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The "Yin-Yang" among the Insignia of the Roman Empire?

di Giovanni Monastra

«Sophia», vol. 6, n. 2, 2000 [it. ed. «Futuro Presente», a. IV, n. 8, inverno 1996].

Translated from the Italian by John Monastra


The symbols that contain sapiential knowledge in themselves, and express it, constitute a fascinating field of investigation, because they introduce to us a world that, compared with the usual one, differs from modern culture. This latter, in fact, is tied to a type of discursive and rationalistic knowing; on the contrary, the symbol expresses a nonverbal dimension, tied to the image and to immediacy.
While the modern lay culture tends to be based on clear and distinct elements, according to the Cartesian conception, of an analytic kind, where the meaning is the most univocal possible, arranged in closed outlines, the traditional wisdom, intrinsically religious if not metaphysical, is expressed on various planes without being limited to the verbal: it is therefore more rich and complex, but at the same time synthetic. In its horizon the symbol, by definition, constitutes a reality of the transcendent world that is manifested in the human sphere. It is not the fruit of an individual will, of an aesthetic choice, but derives from a precise series of "correspondences", inasmuch as there exists an objective science of the symbols, following which, meanings come to be attributed to figures, that they may be drawn from the world of geometric shapes or from nature.
Contrasting with the univocality of the sign that we know today, the symbol is instead polysemantic: indeed it contains various meanings, so that in it they are fused but not confused, being interpretable on various levels. It soon becomes evident that there cannot enter into this definition the subjective and arbitrary "modern" symbolism, of sentimental type, which, for example, is obvious from the contemporary figurative arts.
Following a research itinerary in this archaic world and, at the same time, present with us inasmuch as it is eternal, I have had a way of observing some figural correspondences between East and West, correspondences that I think have not been found before.
In fact, consulting a copy, published in the 1800s, of a text written between the fourth and fifth centuries AD in the milieu of the court of the Roman Empire, the Notitia Dignitatum, considered a "directory of the charges" of the civil and military administration of the Empire and containing many emblems, I have found at least two (if not three) symbols identical to the Chinese figures of the yin-yang.


