The Didym of Gerbert

25 Sep

In the spring of the year 1003 A.D., Pope Sylvester II lay dying in terrible pain. The priest who attended him in a Laternan Palace bedroom was his personal secretary, Richer of Saint-Remy. As the pontiff born Gerbert of Aurillac, the first Frenchman to occupy the papal post, rambled on in reminiscence, the astonished subordinate heard a tale wich he dared not record or share with anyone else.

Here are the final words of the man history has characterized as a scientific genius of the first order, an intellectal  pioneer at the end of the first millenium of the Christian era. They contain the key to his greatness.

I was born in an extremely poor family in Aquitaine. At an early age I had to leave my native village of Aurillac for the Benedictine monastery of St. Gerauld and its school. The monks perceived my zeal for spiritual development and thirst for knowledge. Though small and thin, I possessed enormous capacity for work and concentrated effort. My teachers would point me out to visitors as a youth of great promise.One of these whom I happened to meet was Borrell II, the Duke of Barcelona. He had come to our monastery from Spain to be married. How great was my surprise when I was summoned by him to his quarters for a private conversation.

He looked at me, standing before his great chair, with smiling face and beaming brown eyes.

“Young man, I have been told by your superors here that you are the most gifted student ever to attend the school of this instituion.”

I made no reply as the magnificent ruler stared fixedly at me.

“After talking it over with the abbot of your monastery, I have decided to take you away to the Spanish Marches that I govern. The monastery especially close to my heart is Santa Maria de Rispoll. The monks there have been of help to me in many ways over the years. My objective is that they train you to become a useful scribe and secretary in my service. There is much that they can teach and introduce you to. Are you willing to come to Spain under my patonage and protection?”

What could I do but accept the generous offer immediately? New horizons were now opening in my life. No one could have foreseen their dimensions or direction.

The beauty of the mountains and valleys of the Iberian borderland enchanted me. But the librarium at Rispoll was what made my years there an earthly paradise. I excelled in all my classes, but especially in arithmetic, grammar, and music. A deep spiritual and intellectual hunger drew me into the less frequented corners of knowledge. In the monastery’s scriptorium, most of the monks were masters of Arabic as well as Latin. I became fascinated with their translations of works from the East. New perspectives were continually being offered to me by these supposedly heathen writings. I was fascinated by all that was there for me to learn.

Nothing from the Moorish south was too foreign or strange for me to be curious about. My superiors permitted me to travel beyond the borders of Catalonia, into lands not ruled by Christians. Absolute freedom of inquiry was allowed me. So, it was in the city of Toledo that my path crossed that of an Egyptian named Neptanebus.

Our meeting was fortuitous: I was in a pottery shop run by a Christian when this heathen from the East came in. His turban was of a strange violet color I had never seen before. His height allowed the man to tower over everyone he encountered. All at once, the tall giant asked me a pointed question out of the blue.

“What does a monkish neophyte such as you seek in a Mozarabic pottery shop?”

I gazed up in wonder into his leathery dark face and ebony eyes. What was I to say? My words seemed to come forth as if without censoring control of any kind.

“my aim here is knowledge of what is kept in this shop. Nothing beyond extending my knowledge, I confess. That is the common strand that connects me to all others in the world, regardless of race or faith. Is that not the common motive of men and women everywhere? Is not curiosity and the desire to learn a universal goal?”

The large man gave off a deep, sonorous laugh to this.

“You have a mind able to think, young man. Yes, the capacity to speculate is in your possession. That, besides unlimited curiosity, is a quality that both of us share. Let me introduce myself. My name is Neptanebus and I come from distant Egypt to the city of Cordoba, seeking the knowledge and wisdom that exists among the Arabs of Spain. But not only that. No, the source does not matter to me. It should be of no importance to any true philosopher who loves the truth.”

The Egyptian stopped, because an idea had suddenly struck him, “Come along with me to the hostel that I stay in. We can eat and discuss things there. I shall be most happy to acquaint myself with such a bright young Christian brother.”

Thus it was that I became connected to a person with very special knowledge.

Neptanebus was the owner of a tiny abacus which he taught me to use for calculations. His ability in mathematics exceeded anything I have  witnessed in all my years. The Egyptian was master of the numerical in every conceivable way. It became necessary for me to delay my return to the monastery because of the boundless extent of all that he knew that I desired to acquire. We delved into the nature of music and how to make it. I became curious about all the astrological lore of the East that he carried in his head. The two of us investigated the esoteric arts known to but a few fortunate individuals.

At last, my new teacher took me into the secrets of the Manichean doctrine of the doubleness of all human identity. It was one summer evening as we walked together in the fields beyond the walls of Toledo. All at once, Neptanebus halted as if in a trance and spoke in a voice hard to recognize as his.

