[Marxism] Descartes's Swedish connection

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 10 10:54:50 MST 2015


Late in his life, Descartes served as a private tutor to Queen Christina 
of Sweden. Christina was, by all accounts, unconventional. The short, 
stocky young woman didn't fuss much with her appearance and liked to go 
riding and shooting in a man's collar. Breathless rumors — perhaps 
driven by confusion over how to deal with a powerful woman — suggested 
she might not have been thoroughly female. She was bright, however, and 
so excited by Descartes's new way of thinking that she wanted to learn 
from none other than him, and she wanted her philosophy lessons to start 
no later than 5 a.m. each morning. In the coldest winter in living 
memory in an already frigid country the aging philosopher was obliged to 
give up his lifelong habit of sleeping in, and tutor the queen in an 
unheated library.

Though they likely remained polite, Christina and Descartes soon soured 
on each other. He came to think of her as a dilettante; she came to see 
him as a grumpy old man. Even worse, the rest of Christina's court 
seethed with resentment toward him. It was in this setting that 
Descartes was struck down with illness, perhaps pneumonia, and the court 
doctor was summoned to treat him. Accounts of his death differ, some 
historians saying he refused treatment, and others speculating that his 
appointed doctor, rather than curing him of the sickness, nudged him 
toward death.

Whispers of foul play may have been motivated by the belief that 
Descartes had been so successful in uncovering the workings of the body 
that he wasn't far away from achieving immortality. One admirer wrote 
that the philosopher "would have lived five hundred years, after having 
found the art of living several centuries."

Descartes was buried just north of Stockholm, but his fellow countrymen 
soon decided they wanted his remains buried on French soil. His bones 
rattled around Sweden and France for centuries, dug up and reburied more 
than once. His head was separated from the rest, and his skull was 
engraved with a Latin poem. One claim even surfaced that part of him had 
been fashioned into jewelry, although that is probably not the case.

full: http://www.strangescience.net/descartes.htm



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