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1351 __ Voix de sorcière
Nicole Oresme (1320-1382)
Comment : Nicole Oresme was a brilliant philosopher, psychologist, economist, mathematician, physicist, astronomer and musicologist, a passionate theologian, a competent translator, counselor of the King, Bishop of Lisieux, one of the principal founders of modern sciences, probably the most original thinker of the 14th century and - so to speak - the "French Einstein of the 14th century". And last, but not least, like no other of his time Oresme was able to popularize the sciences. Oresme was born in 1323 (c. 1320-1325) in the village of Allemagne (today's Fleury-sur-Orne) in the vicinity of Caen, Normandy, in the Diocese of Bayeux. His most important contributions to mathematics are contained in "Tractatus de configuratione qualitatum et motuum", still in manuscript. Oresme nearly dealed with every musicological area in the modern sense such as - acoustics (in "Expositio super de anima", "Quaestiones de anima", "De causis mirabilium", "De configurationibus", "De commensurabilitate vel incommensurabilitate"), - musical aesthetics (in "De configurationibus", "De commensurabilitate vel incommensurabilitate"), - physiology of voice and hearing (in "Quaestiones de sensu", "Expositio super de anima"), - psychology of hearing ("in Quaestiones de anima", "De causis mirabilium", "Quaestiones de sensu"), - musical theory of measurement (in "Tractatus specialis de monocordi", "De configurationibus", "Algorismus proportionum"), - music theory (in "De configurationibus"), - musical performing (in "De configurationibus"), - music philosophy (in "De commensurabilitate vel incommensurabilitate"). With his very special "theory of species" ("multiplicatio specierum") Oresme formulated the first and correct theory of "wave-mechanics of sound and light", 300 years before Christian Huygens where Oresme describes a pure energy-transport without material spreading. The terminus "species" in Oresme’s sense means the same as our modern term "wave form". Oresme discovered also the phenomenon of partial tones (overtones), 300 years before Mersenne (see above) and the relation between overtones and tone colour, 450 years before Joseph Sauveur. In his very detailed "physico-mathematical theory of partial tones and tone colour", Oresme anticipated the nineteenth century theory of Hermann von Helmholtz. In his musical aesthetics, Oresme formulated a modern subjective "theory of perception", which was not the perception of objective beauty of God’s creation, but the constructive process of perception, which causes the perception of beauty or ugliness in the senses. Therefore, one can see that every individual perceives another "world". Many of Oresme’s insights in other disciplines like mathematics, physics, philosophy, psychology, which anticipate the self-image of modern times, are closely bound up with the "Model Music" (unusual for present-day thinking). The Musica functioned as a kind of "Computer of the Middle Ages" and in this sense it represented the all embracing hymn of new quantitative-analytic consciousness in the 14th century.By using a strong empirical method, Oresme investigated the whole complex of phenomenons of the human psyche. Oresme was confident in the activity of "inner senses" ("sensus interior") and in the constructiveness, complexity and subjectivity of the perception of world. By using this quite progressive features, Oresme was a typical exponent of the "Parisian Psychological School" (Jean Buridan, Barthelemy de Bruges, Jean de Jandun, Henry of Hesse, etc.) and his work was closely related with the scientists of optics (Alhazen, Roger Bacon, Witelo, John Pecham, etc.). But in addition, the innovative and bold mind of Oresme, anticipated very important facts of the psychology of the 19th and 20th century, especially, in the fields of cognitive psychology, perception psychology, psychology of consciousness and psycho-physics. Oresme discovered the psychological "unconscious" and its great importance for perception and behaviour. On this basis he formulated his inspired "theory of unconscious conclusions of perception", (500 years before Hermann von Helmholtz) and his "hypothesis of two attentions", concerning the conscious and an unconscious attention as seen in 20th century knowledge. In his modern “theory of cognition”, Oresme showed that no