“There is, of course, a dual existence for every person. At birth, a physical individual comes about, but also a spiritual twin. Yes, every human who has ever existed also had an unseen, invisible didym. This other self can only appear to us in our dreams. It gives advice and guidance that very few remember or follow. The didym is our ideal self, our highest model and goal. What is the purpose of human life? To realize what the twin dreams of and aspires to. It is our better, higher identity. No one attains it, beyond the saints and holy men. Most people never realize or understand that a didym is connected to them, born at the same moment they are. The two are inextricably tied together. Yet few ever know this. Almost all human beings live their lives as if there existed no personal didym at all.”

We stared at each other in silence for a time.

“I can show you the art of communication with your spiritual twin, Gerbert,” whispered the Egyptian to me in a voice that was unrecognizable.

Small, limited messages from my other grew long, detailed, and specific. The life route that I was meant to follow unrolled before me, leading me to ever higher heights of thought and action. Evenually, the Egyptian informed me he was returning to Cordoba. “You have learned all that I can teach and reveal. In the future, the didym who speaks to you in the night shall be sufficient for all your spiritual and worldly needs.”

We embraced and each went his separate way, never to see the other again.

I returned to Rispoll and carried out all that my didym commanded me to do. The twin, not visible to me in any physical form, spoke through the wall of dream each night, tellng me what to do in the following day. Fortunately, the abbot of the monastery permitted me to attempt the fulfillment of all the projects deriving from communications from my other self.

The construction of abacuses and the demonstration of how to use them became important activities that at first absorbed much of my time.

My knowledge of music received new strength from techniques taught me by my didym. Through great labor and effort, I built an organ that operated on water steam. An unprecedented dexterity with tools came about through cooperation with my double. The monochordus that I created allowed the precise measurement of the intervals between musical notes. As a result, a new direction came into traditional forms of music.

It was with profound pride that I completed construction of a time clock operated by a pendulum. This accurate horologium came to replace earlier instruments of time measurement throughout Europe. The mechanism made according to the ideas from my didym were imitated everywhere.

My reputation became widespread because of the planetarium I constructed at the monastery. Celestial globes and circles moved like real ones. A special hemisphere of mine permitted astronomical observation without error. So extensive was my work with the astrolabe that I wrote a well-known treatise on it as a navigational instrument. Another of my writings was a compendium on geometry that included the achievements of surveyors in the last years of the late Roman Empire, going far beyond Euclid.

My twin, a skilled translator, taught me to use Saracen sources. From them, I gleaned material for a book on the diseases of the human eye. Several of my works dealt with the art of alchemy as practiced by the Arabic adepts. The didym guided me to even more advanced achievements. In later years, bcause of these activities, enemies accused me of diabolical connections. Rumors of heathen occultism followed me everywhere, as far as the papal throne in Rome. But the only spiritual communication I ever had was with my twin. That was the secret behind all that I did. There was no occult magic involved in any of it.

One spring day, Duke Borrell came to Ripoll with a special request to the superior abbot. The latter summoned me to his private chamber, where the ruler of Catalonia sat in silence at a long table, the monastery chief at the other end. The abbot addressed me.

“Our precious Duke is here to ask a favor of us. He is about to make a trip to Rome concerning his petition for an independent archbishopric in Barcelona. I will allow him to explain.”

Borrell spoke directly to me with complete candor.

“I cannot any longer tolerate my domain being under a French prelate in faraway Narbonne. In order to petition for a Catalonian see, I will need someone with perfect Latin skills like you. That is why I am requesting your assistance as a travel companion, young man. The abbot agrees that this can be an upward step in your church career. I am shortly leaving for Italy and hope that you accompany me there.”

“I believe you can benefit from such an assignment, my son,” added the abbot.

“I am humbly at your service, sir,” I told the Duke, bowing my head to him.

That night, the didym conveyed to me the incalculable opportunities presented by this mission to the papal capital.

“The door to unmeasureable learning and advancement is opened now,” he said in a dream. “You must accept the opportunity that is offered.”

In Rome, I made friendships that shaped my rise to the highest summit. Pope John XXIII, fascinated by what I explained to him about the movements of the heavenly bodies, made me a frequent visitor to his private quarters in the Lateran Palace. Here I spent hours with him, explaining the nature of the cosmos to the prelate. In time the two of us talked of the governing of this world by its kingly rulers.

“The heads of Christendom must recognize one supreme earthly monarch,” he told me. “That must be the Holy Roman Emperor. The present holder of that sacred office, Otto of Saxony, will soon arrive in Rome for the marriage of his son to a princess of Byzantium. My intention is to reveal to him the magnificent gifts you possess. I shall propose that you be accepted as a member of his personal staff so that you can apply your abilities to the strengthening of his rule. You must help consolidate his worldly Empire.”

That night I revealed the plan to my didym.

