The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 11



Then my interpreter said: "Now I will lead you among the philosophers, whose work it is to remedy the deficiencies of men, and to show wherein true wisdom consisteth." Then I said: "Here, at least I shall, thank God, learn something certain." He said: "Assuredly, for these are men who know the truth of everything; without their knowledge neither does heaven do anything nor the abyss conceal anything; they nobly guide the lives of men to virtue; they enlighten communities and lands. They have God for a friend, and by means of their wisdom penetrate His mysteries." "Let us go," I said; "let us go among them as soon as possible." But when he led me there, and I saw a large number of old men and their wondrous follies, I was amazed. There I beheld Bion sitting down quietly; there Anacharsis walked to and fro, Thales flew, Hesiod ploughed, Plato hunted in the skies for ideas, Homer sang, Aristotle disputed, Pythagoras was silent, Epimenides slept, Archimedes moved the earth,[1] Solon wrote laws and Galen prescriptions, Euclid measured the hall, Kleobulus inquired into the future, Periander measured out their duties to men, Pittacus warred, Bias begged, Epictetus served, Seneca praised poverty while surrounded by tons of gold, Socrates informed everyone that he knew nothing; Xenophon, on the contrary, promised to teach everyone everything; Diogenes, peeping out of a tub, insulted all who passed by; Timon cursed all, Democritus laughed at all this; Heraclitus, on the other hand, cried; Zeno fasted, Epicure feasted; Anaxarchus said that all things were nothing in reality, but only appeared to exist. Of other little philosophers there were many, and each one endeavoured to prove something particular; and I did not remember everything, nor do I wish to be reminded of it all. Pondering over this, I said: "These, then, are the wise men, the lights of the world. Alas, alas! I had hoped for other things; here, as peasants in a tavern, each one screams, and each one differently." The interpreter said to me: "Thou art a fool; thou dost not understand these mysteries." Then behold, some one stepped up to us, also in the garb of a philosopher (he was called Paul of Tarsus) and he said into mine ear: "If anyone thinks himself wise in this world, let him first be simple, so that he may become wise. Assuredly the wisdom of this world is folly before God. For it is written: 'The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain'" (1. Cor. chap. iii., verse 20). But as I saw from this speech that it agreed with what my eyes and ears saw and heard, I willingly acquiesced in this, and "Let us go elsewhere," I said. My interpreter then blamed my folly, for that, though able to learn something from these wise men, I yet fled them. None the less I silently went my way.

(The Pilgrim comes among the Grammarians.)

2. And we entered into a lecture-room which, behold, was full of men, young and old, who with pencils drew letters, lines and points; and if one wrote down a thing or pronounced it differently from another, they either derided one another or quarrelled. Then they placed words on the walls, and disputed about them as to which one should precede the other; and then they composed, disposed, and transplaced them in various fashions. And wondering at this, and seeing no meaning in it, I said: "These are childish things; let us go elsewhere."

(Among the Rhetoricians.)

3. We then came to another hall, where, behold, many stood holding brushes, and they discussed as to how words either written or spoken into the air could be coloured green, red, black, white, or whatever colour a man might wish. And I asked what was the purpose of this. I was told in answer that it was done that the brains of the listeners might be coloured in this fashion or that. I again said: "Is it for portraying truth or lies that they use these colours?" The interpreter answers: "It is as it happens." "Then there is here as much falsehood and vanity as truth and profit," say I; and I go from there.

(Among the Poets.)

4. Then we arrive elsewhere, and behold, here was a troop of agile young men who were weighing syllables on balances, and measuring them by the span, rejoicing meanwhile, and skipping round them. And I marvelled what this was, and the interpreter said to me: "Of all the arts that spring from letters, none is more skilful or gayer than this." "And what, then, is it?" quoth I. He answered: "That which cannot be said in simple speech can be expressed in these their compositions." But seeing that those who were learning this art of composing words looked into certain books, I look also, and see names such as "De Culice," "De Passere," "De Lesbia," "De Priapo," "De Arte Armandi," "Metamorphoses," "Encomia," "Satyræ," and generally farces, poems, love passages, and amatory trifling of every sort. Then was I again disgusted with the whole matter; particularly when I saw that whoever flattered these measurers of syllables, him they endeavoured in every fashion to further. But if one was not agreeable to them, at him they threw sneers from all directions, so that they used their art only either to flatter or to sting. Having now remarked what passionate folk they were, I gladly turned away from them.

(Among the Logicians.)

