to establish the (immanent) end of times (fig. 309).


Fig. 309 – The title page of J. Carion’s ‘Prognosticatio‘ (1521) depicted, in the top picture, extreme weather circumstances and profiles in the lower picture the emperor (the sun), the pope (Jupiter), a farmer (Saturn), and a knight (Mars). The latter two are threatening a believer (= the Church of Rome), while the first two look on in despair. In: CHASTEL (1983).

The sense of an immanent end of the world has been a part of history ever since those scary days in the early sixteenth century. The year 1666 was, for religious reasons (666 was the number of the beast, mentioned in the Gospel of St. John, Revelation 13:17-18), another documented reason to expect a forthcoming catastrophe.

The fear of large-scale devastation became reality in recent history in two World Wars, and the treat continued for another forty years in a ‘Cold War’. Oppositional thinking between the world powers (America and Russia and their respective allies) brought the use of (atomic) weapons of mass destruction within reach and was felt and acted upon by mankind. Fortunately, common sense (and a wider frame of mind) has prevailed and apocalyptic thoughts are since pushed to the political background, at least for the time being.

An alternative to harbor apocalyptic thoughts was found in the geological theory of catastrophism, which got a boost when ‘cosmic material’ (iridium) was found in a red layer of clay of half an inch at the boundary of the Cretaceous and the Tertiary (ALVAREZ et al., 1980/1990). This boundary had already some notoriety, because the paleontological evidence revealed a severe reduction or even extinction of a number of animal species, including the famous Dinosaurs (AXELROD & BAILEY, 1968; BELAND et al., 1977; BERGGREN & van COUVERING, 1984; fig. 310).


Fig. 310 – The concurrent extinction of a number of animal groups at the close of the Cretaceous period, some 65 million years ago (NEWELL in: BERGGREN & van COUVERING, 1984).


The boundary of the Cretaceous and the Tertiary (K-T) boundary near Gubbio (Photo: Marten Kuilman, May 2014).

The (biological) extinction got an extraterrestrial dimension, pointing to a comet or meteorite, which had hit the earth. Did comets kill the Dinosaurs? was the cover story of the Time Magazine (No. 18; May 6, 1985). And the question still is: could this happen again? The answer is probably: yes. However, it is, from a geological point of view, highly unlikely that such an event will happen soon.  The last great mass extinction was about eleven million year ago, wiping out some marine protozoan and molluscs. The one earlier, at the end of the Eocene (Tertiary), took place some 37 million years ago. The major marine extinctions occurred 440 My ago (Ordovician), 370 My (Late Devonian), 245 My (Permian), 216 My (Late Triassic) and 65 My ago at the Cretaceous terminal. So the actual happening of a worldwide catastrophe within our lifespan is remote.

It is, nevertheless, an interesting feature that the idea of an apocalypse – as a culmination of linear thinking – shifted its emphasis from a spiritual to a physical base, from God to iridium.

ALVAREZ,  L.W.,  ALVAREZ, W., ASARO, F. & MICHEL, H. (1980). Extra-terrestrial Cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction. Science,  Vol. 208, No. 4448, pp. 1095 – 1108. Juni 1980.

ALVAREZ,  W. & ASARO, F. (1990). An Extraterrestrial Impact. Accumulating evidence suggests an astroid or comet caused the  Cretaceous  extinction.  Scientific American,  Vol.  263, No. 4, pp. 44 – 52. Oct. 1990.

AXELROD,  D.I. & BAILEY, H.P. (1968). Cretaceous dinosaur extinctions.  Pp. 595 – 611 in: Evolution, 22 (1968).

BELAND, P.; FELDMAN, P.; FOSTER, J.; JARZEN, D.; NORRIS, G.; PIROZYNSKI,  K.;  REID,  G.; ROY, J.-R.; RUSSELL, D. & TUCKER, W. (1977). Cretaceous-Tertiary  extinctions  and  possible  terrestrial  and extra-terrestrial causes. Canada Nat. Mus. Syllogeus, 12.

BERGGREN, W.A. & COUVERING, John A. van (Ed.)(1984). Catastrophes and  Earth  History.  The New Uniformitarianism.  Princeton  University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-08328-2

CAMPBELL, Joseph & MOYERS,  Bill (1990).  Mythen en bewustzijn.  De kracht van  de mythologische  verbeelding  (The Power of  Myth,  1988).  Teleac;   Uitgeverij De Haan/ Unieboek BV., Houten.

CHASTEL, Andre (1983). The Sack of Rome. A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1977. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. Bollingen Series XXXV, 26. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-0-9947-2

COHN,  Norman  (1970).  The Pursuit of the  Millennium.  Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages.  Granada  Publishing/Paladin, London. ISBN 0 586 08002 3

CRAIG, James & BARTON, Bruce (1987). Thirty Centuries of Graphic Design. Watson-Guptill Publications, New York. ISBN 0-8230-5355-5

GLOAG, John (1975). The Architectural Interpretation of History. Adam & Charles Black, London. ISBN 0 7136 1559 1

GRAHAM,  Billy (1983).  De vier ruiters uit de Openbaring: voortekenen van het Laatste Oordeel. Mingus, Baarn/Words, Waco, Texas. ISBN 90-6564-070-3

KLEIN,  Peter K.  (1976). Der ältere Beatus-Kodex. Vitr. 14-1 der  Biblioteca  Nacional zu Madrid. Studien zur  Beatus-Illustration nd der spanischen Buchmalerei des 10.  Jahrhunderts.  Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim/New York. ISBN 3-487-06023 X

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

MARLE, van, Raimond (1932). Iconographie  de l’Art Profane au Moyen-Age et a la  Renais-sance.  Allegories et symboles.  Martinus Nijhoff, La Haye/Den Haag.

MEER,  van der,  Frits (9178). Apocalypse. Visioenen uit het Boek  der Openbaring in de kunst. Mercatorfonds, Antwerpen.

NEWELL,  American Museum of Natural History Novitates 2465,  1971 in:  BERGGREN,  W.A.  & COUVERING, John A. van (Ed.) (1984). Catastrophes and Earth History.  The New Uniformitarianism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-08328-2

ORTEGA Y GASSET,  Jose (1904). Los terores del ano mil. Critica de una  legenda (The terrors of the year 1000: critique of a legend). Dissertation 1904,  Universidad Central de Madrid.

PALLOTTINO, Massimo (1966). Encyclopedia of World Art. Vol. XI. Pakistan – Rembrandt. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.

PALOL, Pedro & HIRMER,  Max (1965).  Spanien. Kunst des frühen Mittelalters vom Westgotenreich bis zum Ende der Romanik.  Hirmer Verlag, München.

QUISPEL, Gilles (1979). Het geheime boek der Openbaring, Het laatste boek van de Bijbel (The Secret Book of Revelation). McGraw-Hill Book Company, Maidenhead, England/ Uitgeverij W. Gaade b.v., Amerongen. ISBN 90 6017 928 5

SCHMIDT, Gary D. (1995). The Iconography of the Mouth of Hell. Eighth-Century Britain to the Fifteenth Century.  Susquehanna University Press, Selinsgrove/Associated University Presses, Inc., London. ISBN 0-945636-69-5

SIMMONS GREENHILL,  Eleanor (1954).  The Child in the Tree. A Study of  the Cosmological Tree in Christian Tradition.  Pp.  323 – 371 in: Tradition: studies in ancient and medieval history, thought and religion. New York, Fordham University Press, Vol. X, 1954.

SMALLEY,  Beryl (1974). Historians in the Middle Ages. Thames and Hudson,  London.

SMEYERS, Maurits; CARDON, Bert; VERTONGEN, Susie; SMEYERS, Katrien;  DOOREN,  van, Rita (1993). Naer natueren ghelike. Vlaamse miniaturen  voor Van Eyck (ca.  1350  – ca.  1420).  Davidsfonds, Leuven. ISBN 90-6152-820-8.

STEMBERGER, G. (1977/1979). De Bijbel en het Christendom. Kerngedachten uit 20 eeuwen Christelijke traditie. Deel 4: Commentaren. De Haan, Haarlem. ISBN 90-228-5014-5

SWOBODA, Helmut (1979). Propheten und Prognosen. Hellseher und Schwarzseher von Delphi bis zum Club of Rome. Droemer Knaur Verlag, München/Zürich. ISBN 3-426-26010-7

WEHMER,  Carl; OHLY,  Kurt & RATH,  von,  Erich (1971). Deutsche  Buchdrucker  des  fünfzehnten  Jahrhunderts.  Otto  Harrassowitz,   Wiesbaden.  ISBN 3 447 01277 3

WILLIAMS,  John (1978).  Spaanse miniaturen uit de  Middeleeuwen.  Uitgeverij Het Spectrum, Utrecht. ISBN 90 274 7304 8

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44. The Tetramorph and more

Four Evangelists


The four Biblical evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were in the iconology of the Middle Ages a favorite subject. They were the guardians of the four corners of the world, and as such connected with the tetradic way of thinking. Like it is recorded in the nursery rhyme (song in a four-poster bed):



————   Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,

————   Bless the bed that I lie on.

————   Two to foot and two to head,

————   Four to carry me when I’m dead.


Early Christian (Latin) Bible texts – in particular those of North-African origin – gave a different sequence of the evangelists: Matthew, John, Luke and Mark.  Their sequence changed to the present one (Matthew, Mark,  Luke, John) only at the end of the fourth century (384 AD), in the Latin translation by St. Jerome, the so-called ‘Vulgata‘ (HENDERSON, 1987).

The symbolism of the four evangelists is derived from the Bible book Ezekiel and the Revelations of St. John. Ezekiel wrote his visions during the Babylonian exile. He saw a whirlwind coming from the north, with a great cloud and a fire. In it, he saw four living creatures (called the ‘zooia‘ in the Revelations of St. John). The ‘tetramorph‘ became the symbol of the four evangelists and was compared to the works of Christ (MEYR, 1975):



The four evangelists and their symbols played a prominent role in the Celto-Hibernian manuscripts of the seventh, eighth and the beginning of the ninth century, like the Book of Durrow (c. 680 AD), the Gospel of St. Willibrord (c. 690 AD), the Book of Lindisfarne (c. 700 AD, fig. 311), the Gospel of St. Chad (early eighth century), the Canterbury Codex Aureus (c. 750 AD) and the Book of Kells (early ninth century)  (NORDENFALK, 1977) (fig. 312/313).


Fig. 311 – A page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. AD 698 – 721. British Museum. In: LEWIS (1970).

‘Augustine was a key source for John’s gospel, Jerome for Matthew’s, and Ambrose for Luke’s’ said Joseph F. KELLY (in: LÖWE, 1982; p. 562). ‘Thus, unlike so many contemporaries, the Irish had virtually no interest in large sections of the Old testament, little interest in the Pauline epistles, and a comparatively little interest in the Johannine literature, including the Apocalypse. On the other hand, they had a unique interest in the Catholic epistles and an exaggerated but hardly unique interest in Saint Matthew’.


Fig. 312 – The symbols of the four evangelists in the Book of Kells (f. 290v). Early ninth century AD. The quaternion is a central theme in the early-European visibility of which the Gospel books provided spectacular evidence. In: HENDERSON  (1987).


Fig. 313 – Four examples of the use of tetradic motifs in the early part of the European cultural history. 1. The tetramorph from the Trier Gospels, fol. 5v. Matthew is prominent. The manuscript was written at the monastery of Echternach in early half of the eighth century. Dom Bibliothek, Trier. In: NORDENFALK (1977); 2. A miniature of the evangelist Mark in an Irish Evangelarium in the library of St. Gall, Switzerland. Middle of the eighth century. Mark is envisaged here as a Christ, with the symbols of the evangelists in the corners. In: LÖWE (1982); 3. Symbol of the evangelist John, the eagle (imago aquile). Evangelarium of St. Willibrord. Shortly before 690 AD. DRAAK (1983); 4. The symbols of the evangelists (Homo – Leo – Vitulus – Aquila) in the Irish Book of Armagh, c. 800 AD. In: de BEFFNY (1978).

The tetramorph-scheme was used in many manuscripts and architectonic features in the hey-days of the European tetradic thinking, flourishing in the first two centuries of the second millennium (fig. 314).


Fig. 314 – Ezechiel’s vision with Christ, in a mandorla, and the symbols of the Evangelists from the Bury Bible (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College,  MS 2), around 1130 – 1140. Top-left: Matthew/homo/man/angel; top-right: John/aquila/eagle; bottom-left: Mark/ leo/lion and bottom-right: Luke/vitulus/bull/ox. Bury  Bible (Cambridge,  Corpus Christi College,  MS 2).  In: KAUFFMANN (1966).

Rupert of Deutz indicated in his ‘De divinis officiis‘ that ‘Animalia quatuor, sunt quatuor evangelistae‘ (Rupertus Tuitiensis – Opera Varia, printed by Arnold Birckman, Cologne, 1540/43). In the scheme of page 372, he swapped the ‘facies vituli‘ (oxen) and ‘facies leonis (lion). Rupert used the sequence (Homo – Vitulus – Leo – Aquila) in the same way as Joachim of Fiori did in the ‘Concordia‘ (Lib. V, cap. 85) and the ‘Liber Figurarum‘, mentioning the ‘historiae quatuor ordines speciales‘ in reference to the four stories in the Old Testament of Job, Tobias, Judith and Hester (HAHN, 1968):

————————-   Job           –       nativitas Christi      –      birth

————————-   Tobias      –       afflicto/passio         –      suffering

————————-   Judith      –       resurrectio                –     resurrection

————————-   Hester      –       ascensio                     –     ascension

The symbols are set by Joachim of Fiori in a wider context, incorporating the four modes of the ‘visio‘ (indicated as ‘intelligentia‘). REEVES & HIRSCH-REICH (1972) stated that ‘the four animalia recur constantly in Joachim’s thought’.

The following analogies were recognized in the days of Joachim of Fiore and Rupert of Deutz:


The tetradic scheme secured the base of the Christian belief and was part of a complete world view or ‘visio‘ in the twelfth century. The scheme remained present after its zenith in that period, but was often only understood in numerological terms (fig. 315/316).


Fig. 315 – The symbols of the four Evangelists as the beast with the four heads in Herrad of Landsberg’s ‘Hortus deliciarum’, twelfth century.



Fig. 316 – Maiestas Domini. Christ with the symbols of the evangelists in the church of Woldendorp (Groningen, Holland), around 1350 (Photos: Marten Kuilman – 10 Nov 1997).

The vision of Ezekiel and its message of salvation from Nicolaus de Lyra’s ‘Postiellae perpetuae in Vetus Testamentum‘ were written in the scriptorium of the monastery of Altzelle in 1344 (fig. 317).


Fig. 317 – The vision of Ezekiel in the ‘Postiellae perpetuae in Vetus Testamentum’, a book of Nicolaus de Lyra, written in the scriptorium of the monastery at Altzelle (1344). A ‘postilio‘ pointed to the eagerness of a godhead that a forgotten sacrifice is still being made. Now, it is  a person who rides the left-hand horse of the leaders of a four-horse carriage. Univ. bibl. Leipzig, Ms. 139. In: SCHNEIDER et al (1977).

In some cases numerological additions are made to the four Latin and Greek Church fathers, which are compared with the four evangelists (JAMESON, 1891):


The four Evangelists are closely related to the so-called Canon-tables. These tables are lists of comparable texts in the Biblical gospels. The tradition can be traced back to the Syrian Tatianus, who composed, around 170 AD a ‘Diatesseron‘, with three synopsis (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in the Gospel of St. John. Subsequently, Eusebius of Caesarea (around 265 – 339) devised a system of ‘canones‘ or guidelines, the ‘Canones evangeliorum‘ (von EUW, 1989).

The addition of these guidelines by Hieronymus to his translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) was used as reference by many followers. The tables consisted of twelve pages. NORDENFALK (1977) suggested a possible oriental origin of the decorated arches of the tables. He gave many examples in his loose-leaved publication on the late-antique canon-tables (NORDENFALK, 1938). The text of the four gospels was divided in ‘sectiones‘ (verses) with a continuous numbering. Each verse in the different gospels got a number, which made it possible to compare the texts (by number). The Gospels had the following sequences:

——————————-   Matthew       1    –    355

——————————-   Mark             1    –    233

——————————-   Luke              1    –    342

——————————-   John              1    –    232

From these divisions, some ten ‘canones‘ were distinguished, with the gospel of Matthew as the base of classification. Matthew-as-the-reference can be retraced to the writings of Ammonius of Alexandria, who placed the text of Matthew in a central position, with the addition of parts of the other gospels. Only in the gospels of Eusebius reached the concordance in the canon-tables its definite shape.


Fig. 318 – The Canon-tables gave an index to the concordance of the Gospels. The numbers in the columns refer to the numbering of the individual verses in the four gospels. 1. A grid canon-table, Canon X (with references in only one gospel) from the Echternach Gospels, f. 12v. HENDERSON (1987); 2. Canons VI, VII en VIII from the Book of Kells, f. 5. HENDERSON (1987); 3. Four-parted canon-table. Evangelarium of Flavigny. Autun, Bibliotheque Municipale. Ms 4, fol. 4r.; 4. Cod. 847, fol. 5r. Bibliotheque National, Vienna, sixth century. STERN, Henri (1953).

The first canon (I) consisted of four columns with verses, which occur in all four gospels. Canon II – IV contained verses, which occur in three gospels, canon V – IX comprised verses, which can be found in two gospels and, finally, the last canon (X) contained verses, which only occur in one gospel.

The canon-tables were frequently used in manuscripts in the sixth century (STERN, 1953). He gave many examples of canon-tables in his article on the ‘Le calendrier de 326‘. The arches were a classical means to divide the numbers (of the concordant verses) into rows.

The ‘Book of Kells’, written around 800, opened with ten canon-tables (and two blank pages (FRIEND, 1939; NORDENFALK, 1977; HENDERSON, 1987) (fig. 318). The manuscript, in the Trinity College, Dublin (MS. A.1.6 or MS. 58), opens with a list of ‘in quo quattuor’ texts (occurring in four gospels) with a continuation on folio 2. Folio 2v. opens with Canon II (‘in quo tres‘, Matthew, Mark and Luke). This is continued on folio 3. A change in format takes place. The short Canon III is written on folio 3v, without illustrations. Folio 4 gives Canon IV (‘in quo tres‘, Matthew, Mark and John): left the angel and to the right the eagle. Canon V is given on folio 4v (‘in quo duo’, Matthew and Luke) and means a new change in style: two great arches and a single arch over those two indicate a ‘duality’ of the table. The same  design  is used in folio 5, which  provides  in Canon VI the texts of Matthew and Mark, in Canon VII texts from Matthew and John and in Canon VIII verses from Mark and Luke (fig. 318 – 2).

Canon IX, on folio 5v, compares passages from St. Luke and St. John, and the copyist employed a grid-system, together with folio 6 (Canon X). This is the third change of style within the Canon-tables at the beginning of the Book of Kells. The grid illustration indicates, according to HENDERSON (1987), a possible archaic representation of the IXth and  Xth Canon, like it also featured in the Echternach Gospels (fig. 318 – 1). FRIEND (1939) was of the opinion that the use of the grid was a sign of degeneration, in which the Book of Kells ‘was completed in some inferior scriptorium after the marvellous artist of the earlier pages was no longer available.’ HENDERSON (1987), pointing to other archaic forms, does not agree with that conclusion.

