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Liberal Arts Education by and for Women

May this book be useful and delightful to you … May you never cease to study it in your thoughts and memory.

 Herrad of Landsberg
A self portrait of Herrad of Landsberg, a 12th century nun and abbess, from Hortus deliciarum, ca. 1180

Herrad of Landsberg was a 12th-century Alsatian nun and abbess of Hohenburg Abbey in the Vosges mountains. She is the author of the pictorial encyclopedia Hortus deliciarum (The Garden of Delights). The picture is a self portrait of Herrad ca. 1180.

Her encyclopedia compiled ideas drawn from philosophy, theology, literature, music, arts, and sciences and was intended as a teaching tool for women of the abbey. Compiled between 1167 and 1185 it contained humanity’s most significant ideas. The original manuscript was burnt in 1870 but was reconstructed from preexisting copies and records.

The reconstructed Hortus provides a valuable witness to the culture of an otherwise little-known and little-celebrated monastic community during the last decades of the twelfth century. That this community was a women’s community and the Hortus uniquely a women’s book only adds to its intrigue: the Hortus was the product of a female mastermind and likely also the work of female scribes and artists. The purpose of the manuscript enhances its significance … Herrad herself confirms her authorship of the manuscript and intentions for it in her prologue. Describing herself as “a bee inspired by God” as she gathered the texts of the Hortus from “the various flowers of sacred Scripture and philosophic writings,” Herrad dedicated the work to the women of her community with the hope that they would find “pleasing food” and spiritual refreshment in its “honeyed dew drops”. “May this book be useful and delightful to you,” she wrote to them, “May you never cease to study it in your thoughts and memory”

Fiona J. Griffiths

Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts

The image ‘Philosophy and seven liberal arts’ represents the circle of philosophy, presented as the rosette of a cathedral: a central circle and a series of semicircles arranged all around. It draws on Ancient Greek ideas of education, perhaps even on the nine muses of Ancient Greek Mythology.

It shows learning and knowledge organised into seven relations, the Septem artes liberales or Seven Liberal Arts. Each of these arts find their source in the Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally “love of wisdom”.

The Inner Circle

In the middle of the central circle, we see, sitting on a throne like a queen, philosophy. Philosophy sits at the centre bringing all the divisions together, supported by Socrates and Plato. She bears on her head a large crown, philosophia, from which emerge three heads: ethics, logic and physics. According to Plato, these are the three parts of the teaching of philosophy.

The Crown, Philosophia, and the heads of Ethics, Logic, and Physics

Philosophy holds a banner with both her hands which reads “All wisdom comes from God, only the wise can achieve what they desire”.

Philosophy holds a banner reading “All wisdom comes from God, only the wise can achieve what they desire”

At the foot of philosophy are seated before desks two men: Socrates and Plato. They sit on a bench with philo-so-phi written on it. The text surrounding the two philosophers tells us that philosophers first taught ethics, then physics, then rhetoric; they were the true sages of the world and the teachers of the people; and their task was to scrutinise the profound nature of all things.

Lower section of inner circle featuring Socrates and Plato

From the heart of philosophy run seven springs, three on one side and four on the other. The text tells us these are the seven liberal arts that have divine spirit as their author: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

From the heart of philosophy run seven springs. On this side are the three of divine spirit: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic.
From the heart of philosophy run seven springs. On this side are the four of harmony: music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

The band that surrounds the inner imagery forms a perfect circle, complete in all ways and enclosing all things. It reads: I, the divine Philosophy, govern all things wisely; I lay out seven arts which are subordinate to me.

The band that surrounds the inner circle reads: I, the divine Philosophy, govern all things wisely; I lay out seven arts which are subordinate to me.
References

Bibliothèque Alsatique du Crédit Mutuel (n.d.). 

Griffiths, F. J. (2011) The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century. University of Pennsylvania Press

Losin, P. (n.d.) Illumination from Hortus deliciarum.

Liberal Arts Education by and for Women

by Iain Tidbury • 3 min