Astronomy, Prophecy and Imposture in Tyssot de Patot’s Voyages et avantures de Jaques Massé
In the United Provinces, between 1714 and 1717, an exiled Huguenot intellectual named Simon Tyssot de Patot (1655–1738) published a novel called Voyages et avantures de Jaques Massé.1 It is the first-person narrative of a resourceful and curious adventurer of the mid-seventeenth century. He travels to a previously undiscovered southern continent, lives in a utopian kingdom and encounters diverse interlocutors who propose heterodox and at times sarcastic critiques of politics and religion. Throughout the novel, characters’ interests in natural objects and phenomena offer pretexts to stage debates of philosophical consequence. In particular, the text’s treatment of astronomy offers insights into the paradoxes involved in communicating discoveries about the universe to Early Modern Europeans. In a notable scene that will be examined here, the hero uses his knowledge of astronomy as part of a scheme to manipulate his companions and persuade them to do his bidding. The passage suggests that, in Tyssot’s view, some forms of coercion can only be possible when common people live in a state of profound ignorance about modern astronomical ideas.
KeywordsSeventeenth Century True History United Province Philosophical Consequence Literary Abuse
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