Thanks to Dan Brown, everyone has one of two responses to the idea that there are hidden codes in ancient works: Either you immediately believe them, because of that mind-blowing Da Vinci Code book, or you immediately mock them, because of that bullshit Da Vinci Code book.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. There are, after all, some fairly weird encoded messages that actual academic types have identified. And some of them are even about Freemasons.
Encoded Messages About: Jewish mysticism.
Cracked has mentioned before that Michelangelo appears to have cleverly painted God to look like a giant brain in his Sistine Chapel fresco...
... but according to a prominent professor at Yeshiva University, the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper than that: Michelangelo's work is packed full of symbols of Jewish mysticism. You may also know this as kabbalah, aka the religion Madonna made popular in Hollywood a few years ago.
T-shirt evangelism is famously effective.
What we know is that for a while Michelangelo was living with a politician in Florence named Lorenzo de' Medici, who was apparently part of the whole kabbalah scene at the time. Also, we know Michelangelo never tired of painting subtle screw-yous to the Catholic church into his work.
So, in kabbalah, the Hebrew letter gimel symbolizes g'vurah, or justice and punishment. Here it is next to the Sistine Chapel's depiction of David, laying the holy smack down on Goliath:
In a scene depicting Judith and her handmaiden carrying the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes, they are forming the shape of the Hebrew letter chet, which represents chesed, or the characteristics of "loving kindness."
Bringing up those brains again, in the Sistine Chapel God appears to be inhabiting the right side of the brain (the left having been cut away to reveal it), which represents kabbalah chokhma, or wisdom.
By the way, according to another professor and art historian, that chick under God's arm is Shekhinah, a sacred figure in kabbalah.
Some think Michelangelo was subversively urging the church to embrace the Jewish community. And there are signs of that -- for instance, nearly every Christian depiction of the Garden of Eden has shown the forbidden fruit as an apple, which has stuck around even today. But in Jewish texts, it's described as a fig, and sure enough Michelangelo painted a fig tree:
Of course, there is the ever-present theory that Michelangelo could have just been playing a huge joke on everyone involved, because sometimes people back then just got bored.
Kept Secret Because:
It makes sense that Michelangelo would choose to keep on the down-low about his criticisms of the church (and some think the whole thing was Michelangelo showing his contempt for Pope Julius). Being excommunicated had a tendency to burn a few bridges for an artist who can't afford to lose those holy commissions. And, as you can sort of tell, Bible scenes were about the only thing that paid back then.
Encoded Messages About: Freemasonry.
We know, we know. Any time you hear "Freemasons" you immediately think "nutjob." We just recently made fun of a popular conspiracy theory claiming Stanley Kubrick hid Masonic/Illuminati symbolism in his films. But Freemasons are a real thing -- it's a real organization and there have been real members for centuries. They just don't secretly run the world.
Not pictured: world domination.
And, all Dan Brown bullshit aside, Freemasons do have a history of sticking symbols in their work as a nod and wink to fellow members. For instance, academics who study Mozart's life and works fairly unanimously conclude that a lot of his music, especially his final opera, The Magic Flute, is a pretty blunt analogy about Freemasonry.
Even if you're not exactly the opera type, chances are you've heard bits of The Magic Flute at some point. This part tends to pop up in a lot of movie scenes depicting snooty upper-class socialites doing sophisticated-type things:
It's about a woman calling herself Queen of the Night, who sends a prince, armed with a magic flute, on a quest to save her daughter from her enemy, Sarastro. It's later revealed that Sarastro is the good guy, and he challenges the prince to three trials of enlightenment. So basically, it's The Legend of Zelda.
An Ocarina is basically a flute, right?
Now, Mozart is well known to have been a Freemason, but he was also part of another faction known today as the Illuminati. No, not that bullshit "New World Order" Illuminati that conspiracy theorists think we at Cracked are a part of now. Mozart's Illuminati was a movement that embraced principals of Enlightenment philosophy -- simply put, a belief that mankind should pursue wisdom and be governed by reason. Pretty much what The Magic Flute was all about, just in case you skimmed that whole synopsis.
The number three happens to be the Freemasons' favorite number, and in The Magic Flute's overture, a three-note phrase represents the Mason's initiation ceremony, which began when a new member knocked three times on the door to be let into their stupid secret club.
See? There it is, right there.
Kept Secret Because:
Mozart was still a loyal member of the Catholic church, and his city of Vienna was controlled by the Holy Roman Empire. The Pope just got finished telling everyone that Catholics were banned from joining the Masons, and those who did faced excommunication. Mozart must have been pretty good at keeping secrets; even today, the clergy have trouble believing Mozart was a Freemason.
This isn't the last time the Masons are going to come up in this article.
Encoded Messages About: His weird belief in a mathematical cult.
You almost certainly know that Plato is one of the most revered philosophers of all time, having invented pretty much all of Western thought while eating breakfast. Now a new theory suggests he was secretly part of a crazy religious cult founded by the earlier thinker Pythagoras.
We had math teachers like that, but they all ended up getting arrested.
You should know from high school that Pythagoras was an absolute beast at figuring out the length of the slanty side of a right triangle. You may not know that he was also a creepy cult leader. The Pythagoreans were a psuedo-religious band of his followers who studied astronomy, first suggested the Earth was round, believed numbers were divine and thought the universe made music. They were also probably into hacky sack.
The Plato conspiracy theory kicked off when an expert from Manchester University discovered that Plato's manuscripts seem to follow the 12-note Pythagorean chromatic scale, otherwise known as the foundation of all Western music that has ever been made. The Pythagoreans made a science out of music theory, and one of their ideas was that different bits of the chromatic scale elicited different emotional responses.
Knowing this, when scholars divided the works of Plato into 12 equal parts, they noticed that Plato used the chromatic scale as an outline. The Symposium, for example, has 2,400 lines that were divided into 12 sections of 200 lines each. The harmonic sections yammered on about love, beauty, healing, ascension and Apollo, the god of music. The dissonant sections talked about faulty logic, discourse, beauty without truth, debauchery and shame.
All classic elements for a great party.
Supposedly, the underlying meaning of this structure is that science, divinity, mathematics and nature are all wrapped in the same burrito, and that the laws of nature are defined mathematically, and that the scientific discovery of these laws, brings one closer to the Divine, the way Pythagoras believed. Far out, man.
Kept Secret Because:
Of course, preaching these Pythagorean beliefs was a huge no-no in Athens at the time of Plato. Part of the reason religious leaders fed Socrates a hemlock cocktail was that they believed he was preaching false gods. And since Socrates was Plato's sidekick, it's understandable that he would harbor some resentment about that.
He took the whole "poison" thing pretty well, though.
Also the whole thing kind of makes him sound like a weirdo.