Peter Artedi, the Father of Ichthyology


Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus modestly stated, ‘God created the animals and plants, but I organized them.’ Well, he did indeed develop a scientific system for them, and all credit goes to him for that. However, in the realm of ichthyology and the first classification of fish, the credit goes to the Swedish natural scientist Peter Artedi (Petrus Arctaedius). He was born on February 22, 1705, in the village of Anundsjön in the province of Ångermanland. Artedi initially studied theology at Uppsala University but shifted his focus to medicine and natural history, particularly fish. He befriended Carolus Linnaeus during his student days, and Linnaeus later played a significant role in the publication of Artedi’s work. In 1732, Artedi left Uppsala for England, and from there, he went to Amsterdam, where he wrote his works, ‘Bibliotheca Ichthyologica’ and ‘Philosophia Ichthyologica.’ However, these works were not published during his lifetime because he tragically drowned in a canal in Amsterdam on September 27, 1735, at the young age of 30. Artedi’s manuscripts were in the possession of Linnaeus, who, out of old friendship, published them in 1738 under the title ‘Ichthyologia sive opera omnia de piscibus.’ This compilation included Artedi’s manuscripts: ‘Bibliotheca Ichthyologica,’ ‘Philosophia Ichthyologica,’ ‘Genera piscium,’ ‘Synonymia specierum,’ and ‘Descriptiones specierum.’ In these writings, Artedi was the first to classify fish into their own categories, and Linnaeus used this classification in his groundbreaking work, ‘Systema Naturae,’ which revolutionized the field of natural science. The first edition of Artedi’s work is rare. A reprint was published in 1961 (554 pages), but it is also hard to find due to its limited print run. The preface includes an excellent essay by Alwyne C. Wheeler titled ‘The Life and Work of Peter Artedi.’ Einar Lönnberg also wrote about Artedi in 1905. His 44-page booklet, ‘Peter Artedi: A Bicentenary Memoir,’ sheds light on the life of this pioneering fish researcher, who remained in the shadow of Linnaeus. Artedi’s contemporary, G. Shaw (1751–1813), also acknowledged the young fish researcher who met an untimely end in his poem:

Here lies poor Artedi,

in foreign land pyx’d Not a man nor a fish,

but something betwixt,

Not a man, for his life among fishes he past,

Not a fish, for he perished by water at last.