The Circle of the Vicissitude of Human Things

In another thread, Enrique as posted a link to this fascinating image.


It is the front-page of a book (published in Antwerp, 1564) whose title “Circulus Vicissitudinis Rerum Humanarum” means “The Circle of the Vicissitude of Human Things”. The book is described in some detail on this page. At the two sides of the image we can see “abstract” Time (on the left) and actual time, represented by Day and Night as Sun and Moon (on the Left). The seven allegories on the central sphere represent (clockwise from the top) Richness, Pride, Envy, War, Poverty, Humbleness, Peace. The book includes seven images (one is missing from the above quoted page) that “zoom-in” on each of the seven allegories, illustrating how each “case of human life” is generated by the preceding one. So Richness generates Pride (and you can see a child Pride at the feet of an adult Richness), Pride generates Envy, and so on, in an infinite circle.
The representation of Envy as an ugly snake-haired woman heating her own heart can be found in Alciato and goes back to Ovid. I guess that also the other allegories can be found in Ripa or in other common sources.

The subject of the book is somehow similar to the central section of the Trump sequence (from Love to Temperance) that also represents the cases of human life. But in the Circle, there is no place for Fortune: everything is ruled by Time. Each state of life is an unavoidable consequence of the preceding one. I do not know which might be the philosophical sources for this cyclical vision of human history, but is seems to me to be a deep vision and possibly a valid one :)

Thanks to Enrique for posting this beautiful image!


Re: The Circle of the Vicissitude of Human Things

Hi Marco,

I am glad you liked the image. I have spoken about Circulus with Michael Hurst, and he dug out a few other words of similar nature.

I was shown a 2009 re-print of this book, made by an European publisher who found an original printing at an antique book dealer when he was younger. This publisher happens to know a client of mine and he gave her this reprint.

When I was looking into narrative universals I found out that circular stories are common to all cultures, I guess there is an experiential root to them in that we all experience life cycles -day to night, the four seasons, the ages of man, etc- as a never-ending story. So, it makes sense to craft narrative models that mirror that cyclical sequence.


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