Imitating, Challenging, and Perfecting Nature

in Promethean Ambitions

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2004 | ISBN: 9780226577128
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226577135 | DOI:
Imitating, Challenging, and Perfecting Nature

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This chapter discusses the human endeavors of imitating, challenging, and perfecting nature. Greek and Latin literature is filled with admonitory stories of the results of human endeavors to imitate the handiwork of the gods, ranging from the disastrous flight of Icarus to the transformation of the weaver Arachne into a spider. The stories reveal an attitude to the illusionistic power of art that is both reverential and ambivalent. On the one hand, they display an awe at the artist's mimetic skill, while on the other they are clearly meant to mock the victim of the deception. Greek art delighted in the ambiguous tension established between these two poles. An Aristotelian perfective art could also be mimetic, in the sense that it could imitate natural processes used in order to lead nature to greater perfection. Alchemy, unlike painting, sculpture, or the making of life like automata, was an art that sought to reproduce natural products in all their qualities, not merely to make a superficial simulation.

Keywords: imitation; Nature; mimetics; Greek art; simulation

Chapter.  10460 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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