Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Phantom World

Augustin Calmet - The Phantom World: Or, the Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions, &c (1751) direct link
Open Library main page

Guillermo del Toro listed this as one of his favorite books.  This is an 1850 edition with a solid introduction though the editor can't resist a couple of anti-Catholic swipes.  Who translated isn't entirely clear but appears to be editor Henry Christmas, largely because it doesn't read like an 18th century translation.

The book is basically a collection of stories about the supernatural or as Christmas puts it "a vast repertory of legends, more or less probable; some of which have little foundation".  His evaluation of probability seems quite generous.  Maybe chapter titles will convey the idea:  "Ghosts in Peru", "Ghosts in Lapland", "Are the Vampires or Revenants Really Dead?", "Of Spectres which Haunt Houses", "Of the Pagan Oracles", "Some Other Examples of Elves".  But they aren't entirely credulous even though Calmet is undermining them more from the view of the Church rather than science.

Such an approach is entirely understandable since Augustin Calmet (1672-1757) was a Benedictine monk.  Born in Lorraine, part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time now France, he worked in several monasteries, clearly spending much time in their libraries.  His other works include Biblical commentaries, historical material about Lorraine, dictionaries, and many others.  Modern writer William Baird said Calmet "is usually recognized as the greatest Roman Catholic biblical scholar of the eighteenth century".  (History of New Testament Research, p157)