BEFFNY, de, Brian (Ed.)(1978). De Ierse Wereld. De geschiedenis en cultuur van het Ierse volk. Mercatorfonds, Antwerpen. ISBN 90-6153-090-3

BRAUNFELS, Wolfgang (Ed.)(1965). Karl der Grosse. Werk und Wirkung. Zehnte Ausstellung unter den Auspizien des Europa Rates. Aachen. Schwann, Dusseldorf.

DRAAK, Maartje (1983). Willibrord tussen Ieren en Friezen. pp. 200 – 203 in: HARBISON, Peter (et al.)(1983). Gouden eeuwen in Ierland. (tr. Bernadette Schuddeboom-Tolenaar). Openbaar Kunstbezit, Weesp. Kunstschriften, jrg. 27, no. 6, november/december 1983. ISBN 90-6515-023-4

EUW, von, Anton (1989). Karolingische verluchte evangelieboeken (tr. ‘Das Buch der Vier Evangelien: Kölns Karolingische Evangelienbücher’. Museumdienst Köln). Photo’s: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln. Rijks-museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, ‘s-Gravenhage/ Gary Schwartz SDU, Maarssen/’s-Gravenhage. ISBN 90-6179-087-5

FRIEND,  A.M. (1939). The Canon Tables of the Book of Kells. Pp. 611 – 641  in:  Medieval Studies in Memory of Arthur  Kingsley  Porter, KOEHLER, W.R.W. (Ed.). Cambridge, Mass., II.

HAHN, Christoph  Ulrich (1968). Geschichte der Pasagier Joachims von  Floris, Amalrichs von Bena und anderer verwandter Sekten. Band 3.  Scientia Verlag, Aalen.

HENDERSON, George (1987).  From Durrow to Kells. The Insular Gospel Books 650 – 800. Thames and Hudson, London.

HUBERT, Jean, PORCHER, Jean, VOLBACH, W.F. (1967). L’Europe des Invasions. Serie: L’Univers des formes. Editions Gallimard, Paris. Also in:

JAMESON, Anna (1891). Sacred and Legendary Art. Longmans, Green & Co., London.

KAUFFMANN, C.M. (1966). The Bury Bible. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College,  MS 2. Journal Warburg & Courtauld Institute, Vol. XXIX, pp. 60 – 81, 1966. The Warburg Institute/University of London.

KELLY, Joseph F. (1982). Hiberno-Latin theology. In: LÖWE, Heinz (Ed.) (1982). Die Iren und Europa im früheren Mittelalter. 2 Vol.; Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart. ISBN 3-12-915470-1

LEWIS, John N.C. (1970). Anatomy of Printing. The Influences of Art and History on its Design. Faber and Faber Limited, London. ISBN 0 571 08768 X

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

MEYER, Heinz (1975). Die Zahlenallegorese im Mittelalter. Methode und  Gebrauch. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munchen.

NORDENFALK, Carl (1938). Die spätantiken Kanontafeln. Kunstge-schichtliche Studien über die eusebianische Evangelien-Konkordanz in den vier ersten Jahrhunderten ihrer Geschichte. Oskar Isacsons Boktryckeri AB., Götenborg.

  –  (1977). Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Painting. Book Illumination in the  British Isles 600 – 800. Chatto & Windus, London. ISBN 0 7011 2242 0

REEVES, Marjorie &  HIRSCH-REICH, Beatrice (1972). The Figurae of Joachim of Fiore. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

SCHNEIDER,  Ambrosius; WIENAND, Adam; BICKEL, Wolfgang & COESTER, Ernst (1977).  Die Cistercienser.  Geschichte. Geist. Kunst. Wienand Verlag. Köln. ISBN 3 87909 074 2

STERN,  Henri (1953). Le Calendrier de 354. Etude sur son texte et sur ses illustrations.  Institut francais d’archeologie de  Beyrouth. Bibl. Archeol. et Hist. Tome LV. Impremerie National, Paris.

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45. Four Crowned Saints

Quattuor Coronati

The legend of the Quattuor Coronati is a story of four stonemasons from Pannonia, who lived during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284 – 305 AD). They were called Claudius, Castorius, Simphorianus and Nicostratus (DEMETER, 1961; SIMON et al., 1988), and secretly devoted to Christianity.

The stonemasons opposed an assignment of the emperor to make a statue of Aesculapius, the god of surgery and medicine. Earlier they had, in cooperation with Simplicius, finished a statue of the sun god (Sol invictor) on a quadriga. The refusal of the stonemasons provoked anger with the emperor, who had the man whipped and put into lead coffins to be thrown in the river Save. This happened, according to legend, on the eighth of November, around 302 AD.

The Roman Catholic Church in the ‘Breviarium Romanum’ sanctioned this story, being part of the old-Christian and early medieval hagiography. In this version there were, together with the four stonemasons, another four martyrs (the brothers Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus and Victorinus), who were also tortured and killed under the reign of Diocletian. They were supposedly buried at the same place, along the Via Labicana in Rome, as where the Quattuor Coronati found their last resting-place.

The source in the ‘Brevarium‘ is not indicated. The work was a compilation of the ‘Vita‘, which circulated as legends. The story of the four stone-masons was only added to the ‘Brevarium‘ in the revision of 1568. KELSCH (1987) gave four primary sources of the legend of the martyrs:

1. A Roman calendar of the fourth century, which provided the anniversary of the martyrs. This was before the early Christian church became the state-religion within the Roman Empire;

2. The so-called ‘Depositio martyrium’ of Furius Dionysius Philocalus from the year 354;

3. The ‘Martyrologium Hieronymianum’, from the beginning of the fifth century and

4.  A ‘Passio SS. Quattuor Coronatorum’.

A church on the Mons Caelius in Rome was mentioned in the year 595 AD as a place of pilgrimage for the ‘Quattuor Coronati’. Travelogues from the seventh century recorded a catacomb along the Via Labicana as their last resting-place.

Pope Leo IV (847 – 855)(fig. 319) had a particular affinity with the four martyrs, as described in the ‘Histoire des Papes et souverains chefs de l’eglise‘ by Francois DUCHESNE (1653): ‘Il auoit vne affection & deuotion particuliere aux saints Martyrs appelez les Quatre Couronnez. A cette cause il fit principalement rechercher leurs Os; & les ayent trouuez auec peine, les mit en la Basilique de leur nom, laquelle il regissoit auant son Pontificat. Il y transfera pareillement les Corps saints de Claude, Nicostrat, Symphorien, Castorius, & Simplicius ...’ (Tome I, p. 489)(He had an affection with and a particular devotion to the saints called the Quattuor Coronati. For that reason he searched for their bones; and after having found them with difficulty, he put them in the basilica bearing their name. He organized this before he received the pontificate. He moved apparently the holy bodies of Claudius, Nicostratus, Symphorianus, Castorius and Simplicius…). Historical evidence showed that Leo IV enlarged the old basilica, which is named after the ‘Quattuor Coronati’.


Fig. 319 – Pope Leo IV, with his pontificate from 857 – 865 AD, was an enthusiastic supporter of the ‘Quattuor Coronati’. He searched for their bones and had them transferred to a basilica. In: DUCHESNE (1653).

The saints on the ceiling of the church of SS. Quattro Coronati in Rome by an unknown master are of a much later date. The church itself (the emporium) dated from the twelfth century. In the apses are frescoes of Giovanni Manozzi, also called Giovanni da San Giovanni, painted around 1630. DUFFY (1997) gave an illustration of the ‘Donation of Constantine’ as a fresco in the Capella di San Silvestro in the church of the Quattro Santi Coronati  (fig. 320).


Fig. 320 – The ‘Donation of Constantin’. A fresco in the Church of the Quattro Santi Coronati in Rome. Emperor Constantine gives Pope Sylvester I (in office: 314 – 335) the tiara, an event which supposedly took place in the fourth century AD. The fresco cycle was ordered by Pope Innocent IV in 1248 to consecrate the false legend of the transfer of temporal power from Constantine to Pope Silvester I. The forged document  was probably written in Rome around 753 AD.   Pepin, father of Charlemagne, had marched into Italy in 754 and 756 and defeated Lombardy. He gave the territories dominated by the Lombards to Pope Stephen because Pepin had conquered the country ‘for the love of St Peter and for the forgiveness of his sins’. In: DUFFY (1997).

Also in other places in Italy are representations of the ‘Quattro Coronati’, for instance, in Florence in the guildhall of San Michele at the Via Calzaiolio. The sculptor Nanni d’Antonio di Banco (c. 1373 – 1421) depicted the saints around 1415 (GOLDTHWAITE, 1980)(fig. 321).


Fig. 321 – The four crowned saints (Quattuor Coronati) in marble, by the Italian sculptor Nanni di Banco, in the tabernacle of the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e di Legname (Stonecutters and carpenters), Orsanmichele, Florence, around 1415. In: BOULBOULLE,  (1989) and KELSCH (1987).

Portraits of the saints also occur in Pavia (in the S. Pietro church on the Arca of the Holy Augustine, around 1360), in Venice (in the dome of the San Marco and in the Dogen Palace, Colonna degli Scultori, around 1400), in Arezzo (S. Francesco church, painted by Parri Spinelli in 1400, destroyed) and on the isle of Sicily (DU COLOMBIER, 1953).

Further north, in Austria, are representations at the Stadtpfarrkirch of Neunkirchen (Lower Austria), dating from around 1500. In the Pfarrkirche of Steyr (Upper Austria) is an epitaph of the builder-master Wolfgang Tenk, made of sandstone, with the heraldry of the building guild St. Stephan and the Quattuor Coronati.

The consecration of the Munster of Aachen (Germany) took place in 1474 and was dedicated to the Quattuor Coronati. The only profane representation of the ‘Coronati’ in Germany is at Wertheim on the Main. A sixteenth century house (now the Heimatmuseum in the Rathausgasse) is decorated with the ‘Quattor Coronati’ in red sandstone (fig. 322).






Fig. 322 – The ‘Quattuor Coronati’ and their symbols at the (former) town hall of Wertheim on the Main, Germany. From top to bottom: Claudius with a T-square; Symphorianus with a spirit level; Nikostratus with a compass; Castorius with a measuring rot (Photos: Marten Kuilman,  August 2002).

The ‘Quattuor Coronati’ were, especially in Belgium and Holland, a popular motif. Paintings and sculptures can be found in Brussels, Antwerp, Brugues, Gent, Leuven, Mechelen, Amsterdam, Dordrecht and Haarlem. The following historical occurrences are also noticed by KELSCH (1987): Middelburg (Guildhouse ‘In de Steenrotse’, around 1590, lost), Leiden (Guildhouse of the carpenters and masons, 1615, destroyed), Delft (silver guild-beakers, 1633;  fig. 323), Arnhem (Eusebius church, destroyed and Appingedam (Groningen, fourteenth century, restored, fig. 324).


Fig. 323 – Guild cups from Delft. S. Lorenz and the ‘Quattuor Coronati‘, as patron saints of the guild of the building trade; silver, 1633. In: KELSCH (1987).


Fig. 324 – The ‘Quattuor Coronati’ as a painting on the ceiling in the church in Appingedam (Groningen, Northern Holland). Left: 1. Claudius with a compass; 2. Nikostratus with a T-square (note that this is a reversal from the symbolism on the town hall in Wertheim); Right: 3.  Castorius with a measuring rot and 4. Symphorianus with a trowel. In: STEENSMA (1984).

Many representations of the ‘Quattuor Coronati’ are connected with the building guilds, which flowered in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The guild of the ‘Maestri‘ in Florence was, for example, a considerable political power block (GOLDTHWAITE, 1980) Their shield of arms showed the attributes of the ‘Quattuor Coronati’ (fig. 325-1), with a waller’s instrument for mixing mortar in the center.

The guild sign of the masons and thatchers of Middelburg (Holland), dated from 1607, exhibited at its reverse four persons with tools from the trade. Their names (Claudus, Nicostracius, Dicideryus and Syplycus) indicated that the knowledge of the original legend had become somewhat distorted (fig. 325-2).

A medal with the arms of the building guild of St. Stephan in Vienna is dated from 1651 (fig. 325-3). In the outer rim of the sign is written: ‘Der Purgerlichen Steinmezen unndt Maurer Sigill der Haupthitten peu S. Steffan in Wien‘ and in the inner rim: ‘S (= Sigillum) Fraternita Lapicidarum Vienensiu Austriae‘.

The influence of the building- and crafts-guilds diminished during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and tradition became the main motive to continue the societies. The prominence of the ‘Quattuor Coronati’, as the patron saints of the construction-workers, declined in due course. They are remembered in literature and on the calendar of the holy days (the 8th of November) of the Roman Catholic Church.


Fig. 325 – The ‘Quattuor Coronati’ are seen here as patrons of the building trade. 1. A shield of the Maestri, Florence (Italy), mid-fifteenth century. GOLDTHWAITE (1980). The symbols (tools) of the ‘Four Crowned’ are depicted in medallions; 2. A guild sign from Middelburg (Zeeland, The Netherlands), 1607. The names are given as Claudus, Nicostracius, Dicideryus en Syplycus (KELSCH (1987). 3. Seal of the building guild of St. Stephan in Vienna (Austria), with the ‘Quattuor Coronati’. The names are given as (from left to right): S. Thorianus, S. Claudius, S. Nicostratus and S. Castorius. Dated from 1651.  KELSCH (1987).

The building guilds found an interesting continuation in the Freemasonry. More and more ‘members of honor’ were allowed in the original medieval trade union. They were not only interested in the (financial) aspects of the building trade, but were also concerned with religious and moral questions within the union. The ‘Grand Lodge’ of the Freemasons in London was established in 1717. This event was the beginning of a movement, which subsequently spread over greater parts of Europe.

The union was open, in theory, for all races and creeds. To quote Alfred Robbins: ‘Freemasonry can be described as an organized system of morality, derived from divine wisdom and age-long experience, which, for preservation from outer assault and inner decay, is veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbol.’ This latter quality gave the movement a ‘secret’ aspect, aiming at knowledge, which was outside the mainstream of Christian thinking. The use of allegorical aspects and symbols with a pagan background brings Freemasonry sometimes within the realm of the tetradic world. The movement, however, is not guided by a specific form of division thinking, but seems to be attracted to the dynamic character of the (numerological) phenomenon as such.

The ‘secret’ character is enhanced by the fact that the type of ‘division’ is not explicitly mentioned as a philosophical force. What remains is a puzzling game of various observational stances. There are references to ‘divine wisdom and age-long experience’ – pointing to the Egyptian cultural period – but the quintessence of division-thinking remains in the dark. Despite these objections, it should be noted that Freemasonry is a valuable historical effort to explore the depths of multiple understanding. It is not surprising that the movement gained popularity in Mozart’s time (1780 – 1790) when a ‘renaissance’ of higher division thinking was  in the air: from the Latin ‘ars quadrataria’ to the medieval guilds of masons and the Freemasonry runs a conceptual line, which favored a square and quadrated world, either in reality (of a building) or in the mind.

The oldest written record of devotion to the ‘Quattuor Coronati’ as a patron saint of the masons in England was discovered by James Orchard Halliwell in a document of the second half of the fourteenth century in the British Museum (Bibl. Reg. 17.A.I). A loge of the Freemasons in England was founded in 1886 under the name ‘Quator Coronati’. The same happened in Germany in 1951. The more recent publication of KELSCH (1987) was published by the ‘Forschungsloge ‘Quatuor Coronati‘ in Bayreuth.

DEMETER (1961) pointed to some obvious contradictions in the story of the ‘Quattuor Coronati’: why did the sculptors make a representation of the pagan sun god (in a quadriga), but refused to make a sculpture of Asclepius? Furthermore, the connotation with four completely different persons, which were killed two years later – on the eighth of November – in Rome, because they were Christians, is peculiar. They were described as ‘cornicularii‘ (with horns). A ‘cornicularius‘ was a soldier of a civil servant with a certain rank. This title is very similar to the ‘coronati’. It seems as if an old popular story – maybe collected in the provinces – was used by the Roman Catholic church for their own good use.

The name ‘Coronati‘ has been subject to various interpretations of its meaning. The word could point to the martyrs – with a crown of thorn, a well-known Christian symbol. The term could also be associated with Asclepios, the son of Apollo, the sun god, and with the Koronids. The latter name is, in this assumption, subsequently being corrupted to Coronati. The number four was probably only of numerological importance.

The addition ‘Quator‘ (written with one t) is, according to DEMETER (1961), not relevant, because there are five stonemasons in the original story. Stonemasonry was called the ‘ars quadrataria’ in Latin, and a stonemason was a ‘quadratarius‘. Maybe the legend writers of the fifth and sixth century transferred the initial five ‘Quadratarii Koronidis’ (stonemasons of Asclepios) into the ‘Quatuor Coronati’ (four Crowned Ones).

There could have been a connection between the Mithra-religion and the origin of the saints’ life’s of the Four Crowned Ones. The worship of Mithra is centered on the Light. The god Mithra acts, in the dualistic environment of Light and Darkness/Heaven and Earth/Good and Evil, as a mediator between God and human beings. Mithra, as a God of Light (Sol Invictus) rode in a quadriga along the sky, pulled by four horses symbolizing the power over the elements.

The (Persian) mysteries of Mithra had special appeal to the Roman military and developed gradually into a soldiers-religion, which covered at one stage the entire length of the empire from east to west. The emerging Christianity grew into a serious competitor. Severe persecution of the Christians took place during the reign of Diocletian (emperor from 284 – 305 AD), who was born in Illyricum (Dalmatia), next to Pannonia. However, times changed, and now it was the turn of the followers of Mithra to be persecuted, also during the reign of Diocletian.

A complete break with history took place during the rule of Constantine I (306 – 337 AD) when Christianity became the state-religion. It is possible, according to DEMETER (1961), that the four (or five) sculptors were followers of Mithra instead of Christians. This could explain why they first sculptured the sun god on his quadriga and later infuriated the Christians, who did not allow sculptures of (pagan) gods. They would have been accused of idolatry.

A ‘mithrarium‘ (place of worship of Mithra) in Rome, underneath the church of San Clemente, between the Via Labicana and the Via de Santi Quattro supported the view (of DEMETER, 1961) of a possible tension between the Mithras and early Christianity. The original four martyrs (for Mithras) changed into the four Coronati, somewhere between the third and the fifth century AD. They became martyrs for Christianity and were incorporated into the world of legends of the Roman Catholic Church. KELSCH (1987, p. 8) disagreed with these suggestions and reckoned that the boundary between sound scientific research and fantasy was crossed: ‘Hier beginnen sich die Grenzen der nüchternen Forschung und der ausufernden Phantasie der Forscher zu verwirren’.

The area of origin of the saints deserves some further attention. Pannonia is the area to the south and west of the Danube in the tributary of the Save and the Drau and comprises (present) parts of eastern Austria, western Hungary and Croatia. No special devotion of the four saints can historically be traced in Pannonia. The inhabitants of Pannonia had a track record of rebellion and insurrection, right from the beginning of the Roman domination in 119 BC.

