Tuesday, June 27, 2006

(45) Nahuatl dates and playing cards

In El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights, the playing cards in the right panel might be a mnemonic for remembering Murner’s system. They also are part of a tavern scene, which is part of an explanation of the word tabernacle, and it was probably important that the ace of hearts was trampled in the dust. For the moment the most important thing is that an ordinary European deck of cards made a good ready-made model of the way a cycle of 52 years was recorded in Nahuatl picture writing. The sequence 1-Reed, 2-Flint, 3-House, 4-Rabbit could continue for 52 years without repetition following the same pattern as ace of hearts, two of diamonds, three of clubs, four of hearts, and so forth.
But the cards are also part of a crime scene, and along with the tally marks on the overturned table and the spilled wine they might be evidence of how a disturbance started. There might be disagreement over whether the fighting started after someone cheated at cards, or after too much drinking.

(44) Murner's memory system

In Murner’s system a picture could stand for a word without there being a logical connection between word and image, or much of a logical connection. Familiarity with such codes could have made it easier for Europeans to accept calendars where years were marked with a reed, flint, house, or rabbit.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

(43) Murner's memory system

More than anything else, some of the bizarre images in the hell scene resemble illustrations in textbooks. The Logica Memorativa contained instructions on how to cut out the illustrations and use them as flash cards for remembering the text. The half dog has to do with disjunct definitions of four types (a, b, c, and d).
In El Jardín de las Delicias/The Garden of Delights and probably also in the Logica Memorativa, it is also a joke about Plato’s definition of man as a featherless biped. Murner was a Franciscan, and it seems reasonably likely the dogs were also a joke about the Dominicans (domini canes).

Saturday, June 17, 2006

(42) Murner's memory system

The presence of recognizable memory system images does not necessarily make paintings easier to read.

Friday, June 16, 2006

(41) Murner's memory system

There were also memory systems consisting of packs of cards and instructions for using them. The cards shown here are from Thomas Murner’s Logica Memorativa.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

(40) hell scenes, codes, and memory

It is normal to find mnemonic images in hell scenes, whose purpose was to remind people of the consequences of things. The one in the corner of the Tabletop in the Museo del Prado includes the seven Vices, illustrated and labeled for easy memorization.
The collection of birds in The Garden of Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias looks as though it might come from a book of mnemonic images, although it has not been read as a coded message and might only be a mnemonic for remembering that such codes exist. In the mnemonic illustrated here, which could also be used as a code, A is anser (goose), b is bubo (owl), c is corvus (crow), d is draco (dragon), etc. This code is virtually identical to the radio code used by Navajo code talkers in World War II, where English words were alphabetized and then translated into Navajo. Such codes are difficult to decipher even if they are all in a European language.

(39) Nahuatl picture writing and memory

Like present day websites, European “artificial memory” mnemonic systems utilized both extremely orderly alphanumeric and geometrical systems, and bizarre or incongruous images. Either too much alphanumeric and geometrical organization or too many bizarre images could make a memory image difficult to navigate. They were usually used for memorizing concepts in theology, rhetoric, logic, or grammar, and the idea of compiling time lines including events recorded separately in different parts of the world had been around since Roman times. Censorship prevented publication of Nahuatl picture writing in European books in the sixteenth century, but in manuscripts from the colonial period, with only slight changes in format the hieroglyphs were similar to European “artificial memory” illustrations and often easier to read. Indians had more experience with systems combining numbers and pictures and an educational system based on teaching them.
The page at the right is from the Codex en Cruz, and begins with the same ten years (1519-28) as The Garden of Delights/El Jardín de las Delicias. The page at the left is from Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory (1966).