Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Astrologer's Den

So, in furtherance of pursuit of images of stuffed crocodiles, I ran across this wonderful plate by William Hogarth, illustrating a scene from the Second Canto of Hudibras, a long mock heroic narrative poem satirizing ignorant zealotry, published in the seventeenth century by Samuel Butler. It shows the bombastic Sir Hudibras and his squire Ralpho visiting (and administering a beating to) the astrologer Sidrophel and his servant Whacum. The poem, and the illustrations Hogarth provided almost fifty years after its publication, were very popular for a long time, inspiring many imitations. It came to me that this picture might very well have influenced the depictions of sorcerors in the years that followed, so perfectly does it epitomize the popular image and paraphernalia of the practicing magician.

Besides the stuffed crocodile, there are also Shakespeare's "ill-shap'd fishes" (including what looks like a swordfish) and tortoise, snake, bat, toad, a couple of lizards, and what looks like a huge beetle. As well as books and astrological charts there are both celestial and terrestrial globes, astronomical tools like a telescope, quadrant, and Jacob's staff, and a dark lantern to write down observations at night. On the more alchemical or mystical side there is what appears to be a homunculus in a jar, an AGLA knife (bearing the kabbalistic acronym for Atah Gibor Le-olam Adonai, 'You, O Lord, are mighty forever'), and a skeleton in the closet, with an owl on its shoulder! The whole scene is completed by the astrologer's fur-trimmed robes and round spectacles, and his cat in the corner.

Whether this print was a major influence on magical imagery or not, it is obviously a link in a long line of such illustration, and the general trappings would need little change to fit in perfectly with many a modern tale of wizardry.


AlanDP said...

My first thought was, "why is there a yagi on the floor?" Had never heard the term "Jacob's staff" before. But now that I think about it, it kind of makes sense that a wizard might be playing around with radios.

Brer said...

My first thought was a marionette control, for a little chicanery with the skeleton, maybe.

Brer said...

And what the instrument in Sidrophel's hand is still eludes me, as does the exact nature of the breastplate around his neck, although the three cross-pattee are fairly clear.