In Giles de Viterbo’s hands, the Forest of Matter transformed Platonic philosophy into concrete images by taking words like silva and “tracking” literally: matter, silva became the Forest, in which confused Humanity hunted down the knowledge of God. He cast the goddess Diana, the huntress, as a model for the searching human soul. In the Forest, his Diana sought out of tracks or traces, literally footprints, vestigia, of God’s divine light.
Diana is held to be a virgin, because she is herself free from silva and matter, and yet she devotes herself to holy hunting in the Forest . . . Diana practices her hunting, that is, she participates in Mind, and spends her time exclusively in hunting and understanding. To these she devotes her efforts, with all her enthusiasm and all her spirit, to exploring and pursuing the light of her homeland.
He urged his readers, in turn, to be like Diana:
[Plato] declares that the soul is happy in heaven, rejoicing not in realities, that is, in created things, but in pure essence, which belongs to God alone. For this reason he teaches that beauty is hunted out from the Forest of Matter, pure beauty, which exists without any mixture or composition . . . But come, let us track the hidden understanding from this Forest with the help that we can find in the human soul as nets and snares.
As with the image of tracking, "footprints” were a common philosophical term already in the ancient and early Christian worlds, to which Peter Lombard’s Sentences assigned a more specific theological meaning—the Dominican described vestigia as traces of divine presence in creation that took less literal form than the “image and likeness" of himself in which God had created Adam.
But in transforming Peter Lombard’s “Sentences” According to the Mind of Plato, Giles of Viterbo worked the same magic on the original abstract formulation of vestigia that he had worked on forests and tracking——he took the words literally and conjured them into haunting images: Sometimes, however, the footprints are so hidden that the power of human intelligence cannot reach them.
For this reason we seek help from another source, and bring in experienced dogs so that with their help we may obtain our quarry. Now we are chasing something about God out into the open from its hiding places in Nature, something that we could never succeed in capturing with Nature alone as our guide, not unless we use the demonstrations of dialectic as our dogs and the study of philosophy as our nets.
These dogs cannot track hidden quarry except by means of footprints, clear traces of the feet, or odors. Thus in this Forest of Matter divine footprints lie hidden, but when we take notice of them by means of reason, and consider them well, we hunt out the hiding places of the divine light. Plato asserts to this in the third book of the Laws, when he teaches that one should track down musical harmonies in the manner of experienced dogs.
As for the footprints themselves, Giles of Viterbo described these traces in the Forest of Matter as qualities: beauty, order, number.
His Diana was destined to rush about the Forest following the tracks of beauty and light until they added up to a specific sum. God . . . created this external and secondary world according to the divine archetype, for which reason the whole world itself is a footprint of God, and all the things contained in it should be called divine footprints . . . we must pursue the tracks by which human hunting brings back the Trinity as its prize.
At this point, enraptured, Diana, like the human soul, would rise above the Forest to become one with the Moon, lifted far above the Forest of Matter to the realm of ldeas, which Giles as a good Christian associated with the realm of the angels: The nature of intelligent creatures is split in two, for in part it pursues the tracks of divinity, but in part, clinging to heaven's palace, it has no desire to hunt down sensible things.
Thus nature has prepared companions for our spirits, heavenly minds, and calls one Diana in the Forest, the other the Moon in heaven . . . defined now DOI in terms of number, or species, but by kind. These kinds of minds that are called by the name of the Moon have an image that is so superior to our own that they love to ini» prove ours, and bathe the shadows of our Forests with their limpid rays. On Mount Latinos the Moon is said to have loved Endymion, kissing him at night when he was asleep, and this story is not without its point.
The point of Giles's story was a radical claim that the classical gods were nothing more or less than guardian angels: to Endymion and the Moon he added Ulysses and Minerva, Aeneas and Venus, treating the ancient heroes as if they had really existed…