The Notitia dignitatum

The Notitia Dignitatum is an ancient text of unquestionable importance: it may be defined as a "list of charges" or "list of official functions" at the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth century AD. Its complete title is Notitia Dignitatum Omnium tam Civilium quam Militarium and it appears to be divided into two sections, corresponding to the East-West division that characterized the empire at that time.
It enumerates the functionaries, first in an index, and then in detail, indicating the official titles and representing the insignia that mark the various branches and departments. It begins with the prefects of the praetorium and the other functions of the central administration, before going on to the authorities of the provinces, of which it defines the territorial jurisdictions and functions; it also mentions the dependent troops, in the West sometimes constituted of barbarian tribes.
Chronologically, it was not compiled all at one time. It is considered to have been redacted at slightly different times: according to the most recent studies, the part regarding the Eastern Roman Empire dates from around AD 395, that relating to the Western Empire between approximately 410 and 430, with some variants due to updates. Therefore, it appears to be a historical document of extreme interest, a valuable source, if used critically, for understanding the imperial structure in the fourth and fifth centuries, its organization in the civil and military domain. For its great documentary value it has claimed the attention of historians of the Roman period, including Mommsen, Altheim, Seeck, Mazzarino, Cameron, and Clemente. To the last-named one, an instructor in Roman history at the Ateneo of Florence, we owe one of the best works on the subject1. Alongside this should be placed the text of Pamela Berger, a researcher in the field of ancient art, specializing in iconography2.
A significant point relates to the origin of the document, therefore the identity of its writers, that the text does not specify. As Clemente emphasizes, numerous elements allow us to rule out that the Notitia, such as has come down to us, was compiled by a particular individual, because of the wealth of information it contains, very difficult to obtain for people outside the official circles. Indeed, if one compares the Notitia with a text that is similar in objectives but of private origin, spread by means of the uncritical assemblage of different and contradictory sources (such as the Laterculus Polemii Silvii), there emerges a deep qualitative and quantitative difference. It should thus be concluded that the Notitia was written in the milieu of the imperial administration3, in all probability from the West, at least concerning the version that we have. Indeed, the corrections found there, explainable by updates, seem to involve mainly the Western part of the Empire. Cameron limits its documentary value in connection with the Roman civil and military administration, affirming that the Notitia, given its composite origin, is a text more prescriptive than descriptive; according to this author, it is necessary to resort to other sources to show, by comparison, that the Notitia always conveys well the effective organization of the State4.
But, beyond certain reservations, shared by only some scholars, the fact is that the Notitia belongs to a tried and tested tradition, perhaps inaugurated during the reign of Augustus, when there was felt «the need for a collection of information that would provide the emperor, and consequently his central offices, a complete table of the administrative and military organization»5 of the Empire. The Notitia thus makes us think of a "directory" in the broad sense, presented in a deluxe form with many colored decorations, and offering detailed documentation: a directory that the high administration prepared for the emperor6.
The Notitia Dignitatum, according to Berger, is a document that «tries to perpetuate the imperial Roman heritage in a time when it maintained very little of the previous force or prestige [...]. The Notitia expresses an unequivocal ideology of hierarchical power — a power that emanates from the emperor [...] and permeates the farthest provinces»7.
Today we have only one copy of the original manuscript; we must therefore take note of the vicissitudes of the transmission of this text up to the modern age. The whole of the data relating to the functions and the signs had been reproduced, probably in the ninth century, in the Codex Spirensis8, the "Manuscript of Speyer", located in a German city in the Rhenish Palatinate, from which at least four copies were made directly. As Sabbadini demonstrated many years ago, this manuscript, kept during the Middle Ages in the library of the Cathedral of Speyer, after being almost ignored for centuries, was discovered by an Italian, Pietro Donato, a Venetian patrician and bishop of Padua from 1427 to 1447. Attending the Council of Basel in 1436, he had it brought from Speyer and made a copy of it himself9. This reproduction is currently preserved at the Bodleian Library of Oxford.
The three following copies, each one of which bears the name of the city where it is now preserved, are the Viennese (Vindobonense) manuscript which goes back to 1484, the Paris manuscript (fifteenth century), and the Munich manuscript, perhaps the best specimen because it was recopied with extreme care and attention10 by the clerks at Speyer, between 1544 and 1551, and donated to the Count Palatine Otto Henry, as is evident from the inscription.
After this date the traces of the original manuscript are lost, and came to be considered as irretrievably lost. Of the four specimens already mentioned, other copies were made. Scholars of classical history are agreed that the manuscripts in our possession are fully faithful to the original text, including the illustrations, excluding certain influences of the typical style of the time when the copyists worked. The four manuscripts themselves resemble each other in many respects, in spite of inevitable differences inherent in the manuscript tradition. The iconography found there presents interesting affinities with examples of ancient and Late Roman art, as Altheim, Berger, and other authors have shown.

Signs and symbols

Beyond the information which the Notitia offers on Late Roman administrative and military divisions, this document presents another very significant aspect, having to do with the field of metaphysical, religious and sapiential symbolism. We refer to the information we can derive from the study of the various signs of four colors: yellow, blue, red and white, which are reproduced in detail in the Notitia Dignitatum and attributed to the various imperial military units. On this aspect we would like to focus our attention. The significance that the codex has in particular for us, as an archive of late imperial symbolism, is noteworthy, as we will see. Indeed, the further back we go into antiquity, the more the meaning of all aspects of humankind turns out to be permeated by the sacred, including in the West: nothing is secular in the modern sense; everything lets an order of sapiential knowledge, of close-knit coherence, show through, thus it hardly seems credible to explain the presence of signs and symbols by aesthetic motives or for simply profane, material reasons. The document we speak of provides several significant examples.

