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Geofroy Tory's Champ fleury in the context of the renaissance reconstruction of the Roman capital alphabet.

THE designer of this woodcut [Fig. 1], the Parisian scholar and printer Geofroy Tory, was one in a series of intellectuals and artists who, in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, invented the capital letter as we know it today. He is a link between Italian antiquarians of the fifteenth century, who first revived the antique Roman letterforms based on inscriptions from tombstones and ruined buildings, and the adaptation of those designs as typefaces for letterpress printing, on which he had a substantial, if indirect, influence. (1)

Yet Tory's crowning achievement, an artfully worded and lovingly illustrated linguistic and artistic handbook entitled Champ f Bury, has suffered for scholarly attention. The book attempts to resolve what Tory sees as a lack of explanation behind the geometric alphabetic construction pioneered in Italy. The result, a fearsome web of esoteric content and questionable assertions, is easier to dismiss than to address; Stanley Morison used the term "cabalistic abracadabra," and Tory's twentieth century biographer called it a "paradox ... maintained by arguments so ingenious, that one lacks courage to condemn it. (2)


Tory's goal is stated clearly enough throughout the book: he asserts the divine perfection of the letterforms in the alphabet, and derives from them lessons in moral rectitude. But Champ fleury's strangeness, and our modern difficulty in coming to terms with it, is a result of Tory's use of the fundamentally medieval tool of biblical exegesis to make sense of a Renaissance invention, the geometric construction of letterforms. He uses techniques rooted in medieval biblical scholarship and antique literary criticism to treat the alphabet itself as a text to be analyzed and interpreted. But rather than setting him apart from his Renaissance contemporaries, his words illuminate some of the influence of medieval thought on Renaissance artistic innovators.

I start off this paper with a brief introduction to the early revival of the Roman capital letter by Renaissance antiquarians. I will then discuss Geofroy Tory's background, introduce Champ fleury, and step through its exegetical content layer by layer. I conclude with notes on the historical roots of Tory's thought and their relevance to the Renaissance reconstruction of the Roman capital alphabet.


Our modern serif capital letter is based on Roman inscriptions from the first century AD, revived by Renaissance antiquarians who believed it to be aesthetically superior to epigraphic scripts then in use--mainly gothic--and more regular than early medieval (pre-gothic) majuscules. The early decades of the fifteenth century saw the beginnings of the revival of the antique Roman letterforms in Florence and Padua, notably in Ghiberti's and Donatello's sepulchral inscriptions, (1) Masaccio's paintings, (2) and, mid-century, Mantegna's Eremitani frescoes. (3) Andrea Mantegna, in particular, brought a new level of scholarship to the reproduction of these letters. But the bellwether, if not pioneer, of the developing revival of the Roman capital was Mantegna's fellow scholar, travel partner, and friend, Felice Feliciano, who formalized the first known geometric alphabetical construction.

Feliciano's 1460 manuscript, Alphabetum Romanum, now resides in the Vatican Library in Rome. (4) It comes with no introductory material and is laid out with a large letter on each page, accompanied by brief drawing instructions directly underneath. The letters are circumscribed by a circle and square, divided into ten units. The instructions repeatedly refer to construction with a compass and straightedge, and almost exclusively use the proportion of one to ten as a basis for measurement.

Feliciano appears to be the first of his contemporaries to have associated the geometric scaffold and Platonic numbers with the construction of the letters, and the contradictions that emerge when such rational theory conflicts with archeological evidence are notably clear in his work. Feliciano writes, "It was an old usage to form the letter from a circle and square ... this is what I, Felice Feliciano, found in old letters by making measurements. (5)

But despite Feliciano's insistence that his letters were measured from actual ruins, he actually distorted a number of letterforms to fit into the square and circle scaffold. (1) Feliciano's alphabet partially reflects the whims and vicissitudes of a creative thinker (2) but the underlying tension between rational geometric construction--Feliciano's implicit definition of a single, canonical alphabet--and the facts of uncovered ancient epigraphy continue to define the Renaissance construction of the letter.

The Roman block capital quickly gained popularity among Italian artists, craftsmen, and architects towards the end of the fifteenth century, in part due to Leon Battista Alberti's monumental and highly public inscription on the facade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, which shows a conceptual similarity to Feliciano's work. (3) From this point forward, practical handbooks for geometric construction would be published every year or two and circulated throughout Italy in manuscript or wood-block printing. (4)

The next synthesis of mathematics, architecture, and lettering appeared in an encyclopedic text written by the Franciscan monk Luca Pacioli in 1498, De diving proportione. Pacioli was a practical mathematician, known not for his originality but rather for his ability to compile and assemble. But as he refined the square-and-circle construction in De Divina Proportione, (5) some of the spirituality of the Renaissance conception of Platonic number and philosophy came through. His alphabet is a visual realization of Platonic numeric correspondences and geometric relationships, released from the strict reliance on archeological example still visible in Feliciano's manuscript and Alberti's earlier work.

Given the overwhelming acceptance of the principle of geometric construction among Renaissance humanists, it is remarkable that nobody seemed concerned with the origin of this theoretical underpinning. Pacioli gestures at Vitruvius, Feliciano, and "the ancients," and Alberti offers not a word. This might have been a consequence of easy circulation of ideas by word of mouth in the tight intellectual circles of Padua and Florence, leaving little written trace of their development. So it was finally Geofroy Tory, a foreigner, thoroughly steeped in the humanist tradition but distanced from the intellectual frenzy of Italy, who broke the by then derivative mold of the alphabetic treatise to publish a document questioning the origin and meaning of this theoretical construct.


Champ fleury, published in Paris in 1529, was Geofroy Tory's final publication. (1) Framed as a polemic on proper usage of the French language, it has as its centerpiece a geometric alphabetical construction. But what makes Champ fleury unique among these alphabetic treatises is Tory's attempt to explicate the meaning--the "ancient allegory"--behind the letterforms themselves.

Geofroy Tory's academic education appears to bring him up to the task. Born in 1480 in the provincial capital of Berry, Tory immediately followed his university education with an extended trip to Italy. He studied at the small but cosmopolitan humanist university La Sapienza in Rome, and attended the lectures of Filippo Beroaldo, an eminent Latin scholar, in Bologna. He then returned to Paris, serving as a professor at the College of Plessis for four years before embarking on his ultimate career as an editor and printer. (2) Tory's work, accordingly, calls upon an impressive catalogue of Latin and occasionally Greek texts. Nor does Tory limit himself to the antique canon; his willingness to cite writers from all historical periods, medieval and late antique included, stands in contrast to the Renaissance focus on the antique as an exclusive historical source.

Tory's erudition was matched by his audacity. He had taken it upon himself to promote the use of the French vernacular language over academic Latin, and was responsible for introducing the set of French accents and the cedilla in order to foster proper diction. (3) Champ fleury itself is a two-pronged attempt to improve French rhetoric, both written and oral. And to potential critics, Tory leaves a warning:
   I can see lying in ambush someone who would gladly find fault, and
   would strive to injure me if he could, but who, fearing lest, if he
   should show himself, I should instantly put him to silence by
   piercing his tongue with my trustworthy compass, and beating him
   with my unerring rule, will hold his peace, methinks. (4)

Tory's arrogant and questionable logic makes it very difficult to come to terms with his legacy. Champ fleury does indeed invite a profound skepticism of both the manic breadth of Tory's sources and the reasoning behind his conclusions. However, there are historical bases for the methods he chooses, and Tory's "paradox" actually represents an exaggeration of strains of thought already latent in Renaissance humanist circles.

