Talismans as Automata. Hebrew Philology and the Mechanisation of Nature in Jacques Gaffarel’s Curiositez
Abstract. This essay aims to contribute to our reflections about automata in the early modern worlds by demonstrating that, first, a debate took place in seventeenth-century France about the nature of talismans, as to whether they should be considered akin to automata; and, secondly, that discussions about the reasons for which talismans should or should not be regarded as such enriched current reflections about mechanical natural philosophy, touching on the uses of philology in connection with the study of nature. I focus on Jacques Gaffarel‟s Curiositez (1629) as a case study. While Gaffarel is usually portrayed as an occult writer, in the first section I show that he was a playful libertin érudit, a Gallican, and a tolerant man with manifold interests, including natural philosophy and Hebrew philology. In the second section I demonstrate that Gaffarel was an accomplished Hebraist. In the last part of this essay, I relate Gaffarel‟s philological work to his explanations that talismans worked according to Gassendian atomism and Cartesian mechanicism.
Keywords: automata, talismans, Hebrew philology, atomism, Aristotelianism, Cartesianism, Gaffarel