The Amazing Senyor Llull

Raimundus Lullus, better known as Ramón Llull, was a writer, mystic and philosopher from the 13th Century. He was born in Palma de Mallorca in 1232-33. His personæ is hailed as one of the pillars of Mallorcan cultural history. He is long since dead, but his thoughts are still very influential in many of our ways of thinking, not least of which, in the way we use computers and the Internet.

Ramón Llull is also the first writer to ever write books in the Catalán language. Some argue that Senyor Llull should be considered the greatest man ever born in Mallorca.

As I do live in Mallora, Spain, and have been for 25 years now, I must declare myself partial to this man.

Llull was born in Palma de Mallorca at the time of the Reconquista. Jaume I, King of the newly united Aragón and Catalunya, had just conquered the Balearic Islands in 1229, ending 300 years of rule of the Maures. However, it took about another 3 years until the last of the Arab resistance was crushed on the island.

Llull was brought up at the Royal Court of Mallorca. He learnt Arabic from the Maurish population that still remained here after their defeat. He was well educated, and became the tutor of Jaume II of Aragon. Llull wrote in Latin, Catalán and Arabic.

In 1265, aged 32, he had a religious epiphany, and became a Franciscan monk. In 1273, he founded a Franciscan missionary school in Miramar, near Deià, Mallora, which today is a museum for Ramón Llull, as well as for the Archeduque Luis Salvador. Miramar is well worthy of your visit. Talk to the gardener there if you have a chance.

Llull’s first major work ‘Art Abreujada d’Atrobar Veritat’ (The Art of Finding Truth) was written in Catalán and then translated into Latin. He wrote treatises on alchemy and botany, ‘Ars Magna’, and ‘Llibre de Meravelles’. He wrote a romantic novel, ‘Blanquerna’, the first major work of literature written in Catalán, and thought to be the first European novel ever. He wrote treaties such as ‘Ars compediosa inveniendi veritatem‘, which he used to transform his intellectual doctrines of Divine Dignities or attributes of the Godhead into an encompassing meta-physical system. Later, Llull wrote many more works and composed a second, more simplified, redaction of his ideas, the ‘Ars inventiva veritatis‘. In 1308, Llull completed his ‘Ars generalis ultima‘, and its epitome, the ‘Ars brevis‘. Not many years ago, ‘Ars notandi‘, ‘Ars eleccionis‘ and ‘Alia ars eleccionis‘, were also attributed to this very gifted man.

All this happened some 350 years before Cervantes or Shakespeare, and 30 years before Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

Árbol del Amor-llull

About 1272, after another mystical experience on Mallorca’s Randa mountain in which Ramón Llull related seeing the whole universe reflecting the divine attributes, he conceived of reducing all knowledge to first principles and determining their common point of unity.

Ramón Llull designed a method, which he first published in full in his ‘Ars Generalis Ultima’ or ‘Ars Magna’, of combining attributes selected from a number of lists. He also invented numerous devices for the purpose, each of which consisted of two or more cardboard discs inscribed with alphabet letters or numbers that referred to lists of attributes. These discs could be rotated individually to generate a large number of combinations of ideas. This method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge.

Some computer gurus have adopted Llull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the true beginning of Computation Theory.

Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, one of the tables listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, virtue, truth and glory.

Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions – whether Jews, Muslims or Christians – would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.

In 1285, Ramón Llull visited Rome and from there embarked on a mission to convert the infidels of Tunis to Christianity. He was violently expelled from Tunis, in an incident which was wrongly magnified by some later historians into a stoning to death, and therefore a martyrdom. On his return, Llull began to preach for a unification of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – which, together, he hoped, would be able to defeat the Asian invaders then threatening Europe and the Middle East.

Llull reduced Christianity to rational discussion, thereby attempting to prove the dogmas of the Church by logical argument. But in 1376, Pope Gregorio XI charged Llull with confusing faith with reason and condemned his teachings. The Roman Catholic church did, however, pardon Ramón Llull more quickly than they did Galileo Galilei, venerating Llull during the 19th century.

In all, Ramón Llull is said to have written 280 books and treaties mainly in Catalán, Latin, Arabic and Occitane, making him the most prolific Catalán author ever. Another 135 works are doubtfully or spuriously attributed to him.

The amazing Senyor Llull has a statue in his honour in Palma de Mallorca, just as one turns right from the Paseo Sagrera towards Plaza Reina and the Borne.

I salute him every time I drive past.

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Llull died in 1316. You can visit his tomb at the church of San Francisco, in Palma.

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When Llull wrote about Ars (art) it was not about art in today’s way of entertainment, but about Art in the sense of the creative impetus of humanity, the spiritual challenge of the senses, an investigation into man’s spirited view of the world, the capable application of the mind and the intelligent understanding of the universe.

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