«On more than twenty pages --wrote Franz Altheim-- the Notitia dignitatum contained nearly three hundred insignia of the military units of the late Roman Empire, represented with colors. In this very ancient heraldic book are found many things which no longer correspond to the design of Greco-Roman antiquity. The reproductions of symbols originating in Central and Northern Europe take up much space. One recognizes draft animals and decorations for carts, current among Asian and Eastern European people, many Germanic runes employed according to the old use as symbols, not as phonetic signs. On one of these drawings appears Wodan, in a form which recalls the divine lance-bearer of inscriptions visible on the rocks of Bohuslan, eastern Gotland, and Val Camonica. A very old symbol like the rune of the elk is met with in the insignia of Illyrian or Celtic troops.
Most of the signs refer to the stars, especially to the sun and its course. They are stars or discs, emitting rays in all directions. Alongside them are drawings in the shape of wheels, recalling similar signs on engraved stones, or the Celtic wheel, indubitable symbol of the sun [...]. Among the Germanic troops we meet with the crescent of the moon, connected with the solar disc.
Concentric circles have a similar significance: they are also reproduced on rocks in Scandinavia, and among the Celts and Illyrians. The swastika, another typical symbol of the sun, appears on many variants [...]. Solar symbolism, in its various expressions, informs about half of the signs that appear in the Notitia dignitatum11

We quoted Franz Altheim, the great historian of the Roman Empire, at length because he describes concisely but effectively the symbolic content system of this Late Roman manuscript. Earlier, Altheim had already made significant references to this text, for example in a long article published in Germany in 1938 but never translated12. In this article the German scholar, looking further into certain studies of Alföldi, identifies in detail the runes which appear, each one on several occasions, on the coats of arms in Notitia Dignitatum: othila, jera, inguz13. In some cases these runes are associated with horns which refer to Taurus (but not Aries), of which the "abstract linear stylization [...] originally Germanic in form";14, emerges from a coherent set of data, from rupestral engravings of Tanum and Val Camonica to the engraved plate of Zuschen. That agrees with the fact that "in addition to wild boar, the bear and the wolf, the bull is the animal with which the Germanic warrior is compared and into which he sometimes changes"15; this is confirmed besides by the figures represented on the bronze plate that perhaps comes from a helmet of Bjornhofda, Holland.

Speaking of the value of the sacred insignia, René Alleau has shown that, for example, "the labarum of Constantine or the oriflamme in French medieval tradition is not pure social and profane convention. These insignia had a magical-religious sense because they were charged with a mysterious power that was thought able to assure victory to the army that hoisted that sacred symbol." (16). Indeed, the essence of the symbol is its reference to the not-human, to the transcendent. Therefore its value is objective.

The Yin-Yang in Rome?

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We have seen above that Altheim singled out, among the insignia of the Notitia Dignitatum, the presence of ornaments of the typical wagons of Asian people, understanding this to mean the people of the Middle East, as is seen from the context of the book from which we quoted. In general, the German historian only emphasizes the symbolism ascribable to the Nordic, Indo-European peoples. He makes no mention of the presence of at least one emblem17 which represents a two-color, yellow and red symbol (fig. 1), similar in all, graphically speaking, to the Taiji of the Chinese tradition: the yin and the yang are paired there, first the black and secondly the white (fig. 2), in their "dynamic" representation, expressed through a clockwise motion. Such an emblem identifies the Armigeri (esquires, shield-bearers), included in Chapter 5 of the Insignia viri illustris magistri peditum, i.e. detachments of infantry, Western Roman Empire.

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Figure 1 - Page of the Notitia Dignitatum with solar symbols and the "yin-yang" represented in its dynamic, clockwise version (second line from the bottom, second from left); it is the symbol of the Armigeri of the Western Roman Empire. In the original, the symbols are in color; in Seeck’s edition, in black and white, the colors represented by various hatchings. The horizontal hatchings correspond to blue, the vertical hatchings to red, the speckled areas to yellow. The white, naturally, is shown as such. One of the two dots present in the opposite part is not in the complementary color, although detached on the bottom: we do not know if it is an copying error, present in the Codex Spirensis, or whether the original symbol was really like that.

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Figure 2 - Taiji(*) with yin and yang rotating clockwise and counterclockwise, two possibilities present together in Chinese symbolism.

We have met with the same figure, although going counterclockwise, with very slight modifications and not colored (figure 3), in the work compiled by Sigismundus Gelenius, published at Basel in 1552 by Hieronymus Frobenius (figure 4) where, according to Clemente, a "different tradition" of the Codex Spirensis18, was used, whereas Berger thinks it is a copy of the Notitia, the first printed, redacted directly from the medieval text now lost19.