The resistance of the inhabitants of Dalmatia was particular strong during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (6 AD) and it took him three years to control. Emperor Trajanus Decius (249 – 251) was sympathetic to Pannonia. Several of their dignitaries were immortalized on coins. Diocletian divided the area geographically and politically in a Pannonia Prima en Secunda. Emperor Valentinian originated from this area, but had to fight numerous rebellions on his home ground during his reign from 364 – 375 AD.

The Langobards, with their original home ground in Northern Germany, wandered during the period of the migration (526 AD) south to Pannonia and partly remained there. Another part of the population continued to the Po Valley and laid the foundations of the cultural area of the Longobards (Venice). From the east was an influx of Arian tribes, originating from the slopes of the Caucasus, who went as far as Silesia and Galicia. They founded the Croatian Empire, which made contact with the Slaves in Pannonia (GOSS, 1987)(fig. 326). Clearly,  such a geographical melting pot provided a good substratum for the origin of legends.


Fig. 326 –  The boundaries in the Balkan in the early Middle Ages, showing the borderline between the ‘western’ Croatians and the ‘eastern’ Serbs. Pannonia was situated in the upper central part (and further north into Hungary (GOSS (1987).

The reputation of Pannonia as a place of ‘mystery’ continued in the seventeenth century, when this area was known in Western Europe as ‘Europa mirabilia‘. It was, to a certain extend, the cultural horizon of Europe of that period, just as ‘Timbuktu’ figures in the present imagination as a place-far-away and the unknown. Pannonia featured, for this very reason, many times in the ‘Martyrologium Hieronymianum’ (composed at the beginning of the sixth century). The area was mentioned as the place of birth of Saint Martin of Tours, the man who cut his coat in half and gave it to a beggar.

A reference in the book of the German physician Michael Maier (1568 – 1622) ‘Symbola Aureae Mensae Duodecim Nationum’ (1617; FRICK, 1972, p. 574) painted the magical environment of Pannonia: ‘In quibusdam Pannoniae locis homines sub aquis habitare scribunt, quia ex aquis induratis tophacei lapides concreuerint: In montanis Carolinis aqua feruentes lapidescunt similiter: Alibi intra ignem viuos degere mortales asserunt, si silices ignem actu continent, ut Castilia.’

HENDERSON (1987) mentioned the ‘Quattuor Coronati’ of the ‘Coelian Hill’ in Rome as a motif for a representation at the Canterbury Cathedral (now lost). He pointed to eight-century Bede and his ‘Ecclesiasticae historiae gentis Anglorum‘, which mentioned the four saints (Lib. II, Cap. VII, r. 15, edition 1550): ‘Erat autem eo loci, ubi flammarum impetus maxime incumbebat, martyrium beatorum quatuor coronatorum.’

The legend of the ‘Four Crowned Ones’ is a curiosity in the history of the thoughts in the first centuries of the Christian era, regardless of the difference in interpretation of the details. The myth of the ‘Quattuor Coronati’ allowed, in all its complexity, a glimpse at the contrivances of a tetradic theme in the time of fermentation of the Christian belief. The history is informative since it showed the transformation of a pagan tetradic theme (quadriga, quadratarius, Quattuor Coronati) change into a legend of the Roman Catholic Church and the subsequent defusing of its four-fold contents into numerology.

A further study of the changes in division thinking during the tetrarchy of Diocletian in the early fourth century would be warranted. The historic visibility (of tetradic thinking) had surfaced in the second century AD in the Roman Empire, more or less from emperor Hadrian (76 – 138 AD) onwards, but this upcoming presence was also a proof of its (political) weakness. The early Christian manifestations of belief in the true spirit of peace for all mankind – as the essence of the message of Christ – fitted smoothly within the world of (Roman) tetradic thinking. It was only when it became involved in a power-struggle (with Mithraism as their main adversary), and the Christian identity was stressed, that a downgrading to oppositional thinking became necessary to fight off the dualistic tendencies of other religions. The Christian message lost its innocence in the real world.


BOULBOULLE, Guido et el. (1989). Florenz. Ein Reisebuch durch die Stadtgeschichte. Athenäum, Frankfurt am Main. ISBN 3-610-04731-3

DEMETER,  Karl  (1961).  Die Legende von den ‘Vier Gekrönten’ (Quatuor  Coronati). Im Akazien-Verlag Alfred Buss, Hamburg.

DUCHESNE, Francois (1653). Histoire des Papes et sovverains chefs de l’eglise (Deux Tomes). Jean Roger, Paris.

DUFFY, Eamon (1997). Saint & Sinners. A History of the Popes. Yale University Press/S4C. LCCCN 97-60897/ISBN 0-300-07332-1

FRICK, Karl R.H. (1972). Michael Maier’s ‘Symbola Avreae Mensae Dvodecim Nationvm’ (1617) (Facs.). Akademische Druck- u. Verlaganstalt, Graz, Austria.

GOLDTHWAITE, Richard A. (1980). The Building of Renaissance Florence. An Economic and Social History. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore/London. ISBN 0-8018-2342-0

GOSS,  Vladimir P. (1987). Early Croatian Architecture: a study of the Pre-Romanesque. Gerald Duckworth & Co., London. ISBN 0 7156 2149 1

HENDERSON, George (1987).  From Durrow to Kells. The Insular Gospel Books 650 – 800. Thames and Hudson, London.

KELSCH, Wolfgang (1987). Die Quattuor Coronati in der Legende und der bildenden Kunst. Forschungsloge ‘Quatuor Coronati’, Bayreuth. No. 808. ISBN 3-925749-03-9

SIMON, E. (Red.); BALTY, J. Ch.; BERGER, E.; BOARDMANN, J.; BRUNEAU, Ph.; CANCIANI, F.; KAHIL, L. & LAMBRRIOUDAKIS, V. (1988). Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC),  IV, 2  Eros – Herakles. Artemis Verlag, Zürich & München. ISBN 3 7608 8751 1

STEENSMA, Regd. (Ed.) (1984). Kerken in Friesland: gebouwen, inrichting en gebruik.  Bosch & Keuning , Baarn ISBN 90-246-4542-5.

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46. The curriculum in ancient times


The ‘quadrivium‘ is the name for a part of the medieval curriculum, as it was derived from the seven ‘artes liberales‘. The ‘artes liberales’ were distinguished by bishop and philosopher Augustine (354 – 430 AD) in an effort to give (Latin) education a theoretical framework. The ‘artes‘ were, later, divided in two parts, reflecting the ‘human’ and the ‘natural’ sciences’ (fig. 327 – 329):

 the ‘trivium’                                                                                             the ‘quadrivium’


—————–   grammatica                                                                  arithmetica

—————–   rhetorica                                                                       geometrica

—————–   dialectica                                                                      astronomica

.                                                                                                              harmonica (music)



Fig. 327 – The seven liberal arts in the Convenevole da Prato, a poem for Robert of Anjou. 1334 – 1343.  Wien, Osterr. Nationalbibliothek, Cod. ser. n. 2639, fol. 30r. Abb. 33 in: TEZMEN-SIEGEL (1985).


Fig. 328 – The seven liberal arts. Left: trivium  Right: quadrivium. Thomasin von Zerclaere – Der Welsche Gast. Cod. Ms. B (second half fourteenth century). Erlangen, Universiteits-bibliothek. fol. 19v. First publication. Abb. 13 in: TEZMEN-SIEGEL (1985).

Fig. 329 – Some illustrations of the seven liberal arts in ‘The Mirrour of the World’ by Vincent of Beauvais (Westminster, 1481). The ‘trivium‘ (grammatica, rhetorica, and dialectica) was associated with teaching to a multiplicity of pupils. The ‘quadrivium‘ (arithmetica, geometrica, harmonia and astronomica) showed individual pupils or a duo (music, harmonia). In: VINCENTIUS (Vincent of Beauvais) (1481/1979).

The division of knowledge found its roots in classical times. The Greek oral tradition (the ‘epic cycles’) and Roman rhetorical rules (expressed by Cicero) used divisions in the art of memory. This art was, according to legend, invented by the poet Simonides of Ceos, who realized that orderly arrangement was essential for a good memory. Cicero tells the story of the named poet, who established the identity of mutilated bodies after the roof of the banqueting hall collapsed. He remembered the seating of the guests at a banquet, which he had left just minutes before.

Four operations can be used to improve memory (PILTZ, 1981; p. 223):

1. Use pictures, which resemble what you are trying to remember. These pictures should be slightly out of the ordinary and stand out against a certain background;

2. A systematic attention is necessary and a certain order must be introduced;

3. A selection of the things to remember is of prime importance because the more firmly something is etched in our senses, the more difficult it is to escape our memory;

4. Meditation about the choice is necessary all the time: ‘it is meditation that saves the memory’.

A logical result of the systematic attention (of the second step) is the introduction of a division. The choice of a division introduces, in a philosophical environment, a cognitive environment: the elementary dual, tri- or quadripartitions reveal the frame of mind in which decisions are taken.

‘The actual grouping of the four branches went back to Plato, as well as to Archytas, in the fourth century before Christ’, stated Pearl KIBRE (in: MASI, 1981; p. 69). Their common nominator and purpose were a definition of quantity, expressed in a language of ‘mathematica‘ (or ‘quadriviales‘): ‘And this quantity was either discontinuous or continuous, that is discontinuous either per se as in arithmetic, or in relation to another, as in music or harmony; and continuous either without motion as in geometry, or in motion as in astronomy. Thus the quadripartition was specifically that of quantity’ (MERLAN, 1960; pp. 94 – 95).

Christiane JOOST-GAUGIER (2006) emphasized in her proficient book the link (of the four-division of knowledge) with Pythagoreanism. She also pointed to Archytas the Pythagorean, living in the four century BC, as the initiator of the quadrivium. The concept was later refined by Boethius and Macrobius: ‘Through the works of these men especially, the Pythagorean tradition would be kept alive long after the world of Antiquity had given way to the Middle Ages.’ (JOOST-GAUGIER, 2006, p. 111).

An important contribution to structural thinking came from the Roman orator and man of letters Marcus Tullius Cicero (Tully), born in 106 BC. Cicero’s teacher was Posidonius of Apamea, a man who calculated the earth diameter and had his teachings recorded in the ‘Tusculanae Disputationes’. Cicero’s keen interest in cosmological matters led to the translation of Plato’s ‘Timaeus‘ into Latin (and handed to the West in the Middle Ages an important lead to their ‘Greek-Pythagorean’ past). He was also the first to mention Euclid, although it is unlikely that a Latin translation of this work existed at the time (no record of any Latin translation of Euclid is known before Boethius, c. AD 480; RUSSELL, 1945; p. 212).

One of Cicero’s earlier works was the ‘De inventione’ (or ‘Rhetorici libri duo’) written in 84 BC. He defined the basic four virtues. The book was concerned with the first part (of five) of the rhetoric, the ‘inventio‘: the composing of the subject matter of a speech and the collection of ‘things’ to deal with. The work was often associated with an anonymous work called ‘Ad Herennium‘ (Rhetorica nova), and together they were known in the Middle Ages as the ‘First and Second Rhetorics’ of Tullius (YATES, 1966; p. 36). Cicero personalized the theme with four individuals (Crassus, Marcus Antonius, Quintus Scaevola and Caesar Strabo) in a later work called ‘De Oratore’ (in three books). The book was written in 55 BC and described the positions in a communication:

1. Crassus pointed to knowledge of law and philosophy as a prerequisite for a good communication; Antonius reckoned that natural ability and experience was sufficient;

2. Antonius expounded his ideas (in Book 2) with the ‘inventio‘ (the deliberate choice of items to draw the attention of the audience); Caesar highlighted the importance of humour;

3. Antonius was in favor of order and a clear structure of the material discussed; and

4. Crassus (in Book 3) summarized the preconditions of a competent conversation and considered elegance in style and rhythm as the highest objective.

Cicero’s thoughts were fully developed in his book ‘De Officiis’ (‘On Moral Duties’; MILLER, 1921), written in his ‘days of distraction’ towards the end of his life (46 – 43 BC). The four virtues were presented in three books: 1. Moral goodness; 2. Expediency; and 3. The conflict between the right and the expedient. The book was about duty and morality, and gave practical rules to achieve those goals.

The four cardinal virtues were in the center of attention: wisdom, justice, fortitude (courage) and temperance represented the four stages of communication, aiming at equilibrium in a dynamic environment: ‘the rule of the golden mean is best’ and ‘the whole glory of virtue is in activity’. He also realized that the position taken by an observer in a communication (either voluntary or involuntary) was of prime importance: ‘tanta vis est et loci et temporis‘ (Great is the significance of place and circumstance; Book I, XL, 144). VAN DER ZANDE (1998) vividly described the triumphal reception of Christian Garve’s German translation of Cicero’s work in 1783.

Varro (116 – 27 BC) presented, in his ‘De Novem Disciplinis libri novem’ (Nine Books of the Nine Disciplines; 33 – 31 BC), a general view of the curriculum in ancient times. Unfortunately, only fragments of this work remain. ‘The most learned man of his times’, as Varro was called by Quintilian, added medicine and architecture to the list of primary subjects (KNOWLES, 1962), bringing the total to nine.

The actual (theoretical) division into trivium and quadrivium dated from later than the seventh century (COBBAN, 1975). RAJNA (1928) put the effective introduction of the division during the life of Alcuin (730 – 804; articulated in the ‘Horatius’-commentary of Pseudo-Alcuin). RASHDALL (1895/1936, p. 36) insisted that ‘the real education of the Dark Ages was the trivium‘. The quadrivium was, with retrospective effect, ‘filled up by discoveries or rediscoveries of the twelfth-century Renaissance’.

Calvin BOWER (in MASI, 1981; p. 163) stated that ‘recent studies have shown that the liberal arts played a rather minor educational role in most of Europe between 500 and 850′. A five-fold division prevailed at that time. The actual duties of the monks in their educational quest were formulated in Charlemagne’s ‘Capitular 72’:

————————————  psalmi (or liturgy),

————————————  notae (writing),

————————————  cantus (singing),

————————————  computus (calendric studies) and

————————————  grammatica (reading).

Two writers had a direct influence on the European scholars of the Middle Ages: Martianus Capella and Boethius, both living around 500 AD, at the time when the Roman Empire disappeared from the stage of European cultural history. Both can be seen as vital links between the classical knowledge (and imagery) and the young European culture.

Martianus Capella lived in Cartage and used the classical division of knowledge in his ‘De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii’ (On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury). The book is an encyclopedia in a popular form and became the leading canon of the ‘septem artes liberales‘ from the sixth to the fourteenth century (STAHL, 1971). The tractate was often attributed to ‘Tullius’, for instance, by Hieronymus Stridonensis in his letter (#53) to Paulinus of Nola, and associated with Cicero’s ‘De Inventione’.

The book of Martianus Capella was a tribute to division-thinking in general. Firstly, the marriage, as a unity of two: the allegorical marriage between Mercury and scholarship (Book I-II), the unity of words is three-fold (Philology: Book III – V: Grammatica, Dialectica, Rhetorica) and the unity of things is four-fold (Mercury: Book VII – IX: Geometrica, Arithmetica, Astronomia and Harmonia). Two-hundred-and-forty-one manuscripts of ‘De Nuptiis’ are known to exist. Eight are illustrated (TEZMEN-SIEGEL, 1985).

The Roman philosopher  Boethius was born c. 480 AD in Rome and executed in 524 AD at Pavia. He used division-thinking as a guideline in his thoughts (MASI, 1974, 1981; WHITE, 1981). The term ‘tessares methodoi’ (four methods) was rendered as ‘quadrivium‘, or a place where four roads join (STAHL, 1971; HÜBNER, 1989) in Boethius’ translation of Nicomachus of Gerasa’s book ‘De Arithmetica’ (second century AD).

These crossroads marked the four areas of knowledge: ‘it is impossible to achieve the summit of perfection in the disciplines of philosophy, unless one approached this noble wisdom by a kind of fourfold way’  (‘De Arithmetica‘; PL. LXIII, 1079D). The following cerebral processes (De Cons. Phil., Book V; in the translation of WATTS (1969), p. 157) were noted to guide a human communication:

——————————– 1. sense-perception

——————————– 2. imagination

——————————– 3. reason

——————————– 4. intelligence (understanding)

The transmission of the quadripartite image into the European Middle Ages was intensified by Boethius’ ‘De Consolatione Philosophiae’ (The Consolations of Philosophy), written in jail before his execution on October 23, 524, when he was forty-four years old. In this ‘consolatio‘, or manual for mental health, the goddess ‘Philosophia‘ sings of the power of love in the natural world preserving peace and keeping chaos at bay (in the last poem of Book II). Philosophy moves on (in Book IV, poem 6) to the concord of the elements, of the seasons, and of birth and death’s finality (fig. 330).


Fig. 330 – Boethius, Philosophia and Fortuna in a miniature from a French translation of ‘De consolatione philosophiae‘. Fig. 43 in: MERSMANN (1982).

UHLFELDER (in: MASI, 1981; p. 31) noticed thematic bonds in the thirty-nine poems, which intermingle with the same number of passages in prose: ‘Boethius’ explicit identification of divisions of the argument proves that there were two coexistent structural principles, one based on the fivefold division into books, and the other on the fourfold stages of the ‘plot’, with special emphasis on the threefold division of the philosophical argument.’

The world view of Boethius was manifestly put forward in the first poem of Book IV, describing the ascent of the soul to God, the center of light, and its return (fig. 331).


Fig. 331 – This scheme gives a representation of the quadripartite cosmos, as presented by Boethius in his ‘Consolatione Philosophiae’ (Book IV, poem I).

The human mind travels from the earth through the sky to the sphere of the moon. The lightest element (fire) reaches to the moon. Beyond the moon is the fifth element, the quintessence or ether. The soul succeeds through the sphere of the stars to its ultimate destination: God, the source of light. The (cyclic) movement of the (human) invisibility continues, descending from God, back through the ether, to reach the earth and emanate (again) in a human soul.

At birth the soul emanates or descends to the earth from God, and its ascent is an account of its return. The emanation is described as follows (verses 15 – 26; translated by WATTS, 1969; p. 117/118):

 .                                             And when the orbit’s path is done

.                                              The furthest heaven it forsakes.

.                                              It treads beneath the ether swift

.                                              Possessing now the holy light,

.                                              For here the King of kings holds sway,

.                                              The reins of all things holding tight,

.                                              Unmoving moves the chariot fast,

.                                              The lord of all things shining bright.

.                                              If there the pathway brings you back –

.                                              The path you lost and seek anew –

.                                              Then, ‘I remember,’ you will say,

.                                              ‘My home, my source, my ending too.’

A  ‘descriptio‘ (visual explanation) of Boethius’ cosmic consciousness was given in an eleventh-century copy of the book ‘De Arithmetica’ (Arithmetike eisagoge) by Nicomachus of Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan). This important mathematician lived in the Roman province of Syria from c 60 – 120 AD.  Boethius’ ‘De institutione arithmetica’ was a Latin translation of this book  (MURDOCH, 1984; p. 102, fig. 97)(fig. 332/333).