thought-content-like, categories, terms, qualities and quantities, out of human consciousness, exist. For instance, Oresme unmasked the so-called "primary qualities" such as size, position, shape, motion, rest etc. of the 17th century scientists (Galilei, Locke etc.).), and that they had been seen as objective in outer nature, but should be seen as very complex cognitive constructions of psyche under the individual conditions of the human body and soul. Because reality is only at the "expansionless moment" ("instantia") Oresme reasoned that, therefore, no motion could exist except in consciousness. It means that motion is a result of human perception and memory, in the sense, of the active composition of "before" and "later". This clever theory becomes plausible for example in the field of sound. Oresme wrote: "If a creature would exist without memory, it never could hear a sound…" Sound is a human construction and nothing more. In his modern "psycho-cybernetics" and "information theory" Oresme solved the "dualism-problem" of the physical and the psychical world by using the three-part schema "species - materia - qualitas sensibilis" of his brilliant species theory (in modern terms, to information - medium - meaning). The transportable species (information), like a waveform of sound, changes its medium (wood, air, water, nervous system etc.) and the inner sense (sensus interior) constructs by means of "unconscious conclusions" a subjective meaning from it. However, the strongest focus Oresme drew to the psychology of perception. Among a lot of parts in writings he composed, unique for the whole Middle Ages, a special treatise on perception and its disorder and delusion ("De causis mirabilium"), where he examined every sense (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) and cognitive functions. With the same method used by psychologists of the 20th century, namely by means of analysis of delusions and disorders, Oresme recognized already many essential laws of perception, for instance the "Gestaltgesetze" (shape-law) 500 years before Christian von Ehrenfels, limits of perception (maxima et minima), etc. (Ulrich Taschow, "Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der Moderne")Nicole Oresme’s writings on magic illustrate one possible stance that a late-medieval philosopher and scientist might adopt. Oresme wrote about magic in his treatise "De configurationibus qualitatum et motuum", in a treatise of 1370 devoted chiefly to astrology, and in a series of "Quodlibeta" on the wonders of nature appended to the treatise of 1370. Much of the effect of magic he attributes to deception and self-delusion. Yet certain types of magic can have real effect: sometimes, it influences the spirits and senses of the beholder but at other times affects external objects directly. It does so by means of virtues inherent in the magicians’ herbs, gems, incantations, and other such means. Unlike such writers as Marsilio Ficino, Oresme does not attribute such magical virtues to the accumulated influence of the stars; instead, he attributes them to the “configuration,” or physical qualities, of the objects and formulae used. If incantations have real magical effect, it is because the physical quality of the sound, both the words and the melodies, produces these extraordinary results. Unlike Avicenna and Algazel, he did not acknowledge the direct power of mind over matter, but he did acknowledge the indirect power of the mind: the imagination may be so distorted that it affects the body, which in turn has influence on the air and on other bodies around it. The eye in particular serves as a medium for the transmission of corrupt influences from the imagination, and this effect works most powerfully when a physically and mentally corrupt old woman casts an evil eye on the tender body of an infant. Oresme is generally skeptical about demonic magic, which he calls "nigromantia". Here, too, deception and self-delusion play an important role. Nigromancers (or necromancers) commonly use impressionable young boys as mediums; they make these boys stare into polished surfaces in hopes that they will see demons, and often the apparitions cause the mediums to go blind. The nigromancers themselves often show facial distortion and mental alienation during their invocations; they prepare them-selves with fasting, and they operate by preference at night, thus encouraging disturbance