Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Well its done. Degree number two, an MA, is finished and the dissertation handed in. On to degree number three... I will eventually get around to putting the dissertation, all about Cecco D'Ascoli, onto the web and also need to annotate my Copernicus essay so that can be linked up. I have a week before I start my PhD so perhaps that's a good time to get the web site updated. This blog is really just an aid memoir of useful websites and internet discussions but I might link it to Bede's Library so more people see it.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I just have to do an article on human dissection. A nut brain on the Sec Web has been trawling the internet and has found lots of references (including the infamous Andrew Dickson White) claiming that the Church held this back. My modern citations by modern scholars have not convinced him but has convinced me that I need to write a short article (like the one on the Flat Earth myth) to gather the quotes that blow this out of the water.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Ever wanted to read a Bede manuscript from the ninth century? I thought so. These palaeography exercises are among the cleverest things I've ever seen on the web and are ideal as an introduction to medieval maunscripts. I shall be working through them and expect my ability in this area to improve considerably as a result (from a very low starting point, mind you). The use of DHTML and Flash is really innovative and exactly the sort of useful rather than pointless idea that the web is crying out for. Congratulations to Dianne Tillotson for an outstanding website.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Astrology? Total horlix in my opinion but it was taken terribly seriously once upon a time. My research into early science frequently involves astrology and its detractors, so it is good to find that so many old texts are on the web. Not usually on academic sites but by the heirs to the astrological tradition. They still believe it works and have started using medieval and early modern texts to get back to basics.

Good sites on astrology including texts: Deborah Houlding's Skyscript and Robert Zoller's Medieval Astrology.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Another great web site! I'm not really in genealogy as the ancient Bedes live in well deserved obscurity but for one notable exception, but this site is a gold mine for doing medieval research in England. All the common sources of official data are covered, both the manuscripts and printed sources, not to mention links to other useful places including on-line palaeography courses. The site: Medieval Genealogy.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Some websites with useful information on finding and uses history sources:

How to find those elusive papal bulls

An index to the Rolls Series

Medieval philosophy from Paul Vincent Spade

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

A little known but excellent resource is Roger Pearce on Tertullian and other matters relating to the early fathers. This page, in particular includes English translations of lots of useful stuff which means I shall have to update my work on the Library of Alexandria to include it. Lots of other good resources on the site too about Eusebius, Tacitus and the other authorities that get quoted about early Christianity. Roger sets the record straight on a few common myths about Eusebius the forger etc.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

I've been off history for a couple of weeks to get my breathe back and rest the brain. Returning to the grindstone now with my Masters dissertation to be handed in 30th September. A meeting with my supervisor about the proposed plan went pretty well but as they say about the best laid plans.... On footnotes, the best plan seems to be to put them in the status bar like this: [NOTE].

Friday, April 11, 2003

What is the best way to add footnotes to an essay on the web? Make a footnote a link like this (1) but you slip get back. Perhaps javascript can help. I am playing with using alerts which can be activated by clicking on a [NOTE] and made to go away again just as fast. I wonder if this works on Netscape as apparantly the javascript on the Great Library essay does not. I am using the alert method on an essay on Witch trials and then will try and put the big Alexandria essay on line as well.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

My PhD subject looks like it will be on science around 1500 rather than the fourteenth century where my studies have been concentrated until now. This is quite exciting as it means I can also get involved in humanism and figures like St Thomas More and Erasmus. But it is a fact that renaissance history does seem to be a different kettle of fish to medieval studies although I think this is largely artificial. The idea that we can split history into these eras is pretty daft anyway especially since people seem to see renaissance man as somehow rational and like us, while medieval man was stuck in the dark ages. But the fact is that much of what we think of as 'medieval' like witch trials, the Inquisition, religious wars et al were far more in evidence in the renaissance and early modern period than the middle ages. The seventeenth century must rank as the most religious of them all (at least if you were a Christian). So, just as I am trying to use methods where ever I can find them, it is perhaps a good idea not to allow myself to be stuck as a 'medievalist' if that looks like excluding lots of other interesting stuff.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

The notorious book, the Jesus Mysteries, has an amulet on the front that shows a crucified man and is labelled Bacchus. The authors claim this shows that Jesus was derived from Bacchus which we can of course discount. But the question remains, what is this amulet and why does it show a pagan god on a Christian symbol? I found the answer in Richard Kieckhefer's "Magic in the Middle Ages" (CUP) where he discusses these charms and shows illustrations of a couple from the British Museum. One features a picture of Jesus on the cross (but this time actually labelled as Jesus) with a woman at prayer at his foot. All very Christian, except that on the reverse are magical incantations. What is happening here is that any symbol believed to have supernatural power is being co-opted by magic users to try to use it for their own purposes. Pagans as well as Christians were deeply suspicious of this kind of thing and the charms and gems were not part of mainstream pagan religion (or even the mystery religions). So we find Christian and pagan symbols being mixed and matched to try and maximise the efficiency of the magic being attempted. The amulet on the cover of the Jesus Mysteries is an interesting example of this rather than the earth shattering piece of evidence the authors take it for. Besides, the British Museum's amulet labelled Jesus is earlier still (3rd century) and, as far as I know, the earliest representation of Jesus being crucified that we possess.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Back from skiiing which was very hard work as I am having great trouble turning right. Have to try again next year.