Fig. 332 – The world view of Boethius in an eleventh century copy of the translation of ‘De Arithmetica’ by Nicomachus of Gerasa. Boethius provided in this book a philosophy of numbers, which should be used as guidelines to a moral order. The relation of particular numbers (in this case the oddly even numbers) set an example of logic and harmony reign.
Boëthius’ ‘De Institutione arithmetica libri II‘,  Bamberg,  H.J. IV.12,  fol.  28r. In: DIRINGER (1967).


Fig. 333 – The mathematical world view of Boethius, as given in his book ‘De Arithmetica‘ (Paris, 1521; Lib. I, p. 25). This scheme was preceded by a treatment of the odd and even numbers. A sequence (of evenly even numbers; pariter par) with an even number of terms (like 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 = eight terms) don’t have a single middle term, but a double one (8 en 16). A multiplication of these two terms results in the last number of the sequence (128). A sequence (of evenly even numbers) with an odd number of terms has a single middle term. This middle term gives – if multiplied by itself – the last term of the sequence. These properties are illustrated on oddly even numbers by giving four rows of numbers, which are generated by the multiplication of two even term with three (row 1: 2 x 2 = 4 x 3 = 12 etc.), five (row 2: 2 x 2 = 4 x 5 = 20), seven and nine. Two middle terms (‘medietas’) are multiplied and written outside the square in a horizontal (latitudo, addition) and vertical direction (longitudo, multiplication) and performed in the outer and inner sequences. Boethius – ‘De Arithmetica’ (Paris,  1521), Lib. I, p. 25 in  the  Biblioteca Hermetica, Amsterdam. See also p. 88 in: MASI (1983).

Cassiodorus and Isidore of Seville (‘Etymologiae’) jointed Boethius crucial position in the continuation of classical knowledge into the Middle Ages. They also contributed to the formal use of the system of division of knowledge. Cassiodorus, living towards the end of the sixth century and founder of the monastery of Vivarium in Calabria, wrote a handbook on the liberal arts (the ‘Institutiones’ or ‘Introduction to Divine and Human Readings’).

The ‘quadrivium‘ could be seen as a path to abstract knowledge (WHITE, 1981). In terms of a Pythagorean number-symbolism it means, that arithmetic deals with the numbers itself, geometry with the numbers in space, harmony with the numbers in time and astronomy with numbers in space and time (GUTHRIE, 1987). This division reflected the cognitive ‘visio‘, as it was experienced during the apex of Medieval thinking.

A clarifying article on the possible origin of the term ‘quadrivium‘, was written by HÜBNER (1989). He pointed to the difference in age: the term ‘quadrivium‘ was older than the ‘trivium‘. Boethius never knew the term ‘trivium‘ (MASI, 1981; p. 11). The associated subjects (of the quadrivium) reached prominence only when tetradic thinking itself became visible in a wider sense (from the middle of the eighth century). The general use of the terms ‘trivium‘ and ‘quadrivium‘ dated from the eleventh century (LESNE, 1940; WOLTER, 1959).

The symbolism of the cross-roads was, according to Hübner, more often seen as a metaphor (sometimes in connection with a ‘bridge’) of the opposition between body and soul: ‘this was the way the metaphorical ‘quadrivium’ was understood in the Middle Ages’. A reference to Alcuin had to support his view. To draw the symbolism (of the quadrivium) in such a dualistic environment is, in my view, a simplification. It is true that Alcuin was – in his ‘Retorica’ – a faithful follower of Augustine (HOWELL, 1941), who felt attracted to lower division-thinking. However, Alcuin – the ‘educator of Europe’, originating from York and a teacher of Charlemagne – distinguished himself from Augustine and brought a ‘Celtic’ flavor to his teaching.

Augustine – who had earlier crossed the Channel to England (in 596 AD) – was a representative of the ‘Roman’ interpretation of Christianity, with its emphasis on opposition. Now (some two hundred years later) Alcuin returned the tetradic mood back to the Continent and brought with it a reintroduction of the liberal arts. He referred to the arts in his ‘Grammatica‘ as seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and as the seven steps to the study of philosophy (PL 101, col. 853).

Rhabanus Maurus (c. 784 – 856) showed interest (but little knowledge) in the liberal arts in his ‘De Clericorum Institutione‘. Book III is a reworking of Isidore’s description of the arts with slight additions. A ‘Grammatica‘ attributed to Clemens Scotus, of Irish origin and composed around 800 AD, divided philosophy in three genera (physics, ethics and logic) and divided physics in turn in four principal parts, the four mathematical arts or ‘quadrivium philosophiae‘ (quoting Boethius’ mathematical work for the first time). John Scotus Erigena quoted an even more extended passage from the ‘Proemium‘ of Boethius’ arithmetical treatise in Book I of his ‘De Divisione Naturae’.

‘It is no coincidence’, according to BOWER (in : MASI, 1981; p. 167), ‘that both names citing Boethius contain the term ‘scottus‘, for the revival of the liberal arts and of speculative philosophical thought in the ninth century was largely the result of the work of ‘scotti peregrinantes‘. They brought to the continent, along with their love of learning and speculative thinking, many books that had been basically unknown for several centuries.’

The education at the Carolingian monastery schools was given at three levels (PILTZ, 1981; p. 15), inspired by a practical approach:

1. The first step consisted in the learning of the elementary principles of writing, reading and singing, some grammar and an explanation of the calendar.

2. The next step was a study of the seven liberal arts (‘septem artes liberales‘), divided into the ‘trivium‘, i.e. grammar, rhetoric and dialectic, and the ‘quadrivium‘, consisting of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (fig. 252). The seven liberal arts were mentioned by Plato in his ‘De Republica‘ (The Republic, Book VII; LARSON, 1979) and are part of the Platonian system of ‘planned education’ (COBBAN, 1975).

3. The final step in the Carolingian cathedral and monastery schools was the actual preparation to the task as a priest and the practical familiarity with the skills of priesthood, like the reading and interpreting the Scriptures and teaching the catechism.

The cathedral school of Chartres became in the early twelfth century, under the guidance of Thierry of Chartres, a center of the ‘exact’ sciences of the quadrivium (STODDARD,  1966; MASI, 1983). Plato’s ‘Timaeus‘ (in the adaptation of Chalcidius, living in the fourth century) was the major point of departure. It was thought possible to learn more about God within the structural setting of nature. The study of nature was therefore regarded as a devotion to the almighty God.

‘For three centuries, from the thirteenth century until the revolutionary changes that took place at the beginning of the sixteenth century, all people in Europe with any claim to education at all could make themselves understood to each other. This was not only because they shared a common language in Latin. What is more remarkable is that they shared a common world picture and uniform terminology for describing it’, said Anders PILTZ (1981) in the preface of his book on ‘The World of Medieval Learning’. This unity was mainly due to the Roman Catholic Church and its schools associated with churches and cloisters.

The ever-present current of Neo-Platonism in the European cultural history favored the reciprocity between the Idea and Nature and showed therefore an interest in the quadrivium. The scholar Gemistus (Plethon), for instance, living in Mistra (southern Greece), some two hundred years later, was educated in the trivium and quadrivium (FUCHS, 1926; MASAI, 1956; p. 55)

The transfer of knowledge in the Middle Ages followed an established, trodden path. VERGER (1973, p. 13) noted in his expose of teaching at the universities in the Middle Ages: ‘The method was always the same; the master reads the text which had to be learned (lectio) and interrupts his reading by commentaries, which explain the literal sense (sensus) and reveal the deeper meaning of the excerpt (sententia). VERGER (1973) divided the different universities in their way of origin:

1. spontaneous (from cloister schools), like Paris, Bologna,  Oxford and Montpellier;

2. by migration, like Cambridge (1208), Orleans, Padua (1222);

3. planned, like Naples (by Frederick II, 1224), Toulouse (1229), and the Spanish universities Palencia, Salamanca and Valladolid.

The quadrivium remained favorite in the faculties of arts in Padua, Bologna and particularly Oxford. Furthermore, Toledo, in Spain, was the ‘famed city for the teaching of the arts of the quadrivium‘ (GIMPEL, 1979/1988).

Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) continued the further intellectual framework (of division-thinking) in the thirteenth century. His ‘De Unitate Intellectus’ (‘Over the unity of the soul’) was written around 1270. It aimed at specific, but not further identified, philosophers of the University of Paris, which were known as ‘Averroists’. They were named after the Arab scholar Averroes (1126 – 1198), who explained the works of Aristotle. Indirectly, Thomas Aquinas aimed at the scholar Siger of Brabant.

Siger of Brabant was probably born between 1235 and 1240. He started his study at the University of Paris in the middle of the thirteenth century in the ‘artes liberales‘. The writings of Aristotle and its interpretations were in the center of attention at the time. He was summoned for the Inquisition on the 23rd of November 1276, but Siger had already left France. He was murdered in 1284 in Orvieto (Italy) by a mentally disturbed secretary (MANDONNET, 1899/1976) (fig. 334).


Fig. 334 – Wretched man from Orvieto (Photo: Marten Kuilman, 1995).

Siger drafted many books, of which his commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysica’ (Metaphysics), ‘De nima’ (On the Soul), the ‘Physica’ (Physics) and ‘De Generatione’ (On Growth and Decay) are preserved. In addition, work of the fifth-century Neoplatonist Proclus (‘On Providence‘) and small treatises like ‘De Aeternitate Mundi’ and the ‘Liber de Felicitate’ survived. Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321), in his ‘Divinia Commedia‘, placed Siger of Brabant in the circle of twelve wise men.

Siger of Brabant’s ‘De Intellectu’ was published in 1270 or 1271, shortly after Thomas Aquinas’ ‘De Unitate Intellectus’ came into circulation. Siger’s work was not a direct answer to the work of Thomas, but it made several references to it. The tension between Thomas Aquinas and Siger of Brabant touched the deeper interpretation of division-thinking, as felt and understood by Aristotle in the book ‘De Anima‘, giving an exposition of the soul.

Siger, as an ‘Averroist’, took the conservative outlook to safeguard the tetradic heritage. He held on to history. Thomas, on the other hand, represented the progressive side, aiming at a synthesis and understanding of lower division-thinking. The first  (Siger) believed in a collectivity (of the soul) which could be found in the invisible invisibility of the First Quadrant. The second (Thomas) searched for individuality and unicity to be found in the visible visibility of the Third Quadrant. Such a difference in emphasis can be accommodated in a tetradic program of learning. However, it will become a threat in lower division-thinking, if the choice is reduced to a matter of either-or. In that latter situation, one of the positions has to be abandoned and, subsequently, the communication as a whole looses its richness. It has to be understood, for good measure, that Thomas Aquinas did not choose this way.

Thomas was, in the context of European cultural history, the most important of the two scholars. He was canonized in 1323 AD and became an ecclesiastical authority. The achievements and person of Siger of Brabant were gradually pushed to the background. Only the monument in Dante’s ‘Divina Commedia‘ remained, in which he figured in two terzinen, together with Salomon and Boethius.

The discussion (between Thomas and Siger) was, from the quadralectic point of view, an inquiry into the nature of the First Quadrant (the ‘soul’). The ultimate question was, and probably still is: how do we envisage this (double) invisible part (of a division)? 1. As the harbor of all multiplicity – like it is regarded in higher/fourfold division-thinking – or 2. As a unity in its own right – as in lower/twofold division-thinking. KLÜNKER & SANDKÜHLER (1988; p. 18) pointed to the relevance of the discussion as a dispute on the proper explanation of Aristotle in relation to the soul.

Thomas placed the observer in the environment of the visible visibility (of the Third Quadrant), in which the body (Seele) and soul (Geist) are separate entities (substantia), contributing to the identity (of a human being). Siger positioned, on the other hand, his observer in the setting of the invisible invisibility (of the First Quadrant), a place where no divisions were made (as yet). There is no distinction between body and soul and everything is in everything. Siger’s (and Averroes’) visions were cosmic directed and contained the four main points of the interpretation of Aristotle (WEISHEIPL, 1974):

————————– 1. unicity of the intellect for all men

————————– 2. the denial of free will

————————– 3. the restriction of divine providence

————————– 4. eternity of the world

These points reflect the various stages of a tetradic communication, as they are present – ‘in statu nascendi‘ – in the First Quadrant and can be interpreted as the four stages of communication itself:

1. The First Quadrant (I) contains the ‘unicity of the intellect’ (a One) for ‘all men’ (a Many): a ‘one in all’-situation, a potentiality.

2. The Second Quadrant (II) is specific. Rules are set at the very moment that visibility becomes apparent. Within the framework of a given visibility, there is no free will, once the primary (division) decision takes effect.

3. The Third Quadrant (III) is down-to-earth and out the hands of God. Man is so devoted to the visible visibility of material existence, that there is no place left for divine providence (which implies some sort of invisibility).

4. The Fourth Quadrant (IV) is a synthesis of the previous stages and brings the four kinds of insight (principles) together into the highest ‘sapientia‘ (within this particular cycle of communication): to understand the ‘quattuor causae‘ (finalis, formalis, materialis and efficiens) within the eternity of the world. It creates the new invisibility, which was temporary lost in the Third Quadrant, and gives room for an active intellect, which is immortal and eternal.

Van STEENBERGHEN (1977) disagreed with the views of French historians Renan and Mandonnet, who depicted Siger as an outspoken representative of the ‘averroïsme latin‘. He rejected the opinion, that the ‘double verité‘ – the ‘double truth’ or the opposition between belief and ratio, which was a hallmark of Averroism – was adopted by Siger (p. 242): ‘neither Siger of Brabant, nor the other ‘averroists’ of the Thirteenth Century have adopted the theory of the two truths; in their most radical phrasing, they only declare that the philosophical conclusions, understood on a purely rational level, despite their opposition to the given facts of belief, are true’.

Thomas reached a conclusion with a dual aspect in his description of the soul: ‘two explicit different forms exist: the human soul, connected with the body, and the angelic soul, which is separated from the material’. It is the familiar scheme of oppositional thinking, with a particular item (the soul in this occasion) placed and valued in the realm of the visible and the invisible. The ‘double truth’ of Averrois (and his interpretation of Aristotle) can be recognized. The ‘verité theologique‘ and the ‘verité philosophique‘ are respectively the representations of the ‘truth’ (or ‘revelation chretienne‘, Christian revelation) in the first and third quadrant. Averrois rejected dualistic thinking, as it featured in the celebration of the Eucharist (with bread and wine suddenly changing into the real body of Christ).

The spirit of Averroes lived on in Boethius of Dacia (‘De Aeternitate Mundi‘), Jean de Baconthorp (died 1346), a ‘docteur‘ of the Carmelites, Walter Burleigh and the ‘peripateticiens de Padove‘ (RENAN, 1861): a group of intellectuals around the university of Padua, including Caesalpinus, Cardanus (FIERZ, 1977), Vanini and Berigad. Padua remained a center of European Averroism (DESSOIR, 1925; p. 351).

Julius Cesar Vanini (1585 – 1619) was a typical example of this group of most original scholars. His ‘Opere‘ – accessible in a modern edition by PAPULI & RAIMONDI (1990) – presents him as a campaigner against ‘bad philosophes, atheists, Epicurists, Peripatetici and Stoics’. Averrois was right at the beginning on the stage of the ‘Amphitheatrum Aeternae providentiae divino-magicum, christiano-physicum nec non astrologo-catholicum’ (1615). Vanini treated a wide range of knowledge in around fifty ‘Exercitatio’s’. The ‘pantheistic’ tendencies caused the Roman Catholic Church to ban him. He was burned at the stake in Toulouse in 1619.

The structure and educational aims of the ‘quadrivium‘ were by that time virtually obliterated. KLINKENBERG (1959) put the first signs of this diminishing influence already in the early Middle Ages and blamed the growing authority of theology. Others, like KRISTELLER (1959), saw its downfall in the diversification of sciences at the end of the twelfth century. However, the individual members of the ‘quatuor genera rationum‘ revived – stronger than ever before – under the new, general denomination of ‘science’.

The Ptolemaic (geocentric) cosmic system, which had ruled for almost fourteen hundred years – from the second to the sixteenth century – was replaced by the (heliocentric) system of Copernicus, who had proposed the idea around 1507. His book ‘On the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies‘ was only published towards the end of his life in 1543. It was meekly provided with a preface addressed to Pope Paul III. The Reformation broke, at the same time, the power of Roman Catholic Church in Europe and gave way to a new approach to material matters, based on empirical knowledge rather than on a belief.

Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) introduced in his ‘Novum Organum‘ (1620) a ‘new knowledge’ to replace the old quadrivium. His system of induction by the method of exclusions expressed a shift in the position of the observer towards greater control. He was devoted to the ‘double truth’ (that of reason and that of revelation), but not from an intellectual point of view, but for dualistic reasons: to give unlimited freedom for (material) reason: (lower) division was the name of the game. Divide and rule. Knowledge is power (fig. 335).


Fig. 335 – Fortuna  on the title page Francis Bacon (1642) – Henry VIII.  Etching by Cornelis van Dalen. In:  CHEW (1962).

His four classes of ‘idols of the mind’ (or defects of human understanding) were a farewell to the neutral approach of the quadrivium. Bacon provided, in this rare example of tetradic division in his work (together with the division of the knowledge of a man’s body in Health, Beauty, Strength and Pleasure in ‘The Advancement of Learning‘, 1605) a guide how to achieve the power of knowledge by avoiding errors:

 .                                IDOL                                                              ERROR


—————-   1. Of the Tribe                         –     inherent in human nature;

—————-   2. Of the Cave                         –     by personal prejudices;

—————-   3. Of the Market Place          –     through inexactness of language;

—————-   4. Of the Theatre                    –     through the system of thought,

                                                                                    (of the Schools)     –     believing in blind rule

A closely related subject to the quadrivium is the existence of the ‘Nations‘, a name given to the students (groups) at the early medieval centers of learning. The university as a scientific institution, in which knowledge had an autonomous place, originated in Southern Italy. In Salerno developed – under the influence of Greek, Latin, Jewish and Arabic know-how – a famous medical school, which flowered around the year 1100 AD. The city of Bologna became in the same period a center of law studies, concentrating on a revival of the Roman laws. The gathering of people was called a ‘studium generale‘: a study facility, which could be visited by international students.

Within the early Italian centers of knowledge grew a division in the ‘ultramontane’ (the ‘universitas ultramontanorum‘ for students from outside Italy) and the ‘cismontane’ (the ‘universitas citramontanorum‘, for students from Italy itself). This primary division developed gradually towards the end of the twelfth century – possibly influenced by the rise of guilds – into groups of students originating from the same area. From the early thirteenth century onwards these groups were called ‘nations’, with own rules and administration.

Efforts were made, between 1265 and 1317, to diminish the number of groups in Bologna, but in stead their number grew in the law department from two to seventeen at the end of the fifteenth century. The arts- and medical faculties, established in the second half of the thirteenth century, did not divers in the same way. The faculties kept their four nations (Ultramontane, Lombardy, Tuscany and Rome) until the sixteenth century.

