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Ars Notoria (Version A2): The “Lost” Gems of the Notory Art

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

After Julien Véronèse surveyed over fifty manuscripts of the Ars Notoria, he identified three versions of the textual tradition which he named Version A, Version B, and Version A2. He published the critical edition of the Latin texts for Version A and Version B but not Version A2. Version A2 has special material not found in the other versions, including a penultimate chapter which describes certain ritual procedures necessary for achieving efficacious results in the notory art. The manuscript evidence reveals that someone had deliberately adapted the text to make it practical for conducting the “spiritual experiments” of the notory art. Version A2 also plays a significant role in the development of Version B and the late composite texts of the sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-centuries. When I did my translation work for my book, I followed Véronèse, completing only Version A and Version B. But Version A2, the intermediary, got left behind, or what some might say “lost” since neither Véronèse nor myself published an edition of it . . . but why?


In my opinion, Version A2 is understudied and needs further scholarly investigation. It is no oversight on my part not to include Version A2 in my book. Version A2 does not exist as a clear and definitive edition as Version A and Version B do. It is best understood as containing special passages, adaptations, and arrangements, rather than a complete and distinct form. It is important for the reader to keep in mind that Apollonius’ Flores Aurei (Golden Flowers) was already found incomplete before it had accrued later supplements, like the Ars Nova (New Art), during the Version A stage. Véronèse admits that there are gray areas in the transmission of the textual tradition during this intermediary period between Version A and Version B. He gives a brief survey of Version A2, but more scholarly investigation is required.


In his doctoral thesis, Véronèse gives his assessment of what characterizes Version A2. He lists the special characteristics of Version A2 as follows:


  1. The Alpha et Omega prayer (late found in Version B, Variation 1)

  2. The astrological prescriptions (section 147 of the Ars Notoria, Version A)

  3. Solomon’s punishment for mocking the notory art while drunk (part of section 134 of the Ars Notoria, Version A)

  4. The penultimate chapter (capitulum penultimum) describes ritual procedures of the notory art, an operator’s checklist for implementing the ritual into practice.

  5. The influence of the second-oldest derivative text, the Opus Operum (Work of Works)

Véronèse marks the middle to late thirteenth century as the timeframe in which Version A2 appeared. He identifies Vatican Latin 6842 (14th century, f. 1-24) and the Vienna manuscript held at the Österreischiche Nationalbibliothek and labeled cod. 15482, (late 13th- or early 14th-century, f. 1-14v) as the best and earliest exemplars of Version A2.[1] Véronèse suggests that the material found in Vatican Latin 6842 may be older than the dating given to the physical manuscript.


This blog entry will focus on the early tradition of Version A2, selecting Vatican Latin 6842 as the primary exemplar. I will give a partial English translation of the penultimate chapter, offer an “esoteric” character sketch of Ptolemy and his false attribution as an authoritative experimenter of the notory art, and survey some unusual depictions of the notory figures. After concluding the early tradition of Version A2, I will explain Véronèse's characterization of the later or “definitive” tradition of Version A2.


A study of Vatican Latin 6842 begins with the Opus Operum, followed by section 147 of the Ars Notoria which describes the astrological prescriptions for timing the custom ritual procedures for each subject matter to be studied and acquired (e.g., grammar, rhetoric, etc.). Next, the penultimate chapter is presented, which describes the little ritual of the saffron and rosewater tea and a memorandum which resembles glossed portions of Version B. After this glossed section, the Flores Aurei and Ars Notoria proper begins, which has the same pseudopigraphical attributions except Ptolemy is substituted for Mani.


