Bernardo Cesi and his Mineralogia (1636): naming a new science from an indiscriminate piling of mineral accounts

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Marco E. Ciriotti
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Bernardo Cesi and his Mineralogia (1636): naming a new science from an indiscriminate piling of mineral accounts

Messaggio da Marco E. Ciriotti » mer 24 mag, 2017 18:49

▪ Mottana, A. (2017): Bernardo Cesi (Cæsius) and his Mineralogia (1636): naming a new science from an indiscriminate piling of mineral accounts. Rendiconti Lincei, 28, 435–448.

The word Mineralogia appears for the first time in print on the title page of the unfinished book on minerals written in Latin by the Jesuit Bernardo Cesi (Bernardus Caesius Mutinensis: 1581–1630), edited by the Modena Jesuit College and published posthumously in Lyon (France) in 1636. In the opening page of this ponderous in-folio book, Cesi states that he coined the word because he did not want to compete with the title De mineralibus given by the publisher to Albert the Great’s book on the same matter. Moreover, he had thought that such a new word is pleasant and would attract readers to learn the miracles of metal concretions and mineral medicaments, the value of the earths, the preparation of colours and pigments, the effectiveness of condensed juices, the grading of common stones and gemstones, and all the metal riches hidden under the earth. In fact, Mineralogia is a meticulous compilation of all accounts on minerals reported from Homer to Giovan Battista Della Porta (both mentioned by name), i.e., over 2000 years of surviving written texts. Cesi discusses all information according to a strict adherence to Scholasticism, as interpreted by the Jesuit Company at the beginning of seventeenth century. Thus, e.g., the twelve gems of the breastplate of the Jewish High Priest refer to the Apostles and those in the Book of Revelation are in connection with the Nicaean symbol. Cesi either denies or discredits all scientific novelties arising from the contemporaneous “scientific revolution”. In particular, for him the Earth is the fixed centre of the universe; Copernicus is as a drunkard and Galileo as a mere builder of instruments. Nevertheless, he questions the equality in number between metals and planets, suggested by Agricola, because Jesuit scientists had confirmed the existence of four additional planets around Jupiter. This ponderous book is valuable only for its enormous collection of ancient information, which is easy to retrieve because the index is extraordinary meticulous. However, its approach is too backward even for the time it was printed. Consequently, the book was not successful and never re-edited. Only a few English scholars took notice of it, and blamed its approach. After one century, the Swedish school of chemically oriented mineralogists re-vitalized the word Mineralogia. von Bromell (1740) was the first, followed by Wallerius (1747). Probably they did not know Cesi’s book, but both liked and used the Latin name of the science. The word became rooted in terminology and nomenclature when d’Holbach translated into French Wallerius’ textbook (1753). Therefore, from the second half of the eighteenth century on, the French word Minéralogie was the actual root name of the science of minerals for most languages, and gave rise to several derivatives, just as Géologie was the root name for the Earth science in general. The original words Mineralogia (in Latin) and Giologia (in Italian) remained only in the memory of few historians.
Marco E. Ciriotti

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