The Measure Of Ancient Mirrors: Planispheres, Phenakistoscopes And Telescopes

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Mirror magic, fortune telling and fulfillment of desires. Fantasy with a mirror, dark room, magical power, night view. (MiaStendal /Adobe Stock)

The Measure Of Ancient Mirrors: Planispheres, Phenakistoscopes And Telescopes

In some early texts concerning long-distance viewing, the term ‘mirror’ is used, but not as a device for simple reflection. Instead, the mirror takes on other powers, and the term seems to serve as some kind of metaphor for a fantastical device to view scenes remotely.

Johannes Hevelius observing with one of his telescopes (1674) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Johannes Hevelius observing with one of his telescopes (1674) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mirroring The Future

The Gesta Romanorum (Deeds of the Romans) is a collection of anecdotes dating from the late 13th or early 14th century. The work seems to have been written for the purpose of providing morality tales, as each anecdote or story in the text includes a heading referring to a particular moral virtue or vice — for example, de invidia. One of the tales in this book deals with the idea of viewing images at a distance in this context. A knight has married a woman who is unfaithful, but he is unaware of that fact; moreover, he is away from home, travelling in the city of Rome: “In the meantime, while the knight was passing through the main street of Rome, a wise master met him in the way, and observing him narrowly, said, “My friend, I have a secret to communicate.” “Well, master, what would you please to say?” “This day, you are one of death’s children, unless you follow my advice: your wife is a harlot, and contrives your death.” The knight, hearing what was said of his spouse, put confidence in the speaker”.


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