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EDIBLE BULLS AND DRINKABLE MICE: EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY TAXONOMY AND THE CRISIS OF EDEN

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In the eighteenth-century stampede to categorize and name the newly discovered flora and fauna of the world, kangaroos, platypuses and the Barbadoes wild olive trampled the classical taxonomic works of the Greek, Roman and Medieval worlds into the dust. Eden was no longer populated simply by cows, sheep, royal lions and the occasional snake. It was a dangerous place filled with rabbits the size of people, otters with a duck's bill and snails that looked like fruit. New and strange animals presented problems both for the classifiers, who fought among themselves to discover sites of taxonomic rigour, and for the religious, who, all at once, had to re-interpret the Pentateuch to take account of the fact that many more animals had avoided drowning in the universal deluge than had been hitherto thought. The latter led to an even more serious problem for the understanding of how language worked: if God had named the animals for Adam in Eden as the basis of language, what was this new deluge of species for? This paper explores how for one religious poet, Christopher Smart, the host of new species presented an ideal opportunity to put right some of the mistakes in the strictly Biblical Adamic theory of language, which had been brought to light by recent developments in Newtonian science.

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/content/journals/10.1163/156853500507771
2000-07-01
2015-02-28

Affiliations: 1: King Alfred's, Winchester, UK

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