Jean Jaques Rosseau
François-Marie Arouet (who published under the pen name Voltaire) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were two of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Both somewhat cynical about the limits of human goodness, Voltaire, however, believed in progress only if the lower orders were firmly directed by a political and intellectual elite. For commoners—rural and urban alike—he had nothing but disdain. Voltaire was known for throwing literary punches and was imprisoned twice, beaten up by hired thugs, and spent several years in exile (in England) for his troubles. On his return he published his Philosophical Letters on the English (1733) which made him famous. Rousseau, apart from sharing a giant ego with Voltaire, was in every way his opposite. A commoner by birth, Rousseau came from Geneva and was almost entirely self-educated. Although he was a morally suspect misanthrope himself, in his writings he proposed that goodness is an inherent human capability. It is society that corrupts people, he believed, imposing false inequalities on them. In On the Origin of Inequality Rousseau discusses two types of inequality, natural (based on physical attributes) and moral (based on political or social circumstances). His main concern, however, is with the latter, what he calls civil society, which allows man to enslave man. Voltaire’s letter to Rousseau, acknowledging his essay, illustrates the former’s style and his flippant dismissal of Rousseau’s critique of civilization, suggesting that it made him want to “walk on all fours.”
From J. J. Rousseau, “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.” In The Social Contract. Trans. G. D. H. Cole, Everyman’s ed. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., n.d., pp. 236–8.
Born on the Golden Horn and raised in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul, Çelebi traveled throughout Ottoman domains between 1640 and 1680. He published an account of his travels and experiences as the Seyahatname, or Book of Travels. In the first of his ten books in the document, Çelebi provides a lengthy description of Istanbul around the year 1638, including a panoramic view of 1,100 artisan and craft guilds. The numbers and diversity of trades represented underscore the extent of Ottoman commerce—as well as the pride of place each of the city’s working people claimed as their due.
Robert Dankoff, An Ottoman Mentality: The World of Evliya Çelebi, 2nd ed. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 86–89.
Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi
Born in Timbuktu in 1596, Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi wrote, in Arabic, a chronicle entitled Tarikh al-Sudan (History of the Sudan). The document addresses the political, cultural, and religious history of the Songhay state in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and it also offers detailed accounts of various states in the Niger River valley into al-Saadi’s own day. Al-Saadi was particularly interested in the impact of Islamic thought and culture on the African kingdoms, as the following excerpt demonstrates. The document was discovered by a German explorer in the 1850s during his visit to Timbuktu.
Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi, Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire, trans. John Hunwick (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2003), 38–40.
A Catholic priest and writer, François Fénelon (1651–1715) was enlisted by the church to preach to French Protestants (Huguenots) in order to bring them back to orthodox belief. His bestseller work, The Adventures of Telemachus, adds to the story of the Odyssey (Document 4.1) by describing the travels of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Guiding Telemachus is his tutor, simply called Mentor (but later revealed as Diana, goddess of wisdom), who explains the tenets of a truly good society—one that abolished government, upheld the brotherhood of citizens, and looked back to ancient Greece as a model. Thus, Telemachus served as a fierce criticism of the rule of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France (1638–1715).
From François Fénelon, The Adventures of Telemachus. Trans Dr. Hawkesworth. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1872, pp. 450–8.
When he became emperor in 1658, Aurangzeb attempted a radical “Islamification” of Mughal India, imposing a strict interpretation of Sharia law and implementing reforms that he thought would benefit Muslims more than adherents of other religions. Repudiating his great-grandfather Akbar’s vision of religious transcendence and harmony, while Aurangzeb stopped short of forcible conversion, he offered incentives to non-Muslims to convert, destroyed many of their temples, and reimposed the hated jizya tax. This tax on Hindus had been abolished by Akbar in 1564, and its reinstatement by Aurangzeb in 1679 triggered mass protests and violent reactions from authorities in the many cities. Revolts among Sikhs and among Hindus left the Mughal Empire weakened and in decline by the time of Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. An excerpt from his proscriptions is offered below.
Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483–1530) was born a prince of Fergana in Transoxiana (modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), a region that had been conquered (briefly) by the army of Alexander the Great in the 320s BCE and more recently by Babur’s ancestor Timur-i Lang, or Tamerlane (r. 1370–1405). Driven from his homeland, Babur conquered neighboring kingdoms and moved south into Afghanistan, capturing Kabul in 1504. By 1519, he stepped up his raids into northern India, and his highly mobile, if vastly outnumbered, army defeated Sultan Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526. Victory at Panipat was followed by the conquest of the Lodi capital of Agra and further defeats of Hindu leaders in northern India. Babur’s dynasty would become known as the Mughals (from “Mongols”), but his legacy can also be gauged from the success of his memoirs, the Baburnama. Composed and reworked throughout his life, the Baburnama is the first true autobiography in Islamic literature, and it can be read for insights into his own character as well as the military tactics he employed on the battlefield.
The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, trans. and ed. Wheeler M. Thackston (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 328–329, 330, 331.
Although he is more famous for his voyages—and for the richly detailed accounts he made of them—Columbus (1451–1506) also composed a book of prophetic revelations toward the end of his life, entitled El Libro de las Profecias. Written after his third voyage to the Americas, the book traced the development of God’s plans for the end of the world, which could be hastened along, particularly by a swift and decisive move to reclaim Jerusalem from Muslim control. When Jerusalem was once more restored to Christian sovereignty, Columbus predicted, Jesus could return to earth, and all of the events foreseen in the New Testament book Apocalypse (and in various medieval revelations, as well) could unfold. It is helpful to place this religious conviction against the backdrop of Columbus’s plans for the original voyage in 1492, as he encourages Ferdinand and Isabella to take their rightful place in God’s mystical plan—as well as in Columbus’s own cartographic charts.
Christopher Columbus, The Book of Prophecies, ed. Roberto Rusconi, trans. Blair Sullivan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), vol. 3, 67–69, 75–77.
Some of the most remarkable visual records of colonial Mexico are the series of paintings called “caste” paintings, illustrating every racial combination of Spanish, mestizo, black, Native American, and other types thought possible in the New Spain of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Casta paintings were always created in a series, and each picture usually contains a male-female couple and at least one child. Occasionally more than one child and even other animal or human figures are depicted. At the top or bottom of the painting is an inscription that explains the racial mix shown in the image. At least 50 groups of these paintings have been identified, although very few survive today in complete series.
De Espanol y Negra, Mulato (From Spaniard and Black, Mulatto), attributed to Jose de Alcibar, c. 1760 Denver Art Museum: Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer Photo (c)James O. Milmoe
When European Christian missionaries first came to Ming China, they made very little progress in converting the Chinese, in large part due to their limited training in Chinese language and culture. When he arrived in China in 1583, the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) encouraged his followers to immerse themselves in the language and to become conversant with the rich traditions of Chinese literature. He also came to be respected by, and especially helpful to, the emperor, as he offered his expertise in the sciences and mathematics to the imperial court. With a European Jesuit (Adam Schall von Bell) as the official court astronomer to Kangxi, there were reports that the Emperor himself considered converting to Catholicism. Nevertheless, not every encounter between Chinese and Europeans went so smoothly, as the following anecdote from Ricci’s diary reveals.
Matthew Ricci, China in the Sixteenth Century, trans. Louis Gallagher (New York: Random House, 1953), 161–– 165.
Jean Domat (1625–1696) was a lawyer and legal scholar who served as Royal Prosecutor in the city of Clermont from 1655–1683, after which he retired to his study and dedicated himself to compiling his massive legal code. Apart from re-ordering the bulk of the Roman law tradition, Domat’s work is significant for its concern to emphasize natural law as the basis for civil law – that is, the idea that law arises from, and represents, the innate moral values of a society. While he accepted the then popular idea of the divine right of kings to rule, Domat presents law as an organic system over which the king presides but which does not emanate from him.
