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Encyclopedists, medieval

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B037-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

The modern encyclopedic genre was unknown in the classical world. In the grammar-based culture of late antiquity, learned compendia, by both pagan and Christian writers, were organized around a text treated as sacred or around the canon of seven liberal arts and sciences, which were seen as preparatory to divine contemplation. Such compendia, heavily influenced by Neoplatonism, helped to unite the classical and Christian traditions and transmit learning, including Aristotelian logic, to the Middle Ages.

Writers in the encyclopedic tradition include figures such as Augustine and Boethius, both of whom were extremely influential throughout the medieval period. Other important writers included Macrobius, whose Saturnalia spans a very wide range of subjects; Martianus Capella, whose De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (The Marriage of Philology and Mercury) covers the seven liberal arts and sciences; Cassiodorus, who presents the arts as leading towards the comtemplation of the heavenly and immaterial; and Isidore, whose Etymologies became one of the most widely referred-to texts of the Middle Ages. These writers also had a strong influence which can be seen later in the period, particularly in the Carolingian Renaissance and again in the twelfth century.

Citing this article:
Barnish, Samuel. Encyclopedists, medieval, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B037-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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