Antiquarian, lawyer, and cat lover Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637) was a “prince” of the Republic of Letters and the most gifted French intellectual in the generation between Montaigne and Descartes. From Peiresc’s study in Aix-en-Provence, his insatiable curiosity poured forth in thousands of letters that traveled the Mediterranean, seeking knowledge of matters mundane and exotic. Mining the remarkable 70,000-page archive of this Provençal humanist and polymath, Peter N. Miller recovers a lost Mediterranean world of the early seventeenth century that was dominated by the sea: the ceaseless activity of merchants, customs officials, and ships’ captains at the center of Europe’s sprawling maritime networks. Peiresc’s Mediterranean World reconstructs the web of connections that linked the bustling port city of Marseille to destinations throughout the Western Mediterranean, North Africa, the Levant, and beyond.
“Peter Miller’s reanimation of Peiresc, the master of the Mediterranean, is the best kind of case study. It not only makes us appreciate the range and richness of one man’s experience and the originality of his thought, but also suggests that he had many colleagues in his deepest and most imaginative inquiries. Most important, it gives us hope that their archives too will be opened up by scholars skillful and imaginative enough to make them speak to us.”
—Anthony Grafton, New York Review of Books
Much of Peiresc’s originality as a thinker about past and present emerges only when the minutiae of his practices go under the scholar’s microscope. Miller is as tireless as Peiresc in his attention to them… The hero of Peiresc’s Mediterranean World was an intellectual omnivore who discovered new worlds wherever he looked… Peiresc’s Mediterranean World is written…in energetic, eloquent prose… Miller uses an experimental form of exposition to make his readers see with new eyes. He does not tell a single story, but moves to the tune of two steps forward, one step back, at times following chronological order, at times following thematic order… Miller’s greatest achievement—and it is remarkable—is to portray Peiresc as a figure in a period landscape: someone who shared skills and interests with contemporaries… Peter Miller’s reanimation of Peiresc, the master of the Mediterranean, is the best kind of case study. It not only makes us appreciate the range and richness of one man’s experience and the originality of his thought, but also suggests that he had many colleagues in his deepest and most imaginative inquiries. Most important, it gives us hope that their archives too will be opened up by scholars skillful and imaginative enough to make them speak to us.
Miller is a pertinacious and meticulous scholar… The book is a rewarding quarry for picturesque details.
An amazingly learned work, and strikingly imaginative. Miller provides a brilliant conspectus of the Mediterranean world of the early seventeenth century filtered through Peiresc’s eyes and his unbelievable archive.
Peter N. Miller’s magical book conjures a lost world back into being: a human world stretched across an ocean. This is an immensely distinguished work—one that justly seeks comparison with that of the mighty dead explorers of the same ocean, Braudel and Goitein.
- 640 pages
- Harvard University Press
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