Penelope Doob, "Multicursal and Unicursal Mazes".pdf

Penelope Doob, "Multicursal and Unicursal...

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Unformatted text preview: 10 Introduction is the "dialogue of great authors," which creates truly innovative (and quite unpredictable) readings—Pascal reading Montaigne, for instance. Part Three of this book grapples with high-level readings in the laby- rinthine tradition and by its very nature is not susceptible to “proof," if proof is ever possible in literary criticism. We know how commentators like Servius and pseudo-Bernard Silvester read the Aeneid, and we know how Benvenuto da lmola and Guido of Pisa read Dante's reading of the Aeneid in the Divine Comedy, but neither kind of evidence tells us how Dante read Virgil and his labyrinths. Middle-level reception involves “institutionalized reading," interpretations of texts and visual images by skilled readers whose comments reflect competence but not the idio- syncrasies of genius and result in “traditionalized and authorized mean- ing." Much of the material presented in Chapters 3 through 7 reflects middle-level reception and development of the idea of the labyrinth: commentaries on and uses of real and metaphorical labyrinths by men literate in Latin, schooled in the lithium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialec- tic), familiar with such standard curriculum authors as Virgil and Ovid and their commentators, and trained to read and interpret in predict- able ways. Here I have drawn on as many kinds of primary written and visual sources as possible: letters, commentaries, poetry, historical and geographical treatises, theology, biblical exegesis, encyclopedias, arts of preaching and rhetoric, sermons, formularies, philosophical works, manuscript illuminations, and so on—material that defined and trans- mitted official institutional culture. The idea of the labyrinth that evolves in the first two parts of this book, then, is primarily the idea shaped and accepted in middle-level readings, for this is the idea that can most easily be reconstructed and documented. At the lowest level is “rare-reflective" reading, the personal responses of a relatively inexperienced reader encountering a work for the first time. There is little classical or medi« eval evidence for low-level reading of the maze for the simple reason that the medieval equivalents of modern low-level “readers” were illiterate and their responses to the labyrinth went unrecorded. We may detect traces of low-level readings in the names of turf-mazes or labyrinthine stone circles, or in preaching manuals and sermon collections‘whose content might have been transmitted to unlettered parishioners. But what is transmitted is not necessarily what is received, so we can only guess at low-level reception of the labyrinth in the Middle Ages. Thus much of this book recreates a middle-level horizon of expectations re- garding labyrinths, and its conclusions about the medieval idea of the labyrinth are neither comprehensive nor a handy interpretive template to be applied mechanically to all medieval uses of the image. There is yet another limitation to be acknowledged. I began studying medieval labyrinths almost twenty years ago while lecturing on Chaucer’s House of Fame as a labyrinthine poem, and though 1 have worked on the Charting the Maze topic ever since. I have certainly not read everything published or in manuscript that might be relevant. Moreover. I am not a classicist or a specialist in Italian and French literature, and l have not read all the secondary material on the Aeneid or the Divine Comedy or the Quest: del Saint Great, to name but three works I treat at some length. Rather than refrain from discussing obviously pertinent texts, I have forged ahead in the hope that by looking at old material with fresh eyes, much-appre- ciated guidance from willing experts, and a different perspective—the view from the labyrinth—l can suggest new threads to follow through these textual mazes. I acknowledge these problems with regret but also with a lively awareness that treaders of multicursal labyrinths inevitably leave some paths untraced and forget what they learned in others. I sometimes think it is a miracle that I have extricated myself from this endless labyrinth of contraries at all: nineteenth-century discussions of church mazes are dotted with references to one M. Bonnin, who had collected more than two hundred maze designs that he intended to publish as soon as he had completed the accompanying text.'5 So far as I can tell, nothing ever appeared in print, and the cautionary figure of M. Bonnin stalks my nightmares. Before this errand into the maze begins in earnest, two small points: first, in dealing with some examples of labyrinth metaphors, I address meanings that emerge from the immediate context of the image rather than from its place in the whole work, lest a long study grow completely out of bounds. Second, since I want this book to be useful not only to medievalists but also to nonspecialists interested in labyrinths, I quote most texts in translation, either a published version or my own."5 Finally, for readers who may not have details of the Cretan legend at their fingertips, I provide a summary based on Ovid but including a few details and va'riants from other classical and medieval retellings. [— Outraged by the death of his son Androgeos in Athens, King Minos of Crete besieged that Greek city. Meanwhile, his wayward wife Pasiphae fell passionately in love with a handsome bull. To satisfy her lust, she enlisted the help of the Athenian Daedalus, master inventor of antiquity, ° The Cretan Labyrinth Myth - 15. See Matthews, p. 201. 