Volume XXXIV · 1981
Chapman and Dürer on Inspired Melancholy
--DAME FRANCES YATES
The following article consists of the text of a speech given at the University of Rochester by Dame Frances Yates on September 18, 1980. Dame Frances was one of the greatest and most provocative scholars of English Renaissance thought. She was a product of the methods of the Warburg Institute (of which she was an Honourary Fellow); an exemplum of the range of learning which the Institute set about to foster. Aside from her many articles in learned journals Dame Frances was the author of John Florio, the Life of an Italian in Shakespeare's England (1934); A Study of "Love's Labour's Lost" (1936); The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century (1947); The Valois Tapestries (1959); Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964);The Art of Memory (1966); Theatre of the World (1969); The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972); Astraea: the Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (1975); Shakespeare's Last Plays: a New Approach (1975);Elizabethan Neoplatonism Reconsidered: Spenser and Francesco Giorgi (1977); The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979). Throughout the greater part of this work lies a concern to show the link between English Renaissance thought and the European neo-Platonic tradition; to show the influence of such men as Ramon Lull, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Reuchlin, Francesco Giorgi, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, and Giordano Bruno on later English writers. John Dee, in particular -- himself an avowed disciple of Agrippa -- stands as the archetypical Elizabethan magus. In the three phases of his career -- leader of the English Renaissance (1558-83); continental mission (1583-9); disgrace and failure (1589-1608) -- Dee mirrors the fortunes of the occult philosophy in England. Yates shows that an awareness of this occult tradition must necessarily lead to a reinterpretation of much Elizabethan writing. She argues that The Faerie Queene is, in fact, a great magical Renaissance poem, permeated by Cabalistic thought, that Marlowe's Dr. Faustus stands as a reaction to Spenser and the occult world of Dee. Marlowe, Dame Frances suggests, is "modern"; he belongs to the new mood of European rigidity and reaction. Shakespeare, on the other hand, harks back to the Christian Cabalistic world of the Renaissance. Dame Frances believes that much of Shakespeare's theater, especially the last plays, must be read in the context of the occult philosophy and that the figure of the magus, perhaps even Dee himself, lurks in the background.
In the paper presented at the University of Rochester Dame Frances elucidates a specific poem from her new and radical perspective and shows the importance of this kind of interpretation to Elizabethan poetry in general. She first takes Erwin Panofsky's "romantic" reading of Dürer's "Melancolia I" and shows how "Melancolia" must be reinterpreted in Cabalistic terms as a Saturnian figure in an "intense visionary stance." Using this data she moves on to an examination of George Chapman's The Shadow of Night and provides a startling "Agrippan" interpretation ofthis mysterious and seemingly obscure poem, linking it to a defense of the occult philosophy. Through its connections to Agrippa, Dürer, and the occult, she shows the poem to be of central importance to an understanding of the Elizabethan age.
Dame Frances had turned 80 when her most recent book was published. Hugh Trevor-Roper said of her: "It is part of her greatness as a scholar that she is continually posing new problems. Working always on the frontiers of knowledge, she looks forward into the unknown. And always in that unknown, she spots, before anyone else, the essential features of the landscape, the possible way through the deterrent jungle, and reports to us in easy, limpid almost conversational prose."1 In her talk at the University of Rochester her energy, enthusiasm, and intellectual excitement shone forth. She was as provocative on stage as in print. The University of Rochester community was challenged by her presence last fall; the Library Bulletin is honored by her kindness in allowing the talk to be printed in its 1981 issue.
-James P. Carley
The problem of the intellectual background of George Chapman's mysterious poem, The Shadow of Night, has long deeply preoccupied students of the literature of the Elizabethan age. This poem seems to express an explosion of the intellectual energy at a vital moment in the evolution of the Elizabethan Renaissance. It is well known that Chapman's strange night imagery links his poem with the imagery of major Elizabethan dramatists, including Chapman himself and Shakespeare. It has been conjectured that it may reflect the outlook of a group of intellectual courtiers and poets, a "School of Night," alluded to by Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost -- a group immersed in esoteric studies. In my last book, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979), I have attempted a new approach to this problem based on those researches into Renaissance Magia and Cabala on which I have been for so long engaged.
