St. Isidore and mediaeval science

St. Isidore and mediaeval science

By Floyd Seyward Lear

The Rice Institute Pamphlet, Volume 23, Number 2 (1936)

Introduction: Did Isidore appear foolish to his contemporaries and immediate mediaeval successors, or is his foolishness a more recent discovery? Was he grossly superstitious, or merely lacking in resources of fact and data? Was he intellectually incompetent, or only struggling amid the thought currents of his time and so condemned to be the product of his age? The first question may be disposed of readily, when we consider that few scholars, if any, were more widely cited for reference purposes by later writers, and that fifty-four MSS of his Etymologies are still surviving outside Spain, together with 121 MSS of selections from the same work, all eloquent testimony of his eminence in the mediaeval world of letters. Indeed, Professor Rand has remarked that, “No better way could be found to an immortal and authoritative existence in the Middle Ages” than to have been commended by St. Isidore. Also he was one of those towering figures, conspicuous in mediaeval times, whose names lent prestige to various works by virtue of false attribution. Isidore’s pseudonymousness ranges from the famous False Decretals in canon law to various minor lyric poems. And W. P. Ker in his little book, The Dark Ages, provides a bit of final evidence in a line from the English version of the romance of the Destruction of Troy which he says “is as good an instance as could be found of (the saint’s) popularity,” at least among the half-learned – “And Ysidre in Ethernoleger openly tellis.” It is a simple line; even so, dictionaries and their authors seldom figure in popular fiction.

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