On a visual level, Tory's letterforms differ only superficially from those of his predecessor, Luca Pacioli. (1) They are based on the square and circle construction, with the additional element of an orthogonal grid imposed behind the letter. They all can be built with a compass and straightedge. But Tory notes that his Italian contemporaries show little interest into the reasons for these geometric constraints. He writes, "Frere Lucas Paciol ... who has essayed to draw the Attic letters, says nothing about them, nor gives explanations.... Nor does Sigismund Fante, a noble Ferrarian, who teaches how to write many sorts of letters, give explanations; and the like is true of Messire Ludovico Vincentino" (p. 34). (2)

Frustrated by the lack of reasoning or research accompanying the geometric alphabetical construction (save an occasional offhand reference to Vitruvius or aesthetic appeal), Tory sets himself apart by documenting a search for an underlying meaning. He writes, "I have found no author, Greek or Latin or French, who has written or drawn these things as I have now done. I make them only the better to set forth the meaning, the secret, and the allegory of the Ancients" (p. 42).

Fundamental to this search is the presumption of a single, canonical alphabetic archetype: a static and harmonious set. (3) While he admits that the alphabet is a human "invention," he insists that
   knowledge and inspiration of letters comes to us from Heaven and
   from God; that these letters are so closely akin and so nearly
   connected that they all have a share in each other; likewise the
   Sciences, and consequently the Virtues. (p. 67)

This is the thesis of Champ fleury. Tory calls upon the medieval tradition of biblical exegesis to divine the significances of the shapes and proportions of the letters, and to see in them proof of the existence of God.

The title of the work is a good compass to introduce us to Tory's world. Literally, the French Champ fleury means "flowery fields," or, as Tory later describes, "the vast fields of poesy and rhetoric, full of fair and wholesome and sweet-smelling flowers of speech" (p. xxiii). This striking metaphor possibly refers to a collection of poetry published by Tory's contemporary, Antoine Verard, around 1501, entitled Le jardin de plaisance et fleur de rhetorique (The garden of pleasure and the flowers of rhetoric) (1) The flowers in this work represent knowledge awaiting contemplation, and Tory uses similar imagery when he describes variations of the letters in Champ f Bury, noting that "when the flowers and violets are in all their vigour and beauty, I see that in a garden some pluck, for their pleasure, a lovely red rose or a white one, others a wall-flower or a pretty violet ... so in like manner you can use Hebrew letters, or Greek, or Latin" (p.161). Throughout the book he equates well-formed letters with broader knowledge: he chose a title indicating the wealth of knowledge he offers to those inclined to pluck it. As the scholar Gustave Cohen notes, Champ fleury could also refer to camp flori, a poetic idiom for Paradise in thirteenth-century French verse. (2) So, more pertinently, Tory presents knowledge of "well-formed letters" as the path to Heaven and moral virtue. Demonstrating this connection preoccupies him for most of Champ fleury.

Tory is not the first to write about divinity and morality, and he finds inspiration for his writing style in medieval biblical exegesis, the allegorical reading of biblical texts. A core tool of exegesis is associating meaning across gulfs of context. The process is fundamentally based on a conception of a universe with an underlying unity; the idea that every symbol in every story contributes its intertwined meanings to the unity and beauty of the whole of Creation. (3) For the biblical exegete like Tory, a similarity in content, even in the absence of historical association, is sufficient evidence to assert a factual and meaningful link.

During the upheaval of paganism and the spread of Christianity after the fall of Rome in the fourth century, allegory proved a powerful tool, dominating late antique biblical scholarship. Christian and pagan scholars also applied the process to literature, particularly the revered Roman poet Virgil. These techniques lived on in allegorical art throughout the early middle ages, and regained their popularity in literature and monastic scholasticism in the twelfth century. Christ-affirming allegorical interpretations would remain a hallmark of biblical exegesis from then on. In Tory's work, we can see both the methodology and the unbridled enthusiasm of medieval biblical scholars engaged in this style of reading.

A popular framework for understanding allegory has come to us from antiquity, and, though it was by no means universal, it can help guide us through Tory's wandering interpretation of the geometric alphabetical construction. It involves four levels of allegorical meaning: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical ("leading upward," or referring directly to salvation). Dante best explains:

This mode of treatment, for its better manifestation, maybe considered in this verse: "When Israel came out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech, Judaea became his sanctification, Israel his power."
   For if we inspect the letter alone the departure of the children of
   Israel from Egypt in the time of Moses is presented to us; if the
   allegory, our redemption wrought by Christ; if the moral sense, the
   conversion of the soul from the grief and misery of sin to the
   taste of grace is presented to us; if the anagogical, the departure
   of the holy soul from the slavery of this corruption to the liberty
   of eternal glory is presented to us. (1)

These four levels of meaning, each more specific than the next, can guide us in sorting through Tory's interpretations of the alphabetical forms in Champ f Bury, and understanding how he treats the letterforms themselves as text. In the allegorical style of literary critics of pre-Christian antiquity and the Middle Ages, Tory analyzes concrete details of construction such as the stroke-ratio, the shapes of serifs and the positioning of cross-bars, with the goal of exposing the connected meanings of the alphabet, and thereby proving its divine origins. While he constantly reminds us that it is he, the author, who is laying down these comparisons, he remains equally firm that the connections do exist in an absolute sense.

Tory's first allegorical interpretation is a sort of a creation myth for the alphabet, comparing it to the Greek myth of Io, which was known in the Middle Ages through the poetry of Ovid, (2) and in the Renaissance by Boccaccio's treatise De genealogia deorum (The genealogy of the gods)." (3) To briefly summarize: Io, a young Greek maiden, falls prey to Jupiter's amorous advances, but Jupiter is forced to transform the girl into a cow to conceal her from his jealous wife. After a brief imprisonment, the cow-shaped Io is rescued by the god Mercury, and, coming to a local farmer, proves her humanity by tracing the letters I and 52 [Omega] her name, into the earth.


Seeing in these letters a parallel for the square and circle in the alphabetical forms, Tory finds a meaning for the geometric construction partly in this myth by emphasizing the subsidiary importance of the name Io in the story. Referring to their similarities to the basic geometric shapes, Tory attributes these two letters, I and O, as being the foundations from which the rest of the alphabet was constructed. (4) He writes, "the A is made from the I alone. The B is made from the I, and from the O divided ... and in like manner all other letters are made either from one of these two, or from both together, as I shall show hereafter, and shall prove, with our Lord's assistance, by figure and proportion" (p. 22). In diagram, he shows how this transformation can graphically take place [Fig. 2].