“I see the road you must now take,” said the twin. “Your destiny is to lead the rebirth of the kingdom of Charlemagne in all its power and glory. You must make yourself an important player in the imperial dream of the pope and his ally, Otto of Saxony.”

My mind quickly accepted this grand vision.

“I see the future you plan. My role will be to advance such consolidation of power for the sake of our universal church, restoring the unity and greatness of the ancient empire of Rome.”

“Precisely,” declared my spiritual double. “That shall be your final, highest goal, Gerbert.”

That plan came to dominate the remainder of my life.

The pope convinced the emperor, Otto I, to make me his court mathematician. After two years in that post. I convinced both of them to permit me to travel to Rheims in France to study advanced philosophy. My dream was to unveil the profoundest truths knowable to man, with the aid of my twin.

I rose to become the principal teacher of the cathedral school. My didym helped me compose philosophical lectures that drew students from the farthest reaches of Europe. I taught young men who became famous rulers, archbishops, and thinkers, inspiring them with the idea of universal unity in one Empire, under a single Emperor. My dream was that of a unified Christendom. Only that structure could ensure the victory of Church and Faith. Complete consolidation of authority was to be my historical contribution, the purpose of my life.

But I was unaware of the presence of spies sent by unseen enemies of my new brand of education. Otto I passed away. His son, Otto II fell under the influence of a tutor envious of me, an Otric of Magdeburg. This man thought that I could be embarrassed and compromised, then characterized and condemned as a radical and heretic. It was reported to Otto II that I had defined the science of physics as a section of mathematics, not as an independent field of study. This was described as an outrageous innovation, unjustified and steeped in heretical error. I was severly castigated as an unprincipled radical. My enemies accused me of distorting the boundaries of the sciences. I was labelled a perverter of scientific truth as well as divine wisdom. Physics was not to be merged with mathematics, they argued against me. I had gone too far with my radical innovation.

But my interpretation of both science and holy dogma placed all knowledge together in one single, unified system. Just as physics and mathematics are inseparable, so are worldly knowledge and theology. The realm of truth is an indivisible whole, not divisible into different, opposed realms. Unity rather than artificial division is the guiding principle of knowledge. Every science and area of study must be connected and united into a single body, not kept separate and unaffected by the rest of our knowledge.

The final result of the machinations of Otric was that Otto II invited me to go to Italy for a public debate with his personal tutor, who held sway over his mind. Do not fear this foe, my didym said to me. Together, we shall defeat these evil maneuvers and win over to us the young, docile emperor. The result will be victory for our enlightened principles over the obscurantists led by Otric. Victory would end up ours, not theirs.

An enormous audience of teachers and students assembled for the debate, presided over by Otto II himself. The Emperor introduced the two contenders and presented the topic of debate as the correct divisions between the sciences. Hours and hours of philosophical argument followed. Otric and I clashed again and again on every conceivable aspect of the general question. Bitterness engulfed everyone who was present. The atmosphere was one of furious intellectual battle.

Our divisions grew ever wider. We fought and differed over how God had created nature. Abstract definitions received specific form as each of us performed intellectual thrusts and counterthrusts. The audience cheered and jeered as if watching a duel by swordsmen. Excitement rose higher and higher. Emotions could be read on every face.

I made use of the preparation my didym had given me each night. His plan of argument was etched deeply into my mind. It gave me a weapon of ultimate sharpness. I countered and turned back the attacks against my ideas with surprising counterattacks. The foe had nothing to compare with what my didym had furnished me. The arguments I gave proved invincible. They swept away the words of my opponent. With the advice from my twin, I was able to achieve intellectual superiority over the man who had started the war, Otric.

As the debate wound down and ended, it was clear to all who the winner was. The devious Otric had suffered complete defeat by me and my double. The victory belonged to us. We had prevailed.

Emperor Otto II, proclaiming me the winner, decided to keep me at his side as personal secretary. My talents were exactly those he had need of. I emerged from the debate as his favorite and primary advisor. Otric was dismissed in disgrace. My career as a pro-imperial churchman was assured now. In a short while, I was appointed the abbot of the Italian monastery at Bobbio. This was a step on the pathway that finally elevated me to the papal crown. Despite the very rough road, my direction was upward to the summit.

I have related the tale of my life for a single reason: so that others may follow my example and find their own didym. That is the only way to provide life its purpose and meaning. It alone fulfills the purpose and aim of life.

My advice to those who come after me is to trust and believe in their twin spirit as I did. Wisdom and knowledge are only gained by following its commands and guidance. The didym alone can give one necessary enlightenment.

Only after Sylvester II was asleep did Richer leave with the long notes he had written down.

What to do with such a wild narrative was the immediate problem. The secretary went to bed with that question eating at him. What was the answer?

He kept the manuscript in his private quarters, then burned it once the man known as Gerbert had finally died. Its contents were not passed on to future generations. It was forever lost to them.


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