The Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe

The Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe

The Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe

The Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe


I was in a Printing house in Hell, & saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.

In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the rubbish from a cave's mouth; within, a number of Dragons were hollowing the cave.

In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock & the cave, and others adorning it with gold, silver and precious stones.

In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings and feathers of air: he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite; around were numbers of Eaglelike men who built palaces in the immense cliffs.

In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire, raging around & melting the metals into living fluids.

In the fifth chamber were Unman'd forms, which cast the metals into the expanse.

There they were reciev'd by Men who occupied the sixth chamber, and took the forms of books & were arranged in libraries.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Unlike Blake, most nineteenth-century scholars saw the creation of culture as distinct from and more interesting than its transmission. Jacob Burckhardt, for example, treated the culture of the Renaissance as an essentially new creation rather than a mere revival of an ancient one, and deliberately relegated the study of the classics to a late and subordinate position in his work. "The essence of the phenomena," he remarked, "might have been the same without the classical revival." This attitude, rooted in Romantic beliefs about originality and intensity, died hard; but between 1870 and 1914 it gave up the ghost. In its place arose a new scholarship centrally concerned with the transmission of texts, images, and ideas.

Aby Warburg and the scholars associated with the institute he founded traced with the zest and intuition of detectives the shifting paths taken by classical ideas and forms in the worlds of Islam and the Western Middle Ages. Literary scholars tracked classical topoi from text to text. Iconogra-

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