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Jean-Sylvain Bailly, an eighteenth-century French astronomer and polymath, elaborated an original interpretation of the prehistoric origins of civilization which anticipated many of the details of the “Aryan myth.” Bailly argued that Atlantis was the root civilization of mankind, which had invented the arts and sciences and civilized the Chinese, Indians, and Egyptians. He situated this primordial people in the far north of Eurasia, and argued that as the cooling of the Earth buried their ancestral home beneath sheets of ice, the Atlanteans were lost to history. Bailly drew eclectically upon science, classical mythology, linguistics, and orientalism to substantiate his case, and argued that the Brahmans who shaped Indian civilization were Sanskrit-speaking Atlanteans. His theories reflected many of the prevailing ideas of the age, such as the climate determinism of Montesquieu and Buffon and the superiority of the dynamic West over the decadent Orient. Though Bailly did not racialize the Atlanteans, his works laid the foundations for the subsequent emergence of the Aryan myth.

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Thomas R. Trautmann , Aryans and British India (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997).

David Allen Harvey , The French Enlightenment and Its Others: The Mandarin, the Savage, and the Invention of the Human Sciences (New York, 2012)

Karen O’Brien , Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge, 1997)

Burrows Smith , “Jean-Sylvain Bailly: Astronomer, Mystic, Revolutionary,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 44/4 (1954), 427538

Roger Hahn , “Quelques nouveaux documents sur Jean-Sylvain BaillyRevue d’histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, 8 (1955), 338–53

George Armstrong Kelly , “Bailly and the Champ de Mars Massacre,” Journal of Modern History, 52/1 (1980), D1021D1046

Liam Matthew Brockey , Journey to the East: The Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724 (Cambridge, MA, 2007)

Dan Edelstein , “Hyperborean Atlantis: Jean-Sylvain Bailly, Madame Blavatsky, and the Nazi Myth,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 35 (2006), 267–91, 273

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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