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Science, Technology, and Health: Documentary Sources

814-1350: Science, Technology, and Health: Documentary Sources

Albertus Magnus, De Vegetabilibus et Plantis (On vegetables and plants, circa 1250-1275)—a detailed description of all sorts of plants, including flowers and fruits; their outward appearances; internal structures, including reproduction; and maintenance, including hybridization and grafting; this work is notable for being remarkably free of myth and hearsay and for attempting a synthetic classification scheme not truly supplanted until the eighteenth century.

Albertus Magnus, De Animalibus (On animals, circa 1250–1275)—an encyclopedic work that sought to bring together all the known information on the animal kingdom as a companion to the Aristotelian works on that topic; largely following Aristotle’s works on the history, parts, and reproduction of animals, the work is supplemented by Albertus’s original observations and a paraphrase of other medieval zoological works, integrating Aristotelian frameworks with nature’s actualities and experimenting on how animals perceive, reproduce, and are constructed.

Albertus Magnus, De Mineralibus (On minerals, circa 1250–1275)—a listing of stones, minerals, and other earthy substances in which Albertus sought to complete his commentaries on Aristotelean topics and filled in a gap where no true Aristotelian source existed; Albertus used some ancient sources, notably Pliny the Elder and Theophrastus, as well as Arabic works and others spuriously attributed to Aristotle, to explain the properties, sources, and medical uses of dozens of stones.

Alhazen (Abu ’Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham), Kitab f_alManazir (Optics, circa 1020)—a work investigating optics and perception from first principles, rejecting previous premises and instead proceeding in a experimental, inductive manner; Alhazen cites no authorities but proceeds with the aid of artificial devices (“instruments”) to probe how light behaves (especially with respect to vision) rather than the traditional philosophical question of what light “is.”

Anonymous, Mappae Clavicula (The “little key” [of secrets], circa ninth to twelfth century)—A compilation of compilations of nearly three hundred recipes on various technological subjects including paints, pigments, miscellaneous chemical compositions, dyes, and how to color metals; this work was compiled over a long period, and manuscripts exist from the ninth, tenth, and twelfth centuries, demonstrating that the Mappae Clavicula is more of a snapshot of a long tradition of technological recipe books, rather than one single groundbreaking work.

Arnauld de Villanova, Aphorismi de Gradibus (Aphorisms on gradations, circa 1300)—a work treating the “complexio” (sensible qualities that characterize health) in a qualitative manner, drawing from Islamic sources, to provide the basis of mathematical pharmacy; Arnauld proposed that the qualitative intensity of a symptom increases arithmetically with a geometric increase in the ratio of the forces that produce that symptom (for example, (intensity)2 = hot/cold), giving the work a strongly theoretical, but hardly practical, tenor.

Roger Bacon, Opus majus (The Great Work, by 1266)—a work espousing mathematical explanation and experimentation as the surest path to knowledge, a rejection of popular opinion and custom as well as ancient authority simply on its reputation; Bacon denounced ignorance concealed by arrogance but praises the use of instruments to extend the senses into his four main branches for knowledge creation: mathematics, optics, scientia experimentalis, and alchemy; he also mentioned some hypothetical inventions that later became reality: telescopes, microscopes, flying machines, and powered ships.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum (On the properties of things, circa 1230)—a medieval Latin text that emulated the long Roman poem of the same name by Lucretius and served as an encyclopedia of diverse topics for medieval scholars, but also, according to Bartholomaeus, could be used by the “simple and ignorant” as well, heralding the realization that natural knowledge was not the monopoly of the Church; it was also translated into Middle English by John Trevisa in the fourteenth century.

Bede, De Temporum ratione (The reckoning of time, 725)—One of the foundational works on Christian chronology, written to instruct monks on how calendars were composed; it includes calendar calculations based on astronomical events, an explanation of the cycles of feasts and holy days, and a theory of the tides.

Jean Buridan, Questiones. . .(Questions [on Aristotle], circa 1330-1350)—a series of commentaries and critiques that asked and attempted to answer questions about what Aristotle wrote in his Physics, Metaphysics, On the Heavens, Meteorology, smaller works on nature, and the various books on animals; Buridan integrated ancient Greek ideas with medieval Christian beliefs.

Constantine the African, Pantechne or Pantegni (All Arts, circa 1075)—A compiled and interpreted version of Kitab al-Maliki (The Royal Book) by the eighth-century Arab philosopher Haly Abbas (’Aliibn al-’Abbas al-Majusi); Constantine’s work includes everything a practitioner needed to know about medicine and introduced the theory and practice of Arabic medicine to the West, became the foundation of Western medicine for the next three centuries.

Giovanni de’Dondi, Planetarium or Astrarium (The Planet-machine, or, The Star-machine, circa 1390)—a book describing the construction of an elaborate clockwork mechanism to track the motion of the planets and stars, and—incidentally—to tell the hours; this book is one of the first to describe complex machinery, with such constructional details as gear ratios, necessary weights, and assembly instructions as well as the theoretical underpinnings for the device.

Robert Grosseteste, Commentarius in viii libros physi-corum Aristotelis (Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics in Eight Books, 1225–1235)—the first commentary on Aristotle’s Physics in Europe; Grosseteste tried to explain Aristotle’s framework within a Christian tradition; although not in itself impressive, this work set the stage for many medieval commentaries and critiques of the ancient Greek conception of motion and substance.