The argument has to begin by gazing for a long time at a picture of Albrecht Dürer's famous engraving, the "Melencolia I".
The interpretation of this engraving as a representation of inspired melancholy was first put forward in a study in German by Panofsky and Saxl published in 1923. It was again discussed by Panofsky in his book on Dürer published in 1945. It is fully expounded in the work Saturn and Melancholy by Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl published in 1964, which is a mine of detailed information and rich scholarship about the humors and their representation in art. Through Klibansky's learned discussion of the four humors in ancient and medieval psychology; through Saxl's survey of the pictorial types of the humors; through Panofsky's analysis of the engraving in terms of Renaissance iconography, a view of Dürer's "Melencolia I" was built up in which all these strands were used for the interpretation of the extraordinary dark-faced figure, absorbed in profound meditation and surrounded by a strange medley of objects.
The Galenic theory of the humors locked man's psychology into the cosmos, for the four humors corresponded to the four elements and four planets as follows:
The most unfortunate and most hateful of all the four humors was Saturn--Melancholy. The melancholic was dark in complexion, with black hair and a black face-the facies nigra or livid hue induced by the black bile of the melancholy complexion. His typical pose, expressive of his sadness and depression, was to rest his head on his hand. Even his "gifts," or characteristic occupations, were not attractive. He was good at measuring, numbering, counting -- measuring land and counting money -- but what low and earthy occupations were these compared with the splendid gifts of the sanguine Jupiter -- man, or the grace and loveliness of those born under Venus.
Dürer's Melancholy was the livid hue, the swarthy complexion, the "black face" of the type; and she supports her pensive head on her hand in the characteristic pose. She holds compasses for measuring and numbering. Beside her is the purse for counting money. Around her are tools, such as an artisan might use. Obviously she is a melancholic, characterized by the physical type, pose, and occupations of the old, bad melancholy. But she seems also to express some more lofty and intellectual type of endeavor. She is not actually doing anything, just sitting and thinking. What, moreover, do these geometrical forms mean, and why does a ladder rise heavenward behind the polyhedron?
There was a line of thought through which Saturn and the melancholy temperament might be "revalued," raised from being the lowest of the four to become the highest, the humor of great men, great thinkers, prophets, and religious seers. In this view, to be melancholy was a sign of genius; the "gifts" of Saturn, the numbering and measuring attributed to the melancholic, were to be cultivated as the highest kind of learning which brought man nearest to the divine. This radical change in the attitude to melancholy had results in effecting a change in the direction of men's minds and studies.
This change was brought about through the influence of a text, the authorship of which was attributed to Aristotle, but which is more safely described as Pseudo-Aristotelian. The thirtieth of the Problemata physica in this Pseudo-Aristotelian treatise discusses melancholy as the humor of heroes and great men. The argument is very detailed and medical, but the main point is that the heroic frenzy, or madness, or furor -- which, according to Plato, is the source of all inspiration -- when combined with the black bile of the melancholy temperament produced great men. It is the temperament of genius. All outstanding men have been melancholics, heroes like Hercules, philosophers like Empedocles or Plato, and practically all the poets.
The theories of Pseudo-Aristotle on melancholy were not unknown in the Middle Ages, but in the Renaissance they attracted general attention. Assimilated into Neoplatonism through the Platonic theory of the furores, the notion of the melancholy hero whose genius is akin to madness became familiar to the European mind.
Ficino knew the Pseudo-Aristotelian theory and mentioned it in the De Triplici Vita, the work in which he sets forth his astral magic. Addressing students who were thought to suffer from melancholy through solitariness and concentration on their studies, he advises that the Saturnian or melancholic man should not avoid the deep study to which he is prone by temperament, but should take care to temper the Saturnian severity with Jovial and Venereal influences. The ingenuity of Klibansky-Saxl-Panofsky has proved that Dürer's engraving shows knowledge of Ficinian theory, for they demonstrate that the square on the wall behind the melancholy figure, containing an arrangement of numbers, is a magic square of Jupiter, calculated to draw down Jupiter influences through its numerical arrangement. Thus the severe influences of Saturn and his inspired melancholy are being tempered in the engraving with Jupiter influences, as Ficino advised.