The University of Padua, founded in 1222, had at first a division in four associations (French, Italian, German and Provencal), but followed after 1260 the model of Bologna. The same holds for the other universities, which were later founded in southern Europe: the main division is two-fold, with a subsequent subdivision. Exceptions were the universities in Orange, Dole, Caen, Cahors, Perpignan, Nantes, Bordeaux, Erfurt and Cologne. They had no division in nations (KIBRE, 1948; COBBAN, 1975).

The English universities did not have such a division either: ‘In contrast to the nations at Paris, Bologna and other continental universities, the nations of Oxford and Cambridge had never been deeply rooted in either a governmental or an academic sense. Since there was an insufficiently large cosmopolitan population to accord the nations an importance as defensive groupings for students of widely divergent ethnic origins, they were fairly rapidly phased out as irrelevances on the university scene’ (COBBAN, 1988; p. 402).

In Paris – as the archetypal setting of a university with students from many different geographical areas – were four nations, finding their members in the faculties of arts, theology, law and medicine. The faculty of arts was by far the greatest with about two-third of the total number of students. Until 1219 these groups are more or less of equal standing, but after that year the arts faculty gained a dominance and a ‘corporate identity’ (COBBAN, 1975). The bureaucratic organization also meant the onset of petty power struggle and strife, so vividly recorded in Kibre’s book on the nations in the medieval universities. The four ‘nations’ (at the Paris University) were:

1. The French nation, with students from Paris and its environment, Southern France, Spain, Italy, Greece and further east;

2. The Normandic nation was composed of students from northwestern France (Avranches, Evreux, Bayeux, Coutances, Liseaux and Sens) and Brittany.

3. The Picardic nation consisting of students from the Low Countries and Northern France (Beauvais, Noyon, Amiens, Laon, Cambrai, Liege, Utrecht and Tournai).

4. The English nation, with students from northern, central and north-eastern Europe (the British Isles, Holland, a part of Flanders, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Hungary and the Slavic countries).

Gerardo de Borgo San Donnino sparked off the crisis at the university in Paris (1252 – 1261) and his ‘Introduction to the Eternal Evangel’. Guillaume de Saint-Amour (‘Sur les perils des temps nouveaux, 1255/56?) saw him as the messenger of a new time. The University of Oxford had a similar intellectual crisis about half a century later (1303 – 1320).

‘The division into only four nations at Paris appeared, more than at Bologna where the large number of nations was more closely representative of the localities from which their members came, the result of a convenient administrative grouping rather the result of any natural affinities of language or homeland’ (KIBRE, 1948; p. 27). The division into ‘nations’ was not an effort to conform to tetradic thinking, but found its origin in an oppositional setting, aiming at the identification of a (national) identity.

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47. Four humores


The temperaments, as description of a particular form of human character, have a long history. The first clear statement of the classic and influential doctrine of the four humours appears in the Hippocratic treatise ‘De Natura Hominis‘ (LONGRISS, 1993; p. 91):

‘The body of man has in itself blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. These constitute the nature of his body, and through these he feels pain or enjoys health. Now he is particular healthy when these constituents are in due proportion to one another with regard to blending, power and quantity, and when they are perfectly mixed. Pain is experienced whenever one of these constituents is deficient or in excess or is isolated in the body and is not blended with all the others. For, whenever any one of these is isolated and stands by itself, of necessity not only does the place which it left become diseased, but also the place where it stands and floods causes pain and distress through being over-full.’ (Hippocrates – De natura hominis, Ch. 4).

An analogue of the Empedoclean theory of the four elements is evident. The division of the human character into four types, based on the humours (‘humores‘) was a direct and practical application of his theory, although  the Hippocratic treatise ‘De Vetere Medicina’ vigorously emphasized the distinction between philosophy and medicine, and rejected the intrusion of philosophical postulates into medicine.

‘The classical medical theory of the four humours arises immediately out of the pre-Socratic philosophical background and is a direct corollary of the Empedoclean four element theory in that these four humours play a role in the human body analogous to that played by the elements in the world at large’ (LONGRISS, 1993; p. 92).

The axiomatic division-theory of humours was a general theory of biological life. However, when the actual, bodily state of a human being became involved, it was often narrowed down to an equilibrium-theory (two-fold). A healthy person commended a right mixture (krasis) of the four bodily fluids, which had to be in equilibrium (isonomia). A disease occurred when the supremacy (monarchia) of one of the humours disturbed the equilibrium. Plato (428 – 348 BC) adopted the four elements as exclusive physical principles. He described the origin of diseases as follows (in the ‘Timaeus‘, 81ff):

‘The origin of diseases is, I suppose, plain to all. There are four forms from which the body is composed, earth, fire, water, air and disorders and diseases arise from the unnatural excess or deficiency of these, or from their displacement from their proper place to an alien one; and, furthermore, since there happen to be more than one variety of fire and the other elements, the reception by the body of an inappropriate variety of one of them and all similar irregularities produces disorders and diseases’.

This classical organization of knowledge was updated by the Greek physician Galen (129 – 199 AD). Antiochus of Athens, living in the  second century AD, gives a scheme, in which the temperaments are part of a general orientation in the universe. Fig. 336 provides a compilation of the visible expressions of classical tetradic thinking (from an astrological point of view). An actual philosophy, if it ever existed in a corpus of knowledge, does not show in the tabulation (BOLL & BEZOLD, 1931; p. 54; SEZNEC, 1953/1972, p. 47).


Fig. 336 – The tetradic scheme, as advanced by the astrologer Antiochus of Athens in the second century AD, showed that all physical beings were thought of as related to the zodiac.

The temperaments became a common element in the later medieval understanding of a tetradic setting (fig. 337 – 338).


Fig. 337 – The humors and the elementary qualities have a distinct location within the human body, and possible relations are established. Burgos de Osma, Spain; eleventh century. In: DOOB (1997).


Fig. 338 – Medieval scheme with a harmony of the year and the seasons (above) and the harmony of the elements, seasons and temperaments (below). Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, MS W.73, f. 8r. In: STOCK (1972). Walters Art Museum gave the following comment: ‘Created in England in the late twelfth century, this manuscript was intended to be a scientific textbook for monks. The manuscript is brief at nine folios, and was designed as a compendium of cosmographical knowledge drawn from early Christian writers such as Bede and Isidore, as well as the later Abbo of Fleury. Those writers, in turn, drew on classical sources like Pliny the Elder for their knowledge, but adapted it to be understood through the filter of Christianity. The twenty complex diagrams that accompany the texts in this pamphlet help illustrate them, and include visualizations of the heavens and earth, seasons, winds, tides, and the zodiac, as well as demonstrations of how these things relate to man. Although the exact grouping of texts and diagrams here is unique, the manuscript is related to other scientific compilations from this era, such as British Library, Royal Ms. 13 A.XI, Cotton Ms. Tiberius E.IV, and Oxford, St. John’s College, Ms. 17′.           http://www.thedigitalwalters.org/Data/WaltersManuscripts/html/W73/

A manuscript of the St. John’s College in Oxford (MS 178, ff. 39r – 41v) contains a description of the four temperaments (‘Of the Four Humours’), attributed to Aristotle (THORNDIKE, 1958). The temperaments are part of a summary of tetradic divisions: the elements, the humours, the complexions (complexio), the ages of man (adolescentia, iuventus, senectus and senium), the winds and the parts of the world. An interesting part of the manuscript dealt with a comparison between the different temperaments and its effects during the course of life. The following scheme can be constructed:


The temperaments are apparently suited or unsuited for a particular period in a human life: so is the sanguine character (hot-tempered) difficult to manage in the first twenty years of life, but improves with age and particular useful in the ‘senectus‘ period (40 – 60 years). The choleric character faces uncertainties between the age of twenty and forty. The melancholic and phlegmatic characters encounter growing difficulties in the ‘senectus‘.

The Swiss physician Paracelsus (Einsiedeln 1493/94 – Salzburg 1541) did a brave effort to overturn the tables of the Eriugenean three/four division by introducing the ‘tria prima‘-theory (salt-sulphur-mercury) into medicine, but he was never fully accepted outside the world of alchemy. However, in the Baroque period in Europe around 1650, coinciding with the height of dualistic thinking in Europe, the tetradic division (of the humours) revived in an emblematic setting. The following human types were distinguished, with the classic associations from the alchemy and early tetradic thinking:

 Four types of human temperaments, based on the dominance of one of the four ‘humores‘ (life fluids):


The introduction of the printing press, just before 1500 AD, started the wider distribution of information (fig. 339/340), including the ‘classical’ tetradic knowledge. The interpretation, however, did not escape the dualistic bonds of its time. The temperaments were often understood in a numerological context, and no longer connected with the Hippocratic/Epicurean framework of a neutral tetradic division. The concept of the disturbing of the equilibrium within the humours (isonomia) was much easier to grasp within a dualistic mind and the medical practice of bloodletting, for instance, by  incisions or leaches, continued long after its heydays in the seventeenth century.


Fig. 339 – The four temperaments on a German calendarium, around 1480, as given in Guido Majno’s book ‘The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World’ (1991). The subtitles interrelate the temperaments with elements and character: (1) phlegmatic with water and subtility, (2) sanguinistic with air and pride, (3) melancholic with earth and depressiveness and (4) choleric with fire and adventure.  In: HOES  (1994).


Fig. 340 – The four temperaments on a woodcut from an anonymous artist, 1519. Top-left: phlegmatic; top-right: sanguinistic; below-left: choleric and below right: melancholic. In: BASTIAN, et al (1960).

The temperaments were used in an illustration of Erhard Schön, accompanying a poem of Hans Sach (fig. 341). The poem was a parody on the worldly behavior of the pope Clement VII, or Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici (KUNZLE, 1973). The occupation of the Holy Chair (from 1523 – 1534) of this Renaissance aristocrat and grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1523 – 1534) was hallmarked by the Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V in 1527.


Fig. 341 – The four characteristics of wine expressed in the four temperaments of man. Top left: the sanguine temperament is drinking in style. It is a picture of peace, with a lamb to accentuate the rural nature. Top right: the choleric character is tempted to quarrel and swords are drawn. A dog meddled in with the fight. Bottom left: The phlegmatic temperament is a noisy drinker, lacking in style. He is ill-mannered and foolish, associated with a pig. Bottom right: The melancholic drinker is not much better and makes a fool of himself by doing odd things. He is characterized by a monkey. The picture by Erhard Schön, dated around 1530, was also a parody on the worldly exuberance of the pope. In: KUNZLE (1973).

The influence of wine was demonstrated with the four temperaments and psychological types: 1. The sanguine character is often a drinker, who remained a lamb, if he has too much (top left); 2. The choleric drinker becomes nasty and violent and behaves like a dog (top right); 3. The phlegmatic drinker looses decorum and acts like a pig (bottom left); and finally 4. The melancholic drinker makes a fool of himself and is portrayed as an ape (bottom right).

Another association of the four human types with animals was given in a sixteenth century edition of ‘The Shepheardes Calendar’ (fig. 342). This was a poetic work by Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 – 1599), written in a deliberate archaic style to suggest a connection with medieval literature. He became known for his epic poem ‘The Faerie Queene’.


Fig. 342 – The personifications of the four human types related to animals. From an English edition of ‘The Shepheardes Calendar’, a work by Edmund Spenser, first published in 1579. In: TAPLIN (1990).

The choleric personality to the left is tempted to use force: he draws his sword (with a reference to Mars, the ruler of this temperament). His hot-tempered and aggressive complexion is connected with fire and a lion. Schön made use of a number of quarrelsome men with swords, but associated the temperament with a dog.

The sanguine character is a gentleman, a falconer, but also a fool. He is riding high with a lady on a horse (in fig. 340), but behaves like a monkey. Erhard Schön associated him with a lamb.

The phlegmatic personality is characterized by subtlety and friendliness and, normally, associated with a lamb. However, he can also lose decorum, is foolish and act like a pig (in Schön’s parody).

Finally, the melancholic character is associated with a pig on ‘The Shepheardes Calendar’. Erhard Schön used – forty years earlier – this  animal for the phlegmatic character.

Of a later date (1797 – 1798) was a drawing of the four temperaments by Francisco Goya, now in the Museo del Prado (LOPEZ-REY, 1953; fig. 68/70/72/75) (fig. 343). NORDSTRÖM (1961; 1962) suggested an inspiration of Goya by the impressive works of Lebrun & Bailly (1668) and Leclerc & Lepautre (1670). They published an exposé of the royal tapestries with motifs like the elements and seasons. Goya consulted the epic work of Bernard de MONTFAUCON (1719) – ‘L’Antiquité expliquée et representée en figures’ – during his illness in 1792.

Goya (1746 – 1828) treated the temperaments with an unusual symbolism. A dandy – with a reference to style and vanity – faced a mirror as a sanguine character. A woman was represented as a snake, with the attributes of a chain (of Time, Cronos/Saturn). She holds a winged hourglass, pointing to a melancholic personality. A man, reflected as a frog, was identified as a phlegmatic character. The choleric type mimicked as a catlike animal. The dresses were indicative of a social division: a dandy is sanguine, a woman melancholic, a student phlegmatic and a constable choleric.


Fig. 343 – The temperaments of Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828). Four pen drawings by Goya (1797/1798). Prado, Madrid. In: NORDSTROM (1961; 1962) and WYNDHAM LEWIS (1968).

A comparison between the different interpretations of the temperaments and their associated animals is given below:


The description of human characters according to their temperaments is still in use to the present day. It proves the extraordinary versatile manner in which the classical-medical (four)division can be used, even if the philosophical background of such an apportionment has been long forgotten.

BASTIAN, Harmut; GEIGER, H.; HERMANN, P. (Ed.)(1960). Handbuch der Wissenschaft und Bildung. Band II. Econ Verlag, Dusseldorf.

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

DOOB, Alexander (1997). Alchemie & Mystiek. Het Hermetisch Museum. Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, Keulen/Librero Neder-land, Hedel. ISBN 3-8228-9199-1

HOES, dr. M.J.A.M. (1994). Capita Biologica Psychiatrica. Aflevering 49. Historiografie III. De theorieën. pp. 24 – 33 in: Soma & Psyche jaargang 20,  nr.  1, 1994. Uitg. Ciba-Geigy B.V., Arnhem. ISSN 0923-4551

KUNZLE, David (1973). The early Comic Strip. Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheets from c. 1450 to 1825. History of the Comic Strip, Vol. I. University of California Press, Berkeley/London. ISBN 0-520-01865-6

LONGRIGG, James (1993). Greek Rational Medine. Philosophy and Medicine from Alcmaeon to the Alexandrians. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-02594-X

LOPEZ-REY, Jose (1953). Goya’s Caprichos. Reason & Caricature. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

MONTFAUCON, Bernard, de (Comte de Gabalis) (1719/1976). L’Antiquité expliquée et representée en figures. 5 Vol., Florentin Delaulne, Paris.  Reprint of the English 1721/1722 edition (tr. David HUMPHREYS):  Antiquity explained and represented in sculptures. Garland Publ. Inc. New York/London. Band I/II. ISBN 0-8240-2085-5

NORDSTROM,  Folke (1961).  Goya’s Portraits of the Four  Temperaments.  pp.  394 – 401 in: MEISS, Millard (Ed.)(1961). De Artibus Opuscula XL.  Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky. Vol. I. New York  University Press, New York.

– (1962). Goya, Saturn and Melancholy. Studies in the Art of Goya. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm.

SEZNEC, Jean (1953/1972). The Survival of the Pagan Gods. The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art. Bollingen Series XXXVIII, Princeton University Press, Princeton,  N.J. ISBN 0-691-01783-2

STOCK, Brian (1972). Myth and Science in the Twelfth Century. A Study of Bernard Silvester. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-05201-8

TAPLIN, Oliver (1990).  Het  Griekse  vuur. Stichting Teleac, Utrecht. ISBN 90-6533-219-7

THORNDIKE,  Lynn (1958).  De Complexionibus.  Pp.  398 – 408 in: ISIS, Vol. 49, part 2, no. 156. June 1958.

WYNDHAM LEWIS, D.B. (1968). De wereld van Goya. Becht, Amsterdam/Diogenes, Antwerpen.

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48. Four moral qualities

Virtues and vices

Virtue is a certain positive moral quality, which a human being possesses or can  master. As such it is as old as humanity itself. Within the context of tetradic thinking, it brings us right into the heart of the Fourth Quadrant, or the area designated to the feelings as the prominent way of observation. Alasdair MACINTYRE (1981/1984; p. 12), in his challenging book ‘After Virtue’, painted the home ground of the virtues (and vices):

‘Moral judgements, being expressions of attitude or feeling, are neither true nor false; and agreement in moral judgement is not to be secured by any rational method, for there are none. It is to be secured, if at all, by producing certain non-rational effects on the emotions or attitudes of those who disagree with one. We use moral judgements not only to express our own feelings and attitudes, but also precisely to produce such effects in others.’

The emphasis on virtues is, in a historical context, an indication of the position of an observer (in the Fourth Quadrant) and the width of a communication in general. It is worthwhile to explore the path of moral concern in history in order to learn more about the state of division thinking within a culture.

Plato mentioned the (four) virtues in the ‘Politeia‘ (MÄHL, 1969). Aristotle, although an important tetradic-minded philosopher, did not separate them. His inquiries tended towards the logical and physical/biological aspects of the cosmos. Even the Greek cultural development was (at that time) not advanced enough to isolate man completely from his surroundings. This could only happen in the declining years of the cultural period, when the philosopher Zenon of Citium (on Cyprus) – living in the third century BC – gave the virtues a central place as a condition of human happiness. Zenon was the founder of the school of philosophy in the ‘Stoa Poecile’ (‘painted arcade’). He mentioned the four principal virtues in a (lost) work on the affects:

—————————  Prudentia                                                 wisdom/caution

—————————  Fortitudo                                                  courage/power

—————————  Temperantia                                            temperance/consideration

—————————  Justitia                                                      justice/righteous

Since then these virtues are also called the stoic virtues. They coincide with the four positions in a (quadralectic) communication:

I. Prudence as a beginning and end, with all the opportunities of an unknown future and the knowledge of an invisible past;

II. Fortitude as a dynamic interference with the universe, a time of decision and action;

III. Temperance as a tightening up of the reins, establishing the boundaries and obeying them. And finally,

IV. Justice as a fair and right way to deal with (the feelings of) other human beings.

The period of renewed attention of the virtues took place in the Roman cultural presence during the first half of the first century BC. It found in Cicero (106 – 43 BC) its most important representative. The three books of the ‘De officiis‘ were inspired by the work of the Stoic Panaetius, living in the second century BC. The cardinal virtues were summed up as follows (MILLER, 1921; Book I, V):

1. The full perception and intelligent development of the true (wisdom);

2. The conservation of organized society, with rendering to every man his due, and with the faithful discharge of obligations assumed (justice);

3. The greatness and strength of a noble and invincible spirit (fortitude/ courage);

4. The orderliness and moderation of everything that is said and done, wherein consist temperance and self-control (temperance).

