Advertisement

Nosce Teipsum: The Senses of Self-Knowledge in Early Modern England

  • Elizabeth L. Swann
Chapter
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)

Abstract

For early modern men and women, striving for full self-knowledge was a religious obligation—and achieving it was an impossibility. On the one hand, following Augustine, the quest for self-knowledge was conceived as coterminous with the quest for God. On the other, as a range of sceptical and Reformed authors—from Montaigne to Hooker—argued, true self-knowledge was thought to pose an insurmountable challenge precisely because of what might initially seem to be an epistemic advantage: that is, the proximity of the self to the self. In the Reformed tradition, I argue, this scepticism about the self’s intelligibility was levied for pastoral ends as a source of comfort and reassurance, introducing an element of welcome doubt to temper the blistering certainties of Calvinist predestination. The second half of the chapter explores the highly visceral, sensory terms in which authors frequently describe the pursuit of self-knowledge. I focus in particular on early modern iterations of an ancient analogy comparing the soul to an eye which cannot see itself. For Sir John Davies in his poem Nosce Te Ipsum (1599), self-knowledge is (paradoxically) predicated on a productive form self-estrangement. Poetic language is instrumental here, as metaphor works to make the soul extraordinary to itself, untethering it from its own illusory over-familiarity. Such analogies articulate or ‘make visible’ the limits of our knowledge: they function as a means of expressing, and thereby knowing, human ignorance.

