Stein M. Wivestad 16.06.11
In The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart the Czech theologian and educator Jan Amos Comenius gives a representation of his own life experiences in the 17th century. According to the Slavic scholar Dmitrij Tschizewskij (1972, p. 139) the book is one of the most beautiful works in Czech literature and an important work in world literature. I have used two translations, both are based on the edition of Jan V. Novk from 1910: Matthew Spinka's American translation from 1942, which tries to "modernize the diction and to approximate the original with modern idiom" (p. VI) and Milada Blekastad's poetic Norwegian version from 1955. Citations are given from Spinka's translation. References also show to the subdivisions of the chapters as indicated in Blekastad's version.
The book is an allegoric tale about a pilgrimage, written 50 years before John Bunyan's more famous The pilgrim's progress, and quite different from it. The pilgrim in Comenius' work starts in his own heart, thinking through the aims of the pilgrimage:
"Thereupon, I went out of myself ... [and I] left my home to wander about the world in order to gain experience."
The castle of Happiness is the residence of the queen of the world: "Her Most Gracious Queen Wisdom", in Chapter 33.1 unveiled as Vanity, with painted, swollen face, a foul breath and a disgusting body.
The pilgrim in The Labyrinth gets two "helpers". The first is the inquisitive guide who finds out everything: "Searchall, called Ubiquitous" (Chapter 2). The second is the interpreter, who is named "Delusion" (Chapter 3). He blurs all problems with soothing words, so that the problems seem to be harmless. It is said to be difficult to find good translations of the Czech names on the two helpers. In German Klaus Schaller proposes "Frwitz ... beralldabei" and "Verblendung" (Schaller, 1962, p. 185 and 193). Both these guides are the Queen's men. The pilgrim is tempted by Searchall to a mania for novelty, a persistent tendency to make digressions, "ein stndiges Abspringung von der Sache" (Patocka, 1971, p. 12), which also may be interpreted as a restless transcending of all limits - an urge for perfect knowledge and power - to be like God (Schaller, 1962, p. 190-194). By Delusion he is tempted to resignation, to be satisfied by half-truths. However, he resists seduction by these helpers, thanks to his own personal view. He does not always look through the glasses they have given him, and therefore he is not led astray by superficial inquiry or the accumulated "wisdom" of the world.
An example may be given from his visit to the academic world. Comenius likens academic studies with work in a drug store or pharmacist's shop.
Comenius gives a critical description of people who try to compound academic papers, or in his vocabulary, try to produce fine jars and bottles filled with remedies against cultural diseases. He divides these products into two distinct categories of quality (Chapter 10.9):
I accept Comenius' notions about the first two workers as ideals for my own educational study and writing: Personal selection of the best materials ("fragrant spices and herbs") both in educational practice and writing, intense analysis, balanced synthesis and pure and precise presentation; all done to further education for a good life. But I'm afraid I am inclined to follow the "hundreds", caring most for the outward appearance of the products.