At least I got some reading done. The Lewis book was really helpful as it sought to explain the medieval workview. You need to have this in mind when reading old literature and also understand how it fitted together. The key point is that the way they saw the world was entirely rational in their own terms and consistent with what they knew. It actually made a lot more sense than the purposeless and blind universe of modern science. The book contained lots of useful stuff for putting Copernicus in context even though it is largely about literature.

Finally found out where the analogy of the net that can't catch small fish comes from: it isn't Wittgenstein but Arthur Eddington from the Philosophy of Physical Science (at least according to this week's TLS). I need to get an exact reference for my Dialogue on Natural Theology.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Off skiing for a week in the Alps. This is only my second time but I hope for a refreshing week when my brain can have a rest and my body get seriously exercised. Have to decide what books to bring. I am reading Anthony Grafton's Cardano's Cosmos which is about the life of a sixteenth century astrologer with an ego the size of a planet. Very interesting but entirely text based - there is nearly no historical context beyond what Cardano himself wrote. After that I thought I would bring Emma as I have never read it and CS Lewis's The Discarded Image which is an introduction to medieval literature. It is often forgotten he was a distinguished professor of European literature at both Oxford and Cambridge as well as an apologist and novelist. If I have any time left I also want to start on the second part of Ray Monk's biography of Bertrand Russell but that might have to wait.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Not updating this as often as I thought I might. I have been translating some Latin sources on medieval academics who got into trouble with the church. There are not very many at all but one, Cecco d'Ascoli, got burnt at the stake for relapsing into heresy after he had already got into trouble before. He was a professor of astrology at Bologna university but his heresy is not quite clear. A later inquisitor says he was claiming that Jesus's life was determined by the stars he was born under - that is that God himself had no freedom from the influence of the stars. Certainly, Cecco was no scientist and no martyr for reason, despite what some anti-Christian polemicists have claimed. And he appears to have been the only natural philosopher to be burnt by the Church in the Middle Ages and it is clear that the dispute was about theology not science.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Another nice web site from the Wayne Church of Christ, this time on the text of the bible and other stuff. It is a useful introduction to the way the text has been transmitted and just what those of us who do not know our Western from our Byzantine text need read. Other useful articles include one on using textual criticism to analyse the puzzle surrounding the end of Mark. I think I shall be linking some of this up to my own writings on the origins of the New Testament.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Found a great website called Non - contradiction. It is a learned site all about Aristotle and contains English translations of much of his work and lots of other stuff too. I have already used it to search for an argument used by Copernicus that I suspected was from Aristotle. All right, so a long dead philosopher is not everyone's cup of tea but for us people interested in early science, he is The Philosopher who was almost seen as the font of wisdom in the Middle Ages.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

On Question of Sport on BBC 1 last Friday, the panel had to work out which balls, shuttlecocks, darts etc were heaviest. In order to work this out, both sides dropped the objects to see which landed first. It's amazing that five centuries after Galileo, ordinary people are still Aristotelians at heart. I remember some footage at school of an astronaut on the moon dropping a feather and hammer and both landing at the same time (which happens as there is no air resistance on the moon). Perhaps that snippet of film needs a wider public.

Monday, March 03, 2003

There was a good programme on BBC 2 on Saturday night (yes, it's sad but I wasn't down the pub). It was based on the research reported in this newspaper story involving Newton's alchemy and religious prophecies. According to one of the contributors he was a religious fanatic. What was interesting is that it was one of the first times that TV has dared debunk the positivist 'scientism' view of history and admit that great scientists simply do not measure up to the modern rationalist ideas that they are usually judged on. See my school report for Newton below. One of the academics on the programme sent around an email saying he had been pursued by science journalists incredulous that their entire view of Newton had been shattered. Not a bad result.
I've decided that the essay for the Renaissance science course will be on Copernicus as I want to read some more on it. The essay title asks about the different sorts of arguments and evidence he uses which is fascinating stuff. Basically, if you try to imagine Cop as a modern scientist you are going to come badly unstauck because although he has this revolutionary idea - the justification for it is almost entirely medieval. Hopefully I'll be able to bring in what I've read on scholasticism and religious discipline as well. I don't think Cop was woriied about censure from the church but rather from his fellow academics. To them, heliocentricism seemed as daft as creationism does to Richard Dawkins and they could certainly have made things uncomfortable. But Cop was never in any danger from the Inquisition and delayed publishing for intellectual rather than religious reasons as his manuscripts (rediscovered in the 19th century) prove.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

I don't want to be too rude about historical theories or even post modernists ones - I like the work of Quentin Skinner, Thomas Kuhn (even though he is wrong), Paul Feyerabend (ditto) and the Annales school. But we must not lose sight of what we are trying to do which is understand the past - not just analyse texts here in the 21st century. The ridiculous idea went around a while back that you had to look at texts in isolation and not try and see them in the context of their own time and motives. We still have to avoid old fashioned positivist history of 'what really happened' and 'how we became civilised'. This is especially important with History of Science where the view of most people is of this wonderful march to modernity as we threw off the shakles of superstition and became rational creatures. Science may be rational enough but the discovery of it was anything but.