16. I have crosschecked published translations against the original and usually cite both versions—or easily available. facing-page Loeb editions—in notes. For my own transla- tions, I have had generous assistance from Brian Stock and A. G. Rigg (Latin), Ross 0. Arthur (Greek), and Christina Hawkes (German). When shades of meaning in the original language are important, I include the original in brackets. ll 12 Introduction who built her a wooden cow covered with hides. Pasiphae climbed ' ... the cow, mated with the bull, and conceived the Minotaur, a monsteiir. with the body of a man and the head of a bull. When Minos returned? triumphantly to Crete, he was shamed by this visible proof of his wife's ,1 lechery, and he bade Daedalus construct the conquing and inextricable ,, labyrinth in which to emprison and conceal the Minotaur. So bewilder I ing were the maze’s paths that even Daedalus could scarcely find his way back to the entrance. Every nine years (or, some say, every year), Minos fed the Minotaur :3. with Athenian youths sent as tribute in atonement for the death of An- ‘; drogeos. At the time of the third tribute, one of the fatal lots fell to Theseus, King Aegeus’s son, who, with his companions, was brought to Crete. But Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, fell in love with the young prince. and determined to save him from labyrinth and Minotaur alike. To this - end—and, some say, on the advice of the crafty Daedalus—she gave.‘ Theseus a clue of thread, which he tied to the entrance of the labyrinth»; and unwound as he followed the twisting paths to the center. There; : some say, he took Ariadne's second gift, a ball of pitch, and threw it into’ “ the Minotaur’s gaping mouth. Choking on the ball and unable to attack the man who should have been his prey, the Minotaur fell victim to Theseus’s sword (or, in other accounts, his club). The young Athenian .‘ rewound the clue of thread, retraced his steps, and emerged safely from g. the hitherto inextricable labyrinth. Taking Ariadne and her young sister V Phaedra with him, Theseus set sail for Naxos, where he abandoned Ariadne. Moved by her plight, the god Dionysus consoled her, trans- forming her crown into a constellation.»Theseus and his companions sailed on to Delos, where they performed a labyrinthine dance in cele- bration of their escape from Crete. But Theseus’s triumphant homecom— ing to Athens turned to tragedy. He had promised his father Aegeus that if by some miracle he escaped the labyrinth, he would replace the black sails on his ship with white ones. Having already forgotten Ariadne, Theseus was equally forgetful of his promise to his father: the black sails remained aloft, and the distraught Aegeus hurled himself into the sea. Meanwhile Daedalus, inventor of the labyrinth, was himself made prisoner. Some say that Minos cast him and his son Icarus into the labyrinth as punishment for assisting Pasiphae or for having helped Ariadne save Theseus; others claim that Minos refused to let so inge- nious an inventor return home to Athens. Whatever the truth may be, Daedalus made wings so he and Icarus might escape the maze by flight. Daedalus warned his son to take a middle course—the sun would melt the wax that held the feathers in place, the waves would drench them. But Icarus ignored his father’s advice, soared sunward, and plummeted into the sea. As Daedalus mourned, he was taunted by a partridge who had once Charting the Maze ~ .3 been his own nephew. Talos (or Perdix). This precocious lad had been apprcnliCCd ‘0 hi! uncle, bu when the child proved his brilliance by inventing the saw and the compass at the tender age of twelve. Daedalus grew jealous, threw him off the Acropolis, and fled to Crete. Athena. pitying the child, turned him into a partridge, a bird that still shuns heights because it remembers Talos’s terrible fall. After the death of Icarus, Daedalus flew to Italian Cumae. where he built a temple to Apollo, sculpting on its doors the story of the Cretan labyrinth. Some say that Daedalus then flew to Sicily, where he was welcomed by King Cocalus. Still seeking vengeance, Minos offered a reward to anyone who could thread a tightly spll'dled shell. Daedalus, as crafty as ever, drilled a tiny hole in one end, inserted an am with a thread attached to its body, induced it to enter by smearing honey on the shell's mouth, and thus traced the windings of the shell. Sure that no one but Daedalus could have accomplished such a task. Minos came to claim him, but the Sicilians, reluctant to give Daedalus up, murdered Minos. 