From Jean Domat “Le droit public, suite des lois civiles dans leur ordre naturel, vol. 3, Oeuvres completes, nouvelle edition revue corrigée”, ed. Joseph Remy (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1829), pp. 1–2, 15–21, 26–27, 35, 39, 40, 44–45.
Akbar the Great was Mughal emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. One of the main sources we have of Akbar is a commentary written by a Portugese Jesuit, whom Akbar had invited to his court to explain Christianity. Akbar the Great was Mughal emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. Father Antonio Monserrate (1536–1600) was thought to be a humble, God-fearing man. He was chosen as part of a mission sent in 1578 at Akbar’s request to instruct him about Roman Catholicism, and he remained in India till 1589. An indication of Akbar’s opinion of him is that he asked Monserrate to serve as tutor to the crown prince. The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, was a Catholic religious order that sought to recapture areas lost to the Reformation and to spread Catholicism to areas that had not benefited, as they saw it, from exposure to the true faith. Like many early Jesuits, Father Antonio Monserrate was intelligent and intense. He accompanied Akbar on some of his campaigns and enjoyed discussing religion and ideas with him. Fortunately, from the point of view of the historical record, Monserrate was instructed by his Jesuit superiors to keep a written account of his experiences, which he did in the form of a diary. Later, he compiled a general account that is the best European appraisal of Akbar. He affords us glimpses of Akbar’s enduring interest in religion, and he also provides us with a general characterization of the man and his rule.
The Commentary of Father Monserrate, S. J. On his Journey to the Court of Akbar, trans. from Latin by J. S. Hoyland and annotated by S. N. Banerjee (London and Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1922), 196–211.
In October 1553, the extraordinarily gifted Spanish scientist Michael Servetus was executed with the approval and the strong support of John Calvin and his followers in Geneva. The charge was heresy, specifically for denying the existence of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, and the method of execution—burning at the stake—elicited commentary and protest from across Europe. One of the fullest and most sophisticated protests against this execution was issued by Sebastian Castellio, a professor of Greek language and New Testament theology in the Swiss city of Basel. His book De Haereticis is a collection of opinions, drawn from Christian writers, from both before and after the Protestant Reformation and across 15 centuries. It is more than an academic exercise, however, as this dedication of the Latin work to a German noble demonstrates.
Sebastian Castellio, Concerning Heretics, Whether They Are to Be Persecuted and How They Are to Be Treated, A Collection of the Opinions of Learned Men Both Ancient and Modern, trans. Roland H. Bainton, (New York: Octagon, 1965), 132–134.
In the course of the fifteenth century, the Aztecs conquered an empire centered in the Valley of Mexico (present-day Mexico City, after the drainage of most of the valley) but encompassing Mesoamerica from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting state, far more centralized than the preceding Teotihuacán and Toltec city-states, commanded a large extent of territory and thrived on the trade in raw materials that were brought in from both coasts of their empire. Bernal Díaz, born in 1492 in Spain, would join the Spaniards in the “conquest” of Mexico, but he also left behind vivid eyewitness accounts of occupied Aztec society in the sixteenth century. Among them is this description of the market in Tlatelolco, one of the central cities at the heart of Aztec imperial power.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J. M. Cohen (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963), 232–234.
René Descartes (1596–1650) has been called the Father of Modern Philosophy because of his work in philosophy, metaphysics, theology, and mathematics. Perhaps best known for the groundbreaking maxim, “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes lays out a method for creating solid foundations upon which he can build theoretical arguments—an epistemology known as Cartesianism. The Discourse moves from autobiography to philosophical tract and recounts how Descartes came to the thoughts and processes that redefined philosophy.
From René Descartes, A Discourse on the Method of Correctly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. Trans. Ian Maclean. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 5–11, 28–30, 374.
The humanist and statesman Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) is best known for his Italian treatise, The Prince, on Renaissance city-state rulers—but his Discourses on Livy better clarify his republican ideals. In the response to Roman historian Livy, Machiavelli traces the origins of “good” republics. He comments on the maintenance of liberties, the role of religion, and the danger of societal fragmentation through conspiracy.
From Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy. Trans. Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 31–2, 53–6, 256–8, 275.
Rhode Islanders were the principal American slave traders during the eighteenth century, during which a total of approximately 1,000 slave-trading voyages set out from the colony to Africa. The “triangular trade” between the Atlantic seaboard, the Caribbean, and West Africa was the main source of great wealth for many families in this small British settlement. Among these families was that of John Brown, whose donation to a struggling college in Providence would lead to the renaming of the institution in his honor. Aware of their university’s explicit connection to the profitable and lethal slave trade, archivists at Brown University have attempted to tell the full story of voyages like that of the Sally. In the excerpts that follow, lines from the ship’s log are annotated with details of the events they describe.
John Carter Brown Library, http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/sally/documents.html
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, was born in 1537, the same year as Edward VI, the only surviving son of the king who had sought a male heir so desperately. Jane, who like Edward was raised in the Protestant religion Henry had introduced to England, proved a diligent and intellectually gifted teenager. In spite of her youth and gender, Jane corresponded with Protestant authorities on the Continent, but fast-moving events in England precluded further study. When Edward died without an heir in 1553, the throne passed, by prearranged agreement, to his fiercely Catholic half-sister Mary.
However, in order to forestall a Catholic successor—and the dramatic rollback of the Protestant reforms instituted by Henry’s and Edward’s Church of England—Jane’s relatives proclaimed her queen. Her rule lasted a mere nine days. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary, who was then forced to consider whether Jane’s execution was warranted. Shortly before Jane’s death, at age 16, Queen Mary sent her own chaplain, Master Feckenham (sometimes rendered as “Fecknam”) to try to reconcile Jane to the Catholic faith. The results of this attempt were triumphantly recorded in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, published after the Protestant Queen Elizabeth had triumphed over Mary and the Catholics. Although the conversation recorded here is not a trial transcript—and is a highly partisan account—it does distill some of the central issues that divided Catholics and Protestants in an extremely chaotic and violent period.
“The Examination of Lady Jane Grey (1554),” from Denis R. Janz, ed., A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2008), 360– 362, taken from The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe (London: Seeleys, 1859), 415–417.
Muhammad Ghawth Gwaliori
In sixteenth-century Hindustan, the Sufi mystic Muhammad Ghawth claimed to have experienced an astounding ascension through multiple heavenly spheres up to the throne of God. This intensely personal experience, which he underwent in his 20s, occurred within a volatile political and social context. Born around 1501, Ghawth left home at age 12 to further his religious education and to undertake a series of mystic initiations that prepared him for his ascension in 1526. Ghawth lived during the rule of Humayun, when Mughal control was still tentative, and Akbar was still a young man. After his mystical experiences made him famous, Ghawth was seen as a spiritual support for the Mughal regime. When Humayun fell from power in 1540, Ghawth was persecuted by a group of Afghan warlords who followed a more orthodox form of Islam and attacked the reality—as well as the political implications—of his mystical experiences.
Excerpts from Scott A. Kugle, “Heaven’s Witness: The Uses and Abuses of Muhammad Ghawth’s Mystical Ascension,” Journal of Islamic Studies 14 (2003): 17–20.
Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540) was a wealthy lawyer with good political connections. Like many such figures in the Renaissance, he also had cultural and intellectual ambitions. In his later years he wrote a brilliant History of Italy that was one of the first works of history to combine the use of extensive archival records and a critical attitude toward political motivations and intentions. His History of Florence, however, is the work of a young man trying to feel his way in an unfamiliar discipline. Its most incisive passage is translated below and provides a closely observed portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–1492), who ruled Florence from 1469 until his death. (Guicciardini, of course, did not know Lorenzo personally, being only nine years old when the ruler died.)
Translation by Clifford R. Backman