A Pilgrimage to the Past : Johannes Bureus and the Rise of Swedish Antiquarian Scholarship, 1600-1650
Abstract: At the end of the eighteenth century, Edward Gibbon described the antiquarian scholars of previous generations as men of “profound learning and easy faith.” His exemplar was the Swedish polymath Olof Rudbeck, who in a series of frantic and combative tomes sought to portray Sweden as the model for Plato’s Atlantis and the seething cultural cauldron from which Western civilization had emerged. A Pilgrimage to the Past takes a century-wide step back and investigates the wellspring of a number of Rudbeck’s ideas and methods in the scholarly milieu surrounding Johannes Bureus (1568–1652), archivist, alchemist, self-proclaimed herald of the Apocalypse, and Sweden’s first antiquarius regni. The book follows Bureus and his contemporaries on a whirlwind scholarly expedition traversing through thrilling new discoveries and debilitating dead-ends, set against the backdrop of a world in which the vision of antiquity served as a virtual battleground on which the spiritual and intellectual convictions of a divided and gradually transforming Europe came to blows. In the process, it reminds us that the past has always been both a challengingly foreign and deceptively familiar place. Chapter One serves as a general introduction to Bureus and early modern antiquarianism. Chapter Two begins with an overview of Bureus’ early life and education, and proceeds to chart his lifelong engagement with astronomical, astrological, and cosmological questions, introducing a number of the key components of his thought, and showing how his antiquarian pursuits were firmly embedded in a complex web of broader scientific, philosophical, and spiritual concerns. It then turns to a discussion of his early encounter with the runes and his exploratory documentation of the domestic cultural landscape. Chapter Three explores the challenges attached to the recovery of ancient barbarian culture in the midst of an ongoing Renaissance of classical antiquity, and through a series of case studies, details the ways in which hypothetical reconstruction based on comparative analysis and the creative interpretation of visual and material evidence were methods used to accomplish that goal. Here Bureus’ motives, methods, and conclusions are compared with those of his friend and antiquarian colleague Johannes Messenius (c. 1579–1636). Chapter Four focuses on Bureus’ view of the history of language and writing, and traces the ways in which the project to retrieve and restore ancient Swedish culture fell into conflict with contemporary patriotically-oriented projects waged by Danish and German scholars. The fifth chapter broadens the scope of its predecessor and focuses on Bureus’ enduring quest to understand the place of the language and writing system of his ancestors in relation to the languages and scripts of the ancient Orient. A short epilogue pulls back in order to view the phenomenon of early seventeenth-century Swedish antiquarianism from the vantage point of the longue durée.
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