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Etymology, Antiquarianism, and Unchanging Languages in Johannes Goropius Becanus's Origines Antwerpianae and William Camden's Britannia

  • David Weil Baker (a1)


This article argues that, despite the protestations to the contrary of William Camden (1551–1623), the antiquarian methods of his “Britannia” are indebted to the “Origines Antwerpianae” of Johannes Goropius Becanus (1519–73). Both Goropius and Camden posited the contemporary existence of an unchanged primeval language (Dutch for Goropius and Welsh for Camden) wherein etymologies could be used to trace the origins and migrations of ancient peoples. Even as humanist philology underscored the mutability of language, Goropius and Camden selectively ignored this mutability in order to have a basis other than myth or legend for reconstructing antiquity. Their efforts, however, created new myths about language and its ability to bridge present and distant past.



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This article grew out of a conference paper presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America. I am grateful for the opportunity to have presented there, as well as to the readers at Renaissance Quarterly for their insightful criticisms. Finally, I would like to thank the late Marcia Worth-Baker for her many contributions over the years.



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Etymology, Antiquarianism, and Unchanging Languages in Johannes Goropius Becanus's Origines Antwerpianae and William Camden's Britannia

  • David Weil Baker (a1)


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