5. Then proceeding onward, we enter another building where they manufactured and sold spyglasses. I asked: "What is this?" The answer was that these were "Notiones secundæ," and that he who had them perceived everything, not superficially only, but also to the innermost core; particularly one man could see into the brain of another and sift his mind. And many came forward and purchased these glasses, and masters taught them how to fasten them on, and, if necessary, how to turn them. The masters, then, who made them were peculiar in this, that they had their workshops in remote corners. But they did not make them uniform; one made small, another large ones, one round, the other square ones, and each one praised his own wares and enticed the buyers, and they quarrelled implacably, and pelted one another. Some purchased glasses from all the dealers and placed them on their noses; others chose only one and fixed it on. Then some said that they yet could not see far; others said they could see, and showed each other their innermost brain and intellect. But I saw that of these not a few, when they began to step forward, fell over stones and blocks or into pits (of such things, as I have already said, there were many). And I asked: "How, then, is it that though everything can be seen through these spectacles, they yet do not avoid such shocks?" It was answered me that this was the fault, not of the spectacles, but of those who knew not how to use them. The masters then said it was not sufficient to have the spectacles of dialectics, but that the view must also be cleared by a clear eye-salve composed of physics and mathematics; therefore should these proceed to other lecture-rooms and strengthen their eyesight. And I to my guides: "Let us also go there." But I did not succeed in this before, induced by Searchall, I had procured and fastened on some of these spectacles. And it seemed to me that it was true that I saw somewhat more, and that some things could be viewed in divers fashions. But I continually insisted that we should proceed so that I might try the eye-salve of which they spoke.

(Among the Natural Philosophers.)

6. And we proceeded, and they led me to a square, in the middle of which I see a large wide-spreading tree on which grew sundry leaves and sundry fruits (all, as it were, in the shell); they told me that this was Nature. Round it there was a crowd of philosophers examining it, and expounding to one another how each of the branches, leaves, and fruits should be named. And I said: "I hear that these men learn how to name things, but that they comprehend Nature I do not as yet see." The interpreter answered me: "Not everyone can be able to do that; but look at these." And I saw some who broke off branches, unrolled the leaves and fruit, and when they came to the nuts, gnawed at them till their teeth shook; but they said that they thus broke the shells, and, picking them up, boasted that they had obtained the kernel; and they showed it secretly to some, but only to few. But taking a careful view of them, I saw clearly that they had, indeed, broken and crushed the outward rind and bark, but that the hardest shell in which the kernel lay embedded was intact. Then seeing here also vain ostentation and idle striving (for some, indeed, stared till their eyes pained them, and gnawed till they broke their teeth), I proposed that we should go elsewhere.

(Among the Metaphysicians—Unum verum bonum.—P. Ramus.)[2]

7. Then we enter another hall, and behold here, these philosophical gentlemen—having before them cows, donkeys, wolves, serpents, and various wild animals, birds and reptiles, as well as wood, stones, water, fire, clouds, stars and planets, and even angels—disputed as to how each creature could be deprived of that which distinguished it from the others, so that all should become similar; and they took from them first the shape, then the material, at last all accessories, so that at last the mere ens remained. And then they disputed as to whether all things were one and the same, whether all things are verily that which they are; and they asked each other more questions such as these. Noticing this, some began to wonder, and to tell how high human wit had risen, so that it was able to surpass all creatures, and to divest all corporal things of their corporality. At last I also began to delight in these subtleties. But then, one rising up declared that such things were mere phantasies, and they should desist from them. And he drew some away with him; but others, again, arose and condemned him as a heretic, saying that he separated men from philosophy, which is the highest knowledge, and, as it were, the head "artium." And after listening sufficiently to these disputes, I went away from this spot.

(Among the Arithmeticians.)

8. And proceeding on our way, we come among some who dwelt in a hall full of ciphers, and shifted them carefully. Some took a few from the lot and placed them differently; others, again, collected these separate portions into one; others, again, divided them and spread them out, so that I wondered at this their work. Meanwhile, they said that in all philosophy there was no knowledge more certain than theirs. Here, they said, there could be no mistakes, no errors, no superfluity. "What, then, is the purpose of this science?" I said. They, wondering at my stupidity, began one after the other to tell me marvellous tales. One said he could tell me how many geese were flying in a flock without counting them; another said he could tell in how many hours a cistern, flowing out through five pipes, would empty itself. A third man said he could tell me how many "groschen" I had in my pouch without looking at it, and so forth. Then at last one appeared who undertook to count the sands of the sea, and immediately wrote a book about this (Archimedes). Another, following his example (but endeavouring to show more subtlety), busied himself with counting the atoms of dust that fly in the sun (Euclid). And I was amazed; and they, trying to assist me in understanding this, said these men had laws called "regulæ trium, societatis, alligationis, falsi." These things I but dimly understood. But when they wanted to teach me the deepest of all, which was called Algebra or Cossa,[3] I saw such a heap of weird and crooked writings that giddiness nearly overcame me, and shutting my eyes, I begged that I might be led elsewhere.

