Medieval Quotes (10 quotes)
But it is precisely mathematics, and the pure science generally, from which the general educated public and independent students have been debarred, and into which they have only rarely attained more than a very meagre insight. The reason of this is twofold. In the first place, the ascendant and consecutive character of mathematical knowledge renders its results absolutely insusceptible of presentation to persons who are unacquainted with what has gone before, and so necessitates on the part of its devotees a thorough and patient exploration of the field from the very beginning, as distinguished from those sciences which may, so to speak, be begun at the end, and which are consequently cultivated with the greatest zeal. The second reason is that, partly through the exigencies of academic instruction, but mainly through the martinet traditions of antiquity and the influence of mediaeval logic-mongers, the great bulk of the elementary text-books of mathematics have unconsciously assumed a very repellant form,—something similar to what is termed in the theory of protective mimicry in biology “the terrifying form.” And it is mainly to this formidableness and touch-me-not character of exterior, concealing withal a harmless body, that the undue neglect of typical mathematical studies is to be attributed.
Every utterance from government - from justifying 90-day detention to invading other countries [and] to curtailing civil liberties - is about the dangers of religious division and fundamentalism. Yet New Labour is approving new faith schools hand over fist. We have had the grotesque spectacle of a British prime minister, on the floor of the House of Commons, defending - like some medieval crusader - the teaching of creationism in the science curriculum at a sponsor-run school whose running costs are wholly met from the public purse.
I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any [medieval] code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.
In the index to the six hundred odd pages of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, abridged version, the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton do not occur yet their cosmic quest destroyed the medieval vision of an immutable social order in a walled-in universe and transformed the European landscape, society, culture, habits and general outlook, as thoroughly as if a new species had arisen on this planet.
Somebody once observed to the eminent philosopher Wittgenstein how stupid medieval Europeans living before the time of Copernicus must have been that they could have looked at the sky and thought that the sun was circling the earth. Surely a modicum of astronomical good sense would have told them that the reverse was true. Wittgenstein is said to have replied: “I agree. But I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun had been circling the earth.”
The conundrum that baffled Medieval philosophers, How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?, can have only one correct answer: All of them.
The so-called “scientific revolution,” popularly associated with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but reaching back in an unmistakably continuous line to a period much earlier still. Since that revolution overturned the authority in science not only of the middle ages but of the ancient world—since it ended not only in the eclipse of scholastic philosophy but in the destruction of Aristotelian physics—it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements, within the system of medieval Christendom … It looms so large as the real origin of the modern world and of the modern mentality that our customary periodisation of European history has become an anachronism and an encumbrance.
The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York. ... Great inventions like hay and printing, whatever their immediate social costs may be, result in a permanent expansion of our horizons, a lasting acquisition of new territory for human bodies and minds to cultivate.
Those who nod sagely and quote the tragedy of the commons in relation to environmental problems from pollution of the atmosphere to poaching of national parks tend to forget that Garrett Hardin revised his conclusions many times…. He recognized, most importantly, that anarchy did not prevail on the common pastures of medieval England in the way he had described…. “A managed commons, though it may have other defects, is not automatically subject to the tragic fate of the unmanaged commons,” wrote Hardin…. At sea, where a common exists in most waters… None of Hardin’s requirements for a successfully managed common is fulfilled by high-seas fishery regimes.
Those who suggest that the “dark ages” were a time of violence and superstition would do well to remember the appalling cruelties of our own time, truly without parallel in past ages, as well as the fact that the witch-hunts were not strictly speaking a medieval phenomenon but belong rather to the so-called Renaissance.