The Activity of Gathering


This was the order of human institutions: first the forests, after that the huts, then the villages, next the cities, and finally the academies.

–Giambattista Vico, The New Science

In his amazing book Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, author Robert Pogue Harrison writes that “Civil society comes into being through the activity of gathering.” He references Vico on the ordering and evolution of this gathering (above), and further cites him on the Latin word lex, or law:

First it must have meant a collection of acorns. Thence we believe is derived ilex, as it were illex, the oak (as certainly aquilex means collector of waters); for the oak produces the acorns by which the swine are drawn together. Lex was next a collection of vegetables, from which the latter were called legumina. Later on, at a time when vulgar letters had not yet been invested for writing down the laws, lex by a necessity of civil nature must have meant a collection of citizens, or the public parliament, so that the presence of the people was the lex, or “law.”… Finally, collecting letters, and making, as it were, a sheaf of them for each word, was called legere, reading.

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