Dürer's immediate source for the inspired melancholy was, however, not Ficino, but Cornelius Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia. The date of the engraving is 1514, that is, nearly 20 years before the publication of the printed version of Agrippa's work in 1533. It is therefore assumed that Dürer must have used the manuscript version of 1510, which was circulated in manuscript copies and was certainly available in the circles in which Dürer moved. (This manuscript version of 1510 is reprinted in K.A. Nowatny's edition of Agrippa, ed. 1967.)
Agrippa quotes the definitions of inspired melancholy from Pseudo-Aristotle and classifies the inspiration, or demonic power which emanates from it, into three types, or grades, or stages. The first stage is when the inspired melancholy fills the imagination, producing wonderful instruction in the manual arts, through which a man may suddenly become a painter or an architect or some outstanding master in an art. The second stage of inspired melancholy is when the inspiration seizes on the reason, whereby it obtains knowledge of natural and human things; through the inspired reason a man becomes suddenly a philosopher, or a prophet. But when, through the melancholic inspiration, the soul soars to the intellect, or the mens, it learns the secret of divine matters, the law of God, the angelic hierarchies, or the emergence of new religions.
This classification accounts for the curious fact that the title of Dürer's engraving is "Melencolia I." It must be one of a series, the first in the series described by Agrippa, concerned with the inspired imagination of painters, architects, and masters in other arts. In fact, we see in the engraving the tools, the geometric figures, alluding to the traditional occupations of Saturn, his skills in number and measurement, but transmuted in an atmosphere of inspired melancholy to become the instruments of inspired artistic genius. The only active figure in the engraving is the putto, and he appears to hold an engraver's tool.
The book Saturn and Melancholy proves with immense learning the concern of Dürer's engraving with the melancholy humor in its inspired form and it points to Agrippa's work as a basic source for Dürer's thought on the subject. Yet, after all the brilliance and learning of the book, Panofsky's actual interpretation of the engraving comes as something of a disappointment and an anticlimax.
Panofsky believes that the engraving represents the frustration of the inspired genius. He points to the wings of "Melencolia," large powerful wings which she is not using as she sits inactive. For Panofsky the wings are the aspirations of genius, folded and useless, and this frustrated state is the cause of the melancholy. The engraving reflects, thinks Panofsky, the suffering condition of creative genius, unable to express its visions, hampered by its material conditions, lapsing into melancholy inactivity because of the sense of failure and inadequacy. Panofsky wishes to move the engraving in a modern, or perhaps a nineteenth-century, direction, expressive of the sense of suffering and failure of the creative artist. Melancholy is surrounded by the tools of her art but she is not using them. She does not unfold her wings but sits inactive, unable to mount. Even the emaciated and half-starved dog in the engraving is drawn into the depressed atmosphere of failure, the melancholy of frustrated genius.
I venture to disagree with this romantic interpretation, which does not take into account the outlook of the "occult philosophy" with which Dürer must surely be concerned, if he is influenced by Agrippa.
As now generally realized, the occult philosophy from Pico della Mirandola onwards, and as formulated by Agrippa, included the Hermetic and magical thought of Ficinian Neoplatonism, adding to this the Cabalist magic introduced by Pico. The book Saturn and Melancholy does not deal with either of these two basic categories. Though there is much on Dürer's debt to Ficino's De Vita, this work is discussed for its treatment of melancholy without reference to its importance as a text for spiritual magic, as defined by D. P. Walker in his book Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (1958). Walker's discoveries about the Hermetic influence in Ficino's De Vita had not yet been published when Panofsky was contributing to Saturn and Melancholy.
Still more unfortunate is the total omission of Agrippa's Cabalism. This is deliberately omitted because the authors of Saturn and Melancholy believed that there is no Cabala in the 1510 version of the De Occuita Philosophia which Dürer used. This is not really the case. On the contrary, Charles Zika in a recent article in theJournal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (1976) argues that there is more Cabalist influence in the 1510 manuscript than there is in the printed version of Agrippa's book, and that he is already presenting, in the 1510 manuscript, that synthesis of magic and religion through Cabala which Pico had laid down and which Reuchlin had carried further. The Reuchlin synthesis, as expounded in De Verbo Mirifico, would have been fully accessible to Dürer, and was probably the main inspiration of his engraving, together with his knowledge of the unpublished version of De Occulta Philosophia.