of body and mind and predisposing the imagination toward delusion. Demonic apparitions may also be caused by melancholy. Repeatedly, following his 13th-century predecessor Witelo, Oresme insisted on finding natural rather than demonic explanations for observed wonders, adding in explanation that “it is better to say this than to ascribe [the effect] to demons.” He was aware that Alkindi and Algazel denied that any magic was the work of demons, ascribing it instead to a kind of natural radiation, or to the imaginative powers and virtues of the soul. Yet Oresme himself did not take this extreme position. Even if grudgingly, he admitted that certain effects of magic are so unnatural that they can only be the work of malign or benign spirits. Magicians may succeed in invoking demons. They do not coerce demons; if demons come, it is only with God’s permission and with the intention of deceiving their invokers. Magicians’ incantations may allure or repel demons, as David’s playing on the harp relieved Saul by dispelling demons. Oresme seems to have interviewed some people who claimed to have magical powers. He tells how he received permission to speak with an accused sorceress, whom he found terrified to the point of incoherence. Again, he tells how certain incantations that magicians perform have never succeeded when he was present. And when he argues that no one can meddle in these arts without incurring some evil, he appeals not only to authority and reason but also to experience. (Richard Kieckhefer)
French comment : La thématique de la « voix de sorcière » est abordée dans un traité de géométrie et de philosophie naturelle, le « De configuratione qualitatum et motuum » ; Oresme l’a composé alors qu’il était au Collège de Navarre, entre 1351 et 1362. Il y développe une nouvelle doctrine scientifique pour expliquer l’ensemble des phénomènes relevant du corps et de l’âme. Les qualités et les mouvements de chaque corps, dit-il, peuvent être représentés par des figures géométriques ; les configurations géométriques obtenues sont propres à chaque corps, elles donnent à voir l’ensemble des qualités naturelles d’un corps et ses divers effets. La doctrine des configurations explique de cette manière les phénomènes corporels, même lorsqu’ils sont prodigieux et mystérieux. Dans le second livre du traité, Oresme applique la doctrine des configurations aux phénomènes qui relèvent de la magie. Le pouvoir des sons et, par extension, celui des mots, sont considérés comme une des racines de l’efficacité magique. C’est à propos de l’idée de pouvoir des mots, ou "virtus verborum", que l’auteur évoque la puissance de la voix humaine. L’exemple s’inscrit dans une réflexion sur les incantations employées par les magiciens. Oresme veut montrer que la puissance de ces formules ne provient pas de la signification des mots, mais d’une "virtus" d’un autre ordre. La voix du magicien possède une puissance qui n’est pas attachée au sens des mots. [...] Certaines incantations sont incompréhensibles : la signification des mots n’est donc pas un principe d’action. Oresme choisit le poète Lucain (39-65 ap. J. C.) pour illustrer cet argument ; il cite un épisode de son épopée sur la guerre civile, "De bello civili". Lucain y fait le portrait d’une prophétesse ("vates"), Erictho, qui prédit l’avenir en invoquant les défunts : « Et alors sa voix, plus puissante que toutes les herbes pour évoquer les dieux du Léthé, murmure d’abord des sons discordants et bien différents du langage humain. Elle a l’aboiement du chien et le hurlement des loups, la plainte du hibou tremblant, de la strige nocturne, le grincement ou le grognement des bêtes sauvages, le sifflement du serpent, elle rend les battements de l’eau qui se brise sur les écueils, le bruissement des forêt et le tonnerre de la nuée qui crève : tant de choses ont formé une seule voix » (Lucain, "De bello civili", VI, v. 685-88, texte établi et traduit par A. Bourgery, Paris, Belles Lettres). La voix de la prophétesse ressemble à des cris d’animaux, à des bruits naturels. Ce sont des sonorités effrayantes et peu harmonieuses : aboiement, hurlement, grincement, sifflement ou bruissement, le vocabulaire est étendu. Il évoque les vibrations sonores du monde nocturne. Cette séquence auditive n’est pas le produit d’une fiction littéraire, elle correspond plutôt à la description d’un rituel magique. L’imitation de sons animaux et végétaux