Tory further allegorizes the fable in order to explain his own interpretation of the meaning of the letters:
   Argus ... signifies those who, of their rudeness and evil
   knowledge, persecute goodly letters and learning with their wicked,
   sterile, and crude teaching.... In the hands of such men, knowledge
   is in durance and is not fed on the sweet herbs of grammar, or on
   flowers of rhetoric, but on the rough bark of barbarism....

   Mercury ... will be interpreted here as the man who is diligent in
   seeking the purity of all goodly letters and true knowledge, by
   employing for the better instruction of others both his spoken and
   written words, and quelling and putting to shame the inveterate
   barbarisms of the unlearned. (p. 21)




Tory's background, philosophy, and purpose in writing Champ fleury are all elaborated here. Mercury is portrayed, much as Tory viewed himself, as an ideal reader and student: an enlightened scholar seeking to apply his knowledge of letters and the arts and sciences for the good of humankind. Tory's consistent conflation of "goodly letters and true knowledge" implies a tacit connection.

Tory illustrated the link between the letterforms and knowledge most clearly with two diagrams depicting the letter I paired with the nine Greek Muses, agents of creative inspiration that are often associated with the sciences, and the letter O paired with the seven Liberal Arts, a construction of medieval scholars [Figs. 3-4-]. He explains that

the nine Muses were created by the ancients to signify covertly as many methods for those who seek to acquire knowledge.... I make these two diagrams the better to confirm what I have written above, and to show how the good Ancients were so virtuous that they were desirous to establish in the designs of their letters all perfection and harmony. (p. 39)

Tory's superimposition of the Greek Muses and Liberal Arts upon the form of the letter is an innovative move. Having seen the connections between the letterforms and a set of morals or values, and having explained them in writing, Tory also found it convenient to demonstrate this relationship visually, synthesizing sets of meanings into an explanatory drawing which is a creative product itself. This expositional diagram uses the dimensions of the letters, juxtaposed with the number of Liberal Arts, to show how the arts and sciences latently exist within the forms of the letter. By discovering them and illustrating them so, Tory saw himself as revealing the secret of their eternal existence to the reader. The I is ten units high; there are nine Muses and one associated god Apollo. The relationships in proportion and form, for Tory, was evidence enough that the Muses were embedded in the meaning of the alphabet.

Tory begins to address the letterforms themselves in allegory when he explains his basic geometric scaffold. Each writer of an alphabetical construction up to Pacioli had chosen a particular stroke-width ratio; Tory chose 1:10, explaining that the number ten matched the sum of the nine Muses and their Apollo. (1) His frame consisted of a grid of ten by ten squares, an inscribed circle, and two diagonal lines across the square frame, all in agreement with well-established precedent in alphabet design. Tory's first original move was to overlay on this grid the stretched-out figure of a man, recalling earlier illustrations of Vitruvius' ten books on architecture [Fig. 5]. While the square-and-circle construction of Feliciano alluded to this Vitruvian arrangement, Tory was the first to make this literal reference absolutely clear in the context of an alphabet.




Expanding the scale of his comparison of the letters and human proportion, Tory shows the relationship between the grid and the proportions of the human face [Figs. 6-7], he comments on a few of the correlations between the letterforms and the human face, pointing out, for instance, that "the human face adapts itself to the division, and the division to it. The pupil of the eyes, placed upon the central horizontal line, proves to us what I have said above, that every letter having a joint should have it exactly upon the said central line, and not anywhere else" (p. 53). (2)

The Muses and Liberal arts reappear at this point, with the addition of the four cardinal virtues--justice, strength, prudence and moderation-in several diagrams of the face and body. They show, for Tory, that the letters, to
   be thoroughly designed and made, require, through Justice, careful
   attention to their height and breadth, according to their shape;
   through Prudence, the use of rule and compasses; through Force, a
   constant and obstinate persistence in dividing and measuring them
   and giving them their due proportions; through Moderation, a
   certain discretion in placing them between the two chief
   equidistant lines.

Here, both in textual interpretation and in an explanatory diagram, Tory compares the construction of the letters to the form of the human face and body and to the moral virtues of man. (3)

Another shift in scale leads Tory to compare the letterforms to architectural figures, making the allusion to Alberti's comparisons between the proportions of humans and buildings strikingly clear [Fig. 8]. Tory argues that the "A represents the gable end of the house ... the aspirate H represents the body of the house ... built stoutly... to avoid the violence of high winds" (p. 49). Likewise, the K represents a straight staircase, the S a spiral one. Furthermore, he shows how the shapes of the letterforms could conceivably provide a floor plan for a gallery space, or a hall or theatre (p. 51) (1)

Tory's architectural studies culminate in a single page which synthesizes many of these architectural elements into a diagram of a small church. The letters in this image actually take their places in the church's structure. Additionally, several small construction lines are added in significant places: one directly above the letter A, indicating a cross at the precise spot that it would appear on a country church, and three others on the right-hand side, representing the architectural detail of a chimney. All of these creative elements are, like the previous allegorical interpretations, aimed at showing us the perfect harmony of these letters, "that our said Attic letters need to be so logically made that they may be conscious in themselves, instinctively, of all due proportion and of the art of architecture" (p. 49).

While we have only begun to explore the rich and winding path of meaning that Tory weaves through the alphabetical forms, we have experienced a taste of the breadth and enthusiasm with which Tory searches for meaning through the process of comparison, and how he conflates the knowledge of well-formed letters with knowledge of the arts and sciences. Coupled with these academic associations are moral and religious significances. References to the four Cardinal Virtues, the three Graces, or the pursuit of virtue all show how Tory sees the road to literacy and well-formed letters and the road to virtue itself as entirely coincident. As Tory nears the end of the alphabetical sequence, reaching the uniquely charged letter Y, he comes to an opportunity to combine his formal and literary sensitivities in setting forth this ultimate lesson of Champ fleury [Fig. 1].

The letter Y has been associated with Pythagoras since antiquity. (2) It has been said to have been invented by the Greek philosopher, who allegedly believed that it represented the forked path of the choice between virtue and vice. An epigram by the minor Latin poet Maximinus has preserved this association to the present:
   The letter of Pythagoras, which is divided into two horns, Shows us
   in its shape the course of our mortal life; Inasmuch as the noble
   path of Virtue stretches away on the right side, In such wise that
   at the beginning it is narrow and very difficult, But at the end,
   and above, it widens and affords space for repose. The other road,
   which is broad, offers a very easy passage, But at the end there is
   much stumbling Over many a sharp stone, huge rock, and steep cliff.
   Of a surety he who shall endure heat and cold, And such matters, to
   reach the side of Virtue, Shall acquire all praise and all honour.

   But he who like a sluggard shall follow every sort of idleness and
      riotous living,
   Whilst unthinkingly he shuns all toil and labour,
   He is all bemused that he remains infamous, poor, and wicked, And
   that he has passed his time wretchedly and employed it ill. (1)


Tory quotes this verse in his explanation of the letter Y, mistakenly attributing it to Virgil. (2) The distinction between this allegorical interpretation and others, like the Virgilian flageolet discussed earlier, is that this letter illustrates the path of the reader towards the moral achievement of virtue and honor; it allegorizes every man's choice between heaven and hell. Tory teaches this lesson with two pedagogic images showing the journey to heaven and hell, represented by the form of the letter Y.