Hildegard of Bingen, Liber compositae medicinea (The Book of Medicinal Compositions, circa 1150)—a collection of recipes for treating various ailments, composed in the tradition of rebalancing the humors to restore health; Hildegard also derived much information deriving from folk medicine, astrology, and scriptural tradition.

Hugh of Saint Victor, Didascalicon: De studio Legendi (“Didactic Manual,”: On Collected Studies, circa 1125–1230)—a work that attempts to define all areas of nature relevant and important for humans to master if they expect to receive divine destiny; Hugh included, for the first time, seven mechanical arts that parallel the seven liberal arts; by including such things as armament, clothing, and agriculture, he legitimated technology as a pursuit not to be despised in the Scholastic universities, elevating it to the status of traditional arts such as logic, rhetoric, and arithmetic.

Robert Kilwardby, De ortu scientiarum (On the Origins of the Sciences, circa 1250)—a work that presents the mechanical arts fully developed and integrated into a synthesis of Augustinian, Boethian, and Arabic philosophy; Kilwardby denied the difference between theory and practice, seeing them dependent upon each other in such a way that one could not exist without the other and that all practical arts rely on speculative arts to understand and describe them.

John Peckham (or Pecham), Perspectiva communis (Common Optics, 1277–1279)—an elementary book that integrated Roger Bacon’s work on optics and that of Alhazen into Western thought; Bacon argued that rays entered our eyes (intromission), rather than being produced by our eyes (extromission), and Alhazen approached the subject by assuming that optics could be explained mathematically and that it was both a physical action and a physiological reaction. Peckham’s work was the standard book on optics until the early seventeenth century.

Nicole Oresme, Le livre du ciel et du monde (The Book of Heaven and Earth, 1370–1380)—a general description of the workings of the universe that uses the metaphor of heavenly clockwork to describe a world that is set in motion by divine order but does not need continued divine intervention to continue in motion; Oresme attempted to fully integrate Aristotelian physics, Christian theology, and Ptolemaic astonomy into a coherent whole.

Oresme, Tractatus de commensurabilitate vet incommensurabilitate motuum cell (Treatise on the Commensura-bility or Incommensurability of the Celestial Motions, 1370–1380)—a technical treatise on the physics of the celestial sphere in which Oresme attempted to explain aspects of circular motion with mathematical rigor and related velocities through exponential ratios.

Oresme, Tractatus de configurationibus qualitatum et motuum (Treatise on the Configuration of Qualities and Motions, 1350s)—a work covering the physics of what is now known as kinematics (a branch of dynamics that deals with aspects of motion apart from considerations of mass and force), Oresme worked out quantitatively the uniformity and difformity of intensities through the used of two-dimensional figures representing different motions, thus taking the first steps toward using graphical figures to calculate unknown quantities.

Peter of Maricourt, Epistola de Magnete (Brief letter on the magnet, 1269)—the first concise work on magnetism in Europe; Peter not only praised manual experimentation as the best way to discover knowledge, but also laid out, clearly and concisely, the concept of the poles of a magnet, the laws that govern magnetic forces, and various instruments that used magnets to determine directions.

Richard of Wallingford, Tractatus horologii astronomici (The Treatise of Astronomical Hours, 1320–1326)—a large book on the construction of a clock to model the movement of the heavens, showing the motion of the sun, moon, five planets, and the tides on a dial face; written for a monastic community, this work demonstrates the interconnectedness of the Christian liturgy and calendar with daily and annual astronomical events.

Rufinus, Liber de virtutibus herbarum (The book of the virtues of herbs, after 1287)—a particularly complete and original attempt to catalogue and classify all cultivated and wild plant matter for their medicinal and digestive properties, providing exacting observation of nearly one thousand vegetables and giving both their Latin and vernacular names so that the readers could more easily identify them.

Richard Swineshead, Liber calculationum (Book of Calculations, before 1350)—a book based on the teachings of English mathematician Thomas Bradwardine, which examined the change in velocity of a body when acted upon by a constant outside force; Swineshead began with some dubious premises about the summations of infinite mathematical series but arrived nonetheless at the correct square law of increasing velocity under constant acceleration (force).

Theophilus Presbyter, De Diversibus Artibus (On various arts, circa 1100)—a work setting down a series of recipes and instructions for the creation of the fine arts necessary in a monastic setting, such as painting, enameling, bell casting, and fine metalwork the work is important because for the first time, in a religious context, the manual arts are specifically described and praised as pious and proper ways to praise God; before this time, they had generally either been ignored or actively discouraged as works which distracted the mind from proper intellectual contemplation.

Tacuinum Sanitatis (The Elements of Health, twelfth to fourteenth century)—a book compiling the observations of many authors about the necessities for daily preservation of health: airs, foods, activity, sleep, the balance of humors, and emotions; many variants of this sort of work survive.

Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Naturale Majus (The Great Mirror of Nature, circa 1250)—an encyclopedic work that summarized the state of science in the late thirteenth century and served as a starting point for further investigations on all sorts of natural objects, processes, and occurrences.

William of Conches, Dragmaticon philosophiae (Philosophy of the World, before 1150)—a work setting out the principle that God acts regularly through natural processes that could be comprehended by humans; William condemned those who appealed to divine causation to explain phenomena; instead he put the task of understanding directly on human intellect and reason; he was taken to task for denying the first cause of any event (that is, God), but safely maintained belief by arguing that seeking the secondary causes (that is, natural processes) did not deny the existence of an ultimate first cause, thereby marrying natural philosophy and theology.

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