My book already includes the English translation of these Version A2 characteristics except for what I present here. Thus, I begin with the penultimate chapter. Here is the opening of the penultimate chapter from Vatican Latin 6842, f. 7r-7v:


"And the penultimate chapter of this quaternary which begins [here], follows [thus]:

"If you want to experiment in this art, take four olive leaves or palm leaves and write in those these four names Argaton, Mecabor, Hanundalet, Pozizagal. These are to be written as such on Friday [when the] Moon [is] fourth or twelfth, and place the same leaves in the cleanest, new, white cloth, and keep [it] until the fourth or twelfth lunar day, and when the Moon will be fourth in another lunar month, go to a living, pure, and most clear water fountain [i.e., a natural spring], and draw water from the fountain with a new vitreous vase, and wash with water those abovesaid leaves, in this way no vestiges of the letters appear, and you must be fasted and say this verse, “Bonitatem et disciplinam et scientiam doce me."[2] Still you ought to write that [verse down] when in church on the Lord’s [day] at the first [hour] of martis; this is to be said thrice in the first of any month, fasting the stomach, you ought to say the prayer, Theos Patyr, as in the rubric of the same prayer and the prayer, Te quaeso Domine, which, having been said, is in another place in the art. Having demonstrated [that], you ought to say the Ars Nova, [etc.]. "


From here, I will briefly summarize the remainder of the penultimate chapter. The scribe continues with the description of the first lunar month on which to offer certain prayers at certain times. He says that the operator ought to begin with the Alpha et omega prayer followed by Azaillomat (Assaylemaht) four times throughout the day (this parallels section 19). Next, the scribe instructs the operator to offer one of the General prayers which is Te quaeso Domine, because it is a “fons scientiae (a fountain of knowledge).” At this point, the penultimate chapter significantly deviates away from the Version A model by skipping over certain prayers and going straight to the four-part prayer Hely Lehem (Hazatam). This prayer formula consists of Hely Lehem, Agloros, Megal, and Latur Bael and their Latin prologues, ending with the Latin prologue Ego in conspectus. Interestingly, Gemoht Gehel, its Latin prologue Omnipotens semipterne Deus, and its second part, Semoht Lamen are omitted.[3] The penultimate chapter then advises the operator to precede with the ritual formula of the prayers of philosophy. Another prayer formula is described, offering the Theos Megala (Phos Megalos) prayer from the fourteenth up to the eighteenth day of the second month. Instructions for inspecting the figures are given. Other details are presented, which certainly give one pause to consider and compare the penultimate chapter’s rubric against the ritual operations offered in Version A (which is reconstructed in my book) and against those in Version B (a harmonization of sources).


Next, I would like to precede with the esoteric character sketch of Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100 – 170 CE), the famed Greek astronomer and author of the Almagest and the Tetrabiblos, the mytho-historical personality who is said to be an experimenter of the notory art. In the Version A2 textual tradition, Ptolemy’s name is substituted for the Iranian prophet Mani. The medieval portrayal of Ptolemy as an authority on astrological magic and the pseudoepigraphal writings attributed to him has not received the attention that it deserves. Fortunately, one contemporaneous scholar, David Juste, is making a pioneering effort to uncover the mysterious portrait and writings about Ptolemy in his project called Ptolemaeus Arabus et Latinus. At present, what can be said about Ptolemy are the pseudoepigraphal writings attributed to him, which account for about thirty such treatises, covering a range of astronomical and magical topics. The most well-known is the Centiloquium which is a collection of one hundred aphorisms about astrology; this work is not to be confused with the work of the same name by either Hermes Trismegistus or Albategnius. Here, I will only focus on those magical treatises, which include topics on astrological magic, geomancy, and chiromancy as these pertain to the Ars Notoria. As far as astral magic treatises go, there is De imaginibus super facies signorum (The Making of Signs from Images Above), a book of 46 chapters on the making and uses of talismans according to the 36 decans. It was likely translated from the Arabic by John of Seville (fl. 1133-53), a member of the Toledo School of Translators. This work is now attributed to Albumasar (787 – 886 CE), the Persian Muslim astrologer and preserved at Paris, BnF, Latin 16204. Trithemius’ Antipalus Maleficiorum (Against the Underworld Swamp Waters of Malefic Spirits, 1508) lists it as Abenhali Liber imaginum mirabilium (The Abenhali Book of Wonderful Images). The second treatise falsely ascribed to Ptolemy is called Liber de impressionibus imaginum, annullorum et sigillorum secundum facies duodecim signorum zodiaci (The Book on Making Impressions of Images, Rings, and Sigils according to the Twelve Zodiac Signs) preserved at St. Petersburg, Biblioteka Akademii Nauk, Q. 537. The third treatise falsely ascribed to Ptolemy is called De XII annulis Veneris (On the Twelve Rings of Venus). These last two treatises are also mentioned by Trithemius. A geomantic treatise falsely attributed to Ptolemy is called Archanum magni Dei de reductione geomanciae (The Great Secret of God about the Restoration of Geomancy) which was translated by Bernard of Gordon in 1295. A chiromantic treatise called the Chiromantia Parva (Small Chiromancy) is attributed to Ptolemy as quoted in Bartholomaeus Cocles’ Chiromantiae ac Physionomiae Anastasis (The Awakening of Chiromancy and Physionomy) published in 1504. Undoubtedly, the mytho-historical personality of Pseudo-Ptolemy would have shown interest in the notory art, believing in its efficacy because it is based on certain astronomical and astrological prescriptions.