The part played by Cabala in Agrippa's book is emphasized all through as a guarantee of safety, that the magic described is a good and white magic, guided by angelic forces which ensured protection from evil powers. The three stages of inspired melancholy described by Agrippa would seem to be much in need of such protection since the inspiration is definitely said to be of a demonic nature. Dürer's "Melencolia" with her angel's wings expresses, I believe, the Agrippan combination of Magica and Cabala. Surrounded by Saturnian allusions, she magically invokes the inspiring influence of the highest of the planets, and is protected from harm by the angel of Saturn. Her angelic character is suggested not only by her angel wings but also by the ladder behind her, leading, not to the top of the building, but generally upwards into the sky -- Jacob's ladder on which the angels ascend and descend.
Dürer's "Melencolia" is not in a state of depressed inactivity. She is in an intense visionary trance, a state guaranteed against demonic intervention by angelic guidance.
The starved dog is an important key to the meaning. This hound is not another indication of a depressed mood of failure. It represents, I believe, the bodily senses, starved and under severe ascetic control in this first stage of inspiration, in which the inactivity is not representative of failure but of an intense inner vision. The Saturnian melancholy has "taken leave of the senses" and is soaring to worlds beyond worlds in a state of visionary trance. The only sense which is alive and working is the artist's hand, the hand of the putto recording the vision with his engraving tool -- the hand of Dürer himself recording his psychology of inspiration in this marvelous engraving.
The classic moralization of the senses as hunting dogs is that given by Natalis Comes in his interpretation of the Actaeon fable, where Actaeon's dogs are the senses. The melancholy temperament was supposed to subdue the senses. One theorist on the humors defines Melancholy as "the sweet sleep of the senses." Or, we may turn to John Milton, who gave in "Il Penseroso" the supreme poetic expression of the theory of inspired melancholy.
"Divinest Melancholy," whose black face hides a saintly visage too bright for human sense, is accompanied by an ascetic "spare diet," and in her soaring vision she escapes from the senses:
Or let my lamp at midnight hour
Be seen in some high lonely tower,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear
With thrice great Hermes, or unsphere
The spirit of Plato to unfold
What worlds or what vast regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook.
This is what Dürer shows, the trance in which the immortal mind is released from the senses-Milton's forsaken "fleshly nook" corresponds to Dürer's starved and sleeping dog of the senses.
Milton's melancholy inspiration of the imagination connects with higher realms of prophecy and angelic hierarchies. The three Agrippan stages can be clearly discerned in Milton's poem. His Melancholy mounts to the vision of
Him that yon soars on golden wing
Guiding the fiery wheeled throne
The Cherub Contemplation.
Dürer's "Melencolia I" represents the first of Agrippa's series, the inspired artistic melancholy. There was also a stage relating to prophetic inspiration, and a stage in which the inspired intellect rose to the contemplation of divine matters. All three are included in Milton's Melancholy, the saintly dark figure who descends from Reuchlin via Agrippa. And all three are intimated in Dürer's "Melencolia I" through the angelic wings which he had given to his black-faced figure.
In the same year in which he engraved the "Melencolia I," Dürer produced his famous engraving of St. Jerome in his study. Panofsky, in his book on Dürer, suggests that Dürer must have thought of the "St. Jerome" as a counterpart to the "Melencolia I" since he was in the habit of giving these two engravings together to his friends. No less than six copies were disposed of in pairs, while only one copy of the "Melencolia I" was given away singly.
Gazing at the two engravings side by side, as Dürer intended his friends to do, it is clear that there is an intended parallel between them.
