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Raphaële Garrod, Cosmographical Novelties in French Renaissance Prose (1550-1630). Dialectic and Discovery (Brepols, 2016)

Raphaële Garrod, Cosmographical Novelties in French Renaissance Prose (1550-1630). Dialectic and Discovery (Brepols, 2016), ISBN: 978-2-503-55045-9, X+389 pp., € 100,00.

Reviewed by Dario Tessicini

[1] This book makes an important contribution to the study of the reception of the scientific novelties of the early dIS-9782503550459-1modern era. While these have been often considered under the overarching narratives of the Scientific Revolution, the initial assumption of this work is that the ‘novelties’ became so once they were granted ‘discursive existence’. In the author’s words, ‘the early moderns invented cosmographical novelties in arguments which make up the very fabric not only of the specialist discourses of natural philosophy and cosmography written in Latin, but also of a variety of Renaissance vernacular genres’ (4). The concept of ‘invention’ is key to the aims of the book, as it is closely linked to the titular ‘Dialectic’, the classical and scholastic discipline that provided the discursive tools for the production of arguments in debate. The first chapter of the book is dedicated to the history of dialectic and of its early modern panorama (‘Dialectic and Natural Philosophy’). This is quite a lengthy section that includes both the classics (Aristotle, Cicero and Boethius) and the moderns (Agricola, Melanchthon, Ramus, Eustachius a Sancto Paulo), and that, given the nature of the study, serves the purpose of introducing the reader to one of the two main areas of enquiry of the book, that is, the art of dialectical invention. The loci, or ‘topics’, that are at its core are also the subject of the five appendices (321-363). These provide helpful tables and remarks about their definition and use by the authors considered in the book. A corresponding introduction on cosmology and cosmography, but shorter and with no appendices to match, is provided within the Introduction (16-30).

[2] At the hearth of the volume is the exam of five early modern French texts that engage with cosmographical and cosmological novelties. This sample covers the crucial period that goes from the early 1570s to the 1630s (despite the chronological indication in the title, the earliest French work under consideration is dated 1575). This period coincides with the appearance of the first ‘celestial novelties’, namely, the new star visible from November 1572 and observed by Tycho Brahe and many others. This was followed by the great comet of 1577, by the new star of 1604 and, finally, by Galileo’s telescopic discoveries from the 1610s. These observations sparked a wide debate on key issues of celestial physics and, once the debate merged with the question of the planetary order, led to the demise of the Aristotelian cosmology. The texts examined in this book deal with a topical range of textual typologies and cultural positions. They comprise a Protestant encyclopaedia, a Jesuit textbook (respectively, Pierre de La Primaudaye’s Troisième tome de l’Académie Françoise and Étienne Binet’s Essay de merveilles de nature et de plus nobles artifices), and an adaptation in French of Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia universalis by Françoise Belleforest (La Cosmographie universelle, first printed in 1575). The remaining two texts were the work of thinkers and novatores Michel de Montaigne and René Descartes. They are represented by the sceptical manifesto, the ‘Apologie de Raimond Sebond’ (Essais, II, 12), and by Le monde, ou Traité de la lumière, the treatise that set forth Descartes’ mechanistic cosmology.

[3] The main body of the book (chapters 2-6) comprises of two parts, covering the cosmological (chs. 2 and 3) and the cosmographical novelties (chs. 4-6), respectively. First, the ‘epistemological disturbance’ of the early modern cosmological novelties is observed while emerging from the works of La Primaudaye and Binet, Montaigne and Descartes. The author presents a detailed and nuanced examination of how different loci (e. g., arguments ‘from similars’, ‘from definition’, ‘from authority’) become a necessary toolkit (i.e., both as ‘hermeneutical devices’ and ‘matrices of rhetorical invention’) for the assimilation of the novelties in the natural-theological works by Primaudaye and Binet, and in the natural philosophies of Montaigne and Descartes. Yet, aside from reproducing the traditional early modern dichotomy between scholastic orthodoxy and philosophical innovation, the exam of these four texts reveals different fault lines. The critical and sceptical stances by Binet and Montaigne are in fact confronted with La Primaudaye and Descartes’ favourable responses to the novelties’ disruptive force. The second chapter of this part, on Montaigne and Descartes, contains some striking illustrations of the productivity of the loci when applied to the integration of cosmological novelties in the natural-philosophical discourse. Scholars of early modern cosmology will certainly be interested to read how Montaigne’s sceptical position can be seen vis-à-vis his ambivalent critique of the loci ‘from similars’ in the context of discussions on the relation between God and the universe and on the concept of universal laws of nature (173-176). The second part of the book is dedicated to Belleforest’s Cosmographie. Rather than being merely a translation of Sebastian Münster’s famous Cosmographia, first published in 1550, this work adapts the content of the original to new intellectual and contextual needs, most prominently, by adding a 230-pages description of France. Garrod’s analysis takes a comparative stance, tracking the use of different loci (‘from authority’, ‘from notation’ in particular) by Münster and Belleforest, and signalling the epistemological shifts that characterize the evolution of cosmography and geography in the early modern era.  Ultimately, this is a book that opens up interesting perspectives on the early modern ‘rhetorical turn’, namely on the interplay between observational discoveries and dialectical invention, and on the latter’s role in attributing meaning to the former. It is a complex and well-argued effort that will be of interest to readers of intellectual history and history of science alike.

Durham University, February 2017

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