Vatican Latin 6842 presents some very unusual depictions of the notory figures. I have selected folios 22 and 22v for study here. A complete key to the notory figures is offered in my book. Here I have labeled the images alphabetically, usually from left to right. On folio 22, the first figure in the upper left-hand corner which depicts a cross with vegetation sprouting from both sides of it is the fourth figure of the general sciences (A); immediately below it is a duplicate of the figure (A). To the right of the uppermost fourth figure of the general sciences is a large red cross; this is the first figure of the general sciences (B). The notory figure with the human head is the seventh figure of philosophy (C). Immediately below the big red cross that is the first figure of the general sciences is a series of four circles. The first circle is the second figure of the general sciences (D). The remaining three circles constitute the third figure of the general sciences. The large figure of concentric red rings is the figure of music (F); in Version A, it is misidentified as the “fifth” figure of the general sciences for which there is no such figure at all in the notory art (See my other blog entry entitled, "Visual Guide to the Notory Art Figures of Angelic Magic, Part II"). Below it is an unlabeled triangle (G). The triangular figure would be the figure of music in Version A, but in Version B, it would be the figure of chastity. The complex ring figure to the right is the fifth figure of philosophy (H). At the bottom right-hand corner is the figure of medicine (I). On folio 22v, I describe the figures from left to right, perceiving two rows of figures. On the first row, the figure at the uppermost left-hand corner is the figure of the exceptives (A). To the right, there is the slender figure of the first figure of astronomy, sometimes called the figure of wonders (B). Next, there is the first figure of theology (C). On the second bottom row, beginning at the left, there is a large circular figure with markings inside it. This is the figure of justice, peace, and fear (D). Next, the thin linear figure is the second figure of theology (E). Next, there is the first figure of astronomy again (F). Lastly, the first figure of theology is also repeated (G).



The manuscript is available online at: Vat.lat.6842 | DigiVatLib


Véronèse identifies the successor to the early Version A2 tradition to the other later manuscripts, which he calls the definitive or later form of Version A2, distinguishing it by its relatively free adaptation. The most important of these adaptations include a prologue about King Solomon and the mythical origins of the divine revelation, which is absent from the Vatican and Vienna manuscripts. The prologue reads:


“God, the most benevolent, showing the power of his word [to] Solomon, the Israeli king, (on whose chest [Solomon rested]), [and showing him a vision of] the incorporeal heavens, no less than the Sun, the Moon, and the stars of fire, which was made in the beginning, [which] he had created out of ornated things and new earth, not in the infernal realm, but [showing Solomon] to comparable things with a spiritual transcendence (aequali altitudine) with the heavens suspending [above]. [God] had rooted the same entire wisdom of the total cosmos (totius orbis) into [Solomon’s] heart. His [i.e., Solomon’s] most noble [and] commemorative name [was left behind] to his followers. For the rest of his corpus [of writings] he bound demons to those with work, or he was inclined to pleasing his will, or he was inclined [to the study] of natural things, and he disputed from the cedar in Lebanon to the slenderest hyssop[4] [with his conversational company].


