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Jan Swammerdam's Frogs

Sleigh, Charlotte (2012) Jan Swammerdam's Frogs. Notes & Records of the Royal Society, 66 (4). pp. 373-392. ISSN 1743-0178. (doi:10.1098/rsnr.2012.0039) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:31678)

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Having discussed insect metamorphosis at length, Jan Swammerdam's Bybel der Natuure (1679/1737) reached its climax with a substantial description of the generation and muscular activity of frogs. This paper explores the rhetorical role of frogs in Swammerdam's 'great work', showing how they were the Archimedean point from which he aimed to reorder all of creation-from insects to humans-within one glorious, God-ordained natural history and philosophy. Swammerdam linked insects to frogs through a demonstration that all underwent epigenesis; and frogs were then linked to humans through a demonstration of their identical muscular activity. The success of Swammerdam's strategy required a theological reconstruction of the frog, traditionally an ungodly creature, such that trustworthy knowledge could be obtained from its body. Perhaps surprisingly, this act of theological cleansing is shown to be somewhat prefigured in the distinctly non-experimental natural history of Edward Topsell (1608). The paper also examines Swammerdam's interactions with the mystic Antoinette Bourignon, and his challenges in reconciling a spirituality of meletetics with a material epistemology in natural philosophy. Differences are revealed between the natural analogies given by Swammerdam in his published and unpublished writings, undermining to a certain extent the triumphal insect-frog-human rhetorical structure of the Bybel.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1098/rsnr.2012.0039
Uncontrolled keywords: Antoinette Bourignon; Edward Topsell; Frog; Jan Swammerdam; Natural history; Science and religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Z. Bliss
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2012 09:57 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 12:43 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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