The Saussure family, whose fame has
spread in Geneva, as it has abroad, came originally from Lorraine. They sought refuge in Geneva at the time of Calvin's reform and were
accepted into the bourgeoise in 1635.
Several of his sons' names passed into
posterity. Nicolas (1709-1790)
shone in agronomy, Nicolas-Théodore (1767-1845) in chemistry and his son Henri (1829-1905) in entomology. But the
best known were Horace-Bénédict (1740-1799) and Ferdinand (1857-1913).
The name of Horace-Bénédict de
Saussure is particularly associated with physics and geology and this professor
of philosophy and natural sciences at the Academy (of which he was rector in
1774-1775) invented the hygrometer (an instrument for measuring the air's
humidity). His glory culminated in
his climbing Mont Blanc, whose summit he reached on 3 August 1787.
As for Ferdinand, his linguistic work
(in particular his Course on General
Linguistics) provided the basis of structuralism and contributed to the
development of modern literary semiotics, as well as exerting a deep influence
over theoreticians as varied as Lévi-Strauss, Merleau-Ponty and Lacan.