MICROCOSM (Greek, μικρός, small; κόσμος, universe):
Philosophical term applied to man when contrasted with the universe, which, in this connection, is termed the macrocosm. The idea of an analogy between man and the universe was expressed by the ancient Greek philosophers like Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and especially by the Stoics, who developed it in connection with their doctrine of πνεῦμα. They considered the universe to be an animated being resembling a man and, like him, made up of a body and a soul. From this idea, exaggerated and developed, proceeded the doctrine of microcosm and macrocosm, according to which man is a universe in little, and the universe a man in great. The soul of man, which forms a part of the universal soul, is to his body what the universal soul is to the universe; and the rational part of the soul performs in man the same functions as the universal intellect in the universe. From this assimilation of man to the universe resulted the prevailing belief in a mutual influence exercised by each on the other.The Four Humors and the Four Elements.
The doctrine of man's being a microcosm penetrated early into Jewish literature. It is found, though only in a haggadic form, in the Abot de-Rabbi Natan (ch. xxxi.), where every part of man's body is compared with a certain object. The hair represents the forest; the bones, woods; the lungs are the wind; the loins, counselors; the stomach, a mill; the knees, horses; when erect the man resembles the mountain, when recumbent the plain. Less fantastic analogies between man and the universe are given by Israeli ("Sefer ha-Yesodot," ed. Fried, p. 59), Saadia (commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah," iv. 1), and Shabbethai Donolo (commentary on Gen. i. 26). To them man is a microcosm owing to the correspondence of the four humors of which his body is made up to the four elements which constitute the universe: the blood corresponds to the air; the phlegm, to water; the black bile, to earth; and the yellow bile, to fire. Ibn Gabirol expounds in his "Meḳor Ḥayyim" (iii., § 6) the theory of microcosm and macrocosm in its metaphysical sense. "As the intellect," he says, "which is the most sublime and the most simple of all the substances of the microcosm, is not attached directly to the body, but has for intermediaries the animal soul and the ethical spirit, so the most sublime and the most simple substances of the macrocosm must have intermediaries by means of which they are attached to corporeality." In another passage of the same work (iii., § 44) Gabirol says: "If thou wishest to form an idea of the construction of the universe, thou hast only to observe the construction of the human body, in which thou mayest find an analogy."Baḥya's Analogies.
Very original analogies between man and the heavenly spheres are given by Baḥya ("Ma'ani al-Nafs"; Hebr. version by I. Broydé, ch. xiii., Paris, 1894). As there are nine spheres, one contained within the other, so is the human body constituted of nine various substances entering one into another; namely: the bones, which contain the marrow; the vessels and the veins, which contain the blood; the flesh; the skin; the hair; and the nails. To the twelve signs of the zodiac of the heavenly sphere correspond the twelve apertures in the human body, six to the right, and six to the left: the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the mouth, the breasts, the navel, and the two other openings. As every sign of the zodiac is supervised by a power proceeding from the universal soul and returning to it, so is every limb of the human body governed by one of the powers of the soul. As the destinies of all living beings and natural phenomena are regulated by the seven planets, so the maintenance and good order of the human body depend on the seven powers of the soul, combined with the physical faculties of man. As the stars are constituted of bodies and souls that have a visible influence on the animal and vegetable kingdoms, so the human body is provided with seven physical powers by means of which it grows and maintains itself. To the seven intellectual powers of the heavenly spheres correspond the five senses with the faculties of perception and understanding, the first five resembling the five planets, and the last two the sun and the moon.Joseph ibn Ẓaddiḳ.
The comparison between man and the universe is the central idea of the philosophical work of Joseph ibn Ẓaddiḳ entitled "'Olam Ḳaṭan" (The Microcosm). To it are devoted the end of the first division and the whole second division of the book. Thereis nothing in the world, says Ibn Ẓaddik, that does not find a parallel in man. In him are found the four elements and their characteristics; for he passes from heat to cold, from moisture to dryness. He participates in the nature of minerals, vegetables, and animals; he comes into being and passes out of being like the minerals; nourishes and reproduces himself like the plants; has feeling and life like the animals. Further, he presents analogies to the characteristics of things: his erect figure resembles that of the terebinth; his hair, grass and vegetation; his veins and arteries, rivers and canals; and his bones, the mountains. In addition, he possesses the characteristics of the animals: he is brave like a lion, timid like a hare, patient like a lamb, and cunning like a fox. Moses ibn Ezra, in his "'Arugat ha-Bosem," says that man is called microcosm because he resembles the macrocosm in his composition, derivation, and creation. With the spread of the Peripatetic philosophy, in the twelfth century, the doctrine of microcosm, which entered Jewish philosophy through the Arabian Neoplatonists, and especially through the encyclopedists known as "the Brethren of Sincerity" (comp. Dieterici, "Die Anthropologie der Araber," pp. 41 et seq.). lost all its significance.In the Cabala.
Maimonides is concerned only with the original Aristotelian idea from which the doctrine evolved, namely, that the whole universe is one organic body, and that it has the properties of a living being, possessing life, motion, and a soul; but he does not seem to believe in the niceties of the analogy between the human body and the universe as established by the Neoplatonists (see "Moreh Nebukim," i., chap. lxxii.). However, the doctrine became prominent in the Cabala. "The human body," says the Zohar, "is the model of all the creations; it unites all the earthly and celestial worlds" (iii. 135a). In another passage it is said: "The human figure unites all that is above and all that is below; therefore the Ancient of Ancients has chosen it for His form" (iii. 141 b). In "Tiḳḳune Zohar" man is regarded as a microcosm, and, viewed in his relation to the macrocosm, considered as the great universal ideal man or Adam Ḳadmon. It is probably through the influence of the Cabala that the doctrine of the microcosm came into great favor among the philosophers of the Renaissance like Bruno, Paracelsus, and others, who held that in man's nature is found the sum of all the cosmic forces. He is able to understand the material world, because he unites in his body the finest essence of all the material things; and as an intellectual being of sidereal origin, he has the faculty of conceiving the world of intellectual forms through the spark of the divine infused into his nature.
- Fried, Sefer ha-Yesodot, p. 59;
- Jellinek, edition of Ibn Ẓaddiḳ's 'Olam, Ḳaṭan, Intro.;
- Bloch, in Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, ii. 729;
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Uebers. p. 407;
- Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, p. 5;
- Munk, Guide des Egarés, i., chap. lxxii., note;
- Karppe, Etudes sur l'Origine et la Nature du Zohar, pp. 452 et seq.;
- Joël, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Philosophie, i. 29.