A Pastor from Bern and his avant-la-lettre dialogue between two mountains

The latest member of the Parliament of Things is a post-mortem one: 17th century pastor Hans Rudolf Rebmann from the Swiss town of Bern is the author of a poetic conversation between two mountains, the Niesen and the Stockhorn. The anthropomorphic dialogue between the two mountains is featured in a chapter titled ‘Poetisch Gastmal und Gespräch zweyer alter Bergen’, which roughly translates to “poetic supper and conversation between two old mountains”. It is one chapter in a five-hundred page mountain encyclopaedia that Rebmann wrote – with a feather, by hand – in 1606.

In ‘Poetic Supper’, the Niesen and the Stockhorn are personified as powerful monarchs who control armies, possess servants, and who are used to being wooed by scores of courtiers attempting to befriend them. Considering that he wrote his book more than two hundred years before mountain pioneers began embarking on the first ever alpine ascents, Rebmann’s text is an imaginative feat; it combines encyclopaedic mountaineering knowledge with a tentative imagining of the wonders that lie hidden in unchartered realms. Though its influence may have remained limited to a small sphere of reclusive historians, Rebmann’s text can be read as an early testament of the mountain pioneering philosophy; it introduces the thought that the highest of mountains may not be entirely beyond human reach. It was precisely this type of thinking that developed into the first human alpine ascents, two hundred years after Rebmann.

Why, then, does Rebmann belong in the Parliament of Things? The majority of the general assembly of the Parliament of Things consists of members who are currently alive; Things and Animals speaking out about human selfishness and the destruction of our shared planet. Yet, sometimes, a voice from the past makes it into the Parliament. Rebmann may be dead and forgotten by most; he earns the respect of all the members of the Parliament of Things with statements such as these:

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.’ That”, writes Rebmann, “is why I have given a voice to the hard rock and to the insensitive mountains”