(Among the Geometricians.)

9. And we come to another lecture-room, over which was written, "Ουδεις ἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω," and stopping, I said: "Shall we be allowed to enter here, for they admit only geometricians?" "Go on, none the less," said Impudence, and we entered; and behold, there were many there who drew lines, hooks, crosses, circles, squares, and points, each one quietly and apart from the others. Then one walked up to another, and showed what he had drawn. One said that it should be different, and another that it was well done; and they disputed about this. But if one found some new line or hook, he exulted with joy, and calling the others together, showed it them. These then wondered, turned their fingers and heads round, and each returning to his own corner endeavoured to fashion something similar. One succeeded, but another did not, so that the whole hall, the floor, the walls, and the ceiling were full of lines, and they did not allow anyone to tread on them or to touch them.

(Præcipua apud geometras controversia de quadrando circulo. John Scaliger[4]John Clavius.[5])

10. Those who were the most learned among them assembled in the middle of the hall and strove at something with great labour; and then I saw that all the others waited with open mouths; and there was much talk as to this being more wondrous than any subtlety in the whole world; were it but discovered, they said, nothing would any longer be impossible. Now I, desirous to know what this was, stepped up to them and saw that they had between them a circle, and the question was how a square could be fashioned out of it. And when they had striven at this with inexpressible labour, they again stepped apart, advising one another to meditate further on the matter. Then, after a short while, one suddenly jumped up, crying: "I have; I have discovered the mystery; I have!" And they all crowded round him, hastening to see and to wonder. And he carried a large book in folio, which he showed them; and there were cries and exulting, such as is usual after a victory. But another man soon stopped these rejoicings. He cried out as largely as his voice did permit, that they should not allow themselves to be deceived, and that what was shown them was not a square. He then placed a yet larger book before them, turned all the supposed squares again into circles, and mightily strove to prove that it was impossible for any man to carry out what the other man had attempted. Then all hung down their heads, and returned to their lines and to their books.

(Among the Land Surveyors.)

11. We then come to another hall, where they sold fingers, spans, yards, fathoms, scales, measures, levers, cranes, vices, and other such instruments; and the place was full of those who measured and weighed. Others, again, measured the hall itself; and almost everyone measured it differently. Then they quarrelled and measured afresh. Some measured a shadow, as to its length, width, and breadth; others also weighed it in a balance. They said generally that there was nothing in this world nor out of it which they were unable to measure rightly. But having watched this their craft for some time, I observed that there was more boasting than use. Therefore, shaking my head, I proceeded elsewhere.

(Among the Musicians.)

12. And we come to another chamber which, as I perceive, was full of music and song, and strumming, and the sound of divers instruments; and there were some who stood around, who looked from above, from below, and inclined their ears, wishing to discover what the sound was, where it was, whence and whereto it came, why it was sometimes in tune and sometimes not. Some said that they already knew this, and they rejoiced, saying that it was something divine, and a mystery greater than all mysteries; therefore they drew these things asunder, placed them together, and then transposed them with great pleasure and rejoicing. But in this but one of a thousand was successful; the others merely looked on. Then if one attempted to employ his hands also at such endeavours, then all creaked and scraped; and this befell me also. Then when I saw that some who appeared to be men of value held all this to be but toying and waste of time, I went elsewhere.

(Among the Astronomers.)

13. Then Impudence led me up some steps to what appeared a gallery. There I saw a crowd of men who were making ladders, and setting them up unto the sky; they then crawled up and caught at the stars, and spread over them strings, levels, rulers, weights and compasses; and they measured their courses. Then some, sitting down, wrote rules concerning such matters as to where, and when, and how stars must meet or diverge. And I wondered at the boldness of these people who dared thus to raise themselves, and to give orders to the stars; then, finding taste in this noble science, I also began strenuously to catch at the stars. But when I had but slightly busied myself with such endeavours, I clearly saw that the stars by no means danced in accordance with the fiddles[6] of these men. They indeed remarked this themselves, and named the "anomalitatem cœli" as the cause of the evil. They endeavoured to place the stars in order; now this way, now that. They even changed their places, tossing some downward toward the earth, while they raised others upward. Generally, they thus and by other means imagined "Hypotheses," but nothing verily seemed to avail.

(Among the Astrologers.)

