Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Japanese emperor fetes Linnaeus tricentenary in Sweden

Uppsala, Sweden - Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were the guests of honour Wednesday at festivities in Sweden marking the 300th birthday of Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who invented the current system of classifying organisms.
The emperor, a marine biologist known for his interest in the goby fish, is an avid fan of Linnaeus and an honorary member of the Linnean Society of London, an academic institute named after the Swede.
In his groundbreaking book Systema Naturae, published in 1735, Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linne, the name he was given after he was knighted by the Swedish king in 1757, classified the animal, plant and mineral worlds, defining each species by a double name in Latin.
Under this binomial nomenclature, the first name referred to the genus and the second a specific "shorthand" name. It was Linnaeus who coined the term Homo sapiens, a species that he classified among primates.
"He named 8,000 different flora and around 4,000 to 5,000 animals ... most of the vegetable kingdom around us," Carl-Olof Jacobson, a retired zoology professor at Sweden's Uppsala University and chairman of the Swedish Linnaeus Society, told AFP.
Sweden has been celebrating the tricentary since the start of the year, with festivities, exhibits and conferences taking place in the country and around the world and culminating on Wednesday, Linnaeus' 300th birthday.
The main celebrations took place in Uppsala, a small university town north of Stockholm where Linnaeus worked as a professor in the 18th century.
The imperial couple attended a memorial ceremony Wednesday in Uppsala Cathedral, where Linneaus is buried. Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia also attended, as did dozens of Linnaeus' descendants and academics, politicians and leaders of business and industry.
Entering the cathedral solemnly, the royals stopped for a moment to pay homage to Linnaeus at his grave, bordered with pale blue pansies and a wreath for the occasion.
Sweden's Bishop Anders Wejryd welcomed the 480 guests, before an organ and choir piece was played.
The head of the Swedish Linnean Society, Carl-Olof Jacobson, honoured the botanist, remembering him as "a great scientist" and comparing his writings to that of another famous Swede author, August Strindberg.
Following the ceremony the emperor and empress, dressed in a pale grey kimono for the occasion, and the Swedish royals led a short procession in glorious sunny weather across the square to Uppsala University for a Linnaeus celebration.
Along the brief walk they greeted schoolchildren dressed as colourful flowers, as hundreds of Uppsala residents lined the streets to get a glimpse of the special guests.
Celebrations then continued at the Uppsala University auditorium, where a specially-commissioned choral and orchestral work by Swedish composer Jan Sandstroem was premiered.
Uppsala University principle Anders Hallberg declared Akihito, 73, an honorary member of the university, and said his visit "lends extraordinary splendour to celebrations of Linnaeus and to Uppsala University."
The day was to wind up with a banquet at Uppsala Castle for more than 400 guests, where typically Swedish foods and drink were to be served, including aquavit, reindeer meat and wild strawberries for dessert.
The imperial couple's trip to Sweden has largely been a visit in Linnaeus footsteps.
On Tuesday, they toured Stockholm's Bergius Botanic Garden, which was created by one of Linnaeus' students and which is home to many of the species he categorised.
They also visited the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which Linnaeus helped found in 1739 and which each year awards the prestigious Nobel Prizes in the fields of chemistry, physics and economics.
The imperial couple will leave Sweden on Thursday for the three Baltic states, before heading to Britain.