The holy man is seated at his desk profoundly absorbed in his inspired writing. His cell is described by Panofsky "as a place of enchanted beatitude" informed with geometrical truth. The construction of space in the engraving is impeccably correct from the mathematical point of view. Panofsky contrasts this holy order with the disorder surrounding "Melencolia I," the tragic genius in her frustrated despair. This erroneous interpretation of "Melencolia I" prevents us from understanding that Dürer is representing different stages of inspired vision. The inspired imagination of the artist shown in "Melencolia I" is on a lower rung of the ladder of vision than is Jerome in his ordered surroundings, though the ladder is leading upwards. Jerome might be on the third grade of the Agrippan classification, in which the mens "Learns the secret of divine matters as for instance of the Law of God, the angelic hierarchy, and that which pertains to the knowledge of eternal things."
Where then is "Melencolia II," the second grade or phase of the inspired melancholy according to Agrippa, concerned with reason, with moral or philosophical matters, with prophetic insight into the state of the world or the state of society?
I come now to a surprising part of this discussion, making what may seem an impossible transition from Dürer's engravings to the poetry of that most obscure Elizabethan writer, George Chapman. So far as I know, no one has ever attempted to show an influence of Dürer on the Elizabethans. Yet such an influence is not impossible, and, in the case of John Dee, it is a fact. When Dee in his mathematical preface to Euclid is discussing the theory of proportion he refers to Dürer's De Symmetria Humani Corposis, Dürer's famous book on proportion which Dee cites in the same breath as Agrippa's treatment of proportion in the De Occulta Philosophia. (I have discussed Dee's references to Dürer in my book Theatre of the World.) Thus Elizabethan disciples of Dee, the major philosopher of the Elizabethan age, had been referred to Dürer as the leading theorist on proportion, on artistic application of mathematical principles.
And it is not impossible that Dürer engravings were known in Elizabethan England. Unlike paintings, engravings could easily travel. Robert Burton had seen the "Melencolia I," which he describes in his Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton's book was not published until 1621, yet his mention of the engraving shows that it could travel to England and might have done so earlier. So, after these preliminaries I make my surprising transition from the study of Dürer's "Melencolia" to an analysis of one of the most obscure poems of the Elizabethan age, George Chapman's Shadow of Night (Poems, ed. P. Bartlett, 1941).
This mysterious poem, published in 1594, opens by describing a "humour of the Night," a sad and weeping humor but one devoted to abstruse studies. The poem is in two parts, Hymnus in Noctem and Hymnus in Cynthiam. Many have been the attempts to unravel the hidden meanings of this most strange work. What is that darkness and that weeping humor through which the poet arrives at his moonlit visions?
Bent on concealing rather than revealing his meaning, Chapman nowhere uses the key word which would have put enquirers on the right track, the word "melancholy." Chapman is describing the inspired melancholy and its stages, as set out in Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia. Moreover, as I hope to show, Chapman was influenced by Dürer's visual imagery in his formulation in poetic imagery of the theme of the inspired melancholy.
In his letter before the poem, Chapman speaks of certain noblemen and others who have devoted themselves to deep studies. They and their friends are devoted with exceeding rapture of delight to the deep search for knowledge. Shod with the winged sandals of Mercury and "girt with Saturn's adamantine sword," they are bent on cutting off the head of ignorance and on "subduing their monstrous affections to most beautiful judgement." That Saturn, the Saturn of the Renaissance, star of highest and deepest learning and of profoundly ascetic life, is the guiding star of this group gives the clue to their place in the history of thought. These Elizabethan noblemen and their learned friends are "Saturnians," following the "revalued" Saturn of the Renaissance in their devotion to deep scientific studies and lofty ascetic and religious aims.
Once the Saturnian character of the deep search for knowledge is realized, we again have the clue to the meaning of Chapman's poem as concerned with Melancholy, the Saturnian humor. The following analysis will attempt to show that the inspired Melancholy herself appears painted by Chapman in word pictures which recall Dürer's engraving, "Melencolia I."
Chapman's sad humor of the night is the source of inspiration; she presides over the court of skill; through her all secrets are reached:
now let humour give
Seas to mine eyes, That I may quicklie weepe
The shipwracke of the world: or let soft sleepe
(Binding my senses) lose my working soule,
That in her highest pitch, she may controle
The court of skill, compact of misterie,
Wanting but franchisement and memorie
To reach all secrets . .
Chapman is invoking a melancholy humor to lead the "working soul" through inspired furor (the senses being asleep) to reach her highest pitch when she controls the court of skill. The entranced figure of Dürer's Melancholy, freed from the sleeping senses (the sleeping dog), reaching her highest pitch in the court of skill, presents in visual images the theme which Chapman translates into poetic images.
The extraordinarily intense atmosphere of Dürer's engraving finds a parallel in the intensity of Chapman's words. He appeals to all serious poets to steep themselves in the Humour of the Night, the humor of inspiration:
All you possest with indepressed spirits,
Undu'd with nimble and aspiring wits,
Come consecrate with me, to sacred Night
Your whole endeuors, and detest the light . . .
No pen can any thing eternal write,
That is not steept in humour of the night.
The pen wielded by the poet in the night of inspiration, as described by Chapman, may be compared with the engraver's tool wielded by the artist in the Night of inspired Melancholy, as depicted by Dürer. Chapman's words, "the court of skill," used to describe the surroundings of his Melancholy Night figure, would describe admirably the setting of Dürer's "Melencolia I," surrounded by instruments and figures referring to learned activities and meditations. The man of genius, whether the artist or the poet, is the inspired melancholic. This is the theme of the Pseudo-Aristotelian Problemanta, reflected by Agrippa in the De Occulta Philosophia. Dürer's engraving depicts the melancholic inspiration of the artist-scientist. Chapman's poem describes in terms of very similar imagery the melancholic inspiration of the poet.
Night and Melancholy have in common that both are dark. Chapman's Night is personified as a female figure with a black face, the facies nigra of melancholy:
Mens faces glitter, and their hearts are blacke,
But thou (great Mistresse of heauens gloomie racke)
Art blacke in face, and glitterst in thy heart.
There is thy glorie, riches, force, and Art.
This dark figure with the black face, secretly imbued with power and wealth and all force of Art, has a Düreresque intensity. We think of Dürer's "Melencolia I," with her swarthy face, her moneybags, and the symbols of her mental power.
There is another curiously close parallel to Chapman's melancholy imagery in a painting which the authors of Saturn and Melancholy reproduce as among the compositions which have obviously been influenced by Dürer's engraving. This is the painting attributed to Matthias Gerung and dated 1558 and now at Karlsruhe. It shows in the center a winged female in the melancholy pose, head on hand. Her dark robes mingle with the patch of darkness within which she is seated. Immediately in line with her, near the lower edge of the picture, is a philosopher measuring with compasses the globe of the world and surrounded by darkness. Indubitably these figures reflect Dürer's "Melencolia" and her characteristic interest in abstruse studies. The influence of Dürer's engraving is also apparent in the rainbow in the background.
In other respects Gerung's composition would seem to have no relation at all to Dürer's engraving or to the theme of melancholy. It is filled with quantities of figures engaged in many kinds of activities -- soldiers exercising near their tents, people at banquets, having baths, engaged in many kinds of sports and pastimes. These active figures seem unrelated to the two meditative, melancholy figures. As the authors of Saturn and Melancholy observe in describing this picture:
we see every possible activity of urban, rural and military life. . .but these representations seem to have no connection of any kind with each other or with the notion of melancholy.
George Chapman can throw light on this picture, for after his word picture reflecting "Melencolia I" he paints a word picture in which the busy occupations of the Day are contrasted with the meditative Night of Melancholy. At the coming of Day, all sorts of men come forth and engage in their various activities:
All sorts of men, to sorted taskes addrest,
Spread this inferiour element: and yeeld
Labour his due: the souldier to the field,
States-men to counsell, Judges to their pleas,
Merchants to commerce, mariners to seas:
All beasts and birds, the groues and forrests range,
To fill all corners of this round exchange,
Till thou (deare Night, o goddesse of most worth)
Lets thy sweet seas of golden humor forth
And Eagle-like doth with thy starrie wings,
Beate in the foules and beasts to Somnus lodgings,
And haughtie Day to the infernall deepe,
Proclaiming silence, studie, ease and sleepe.
These lines are a poetic counterpart to the Gerung picture. They explain the sorted men to sorted tasks addressed of the picture as the occupations of the Day, or of the active life, which are contrasted with the Night of contemplation and study. Like the Gerung picture, Chapman's lines describe Night as the inspired Melancholy, contrasted with the empty and uninspired occupations of the Day. The theme is related to the conventional debate between the active and the contemplative lives.
