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Arbor Saeculorum [Tree of History]

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Arbor Saeculorum [Tree of History]


The Arbor Saeculorum is a black-and-white design based on the stained glass window in the Outlook Tower, Edinburgh. The window is a student’s commemoration of teaching and research devoted to an interpretation of the Past and the Present for the foresight and guidance of the Future. The symbolism of this Arbor Saeculorum is explained in the companion volume: ‘Ideas at War,’ By Professor Geddes and Dr Gilbert Slater:
[20] "To give all this yet clearer definition, let us map out once more the stream of history, as one of those "Graphic Charts," which were so common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and are again coming into every adequately conducted history-class. But now on a larger and fuller scale than usual (not less, for instance, than the metre per century of our Edinburgh Outlook Tower endeavour); and marked not merely with the succession of princes and their most 'decisive battles.' "
[21] "Cease to concentrate attention on the individual wave-crests and wave-marks, but map the great tides of time to which the waves belonged. In broad and simple ways we all do this: as [22] when we speak of Egyptian and Hebrew, Greek and Roman, times and their civilizations, and again of the Middle Ages, of the Renaissance, of the Revolution, and as we shall especially do in the following chapters, of the evolution of the industrially, mechanically and politically Liberal age into an Imperial order, as this into a Financial period."
[22]"The chart of annals is readily imaged as a stream, the august River of Time; but this [23] more general presentment will be found to suit best a more organic imagery, perhaps most conveniently that of a World-Tree. As over against the apple tree of knowledge, there grows the vine of life, so beside the Cosmic Tree, Ygdrasil, we see this Historic Tree, Arbor Saeculorum.
"This tree takes definite and simple shape; it is like a young pine, with definite nodes, one for each great period, and each with its radiating branches for their essential types, their characteristic social formations. To the left hand, for each period let us allocate a [24] pair of these branches for the temporal power, the plebeians and patricians, the people and chiefs of each period; and to the right hand a corresponding pair of branches of the spiritual power, the 'intellectuals and the emotionals,' 'the regulars and the seculars,' or, in terms more modern (and still unsatisfactory), the institutionals and expressionals, the initiators and realizers (or shall we say, again in antique parlance initiates and adepts?). To give this definiteness we mark along the right and left margins a series of symbols at once defining each branch, and correlating each pair, each node.
"Thus, reading from below upwards, we see half-submerged, on the one hand, the crown of Egypt, on the other the winged orb of immortality. Above these are the star of Solomon for the temporal greatness of Israel, and to the right the sacred name. So for the Greeks with their vivid practical and intellectual life --the galley, of trade or of Ulysses, balanced by the aegis of Pallas. With the Roman order, patrician and plebeian orders become clearly differentiated. Hence for the former, the Standard for power, colonization, conquest [25] and empire, with the Fasces for law and justice as the virtual religion and science characteristic of old Rome at its best; while also for the slave, the chain of temporal bondage on one hand, but the sacred monogram. badge of enfranchisement, upon the other.
"So for the Middle Ages. The helmet of chivalry is followed by the charter of the borough, guarantee of civic democracy. The first is balanced on the spiritual side by the papal tiara; while for spiritual emblem of the town life we have here--too cynically, be it confessed--but the barrels of the Kermesse, the intemperance in which urban prosperity is ever wont to drown its idealism of fraternity while seeking to express it.
"Next the Renaissance, with the plebeian origin of its new nobles suggested upon their blazons and following upon these the Puritan hat. On the spiritual side correspond the Greek letters for the intellectual aristocracy of the Renaissance, and the open Bible with the spiritual keys transferred to it, as the central authority of emotional conviction and guidance of the Reformation.
"Then the Revolution! On the temporal side [26] the (materialistic) crozier and sword go down below the toothed wheel of industry, while on the spiritual side the fleur-de-lis of Divine Right sinks below the Cap of Liberty. Always, as before, we have each pair of corresponding branches, four in all, for People and Emotionals, Chiefs and Intellectuals respectively. *
"Finally, in our present or passing time, the strife of labour and capital, the contrast of empty hands unemployed or in strike, with golden purse, and on the other the corresponding flags, black and red, of anarchy and of socialism (blowing in what should be contrary winds of doctrine). Yet beyond this node, the Phoenix of action, the Psyche of thought, are again flying free: while, between them, there rises a new quatrefoil, enclosing the long-dreamed flower, whose buds may some day open.
"So far this first climbing of the tree of general history. With each re-ascent new [27] general ideas will appear. Enough, however, here to note once more, that each node is concealed from its predecessor and successor by a twining wreath of smoke--symbol of our forgetfulness of the past ages, our blindness to those succeeding. Yet for this present purpose of the study of wars also observe how it may express the destructive crises, the wars external, internal, or both, in and through which each great transition has been accomplished. Rebellion and Exodus of Hebrews; antagonism of Israel and Greece, of Greece and Rome; Fall of Rome before the rise of the Middle Ages; breakdown of these with the fall of Constantinople, with Renaissance and Reformation and their wars! Wars of the Revolution and wars of Empire; above all, war of to-day! Yet all this is expressed in a stained window set up by the students of an Edinburgh Summer Meeting a full half-generation ago, to record the essentials of a course which had interested them."
[28] "But this tree of history, the observant traveller will find in every city he visits, every village, often hamlet even. Upon the changing town-plan, with its corresponding monuments, edifices, survivals of all kinds, he reconstructs the main aspect of its branchings...."
....historians have "well nigh forgotten that history is nearly as open-air a science as those of nature, and written far more fully and truthfully in the works and ways of cities than upon the papers, accessory illuminants though these often may be."
*[fn : This reading of history as an interplay of Temporal and Spiritual Powers is considered in some of its larger political bearings in a companion volume of this series: The Coming Polity: see esp Chapter ii, "History and Politics," of that book


Image shows two sphinxes on either side of the Arbor Saeculorum, or the Tree of History. At the top of the tree on the left side is a Phoenix, and on the right is a butterfly. There are two scrolls on either side of the image. Each is divided into seven squares. Within each box is an emblematic image. The images on either side that are on the same level relate to each other. Beginning at the bottom, are the hexagonal Star of David (left) and the term for the Hebrew God (right). The next level depicts a boat (left) and an owl (right). Next, is a chain and the fasces for law and justice (left); across is the
chirho sign and a barrel with an axe (right). The next level up shows a helmet and the charter of the free cities (left), as well as the papal tiara and a barrel (right). On the next level are the blazons of noblemen and a hat (left), and Greek letters that symbolize knowledge and the Bible (right). Next are swords and a cogwheel (left) and the liberty hat rising above the fleur-de-lis (right). Finally, at the highest level are empty, outstretched hands (left) and the flags of anarchism and socialism (right). The letter “P” is in the lower-left corner of the image, and the letter “G” is in the lower right; these are Patrick Geddes's initials. The image is vertically displayed.


Patrick Geddes


The Evergreen Volume 1, p143


Patrick Geddes & Colleagues


Spring 1895


13.5 x 17.5 cm



Date Modified

2 November 2017, ljk