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JAN SWAMMERDAM'S FROGS

Charlotte Sleigh
Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London
Vol. 66, No. 4, History comes to life (20 December 2012), pp. 373-392
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41723322
Page Count: 20
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Abstract

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 Differences are revealed between the natural analogies given by Swammerdam in his published and unpublished writings, undermining to a certain extent the triumphal insect-frog-human rhetorical structure of the Bybel.

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