Neostoic Pyrotechnics in Franciso de Aldana and San Juan de la Cruz
- Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 11, Number 1, 2005
- pp. 87-103
- View Citation
- Additional Information
NEOSTOIC PYROTECHNICS IN FRANCISO DE ALDANA AND SAN JUAN DE LA CRUZ Susan Byrne Fordham University T he early Stoic Cleanthes says in a hymn to Zeus: “All mortals should salute you, for we are of your lineage, and similar to you in having reason and speech” (Barth 84).1 These two shared characteristics are also the basis of creative activity for both the human being and the divinity. According to the Stoics, the creator of the cosmos is the pyr technikón, from whence today’s ‘pyrotechnics’. This pyr technikón is a divine and artistic fire, sometimes called lógos, or word, that issues from nous or mens, that is, from reason or divine thought (Ortiz García 25).2 The founder of Renaissance Neostoicism, Justus Lipsius, describes the artistic nature of this creative fire and calls it the teacher of all other arts: “Natura, magistra artium reliquarum.”3 Lipsius cites to a number of authorities in support of his argument, including Hermes Trismegistus, who describes the moment of his own intimate union with Poimandres or Mens, that is, divine Thought, when he witnessed the activities of this creative fire, which he glosses as sacred ‘reason’ or ‘word.’4 Hermes Trismegistus is the author of the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of tractates dating to the first centuries of the Common Era, and printed in 1471 in Marsilio Ficino’s Latin translation. The texts incorporate the teachings of a number of cultures and philosophies, including a healthy dosis of Stoic thought, and they became what in today’s terms would be called a runaway best-seller throughout Europe; by the end of the sixteenth century, there were two dozen editions of the work. Its author, Hermes, is one of Lipsius’s favorite authorities in his Physiologia stoicorum.5 That he should be so is not surprising, and not only for Hermes’ importance to the Neoplatonists of the fifteenth and sixteeenth centuries; the importance of ‘will’or ‘volition’ to the Stoa is well known, and Hermes is named the king of volition in the works of another favorite authority of Lipsius, the fifth and sixth century Byzantine, Stobaeus.6 The Stoics teach that one should study nature so as to understand divine creation,7 and then make correct use of one’s volition in order to filter the ‘representations’received from the outside world without CALÍOPE Vol. 11, Number 1 (2005): pages 87-103 88 Susan Byrne D D D D D allowing oneself to be deceived by them. Karl Alfred Blüher observes that this “combat” of reason confronted with exterior impressions or, as he calls them, “deceitful opinions,” is a constant theme in Neostoic writings.8 The goal of rational processing of representations is wisdom, that is, the process of thought that is, in turn and most fundamentally, a process of creation. According to Epictetus, the human being is able to create itself just as the universal, divine principle creates all within the cosmos.9 Justus Lipsius details the acts of the creative fire, whose name he glosses with ‘God’ or ‘Reason’ with a capital letter, but he points out that, even with its gift of a small portion of reason, man is not capable of creating divine or celestial things.10 Hermes Trismegistus explains the fundamental difference between the two creations: So it is that thought has, as its body, the most ardent of the elements, fire, precisely because it is the most ardent of the divine concepts; and thought makes use of fire as the instrument of its creative activity of all things; creation of all in the case of the universal Thought and only of the terrestrial in the case of human thought. Because the thought that lives in man, having the human body as its home, is dispossessed of fire, and that makes it incapable of creating divine things. (Corpus Hermeticum X.18)11 The effects of both the representations that give rise to creativity when properly filtered by the will, and others, so pure and direct that their power incapacitates the human being’s creative intent, are exemplified in certain lexical and semantic uses shared by Hermes Trismegistus and two sixteeenth century...