In the first diagram, Tory hangs on the broad road of pleasure "a sword, a scourge, rod, a gibbet and a flame, to show that at the end of Pleasure wait and follow all lamentable ills and grievous torments," illustrating even for the densest reader the consequences of moral choice, as pictured by the fork in the letter Y. To depict the alternatives to vice, he festoons the narrower road of Virtue, the right-hand form of the letter Y, with "a laurel wreath, palm leaves, a scepter, and a crown, to give it to be known and understood that from Virtue proceed all pure glory, all reward, all honor, and all royal preeminence" (p.152). (3) In the second explanatory diagram, which deserves close examination, Tory vividly portrays the dangers involved in the path to virtue, explicitly alluding to Dante's Divine Comedy,' alongside the temptations of vice and consequent fires of Hell [Fig. 9].

In this illustration, Tory seems to follow Dante's lead from the Inferno, illuminating for the reader the difficult path to heaven. He writes,
   look well to it, therefore, O ye young children, and leave not
   behind you the knowledge of well-made letters-the true buckler
   against adversity and all ills, and the means to attain to the
   supreme felicity of this mortal life, which is perfect virtue.

This purpose is visible throughout the book. In his perspective drawing of Virgil's flute, it can be seen in the caption "Virgil's Flute, in perspective, and morality" (p. 43). Likewise, the four cardinal Virtues bordering the superimposition of the human face upon the Vitruvian grid are meant to represent this synonymity. When Tory writes that the letters require "through Moderation, a certain discretion in placing them between the two chief equidistant lines, (1) he is comparing the reader's placement of those letters to the reader's adequate demonstration of the virtue of Moderation. And so on through several examples throughout the alphabetical construction, through the Pythagorean Y, until he reaches the final letter and so must bring the moral choice, once overcome, to its conclusion in the letter Z [see cover]. He writes, describing a final synthetic diagram of almost all the allegorical materials covered so far,
   I can say that the worthy ancient fathers covertly and purposely
   placed this as the last letter in alphabetical order, to indicate
   that those who are perfectly accomplished and learned in well-made
   letters are inspectors and sovereign judges of the revenue and of
   the knowledge of the seven Liberal Arts and of the nine Muses,
   without knowledge of whom man can be neither learned nor
   perfect.... We find there in shortened perspective nine steps, as
   of a ladder ... these steps signify in allegory the upward path to
   beatitude. (p.155)

The caption crowning the image reads in Latin, roughly, as "And to each, himself, virtue is the most valuable treasure of all." (2) Like Dante, Tory has concluded his alphabetical allegory with the anagogical meaning, the "upward path to beatitude," and his story, representing the path of the reader along his own moral trajectory, shows in a visual exposition this ultimate direction.

Tory teases out two anagogical interpretations from the alphabet, each referring the reader to ultimate spiritual salvation. His first poetic metaphor is the golden chain of the chief Greek god Jupiter, drawn from Homer's Iliad, which Tory uses to draw the conclusion that "the knowledge and inspiration of letters comes to us from Heaven and from God; that these letters are so closely akin and so nearly connected that they all have a share in each other; likewise the Sciences, and consequently the Virtues" (p. 67). (3)

On the surface this phrase is not so different from explanations we have gone through previously; it shows the synchronistic relationship of all aspects of letterform, knowledge and virtue, illustrated in Tory's explanatory diagrams. Until this point, Tory has shown the relationship between the letterforms and certain divine attributes, and has shown how the quest for the right letters can be compared to the quest for moral rectitude. But in regard to Jupiter's chain, he asserts something different. He uses the words "comes to us from Heaven," instead of the customary phrases, "knowledgeable reader," or "lover of well-formed letters." The fact that he has "adapted the Homeric chain of gold to our model letter I" is intended to assert that the letterform set is itself heaven-sent, that it is in itself a kind of biblical text (p. 71).

This anagogical understanding is sharpened by Tory's second metaphor, the golden bough from Virgil's Aeneid [Fig. 10]. (1) Tory employs the image of the golden bough to represent the arts and sciences, writing, "this beautiful golden bough, like Homer's golden chain, signifies Learning, and its leaves, which are three-and-twenty in number, are the three-and-twenty letters of the Alphabet." (2)

This is a different kind of allegorical interpretation than we saw in the expositional Y. Whereas in the Y the letterform itself formed the moral tale, an allegory illustrating the journey of man towards virtue, here, the golden bough, representing that virtue and knowledge and, by Tory's extension, the alphabet, is the object of that search. Instead of representing the path of virtue, and allegorizing the journey of the reader towards heaven, here the knowledge of the alphabet, encapsulated in the metaphor of the Virgilian golden bough, is virtue itself.

In the Aeneid, the golden bough performs the same function. Aeneas picks up the bough before starting on his journey through the underworld, and, once he passes through, and finds himself at the gates of the Elysian Fields, must lay down this bough to be admitted. (3) In Tory's interpretation of the tale, the golden bough is Aeneas' key to the afterlife:
   he who shall succeed in finding it in the great forest of the
   miseries of this world and in the valleys thereof, he is an Aeneas,
   that is to say, a man of great qualities and worthy of all praise
   ... seeking the said golden bough that he might go down into the
   dark places of profound meditation upon the vices and virtues of
   this mortal life. (p. 68)

This alphabetical branch of the letters, arts, sciences, virtues and graces, amidst its multitude of other meanings, is Tory's key to heaven, his path to the flowery fields of Champ fleury.

Once Tory's treatment of the alphabet as a biblical text-a divine source of moral guidance--is understood, his techniques can be firmly rooted in the traditions of late antique literary criticism and medieval biblical scholarship. These traditions did not die in the birth of humanism but were readily available and even pervasive throughout Renaissance Europe. Tory employs many of these methods of allegorical interpretation and explanatory diagrams, some inspired by ancient Platonism, in his version of the constructed alphabet.

Tory's telling misattribution of the allegorical epigram of the letter Y to Virgil pinpoints medieval literary commentary as the source for Tory's style of exegesis. This mistake was not Tory's, but rather was initially made by Servius, a fifth century Roman writer whose popular commentary on the works of Virgil was a standard academic supplement to the original poetry. (1) We do know that Virgil indulged in a veiled autobiography in his Bucolics, a series of poems illustrating an ideal pastoral life, giving little indication of which passages were to be read literally and which carried additional meaning. In Servius' age, critics often erred enthusiastically on the side of the latter; though Servius shows remarkable restraint in comparison to his peers, he is not immune to the temptation towards tenuous allegorical interpretation. For instance, in his commentary on the first Eclogue, Servius reads Tityrus as standing for the autobiographical Virgil, and further explains the pine trees as representing Rome, the fountains as poets or senators, and the shrubs as grammarians. (2) His influence on Tory is clear.