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Figure 3 — Table of symbols of the military units of the Western Roman Empire, in the volume published at Basel in 1552. In this text also the Armigeri have the yin-yang-like emblem, shown in a slightly different way from how it appears in the text edited by Seeck. There is no color differentiation; one of the two principles wraps around the other and the rotation goes counterclockwise.

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Figure 4 — First page of the volume published by Frobenius at Basel in 1552. According to Clemente this text was redacted using a "different tradition" of the Codex Spirensis.

Along with this insignia we will point out that that of the Thebei (figure 5), belonging to the same section20, is comparable to the Chinese yin-yang in its "static" version (figure 6), made up of three or more concentric circles, divided by the diameter into semicircles of two opposite and alternating colors, in such a way that on each half the two colors succeed one another in the inverse order of the opposite half. Here also we have the red and yellow, instead of black and white.

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Figure 5 — In this page of the Notitia Dignitatum the yin-yang appears in a "static" version (center, third line from the bottom), that has the same colors as the "dynamic" version (figure 1), yellow and red. It constitutes the emblem of the Thebei, who were also integrated into the army of the Western Roman Empire.

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Figure 6 — the "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate" (Taiji tu) of Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073). The second circle from the top is the "static yin-yang." On its left is written "Yang, movement", and on its right "Yin, quiescence." Underneath are the five elements. To the left of the third circle is written: "the Tao of qian, which perfects masculinity," and on the right: "the Tao of kun, which perfects femininity." Beneath the last circle is written: "the ten thousand things that are subject to transformation and generation.".

To our knowledge, none of the historians who study ancient Rome, even those attentive to Asian cultural influences like Franz Cumont, has raised this fact, in itself at the very least worthy of interest. Even Berger did not give it any attention, perhaps because she was mainly interested in a "stylistic" investigation of the artistic contents of the text. The same can be said of the sinologists, none of whom, obviously, knows well the iconography of the Notitia Dignitatum; nor has it received any notice from specialists in antiquity or symbolism. In fact, scouring the principal literature devoted to cultural relations between Orient and Occident, we found nothing on this subject. If confirmed, this lacuna could stimulate some disillusioned reflection on a certain blinkered specialization that can "see" only what it knows well, continuing its research without ever coming out of the narrow limits of its own field.
Naturally, if one admits the historical validity of the data presented here, various hypotheses remain open on its symbolic significance within a Western framework and on its origin (esoteric vertical transmission, figurative convergence, horizontal diffusion, etc.). From a radically diffusionist point of view, the French orientalist Luce Boulnois, analyzing in a recent book the contacts that existed between China and Europe during Greco-Roman antiquity, wrote: "Concerning the two great systems of Chinese thought, Confucianism and Taoism, one can affirm that not even a crumb had penetrated into the West [...] from them, neither orally nor in writing [...] No typically Chinese idea reached there, such as the fundamental concept of the complementary elements Yin and Yang.";21. Other authors, including Joseph Needham himself, who researched very assiduously the relations between China and the West from the very beginning and in all fields, do tend to admit that certain information on Confucianism reached Europe during the first centuries of the Christian era22.
Mahdihassan, however, referring to possible contacts between the Alexandrian world and the Chinese alchemists, supposes that the Ouroboros, the snake of two colors that bites its tail, is an "analogue" of the yin-yang or, rather, expresses the same idea represented with this symbol in Chinese iconography, but he does not mention any of the evidence we have found in the Notitia Dignitatum23.
Nevertheless the rigid diffusionist vision of cultural and religious phenomena, so common among these scholars, could have found in the data in question unexpected food for thought on the migrations of symbols along commercial routes. Of course, it is not the first discovery in the ancient West of a symbol comparable with the Chinese yin-yang, but the little evidence found so far is of debatable significance, such as the case of the decorations that appeared from the third century BC in the Celtic cultural sphere24.In fact, these are groups of leaves separated by an S-shaped line, where there is no interpenetration of one complementary element in the other, like the small black circle or dot inscribed in the white part of the yin-yang and the white dot inscribed in the black part.
It should also be pointed out that, in the Celtic manufactures, the two parts are not always differently colored, as with the Chinese symbol. The analogy thus proves rather partial. However, it is worth noting that something similar appears in a mosaic on the threshold of a Roman house in Sousse, Tunisia, where the artist used different colors for the two halves of the circle, but did not insert the little circles of opposite color25.

