There’s a medieval illustration called the Hortus Deliciarum, or the Garden of the Luxuries, which shows the Seven Liberal Arts. It depicts the goddess Philosophy as a fountain of four streams at the center of the garden. Around the edges of her central lawn, seven smaller gardens each with their own circumambulating pathway, serve as vistas and gardens for the seven Liberal Arts.Today we’re concerned with Grammatica and her traditional tools: the book, and her scopae the Latin word for a broom or brush — who teaches with her voice what letters and syllables are.
Which is to say, that she is the mistress of words, phrases, the fine details of meaning, and the clean precision of language. Of late, we think that she sides with the fascists, but that’s really a misnomer — really, she wants you to think clearly about what was, what is, and what might be. There are rules which explain how to explain the past, and the present, and a broad range of possible futures. She would like you to sweep away the cobwebs of muddled thinking, and she would like you to use your words, please, all of them, in as many ways as you think are appropriate.
That might be difficult. That’s OK. It’s where we all begin. It’s said (though not shown here) that the key to the gate of the garden of the Liberal Arts hangs from Grammar’s belt — that the liberation which all seven promise together, begins with her graciousness when she unlocks the door. What you know, in a sense, begins with what words you know. And what words you know begins with the simplest ones.
A mere twenty-five words in the English language can be traced back in time through our parent languages to words that are twenty to fifty thousand years old:
- Man, Fire, I, Mother, flow, spit, This, we
- Pull, who, Give, Thou, Black, That, Hear, Ye
- Hand, Not, Bark, Old, Ashes, What, Worm
Grammar teaches us to divide them in numerous ways, and to think with them in various structures. First we consider them as parts of speech:
- Nouns — Man, Fire, I, Mother, spit, This, We, Thou, Who, Hand, Bark, Ashes, Worm
- Verbs — flow, spit, pull, give, hear, bark, hand, fire
- Adjectives — old, black, not
- Pronouns — I, this, we, thou, who, that, ye, what
We can then think about them in various forms of thought:
- statements: Man gives mother ashes.
- questions: Old Hand, hear thou fire?
- commands: Man, Pull! Spit black fire! We give ashes!
- complexity: Man who pulls worm, hear: give ashes and that black bark to old mother that spits, so that fire flows not in I.
The first is a statement of simplicity. The second is a practical question; the speaker asks the old non-relative if the burning forest fire is too close. The third is a directive, a command, a threat against a foe, to send death and ruin among opponents. The fourth statement seems to come from a would-be self-healer, cutting across time from an encampment ten thousand years ago: he directs a bystander pecking at the dirt to bring ash from the fire and a particular herb to the healer-woman, so she can make a medicine to calm the speaker’s fever.
Complete ideas can be expressed in remarkably few words. Complex needs can be expressed in a narrowly-conserved language.
It becomes possible to express complex and rich concepts in a narrow way, when one opens to Grammar’s teaching – when one learns to sweep each meaning carefully, as with a broom.
Man — fire not ashes, ye black worm. Give hand to this old mother of worms and bark and spit. Hear this flow of Fire, that worm of old spit, who pulls ashes into bark, and bark into fire. Fire in Old Mother gives man what spit he pulls, and gives worm what flow that pulls him through ashes. Hear, Man — That Fire in this Mother gives Fire to ye.
A good map to put on the walls of a memory palace, eh?
I’m going to be doing something on each of the seven liberal arts (and maybe the seven mechanical arts too), over the next few weeks.