Friday, November 4, 2011

Forging and Forgery

I gave a talk earlier this week on twelfth century neoplatonism and literary depictions of medieval automata and their creators in twelfth and thirteenth-century French literary texts. Building on the works of Macrobius and Chalcidius, later medieval philosophers like Bernard Silvestris and Alain de Lille used the metaphor of "natura artifex"--Nature as artisan--to describe the work of human generation in artisanal terms. Natura hammers out new people using her hammer and anvil, creating them from parts. Yet this metaphor is an attempt on the part of philosophers to describe the mysterious work of Natura--translating divine forms into materiality.
Le Roman de la Rose, France, 15th cent., Yale University, MS 418.

Writers of literary texts, though, described automata and their makers not in artisanal terms, but instead in elevated terms--as philosophers, sorcerers, and wise men, educated in the deepest secrets and mysteries of nature. However, as these men tried to copy Natura's work, making artificial people and animals, their work was considered debased, as it involved aping divine prerogative and copying natural forms. Natura forges people; people make forgeries.

1 comment:

Jenji said...

Amazing illustration with this piece! The hands and feet strewn around... but also, I'm surprised to see a woman at the forge. Is that exceptional for the period? Is it meant to represent Natura herself?