The Migration of a Symbol

Returning to the two insignia of the Notitia Dignitatum, let us point out the problems of the significance and the historical origin of the iconography. It will be opportune, in the first place, to remember the symbolic value that the yin-yang holds for the Chinese. "The Far Eastern tradition in its strictly cosmological branch," René Guénon writes, "attributes a fundamental importance to the two principles, or ‘categories’, which it calls yang and yin. Everything active, positive or masculine is yang; everything passive, negative or feminine is yin. In a symbolic sense these two categories are associated with light and shade: the bright side of anything is yang, the dark side yin. But as neither can be found without the other, they are far more commonly presented as complementary rather than opposed."26. The reciprocal interpenetration of the two poles, which are proper to the cosmological sphere and which derive from the Absolute nondual Principle, is symbolized by the small white yang point in the black yin field and vice versa, a detail which differentiates such doctrine from any thought whatsoever of Manichean type, based on the irreducible opposition of good and evil. In fact, the very adjectives employed by Guénon, positive and negative, have only a technical value and must be assumed to be in a context devoid of moralistic connotations.
AThe manifestation of the world is traced back to the yang and yin, also defined as Heaven and Earth. Indeed, in the sapiential texts like the Tao Te Ching, the Tao, the Absolute Principle or "Supreme Void," generates Being as its first determination, in which is formed the metaphysical dyad of the yin and the yang, root-polarity of the Multiple, of Manifestation. Thus from their fusion in various equilibriums are born human beings, living nature, and the whole cosmos. In terms taken from numerical symbolism, we may say that from the metaphysical Zero (Tao) issues the One (Being), and from this the Two (yin-yang), which, uniting with each other, give rise to the "ten thousand beings.".
On the other hand, we do not know what significance the two symbols in the Notitia Dignitatum had in ancient Rome. Did they have an alchemical origin? The same colors, yellow and red, could lend themselves to several interpretations, given their complex symbolism, which can also vary according to the tone. Here let us remember only that in the Far East yellow is the direction of North, while red is the color of South. Again: yellow is a color of light, analogous to white, therefore solar and masculine, while there is a "nocturnal," feminine red, comparable to black. The conception of two complementary poles, opposed only in appearance, is far more widespread than one would like to believe, in the West as well, notwithstanding the modern Western obsession with interpreting every archaic polarity in the Manichean sense.
Moreover we must note that at times, in epochs of decadence such as the late Roman Empire, some esoteric elements "emerge" from subterranean veins of sapiential knowledge or, more often, from some of its components that are degenerate or in the process of degenerating, and become "popularized." Now and then they become symbols whose deepest significance is totally ignored and becomes forgotten, remaining in use perhaps only for their character of "magic power" (the swastika, in very many areas, came to be considered positive for its augural and propitiatory significance). From our point of view it is hardly important to know that the troops of the Armigeri, or those of the Thebei, did bear the "yin-yang" insignia, even if it is likely that this happened, given the sacred or at least magical significance it must have possessed. One would need to investigate whether the illustrators, who worked from the text of the copyists, based themselves on sure data coming from the army, as is very probable27, or if the iconographic definition was sometimes decided in the bureaucratic realm, to differentiate the troops.
However, the important thing is that in the milieu of the Western imperial élite the "yin-yang" was well known. Returning to the problem of the "emergence" of symbols in times of decadence and crisis, we do not know if something of the sort happened then, at least in the two cases we examined: indeed, solar disks and runes fully belonged to the "cultural" heritage of the ancient West; thus the fact of finding them among military insignia does not seem that it could indicate a "jump in level," while the yin-yang appears as if blossomed out of nothing, unless the Celtic and Tunisian discoveries from the Roman period are excepted, which should be reconsidered. We believe it may be interesting to deepen the research, especially on the part of symbological studies, which seem to us to have strongly neglected this text. In our view it deserves equal, if not greater, attention than that reserved for the historical angle. As for the appearance of the iconography of the "yin-yang" in the course of time, it was recorded that in China the first representations of the yin-yang, at least the ones that have reached us, go back to the eleventh century AD, even though these two principles were spoken of in the fourth or fifth century BC. With the Notitia Dignitatum we are instead in the fourth or fifth century AD, therefore from the iconographic point of view, almost seven hundred years earlier than the date of its appearance in China.
All that holds scant interest for the "traditional" angle, given the timeless, transcendent, and universal conception of esoteric knowledge, derived from a Primordial Tradition that irradiated among all peoples, according to the teaching of Guénon, Coomaraswamy, and Evola. But it may form a small puzzle for those in the business of historical and evolutionist orientation.
Here, we simply wanted to place the issue in the framework of the data within our acquaintance.



