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Title:Alchemists, Epics, and Heroes: The Rhetorical Construction of the Seventeenth Century Experimental Philosopher
Author(s):O'Meara, Jennifer
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Carol Neely; Markley, Robert
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Economics, History
Abstract:This dissertation contributes to the cultural study of the history of science by examining the rhetorical construction of seventeenth century natural philosophy and natural philosophers in a literary context. I offer as the heart of my study an original interpretation of Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society as a prose epic. The way in which Sprat incorporates epic tropes such as the in medias res opening, the invocation and re-invocations of his muse, the epic journey and quest, the divine intervention in the human world, and the epic flashback reveals that the History actively participates not only in the seventeenth century revision of the epic genre, but also in the reshaping of seventeenth century English cultural values. The chapters surrounding my reading of the History illustrate two very different rhetorical strategies that were used to explain and legitimize the character of the new experimentalist. The first strategy attempted to use comparisons and contrasts between the experimentalist and the alchemist. This strategy was ultimately unsuccessful in that it could yield for the experimental philosophers a cultural reputation that was only as variable and as unstable as that of the alchemist himself. The second and ultimately successful rhetorical strategy drew parallels between the experimentalist and the epic hero in terms of their growth and prowess, masculine asexuality, and distinctive linguistic style, and between the experimental and the heroic quest in terms of its command over physical space, communal nature, battle against foes, and specialized weaponry. These parallels, combined with careful discussion of the experimentalist's relationship to the divine, effectively constructed the seventeenth century experimental philosopher as the quintessential English national hero. My methodology of situating close readings of specific textual passages in their broader cultural context reflects my concerted effort to historicize rather than to theorize about the texts, an effort undertaken to give readers an understanding not only of the 'heroic' rhetorical and ideological construction of seventeenth century experimental philosophy and experimental philosophers, but also an appreciation for how these constructions drew upon and helped solidify the cultural values of mid-seventeenth century England.
Issue Date:2007
Description:202 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2007.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3301206
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2007

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