The Margarita Philosophica appeared around the year 1500 CE, written by Gregor Reisch of Freiburg.

The title page of the manuscript contains the fascinating image below, in which the seven primary subjects of the book are allegorized as maidens, under the guidance of a three-headed windged figure who is perhaps representative of wisdom.

I'm curious about the symbol that appears on the dress of the winged figure at the center of the image. What symbol is it, and what might it mean in this context?

Title page, Margarita Philosophica, ca. 1500

Title page, Margarita Philosophica, detail

Here is an image of some handwritten Greek that appears to have the same symbol. See, for example, the character furthest to the right on the penultimate line, and the first symbol on the last line:

Sample of symbol in written Greek

  • It may be a version of the Greek Pi symbol – CGCampbell Oct 13 '15 at 12:58
  • Last letter of the greek alphabet--omega? Occurs in the expression "I am the alpha and the omega--the beginning and the end." – Tom Copeland Mar 30 '17 at 9:33
  • That isn't a symbol, that is her feet peeking out from under her dress. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 3 '17 at 1:19

It is a cursive form of π (the Greek letter 'pi'), as it is in the manuscript of Thucydides you also posted.

The three-headed and winged figure is Philosophy (as it says in the round border above her: 'PH(ILOSOPH)IA TRICEPS . NATVRALIS . RATIONALIS . MORALIS . HVMANAR(VM) RERVM', i.e. 'Philosophy (of matters human) is three-headed [and her heads are] natural, rational, and moral [philosophy]'. The seven figures below her are the seven liberal arts (the trivium and quadrivium), also named in the round border.

The image of Philosophy's dress here is probably derived from the passage of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy in which Philosophy first appears to the author (book I, prose 1):

'Her garments were of an imperishable fabric, wrought with the finest threads and of the most delicate workmanship; and these, as her own lips afterwards assured me, she had herself woven with her own hands. The beauty of this vesture had been somewhat tarnished by age and neglect, and wore that dingy look which marble contracts from exposure. On the lower-most edge was inwoven the Greek letter Π [Greek: P], on the topmost the letter θ [Greek: Th], and between the two were to be seen steps, like a staircase, from the lower to the upper letter. This robe, moreover, had been torn by the hands of violent persons, who had each snatched away what he could clutch.' - (trans. H.R. James (1897) [a translation freely available on Project Gutenberg])

James' footnote explanation, however, that the letters represent respectively political and theoretical life, is probably incorrect. More likely they represent practical and theoretical (philosophy).

The ladder/steps are clear on the image you posted; the θ below her neckline less so (to me at least). In fact it looks more like τ (the Greek letter 'tau').

One final note: this is not a manuscript but rather a printed book.

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