This constant discovery of meaning and allusion in Virgil's works may have made an exaggerated conception of his wisdom inevitable. (3) Acclamation of the poet comes to a height in the Saturnalia, a commentary written by Macrobius, the fifth-century Roman Neoplatonic philosopher. Macrobins' cast of characters systematically expounds on Virgil's "authority in every branch of learning"; weak opposition is promptly and resoundingly refuted. (4)

Tory seems to agree; he expresses throughout Champ fleury an abiding belief that Virgil is privy to the ancient secrets he is uncovering, on occasion calling the poet "king of all good Latin poets and philosophers" (p. 41). This generosity reveals a general willingness to exaggerate in praise characteristic of the late antique literary criticism exemplified in the commentaries of Servius and Macrobius. (5) He uses overblown language to conflate what he approves of with what is universally good, which might explain his ability to acknowledge the human and historical origins of the alphabet while still maintaining its divine perfection.

Tory draws another of his most important rhetorical tools, Neoplatonic number symbolism, from Macrobius. Numbers were given great import in ancient Greek philosophy, but Neoplatonists like Macrobius in the fourth and fifth centuries merged the Platonic belief in a world of forms with newer esoteric traditions of numerology and mysticism, including the revived cult of Pythagoras. (6) Numbers took on a mystical meaning in addition to their mathematical value. This assignment of meaning and symbolism to number can be seen in the writings of both Macrobius and Tory. In the middle of his analysis of the Virgilian flute, Tory writes,

see, therefore, how in shapely letters the worthy Ancients made use of the even and odd numbers, as Virgil did in the first book of his Aeneid, when he said: "O thrice and four times blessed!" (p. 40) (1)

The reference to "even and odd numbers" alludes to a more nuanced idea which Tory grazes, but never clearly explains. Elsewhere in Champ fleury, Tory does quote Macrobius on this matter, writing,

the odd number, as Macrobius says in the first book of De Saturnalibus, represents the male, and the even number the female, which means that, as by the conjunction of male and female man is engendered, so by the conjunction of letters syllables are made, and by the conjunction of syllables, words. (p. 27) (2)

The split of the integers into even and odd to represent female and male had great significance to Macrobius and the Neoplatonists; Tory does little more than point it out. (3) Macrobius's commentaries, a basic source to medieval scholars, enabled the transmission of Platonic doctrine to the Renaissance. Through him, Geofroy Tory was able to place nuggets of its ideas in Champ fleury.

Tory's second allusion, his remark on the meaning of Virgil's phrase "thrice and four times blessed," has a long history. (4) Macrobius writes that Virgil used the phrase "when he wished to express that men were fully blessed in all respects." (5) The usage connects Virgil with the symbolically charged number seven. Tory's comparison of odd and even numbers to the seven Liberal Arts and nine Muses plus Apollo is similar to Macrobius' analysis of the lifespan of the central character in Dream of Scipio:
   ... the two numbers which, when multiplied with each other,
   determine the life span of the courageous Scipio, the one is even,
   the other odd. indeed, that is truly perfect which is begotten from
   a union of these numbers. An odd number is called male and an even
   female ... accordingly we are given to understand that these two
   numbers, I mean seven and eight, which combine to make up the
   lifespan of a consummate statesman, have alone been judged suitable
   for producing the World-Soul, for there can be no higher perfection
   than the Creator. (1)

Tory and Macrobius indulge in the same type of search for numerical analogy, but whereas Macrobius looked at the ancient texts themselves, Tory searches for meaning in the alphabet as a text. In an illustrative example, he explains the significance of the total number of letters in the alphabet, referring the reader to the Aeneid,
   where, as I have quoted, Virgil introduces the Sibyl counselling
   Aeneas to seek the golden bough, and he will find that the Poet
   wittingly and covertly makes her speak in three-and-twenty
   verses.... Thus, then, in the said Golden Bough of Virgil are
   comprised and covertly suggested the nine Muses, the seven Liberal
   Arts, the four Cardinal Virtues, and the three Graces, which make
   the full number of the three-and-twenty letters of the Alphabet.

The Neoplatonic analytical technique of associating mystical meaning with number and quantity is evident here, merged with Tory's interpretation of the alphabet as a kind of text.

In these examples the influence of pagan antique Neoplatonism on Tory's thought is at its clearest. However, these techniques were also transmitted to the Renaissance through religious channels. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in his treatise The City of God, which in many ways set and clarified early Christianity's attitudes towards its pagan roots, shows us one of these indirect paths by which Platonic philosophy passed through to the Tory and the Renaissance as a whole. In contrast to explicit literary commentary like the Saturnalia, which cites, quotes, or at least demonstrates a debt to the past, religious expositions like The City of God assimilate these historical viewpoints. The transfer of ideas through medieval religious channels is fluid and communal, when compared to the transmission of philosophical thought through antique literary criticism.

For example, Augustine remarks in a letter to a friend, "we affirm the existence of anything only in so far as it continues and is one (in consequence of which, unity is the condition essential to beauty in every form)." (3) His usage of "unity" refers to a purely spiritual world very similar to Plato's world of forms, yet the Greek philosopher goes unmentioned. (4) The evolution of Platonic thought through Christian theology reveals a distinct continuity from antiquity to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, (5) which appears as a parallel thread in Tory's rhetorical techniques in Champ fleury.

Tory shows his reliance on the medieval religious tradition with his use of visual synthetic expositions for moral exegesis. These graphic constructions (for instance, his construction of the Virgilian flute) draw many features from the medieval technique of artistic and architectural allegory in biblical scholarship. The organizational techniques that Tory uses in his explanatory diagrams are rooted in the ancient rhetorical technique of memory devices.

Memory has traditionally been considered an aspect of rhetoric, but Quintilian and Aristotle have additionally associated memory with ethics, (1) and Cicero categorizes memory as an aspect of prudence, one of what would become the four cardinal virtues. (2) These ethical associations caught the interest of the early church father St. Augustine, (3) and are relevant to understanding Tory's moralizing illustrations.

Visual memory aids for moral education took recognizable shape in the twelfth century, when scholar Hugh of Saint Victor wrote the first medieval discussion of memory that created an organization on the manuscript page. (4) Hugh of St. Victor classifies the three methods of mental ordering as number, location, and occasion, and he places the items to be remembered along the axes of the page: horizontal and vertical. Already we see the roots of Tory's style of moral exposition: for example, when, in Tory's Vitruvian grid, he places the nine Muses in order from top to bottom, or when, in his figure of the human face, he places the four cardinal virtues on each corner.

In the mid-twelfth century, a change took place, and we start to see architectural or visual designs being designed to accompany a text, rather than simply illustrating written description. Hugh of Saint Victor, for example, created a vision of Noah's ark in which the three dimensions represented time, the volume of scripture, and the sum of all believers of Christ. (1) In a set of spiritual handbooks known as the "towers of virtue" textual foundations are rendered in creatively drawn architectural expositions incorporating aspects of both visual allegory and mnemonic aids. (2) Many themes that would develop in Tory's work can be seen developing in these monastic visual allegories. One such feature is an alphabetical sequence guiding the reader through the moral allegory of the image; another is the organization of those allegories along the visual axes of the drawing.