“Also, he announced the disposition of the [celestial] orbs, of the lands [of the earth], and the virtues of the elements, and the consummation and the middle of the bodies, of the times, vicissitudes, permutations, consummations, mutations, and divisions of the times, the disposition of the course of the year and of the stars, the natures of the animals, the angers and temperaments of animals, the thoughts of humans, the varieties of plants, the virtues of roots, and whatever things are absconded, for he himself said, ‘[I] learned the fullest.’[5]


“Solomon constructs a certain and most noble art [i.e., notarikon] with the cooperation of the Lord, through whose virtue and efficacy this great and spacious sea in which are reptiles (reptilia) of those is not numbered (that is, every science and so much of divine things, as much as the knowledge of every liberal, mechanical, and exceptive arts of humankind), belonging to their order and reason of natural things, is to be grasped intelligently and memorably, and it is to be offered eloquently with the most subtle celerity and in a brief period of time; still, [only] if it was solemnized in the right order and institution, chastely and faithfully. He comprehends [those sciences, arts, and divine things] since he sustains [them] in [the signs] or notes (notis) [of his memory] he called “notory”. Now he teaches out of the brief little notes (brevibus notulis) the knowledge of all writings of this part, sometimes exactly as God granted in this little work, to enucleate a volume [of writings], in order that having known of the writings, having wondered [about them] partly, what he may judge about himself (circa creaturam suam) and praise the piety of God, and may he go forth, knowing so much about the writings he may judge about himself and praise the will and piety of God.”


The prologue describes God revealing a heavenly vision of wonders to Solomon and instructing him which explains how he attained his famed wisdom. A couple of biblical references are given to support the historical authenticity of Solomon’s breadth of knowledge and wisdom. The prologue concludes with how Solomon constructed the notory art with divine help, explaining that it is “the art of arts and the science of sciences” because it is capable of teaching someone every kind of knowledge, which are as innumerable as the reptiles (reptilia, or the creeping or crawling things) of the sea.


In the Graz manuscript (Version A2), a division of fifteen chapters is instituted, which reads:


“[Table of Chapters] We distinguish the first heading: The first chapter [is] about investigating and offering eloquently about any profound writing; the second [chapter is] about acquiring the understanding, memory, and eloquence; the third [chapter is] about the faculty of eloquence which is to be acquired and in the same [chapter] about memory; the fourth [chapter is] knowing about infirmities of many kinds; the fifth [chapter is] about the efficacy of this art; the sixth [chapter is] about offering a speech well and knowing about an unheard of knowledge; the seventh [chapter is] about knowing the secrets of theology; the eighth [chapter is] about taking away the impediment of the tongue and about the eloquence in business matters and the Specials and Generals of this [art]; the ninth [chapter is] about the knowledge of the Generals and Specials of the arts; the tenth [chapter is] a description of all the arts and for what reason any art has so many [figures]; the eleventh [chapter is about] how many notes (notas) any art has and how Solomon was instructed through them and in the same [chapter] how any [figure] is to be inspected; the twelfth [chapter is about] which times [the figures] is to be inspected according to the scientific arts; the thirteenth [chapter has] a description of the prayers and about the knowledge for speaking and versifying and [delivering] a long speech; the fourteenth [chapter is] a recapitulation of the entire work; the fifteenth [chapter is] a description of ten prayers [assigned] to the arts of necessity [i.e., the Ars Nova prayers] and the prayers are denoted after the figures of those very arts.”