We are doing Copernicus in the Renaissance class tonight and I've been reading his De revolutionibus. Quite interesting seeing him combine traditional scholastic ideas that all orbits must be based on circles with the his new idea that they all go around the sun. One thing is clear - neither he nor his editors were worried about ecclesiastical censure. It was his fellow natural philosophers that worried him and not the clergy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The debate about Acts has collapsed into recriminations with Prof Robbins insisting he doesn't actually want to debate but 'learn new things'. He then came up with a 'new thing' that Troas, where Paul visits in Acts, is actually ancient Troy and Luke is repeating the voyage of Aeneas to Rome. Never mind that Alexandria Troas, where Paul sets off, is not ancient Troy, never mind that Illium actually is ancient Troy and Paul never goes there, never mind that Paul heads back to Palestine which Aeneas never goes anywhere near, and never mind that Paul never sets foot in Carthage where Aeneas stays for ages. I cannot believe that serious grown up scholars even give this kind of thing the time of day and is further proof of the damage done to the subject of History by the virus of extreme post modernist literary criticism.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Found an Old English font so I can type up my notes from palaeography class. Apparently it won't work on the web site unless the other person has it too but still useful to be able to type thorns and wynns.

Friday, February 21, 2003

The Times Literary Supplement had a review of The Way and Word this week by Sir Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin. It is a comparison between ancient Greek and ancient Chinese science which looks very interesting. The key question of why the scientific revolution never happened in China has never been properly answered and is often seen as an embarrassment to ask. Joseph Needham tried grasping the nettle but never really sorted the problem out either. Lloyd is lecturing on the subject at Cambridge at the moment so his thoughts are likely to develop further. The TLs review says this book does not provide an answer to the question (which it calls the elephant of history of science) either, but does point out some useful avenues of enquiry. The Way is the Chinese world view - everything is harmonious and one. The word is the Greek view - debate and argument to reach truth. Clearly they are different although one must be careful when trying to fit complex societies into one word generalisations. Should be an interesting read.
Report for Isaac Newton - Trinity School, Cambridge

Isaac performed very well with his mechanics but his optical work was copied off a classmate. Given his undoubted ability it is a pity he wastes so much time with theology and other pointless subjects. Also, his alchemy work is all wrong and he seems to find this much more interesting than his proper science.

Report for Cotton Mather - Salem High School

Master Mather started badly when he instigated a witch hunt in the third grade. This showed he was superstituous and irrational. Then he grew up and, despite opposition from his teachers, injected a classmate with small pox. This was much more encouraging and rational and we have high hopes for his future.
Thursday nights this term is a course on Magic Science and Religion in the Renaissance that you can read about here. The professor is completely anti-positivist and gets very cross with people who try to use 21st century science to make judgements about how well people were doing science in the past. I call this the examination school of history - you have a big score sheet of modern science and give ticks to Newton and Descartes but black marks to John Dee and Pico della Mirandola. Of course, Newton gets told off for spending too much time of theology and alchemy. So the positivist judges historical figures by how well they anticipated what we believe to be true. He will also tend to read modern notions into old texts where they are absent. Even the professor was doing this last night when he compared Arabic theories on rays to modern ideas about sound and light propagation. I couldn't see it myself.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Found this web site on Old English which is an entire university course on the web. Looks like there is more than just Beowulf to read! I hate starting things I know I have no time to finish so I will just have to leave off this for the moment. One of my bosses used to call me an intellectual fruit fly who flitted from subject to subject as they caught my fancy. Not entirely fair but I certainly couldn't stay focused on just one thing.
I had a palaeography class last night. It is only a beginners class and everyone there seems to be over seventy apart from me. We are working our way through English scripts from the eighth to the sixteenth century over two terms so it has been Saxon all the way so far. Still, reading off photocopies of the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Leningrad Bede has been well worth while. Our first bit of coursework is to transcribe some Old English (not sure what it is of yet). It would be fun to learn Old English too although there is not a great deal of it to read and only Beowulf is really famous. Is it worth learning a language just for one poem? Also it is inflected like Latin and more like German than modern English so it is rather harder than might be expected for a direct ancestor of your own language. Maybe one day and I'll keep an eye out for a beginners guide.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The argument is at the Crosstalk yahoo group which may or may not be visible to non subscribers. Otherwise it is being discussed on the Internet Infidels discussion board.
Need to edit the code on this page and a link from my site would help too.
I am watching an argument with Vernon Robbins, the professor who came up with that idea that the 'we' passages in Acts are simply a literary convention and do not mean the author was actually there. Up against him are two e-friends who seem to be winning hands down. The trouble is that Robbins is a post modern literary critic who does not seem to have much attachment to traditional history. For him it is axiomatic that 'all history is fiction' or at least narrative. Also his langauge is that of a professor stuck in an ivory tower. It remains to be seen if a connection can be made between my friends' concerns for history and Robbins for literature.