A History of Science
Tome I
Tome II
Tome III Tome IV

Book 2, chapter III
Medieval science in the West
New beginnings in general science
We have dwelt thus at length on the subject of medical science, because it was chiefly in this field that progress was made in the Western world during the mediaeval period, and because these studies furnished the point of departure for the revival all along the line. It will be understood, however, from what was stated in the preceding chapter, that the Arabian influences in particular were to some extent making themselves felt along other lines. The opportunity afforded a portion of the Western world - notably Spain and Sicily - to gain access to the scientific ideas of antiquity through Arabic translations could not fail of influence. Of like character, and perhaps even more pronounced in degree, was the influence wrought by the Byzantine refugees, who, when Constantinople began to be threatened by the Turks, migrated to the West in considerable numbers, bringing with them a knowledge of Greek literature and a large number of precious works which for centuries had been quite forgotten or absolutely ignored in Italy. Now Western scholars began to take an interest in the Greek language, which had been utterly neglected since the beginning of the Middle Ages. Interesting stories are told of the efforts made by such men as Cosmo de' Medici to gain possession of classical manuscripts. The revival of learning thus brought about had its first permanent influence in the fields of literature and art, but its effect on science could not be long delayed. Quite independently of the Byzantine influence, however, the striving for better intellectual things had manifested itself in many ways before the close of the thirteenth century. An illustration of this is found in the almost simultaneous development of centres of teaching, which developed into the universities of Italy, France, England, and, a little later, of Germany.

The regular list of studies that came to be adopted everywhere comprised seven nominal branches, divided into two groups - the so-called quadrivium, comprising music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy; and the trivium comprising grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The vagueness of implication of some of these branches gave opportunity to the teacher for the promulgation of almost any knowledge of which he might be possessed, but there can be no doubt that, in general, science had but meagre share in the curriculum. In so far as it was given representation, its chief field must have been Ptolemaic astronomy. The utter lack of scientific thought and scientific method is illustrated most vividly in the works of the greatest men of that period - such men as Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and the hosts of other scholastics of lesser rank. Yet the mental awakening implied in their efforts was sure to extend to other fields, and in point of fact there was at least one contemporary of these great scholastics whose mind was intended towards scientific subjects, and who produced writings strangely at variance in tone and in content with the others. This anachronistic thinker was the English monk, Roger Bacon.





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© Serge Jodra, 2006. - Reproduction interdite.