It can be noted that, the sequence of the virtues does not follow the Greek/Zenonian succession. Cicero placed the courage in the Third Quadrant, and it became therefore the most ‘visible’ of the four virtues. Compared to the ‘classical’ sequence: (1) Prudence – (2) Fortitude – (3) Temperance – (4) Justice is the ‘Ciceronian’ order given as: 1 – 4 – 2 – 3. It is hard to prove that Cicero employed such a succession on purpose, but in the light of his position in the Roman cultural history – living in the (interpreted) third part of the Third Quadrant (III,3) – such a choice would be understandable.

The theme of the virtues was further elaborated by the Church Fathers. Ambrosius (c. 340 – 397 AD) used – in his book ‘De officiis ministrorum‘ – the  Platonic-Stoic quadripartite scheme of virtues, which was directly taken from Cicero (including the title). Ambrosius was, in his writings ‘In Lucam’ and ‘De Paradiso’, heavily indebted to Philo of Alexandria, by connecting the Rivers of Paradise with the four main virtues: ‘The Cardinal Virtues could also be set in a wider and more flexible context (..) by correlating them with other groups of four, such as the four Rivers of Paradise, the horns of the altar (horns of consecretation; fig. 344/345), the Evangelists, major prophets, early Fathers.’


Fig. 344 – The Cather Mausoleum at Walworth Old Church, near Ballykelly in Northern Ireland, is a Neo-Classical example of the use of the four horns of the altar in funerary architecture (Photo by CURL, 1980). This motive is often used (and re-used in Neo-Classicism) as a reminder of the four corners of the world, and originated from Egypt. The Church father Ambrosius, in the fourth century AD, has applied the symbolism of the tetrad, including the horns of the altar, to revive the spirit of tetradic thinking. In: CURL (1980).


Fig. 345 – Jaffa Cemetary, Delft.  The ‘Horns of Consecration’ – a name given in 1901 by the archaeologist Arthur Evans, who studied the Minoan building complex (‘labyrinth’) at Knossos (Crete) – point to a representation of a set of horns. He inferred, by giving this particular name, that the symbolism of the horns had a religious context. In the Knossos-case the number is two (a pair), solitary positioned like a sculpture. However, there is also a tradition related to the Four Corners (of the earth), depicted as elevations at the corners of a rectangular (tomb)stone. The association with a consecration holds in the case of the funerary culture, but its general, historical reference is to the fourfold (of the universe).  p. 463 in: Quadralectic Architecture – Marten Kuilman.

A comparison of Rivers of Paradise, virtues and world periods was given by O’REILLY (1972/1988; p. 114):

Rivers of Paradise                               Virtue                                    World period


Phison                                                   Prudentia                          Abel, Henoch, Noach

Geon                                                      Temperantia                    Abraham, Izaak, Jacob

Tigris                                                     Fortitudo                          Moses and the prophets

Euphrates                                            Justitia                              Christ till present

 The sequence gives, again, an insight in the preference of the author. The connection of the virtues to a dualistic-linear time-scale indicates a hierarchical order. Prudentia is in all divisions number one. Temperantia (as number two by Ambrosius) is number three by Zenon and number four by Cicero. Ambrosias followed Cicero in placing Fortitudo number three and adhered to Zenon in placing Justitia as number four.

The appearance of the virtues seemed less obvious after the fourth century, but they return in the early-Scholastic times as ‘ritterlichen Standes ethik‘  (knightly hierarchical ethic)(MÄHL, 1969). The four virtues were from 750 to 900 AD part and parcel of the early European cultural environment (fig. 346/347).

Eriugena, in the ninth century, repeated the common knowledge of virtues in his ‘Periphyseon‘ (The Division of Nature, Book II, 603D; SHELDON-WILLIAMS, 1987): ‘Moreover, none of the wise denies that that source in paradise, which is divided into the four cardinal rivers, interpreted typologically, signifies the Holy Spirit, from Whom, as from their principal and unique and inexhaustible source flow the four cardinal virtues in the paradise of the rational soul, I mean prudence, temperance, courage, and justice…’  Eriugena’s sequence was similar to the one used by Ambrosius, putting most emphasis on the courage as the prime virtue in the field of (tetradic) visibility.


Fig. 346 – An emperor and the cardinal virtues. A Carolingian ruler sits on a throne in a lozenge and is surrounded by the four cardinal virtues. Cambrai, Bibl. Mun., MS 327, fol. 16v. In: KATZENELLENBOGEN (1939) Also in: KESSLER (1977).

Many more examples of the visual expression of the  theme of the virtues can be found in this period, like the illustration of David playing the harp, in the Vivian Bible (around 845 AD; DODWELL, 1971), or the Bible of S. Callisto (c. 876 – 888), with the virtues depicted behind the throne of Charles the Bald (O’REILLY, 1972/1988, p. 113).


Fig. 347 – The four cardinal virtues. 1. Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, Late 10th century; 2. Gospel of Hitda of Meschede, c. 1030. 3. Rhenish Sacramentarium, early 11th century; 4. Sacramentarium of Marmoutier, Autun. 1/2/3 in: KATZENELLENBOGEN (1939). 4. HUBERT et al.  (1968/1970).

The ‘quadriga virtutum‘ was in Carolingian times the symbol of the human soul as a carriage with four horses. The wheels gave a further reference to the dynamic character. The cardinal virtues referred to a ‘cardo‘ or pivot, which makes a door turn.  The virtues should be regarded, in a metaphorical sense, as the pivot in a human life. In the process of self-knowledge (‘gnothi seauton‘) the division was thought of in qualities, which could improve the quality of life.

‘Num, inquid, currui tuo quartam deese non sentis rotam?’ (Can’t you see that you don’t have the fourth wheel of the wagon), that is the strong remark of count Liuthar to Ekkehard of Meissen and recorded by the German historian Thietmar of Merseburg. It was said on a meeting in the year 1002 AD, concerning the succession to the throne after the sudden death of Otto III in Italy.

HLAWITSCHKA (1978) made an in-depth survey what this expression could mean. He quoted the classical understanding that Ekkehard was no direct relative of the king and had no chance of succession (mangelnde Verwantschaft). Modern investigations resulted in a better insight in the family-relations of the German king and this view did not support the classical interpretation of the expression of Liuthar.

So one has to look further. Searching for an expression which consists of four parts (of which Ekkehard is clearly one missing). There is the (modern) phrase ‘the fifth wheel’, meaning ‘the odd one out’, but this does not refer to a fourth wheel. May be the expression was an invention of the historian Thietmar himself. But what did it mean?

Hlawitschka suggested that the lack of a fourth element (in the character of Ekkehard of Meissen) was a reference to the four cardinal virtues: Prudentia (wisdom/caution), Iustitia (justice), Fortitudo (fortitude/courage) and Temperantia (temperance). His interpretation was based on a common knowledge of the four virtues (‘quadratura mistica‘) in the centuries before and after the first millicennium. Alcuin, Hrabanus Maurus, Halitgar of Cambrai, Ermenrich of Ellwangen and many others used the motif. In particular the Carolingian illustrations provided many examples (‘Besonders sprechend sind die Bildzeugnisse für die Kardinaltugenden in der Karolingischen Malerei‘). Hlawitschka referred to the article of KATZENELLENBOGEN (1939) on the allegories of the virtues and vices in mediaeval art.

The motif of the wheel in relation to the quadripartite division was known to Julianus Pomerius (end fifth century), who recorded in his book ‘De Vita Contemplativa‘: ‘Sed et quatuor flumina quae de paradisi fonte procedunt, vel quatuor Evangelia, divini currus rotae quatuor, et animalia, alae eorum quatuor et facies, dignitatem numeri hujus abunde commendant‘ (MIGNE, 1844/64, PL. 59, Sp. 501). And to the question why there are four is the answer: ‘Quaternarium numerum perfectioni sacratum pene nullus ignorat‘ (EHRHARDT, 1945).

The expression of the historian Thietmar about the fourth wheel should be read as follows: ‘Ekkehard, you are not fit for the kingship, because you lack one of the four cardinal virtues’. Which virtue can only be guessed at, but Thietmar despised Ekkehard’s egocentric actions and blamed him for his lack of humility (‘humilitas‘). The most likely deficient virtue would therefore, be Justitia or Temperantia. In the end, Ekkehard efforts to gain the throne failed, because he was soon afterwards killed by rivaling parties.

This story proves to a certain extend also the importance of tetradic thinking around the year 1000, because it was not necessary to explain this frame of mind to the readers. The same holds for the illustration of the four Christian nations (Slavonia, Germania, Gallia, and Roma), bringing honor to emperor Otto III (fig. 348). Apparently, the symbolism of the tetrad was so strongly embedded in the mind of the intelligentsia at the beginning of the eleventh century, that no further explanation was necessary, being it either four wheels on a carriage or four women bowing for a throne.


Fig. 348 – The four nations (Slavonia, Germania, Gallia and Roma) honor the German Emperor Otto III. From a manuscript of the Gospels, copied from earlier Byzantine work. In: MIDDLETON  (1892) and p. 312 in: WRIGHT (1969/1985).

The Stoic interpretation of the four (human) virtues can be completed with the three theological (or godly) virtues:

————————–    Fide              –                    Faith

————————–    Spes              –                   Hope

————————–    Karitas         –                   Charity

The combination of the human four- and theological three-division is related to the ‘Seven Steps to Heaven‘, the path explored by Eriugena to reach the highest unification. DUNBAR (1929) demonstrated in his book on medieval symbolism, that the synthesis of these two types of virtues reached a climax in the ‘Divina Commedia‘ of Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321).

The consciousness of the two groups of virtues was in the eleventh and twelfth century well known. Peter of Eboli recalled, in a ‘Liber ad honorem Augusti’, the conquest of Sicily by Henry VI in 1195. An illustration (fig. 349) impersonated him amidst the virtues: three to the left and four to the right (Fortitudo and Justicia are mentioned).


Fig. 349 – Henry VI is seen here as magnificent Roman imperator amidst the virtues. Barbarossa, on his crusade to the Holy Land, left him as a representative on the isle of Sicily. When William II of Sicily died in 1189, Henry VI was the natural successor. But a nationalistic group, under the leadership of Tancred of Lecce disputed his authority and was supported by the French king Philip II Augustus and the English under Richard Plantagenet,   After their departure Henry VI foiled the rebellion. Tancred and his oldest son were killed. Henry VI’s success did not last long, because he died in 1197, thirty-two years old. From: Peter of Eboli’s ‘Liber ad honorem Augusti‘. Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 120f, 146r. In: SMALLEY (1974).

The cardinal aspect was reinforced by a wheel of Fortune, which showed Tancred, the suppressor of Sicily, first on top of the wheel and subsequently fallen at the bottom.

The idea of a new consensus became, from Dante’s time onwards, instrumental behind the Renaissance-idea to revive the world of the Roman Empire and the ‘renovatio‘ of the Roman strength and ‘virtus‘. The imperium of Rome should supply a World Ruler in the ‘Dominus mundi’, providing universal peace and justice. Virtues, and particular Justice, became an all-important tool to reach that goal.

The heritage of Cicero and his contemporaries was ransacked to create a revitalized humanistic intensity. Early examples to catch this spirit were some encyclopedic themes, painted on the walls of the Palazzo Trinci in Foligno (Italy) around 1420 and a poem by the Dominican scholar Federico Frezzi (1346? – 1416), bishop of Foligno, titled ‘Quadriregio‘ (SEZNEC, 1953/1972). He treated the Regno d’Amore, Regno di Satanasso, Regno de’ Vizi (vices) and the Regna delle Virtu (virtues) in a poetical way.

The representation of the virtues in Raphael’s ‘Stanza’s‘ (1508 – 1520), painted in the private quarters of Pope Julius II, was an apogee of the theme. The fresco ‘The cardinal virtues and the Christian virtues’ pictured three female figures: Fortitudo with an oak leaf, Prudence with a mirror and Temperance with reins. The fourth main virtue, Justice, took a central place at the ceiling and indicated with this position to be above the other virtues (SALVINI, 1989; GOMBRICH, 1972) (fig. 350).


Fig. 350 – The cardinal and theological virtues in the Stanza della Segnatura (Photo: Wikipedia).

Three of the five ‘putti‘ were representations of Christian virtues. The putto, picking the acorns of the branch carried by Fortitudo, expressed the charity (Karitas). The painting dated from around 1511 and was influenced by the same theme executed by Perugino’s in the ‘Cambio‘ at Perugia, painted in 1507. Raphael completed the ‘Stanza della Segnatura’ in the same year (1511). SEZNEC (1953/1972, p. 143) said of the philosophical and poetical subjects: ‘tout est dit, et l’on vient trop tard‘ (everything is said, and it comes too late). The subsequent ‘Stanza di Eliodoro’ is a reference to the political ambitions of pope Julius II. They give the four godly interventions in the Old Testament:

 —————————   1. the burning bush;

—————————-  2. the Jacobs ladder;

—————————-  3. the appearance of God to Noah and

—————————-  4. the sacrifice of Isaac

The Renaissance-message was clear: to bring hope of a new intervention in those troubled days at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

YATES (1975, p. 65) described, in her interesting account on the development of the imperial theme in the sixteenth century, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in Dover Town Hall: ‘behind the queen, a column on which can be seen the three theological and the four cardinal virtues; Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence. Justice holds the central position with the sword. She seems to be wearing a dress similar to that of Elizabeth herself. Perhaps one may imagine that this might be a picture of the Virgin Queen as Astraea-Justice, including all the virtues’.

FISCHLIN (1997) criticized this view in his article on the ‘Rainbow Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth I’. This painting bears the description: ‘Non Sine Sole Iris‘ (No rainbow without the sun). Other pictures also represented her as an absolutist, cosmic symbol of a radiant power comprising the world (with Justitia in the center)(fig. 351).


Fig. 351 – Left: Queen Elizabeth I in an engraving by F. Delaram after N. Hilliard. Right: Elisabeth I on the title page of J. Case’s ‘Spheara civitatis‘ (1588), encompassing the moral virtues – with Justitia in the middle. In: YATES (1975).

The positive virtues were contrasted by the four vices: wrath, fear, avarice and lust. A woodcut from 1470 depicted the devil and the seven sins in relation to animals (fig. 269): pride (superbia) on a horse, avarice (avaritia) on a toad, wrath (ira) on a bear, envy (invidia) on a dog, laziness (acedia) on a donkey, gluttony (gula) on a pig, and lust (luxuria) on a goat. It is a ramshackle representation of a much older motif of the (numerological) eight-division, which originated in the Egyptian gnosis.

The development of a systematic octad of evil thoughts took place in the hermit colonies of the Egyptian desert towards the end of the fourth century (NEWHAUSER, 1993; p. 99). Evagrius Ponticus, who was born in 345 AD, referred to them. John Cassianus (c. 360 – 435) brought the theme to the west. The so-called ‘Evagrian or Cassianic sequence’ indicated an ascending line in difficulty for the monks: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, wrath, sloth, vainglory and pride. An echo of Cassian’s ‘battle of gula‘ is heard in an Irish text, the ‘Amra Choluim Chille’ – a poem on St Colum Cille (Columba) of Iona – dated soon after his death in 597 (O’NEILL, 1987; p. 207).

Gregory the Great considered, in his ‘Liber Moralium’ (XXXI, Cap. XLV, nr. 87), Superbia (or vanity) to be the Radix, or root of all evil. The seven main vices: inanis gloria (superbis), invidia, ira, tristitia (acedia), avaritia, ventris ingluvies (gula) and luxuria shoot from this root (fig. 352).


Fig. 352 – The devil and the seven deadly sins. The symbolism is the dualistic mirror image of the seven main virtues, with an effort – maybe only for graphical reasons – to obey to the ogdad. Germany, around 1470. In: KUNZLE  (1973).

The Dutch painter Hieronymus (Jeroen) Bosch (ca. 1450 – 1516) gave a different interpretation in his picture of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. His ‘Table with the seven deadly sins and the four last things’ was a strong reminder of symbolism and virtues. The round painting, on a wooden panel (called ‘una mesa‘ by Felipe de Guevara in 1560) measures 120 x 150 centimetres, and is now in the Prado Museum in Madrid (fig. 353).


Fig. 353 – ‘The Seven Sins and the Four Last Things’, painted by Hieronymus (Jeroen) Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516) on a wooden panel. Prado Museum, Madrid. In: HAZELZET (1994).

‘Visibility’ is in this picture a primary theme. The seven individual images of the sins are centered on the all-seeing Eye. The pupil of the eye showed Christ, rising from the grave and the words ‘Cave cave deus videt‘ (be careful, God will see you).

Bosch gave wrath (ira) a central position at the bottom, with the largest measurements (21 x 49 cm). The scene depicts two men in a quarrel before a public house. A woman tries to interfere by stopping the man with a knife.

To the right of this picture is an illustration of Superbia (or vanity), measuring 25 x 21 cm. A single woman faces a mirror (held by the devil) and a piece of furniture with precious objects, with her back turned towards the observer. It is the well-known motif of Vanitas, which was popular in the sixteenth century (often in relation to the temporaries of life, the spirit of ‘momento mori‘).

Luxuria (or indecency/lechery) is the next sin, given a fairly big stake in the circle (measuring 21 x 43 cm.). A tent is a central theme, with a couple inside and a woman at the entrance, accompanied by three men (one is dressed as a fool). All participants seem to have great fun. Bosch only hints to the effects of such behavior.

Accidia (or laziness, more generally written as ‘acedia‘, with a connotation to ‘melacholia‘, according to Hieronymus (Epist. 4), or ‘tristitia‘ (Gregory the Great, Liber Moralium, Lib. XXXI, Cap. XXXIX; MIGNE (1844/64), PL 76, Sp. 621) is positioned in the top right-hand part of the circle. It figures twice on the painting: one time in the circle of sins and another time in the Hell, one of the ‘Four Last Things’.

Acedia is symbolized as a man, sitting on a chair near an open fire, taking a nap, or – in the interpretation of GERLACH (1988) – being ill and ready to take his life with the dagger he holds in his hand. A woman (a ‘Zuster van het Gemene Leven‘?) comes to his rescue.

The topic has been relatively little used, in contrast to the next sin: Gula or gluttony, which was well known by the monks and occasionally by the common people when a party was organized. The picture (25 x 43.5 cm) is right on the top, opposite ‘ira‘ and therefore, ‘upside down’. It shows an interior with two eating and drinking man and a woman serving food. A child tries to stop the orgy.

Hieronymus Bosch associated Avaritia (or avarice) with the judges, who were willing to change their verdict for money. Two pairs of man are dealing with each other in the village-square. A fifth person, looking like a beggar, is clearly losing out.

The circle is completed by a representation of the seventh sin, Invidia or envy. Gregory distinguished in his ‘Liber moralium’ (XXXI, cap. 17) five ‘filiae‘ (daughters) of this basic sin: 1. Odium (hatred), by wishing someone the worst; 2. Susurratio (suggestions, gossip); 3. Denigratio (slander); 4. Exsultatio (delight), in someone else’s misery and 5. Afflictio (sorrow), because of another man’s happiness.

