Medieval Language Philosophy

  • Sarah L. Higley
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Before I discuss the private and fictional projects of succeeding centuries, I will briefly describe Hildegard’s spiritual and historical environment and the mystical notions of language to which she may have been exposed.


Twelfth Century Hebrew Letter Gothic Cathedral Substitution Cipher Fall World 
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  1. 1.
    See Caroline Walker Bynum’s chapter entitled “Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual?” in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 82–109.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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  3. 4.
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  5. 6.
    On the issue of Hildegard’s social politics, see Constance J. Mews, “Hildegard, the Speculum Virginuin and Religious Reform in the Twelfth Century,” in Hildegard von Bingen in ihrem historischen Umfeld. ed. Alfred Haverkamp (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabem, 2000), pp. 237—267.Google Scholar
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  8. 12.
    Dante, “Inferno,” vol. 1, in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, ed. trans. Robert M. Durling (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 112, 484. While Durling cannot decipher Raphael’s utterance, Peter Dronke insists that it is creditable Arabic, a language known to Dante along with Hebrew (Dante and Medieval Latin Traditions [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986], p. 41).Google Scholar
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    See Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 12, 19—20.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 3: “dice et scribe quae uides et audis … ea sic edisserendo profer-ens, quemadmodum et auditor, uerba praceptoris sui percipiens, ea secundum tenorem locutionis illius, ipso uolente, ostendente et praecipente propalat.”Google Scholar
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    Derek J. Price, ed. facsimile version of The Equatorie of the planetis, Peterhouse ms. 75.1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1955), fol. 30v et passim.Google Scholar
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    See William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994) p. 4. More like “technical books than magic books,” they were produced under “the assumption that nature was a repository of occult forces that might be manipulated not by the magus’s cunning, but merely by the use of correct techniques.” One of the strangest uses of a cipher in a “Book of Secrets” can be seen in the putatively medieval Voynich Manuscript, dated anywhere from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. The entire book is written in what looks like a substitution cipher, but it has never been decrypted, nor has its “language” been identified. See my comments in chapter four, note fifteen.Google Scholar
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    Mandeville’s Travels: Translated from the French of Jean d’Outremeuse, ed. Paul Hamelius, vol. 11, (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 22. 1 am grateful to Thomas Halm for directing me to these alphabets.Google Scholar
  32. 45.
    See Michael Embach’s discussion of Trithemius’ interest in HUdegard’s invented alphabet in Die Schriften Hildegards von Bingen: Studien zu ihrer Uher-lieferung und Rezeption im Mittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003), pp. 255—256; but especially his chapter in the same book “Johannes Trithemius (1462—1516) als Propagator Hildegards von Bingen,” pp. 459–491.Google Scholar
  33. 46.
    Enoch was considered a prophet of such stature that he was bodily assumed into God’s heaven, according to Genesis 5:21—24 and Ecclesiasticus 44:16. The “First Book of Enoch” is presumably quoted injude, verses 14—15, and in the Pistis Sophia (Mead, Pistis Sophia Treatise, p, 487). For the lost Ethiopian version, supposedly discovered in the eighteenth century, see Donald Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Angelic Language as Revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1994), p. 14. Deborah E. Harkness writes about these matters in her book John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 147, 166–167.Google Scholar
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    Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, III, xxix, xxx. pp. 438—439, in Tyson, p. 563. I give the original pages from EEBO, since Tyson prints these diagrams out of order.Google Scholar

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© Sarah L. Higley 2007

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