Inquisitor Raphael of Pornasio Speaks

The early nineteenth-century American poet intoned

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —

Only this and nothing more.”


Perhaps the visitor was not the crow, but inspiration.  Enh. whuddooaino.

Your Intrepid Reporter, dear Faithful Reader, has been consulting many a quaint and curious volume of his own of forgotten lore.  To wit, the fourth volume of Lynn Thorndike’s massive History of Magic and Experimental Science, published by the Columbia University Press in 1934, contains a treatment of the unpublished manuscript De arte magica, by the North Italian inquisitor, of the Dominican Order, Raphael of Pornasio.  Thorndike is either thorough enough, or kind enough, to quote the final words of Raphael’s fifteenth-century (ca. 1450) treatise:

Hic autem in tantum dicta sunt ut fiat manifestum quod ea que communiter dicuntur esse et fieri per artem magicam non omnino falsa sunt et impossibilia sed ut plurimum vera; existunt quorum qui contraria sentit non clam sed palam loquator et scribat, ut veritas magis ac magis consussa splendescat.

Lynn Thorndike, the eminent author translates the passage [ but by the way, what a marvelous old tradition Thorndike here follows, giving us the very words, ipsissima verba, which he finds worth note] without difficulty up until the semi-colon (a punctuation mark I added, for clarity):

Moreover, this much has been said to make clear that those things which are commonly said to be and to be done by magic art are not entirely false and impossible but for the most part true.

— where Thorndike put a period in his translation I inserted the semi-colon —

And if anyone is of the contrary opinion, let him speak and write not secretly but openly,

Ya gotta love a language that conveys “not secretly but openly” as non clam sed palam.  The clam is the secret one, and the palm tree is open.  Um.  Anyway . .

in order that from the increased discussion the truth may the more shine forth (or in order that we may beat out a brighter truth).

Enh.  Any time the translator cannot say straight out what his author said, is an attention-getter.  We’ll come back to that point later, as I ponder over my quaint and curious volume just prior to the arrival of the Big Black Bird.  Raphael of some small town named Pornasio, about six hundred years ago, a churchman who was professionally engaged in the enforcement of orthodox belief, concluded his treatise with an appeal for open discussion.  Raphael is important, Thorndike comments, because

he both admits the existence of a considerable skepticism as to the truth of magic, and displays a relatively tolerant attitude towards his opponents and readiness to hear their arguments, which may seem surprising to those who have been taught to regard every inquisitor as a dogmatic bigot.  (p. 313)

That may be all well and good.  The spirit of tolerance may be just the sign of modernity in the Renaissance which Thorndike [he famously wrote an article denying the existence of the Renaissance] claimed later in print to have missed; but — backing up a bit and engaging in some late-night pondering — is Raphael’s truth shining forth from discussion or getting beaten out?  In the first of Thorndike’s renderings it is the former; in the second, the latter.

Your Intrepid Reporter (and in this case, late-night ponderer) has an answer to this question.  When we look at the exact words more closely we find that the phrase

ut veritas magis ac magis concussa splendescat

which phrase ends the sentence and the book, is, by moving splendescat where it belongs, literally, word for word,

[ut] in order that [veritas] the truth [magis] may the more [splendescat] shine forth [ac magis concussa] from the beaten magic.

You see there’s a modest little pun on magis, used as “greater” and as magic.  The result of this solution is that Raphael support of free speech and discussion is even more unambiguous (and even more in contradiction with the traditional interpretation of his clerical office) than stated by Thorndike.  It is still truth that comes or shines forth, but it is from a magic that suffers concussions in the beatings it receives.

Raphael was a member of what I like to call The Party of Humanity, circa 1450 AD.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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One Response to Inquisitor Raphael of Pornasio Speaks

  1. Pingback: Some Medieval Astronomy | The Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party

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