A Capacity For The Unpredictable

Frequently, however, scholia from the classics were used to define Genius without acknowledgement of authorship and understanding of all the philosophical  and religious implications of the figure.


Jane Chance Nitzsche, The Genius Figure in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, 1975


“For example, the tongue and all the speech organs are the same as in a man, and yet the Ourang Outang does not speak”

Genius alters conceptualy over time, the modern lone genius has little relationship to mediaeval concepts which are shaped and altered from classical sources in turn. To Jane Chance Nitzsche the timeless property that genius holds is “Man’s need to understand himself.

How Do We Treat Myths About Science?

Set myself a question, How was genius perceived in the Enlightenment and in what way did it differ from contemporary understanding of an Orang-outang?

I don’t know the answer to the first part, but in one small corner of Edinburgh at least I suspect the answer is not a lot, as the Orang-outang has to fit into a wider cosmological framework in Lord Monboddo’s scale of being.

What I need to find out is if in anyway the modernist concept of the lone genius is related at its inception to Aristotle’s definition of man as ‘capable of intellect and science.’

Aristotle focus on capacity allows Lord Monboddo  to suggest that language is not essential to man. It also allows the Orang-outang to be placed on a rather flexible chain of being that can accommodate other emergent properties of the period without breaking.

If Aristotle’s definition of man is a philosophical attempt to get to the core of what it means to be, the widespread popularity of the Orang-outang in early modern popular culture and the role of the genius in contemporary popular culture suggest meaning may be grounded in the need to understand and as Jane Nitzsche Chance suggests that need is both culturally wide spread and deep rooted.




Jane Chance Nitzsche, The Genius Figure in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, 1975



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