22 February 2008

Artedi gets no holiday

On this date in 1705, Peter Artedi was born.

February 22nd is known by Americans, and anyone who bought their calendar in the United States, as the birthday of the first U.S. President, George Washington. But 27 years earlier, a pioneer in taxonomy and the study of fishes was born.

Like many of the earliest taxonomists, Artedi originally intended to join the clergy. The patience that had to have been necessary for a taxonomist of this period, classifying the world essentially from scratch, seems to have attracted a particular sort. Another of this same ilk was Artedi's friend, the much better known Carolus Linnaeus. Linnaeus and Artedi worked together at Uppsala University, and became so close that they each signed wills leaving their work, notes and books to each other in the event of their death.

Artedi's part of this contract came due far too soon. At only the age of 30, with a long life and career ahead of him, he drowned in Amsterdam. The father of ichthyology, the man who had begun the real process of grouping and organizing the fishes, was still as much a stranger to the water as any of us. Even at this young age, he left the world two classics in the field, the Bibliotheca Ichthyologica and Philosophia Ichthyologica, which were only manuscripts at the time of his death. Linnaeus, still his devoted friend, made sure they were published and got their proper attention.

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