Renaissance and medieval illustrations alike were invented visual expositions of textual precepts--in Tory's case, the imagined meanings of the form of the Roman alphabet. The conclusion of Tory's alphabet, his illustration of the letter Z, illustrates all of these points, and, in fact, shows a striking formal similarity to medieval expositions like the tower of virtue. The liberal arts and muses, representing the arts and sciences respectively, are organized in ascending order along the horizontal and vertical axes of the image, related to specific points on the ten by ten Vitruvian grid. Steps, literally carved into the letterform, mark a path for the reader through the organized grid, a path that could easily serve as a mnemonic aid for the spiritual content within. Furthermore, even exposure to this path, a public service that Tory is so diligently performing, could lead the observer to greater virtue. And finally, the image is capped with its moral message: that virtue itself is the greatest treasure awarded to the one who fulfills this path.

Tory's fantastic visual constructions, seemingly so out of place in their context in the Italian Renaissance, are really rooted in the tradition of medieval biblical exegesis and late antique literary criticism. Tory would not have seen it this way; just as he had divested the subjects of his allegory from their place in history, he applied analytical techniques without conception of the context in which those tools were used. His approach is fundamentally medieval for the very reason that it disavows historical context. This can start to explain the pervading strangeness that results when Tory wraps the Renaissance alphabetical construction, which is reliant on an awareness of history, with a medieval conflation of ideas purely based on their content, a technique marked by its disregard of historical sensitivity and context in time.


Tory's exegesis of the form of the Renaissance alphabet, merging the approaches to allegory of late antique literary criticism and of medieval visual exposition, is a notable point in an larger contemporary movement. Feliciano, with the very first alphabetical construction, had just begun this game of imparting meaning upon a vocabulary of shape, proportion, and form.

Using the principles of the square and circle, abstract ideas that he imagined had played a role in the construction of the Roman letterforms, Feliciano had proceeded to construct an alphabet of his own, a fantasy of design that replaced the archaeological forms that he was allegedly imitating. The square and circle, for Tory and for his Renaissance contemporaries, represented the fundamental presupposition that the rules of the universe are based on geometry and that the ancients, knowing this truth, imbued their letters with that knowledge. Feliciano took this powerful idea, one that might be called secular but during the Renaissance edged on spirituality, and used it as the basis for his alphabetical construction, which was the first visual representation of those ideas. This ideal of the square and circle was then buried, implicit, in the form of the letters, and nobody spoke of it in writing again.

Tory, while continuing the path that Feliciano had set out by refining the square and circle construction, was not satisfied with, or even sensitive to, the implicit Platonic philosophy that it represented. Rather, he already felt a need to impart an explicit meaning into the letterforms. In doing so, he revived the literary technique of reading and interpreting allegory to fill in and behind the forms with content of his own, validated by his process of comparative association. Just as Macrobius had recast Virgil to suit his convictions, Tory recast the forms of the alphabet handed down to him for his own pedagogical purposes.

But, in the case of the alphabetical construction, Tory interpreted what was in part his own design: work that, like Feliciano and the anonymous author of the tower of virtue, Tory had synthesized according to textual principles. Furthermore, Tory used this technique of synthetic visual exposition to illustrate the meaning that he himself imagined. His application of a fundamentally medieval conceptual toolset to a uniquely Renaissance form was an attempt to discover, in the sense of invention and of detection, a divine content in the formal construction of the geometric alphabet.

Ultimately, all of Tory's analogies, connections and syllogisms circle around this one essential point: that the alphabet was a harmonic whole, that every detail was connected, and that connection was summarized by a unity represented by the essential figures of geometry, the square and circle. This was Tory's answer to the question of why the letterforms looked the way they did; it was the same conviction that had inspired many Renaissance artists, architects and philosophers in their manifold pursuits.

What makes Tory's answer unique is the language in which it is veiled, language that is so wrapped in the Christian tradition of allegory that it seems foreign to the modern conception of the Renaissance, during which it was in fact occasionally suppressed. (1) In doing so, Tory illuminates an essential continuity between the medieval Christian artistic tradition, with its explicit allegorical content, and the Renaissance theory of architectural design, with its implicit platonic doctrine of geometry as a channel for "harmonization with the cosmos."

Renaissance builders perceived the power of geometry as very real. Wittkower speaks best for them, describing the Renaissance attitude towards geometric building techniques in churches as tapping into a "vital force which lies behind all matter and binds the universe together. Without such sympathy between the microcosm of man and the macrocosm of God, prayer cannot be effective." (1) Luca Pacioli agrees, writing that prayer and divine functions are of little value if the church has not been built "with correct proportion "I These comments represent a hope fostered by philosophy, a firmly-held belief in the tangible power of a geometric approach to architecture as a conduit to the cosmos.

The same critical framework can be applied to moral content in biblical allegory, specifically as Tory presents it. As an author, Tory's task, like that of Dante as a poet, is to help guide the reader towards virtue. Dante, in the very beginning of his Inferno, writes as a man gone astray:
   Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood,
   for the right way had been missed. Ah! how hard a thing it is to
   tell what this wild and rough and dense wood was. (3)

Like Dante, Tory, in ending his introduction to Champ fleury, offers a path through these woods of confusion:
   I pray you, let us all enhearten one another, and bestir ourselves
   to purify it [our tongue]. All things have had a beginning. When
   one shall have treated of the letters, and another of the vowels, a
   third will appear, who will explain the words, and then will come
   still another, who will set in order the fine discourse. Thus we
   shall find that, little by little, we shall traverse the long road,
   and shall come to the vast fields of poesy and rhetoric, full of
   fair and wholesome and sweet-smelling flowers of speech, and can
   say downrightly and easily whatsoever we wish. (p. xxiii)

This passage shows the functional instruction and the spiritual guidance that Champ fleury offers, conflated by Tory's vivid imagination: fine oratory and persuasive speech, legible and well-formed characters, proper spelling and orthography, and moral purification, all achievable through the vehicle of artistic lettering. It is this union of allegorical pedagogy with the reinvention of the Roman capital alphabet that makes Champ fleury a fascinating artifact of a transitional period in Western history.

The author would like to thank Christopher S. Wood and Mark Bauer for their invaluable guidance, and Eva Wrightson at the Art of the Book collection at Yale for her support.

(1.) Auguste Bernard, Tory's biographer, writes that Simon de Colines and Claude Garamond, two prominent French printers and punch-cutters, were both students of Geofroy Tory; however, further scholarship has indicated that Bernard likely had no grounds for this claim. Tory, the first Frenchman to attempt a design of a Roman alphabet, had a wide indirect influence, but traces of any direct influence are scarce. Garamond, in particular, was unlikely to have had more than a passing acquaintance with Tory's models. See Auguste Bernard, Geofroy Tory, Painter and Engraver, First Royal Printer, Reformer of Orthography and Typography under Francois L An Account of His Life and Works, trans. George B. Ives (Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press, 1909), and Nicolas Barker, "The Aldine Roman in Paris, 1530-1534," The Library 5th ser., 29 (1974): 10.

(2.) Bernard, p.15.

(1.) Giovanni Mardersteig, "Leon Battista Alberti and the Revival of the Roman Inscriptional Letter in the Fifteenth Century," Typography Papers, no. 6 (2005): 50.

(2.) Dario Covi, "Lettering in the Inscriptions of 15th Century Florentine Paintings," Renaissance News 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1954): 48.

(3.) Giuseppe Fiocco, The Frescoes of Mantegna in the Eremitani Church, Padua (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1978), p. 40.

