"If we surrendered to the earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees" - Rainer Maria Rilke
I have taken it upon myself as an artist & clinical herbalist (of Eclipta Herbal), who is passionate about advocating the ecological importance of plant medicine while rediscovering some very important forms of forgotten earth-based knowledge to work with a Latin scholar in translating an over looked Latin text called Phytognomonica by well-known Renaissance-era natural scientist, polymath & mystic Giambattista Della Porta.
Phytognomonica is an illustrated herbal book first published in Naples by Orazio Salvianus in 1588. This text is an outstanding account of land-based wisdom practices such as learning to read the language of a plant through a dynamic sensory experience in order to identify their herbal therapeutic attributes, further exposing the lost connections between art & science. Phytognomonica is, ultimately, a forgotten link within the very important recognition that reestablishing an intuitive & empirical study of plant intelligence & medical herbalism, are necessary tools in the reversal of environmental destruction caused by the disassociation & disconnection of the Descartian notion that only humans are endowed with "mind," & that all other matter is inert, lifeless & passive. This thinking is still pervasive--a pillar in fact of the materialist scientific perspective that has, in the industrial parts of the world, led us down a dark path of Earthly destruction. For contemporary scientific inquiry into plant language please refer to the additional resources below.
This project exposes the fact that the dissemination of knowledge can & should come from the human mentorship & apprenticeship with the plants themselves. The translation of Phytognomonica is solely for the public good of aiding in the unearthing of historical records of land-based wisdom & to boost awareness of the often socially invalidated practices of herbalism & the methods of perceiving plant language. It is my hope that herbalists, artists & scientists alike will be as excited as I am for the dialogue & inspiration that will ensue from having access to this truly amazing text.
This book contains 338 pages from the title page to the end of the index & about thirty-two beautiful woodcuts illustrating examples of the botanical forms of plant language otherwise known as the Doctrine of Signatures (see below for further explanation of DOS). To date there is no known translation of this book in any other language other than its original Latin. There was a series of publications starting in1996 by the Italian house Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane that published critical editions of Giovanni Battista Della Porta's works, mostly his plays and other scientific work, but Phytognomonica was not included. For the next four to six months, I will be working with Latin scholar Ian Karp to complete an English translation of this important text. In addition to a thorough translation, this work will include an outline of printing history (including any translations, if any) & detailed notation of the translator's commentary.
What is Plant Language?
Often referred to as the Doctrine of Signatures which historically has been a more divinatory or religious way of saying plant language or plant speak; a subject which is being studied more & more by modern science but has it’s roots within many forms of indigenous earth-based philosophy. Signatures are signs or signals which the plants gives to our perceiving senses as a way to express their intelligence. Think of it this way; a plant which has been on the planet for millions of years longer than humans gives them the evolutionary upper hand when it comes to navigating health & resiliency within their semi-fixed elemental & environmental habitat. This language is made very clear within the contemporary & historical land-based wisdom of medical herbalism. For example, Aloe has perfected (over many thousands of years) surviving in incredibly arid climates while maintaining exceptionally moist skin. This is how aloe becomes our ally because they can & do offer this evolutionary gift to us. When administered as medicine, Aloe is both astringent (pulling the skin back together to avoid infection) & mucilaginous (soothing/moistening/cooling to inflamed tissue) which is very hard, if not impossible, to synthesize. How is this plant not a genius? One of many signatures or signs that Aloe expresses is the thick gel of the leaf which not only makes our skin moist and plump but resembles optimally healthy subcutaneous human tissue. If you've ever cultivated Aloe in or around your home you will know that this plant will become very sick when exposed to consistent humid air & very easily loose their evolutionary vitality & medicinal benefit when removed or deprive of their ideal dry arid climate. Understanding the vocabulary of the plant world is as simple as honing our dynamic sensory awareness to how plants exist & express their color, shape, texture, smell & sound within an energetically subjective environment. Every living organism on this planet is for better or worse defined by the dynamic environment in which they exist.
“When we begin to see nature as mentor, gratitude tempers greed & the notion of resources becomes obscene.” -Wes Jackson
About Ian Karp the Latin translator
Ian received a BA in art history and Classics with a Latin emphasis in Dec. 2020. He just finished a 4 year fellowship at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. During his undergraduate years, he enrolled in graduate level Latin seminars and has been reading Latin for over ten years; in the beginning it was mostly ancient Roman verse, as well as prose philosophy and history, but for the past few years his focus has been neo-Latin texts from 1400 - 1800 that connect art and natural science. He had numerous contracts for Latin translation and research in this period. "Translating Phytogonmonica & the entire project as a whole is very exciting to me because of how closely it lines up with my own interests in nascent scientific thought in sixteenth century Italy, natural magic, science, and history, as well as early printing and rare books.”