Version classiqueVersion mobile

The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

9. Europe in the Encyclopédie

Texte intégral

1In the French Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers coordinated by Diderot and D’Alembert, known throughout Europe simply as the Encyclopédie, and one of the most influential works of the European Enlightenment, Louis de Jaucourt (1704–1779),i author of hundreds of articles, provides a geographical description of Europe as one of the globe’s four continents–Australasia not yet at that point being known to the western world–and describes its rich cultural heritage.

2EUROPE, (Geog[raphy]) great region of the inhabited world. Perhaps the most plausible etymology of the word Europe is a derivation from the Phoenician urappa, which in that tongue signifies white face; an epithet that could have no doubt been given to the daughter of Agenor, sister of Cadmus, but which at any rate suits Europeans, themselves being neither brown-skinned like southern Asians, nor black like Africans.

3Europe has not always had the same name, nor indeed the same divisions between the main peoples who have occupied it; and as far as the subdivisions are concerned, they depend on a level of detail impossible to reconstruct, for want of historians who would be able to guide us out of this labyrinth.

4In this article, however, instead of considering Europe as the ancients knew it, where their writings have even come down to us, I wish only to comment briefly here on its boundaries.

5At its widest point, Europe extends from Cape St Vincent in Portugal and the Algarve on the Atlantic coast, to the mouth of the Ob river in the Northern Ocean, covering a distance of 1200 French leagues of 20 to a degree, or 900 German miles. Its greatest length, measured from Cape Matapan, in the south of Morea to the North Cape in the northernmost point of Norway, is approximately 733 French leagues of 20 to a degree, or 550 German miles. It is bordered in the east by Asia, in the south by Africa, from which it is separated by the Mediterranean Sea, in the west by the Atlantic or Western Ocean, and to the north by the Frozen sea.

Reason and Philosophy, the one lifting and the other tearing off Truth’s veil.
Frontispiece of the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.ii

6I do not know whether we are right to divide the world into four parts of which Europe is one, not least because such a division is inexact in that it excludes the Arctic and Antarctic territories, which despite being lesser-known, nevertheless exist and deserve their blank space on globes and maps.

7In any case, Europe remains the smallest part of the world. However, as the author of The Spirit of the Laws [Montesquieu] notes, it has achieved such a high degree of power that history has scarcely anything to compare it to, if we consider the immensity of its expenditure, the extent of its commitments, the size of its armed forces, what is required for their upkeep, even when they are mostly useless and only kept for show.

8Besides, it matters little that Europe is the smallest of these four parts of the world by area, for it is the greatest of all in its trade, its exploration, its agricultural yield, in its enlightenment and the industriousness of its peoples, in its knowledge of the Arts, the Sciences and Trades, and most importantly of all, in its Christianity, whose beneficent moral teachings bring nothing but happiness to society. It is thanks to this religion that our government recognises a certain political right, and that in war people are protected by a sort of right, something for which human nature can never be sufficiently grateful; in appearing to have as its sole objective happiness in another life, it provides happiness in this one too. Europe was called ‘Celtic’ in the most ancient of days. It lies geographically between 9 and 93 degrees longitude, and between 34 and 74 degrees latitude. The Geographers will supply the reader with further information.

9Louis de Jaucourt, ‘Europe’, in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D’Alembert (1756).

Read the free text in the original language (1756 edition):​wiki/​L’Encyclopédie/1re_édition/Volume_6

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/jpeg, 65k
Légende Reason and Philosophy, the one lifting and the other tearing off Truth’s veil.Frontispiece of the Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.ii
Fichier image/jpeg, 171k


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search