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

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
“Here, a long finger of snow replaced by gray patches of dirt and rock; there, a grayish blob of ice the texture of corduroy, where once a vibrant white patch of snow lay.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans

Number of British women killed last fall by lightning conducted through their underwire bras:

2

British women wear heels for fifty-one years on average, from the ages of twelve to sixty-three.

Thousands of employees of McDonald’s protested outside the company’s headquarters near Chicago, demanding their wages be increased to $15 per hour. “I can’t afford any shoes,” said one employee in attendance, “and I want Versace heels.”

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