The Anatomy Lesson and the Order of the Cosmos in Early Modern Europe
Mihaela Irimia (University of Bucharest, Romania)
Based on its author's impressive erudition and full to the brim with celebrated quotes, as well as the most unexpected allusions, Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621 is an intellectual and cultural palimpsest. As it builds its demonstration on the received idea of the table of correspondences, whereby the microcosm of the human body is the perfect reflection of the macrocosm that the world is, it processes and reprocesses the medieval theory of humours, while it adds to it the use of the author's humour, who describes himself as a new Democritus, laughing himself insane at the stupidity of the race!
The use and abuse of anatomy, a reiterated spectacle of intellectual delight in full Renaissance times, is here subtly combined with the black bile (melan chole) of the poets and glibly dismantled as a source of disease by our joyful philosopher. As he demonstrates the moster of folly, he praises Moria and sings the hymns to the real ease of the body, which derives its stregth from the ease of the mind.
This paper looks at how the potent 'anatomy lesson' of European cultural identity has left traces across the centuries, braving the obvious changes and readjustments that it has suffered, like any other cultural institution. In so doing, it emphasizes a topos of European identity with manifestations of more than one culture.