Amerindian Eden: The Divine Weekes of Du Bartas

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When Izaak Walton writes in The Compleat Angler (1655) about the "truths by Du Bartas and Lobel...and laborious Gerarda and his Herbal" (261) he places the knowledge of the natural world of the French poet Guillaume de Saluste Sieur du Bartas (1544-1590) on par with the great English herbalists John Gerard and Mathias de L'Obel. Indeed, England's renowned naturalist philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, corresponded with Du Bartas, and Ann Bradstreet's poem "In Honour of Du Bartas, 1641" praises his "Art in natural Philosophy". Readers of Du Bartas's Christian epic, La Sepmaine; ou, Creation du monde (1578-1584)--or Divine Weeks, as Joshua Sylvester's 1605 complete translation of the first and second weeks is known in English--would agree with Ms. Bradstreet: the poem contains an encyclopedic knowledge of worldwide flora that has rightly earned him the moniker of a "Natural-Philosophical" poet.1 Du Bartas, however, has a second, more prominent moniker as a "divine poet". He celebrates a natural philosophy through Scripture, creating what Sir Francis Bacon disparages as "this unwholesome mixture of things human and divine [from which]arises not only a fantastic philosophy but also a heretical religion".2 In this sense, the wide-ranging and perhaps mildly heretical (if we are to believe Bacon) French Huguenot Du Bartas belongs to a particular segment of Natural Philosophy called Mosaic or Christian Philosophy, which uses the Bible, particularly Genesis, as the source and "book of nature" for all natural philosophical inquiry.3 The first week of the Divine Weekes, in which Du Bartas extends his allegorical rewrites Genesis, epitomizes the poetic expression of this sacred Mosaic philosophy, but unlike other Christian philosophers, Du Bartas extends his allegorical reading of Genesis beyond the Bible to incorporate the Amerindian cosmologies and environment of the New World.

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