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Utter antiquity : perceptions of prehistory in Renaissance England

Author: Arthur B Ferguson
Publisher: Durham : Duke University Press, 1993.
Series: Duke monographs in medieval and Renaissance studies, no. 13.
Edition/Format:   Print book : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
Historians know a great deal about how English thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the "documentable" past, but relatively little about how they perceived times stretching back beyond history. Arthur B. Ferguson shows in this elegant essay that prehistory had great meaning in Renaissance England. Commentators of various sorts - from poets to antiquaries - looked to the most distant past for the
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Genre/Form: Criticism, interpretation, etc
History
Mythology
Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Ferguson, Arthur B.
Utter antiquity.
Durham : Duke University Press, 1993
(OCoLC)648637855
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Arthur B Ferguson
ISBN: 0822312751 9780822312758
OCLC Number: 25629327
Description: 168 pages ; 24 cm.
Contents: 1. Euhemerism: The Medieval Tradition --
2. A Mind Divided --
3. The Age of Myth --
4. A Secular Alternative --
5. The British History: The Problem of Legend --
6. A Digression on Giants --
7. "Poesie Historical" --
Conclusion and a Glance Ahead.
Series Title: Duke monographs in medieval and Renaissance studies, no. 13.
Responsibility: Arthur B. Ferguson.

Abstract:

Historians know a great deal about how English thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the "documentable" past, but relatively little about how they perceived times stretching back beyond history. Arthur B. Ferguson shows in this elegant essay that prehistory had great meaning in Renaissance England. Commentators of various sorts - from poets to antiquaries - looked to the most distant past for the vanishing point that would perfect their historical perspective, complete their picture of universal history, and orient them in an age of increasing change. In this pursuit they often had to let imagination serve the purpose of interpretation. Though largely speculative, their efforts reveal much about the intellectual life of Renaissance England.

Since the Bible left little room for speculation on prehistory - in fact, no room at all for the concept itself - this study concentrates on myth and legend outside of the biblical context and on those who conjured prehistory out of these sources. A subtle conflict between belief and skepticism emerges from these pages, as Ferguson reveals how some Renaissance writers struggled with the ancient explanations that flouted reason and experience, while others sidestepped such doubts by relating prehistory to man's social evolution.

By isolating and analyzing such topics as euhemerism (the interpretation of myths as traditional accounts of historical events and persons), skepticism, rationalism, and poetic history, Ferguson clarifies Renaissance attempts to find in poetic expression a way of "mediating" between a version of the past preserved in myth and legend and one that might square with historical scholarship. Written in an accessible and eloquent style, Utter Antiquity illuminates the development of historical consciousness in early modern England, and, in doing so, contributes significantly to an understanding of the Renaissance mind.

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"Ferguson's investigation stands as an important addition to the history of learned mentalities in early modern Europe."-Dale E. Hoak, William & Mary

 
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