No Comment, Quotation — November 18, 2007, 12:00 am

Nicholas of Kues: the Cosmographer’s Tale

nicholas_of_cusa

Est igitur animal perfectum, in quo sensus et intellectus, considerandum ut homo cosmographus habens civitatem quinque portarum quinque sensuum, per quas intrant nuntii ex toto mundo denuntiantes omnem mundi dispositionem hoc ordine, quo qui de luce et colore eius nova portent, per portam visus intrent; qui de sono et voce, per portam auditus; qui de odoribus, per portam odoratus; et qui de saporibus, per portam gustus; et qui de calore, frigore et aliis tangibilibus, per portam tactus. Sedeatque cosmographus et cuncta relata notet, ut totius sensibilis mundi descriptionem in sua civitate habeat designatam. Verum si porta aliqua civitatis suæ simper clausa remansit, puta visus, tuns quia nuntii visibilium non habuerunt introitum, defectus erit in descriptione mundi. Non enim faciet descriptio mentionem de sole, stellis, luce, soloribus, figuris hominum, bestiarum, arborum, civitatum et maiori parte pulchritudinis mundi. Sic si porta auditus clausa mansit, de loquelis, cantibus, melodiis et talibus nihil descriptio contineret. Ita de reliquis. Studet igitur omni conatu omnes portas habere apertas et continue audire novorum semper nuntiorum relationes et descriptionem suam semper veriorem facere.

Demum quando in sua civitate omnem sensibilis mundi fecit designationem, ne perdat eam, in mappam redigit mundi fecit bene ordinatam et proportionabiliter mensuratam convertitque se ad ipsam nuntiosque amplius licentiat clauditque portas et ad conditorem mundi internum transfert intuitum, qui nihil eorum est omnium, quæ a nuntiis intellexit et notavit, sed omnium est artifex et causa. Quam cogitat sic se habere ad universum mundum anterioriter, sicut ipse ut cosmographus ad mappam, atque ex habitudine mappæ ad verum mundum speculatur in se ipso ut cosmographo mundi creatorem, in imagine veritatem, in signo signatum mente contemplando.

A completely developed sentient creature who is possessed both of sense and intellect is to be viewed as a cosmosgrapher who dwells in a city that has five portals corresponding to the five senses. Through these gateways enter messengers who have spanned the world bringing reports on what has transpired and of the conditions there, and, to be precise, in the following fashion: the messengers who bring news of light and color in the world enter through the portal of the sense of vision; those who report on sound and voice enter through the gate of hearing; those who report on smells through the olefactory gate; those who report on taste, through the gateway of taste; and those who report on warmth, cold and other sensory qualities, enter through the passage dedicated to the sense of touch. The cosmographer sits and takes note of all these senses, in order to have within his city a careful description of the entire realm of the senses. But if a gateway of his city, for instance the visual, should be closed, then his description of the world beyond will be deficient because the messenger of the visual world has found no admission. In this case his description will have no mention of the sun, the stars, light and colors, nothing of the shape of humans, animals, trees and cities, and nothing of the greater part of the beauty of the world. And if the gateway of the sense of sound were to be sealed, then the description would contain similarly nothing of languages, or songs, melodies and the like. The same is true of the other senses. And thus the cosmographer struggles with all his resources to keep all the gateways open and continuously to gather the reports of successive messengers and to make his description ever more accurate.

At length, after he has made in his city a complete delineation of the realm of the senses, then so as not to lose it, he transcribes it into a well-ordered and proportionally measured map. And so he turns toward the map; and, in addition, he bids farewell to the messengers, seals the portals, and turns his inner vision upon the maker of the universe, who is nowhere to be found among the things which the cosmographer has learned from his many messengers, but rather is the creator and cause of them all.

Niclas Krebs, later Cardinal Nicholas of Kues, Compendium cap. viii (1464) in: Nikolaus von Kues’ philosophisch-theologische Werke in lateinischer Sprache vol. 4, pp. 30-32 (Heidelberg ed. 2002)(S.H. transl.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today