1- G. Clemente, La "Notitia dignitatum" (Cagliari: Editrice Sarda Fossataro, 1968). It is a huge study principally dedicated to the critical analysis of the late-imperial text, with reference to the date of compilation, origin, function, destination, and coherence of the parts. To our knowledge it is the only work to have appeared in Italy, if only on this level of historiographical accuracy. We also recall from the same author: Guida alla storia romana (Milan: Mondadori, 1990). back to text ^

2- P. Berger, The Notitia Dignitatum (Ann Arbor, 1975). This study is particularly attentive to the technical-formal aspects of the iconographic apparatus, as well as the historical-artistic ones. back to text ^

3- G. Clemente, La "Notitia", p. 360. Berger, however, thinks (The Notitia, p. 18 ff.) that, lacking, in her opinion, in the Notitia Dignitatum the signs of the presence, already widespread, of Christianity, its composition must be ascribed to the conservative pagan aristocratic milieu of Rome and not to the already Christianized imperial court. This observation by the studious American does not seem pertinent to us, considering that the first compilation of the document must have been prior to the era characterized by religious intolerance against the "pagans," noting the presence of numerous Christian symbols, perhaps overlooked by her. Moreover, further on she revises her initial affirmation and hypothesizes the possibility of its composition in the milieu of the court (p. 167-168). back to text ^

4- Cameron, Il tardo impero romano (Bologna: il Mulino, 1995), p. 40. back to text ^

5- Clemente, La "Notitia", p. 369. back to text ^

6- Ibid., p. 382. back to text ^

7- Berger, p. 20-23. back to text ^

8- Berger was in a position to affirm, based on paleographic data, only that the medieval codex had been redacted in the period between 825 and the beginning of the eleventh century (ibid., p. 23). Stylistic motifs present in the Notitia are found in Carolingian art as well as in Ottonian art. back to text ^

9- R. Sabbadini, in Studi italiani di filologia classica, XI, 1903, p.258. In this copy of the Speyer Codex there is an inscription by Pietro Donato himself, informing the reader of the facts and dates concerning this redaction (Berger, p. 37). back to text ^

10- O. Seeck (ed.), Preface to the Notitia dignitatum (Berlin: Wiedmann, 1876), pp. ix-xxviii. On the efforts by Otto to obtain a faithful copy of the designs in the original, cf. Berger, p. 42-49. back to text ^

11- F. Altheim, Il dio invitto (Feltrinelli, 1960), p. 147-8. Altheim is also interested in the relations existing on the prehistoric level between Asia and Europe, in the essay "Primi rapporti tra Oriente e Occidente" in I Propilei: Grande Storia Universale (Milan: Mondadori, 1968). back to text ^

12- F. Atheim, "Runen als Schildzeichen", in Klio 31 (1938), p .51-59. back to text ^

13- On the significance of these runes, see M. Polia, Le rune e i simboli. Padova: il Cerchio - il Corallo, 1983. back to text ^

14- Altheim, "Runen", p. 53. Thanks to Dr. G. Kirschner for the [Italian] translation of this passage. back to text ^

15- Ibid., p. 54. back to text ^

16- R. Alleau, La science des symbols. Paris: Payot, 1996. back to text ^

17- Notitia Dignitatum, edited by O. Seeck, p.118. In the text edited by Seeck, where the figures are in black and white, the different colors are represented by different hatchings. For the iconographic part, we mainly refer to Seeck’s version inasmuch as it is the most reliable for graphical accuracy; it is based on the codex preserved at Munich, near the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Handschriftenabteilung), where we have been able to verify personally the fidelity of Seeck’s text regarding the model (thanks to Mme. Foohs for the kind collaboration). We have found only the rarest details different, exclusively as to the colors, but nothing relates to the symbols we speak of here. Some color photographs, reproducing pages from the copy of the Notitia Dignitatum preserved in Oxford, are found in the interesting volume of Tim Cornell and John Matthews, Atlas of the Roman World (Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1984, in particular p .202-203): from these few examples one may appreciate the artistic value of this old late-imperial codex, unfortunately it is not obvious from the volume edited by Seeck nor in the many other copies in.black and white made during the past centuries. back to text ^

