The Meridian and the Hexagram: The Revelation of France's Foundation Plan (cont.)
By William Glyn-Jones
Above: Playfair's Edinburgh Observatory
The above painting by Alexander Nasmyth, painted in the year the observatory was granted royal status, shows the observatory in the centre, with Arthur's Seat rising in the distance on the far right, beyond the castle.
I think it was at this point that I really started to consider that the whole business had gone beyond what could be put down to chance. It was time to have a look at what was known about the history of Roslin, and to see if there were connections to Paris, and also to see how the concept of a meridian might have been of significance to its builders. I decided in addition that I wouldn't be much of a researcher if I didn't also look into whether the technical knowledge was available to whoever might have been responsible for plotting out this scheme, and to consider whether the Paris Meridian might have been older than its official inauguration by Louis the Sun King (given that Roslin is considerably earlier), and then there was the question of how the much more recently built Louvre pyramids could be related to the symbolism of the geodetic scheme, and for that matter I wanted know as well where this "blade" and "chalice" symbolism arose from.
First things first. I discovered that there were in fact many historical connections between Roslin and the French court in Paris. Roslin Chapel was founded by Sir William St Clair in 1446. This Sir William had in fact travelled himself to the royal court - located in the palace at the Louvre site in Paris - as ambassador and escort to the Scots Princess Margaret, who went on to marry the Dauphin (i.e. the heir to the French throne.) When he returned from France the earl set about a major building programme that included remodelling Roslin Castle in the French style. In addition, Sir William's friend and tutor was Sir Gilbert Hay, a top scholar of the time who, after leaving St Andrew's University in Scotland, went to France and lived in the royal court in Paris for twenty years, becoming the chamberlain of the future French king. When he returned to Scotland he lived at Roslin under the patronage of Sir William, and it was while he was living there that Roslin Chapel was built. These facts are given in the work of the Scottish historians Oxbrow and Robertson, Roslin and the Grail, which, despite the sound of its title, is based on historical documents rather than speculation, and makes no great sensationalist claims.
Exactly a century later, in 1546, queen Mary of Guise, consort of James V of Scotland, after visiting Roslin Chapel south of Edinburgh, wrote to its owner, another Sir William St Clair mentioning a secret that he had shown to her and promising not to reveal it. Sensing some great mystery, many have speculated about what it is that Roslin guards. Mary of Guise was herself of royal French stock, and while she was ruling as the regent of Scotland, the Florence-born Medici queen Catherine was made regent in France, ruling of course from the chief palace at the Louvre, where she had the builders start work on the Denon wing in 1560, the part that now houses works by Da Vinci and Michelangelo. At times during these periods Scotland and France were allies, and indeed Mary of Guise' daughter married one of the sons of Catherine de Medici.
So much for connections between Roslin and Paris. What about the significance that a meridian line may have had for those who plotted out this line? William St Clair was a patron of men of letters, and he was plugged into the network that connected to the new humanism of the Italian Renaissance that was emerging at this time. As early as 1438 the Greek scholar Plethon was lecturing to the Florentines about Neoplatonic philosophy, and it was the likes of Plethon who introduced the Medici circle to a group of texts which Cosimo Medici then had Marsilio Ficino translate from the Greek. These included the works of the ancient Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, who wrote an intriguing essay entitled the Cave of the Nymphs, in which a meridian line extending to the south is described as the journey taken by the enlightened Soul when passing on back to the Realm of the Immortals. Porphyry himself had developed this idea from the Platonic dialogue called Phaedrus in which we are told that due south, where the Zodiac constellations culminate at the top of their arc, is a portal to the realm of universal, intelligible Ideas, of eternal Forms and the immortal gods. Virgil in one of his eclogues describes the ideal shepherd Daphnis ascending to this portal of the sky during his apotheosis, an event which resulted in the greening of nature, which had mourned his death. Since the ideal shepherd constellation is Bootes, and Bootes rides to his highest point due south in summer, it seems that it was this astral event to which Virgil's poem refers.
Although this may seem like a tangent from our theme, I am introducing it now because it turns out a little later to be something which sheds a great deal of light on this whole business. Whilst Daphnis was a Sicilian name for this ideal herdsman figure/constellation, the Athenian name was Ikarios, who was a figure explicitly connected with the Bootes constellation by Hyginus, following Eratosthenes, the same Eratosthenes who is the first geographer we have known (from references in other writers) to have worked with the idea of a longitude meridian, this one going through Egyptian Alexandrian. Eratosthenes was chief librarian at Alexandria, and he wrote a work on the mythic figures connected with the constellations, this work being the chief influence on the Roman Hyginus' work Poetic Astronomy, where we are told Ikarios is Bootes. The multitalented Eratosthenes also wrote a poem about the Ikarios story, for this figure was the shepherd who was the first man to receive the gift of wine from Dionysos. In Greek myth the island of Ceos suffered a plague because it was harbouring the killers of Ikarios, and only when a tomb/shrine was built for him, and the killers brought to justice, was the island regenerated. This is the source of Virgil's eclogue, where likewise a tomb is built to honour Daphnis, and the regeneration of the land, which had been mourning him, results. This in turn associates the apotheosis of Ikarios/Daphnis/Bootes with the return of the Golden Age, for it was said that at the end of the Golden Age the goddess Justice (Astraea) fled up into the skies, where she became the Virgo constellation, her scales becoming the adjacent Libra constellation. More on this in a moment.
So the significance of the Meridian for the founders may have been derived from the Neoplatonic concept of the portal of the sky due south, but how, I wondered, might this have been seen as related to the hexagram pattern?