Finding a Path Through the Woods

In December, some of our team members (Dana Jalobeanu, Oana Matei, Doina-Cristina Rusu and Claudia Dumitru) attended Finding a Path through the Woods, a two-day conference on Sylva Sylvarum in Paris, organized by Dana Jalobeanu and Koen Vermeir. The event was one in a series of seminars and workshops on Sylva that started in Princeton in 2012 and will be continued with a meeting in Berlin in March 2015.

The most important result of this meeting was putting together a preliminary list of topics or problems that could form the core of a volume of scholarly articles on Sylva Sylvarum. The reading groups were particularly helpful in this respect. You can see most of the issues discussed by our team at the second reading group of the conference, on spirits and pneumatic substances in Sylva, in this post. We also had a chance to meet the French team translating Sylva Sylvarum (Claire Crignon, Sylvia Kleiman), who contributed to the first reading group.

Doina-Cristina Rusu and Claudia Dumitru also presented papers at this conference. Doina talked about Francis Bacon’s use of sources, expanding on his famous metaphor about ants, spiders and bees. By analyzing some of the material in Sylva Sylvarum in relation with its sources (Giambattista della Porta and Hugh Platt), she tried to show that Bacon follows his own methodological injunctions and, far from simply lifting material from others, he reflects on it critically and transforms it. That would mean that the bee (who digests and renders useful the stuff it feeds on) is a symbol not only for philosophy, but also for natural history undertaken philosophically. Claudia talked about a specific set of experiments from Sylva Sylvarum – those dealing with sounds. She tried to show how one problem that was vital to the Aristotelian background theory, that of the irreducibility of sound to motion, shapes much of Bacon’s inquiry in Sylva and arguably puts him against the dominant trend in the later part of the seventeenth century.


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