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"The Doctor Quarrels with Some Pictures": Exegesis and Animals in Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia epidemica

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This essay explores Thomas Browne's Pseudodoxia epidemica (1646), with its lengthy book on 'errors' in animal lore. In the limited critical literature on Browne's natural history, this author is generally seen as stumbling towards a zoological idiom and clearing away the emblematic 'clutter' of earlier writers on natural history—Gesner, Aldrovandi, Topsell or Franzius. This essay proposes that Browne is working with a more complex set of co-ordinates in his thought, beyond his experimental inclinations and his Aristotelian assumptions. It will explore the extent to which his studies of animals emerge from, and duplicate, the presumptions of his biblical hermeneutics, and it will suggest that Browne regularly exports terms from scriptural exegesis—the categories of the literal, the figurative, and the emblematic—into his investigations of the natural world.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leeds


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