Bibliography

  1. Aristotle, De Anima [On the Soul], trans. H. Lawson-Tancred (London: Penguin, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. Auerbach, Erich, ‘L’Humaine Condition’, in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Thought, trans. W.R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, 2003), 285–311.Google Scholar
  3. Augustine, Saint, Confessions, trans. W. Watts (London, 1631).Google Scholar
  4. Birken, William, ‘Crooke, Helkiah (1576–1648)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004). http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6775, Accessed 27 April 2017.
  5. Brittain, Charles, ‘Self-Knowledge in Cicero and Augustine’, Medioevo, 37 (2012): 107–36.Google Scholar
  6. Browne, Thomas, Religio Medici (London, 1642).Google Scholar
  7. Calvin, John, The Institution of Christian Religion, trans. T. Norton (London, 1561).Google Scholar
  8. Cassam, Quassim, ‘Contemporary Reactions to Descartes’s Philosophy of Mind’, in A Companion to Descartes, ed. J. Broughton and J. Carriero (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011), 482–95.Google Scholar
  9. Charron, Pierre, Of Wisdom, trans. S. Lennard (London, 1608).Google Scholar
  10. Cicero, Marcus Tullius, Academica, trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933).Google Scholar
  11. ———, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J.E. King (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966).Google Scholar
  12. Cranefield, Paul, ‘On the Origins of the Phrase Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu’, Journal of the History of Medicine, 25:1 (1970): 77–80.Google Scholar
  13. Crooke, Helkiah, Mikrokosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man (London, 1615).Google Scholar
  14. Cummings, Brian, Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity, & Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture (Oxford University Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  15. Davies, John, Nosce Teipsum This Oracle Expounded (London, 1599).Google Scholar
  16. ———, Poems, ed. Robert Krueger and Ruby Nemser (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  17. Donne, John, ‘The Second Anniuersarie. OF THE PROGRES of the Soule’, in The First Anniuersarie an Anatomie of the World (London, 1612).Google Scholar
  18. ———, Fifty Sermons (London, 1549).Google Scholar
  19. Elyot, Thomas, The Boke Named the Gouernour (London, 1537).Google Scholar
  20. Eva, Luiz, ‘Scepticism and Self-Knowledge in Montaigne’, Taula: Quaderns de Pensament, 44 (2012): 71–86.Google Scholar
  21. Gallagher, Lowell, and Shankar Raman, ‘Introduction’, to Knowing Shakespeare: Senses, Embodiment and Cognition, ed. L. Gallagher and S. Raman (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 1–29.Google Scholar
  22. Gilpin, Richard, Demonologia Sacra, or, a Treatise of Satan’s Temptations (London, 1677).Google Scholar
  23. Gowland, Angus, ‘Melancholy, Passions, and Identity in the Renaissance’, in Passions and Subjectivity in Early Modern Culture, ed. B. Cummings and F. Sierhuis (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 75–93.Google Scholar
  24. Greenham, Richard, A Most Sweete and Assured Comfort for All Those that Are Afflicted in Consciscience [sic], (London, 1595).Google Scholar
  25. Hartle, Ann, ‘The Essay as Self-Knowledge: Montaigne’s Philosophical Appropriation of History and Poetry’, in Philosophy and Culture: Essays in Honor of Donald Phillip Verene, ed. G.A. Magee (Charlottesville, Va: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2002), 63–83.Google Scholar
  26. Hill, Geoffrey, ‘The Art of Poetry LXXX: Geoffrey Hill’ (Interview with Carl Phillips), Paris Review, 154 (2000): 272–99.Google Scholar
  27. Hillman, David, Shakespeare’s Entrails: Belief, Scepticism and the Interior of the Body (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).Google Scholar
  28. Hooker, Richard, A Learned and Comfortable Sermon of the Certaintie and Perpetuitie of Faith in the Elect (London, 1612).Google Scholar
  29. Langley, Eric, Narcissism and Suicide in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  30. Lennon, T.M., ‘Jansenism and the Crise Pyrrhonienne’, Journal of the History of Ideas 38:2 (1977): 297–306.Google Scholar
  31. Mack, Peter, ‘Montaigne and Florio’, in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500–1640, ed. A. Hadfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 77–90.Google Scholar
  32. Matthews, Gareth B., ‘Introduction’, to On the Trinity: Books 8–15 by Saint Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ix–xxxiv.Google Scholar
  33. Meek, Richard, and Erin Sullivan, ‘Introduction’ to The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, ed. by R. Meek and E. Sullivan (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 1–22.Google Scholar
  34. de Montaigne, Michel, Essays, trans. J. Florio (London, 1613).Google Scholar
  35. ———, The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. D.M. Frame (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958, 1965).Google Scholar
  36. ———, Les Essais, ed. P. Villey and V.L. Saulnier (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1978).Google Scholar
  37. Moriarty, Michael, Early Modern French Thought: The Age of Suspicion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  38. ———, Fallen Nature, Fallen Selves: Early Modern French Thought II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  39. de Mornay, Phillipe, A Woorke Concerning the Trewnesse of the Christian Religion, trans. P. Sidney and A. Golding (London, 1587).Google Scholar
  40. Mullaney, Steven, The Reformation of the Emotions in the Time of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).Google Scholar
  41. Nemser, Ruby, ‘Nosce Teipsum and the Essais of Montaigne’, Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 16:1 (1976): 95–103.Google Scholar
  42. Nicole, Pierre, Moral Essays (London, 1680).Google Scholar
  43. Ossa-Richardson, Anthony, The Devil’s Tabernacle: The Pagan Oracles in Early Modern Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  44. Parke, Herbert W., and Donald E.W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle. Vol. 1: The History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1956).Google Scholar
  45. Paster, Gail Kern, Humouring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  46. Popkin, Richard, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  47. Porphyre [Porphyry], Sentences, ed. L. Brisson and trans. J. Dillon, 2 vols. (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2005).Google Scholar
  48. Reynolds, Edward, Meditations on the Fall and Rising of St Peter (London, 1677).Google Scholar
  49. Roazen, Daniel Heller, The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation (New York: Zone Books, 2007).Google Scholar
  50. Sawday, Jonathan, ‘Self and Selfhood in the Seventeenth Century’, in Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present, ed. R. Porter (London: Routledge, 1997), 29–48.Google Scholar
  51. Schreiner, Susan E., Are You Alone Wise?: The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  52. Sherlock, William, A Defence of Dr. Sherlock’s Notion of a Trinity (London, 1694).Google Scholar
  53. Stock, Brian, ‘The Self and Literary Experience in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages’, New Literary History, 25 (1994): 839–52.Google Scholar
  54. Taylor, Charles, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth L. Swann
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EnglishUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations