Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cantus Circaeus by Giordano Bruno

 Giordano Bruno (1548 - 1600)

Ouroboros Press   138 pages, woodcut illustrations.  Duodecimo (Twelvemo).  2009

Heretic Edition (why settle for anything less?)  Bound in full vellum over boards with 3 raised bands.  Limited to 300 copies (no limitation stated within).  Also available in cloth and goatskin editions.

Originally published in Paris in 1592, Canus Circaeus (The Incantations of Circe) is now available in English for the first time, thanks to Darius Klein's translation from the original Latin.  The book presents itself in three parts or dialogues: 'First Dialog between Circe and Moeris', 'Second Dialog the Art of Memory', and 'The Nolan's Other Art & Riddle'.  The first part is a dialog between the aforementioned Circe and Moeris.  It cleverly reveals planetary correspondences through conversation instead of the usual tables.  This section includes some interesting woodcuts originally from Das grosse, alteste, vollstandigste Aegyptischpersische Planetenbuch [1890] depicting the planetary gods/goddesses.  Each planet's section begins with its planetary symbol; however, the symbols for Venus and Mercury seem to be missing.  Either they are also curiously absent in the original text or this was a very minor editorial oversight.

* (Update) The editor has solved the mystery of the 'missing' planetary figures stating, "the symbols of the planets ... are meant to be ornaments on blank spaces in the text and are anticipatory marks [like old catchwords] to the planetary figures which are found on the pages following them.  The 'missing' Mercury & Venus were not necessary as the text flow did not require them."  Thank you for the explanation, Mr. Kiesel.  I had been curious about that one.

Following their planetary discussion, a gathering crowd is turned into animals.  Each transformation represents the people's faults and weaknesses as represented by a given animal: swine, apes, birds, and other beasts.  This leads to 33 questions about the nature of various animals and which human traits are symbolized therein.  Again, it's a creative way of presenting correspondences, only this time they're more totemic or therianthropic in nature.

The second dialog, 'The Art of Memory', is a conversation between Alberic and Borista.  It follows with a set of practices designed to elevate one's level of recall using various techniques such as forming mental images and mathematical arrangements. 

The last part, 'The Nolan's Other Art', is presented as a riddle.  It's very brief, but in essence it's a mini set of 24 correspondences: column, anvil, table, fire, etc, etc. (which can be further divided into subsets) that one can apply to the world.

The full vellum Heretic Edition is bound with incredible skill and attention to detail.   The title is gilt stamped in gold on a red leather label. The front and rear are gilt stamped with the Ouroboros logo. Vellum is notoriously hard to work with.  Thus, I have enormous respect for the folks at Ouroboros Press for even considering it -- even more so for pulling it off so beautifully.  The look and feel of the vellum is astounding.  Bone-white in color, it has a smooth natural grain and creamy texture somewhere between silk and suede, like holding a hairless little animal.  This gives the illusion of being delicate, yet vellum is one of the most durable binding materials there is.  This volume is likely to be around for a very long time.  A burgundy colored bookmark compliments like colored marbled endpapers.  To continue the animal analogy, the color and pattern of the endpapers looks remarkably like meat.  Pages are off-white color, sturdy weight, and uncut at the bottom.  This, combined with a well-chosen font lends to high readability.

As can be seen, this isn't a typical esoteric book. Cantus Circaeus reveals its mysteries though conversational narrative rather than procedures, enigmatic drawings, devotionals, or formulae.  It's likely this was intentional, as one had to be subtle and tread lightly in Bruno's day.  Unfortunately, even seemingly innocuous (even playful) esoteric 'conversations' didn't prevent Bruno from being branded a heretic and burned at the stake only eight years after its publication.

1 comment:

  1. I've just found your site recently, I've been reading your reviews.. having been a lifetime lover of Giordano Bruno.. I want to thank you for this review! Most of his writings are not in English, being that all I have is some basic understanding of Latin I'm excited to see this was printed and given the respect it deserves!