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Cultural Genealogy explores the popularization in the Renaissance of the still pervasive myth that later cultures are the hereditary descendants of ancient or older cultures. The core of this myth is the widespread belief that a numinous charismatic power can be passed down unchanged, and in concrete forms, from earlier eras. Raphael Falco shows that such a process of descent is an impossible illusion in a knowledge-based culture. Anachronistic adoption of past values can only occur when these values are adapted and assimilated to the target culture. Without such transcultural adaptation, ancient values would appear as alien artifacts rather than as eternal truths.
Scholars have long acknowledged the Renaissance borrowings from classical antiquity, but most studies of translatio studii or translatio imperii tacitly accept the early modern myth that there was a genuine translation of Greek and Roman cultural values from the ancient world to the "modern." But as Falco demonstrates, this is patently not the case. The mastering of ancient languages and the rediscovery of lost texts has masked the fact that surprisingly little of ancient religious, ethical, or political ideology was retained — so little that it is crucial to ask why these myths of transcultural descent have not been recognized and interrogated. Through examples ranging from Petrarch to Columbus, Maffeo Vegio to the Habsburgs, Falco shows how the new techne of systematic genealogy facilitated the process of "remythicizing" the ancient authorities, utterly transforming Greek and Roman values and reforging them into the mold of contemporary needs.
Chiefly a study of intellectual culture, Cultural Genealogy has ramifications reaching into all levels of society, both early modern and later.
Table of Contents to come