Say, whatever happened to Caesarius?

51nP0weVoGL._SX248_BO1,204,203,200_Readers of Spinoza’s letters will recall the name “Caesarius”. Johannes Caesarius lived in the same house in Rijnsburg as Spinoza, and Spinoza taught him Cartesian philosophy, an effort which led in part to Spinoza’s book, The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy. Spinoza regarded Caesarius as troublesome, and was wary of sharing his own views with him. Caesarius went on to gain a degree in theology from Leiden, but couldn’t find work, and so signed on with the VOC. He ended up in Cochin (Kochi) in Southwest India in 1669, and there he met Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein, a great naturalist, who was to author the multivolume botanical work, Hortus Malabaricus. Caesarius was recruited to put the manuscript into proper Latin – some of which, I am guessing, he learned from Spinoza. According to Harold Cook (Matters of Exchange), both Van Reede and Caesarius were broad-minded in religious matters, as was a third member of Van Reede’s team: Matthew of Saint Joseph, a friar of the Discalced Carmelites, who was extremely well-traveled and knowledgeable of local people and customs. Caesarius eventually succumbed to some tropical disease, and died in 1677 (the same year as Spinoza) while en route to Batavia (Central Jakarta).

I should add that a lot of Van Reede’s botanical knowledge of Malabar came from three local experts: Apu Botto, Ranga Botto, and Vinaique Pandito [pandito = “scholar”]. These fellows weren’t just casual recognizers of flora, but experts trained in the classical literature of plants in their own culture (a great example of how Enlightenment knowledge rides upon the shoulders of unsung peoples).

Here are the makings of an interesting historical novel!

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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