46 type of maze is a perfect symbol of intellectual and moral difficulty as The Labyrinth in the Classical and Early Christian Periods available only to the enlightened. Other comments will reflect ihe _ wildered subjective perspective of someone enmeshed In dtsorten ' .. paths and unable to determine at the pomt of entry whether the maze unicursal, multicursal, or even a maze at all. - The Multicursal Model - The multicursal maze, as we have seen. apparently derives from Ii ” ary tradition; its mythological trappings and form would have been fa- ‘ " miliar chiefly to the literate.9 Its structural basis, in contrast, is familiar to 1 everyone: as the term “multicursal" suggests, this kind of maze is a series 5 of choices between paths. Classical writers knew a great deal about the bimum, the Herculean or Pythagorean choice represented by the letter Y, with one road leading gently to pleasure and the other austerely to virtue; Christian writers would lend the image biblical authority by refer. ring to Matthew 7: 13-14, the choice between the broad path to destruc- tion and the narrow way to life (to name only one of many biblical examples of the metaphor).10 The multicursal labyrinth is even more rigorous, however, for it does not consist of a single crucial choice; rather, it incorporates an extended series of bivia, an array of choices. It embodies frequent testing and repeated confrontations, with no appar- ent end to the struggle until the goal or the entry is achieved. Hence this well as aesthetic complexity. The characteristic quality of movement through such a maze is halting, episodic, with each fork or alternative requiring a pause for thought and decision. The direction of movement is constantly shifting, now here, now there, as the wanderer’s choices and the maze‘s paths lead him (or her, although most maze-walkers in classi- cal and medieval literature are male). In addition, a maze-walker may lose confidence, retrace his (or her) steps, take another path, right or wrong. The essence of the maze experience is confusion, doubt, and frustration as one ambiguity succeeds another. Uncertainty may be heightened in that the maze-walker without a guide cannot know until reaching the end that the chosen path is correct; indeed, he or she cannot even be sure there is an end or center. The multicursal maze is dangerous even if no minotaur is lurking, for one risks getting lost and 9. 1n the following discussion, readers may want to imagine being inside a labyrinth of the son they must have solved in puzzle books as children, or they may wish to refer to plate 4, which shows an extremely simple multicursal maze in which success depends partly on choosing the right point of entry and partly on making correct choices within. 10. For other discussions of the Pythagorean letter, see Cipolla, Labyrinth. pp. 42-47. and Erwin Panofslty. Hercules am Sclm'dewge, Studien der Bibliothek Warburg, 18 (Leiplig and Berlin, I930). m 9/ 4. Example of an early multicursal labyrinth. adapted from Claude Paradin's Dévises héroi'ques (1551). The original in- cludes a Virgilian text. “Fata viam invenient" (the fates will find a way—Aeneid 3.395). Drawing by Robert Ouellette. remaining perpetually imprisoned; in such a maze one may find no solution, no center, no exit. The maze, then, is potentially inextricable, as so many classical and medieval texts insist; survival and escape may well depend not only on the maze-walker’s intelligence, memory, and experi- ence but also on guidance—Ariadne's thread, instructive principles, signposts, or advice along the way.” But who is responsible for the wanderer’s success or failure? In some contexts, blame might attach to the maze-maker who created a sadis- tically impossible design, to the maze itself as an intrinsically deceitful (“anceps”) structure, or to guides who fail to materialize, give bad advice, or lure the wanderer into the maze in the first place. Normally, however, the multicursal maze highlights the role of the individual: he controls his 11. See Borgeaud for the intriguing idea—albeit one I have found explicitly in no classical or medieval texts—that the route into a maze is inevitable, but the route out, thanks to “forgetfulness.” is “suddenly complex" and demands memory or other assistance: “The Open Entrance," pp. 22—23. The sudden shift Borgeaud intuits is, perhaps. yet another instance of the unpredictable convertibility of the maze as an image. 