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THE USE OF ANTIQUITY FOR LIFE

 

THE OCCUPATIONS OF ANTIQUARIANS

 

THE AESTHETIC EDUCATION OF EUROPE

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

An exhibition held in the Rare Book Room of the Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College, 20 September - 17 December 2004

Benjamin Anderson, Exhibition Curator

Jacob Spon, Recherches curieuses d'antiquité: contenues en plusieurs dissertations, sur des médailles, bas-reliefs, statuës, mosaïques & inscriptions antiques, 1683.

In the 14th century, European writers and scholars began to treat the texts and artifacts of the pre-Christian past as a distinct class of objects: antiquitates, or "antiquities." The idea of "antiquities" led naturally to an idea of "Antiquity," and for the first time a definitive rift opened between ancients and moderns. Antiquity became another land, to which one could travel through study. Those aspects of ancient life that struck modern temperaments as noble, including its literature, its art, and its ideals of civic virtue, were revived. Antiquity became a standard against which the achievements of modernity could be judged.

"Invention," in the language of classical rhetoric, can refer either to the discovery of something hidden or the creation of something new. Both senses of the word are at play when we speak of "the invention of antiquity" in early modern Europe. The recovery and interpretation of long-neglected texts and monuments required great intellectual discipline. At the same time, there was a pronounced element of creative fantasy in classical studies. The idea of antiquity met a present need. It would eventually enable a revision of the foundation myth of modern Europe, establishing a robust Athens alongside Jerusalem at the origin of the West.

 

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[Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections]