A view of life

Why call this site The Bioscope? Well, the Bioscope was the name of a camera and a projector (both a brand name and generic), it was the name for fairground film shows and for early cinemas (it still is the name for a cinema in South Africa), and it was the name of a British film trade journal. So it covers the taking, projecting, exhibiting and documentation of early film. There are several other uses of the word, and I’m starting up a Bioscope category to trace the etymology, usage and meanings of the word.

So, to begin at the beginning: Bioscope. The word is constructed from the Greek (bios, life; skopeein, to look at), and the Oxford English Dictionary gives its traditional definition as ‘a view of life or survey of life’. The word was coined by Granville Penn in his 1812 Christian tract The Bioscope, or Dial of Life. Penn’s book included a separate card on which was illustrated a dial marked from nought to seventy, marking the ages of man from childhood to decay in decades, with eternity waiting before and after. A pointer was attached for the reader to mark out his current age, and hence to contemplate the lessons in Penn’s book on the allotted span of human life and to avoid the belief ‘that life is a continuous now’. This dial was the Bioscope, and just as a horoscope was a measure of the heavens at the hour of birth, so the Bioscope was the ‘general measure of human life’.

Meanings a-plenty already.

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  1. Pingback: The Bioscope wonders « The Bioscope

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