Oct 5, 2009

Prester John and the Seven Deadly Sins

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I came across an old drawing today that kept me puzzled for over an hour. Pictured on your left is a woodcut illustration of a late fifteenth century chapbook for some poems by Giuliano Dati, a prominent Italian poet. The first of these poems was entitled Treatise on the Supreme Prester John, Pope and Emperor of India and Ethiopia, while the second poem bore the slightly less magnanimous title of Second Song of India.

The minor mystery that engaged me for an hour was the translation and meaning behind the inscription on the steps beneath the feet of Prester John:

FVGE SVPERBIAN TER
FVGE LVXVRIA DELIGNO
FVGE GVLAM DEPLVMBO
FVGE IRAM DE FERRO
FVGE INVIDIAM DECVPRO
FVGE ACIDIAM DEARGENTO
FVGE AVARITIAM DE AVRO
My Italian is not strong, but I knew enough to figure out that FVGE is a verb meaning "flee," and that the second word in each admonition corresponds to one of the seven deadly sins:

superbian = pride
luxuria = extravagance
gulam = gluttony
iram = wrath
invidiam = envy
acidiam = sloth
avaritiam = greed

I was previously unfamiliar, however, with the association of certain elements with the seven deadly sins. There are seven "planetary" metals in alchemy: gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron, and tin.

Dan Brown would eat this stuff up. Call me, Dan-O.

4 comments:

mikeb302000 said...

Isn't that Latin, Mike?

What I don't get is why don't the first two, superbian and luxuria not end in -am like the others.

I agree it's a fascinating connection with such elements as lead, iron and copper.

I hope Dan Brown gets back to you.

Debbie G said...

I saw something on TV about this Prester John but can't remember what or when, but I believe it was one of those shows about the Dan Brown novels-hate to burst your bubble Mike!

Middle Aged Woman said...

ter and deligno? Is that tin and mercury? I can correspond the others to their symbols: Pb, Au, Ag, Fe, and Cu.

Sergej said...

"Ter" and "DeLigno", a bit uncorrectly written, are "Terra" and "Ligno" meaning "earth" and "wood"

Googling with no reason :) I found (maybe Mike itself found it) the "correct" version of the seven sentences in this (long) link


http://books.google.it/books?id=lBh--X3QjnsC&pg=PA99&lpg=PA99&dq=FVGE+GVLAM+DE+PLVMBO&source=bl&ots=frweSWE5eW&sig=g76siYoz6KXWXObCzfd5ADqAjuQ&hl=it&ei=sLzNSp-9CJaf_AaDsNjzAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=FVGE%20GVLAM%20DE%20PLVMBO&f=false