Note: Atlas is shrugging.We bought a bunch of books at the Festival of Books held last weekend on the campus of UCLA. One of our purchases appears to the left: The Cosmographical Glass, Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe by a guy who knows one whole lot about Renaissance diagrams of the universe, Mr. S.K. Heninger, Jr. The picture on the cover — wrapping around the spine — shows one such diagram; a scheme of the heavens with a fairly weedy-looking Atlas in the center.

More like that await inside. The Cosmological Glass is a collection of hundreds of pictures snipped from books printed before 1700 the common thread of which is their attempt to visualize ideas of the universe, both ancient and new-emerging — Aristotle to Copernicus. Some illustrate different versions the solar system, heliocentric or wrongocentric; others gamely take on the entire cosmos. Still others, like the one below, try to show how the four elements — air, earth, water, fire — though separate and even antithetical are yet somehow bound mathematically. The math in this one is symbolized by the interlinking circles.

That's the Way - Of the World

Heninger quotes a spellcheck-defying epigraph from a 1632 volume of Ovid about those elements:

Fire, Aire, Earth, Water, all the Opposites
That strove in Chaos, powrefull Love unites;
And from their Discord drew this Harmonie,
Which smiles in Nature.

The Cosmographical Glass was printed first in 1977 and brought out again in 2004. To this the newer edition Mr. Heninger adds a fresh forward. The last paragraph of the forward took me by surprise:

For cosmologists of the Renaissance, study of the heavens involved parallel inquiries, both theological and introspective, and led to the recognition of a providential plan. While I wish in no way to denigrate or deride the accomplishments of my own generation of cosmologists, I still must ask, where are they leading us?

The Cosmographical Glass
Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe

by S. K. Heninger
(Huntington Library Press, Paperback, 232pp.)


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