Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts
Illuminated manuscript in the "Hortus Deliciarum" by Herrad of Landsberg (1167), located at the Hohenburg Abbey in Alsace, France. The "Hortus Deliciarum," Latin for "Garden of Delights" is a medieval encyclopedia made for young nuns. The Seven Liberal Arts surround Philosophy in a circle. Greek philosophers believed in a "circle of knowledge" (encyclo-peidea) that is cosmic, comprehensive, and interconnected. This depiction presents Philosophy at the center of this circle of knowledge. At her feet are Socrates and Plato, who were among the first and best philosophers of the ancient world. Philosophy holds a banner that comes from the book of Wisdom: "All wisdom comes from God; only the wise can achieve what they desire." On Philosophy's crown are three heads, representing the three branches of philosophy in the classical and medieval worlds: rational philosophy (rhetoric, logic, grammar), moral philosophy (ethics, economics, and politics), and natural philosophy (physics, mathematics, and metaphysics). From Philosophy's breast flow seven streams of water (four to the left and three to the right), symbolizing how Philosophy nurishes the minds of students with the trivium and quadrivium. Each Liberal Art is personified as a noble women in a long dress with wide sleeves. Grammar, using a quill and paper, says: "Through me, everyone can learn what words, syllables and letters are." Rhetoric, holding a stylus and two tablets, says, "Through me, strong speaker, your speech gains more strength." Dialectic, holding the head of a barking dog, says, "My arguments run quickly, like the barking dog." Music, playing a harp, sings, "I, Music, teach this art with a variety of instruments." Using a counting rope, Arithmetic says, "I use numbers and I show the relationship between them." Holding a measuring stick and compass, Geometry says, "With accuracy I survey the lands." Astronomy with a primitive telescope says, "Named after the stars, I predict the future." Below the circle of knowledge are poetry and magic, two lying arts of the world, and evil, black crows caw in the figures' ears. The inner ring of the circle reads, "I, divine Philosophy, I govern all things with wisdom; I dispose of the arts which are subordinate to me by seven." The outer ring of the circle reads, "Philosophy teaches the arts through seven branches. She scrutinizes the secrets of the elements and of all things. What she discovers she holds in her memory. And she puts everything in writing, in order to transmit it to the students."