Hieronymus Bosch pictured six people in a panel of 25 x 49 cm. An (open) house occupies the left side, maybe a toll house, with four persons, and two dogs. There is an opposition between the younger couple to the left and the older couple to the right. Jealousy is the name of the game. The right half of the picture is filled with a street, with two men: one a falconer – representing the rich leisure-class – and the other (a miller?) carrying a heavy bag on his shoulder being a member of the poor working class.

The style of the ‘Table‘ suggests an early work of Bosch, but details of the clothing points to a date around 1490 (BOSING, 1973/1995). The addition of the ‘Four Last Things‘ in the corners is interesting. They are, most likely, a later addition not by the hand of Bosch, showing Heaven, Last Judgement, Death and Hell. The theme was a popular one around the year 1500, and remained so for a long time.

Whereas Jeroen Bosch kept certain modesty in his pictures of the Seven Sins (also due to the small size of the painting), it was Peter Breugel (c. 1525 – 1569), who went the full way in his representation of the subject (fig. 354).


Fig. 354 – Superbia or vanity, as one of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ by Pieter Breugel. The theme of the virtues was drawn in a multiplicity of objects, in contrast to the earlier representations of Jeroen Bosch. Bibliotheque Albert I, Bruxelles.  In: FOOTE (1970).

The cenotaph for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) in the Hofkirche in Innsbruck (Austria) has a collection of sculptures, including the virtues at the corners of the marble structure. The sarcophagus was completed in 1572, and the embellishments were added in 1584.

Philip Galle composed, around 1600, a number of etchings (‘VII Peccatorum Capitalium Images Elegantissime’), with the seven deadly sins figuring as females (CHEW, 1962) (fig. 355). Galle (1537 – 1612) was a typical representative of the Mannerism, and used all kinds of classical-symbolic topics as subject for his etchings.


Fig. 355 – An etching by Philip Galle in his ‘VII Peccatorum Capitalium Imagines Elegantissime‘, around 1600. In: CHEW (1962).

The development of the virtues into a general consciousness led, in the seventeenth century, to the incorporation in a philosophical system. Arnout Geulincx (1625 – 1669) disclosed, in his ‘De Virtute’ (On Virtues, 1665/ 1667; VERHOEVEN, 1986), a new interpretation of the virtues diligence, obedience, justice and humility. Geulincx started his investigation – in the dualistic spirit of the time, highlighted in the thoughts of Descartes – of the qualities of two kinds of visibilities: a physical one (the ‘res extensa‘) and a cognitive invisibility (‘res cogitans‘). He encountered the classical philosophical problems of unity and multiplicity, being and substance, cause and effect.

Geulincx’s personal solution was an ‘occasionalism‘, making the value of the (material) substance subordinate to a higher sense of duty, or the observance of the virtues. The latter ones are then placed as holy attributes in the realm of invisibility:  God is the ‘cardo‘ of life.

Nicole Malebranche (1638 – 1715) was another representative of this approach. In his chef-d’oevre ‘Recherche de la verité (Search for the truth) he played the influence of the physical visibility down and stated that the material only exists in our own imagination. Movement was a ‘cause occasionelle‘ (exceptional case) of the experience (DESSOIR, 1925; p. 417). This firm dualism was applied by Malabranche to the material itself: bodies do not affect each other, but were guided by regulated movements of a higher order (which have their ultimate ‘occasional’ cause in God). In lower division thinking, with its insurmountable differences between visible and invisible, physical and cerebral, God can only be seen as a first and last cause.

The ‘harmonia praestabilita’ was taken by the German philosopher Leibniz (1646 – 1716) as the ultimate goal. The active interference of God in the state of affairs was characteristic of this period, but it lost its power with the (re)introduction of higher division-thinking at the end of the eighteenth century. Alternatively, like Leibniz put the alarming message – especially for a dualist – in his ‘Theodicee‘, that: ‘If God does everything, he does nothing’. Leaving Man in a position of great freedom and power.

Bernard Mandeville (1670 – 1733) touched the same dilemma. He wondered, in his amusing ‘The Fable of the Bees’ (1705), how the Christian virtues could be combined with materialistic ambitions: ‘Christian virtue is quite incompatible with worldly prosperity and greatness’ leading to the conclusion that: ‘if Christian Church had become great and prosperous it could only be by abandoning Christian virtue.’

‘The Grumbling Hive’ – as the story of the ‘Fable of the Bees’ was first called (MONRO, 1975) – was a vision of the multitude in a far more realistic sense than Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan‘. Mandeville envisaged in the dualistic struggle between (holy) virtue and (worldly) success a victory for the latter and a forthcoming rule of the laws of the jungle. Just like Leibniz and so many of his contemporaries, he was unable to comprehend a world of higher division-thinking, with God and human beings not in opposition, ruled by power-play, but as actors in the same cosmic theater, working together to create reality.

The virtues, being three, four or seven in number, are a dynamic entity which can be used in all types of division-thinking: from their original, ‘cardinal’ environment – pointing to cyclic unity – to a numerological use in dualistic thinking and further into the realm of higher understanding. The history of the virtues (within the European culture) is the history of thought itself: from the early definition (in the third century) to general acceptance (eighth century), becoming an arena of confrontation (twelfth century) and narrow, moralistic interpretation (in the seventeenth century).

The four virtues are still with us today. Maybe not directly associated with wisdom, fortitude, temperance and justice, but as four (abstract) values of human behavior. These merits emerge from an interaction between the observer and the observed and are indicative of a location. Insight in the position (of the observer) within a communication (Prudentia) and creative knowledge of division thinking (Fortitudo) leads to concrete figures (Temperance) in relation to the world in general (Justice).

Virtue, in a modern interpretation, should point to the capacity of a thoughtful approach to life. A virtuous life in a contemporary sense (quadralectic interpretation) would comprise knowledge of the mechanism of displacement in a communication and also the ways to measure and valuate the changes.

BOSING,  Walter (1973/1995). Jeroen Bosch rond 1450 – 1516. Tussen hemel  en  hel.  Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH.,  Keulen  (Thames  &  Hudson Ltd., London, 1973). Librero Nederland BV., Hedel. ISBN 3-8228-0615-3

CHEW, Samuel C. (1962). The Pilgrimage of Life. Yale University Press, New Haven/London. LCCC 62-8239

CURL, James Stevens (1980). A Celebration of death. An introduction to  some of the buildings, monuments, and settings of funerary archicture in the Western European tradition. Constable and Company Ltd., London. ISBN 0 09 46 3000 3

DESSOIR,  Max  (Ed.)(1925). Die Geschichte der Philosophie. Verlag Ull-stein, Berlin.

DODWELL,  C.R.  (1971).  Painting in Europe 800 – 1200.  Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, England.

DUNBAR, Flanders H. (1929). Symbolism in Medieval Thought and its Consummation in the Divine Comedy. Yale University Press, New Haven.

EHRHARDT, Arnold (1945). Vir bonus quadrato lapidi comparatur. Pp. 177 – 193 in: Harvard Theological Review,  Faculty of  Divinity  in Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Vol. 38.

FISCHLIN, Daniel (1997).  Political Allegory, Absolutist Ideology and the ‘Rainbow Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth I. Pp.  175 – 206  in: ALLEN,  Michael J.B. (Ed.). Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. L, No. 1. Spring 1997.

FOOTE, Timothy (1970). De wereld van Breugel (c. 1525 – 1569). (The World of Breugel, 1968). Parool-Life Bibliotheek der Kunsten, N.V. Het Parool, Amsterdam.

GERLACH,  Pater  (Simon Schümmer)(1988). Jheronimus Bosch:  opstellen over leven en werk. Vereniging ‘Gerlach-Publikaties’/SDU, ‘s-Gravenhage. ISBN 90-12-05739-6

GOMBRICH,  Ernst H. (1972). Symbolic Images. Studies in the art of the Renaissance.  Pp.  85 – 101: Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura and the Nature of its Symbolism. Phaidon Press, London. ISBN 0 7148 1495 4

HAZELZET, Korinne (1994). De levenstrap. Uitgeverij Catena, Zwolle. ISBN 90-72211-21-9

HLAWITSCHKA,  Eduard (1978). ‘Merkst du nicht, dass dir das vierte Rad  am Wagen fehlt?’ Zur Thronkanditatur Ekkehards von Miessen (1002) nach  Thietmar,  Chronicon IV C.52.  In:  HAUCK,  Karl &  MORDEK, Hubert (Ed.) (1978). Geschichtsschreibung und Geistiges Leben im Mittelalter. Festschrift für Heinz Löwe zum 65. Geburtstag. Böhlau  Verlag, Köln/Wien. ISBN 3 412 05178 0

HUBERT, J., PORCHER,  Jean  & VOLBACH,  W.F.  (1968/1970).  Carolingian  Art. Thames & Hudson, London.

KATZENELLENBOGEN, Adolf (1939). Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Medieval Art from early Christian times to the thirteenth Century. The Warburg Institute, London.

KESSLER, Herbert L. (1977). The Illustrated Bibles of Tours. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-6691-03923-2

KUNZLE, David (1973). The early Comic Strip. Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheets from c. 1450 to 1825. History of the Comic Strip,  Vol.  I.  University of  California Press, Berkeley/London. ISBN 0-520-01865-6

MacINTYRE,  Alasdair (1981/1984). After Virtue. A Study in Moral Theory. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana. ISBN 0-268-00610-5

MÄHL, Sibylle (1969). Quadriga Virtutum. Die Kardinaltugenden in der Geistesgeschichte der Karolingerzeit. Böhlau Verlag, Köln/Wien.

MIDDLETON,  J. Henry (1892). Illuminated Manuscripts in Classical and Medieval Times.  Their Art and  their  Technique.  Cambridge University  Press,  Cambridge.

MIGNE, J.P. (1844/64). Patrologiae cursus completus sive bibliotheca universalis… omnium s.s. patrum…Series secunda in qua prodeunt patres… ecclesiae latinae…(= Patrologia latina; PL.), Paris.

MILLER, Walter (tr.) (1921). De Officiis – Cicero. The Loeb Classical Library. William Heinemann, London.

MONRO, Hector (1975). The Ambivalence of Bernard Mandeville. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0 19 812061 3

NEILL, O’, Padraig P. (1987). The date and authorship of Apgitir Chrabaid:  some  internal evidence.  Pp.  203 – 215 in:  NI CHATHAIN, Proinseas & RICHTER,  Michael (1987)(Ed.). Irland und die Christenheit. Bibelstudien und Mission. Ireland and Christendom. The Bible and the Missions. Europa Zentrums Tübingen. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart. ISBN 3-608-91441-2

NEWHAUSER,  Richard (1993). The Treatise on Vices and Virtues in Latin and the Vernacular. Brepols, Turnhout, België.

REILLY, O’, Jennifer (1972/1988). Studies in the Iconography of the Virtues and Vices in the Middle Ages. Thesis submitted to the University of Nottingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. October, 1972. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York & London. ISBN 0-8240-0092-7

SALVINI,  Roberto (1989). De stanze van Rafaël in Vaticaanstad. Atrium cultuurgidsen. Atrium, Alphen aan de Rijn. ISBN 90-6113-362-9

SEZNEC, Jean (1953/1972). The Survival of the Pagan Gods. The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art. Bollingen Series XXXVIII, Princeton University Press, Princeton,  N.J. ISBN 0-691-01783-2

SHELDON-WILLIAMS,  I.P.  (Ed.)(1968/1972). Iohannis  Scotti Eriugenae  Periphyseon (De Divisione Naturae). Liber Primus/Secundus. Scriptores latini hiberniae, 7/9.  Institute for  Advanced  Studies,  Dublin.

– (John J. O’MEARA, Ed.)(1987). Eriugena – Periphyseon (The Division of Nature). Cahiers d’etudes Medievales. Cahier Special – 3. Editions Bellarmin, Montreal/ Dumbarton Oaks, Washington. ISBN 2-89007-634-2

SMALLEY, Beryl (1974). Historians in the Middle Ages. Thames and Hudson, London.

VERHOEVEN, Cornelis (Ed.) (1986). Arnout Geulincx. Van de hoofddeugden. De eerste      tuchtverhandeling. Ambo/Baarn. ISBN 90 263 0786 1

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49. The sign of the cross



The point, the line, the circle and the cross are the basic elements to express the world with graphical means. They can be symbolically translated in the terms of division and follow the elementary quadrants. The point is the unity of the primordial division (in the First Quadrant), the line indicates the first division (in the Second Quadrant), the circle is the ideal limitation in space providing a new unity (in the Third Quadrant) and, finally, the cross is the representation of the perfect division (in the Fourth Quadrant).

These signs and their (subjective) meaning expose a fundamental part of human thinking. The point is psychologically a characteristic for a stop, a moment and/or place of observation. Wait… Here is something to pay attention to. It could be a star in the universe or a tiny spec under an electron microscope. The point is the smallest and the largest representation in the cosmos.

The consciousness, which draws a line to establish a (first) division is associated with dual thinking and stands for the most elementary of human conceptual actions, closely associated with survival. The line is a horizon, a division in an endless space.

The circle connects the line with itself and ends the infinity of the two-division by creating a round space, the nearest image of a static harmony. The cognitive action is associated with the triple-division: one step further than the dual-division of the line. The third step leads to a ‘new’, delimited space, which could be used as a reference, a measure. The decision-pattern, which uses these bearings, is called ‘intelligence’.

The cross conveys the idea of a spatial allotment even further by introducing four domains. Just as the line results in a division (of space) in two parts, so the cross is a division in four parts. Transferred to the abstract world, it implies the power of the mind (intelligence), concentrating on the environment in terms of a ‘cross’ or four quadrants. The union between two objects (in a communication) is fixed in four interactions. Just like the bonds in arithmetic, where the plus- and minus sign (+/-) connect two different parts and the multiply- and dividing-sign (x/:) do the same in a different manner.

Such an elaborated, tetradic mind-pattern can only be established, if all other elementary conditions of life are catered for. Its value will be apparent in a complicated environment, with an overwhelming variety of information of which the observer is well aware.  A situation, in short, which is all too familiar to most participants in the European culture at the beginning of the twentieth-first century. However, this position is not unique: all cultures have faced the complications of life in their own right.

It is treacherous, for that very reason, to call certain older civilizations in which the cross is used as a symbol, as ‘primitive’. Because every individual or group capable of understanding the width of tetradic thinking is far from ‘primitive’. It has reached, instead, in the use of geometric symbolism, a high level of human understanding.

The archaeological discoveries of MELLAART (1967) near the Turkish town of Çatal Hüyük, might act as an example. They revealed walls with crossed figuration (fig. 356). In addition, the pottery painting of chalcolithic cultures was a tribute to quadripartite ornamentation (fig. 357) in a context where the participants must have been aware of the complexities of life.


Fig. 356 – The use of the cross as an ornamental decoration on a wall in Çatal Hüyük, Anatolia, Turkey. Before 6000 BC. In: MELLINK & FILIP (1974).

The cross can be interpreted in many ways, from the ‘four-fold revelation of the eternal word and the paired opposites of the protoplasm’ (BURCKHARDT, 1960) to the emblems of the underground movement and right-wing simple-minds, because  the square  is associated  with  a ‘straight’ attitude. The use of the swastika as a Nazi-emblem has discredited the symbol in the (Western) European culture for a long period after the Second World War. As a consequence, books like Jörg Lechler’s ‘Vom Hakenkreuz’ (1921) or Theobald Bieder’s book with the same title and from the same year are at present hard to find in any library (at least I couldn’t find them). The symbolism of the cross is, for better or worse, as versatile as division-thinking itself.


Fig. 357 – The decorations of Chalcolitic earth ware from various locations have distinct references to the cross. These examples were given by Werner MÜLLER (1961).

The cross represents – in its elementary understanding – a manifestation of the tetradic way of thinking. The sign can be followed in a wide geographical area and is scattered in history. Fig. 358 and 359a-c gives a very eclectic selection of the occurrences of the cross in place and time.


Fig. 358 – Two types of crosses on the ‘Stele von Moselkern‘. Christ syndesmos and pictogram of the Paradise. Bonn, Rheinisches Landesmuseum, c. 700 (Photo: Marten Kuilman, Febr. 2013). Fig. 51 in: ESMEIJER  (1978).


Fig. 359a – The sign of the cross in place and time: 1. Tombstone from the Migration Period (400 – 600 AD.) Bonn, Provinzialmuseum. (HAUTTMANN,  1929); 2. Fragment of a fibula, second century AD. (ABEGG, 1989); 3/6. Indian sun-symbols (HADINGHAM, 1983); 4. Cross of St. Cuthbert (LAING, 1979); 5. Rock-paintings at Bohuslän and Ostfold  (Sweden) (GELLING & ELLIS DAVIDSON, 1969).


Fig. 359b – The sign of the cross in place and time. 7. Cross of Beresford-Hope, 8/9th century (PALLOTTINO, 1966); 8. Crucifix on a cross from Birka, Uppland, 10th century (PALLOTTINO, 1966); 9. The key to universal movement, Mexico (CHURCHWARD, 1934); 10. From the Oseberg grave (TURVILLE-PETRE, 1964); 11. Fibula, Kärlich (Rijnland), 7th cent. . Bonn, Landesmuseum (BUSCH & LOHSE, 1965).


Fig. 359c – The sign of the cross in place and time. 12. Scandinavian crosses on the Isle of Man (KERMODE, 1907); 13. Inscriptions from pilgrims, Wadi Feiran, Sinaï  (SKROBUCHA, 1959); 14. Chi-Rho and crosses on the Isle of Man (KERMODE, 1907); 15. The ‘Vashva-Vajra’, a tantric symbol (OLSCHAK & WANGYAL, 1973); 16. Quatrefoil, Vind. Hist. Gr. 1v.; Vienna, National Libr. Hist. Gr. 6., 1056 AD. (SPATHARAKIS, 1981); 17. Alpha/omega on a tombstone of Gurmarc (ALLEN, 1887).

The cross appeared in Roman history, in particularly after the Second Punic war (220 BC), on the coins known as ‘monnaies a la croix’. NASH (1987) was of the opinion that the (numismatic) cross has its roots in ‘the sepals of the rose on third-century (BC) coins of Rhode.’ The Hungarian scholar János GÉCZI (2008) added, in a well informed article, the four characteristics of the rose as a symbolic instrument in classical days: 1. The rose as a sign of the cyclical (ancient) concept of time; 2. The rose as evaluation of fertility; 3. The rose as the expression of fullness of soul and 4. The rose as an expression of change.

The cross in later Western European religious history displayed a great diversity in forms of expression, but two major types can be distinguished: the Greek and the Latin cross. The first has beams of equal length. The second has the lower beam extended. Gregory of Nyssa represented the ‘eastern’ or Greek interpretation of the cross. He was born in Caesarea in Capadocia about 331 AD and was a younger brother of St Basil. He envisaged, in his book ‘Contra Eunomium‘ (‘Against Eunomius’, in twelve books/four treatises), a quadripartite cosmos (LADNER, 1955) corresponding to a division of a cross with beams of equal length (fig. 360/361).


Fig. 360 – The ‘Greek cross’, here in combination with other tetradic motifs, on ceramic bowls with inscriptions from the Byzantine area and from different periods. In: VABOULIS (1977).