For Chapman, the followers of the Night with its studious peace, as opposed to the noisy bustle of the Day, its pure contemplative visions as opposed to vulgar activities, are the followers of virtue, who reject the "whoredoms" of the painted light. So in the Gerung picture the gentle melancholy Night, and her attendant the deep student who is measuring the globe, are marked off by Night and darkness from the "fooleries" of the Day, and pursue their meditations undisturbed.
In the Gerung picture, a conflict is going on in the sky between some not very clearly defined mythological figures. One of these is shooting at the Sun, thereby hastening the advent of Night, which is spreading in gloomy clouds. In Chapman's poem Hercules is urged to shoot at the Sun to stop his lustful activities and to cleanse the beastly stable of the world by descending from heaven:
Fall Hercules from heauen in tempestes hurld,
And cleanse this beastly stable of the world:
Or bend thy brasen bow against the Sunne. . .
Now make him leaue the world to Night and dreames.
Neuer were vertues labours so enuy'd
As in this light: shoote, shoote, and stoope his pride
Suffer no-more his lustful rayes to get
The Earth with issue; let him still be set
In Somnus thickets; bound about the browes,
With pitchie vapours, and with Ebone bowes.
How strangely close this seems to the Gerung picture, where someone is shooting at the Sun, where dark tempests are spreading, overcoming the sunlight, where the vanquishing of the Sun and Day brings in the melancholy Night of study, contemplation, and virtue.
The resemblances in imagery between this picture and Chapman's poem are so close -- the sorted men to sorted tasks addressed, the conflict between Night and Day, the shooting at the Sun -- that it seems probable that Chapman had seen something like the Gerung picture. I am not suggesting that he had seen the Gerung painting itself. What I am suggesting is that the Gerung painting is perhaps a copy of a lost engraving by Dürer, the lost "Melencolia II." Chapman saw the "Melencolia I," which we know, hanging beside "Melencolia II," lost except for the copy of it by Gerung. This is the Hypothesis.
We have arrived at the extraordinary result that the obscure Elizabethan poet, Chapman, can actually be of assistance to students of Dürer's engravings by indicating that the Gerung picture may be a copy of "Melencolia II."
I suggest that this is indicated by the way in which Chapman in his poem passes from his word picture of "Melencolia I," the dark-faced figure in the Court of Skill, to his word picture reflecting "Melencolia II," as copied by Gerung. The first stage in the Agrippan classification was the melancholy of the inspired artist. The second stage was concerned with moral insight, the political melancholy of the utopian dreamer, profoundly dissatisfied with the world as it is, hating Day with its meaningless activities compared to the contemplative dreams of Night. The Gerung picture, understood as "Melencolia II," would correspond in the world of Elizabethan melancholy to the malcontent humor, the "nighted humor" of Hamlet with which the Prince of Denmark surveys the lustful activities of the Day.
Chapman's Hymnus in Noctem begins in the imaginative stage of inspired melancholy and moves into the moral or political stage at about the middle of the poem, though images from both poems overlap throughout.
There was a third stage of Agrippan melancholy, when the melancholic saw visions of a religious nature, prophetic insights into coming religious changes. Where is this third stage in Chapman's poems?
The overall title of the poem is The Shadow of Night, but it is divided into two parts. The first part has the titleHymnus in Noctem, and it is this first part which contains the two melancholy visions we have been studying. The second part is called Hymnus in Cynthiam, Hymn to the Moon. In this part, the moon of revelation arises in the Night of Melancholy.
The Moon is already rising at the end of Hymnus in Noctem. She ascends as a glorious bride; associated with her "enchantress-like" is the "dreadful presence of our Empress." A note by Chapman states that this alludes to Queen Elizabeth's "magicke authority." In the Hymnus in Cynthiam the magic moon has fully risen in her "all purging purity." She does not banish Saturn. On the contrary, Cynthia's chastity performs the same "adamantine" function as Saturn's sickle. Through a parallel between the castration of Saturn and the chastity of Cynthia, the Moon, the latter becomes identified with the Saturnian theme of the poem.
