This essay documents the mutual interactions of philosophy and poesis in early modern theories of knowledge. It does so by following the trajectory of the wax image, or simulacrum, from Greek philosophy to Roman rhetoric and onwards to early modern philosophy and poetry. Ovid’s fable of Pygmalion—the artist who brings an ivory statue to life—evokes the wax simulacrum and thereby makes explicit the shared terrain of philosophy, poetics, and rhetoric around questions of knowledge and representation. Consequently, this essay uses Pygmalion as a hinge that links these disparate periods and discourses. Culminating in an analysis of works by Francis Bacon and Michel de Montaigne, the essay claims that the figure of Pygmalion is a vehicle by which the softening tendencies of poesis shape the theories of knowledge put forward in early modern philosophical writing.
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Jenny C. Mann; Pygmalion’s Wax: “Fruitful Knowledge” in Bacon and Montaigne. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2015; 45 (2): 367–393. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-2880935
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