Gregory’s balanced approach found already opposition in his own time: he was deposed in 376 AD and exiled. A synod of Arian bishops at Nyssa condemned him. However, the death of Valens in 378 AD brought an end to the persecutions, and he was allowed to return to his see. After Basil’s death in 379, Gregory played an important role in the Church, culminating in an approval of Basil’s ideas at the second ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381.


Fig. 361 – A Pantocrator Lectionary with texts in the shape of a cross. Greek minuscule, eleventh century. British Library; Department of Manuscripts; Add. 39603, f. 1b. In: GAUR (1984/1992).

The ‘western’ or Latin notion of the cross – as expressed by Augustine in his book ‘De doctrina Christiana‘ and the ‘Sermones‘ (LIII & CLXV) – does not emphasis the geometry, but strengthens the topology (stating the place) of the moral and mental order. The cross represents, in his view, the four invisible dimensions in the human mind to love.

The distinction between an ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ cross, however, is an invention of an interpretative, dualistic mind, and is often not in accordance with the views or intentions of the artists at the time.

In the Celtic cultural heritage, for instance, are many examples of ‘eastern’ motifs (fig. 362). Some scholars, like STRZYGOWSKI (1923), were inclined to imply a direct influence from the east (including Egypt). GINHART (1971) distinguished within the large number of sculptured crosses and ornaments in Central Europe – from the eighth and ninth century – a ‘Carolingian’ and a ‘Langobardian’ branch.

It can be deceitful to speak of geographical influences in this field. More remarkable is the fact, that during this period – from Ireland to Spain and into the Balkans, with the Longobards of Northern Italy as a spider in the web – representations of the cross showed such a similar form and shape (fig. 363). It is better to regard these ornamentations as being part and parcel of a genuine, reemerging ‘European’ culture.


Fig. 362 – A comparison between a Western/Celtic and an Eastern/Egypto-Byzantine cross and ornamentation. 1. Ornamental marble-plate, Tarragona, Spain, 6th/7th cent. Tarragona, Museo Archeologico. (De PALOL  & HIRMER, 1965); 2. Frontage piece from Nikorzminda (Georgia) (REISSNER, 1989); 3. Isle of Man (Calf of Man),  eighth century. Manx Museum, Douglas (FINLAY, 1973); 4. Tempietto with cross, Edfu (Egypt), 6th/7th cent. British Museum (WESSEL, 1963).


Fig. 363 – A Longobarden cross. The Po-valley in Italy became a central focus-point of pre- and early European cultural visibility. The region collected and redistributed the tetradic motifs from far (Egypt) and near (Celts) and developed its own specific style. In:  STEMBERGER (1977/79).

The quadripartite motif could be traced in the work of intellectuals, craftsmen and ‘artists’ all over early ‘Europe’. They did not deliberately produce their work with the intention to advocate a particular way of thinking, but it was done in the spirit of a balanced treatment of belief, ideas, nature and its ways of expression. Later generations destroyed the balance, either deliberately or unconsciously, by shifting the emphasis to results only, ignoring the circumstances.

SWIFT (1951/1970) indicated – in his study on the Roman influences of the early Christian art – that the (tau)cross had long been known in the traditional and liturgical customs and had a wide symbolic context. Evidence can be found from the cruciform buildings of Egypt and the Etruscan tombs from the seventh and eighth century before Christ to the Christian inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome.

The early Christians were reluctant to use the cross because of the association with the (pagan) death on the cross. They preferred to use the ‘chrismon‘, the monogram of Chi-Rho. A study of this subject in the catacombs of Rome by DE ROSSI (1857/1861, in: THOMAS (1981, p. 86) gave the following graphic representation (fig. 364).


Fig. 364 – The changes from the chirho-form of the cross, based on inscriptions in the Roman catacombs.   The symbol of the (Latin) cross was not popular in the first centuries after the death of Christ, because of its association with criminals and capital punishment. It was only around the year 400 AD that the connection with crime was weakened. From: de ROSSI,  J. (Ed.)(1857/1861). Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae septimo saculo antiquiores. 2 Vol., Rome. Also p. 86 in: THOMAS (1981).

The early-patristic meditations, as expressed by Justin the Martyr and Irenaeus, explained the cross as a symbol of four dimensions:

—————– latitudo ——  longitudo ——  sublimitas  ——-   profundum —————-

The good works are, in Augustine’s vision, metaphorical associated with the horizontal crossbeam (latitudo). The vertical top beam renders the hope of reward in heaven (sublimitas). The longer vertical lower beam translates the continuous perseverance (longitudo) and the part of the beam in the ground (profundum) is the ‘abyssus et profundum crucis‘, the depth of grace.

The emphasis on the line, either horizontal or vertical, find its source in a dualistic frame of mind, although this type of thinking is employed within a tetradic environment. Augustine’s character, with the tendency of a ‘born-again’ Christian and subsequently his work, bears the hallmark of this ‘dynamic’ dualism within a wider conceptual construction.

It must be to remember, that such a setting is not opposed to tetradic thinking. In fact, it is an essential part of it. This same type of alliance between different forms of division-thinking (numerology in combination with tetradic thinking) can be seen by Rhabanus Maurus (around 784 – 856 AD), who gave the symbolism of the (Greek) cross a central place in his ‘Carmen de laudibus S., Crucis‘: ‘de quatuor virtutibus principalibus quomodo ad crucem pertineant …’. The virtues are divided over the beams of the cross:

————————–  sublimas              –   spes

————————–  latitudo                –   karitas

————————–  longitudo             –   perseverantia

————————–  profundum          –  timor fides

He also compared the four evangelists with the four directions of the cross (fig. 365) or as dimensions given in a square (fig. 366), indicating the spiritual building of the habitation of God: ‘De quattuor figuris tetragonicis circa Crucem positis et spiritali edificio domus dei‘ (BURNIER, 1987).


Fig. 365 – The symbols of the Evangelists in the form of a cross. From the ninth century work of Rhabanus Maurus ‘De laudibus sancta crucis‘. Vienna Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Vindob. 652, fol. 20v. In: KESSLER (1977) and PELIKAN (1985).


Fig. 366 – The cross and four squares in Rhabanus Maurus’ ‘De laudibus sancte crucis‘ (edition 1503). The tradition of a symbolic representation like the book of Rhabanus Maurus is much older: Optatianus Porphyrius wrote a so-called panegyric book around 325 AD, containing twenty-eight poems in a graphical significant representation. In: BURNIER (1987).

The tradition of a symbolic representation as given in the book of Rhabanus Maurus was much older. The exiled Roman citizen Optatianus Porphyrius wrote a so-called panegyric book (‘Carmina’) around 325 AD, containing twenty-eight poems in a graphical significant representation (LEVITAN, 1985; EDWARDS, 2005). This example was followed at the Carolingian Courtschool by Josephus Scottus and Theodulf, shortly after 800 AD. Their manuscript, comprising sixteen pages, is kept in the Burgerbibliothek at Bern (Ms. 212 II (fol. 111 – 126)(fig. 367, left).

A century later the letter- and puzzle theme was used again in the ‘Moralia  in Job’, written by Pope Gregory. The scribe Florentius added, in 945 AD, a labyrinth page (fig. 367, right) with centrally written – from top to bottom – the sentence ‘Florentius indignum memorare‘ (remember the humble Florentius).


Fig. 367 – Left: ‘Carmina figurata‘ from a manuscript of Josephus Scottus and Theodulf. Bern, Bürgerbibliothek, Ms 212, fol. 113v. Early ninth century (BRAUNFELS, 1965). Right: Labyrinth-page from the ‘Moralia in Job‘, 945 AD. (MEGGS, 1983).

The cross has always been surrounded by mystery, and the Christian interpretation incorporated those feelings. The work of GRETSERUS (1598), titled ‘De Sancta Cruce’, contained a wealth of material and sources of the symbolism of the cross. The book cannot be recommended as light entertainment, because the character pulp revealed a man of wide reading, but pulls a string on the reader to navigate through a sea of details. All aspects of the cross were discussed. ‘Non esse crucifixum in cruce commissa‘ and ‘non essa certum crucem fuisse ex quercu‘ are only two examples of the type of information, which was put forward and also included the ‘Oracula de Cruce’ and the ‘Miraculo’. There is no sign of a ‘symbolic’ treatment of the material or even a ‘numerological’ one: it concerns facts, facts and more facts, all dished up in a matter-of-fact way. The aim was probably to outdo the reader in knowledge and boost his belief in the process. A modern scholar is surprised by the lack of structure in this display of quantity. The book is a monument for factual-historic writing.

The cross was in the European culture often associated with death: every Christian cemetery is full of the symbolism of the cross (fig. 368). Apparently man visualizes in death an important final station in a history of division, which begins with the division of the cell and ends with the decomposition of the body: ashes to ashes.


Fig. 368 – The cross as an ornament. To the left a manifestation in stone, to the right in wrought ironwork.  Left: 1. Charterhouse Glandier (Raguenet); 2. modern; 3. Genouilleux (Raguenet); 4. St. Urban’s, Unterlimburg, Schwäbisch-Hall; 5. Baret, eleventh cent.; 6. Pere-Lachaise, Paris (Raguenet); 7. St. Pierre, Montrouge, Paris (Raguenet); 8. St. Lazare, Montpel lier (Raguenet); 9. Becon (Raguenet). Right: 1 – 3. Mediaeval crosses, Franconia; 4. modern (Badische Gewerbezeitung); 5. St. Ambroise, Paris. Architect Ballu (Rague net); 6 – 7. Thiengen.  In: MEYER (1892/1957).

The cross (Latin: crux) is the best-known symbol of Christian art. It is related to Christ, who died a martyr-death on the cross to redeem the world. In particular, the Judeo-Christian orientated funerary art used the cross as a reference to this event. However, it cannot be excluded that the consolation of tetradic/cyclic thinking versus the finality of duality and linearity plays a role on a deeper level.

The two aspects of the cross merge in the point of finality. For the ‘Western’ cross became the moment of ultimate truth, the right choice leading to a unity with God. The ‘Eastern’ symbolism of the cross, with its sense of equality in division, never adhered to the ‘either – or’ and interpreted finality as a natural change in a (cyclic) visibility.

The (Western) Roman Catholic Church, aware of the disadvantages of the ‘neutral’ position in a worldly power play, preferred the Latin/hierarchical interpretation (of Augustine). ‘Divide and rule’ is most effective in dualism, in an environment where opposition could be created. This antagonism could even be worshiped, like Otfrid of Weissenburg did in his ‘Evangeleinbuch‘ (c. 850). He divided the cosmos in a heaven and an abyss, symbolized by the upper and lower ends of the (Latin) cross. The message is clear: God and man, heaven and earth are seen as competitors and only the right choice between the narrow and the broad way provide salvation for mankind.

LADNER (1955, p. 94) placed the opposition in perspective by saying that ‘west’ and ‘east’ should not be taken absolute: also in the Western culture was a ‘Pythagorean’ and ‘hermetic’ magic, alchemy, and cabalistic usage as a supplement to the more common hierarchical interpretation in Christianity. He pointed to Carl JUNG (1953) and his description of the quaternary in his book ‘Psychology and Alchemy’.

A deviation of the cross is the so-called nimbus (or halo/aura): a circle (or square) around the head of a holy figure with (sometimes) a beam of rays (fig. 369/370). Its origin was the sun-symbol, which was already known in Egyptian antiquity (Isis, Apis) and the Babylonian past (SCHULTZ, 1924). It was taken over by the Greek and Roman gods (Apollo-Helios and Eos-Aurora). The Roman Empire of the first centuries worshiped Sol, Mercurius and Mithras and depicted them with a nimbus. Furthermore, the Roman emperors Claudius, Trajanus and Antoninus Pius had a nimbus. The well-known mosaic in the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, dating from the sixth century, adorned Justinian and Theodora with a nimbus. Marthe COLLINET-GUERIN (1961) wrote a voluminous standard work on the nimbus. Division-scheme’s were proposed (pre-nimbe, nimbe (Base I – III) and pseudo-nimbe), but their immediate history or use is not very clear. The book furnished, despite its wealth of material, no deeper inside in the phenomena of the nimbus.


Fig. 369 – The nimbus. This symbol of a sun or aureole around the head of a divine figure or ruler carried a mythical significance associated with light- and life-giving power. The sun and the light, as vital properties, are transmitted to the person wearing the aureole. This illustration depicts the godhead Sol, and was found in the Roman settlement Corstopitum (Corbridge on Tyne, England). The place was destroyed in 297 AD, but this panel (metope) was reused in the fourth century. Museum Corbridge. Tafel CXXVI, fig. 570 in: HÖRIG & SCHWERTHEIM, (1987).


Fig. 370 – Shapes of the nimbus. 1. The empty nimbus. Psalterium, around 850 AD. Universiteitsbibliotheek, Utrecht (’s JACOB, 1987). ; 2. The round nimbus. Pancreator, Iglesia de la Clusa,  Rosellon (Spain) (COOK & RICART, 1950).; 3. The square nimbus. From a homiliarium. Monte Cassino (STEMBERGER, 1977/1979); 4. From the inside cover of the ‘Beatus of San Millan’ (WILLIAMS, 1978); 5. The hand of God, Guebwiller (Elzas). Cliche Inventaire general. Commission regionale d’Alsace (J.J. Pervieux) (DOLLINGER, 1972); 6. Moses and the square nimbus. On a fresco in the synagogue of Dura-Europos, Syria (PEARLMAN, 1974).

 LADNER(1941/1983) described, in an interesting publication, the so-called ‘square nimbus‘ as a means of expression of the quaternion-idea in the Christian belief (fig. 370-3). The square background was found on the portraits of the shrouds from the Roman period in the Egyptian history. The square nimbus was closely related with the tetradic thoughts of the Alexandrine philosophers like Philo Judaeus and Clement of Alexandria.

The motif of the square nimbus (or better: square of perfection) has also been used between the eighth and twelfth century in Europe. Probably, the introduction took place in Southern Italy (Monte Cassino). The ‘tetragonon’ was the symbol of perfection and was associated with the earthly appearance of the human mind. Plato talked in his ‘Protagoras‘ (339 A-B) of an honest man as a ‘tetragonus‘.

The name ‘Quadratus‘ was fairly common in the first centuries of the Christian world. The best-known bearer of this name was a bishop of Athens from the second century AD. Cornutus, a Stoic native of Leptis Magna, remarked in the first century AD in his book ‘De Natura Deorum’, that the square (cube) cannot fall and always remains the same.

The square was, nearly a millennium later, found in an illustration of the ‘Scivias‘ (Know the way) of Hildegard of Bingen (1151). God the father is symbolized in the fourth vision in the first book (fifth miniature) as a golden square (fig. 371). Henri BOELAARS (1986; p. 30) gave a description in his beautiful edition of the book.


Fig. 371 – The square as a representation of God the Father. From the ‘Scivias‘ of Hildegard of Bingen, around 1150. In: BOELAARS (1986).

The termination of the thirteenth century was identified (by Ladner) as a ‘renaissance of the non-circular nimbus‘. The (symbolic) use of other graphic means, like the mandorla, the square, the lozenge, the hexagon and the octagon, increased at the same time.

The examples of these specific delineations are virtually endless and the choice, as given in fig. 372, is arbitrary.


Fig. 372 – Some examples of the circle and square as graphical tools to establish an association with squareness and perfection: 1. The ceiling in the cathedral of Hildesheim (Germany). Seated king in a lozenge, surrounded by four prophets in a circle (DEUGHLER, 1970); 2. Christ in majesty. Two half-circles (or mandorla) encompass Christ on a throne, adorned with a four-fold nimbus. Limoges, end of the twelfth century (GAY, 1928/1971); 3. The throne of grace. A crucified Christ in a mandorla with the Holy Ghost as a dove and God the Father (with nimbus) Cambrai, Bibliotheque Municipale. Ms. 234, fol. 2. (PALLOTTINO, 1966, Vol. IV); 4. A symbolic window in the cathedral of Le Mans as given by Emile MÂLE (1910/1961), thirteenth century (according to Hucher).  (MÂLE, 1910/1961).

The squares on the ceiling of the cathedral of Hildesheim, the ornamentation in the Church of San Croce and the bronze doors of the Baptistery in Florence (by Andrea Pisano), in the San Francesco in Pisa, but also in the French cathedrals (Amiens, Notre Dame at Paris) are only a few illustrations of the remarkable unity of expression at the onset of the second millennium. The symbolic language represented a stage in the European cultural history, a moment in time when the power of tetradic thinking was consciously felt and looked for ways of expression.

The cognitive framework, however, had been developed much earlier. The cross, the nimbus (circle/square), the mandorla (two circle arches) and the lozenge (diamond) carried, particularly in Carolingian times, a metaphorical meaning (KESSLER, 1977), which hardly needed any explanation. This symbolism was a direct reference to the ‘tetragonus mundus‘, in which tetradic thinking was institutionalized.

Other types of symbolism were closely associated with the cross: the fruit bearing tree or ‘Lignum Vitae’, the Tree of Life as described in the book Genesis (COOK, 1975; SELBMANN, 1984/1993), the ‘Tree of Jesse’ and the ‘Scala Jacob‘ (Jacobsladder)(fig. 373).


Fig. 373 – Benedict between a Jacobs ladder and a ladder of virtues. An ‘ascensus ad coelum‘ by  ‘gradus‘ was a well-known motif in the Middle Ages and can be interpreted as a direct reference to dual-hierarchic thinking. Around 1180. Stuttgart, Würtembergische Landesbibliothek. In: ESMEIJER, (1984).

The subject of the cross will now be closed. The symbol, as the most fundamental tetradic graphic expression, is too common to deal with in full. Only the treatment of the cross by a psychiatric patient like Adolf Wölfli (1864 – 1930) warrant a book on its own (fig. 374).


Fig. 374 – Crucial imagery: ‘Wein. Fennin. Oliander. Karolina-Käller’ by Adolf Wölfli, made in a psychiatric clinic in 1914. In: SPOERRI et al. (1995).

However, a special reference to the Ph.D.-thesis of Van SCHALKWIJK (1989) should be made, because it gives a lucid insight in the historic meaning of the cross. Another book of an older date, dealing with the cross – among other signs and symbols – was written and illustrated by Andre Van VLAANDEREN (1946)(fig. 375). A selection of his material indicated the wide variety of forms (of the cross), all with their own symbolic significance.


Fig. 375 – Various forms of the cross, drawn by Van VLAANDEREN (1946): a. Ankh or Egyptian; b. Greek or eastern (crux quadrata); c. Latin; d. St. Antonis or crux (tau)(crux commissa); e. St. Andrew (rho)(crux decussata); f. Christian; g. Bourgondic; h. St. Peter; i. St. Philippus; j. Christ’s monogram; k. Russian or patriarchal (Lotharingian if the crossbeams are of equal length); l. Papal; m. Greek-orthodox; n. Crux- or Jerusalem; o. Spanish; p. Anchor; q. Clovered; r. Lily; s. Anchor; t. Holy Sepulchre; u. Spate- or dagger; v. Maltheser; w. Palm; x. Pontifical staff; y. Round cross. In: Van VLAANDEREN (1946).

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