(4.) Codex Vat. Lat. 6852. Mardersteig estimates the date based on a close contextual analysis of Feliciano's wording. See his introduction to Felice Feliciano, Alphabetum Romanum, ed. Giovanni Mardersteig, trans. R. H. Boothroyd (Verona: Officina Bodoni,1960), p. 38.

(5.) Felice Feliciano, Alphabetum Romanum, translated instructions placed under the letter A.

(1.) For example, the letters D, N, and K are stretched out of proportion to occupy the entire square, and the H is squeezed to fit into a half-square. Also, curves on the O, P, and other rounded characters bulge inaccurately as a result of Feliciano's insistence on widening the strokes by a unit of one-tenth.

(2.) Feliciano was known to be a colorful and eccentric character, dabbling in alchemy and printing. See James Wardrop, The Script of Humanism: Some Aspects of Humanistic Script (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 16.

(3.) Mardersteig finds several striking similarities between Alberti's inscription on Santa Maria Novella and Feliciano's alphabet: their basis on the square and circle construction, an uncommon T with two inward-turning serifs, a narrow H, and others. He also suggests that Alberti may have met Feliciano personally. See Mardersteig, "Leon Battista Alberti and the Revival of the Roman Inscriptional Letter in the Fifteenth Century," pp. 56-61.

(4.) The first printed treatise on the construction of letters was executed in 1483 by Damiano Da Moyle in Parma. Sigismondo Fanti (1514), Francesco Torniello (1517), Giovanni Baptista Verini (c. 1527) all produced alphabetical constructions that were circulated in printed editions. See Giovanni Mardersteig's introduction to Alphabetum Romanum, p. 57. Others followed, and by the 1530s, woodcut printing of alphabetical treatises had spread to Belgium. See Mario Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), p. 54.

(5.) Pacioli may have learned the technique from Leon Batista Alberti. He had been in contact with Alberti since his youth and actually lived in Alberti's house in Rome during the last year of the architect's life. See R. Emmet Taylor, Luca Pacioli and his Times (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942), p. 91.

(1.) Tory's other publications included an edition of Alberti's On Architecture in 1512 and a generously illustrated Book of Hours in 1525, and many other printed and illustrated works. See A. F. Johnson, "Geofroy Tory." The Fleuron 6 (1928): 37-66.

(2.) Bernard, p. 3.

(3.) Gustave Cohen's introduction to Geofroy Tory, Champ fleury (Paris: Charles Bosse, 1931), p. xiv. Cohen notes the following sources: Brunot Ferd, Histoire de la langue francaise (Paris: Colin, 1906), and Charles Beaulieux, Les accents et autres signes auxiliares dans la langue francaise (Paris: Champion, 1927), pp. 24-25. A. F. Johnson (pp. 62-66) notes that these innovations alone "mark him as a man of original ideas" among his contemporaries.

(4.) Geofroy Tory, Champ fleury, trans. George B. Ives (New York: Dover Publications, 1967) [a reprint of New York: Grolier Club, 1927], p. 3. Originally published in Paris in 1529. Subsequent quotations from Champ fleury can be found in this edition.

(1.) Matthew Carter writes that Tory's letters "fall short of the perfection he so sententiously claimed for them," but adds, "the prominent serifs--less pure in their geometry than Pacioli's, and all the better for it--make these letters vigorous and stylish in spite of imperfections." See Carter, "Theories of Letterform Construction," Printing History, nos. 26-27 (1991-92): 7-15.

(2.) All those he mentions had previously published alphabetical handbooks.

(3.) Tory, pp. 13-14. Tory shows a grasp of the geography of the transmission of the letterform, from Phoenicia to Greece to Rome, also noting that "as to the invention of letters, there are different opinions." He shows no difficulty reconciling this knowledge with his conception of a single canonical alphabet.

(1.) Published in facsimile by the Societe de Anc. Textes Francais (lglo). See Gustave Cohen's introduction to Champ fleury, p. viii.

(2.) It appears, for instance, in the metrical romance Floire et Blancheflor, which was popular throughout Western Europe. Floire et Blancheflor, first verse, 781. See Geofroy , Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue francaise, complement, 9:629, cols. a and b.

(3.) D. W. Robertson, A Preface to Chaucer (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962), p.136.

(1.) Dante Alighieri, "Epistola X," in A Translation of the Latin Works of Dante Alighieri, trans. A. G. Ferrers Howell and Philip H. Wicksteed (London: Dent, 1904), pp. 343-68. Verse in first sentence quoted from Psalm 114:1-2.

(2.) Ovid, Metamorphoses, I.719-943.

(3.) Boccaccio's Genealogia deorum has not been translated into English, but for a general reference, see Cornelia C. Coulter, "The Genealogy of the Gods," in Vassar Mediaeval Studies, ed. Christabel Forsyth Fiske (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1923), pp. 317-41.

(4.) Tory uses the short form O (Omicron), instead of [Omega] (Omega), noting simply that the rounder form fits in better with his scheme. See Tory, p. 42.

(1.) The number ten has been privileged throughout history; Tory does occasionally mention other reasons why selects the ratio of 1:10. For instance, on p. 66 he quotes Horace, who remarked that "things ten times repeated will give you great pleasure." He also makes reference to Pythagoras's consideration of the number ten as perfect, attributing it to "the Ancient Fathers" (p. 65). This idea was repeated in Vitruvius and later Alberti's De re aedificatoria, one of many sources where Tory may have come across this idea.

(2.) Elsewhere he suggests that the crossbar of the letter A, which is lower than the crossbars of other letters, is so in order to cover the genitalia of the male body over which the letter is superimposed (p. 48).

(3.) Tory will emphasize this point in an anatomical diagram entitled "Lhomme letre" ("letter-man"), which shows that the virtues and the organs of the human body are related in and of themselves (see Tory, p. 57). This diagram is important because he leaves the bounds of the letterform entirely, pursuing the more traditional Platonic correspondence of the human body to the divine.

(1.) This usage of symbolism in the ground plan is strikingly similar to the design of Gothic cathedrals, which, in plan, resembled the cruciform shape. In fact, it also curiously echoes Alberti's methodology. In On the Art of Building, Alberti describes a method for constructing columnal ornamentation using permutations of the shapes of the letters L, S, and C in a very literal way. See Alberti, VI.6, pp. 204-05, and Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing, p. 124.

(2.) Richard Upsher Smith, Jr., "The Pythagorean Letter and Virgil's Golden Bough," Dionysius 18 (2000): 8.

(1.) The original poem by Maximinus can be found in Poetae Latini minores by Emil Baehrens, IV.148 (quoted in Tory, p. 151).

(2.) As we shall discuss later, this mistake is not an error on Tory's part, but is attributable to his source, Servius. See Domenico Comparetti, Vergil in the Middle Ages, trans. E. F. M. Benecke (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1966), p. 58.

(3.) This last phrase could veil an autobiographical reference, as Tory by that time had achieved a certain "royal preeminence" for himself, as the official printer of the French monarch.