47 48 The labyrinth in the Classical and Early Christian Periods passage through the maze by his ability to choose and perhaps by memo, " ry, and however puzzled and despairing he may be, his fate is as muc ‘ the result of his (ab)use of free will as it is a consequence of the architects devious design. Both models of the maze entail structural error or wan -' dering: but in a multicursal maze more obviously than in a unicursal on these more: are not merely circuitous paths but also errors of judgmen (when the wrong path is chosen) or of memory and concentration. Th multicursal maze leaves most choices to the wanderer, and consequentl it emphasizes an individual‘s responsibility for his own fate. . This labyrinthine paradigm is clearly analogous to other images assoL: ciated with the maze in literature: the crossroads, the forest, the desert; the ocean, an interlace pattern, a series of caves, any confusing or track less waste with superabundant choices and no unambiguous path. pla from which safe exit is difficult or impossible without a guide or? Daedalian wings. Analogous processes include such things as a chivalric quest with optional adventures, the composition or exegesis of a text or I argument, and the attempt to make sense of too many pieces of data at , once. Morally, the experience of multicursal mazes can be positive (the wanderer learns or accomplishes something important and transcen :.‘ the confusion of the maze); negative (the wanderer chooses badly, miserably, and remains imprisoned); or neutral (the path through th labyrinth is the only way to get from A to B, but the process and got? carry no moral connotations). 5 - The Unicursal Model - historic times, comes from the visual arts and is part of popular culture? ' rather than an exclusively learned model. Its structural basis is a single? path, twisting and turning to the point of desperation but entailing no.- dead ends or choices between paths. The maze-walker simply goe - where the road leads, for the maze itself is an infallible guide to its own secrets, defining precisely the only course that can be taken. The pattern is not difficult to follow, then, although its complexity means that the * wanderer may not know where he is going and how he is getting there. i The characteristic quality of movement through this model is steady and continuous; any flagging is caused by the wanderer's exhaustion rather than by the need for choice. The direction of movement varies as the path reverses its orientation; but where a multicursal maze contains routes to the center that are more and less direct, depending on whether the right choices are made along the way, a unicursal maze by its very nature defines the most circuitous route conceivable within any given space, the longest possible way to get to the center. In most surviving The labyrinth as Signifimnt Form ' 5. Typical circular unicursal diagrammatic labyrinth of the so-called Chartres type; illustrates that many mazes were designed with compasses and also shows clearly how the pattern is derived from symmetrical interruptions of concentric circles. Note that upon entering the maze, one almost immediately would near the center, only to recede farther and farther until the final successful approach. From a manuscript (ninth and eleventh centuries) from Auxerre containing numerous texts on heresy. Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale MS. lat. i745, fol. 30v. By permission. unicursal designs, the path leads in and out repeatedly so that, ironically, one may unknowingly be closer to the goal as the crow flies early in the journey than when one is almost through the course. Full of unavoidable delays, a unicursal maze is a perfect symbol of the need for the patient endurance of unpredictable twists of fate. Only persistence can achieve the desired end (assuming that the end of a particular maze is desirable; 49 5o - The labyrinth in the Classical and Early Christian Periods that is not always the case). The maze itself is the truest guide, but encouragement may be needed lest the wanderer retreat in despair; alternatively, if the goal poses a threat rather than release, mcrtemem [0 retrace one's steps may be appropriate. The essence of the unicursal maze experience, as with the multicursal is confusion and frustration. But in a unicursal maze, confusion rem“; - from inherent disorientation rather than from the repeated need for choice, and frustration is directed toward the structure and its architect rather than toward one's own incapacities. The road itself seems too long, increasingly so as one inevitably nears the unseen 8031~th0ugh the wanderer might well not be certain there is a goal, or that he wants to reach it. In a unicursal maze, obviously, there is by definition no danger of getting lost. It takes no special skill, other than constitutional persever. ance, to emerge at the goal or exit; the labyrinth is not inextricable, however inescapable its turnings may seem subjectively. But there are other dangers. Perhaps there is a minotaur threatening its own kind of inextricability; indeed, we shall see that many unicursal mazes contain death. the devil, or hell. Such mazes also hold the danger of immobility and despair, the temptation to stop short of a desirable goal. A multicursal maze usually makes the wanderer and his own errors of judgment responsible for his fate; in a uni...
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