est inscrite, en effet, dans certaines traditions magiques gréco-latines. Lucain pourrait s’en être inspiré. Mais pour Oresme, l’essentiel n’est pas là. C’est la puissance sonore de cette voix qui importe. Le théologien prolonge le texte de Lucain en commentant deux versets d’Isaïe sur la divination : "Et dans Isaïe il est dit : "Cherche les pythonisses et les devins qui hurlent dans leurs incantations", etc., car hurler est différent du langage ordinaire. […] Et alors dans Isaïe il est dit : "Cherche les pythonisses" etc., certains livres ayant "Cherche les ventriloques" et une autre lecture a "Cherche les pythonisses qui parlent depuis la terre et pleurent depuis le ventre [de la terre]" ; car ailleurs dans le même livre il est dit en reproche "Ta voix pourra venir de la terre comme celle de la pythonisse, et hors du sol ton discours sera murmuré" » (Nicole Oresme, op. cit. p. 368-370). Oresme propose de remplacer le terme de devineresse (python) par celui de ventriloque (ventriloquus). L’apport de ces citations bibliques tient précisément au vocabulaire : l’incantation apparaît comme un hurlement (stridor) qui s’écarte du langage courant, un murmure (mussitatio). Dotée d’une certaine autonomie, elle est composée de sons inarticulés venus des entrailles du devin. C’est cela, ajoute Oresme, qui caractérise la voix du magicien : « Parfois il arrive que [le magicien (magus)] forme des sons variés intérieurement et qu’une voix inappropriée et semblable à une trompette résonne, parfois involontairement, et alors on suppose qu’un démon parle en lui ou sous la terre » (Nicole Oresme op. cit. p. 368). Les citations d’Isaïe et les commentaires d’Oresme montrent comment le théologien conçoit la voix lorsqu’elle est porteuse d’une puissance. C’est une voix inhumaine et bestiale, une voix qui vient de l’intérieur, des entrailles de la terre ou de celles d’un être humain. Elle véhicule des paroles dont on ne peut saisir le sens. Tantôt murmure, tantôt chuchotement, tantôt sifflement ou hurlement sauvage, c’est une voix discordante et dissonante que le magicien entend sortir de sa poitrine sans vraiment la maîtriser. Cette voix est communément rapportée aux démons, précise Oresme : c’est cela qu’il entend réfuter en montrant que la voix possède en elle-même une puissance naturelle. (Béatrice Delaurenti)
Original excerpt 1 : « Quod autem ista fiant non ex vi significationis sed virtute formationis et figurationis sonorum patet […] quia [magi] non semper utuntur voce significativa sed murmurant nescio quid quadam extranea et insolita difformitate sonora difformi – ymmo difformi atque dissimili humane voci communi. Unde Lucanus de quadam incantatione loquens sic dicebat : « Tunc vox Letheos cunctis potentior herbis excusare (i. e. excantare) deos confundit murmura primum dissona et humane multum discordia lingue. Latratus habet illa canum gemitusque luporum. »
Original excerpt 2 : « Que ces choses n’agissent pas par la force de leur signification mais par le pouvoir de leur structure et figuration est évident […] parce que [les magiciens (magi)] n’utilisent pas toujours un son significatif mais murmurent des sons déformés par une difformité étrange et inhabituelle, difforme et dissemblable à la voix humaine ordinaire. Lucain, en parlant d’une certaine incantation, a dit ainsi : "Et alors sa voix, plus puissante que n’importe quelle drogue pour enchanter les dieux de Léthé, murmura d’abord des chuchotements, en dissonant et dans une grande discorde avec la voix humaine. L’aboiement du chien et le hurlement du loup étaient dans cette voix.". » (Nicole Oresme, "De configuratione", II, 33, éd. M. Clagett, p. 368)
Source : Delaurenti, Béatrice (2006). "Oresme, Lucain et la 'voix de sorcière'". In CRMH, Cahiers de Recherche Médiévales et Humanistes, n°13 "Le Diable au Corps (XIVième - XVIième siècle)", sous la direction de Bruno Méniel. Éditions René Champion.
Source : Clagett M. (1968). "Nicolas Oresme and the medieval geometry of qualities and motions. A treatise on the uniformity and difformity of intensities known as Tractatus de configurationibus qualitatum et motuum". Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.
Urls : http://crm.revues.org/index764.html (last visited ) http://www.nicole-oresme.com/seiten/oresme-biography.html (last visited ) http://www.bookrags.com/tandf/magic-1-tf/ (last visited )

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