Peter Artedi

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Peter Artedi


Swedish Naturalist

Peter Artedi has been hailed by early historians as "the father of ichthyology" for his sole published work regarding the classification of fish. Artedi's untimely death (he drowned at the age of 30) cut short a very promising scientific career. Artedi's work was extremely important to Linnaeus (who is most famous for his system of classification of animals) and was used as a template for Carolus Linnaeus' (1707-1778) most famous work, Systema naturae. In fact, nearly every entry from this book dealing with fish has a reference to Artedi's work, which was extremely well thought out and detailed. Artedi and Linnaeus first met at the university and remained good friends throughout their lives.

Peter Artedi was originally born as Petrus Arctaedius in Anundsjö, Sweden, in 1705. His family had strong ties to the clergy, but ultimately, Petrus chose to study science. In 1716, his family moved to Nordmaling, Sweden so that his father could take over the parish duties from his grandfather whose health was failing. For a young, aspiring naturalist, this was an influential move because he was now situated close to the seashore with an abundance of interesting specimens to study.

In the same year, Petrus attended school at Hernösand where he had an unremarkable tenure. Most of his free time was spent in the dissection and study of fishes and the collecting of native plants, rather than in usual boyhood activities. He also learned Latin, which opened other avenues of interest for him. He was especially interested in the works of the early alchemists and even studied alchemy when he attended the University at Uppsala in 1724. Petrus depended largely on his own studies to advance his knowledge in the natural sciences, because there were few formal courses offered at the university in those areas.

Four years after Petrus had begun his university career, Linnaeus arrived at Uppsala with the intention of studying natural science. Upon his arrival he asked the names of other students engaged in similar studies and the name Petrus Arctaedius was foremost in everyone's mind. Petrus and Linnaeus did not meet at this time, however, because Petrus had been summoned homed to attend to his ill father. When they did finally meet, they became unfailing friends and helped each other extensively.

In 1734, after changing his family name to the more familiar Artedi, Peter had run out of scholarship money at the University of Uppsala and decided to travel abroad for research and educational purposes. First, Artedi sailed to London where he studied fish and began writing his famous manuscript. Later, he traveled to Holland and was in search of funding so that he would not have to return home. His friend Linnaeus introduced him to Albertus Seba, a wealthy Dutchman who hired Peter to study fish and other animals from his collection. Seba, a successful pharmacist and merchant, had a magnificent array of specimens to study. Artedi began working on this task. On September 27, 1734, Artedi spent the evening at Seba's house and started for his own home at one o'clock. Somewhere on this darkened route, he fell into one of the canals of Amsterdam and drowned.

Without doubt, Artedi's short life had been sufficient for him to produce work that influenced ichthyology as a science more than that of any other man, but his influence also extended far beyond this single aspect of zoology. He had significant influence on the life of Linnaeus, who had major influence on the classification system of animals. In addition, he excelled in languages, philosophy and medicine. It is hard to fathom the impact that he might have had on the world if he had not met such a premature death.