Chapter

Nature in Person

Katharine Park

in The Moral Authority of Nature

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2003 | ISBN: 9780226136806
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226136820 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226136820.003.0003
Nature in Person

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In the context of medieval and Renaissance European literate culture, to write of nature's authority was already to engage in personification, for ideas of authority, as the word suggests, were closely tied to ideas of authorship. “Authority”—auctoritas in Latin—referred to the words of an author (auctor): one of the chain of especially revered and trusted writers or teachers, from the ancients to near contemporaries, whose texts established the framework within which questions in the learned disciplines were debated and explored. By extension, it was the defining characteristic of these writers: they might be mistaken on small points, but it was understood that if they appeared to contradict one another or to have missed the mark on important matters, the error lay with the interpretation placed on their words by careless or ignorant readers and listeners. Thus authority implied not only a high degree of credibility but an individual persona; to confer authority on an abstraction was to confer on it a face, a figure, and a voice.

Keywords: nature; Renaissance; European literate culture; persona; authority; European culture

Chapter.  9457 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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