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Posts Tagged ‘Benedykt Chmielowski’

Benedykt Chmielowski’s Nowe Ateny (The New Athens) is one of the stranger books I’ve stumbled across in my research. Printed in four volumes between 1745 and 1746 in Lwów, Poland, it resembles medieval bestiaries and other compendia of natural philosophy from the likes of Isidore of Seville than it does any of the vernacular encyclopaedias coming out of England and France at around the same time. Organized in scattershot fashion, more of a compilation of various anecdotes rather than a cohesive set of descriptions, The New Athens freely mixed together current scientific knowledge with folklore and the occult, offering us a fascinating glimpse into the intellectual atmosphere in the Polish popular audience before the dawn of the Enlightenment. If it reads like a work three centuries too late for Europe’s elite, who were busy applying a systematically more rational approach to the world, it also speaks to a continuing desire for marvels among readers and a keen curiosity on the part of the author, who seemed reluctant to rule out anything. The same human-like creatures who populate The Travels of Sir John Mandeville get their own entries here, and medieval fascination with the cynocephali, the dog-headed humans, remained alive and well in at least one encyclopaedist from the eighteenth century.

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