*- Literally, this term means the ‘Supreme Ultimate’. Jean-Christophe Demariaux thus defines, in an excellent small book, the "place" of the Taiji in Chinese traditional cosmology: "Identified with the ‘supreme void’ which would give the Tao an adequate figuration, the latter seems like Non-Being (wu) or the ‘ultimateless’ (wuji) of the Universe. So that this void may manifest, the Tao must have access to Being (you). Attaining to Being, it becomes Unity: its first determination constitutes the ‘Supreme One’ (taiyi) whose corollary is the ‘Supreme Ultimate’ (taiji)" (from Le Tao, Paris & Montreal: Stag-Fides, 1990, p. 39). [Translator’s note]. back to text ^

18- Clemente, La Notitia, p. 27. back to text ^

19- Berger, The Notitia, p. 41. back to text ^

20- Notitia Dignitatum, edited by O. Seeck, p. 115. We would also like to point out the presence of another design in which one can recognize again the yin-yang in dynamic form (and the insignia of the Mauriosismiaci). Seeck reproduced it monochromatically, although in reality the original was partly yellow and partly pale gray. It has to do, exactly, with one of the very rare cases of "infidelity" that ca be imputed to the German scholar. [We have also found this "dynamic," clockwise representation of the yin-yang as an emblem of the Mariosismiaci in a Catalog published on the occasion of the 1500th anniversary of the founding of the abbey of Landévennec: see Jean-Pierre Gestin (ed.), Landévennec 485-1985: Aux origins de la Bretagne. Daoulas: Association Landévennec-Conseil général du Finistère, 1985. It is Figure 21 (fourth row from the top, second emblem from the left) on a table of colors reproducing a page from the Notitia Dignitatum—that, goes the legend, of the troops of the Tractus Armoricani et Nervicani. The specimen used is a copy of the Notitia from the 15th century kept in the Bodleian Library of Oxford (French translator’s note)]. back to text ^

21- L. Boulnois, La route de la soie. Geneva: Olizane, 1992. back to text ^

22- J. Needham, Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge University Press, 1954, Vol. 1. back to text ^

23- S. Mahdihassan, "Comparing Yin-Yang, the Chinese Symbol of Creation, with Ouroboros of Greek Alchemy." American Journal of Chinese Medicine 17 (1989), p. 95-98. back to text ^

24- P.-M. Duval, Les Celtes, Paris: Gallimard, 1977. I owe this information on the Celts to Professor Alessandro Grossato. back to text ^

25- Ibidback to text ^

26- R. Guénon, The Great Triad. Cambridge: Quinta Essentia, 1991, p. 30. On this question and, more generally, on the Chinese sapiential doctrines, see Matgioi (pseudonym of Albert de Pouvourville), La Voie métaphysique (Paris: Librairie de l’art indépendant, 1905; reprinted Paris: Chacornac, 1936 and 1956); P. Filippani-Ronconi, Storia del pensiero cinese (Turin: Bollati-Boringhieri, 1992); J. Evola, Il Taoismo (Rome: Mediterranea, 1972); English translation, Taoism: The Magic, the Mysticism (Edmonds, Washington: Oriental Classics, 1993); M. Granet, La Pensée chinoise (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1934; reprinted Paris: Albin Michel, 1980); J. C. Cooper, Taoism: The Way of the Mystic (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1972); A. Medrano, El Taoismo y la inmortalidad (Madrid: Año Cero, 1994); R. Wilhelm, The I ching; or, Book of changes, 3rd ed. (Princeton University Press, 1967). back to text ^

27- P. Berger, The Notitia, p. 157. back to text ^

Giovanni Monastra



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Articolo inserito in data: mercoledì, 28 febbraio, 2001.

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