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Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's TreeThe Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order$
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J. Archibald

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164122

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164122.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM COLUMBIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.columbia.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Minnesota Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CUPSO for personal use.date: 04 July 2022

The Roots of the Tree of Life

The Roots of the Tree of Life

(p.22) Chapter Two The Roots of the Tree of Life
Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree

J. David Archibald

Columbia University Press

This chapter traces the origins of the imagery used to depict the biological tree of life, going back to the ancient Romans and their obsession with ancestors and reverence for nature. A tree constitutes the single most powerful and most often used image of evolutionary history. Evolutionary tree of life imagery constitutes an amalgam of male descent traceable from at least the Roman Republic with combined Roman religious and political acanthus-laden, tree-like imagery borrowed from the Greeks that appeared in temples recording birth-death-rebirth within cyclical nature. Early Christians adopted the acanthus/tree motif almost wholesale, adding dollops of Christian symbols over time. Some truly phantasmagorical Christian tree designs and mystical images appeared and eventually gave rise to a hybrid of religious trees and familial trees based on the ancient ideas of tracing familial descent within the context of a tree-like ascent.

Keywords:   imagery, tree of life, nature, evolutionary history, Roman Republic, acanthus, Christians, trees, descent, ascent

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