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Histories of Science in Early Modern Europe

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Author Topic: Histories of Science in Early Modern Europe  (Read 294 times)
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« on: October 16, 2008, 12:44:51 pm »

Claims to antiquity—whether for mathematics, astronomy or magic—were an essential element in demonstrating the legitimacy and dignity of a science. But it also placed the historian-practitioner in an awkward situation. While it may be impressive to discover the sciences being practiced in the Garden of Eden, taught to the first human beings by God Himself, what room is then left either for individual accomplishment or (and this is most important) the extraordinary achievements of the Greeks?

Here, arguably, the historian of magic was in a happier position. Magical texts have always delighted in impossibly antique claims, and the practice of magic itself—although continuously improvised and transformed—put enormous emphasis on stasis: the preservation of every step of every ritual, down to the letters themselves of the barbarous magical words. Woven into the very documents used by historians were promises of the original and divine nature of their contents. It is not surprising that Thomas Vaughan could take over the traditional account of the origin of the arts in [End Page 38] Paradise—and even borrow the brick and stone pillars, now as repositories of occult learning—since his art owed not only its legitimacy and dignity, but also its efficacy to the very fact of its continuous preservation. Even Vaughan, however, had to explain the periodic disappearances of magic, invoking human forgetfulness (just as Ramus had done for the history of mathematics), while John Aubrey explained that fairy-folk (or, perhaps, belief in them) had taken flight at the noise of technology.
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Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.

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