The 'authority of the ancients'? Seventeenth-century natural philosophy and aesthetic responses to mountains

Dawn Hollis

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Abstract

In 1684, the natural philosopher Thomas Burnet threw an intellectual grenade with his Sacred Theory of the Earth. Although he characterized mountains as ugly, disordered ruins, Burnet also acknowledged the enormous pleasure of viewing these ‘greatest objects of Nature’. As such, he has frequently been posited as a transitional figure in the development of a modern mountain aesthetic; by contrast, this chapter will argue that Burnet’s positive response was entirely in keeping with the attitudes of his era. It will further locate the contested knowledge-making of ‘the Burnet debate’ as occurring at the intersection of classical ideas, Scriptural interpretation, and empirical rationality. Despite a rhetoric which rejected the ‘authority of the ancients’, Burnet and his disputants turned to classical literature in order to unpick such questions as the form of the Chaos out of which the world developed, the mountainous nature of Paradise, and the aesthetic value of rugged landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMountain dialogues from antiquity to modernity
EditorsJason Konig, Dawn Hollis
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Chapter3
Pages55-72
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781350162839, 9781350162853
ISBN (Print)9781350162822, 9781350194106
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2021

Publication series

NameAncient environments

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