14. Then some no longer climbed thus upward; rather did they, gazing from below, study what the constellations were. They then arranged triangles, quadrangles, hexagons, conjunctions, oppositions, and other aspects;[7] by means of these they predicted, either publicly to the world or privately to certain persons, fortune or misfortune; wrote prognostics, and distributed them among the people. Hence sometimes fear and terror arose among the people, sometimes gaiety; for some heeded them not, threw the prognostics into a corner, mocked the astrologers, saying that even without prognostics one could eat enough, drink enough, sleep enough. But it did not seem to me fitting to heed so one-sided a judgment, if but the art itself was a true one. But the more I watched them, the less certainty did I perceive. If one prediction came true, five again proved false. Understanding now that, even without stars, guessing is easy, and that guessing rightly obtains praise, and that guessing wrongly is excused, I considered it vain to be delayed by such matters.

(Among the Historians.)

15. And we enter yet another square, where, behold, I see something new. For there stood here some who had certain curved, bent trumpets; one end of these they pressed over their eyes, while they placed the other across their shoulders on to their backs. When I asked what this was, the interpreter said that these things were eye-glasses, with which one could see behind one's back. "For," quoth he, "one who wishes to be a man must see not only that which is before his feet, but he must heed also that which is passed and is behind his back, so that he may from the past learn the present and the future." And I, thinking that this was a new thing (for assuredly I knew not before of such crooked eye-glasses), begged one of the men to lend me his instrument for a short time that I might gaze through it; and some gave them to me, and oh, monstrous thing! through each one the view was different. Through one something appeared distant, through another the same thing appeared close; through one it appeared in this, through another in that, colour; again, through a third this thing appeared not at all. Thus did I ascertain that there was nothing here that I could rely on; nor was it certain that anything was really as it appeared, and not coloured before the eyes according to the fashion in which the eye-glasses were fitted on. But I saw that each one of these men trusted his own instrument thoroughly; thence arose much dispute on many matters, and this pleased me not.

(Among the Moralists and Politicians.)

16. When they now begin to lead me elsewhere, I ask: "Will there not soon be an end of all these learned men; for already I feel weary and anxious from moving about among them." "The best yet remaineth," said Impudence. And we enter a certain hall that was full of pictures; those on one side were pretty and very delightful, but those on the other side of the hall were ugly and misshapen. Philosophers walked round the pictures, not only looking at them, but also, by means of colours, adding to the beauty of some and to the ugliness of others. And I asked, "What is this?" The interpreter answered: "Dost thou then not see the inscriptions on their foreheads?" And leading me nearer he showed me inscriptions, such as Fortitudo, Temperantia, Justitia, Concordia, Regnum, and so forth; and on the other side, Superbia, Gula, Libido, Discordia, Tyrannis, and so forth. The philosophers then begged and beseeched all who came near them to love the pretty pictures and to hate the ugly ones; and they praised the ones as much as they could, while they abused and blamed the others as much as they could. This pleased me well, and I said: "Now do I here, at least, find some who have wrought something that is worthy of the race of men." But meanwhile, I perceive that these dear admonishers took no greater interest in the beautiful pictures than in the others, and, indeed, feared them less than they did the beautiful ones; some, indeed, approached the ugly ones with great pleasure, and others beholding this, also turned towards them, and began to trifle and make merry with these monsters. And I said, with wrath: "Here, then, I see that folk (as Æsop's wolf said) say one thing and do another; what their mouth praises, from that their mind flies; and that which their tongue abhors, to that their heart inclines." "I presume, then, that thou seekest angels among men," said the interpreter chidingly. "Will anything, then, anywhere please thee? Everywhere thou findest but wrong." Then I was silent and hung down my head, particularly as I saw that all the others also, who perceived that I watched them, gazed at me with disfavour. And leaving them there, I went outside.

  1. An obvious allusion to Archimedes' well-known remark to Hiero, which in the Latin version runs thus: "Da mihi punctum et terram movebo."
  2. Ramus or La Ramée, the well-known French philosopher, born 1515, killed in Paris on St. Bartholomew's Day (1572). Komensky greatly valued his writings, as being opposed to the teaching of Aristotle.
  3. From the Italian word "cosa," which the Italian mathematicians of the sixteenth century used to designate the unknown quantity.
  4. Besides his better-known philological work, John Justus Scaliger studied mathematics and algebra.
  5. Clavius—a Jesuit—was famous as a mathematician and astronomer. He was consulted by Pope Gregory XIII., when that pope established the calendar that bears his name.
  6. A proverbial expression in Bohemia.
  7. Terms of mediæval astrology. The relative positions of the planets, the sun, and the moon in the zodiac were called aspects, and it was believed that the fates of men could be ascertained through them.