Brazen Head  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A Brazen Head (or Brass Head or Bronze Head) was a prophetic device attributed to many medieval scholars who were believed to be wizards, or who were reputed to be able to answer any question. It was always in the form of a man's head, and it could correctly answer any question asked of it. However, depending on the story, it could be cast in brass or bronze, it could be mechanical or magical, and it could answer freely or it could be restricted to "yes" or "no" answers.

Cultural references

Bacon's Brazen Head appears in Robert Greene's play Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (c. 1589), John Cowper Powys' novel The Brazen Head (1956) and John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost. Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark" mentions “the famous friar who created the prophetic Brazen Head”, implicitly Bacon. However, in his short story The Artist and the Beautiful from Mosses from an Old Manse, Hawthorne connects the Brazen Head or "Man of Brass" with both Albertus Magnus and Friar Bacon.

A brazen head plays an important role at the end of Robertson Davies' novel Fifth Business.

In Don Quixote, Don Antonio Moreno has a brazen head, created for him by an unnamed Polish “pupil of the famous Escotillo of whom such marvellous stories are told” (chapter 62). It is later revealed to be fake. Note that the end notes for the Schevill and Bonilla edition of Don Quixote state that Escotillo is Michael Scot. The “Brazen Head” entry in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes Escotillo as Italian, however.

In Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, it is stated that Friar Bacon's brazen-head was the usual sign of a fortune teller's dwellings.

A "bronze head" appears in The Box of Delights.

In the ending of the 1984 science fiction novel Neuromancer by William Gibson it appears as a form of computer terminal, a richly decorated head made out of platinum and gems. Gibson states its voice is generated by "a beautiful arrangement of gears and miniature organ pipes... a perverse thing, because synth-voice chips cost next to nothing...".

In Gregory Frost's Gregory Frost Shadowbridge novels, the main character follows the guidance of a brazen head in the form of a brass pendant with the face of a lion.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Brazen Head" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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