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2009-04-07 - 2:49 p.m.

farther along the tangent

So I was wrong about the chronology between Linnaeus's Oratio de Telluris habitabilis incremento and Buffon's Histoire Naturelle. Linnaeus's dissertation was delivered in 1743, so his idea was out there before Buffon published. However, I don't know if the 1743 talk included the "very strong objection" put forth in the 1781 edition; that is, if Linnaeus came up with the idea or was just noting Buffon's criticism.

In any case, I'm interested in where Linnaeus came up with his idea of the Paradisical Mountain that he advanced in Oratio de Telluris habitabilis incremento.
(1) Columbus's theory of paradise, in which he suggested that the world was not round but in fact breast-shaped, with Eden as its nipple. This is something that gets brought up when people are trying to convince you that Columbus didn't discover that the world was round, and the argument goes like this: All normal people at the time already believed in a spherical world, but Columbus believed some crazy nonsense and didn't discover a damn thing about the shape of the world.

But I can't imagine that the image of a breast-shaped world doesn't derive from medieval typology where, in Isaiah, Jerusalem as a mother nursing her offspring prefigured the idea of the wound in Christ's side being a source of blessings bestowed by God on the Church, and there is also something in Judges? I don't know, it's been a long time since I've thought about this. There are psalter mapamundi from the 13th century - and maybe earlier and later, I only know what I've seen in art museums - where all the rivers in the world are depicted as flowing out of Christ's open wound, or sometimes, less disgustingly, where the world map could be thought of as kind of spread out on a table, and Christ stands behind the table, with the source of the rivers being sort of vaguely equated with his stomach.

Columbus couldn't have been unaware of this, first because, as a navigator, he would have been interested in maps of the world and second, because revolting stories of Italian and Spanish mystics being literally fed on the liquid oozing out of Christ's wounds were loved by everyone at the time.

(2) Isaac Newton's idea that, at the time of creation, there was a single island surrounded by vast seas which subsequently receded to reveal the continents as they are. Swedenborg's correspondence with Linnaeus has a similar idea but I don't know if Swedenborg thought of it independently, got it from Linnaeus, got it from Newton or if it came to them both from elsewhere - Swedenborg and Newton both had Unitarian views - and at Uppsala, Linnaeus interacted with Olof Celsius, who was both a botanist and a theologian but I don't know anything else about that, except that Celsius was the uncle of the guy who invented the temperature scale. Oratio de Telluris habitabilis incremento was Linnaeus's third lecture at Uppsala, so he would have been exposed to Celsius's ideas by then, but I don't know the chronology of his interaction with Swedenborg and Newton.

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