The scope and detail of this fascinating book mean that anyone who reads it will have much to learn. Its polyglot and lexicographical approach releases the study of early modern ingenuity from the corrals of individual national languages, and suggests both new ways of understanding the prehistory of ‘genius’ and of writing cultural history through scrupulous attention to the histories of words.
Before Romantic genius, there was ingenuity. Early modern ingenuity defined every person—not just exceptional individuals—as having their own attributes and talents, stemming from an “inborn nature” that included many qualities, not just intelligence. Through ingenuity and its family of related terms, early moderns sought to understand and appreciate differences between peoples, places, and things in an attempt to classify their ingenuities and assign professions that were best suited to one’s abilities. Logodaedalus, a prehistory of genius, explores the various ways this language of ingenuity was defined, used, and manipulated between 1470 and 1750. By analyzing printed dictionaries and other lexical works across a range of languages—Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, English, German, and Dutch—the authors reveal the ways in which significant words produced meaning in history and found expression in natural philosophy, medicine, natural history, mathematics, mechanics, poetics, and artistic theory.
This book is a model of what scholarship can achieve when it investigates the histories of words for what they reveal of the cultural processes of making and meaning that shaped them and were shaped by them. The authors of Logodaedalus—cunning wordsmiths in their own right—have produced a mind-sharpening exercise in comparative historical lexicography that brilliantly exceeds the sum of its parts.
Raphaële Garrod is associate professor in early modern French at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Magdalen College. She is the author of Cosmographical Novelties: Dialectic and Discovery in French Renaissance Prose.