(4.) Tory places along the right-hand path to Virtue three dangerous beasts, first a leopard, then a lion, then a wolf, exactly mirroring the procession Dante faces in the first canto of the Inferno. Dante writes, "and almost where the hillside starts to rise--look there!--a leopard, very quick and lithe, a leopard covered with a spotted hide," and, a few lines later, "but hope was hardly able to prevent the fear I felt when I beheld a lion." Finally, "and then a she-wolf showed herself; she seemed to carry every craving in her leanness" (Inferno, I.31-4,9).

(1.) Tory, p. 53.

(2.) Trans. Brian Noell.

(3.) See Iliad, VIII.19-23, trans. Butler: "Hangs me a golden chain from heaven, and lay hold of it all of you, gods and goddesses together--tug as you will, you will not drag Jove the supreme counsellor from heaven to earth."

(1.) Aeneid, VI.200-15, trans. Fitzgerald.

(2.) Tory follows this up with a brief analysis of Sybil's counsel to Aeneas. He argues that Virgil made Sybil's speech last "three-and-twenty verses; which number [Virgil] made to correspond covertly to the three-and-twenty letters of the Alphabet, without which one can acquire neither learning nor perfect virtue." See Tory, p. 68.

(3.) Sybil says, "no one may enter hidden depths below the earth unless he picks this bough, the tree's fruit, with its foliage of gold" (Aeneid, VI.205-07, trans. Fitzgerald). Richard Upsher Smith, Jr. argues that the golden bough and the Pythagorean Y are actually complementary symbols in Virgil's original text.

(1.) Comparetti, p. 58.

(2.) Comparetti, p. 60.

(3.) In various parts of his commentary, Servius notes Virgil's extraordinary knowledge, writing in one case that "all Vergil is full of wisdom." See Servius's commentary on Book VI of the Aeneid.

(4.) Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.16.12.

(5.) But he also uses this style of extravagant praise in his commendation of contemporaries.

He writes, referring to two French authors Pierre de Sainct Cloct and Jehan Linevelois, "I think that, if they had lived ... today, they would have surpassed all Greek and Latin writers. They have, I say, in their compositions the perfect gift of every grace in flowers of rhetoric and ancient poesy" (Tory, p. 9). And, praising a French draftsman Simon Hayeneufve, he sings, "therefore, let us without pretense consecrate and dedicate his name to immortality, declaring him to be a second Vitruvius, a holy man and good Christian" (Tory, p. 37).

(6.) Neoplatonism in the Renaissance is one of many topics covered in Jean Selznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art, trans. Barbara F. Sessions. New York: Pantheon Books, 1953. Charles Trinkaus presents a critical point of view, commenting that Protagoras, one of the most important Neoplatonic writers, was most often used to support already existing theories; his true intentions may not have been completely understood. See Trinkaus, "Protagoras in the Renaissance: An Explanation," in Philosophy and Humanism: Renaissance Essays in Honor ofPaulOskarKristeller, ed. E. P. Mahoney (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976), pp. 190-214.

(1.) I have translated the Latin "O terque quaterque beati!" as it appears in Tory, into English.

(2.) The text he is referring to is not actually a part of the Saturnalia but rather a separate commentary on Cicero's The Dream of Scipio: a portion of his work De re publica, which was based, in part, on Plato's Republic.

(3.) William Stahl, translator of the Commentary, refers the reader to F. E. Robbins, "Arithmetic in Philo Judaeus," Classical Philology 26 (1931): 351. Cf. Saturnalia, p. 99.

(4.) See Aeneid, 1.94. The phrase is actually originally found in the Odyssey, V.306, used in a similar context, and was first assigned meaning by Pseudo-Iamblichus, a Pythagorean (Stahl, Saturnalia, p.108).

(5.) Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, I.6.42.

(1.) Macrobius, Saturnalia, I.6.1-7, p. 100.

(2.) Excluding J, U, and W, which in 1529 had not yet been added to the Roman alphabet. See Tory, p. 68

(3.) St. Augustine, Letter 18 (The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1). Noted by V. Zoubov, "Leon Battista Alberti et les auteurs du moyen-age" Medieval and Renaissance Studies 4 (1958): 258.

(4.) Augustine was in fact highly indebted to Platonic philosophy, particularly the Timaeus. He spent a significant portion of his youth as a member of the Manichaen sect before converting to Christianity, and held the Enneads of Plotinus, a Neoplatonist, in high regard. See R. W. Dyson, "Introduction to The City of God," in Augustine's The City of God against the Pagans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(5.) Though literary allegory survived through the Middle Ages primarily in a religious scholarly setting, as just illustrated, Tory also shows familiarity with the technique of allegory in secular and religious poetry, prevalent in France and England. For more information, see Christiania Whitehead's Castles of the Mind: A Study of Medieval Architectural Allegory (Cardiff. University of Wales Press, 2003). Also note that the title Champ fleury refers to a French secular poem.

(1.) The earliest known usage of the technique of the "memory palace" appears in an anonymous manuscript Rhetorica ad herennium, from 86 to 82 BC. Cicero briefly mentions it in his On the Ideal Orator. Quintilian, a century later, is the first to explicitly set the technique in a classical villa. See Quintilian, Institutio oratia, trans. H. E. Butler (Loeb Classical Library, 1920), XL2.18-20. Aristotle notes in the Nichomachean Ethics that the memory of virtuous acts in childhood will dispose one to virtuous acts in the present. See Whitehead, p. 29.

(2.) Cicero, De inventione, trans. C. D. Yonge, 2.53. See Francis Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966). Noted by Whitehead, p. 29.

(3.) Trained as a rhetoric teacher, Augustine was exposed to the classical picture of memory as a "large and boundless inner hall" (Augustine, Confessions, trans. Oudler, 1.10.8), but in his early autobiography he already envisions it as a site of holiness as well, asking, "in which part of my memory are you present, O Lord? ... What sanctuary have you built there for yourself?" (Augustine, Confessions, trans. O'Donnell, 1.10.8). He marvels throughout this portion of the Confessions at the astonishing capacity of memory and compares it to the omniscience of God himself.

(4.) Memory aids were revived in the twelfth century, when increasing knowledge and a renewed emphasis on public speaking, especially among the Dominican order, led to a rediscovery of mnemonic techniques and the publication of new treatises on memory. See Yates, p. 84, and William M. Green, "Hugh of Saint Victor, De tribes maximis circumstantiis gestorum," Speculum 18 (1943): 484-93. Noted by Whitehead, p. 33.

(1.) Hugh of Saint Victor, De arca Noe morali. See Whitehead, p. 43.

(2.) Speculum Theologiae, Beinecke Library (Yale University), M S 416.

(1.) Macrobius was in fact an influence on Alberti, but by preferentially citing newly translated classical authors like Plato, Alberti could "antiquate" his treatise, making it more appealing and impressive to contemporary readers. Alberti also omitted Macrobius' name when copying from the commentator various quotations of Laberius and Thucydides. See Zoubov, p. 247.

(1.) Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 27..

(2.) Luca Pacioli, Summa de arithmetica (Venice, 1494), dist. VI, tract. 1, artic. 2.

(3.) Inferno, I.1-5.

GABE SMEDRESMAN is a researcher and developer of design software. He studied architecture and computer science at Yale University.
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