The greater part of the Hymnus in Cynthiam is taken up by the description of a shadowy hunt. The nymph Euthemia (Joy) takes the forms of wild beasts who draw after them a pack of hunting dogs. The names of the dogs are taken from the account of Comes' Actaeon fable, in which the dogs of Actaeon are moralized as the senses . In the shadow hunting, the dogs of the senses hunt after false joys. The hunt lasts during the Day, but ends when Night returns. Thus the dogs, or senses, are once again the evil forces of Day, sleeping in the Night of inspired Melancholy.
The moonlit visions of the Hymnus in Cynthiam belong to the politico-religious aspect of inspired melancholy, its aspirations after Saturnian golden ages, its messianic expectations . This prophetic grade of the inspired melancholy (the third in the Agrippa formulation) is brought into line with the cult of Queen Elizabeth I as the Virgin of the imperial reform. This part of the poem is full of Elizabeth symbolism, Elizabeth as virgin of the imperial reform such as I have analyzed in my book Astraea, the relevant parts of which I need not repeat here, though I will just mention the very definite link with the Elizabeth symbolism disclosed in the lines recalling the device of the Emperor Charles V that was constantly used of Elizabeth and her imperial reform:
Forme then, twixt two superior pillars framed
This tender building, Pax imperii named. . .
Here is the familiar image of the two columns of the famous imperial device used as the framework for the vision of Elizabeth as the Moon of the Empire to which Chapman's series of visions of the inspired melancholy have been leading.
She appears in bridal attire, as a mystic bride, and the portrait is full of recondite allusions. It has been described as "Queen Elizabeth in Occult attire." It may be suggested that the atmosphere of this portrait is similar to that evoked by Chapman in the third part of his poem, on the third stage of melancholy inspiration, in which he refers to Elizabeth as a "bride of brides" exercising a "magicke authority."
The discovery, as so I believe it to be, of the connections between Chapman's poem, The Shadow of Night, and Agrippa's analysis of inspired melancholy into three stages introduces a new dimension into the mysteries of Elizabethan symbolism and imagery. If this poem is inspired by Cornelius Agrippa on the inspired melancholy, and if its imagery is influenced by Diirer's presentation in imagery of Agrippa's theme -- then we have an altogether new source suggested for the themes and images of Elizabethan poets and dramatists. Chapman's poem is indeed of central importance for the Elizabethan age and its poetry, as has long been recognized, and many have been the efforts to discover its meaning.
One line of enquiry has suggested that Chapman may allude in his poem to the so-called "School of Night," perhaps a group of noblemen and their friends engaged in abstruse studies. The phrase "School of Night" is used by Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost. The King is taunting Berowne for loving a dark-complexioned woman. "What zeal what fury hath inspired thee now?" cries the King, who has surely recognized the furor of inspired melancholy in Berowne's words. A few lines later, the King criticizes Berowne's extravagant praise of "blackness," with the words
O paradox. Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeones and the school of night. . .
words which have been interpreted as referring to some group of students of the abstruse, of which Chapman was one.
However, I suggest that the new approach to Chapman's night imagery lifts it out of the world of personal allusion, or allusion to small cliques of courtiers and poets, into a larger European world -- the world, for example, of the Emperor Rudolf II, with its deep interest in the occult. Rudolf was a passionate admirer of the works of Dürer, and the tracing of a probable influence of Dürer's imagery on an important Elizabethan poet-George Chapman -- suggests the importance of influences from the imperial court on the Elizabethans.
These are very large questions, awaiting further enquiry. My concern in this lecture has been first of all with re-interpreting Dürer's engraving as alluding to the trance of melancholy inspiration, not to a depressed mood of failure; and secondly, with attempting to unravel the influence of Agrippa's definition of the stages of melancholy inspiration in other representations of this theme, and above all in Chapman's Shadow of Night.
These minute enquiries may lead eventually to far-reaching results, some of which I have suggested in my last book, where I argue that the occult philosophy of which Agrippa was such a notable exponent was a leading influence on the Elizabethan age, profoundly affecting the poets and their imagery.
What I have said here, and in my book, is obviously only a first attempt at breaking new ground. I leave these problems with you and with the scholars of the future.