The Isiac Tablet of Cardinal Bembo
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Pages (PDF): 48
Publication Date: 1887
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The Bembine tablet, or the Mensa Isiaca is a bronze tablet with silver and enamel inlay, probably of 1st Century Roman origin. Although it depicts Egyptian themes, it is not Egyptian in origin. In the 17th century, Athanasius Kircher attempted to interpret it as a key to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, unsuccessfully. Occultists have long sought esoteric meaning in the tablet: Westcott, Eliphas Levi, and Manly P. Hall all believed that it was the key to the Tarot. The tablet is currently on display in the Museum of Antiquities in Turin.
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THIS curious relic of an age long past cannot fail to attract the attention of every earnest student of the Mysteries; its beauty of design, its careful execution, its obvious antiquity, its certain connection with that most incomprehensible scheme of religion—the Egyptian, all combine to fascinate the mind and stimulate the intellect in a search for the explanation of the purpose and meaning of this very elaborate pictorial work of Art.
Mysterious in its conception, of unknown origin, and of peculiar workmanship, this Tablet merits examination and research.
From the time of the learned Orientalist Kircher, and of the Classic Pignorius, many eminent archæologists and men of letters have devoted their energies to the elucidation of the hidden object of the designer, who must have been as erudite in all the arts and wisdom of the Egyptians, as he was skilful in execution. The well-known names of Montfaucon, Shuckford, Warburton, Keysler, Caylus, the Abbé Banier, the Abbé Pluché, Jablonski, Kenneth Mackenzie, Kenealy, Wilkinson, Eliphas Lévi, and Bonwick, all of whom have ventured some opinions, are sufficient proof of the worldwide interest that this Mensa Isiaca has aroused. Many years have now passed away since the Author made a labour of love of the drawing of the Tablet from which the Photogravure in this volume was taken; and his drawing being finished, his work seemed incomplete until he had supplied as its companion an explanatory treatise, however scanty and imperfect it may be deemed. He begs the indulgence of many a learned reader for its short-comings, and if he has apparently undervalued the opinions of the modern school of scientific Egyptology, it is only because of his conviction that the Tablet is essentially of an Esoteric character, and therefore insusceptible of ordinary methods of interpretation.
The Photogravure provided with this little volume, 10 ins. by 8ins., is of course much smaller than the original, which is approximately 50 ins. in length, and 30 ins. in breadth. So far as can be ascertained, the Tablet has not been engraved nor printed in its entirety since 1719, when it was published in France by Montfaucon, and it has never been printed in England.
The Isiac Tablet is of Bronze, the designs are inlaid upon its upper surface, and are composed partly of silver and partly of a dark coloured enamel, which has somewhat the tint of steel (niello work). Some portions of the silver ornamentation are missing, perhaps they have been removed by force for their intrinsic value, during the turbulent Middle Ages, although it is possible they may have become loosened and lost by accidental violence.
Around the whole Tablet is a border of small designs, or Limbus, as Kircher called it; at each corner is a many-petalled rose-like flower, these divide the Limbus into four portions; two vertical, a right and left, and superior and inferior portions. Within this border there are three principal horizontal divisions; the Upper and Lower Regions are of equal depth, the Central Region is deeper and is further subdivided.
The Upper Region presents Twelve principal erect human figures, and several smaller designs.
The Lower Region presents Twelve principal more or less human figures, of whom two, the second and eleventh, are standing in porticoes; and two others are seated, the fifth and the eighth; there are also interspersed among these, several smaller figures; as a boy; a dog-headed human figure, a cat, a bird, and other curious mystic designs.
The Central Region presents a Middle Grand Scene, extending over two-thirds of the whole length, consisting of a Throned Female under a Canopy, on each side of her is a triad. Each triad consists of a Seated figure, a human attendant and a winged human figure; there are also two birds in each lateral scene. At each extremity of this Grand Scene are placed designs somewhat similar to each other; each consists of an upper compartment, representing a Bull with two attendants, and a lower portion representing two female figures, one on each side of a Nameless object, whose formation can be better grasped by sight than from description.
Between the Upper and Lower Regions runs a narrow line of Hieroglyphics, this does not appear in the Photogravure, which from its necessarily reduced size, would have rendered them illegible; and within the Limbus runs all round a narrow design of wavy lines, with occasional small flowers, vases, phalli; and masks or faces interspersed.
The Letters which appear on the Photogravure do not belong to the Tablet; they are the reference marks adopted by Kircher in his scheme of explanation: most unfortunately the equally excellent plate given by Pignorius has a different set of reference letters. The only omission from the Photogravure is that of the series of very small designs on the plain border of the Central Canopy and its basement; these are all similar, and consist each one of a square, a circle within it, and within the circle four diameters dividing it into eight spaces.
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