Véronèse gives a summary of the other characteristics of the late Version A2 tradition. These characteristics are as follows:

1. Between sections 32a and 32b, there is a scribal interpolation which emphasizes the duties of the operator, particularly the necessity of an inextinguishable faith if he wishes to make his operation of the notory art efficacious.

2. Between sections 36 and 37, there is a list of additional angelic names which is an extension of the standard list found in section 35 of Version A.

3. At the end of section 71, a mention of the particular book entitled Mors animae (incipit: Death of the soul) is made in relation to nigromancy (i.e., necromancy). Mors animae is a necromantic book listed in the treatise entitled Speculum Astronomiae (The Mirror of Astronomy) which defends astrology as a Christian form of knowledge.

4. Between sections 76 and 77, there is a scribal interpolation which supplements Version A material to explain why the arts of the trivium have so many number of figures by evoking the case of arithmetic, geometry, and philosophy.


A closer study of the textual adaptations and shifts from Version A2 to Version B will undoubtedly reveal their influence on the Agrippan Latin text which Robert Turner would translate into English in 1657. However, such a study must wait . . . for now.


In conclusion, Version A2 remains as one of the frontiers to Ars Notoria studies, presenting special passages, scribal interpolations, adaptations, and rearrangements, which would go on to influence Version B and the late manuscript tradition. These special passages and configurations are understudied and make it difficult to present the complete picture of what really constitutes Version A2. The penultimate chapter offers an alternative ritual procedure to the notory art, which is worth a closer examination and comparative analysis to Version A and Version B. The scribe of the Graz manuscript sought to make sense of the Ars Notoria by making chapter headings. The various scribal interpolations certainly offer insight into how scribes thought about the notory art and how to practice it. Even though neither Véronèse nor I have forgotten to mention Version A2 in our published editions, the fact remains that the full picture of Version A2 is incomplete, leaving those elements lost like gems in a desert valley waiting to be rediscovered.



Bibliography


Hasse, Dag Nikolaus, David Juste, and others. Ptolemaeus Arabus et Latinus (badw.de). Accessed 29 July 2023.


Véronèse, Julien. L’Ars notoria au Moyen Age: Introduction et edition critique. Micrologus library,

21. Firenze: Sismel—Galluzzo, 2007.


Véronèse, Julien. “L’Ars notaria au Moyen Age et a l’epoque modern: etude d’une tradition de

magie theurgique, XIIe–XVIIes,” doctoral thesis of history, Paris, 2004, 2 vols.


[This article is an expansion upon a passage from my Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon (Inner Traditions, 2023).]


This digital edition by Matthias Castle, Copyright 2023. All rights reserved.


Please do not copy this text to your website, or for any purpose other than private use.


Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon translated by Matthias Castle, published by Inner Traditions International and Bear & Company, © 2023. All rights reserved. http://www.Innertraditions.com Reprinted with permission of publisher.

[1] The Opus Operum is fragmented in the Vienna manuscript. Véronèse also lists the following manuscripts as having characteristics of Version A2: Graz, Universitatsbibliothek, 1016, 14th century, f. 47v-71v; Erfurt, Amplon. Octavo 84, 14th century, f. 96-107v (fragment); Wolfenbuttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Guelferbytanus 47.15 Aug. Quarto, 15th century, f. 1-35; Edinburgh, Royal Observatory Library, Cr. 3.14, mid-15th century, f. 23-30; Florence, B.M. Laurenziana, Plut. 89 Sup. 35, 15th century, f. 151-153 (fragment). [2] Psalms 119:66 (NRSV). [3]I suspect their omission relates to its connection to the textual tradition expressed in the Summa Sacrae Magicae, which I may explore in a future blog post. [4] 1 Kings 4:33. [5] Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-21.

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