How Carolingian Was Bede’s Irish Computus?

One of Bede’s most celebrated works is his On the Reckoning of Time (725). It is a work that is often characterised a schoolbook that sets out how to calculate that pesky movable Easter and to situate that calculation within the crossfire of natural laws, human custom, and divine mystery. It is also partly polemical… Continue reading How Carolingian Was Bede’s Irish Computus?

Finding Lost Texts in Plain Sight

Pro-tip: if a manuscript is catalogued as containing ‘extracts from Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies’, check if it really is that. Years ago, in a couple of related manuscripts in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, I found that a text described as ‘mostly from Isidore’ was actually a Lombard revision of Irish computistical and cosmological material… Continue reading Finding Lost Texts in Plain Sight

‘A Profound Ignorance of Nature’

What did it mean to be a person in the Middle Ages who had a ‘profound ignorance of nature’? Neil deGrasse Tyson recently commented about how the word ‘disaster’ was ‘prescientific’ and pertained to a time when ‘misfortune was commonly blamed on cosmic events’. This was illustrated by the famous image of people standing amazed… Continue reading ‘A Profound Ignorance of Nature’

Unexpected Ptolemy at the Carolingian Court?

You might remember I wrote a little post about a Carolingian list of eclipses from 812 and a ‘mystery eclipse’. It was a strange list because lots of the dates were out a little bit because they had been adjusted to fit with standard lunar tables. It was also surprising because some eclipses mentioned definitely… Continue reading Unexpected Ptolemy at the Carolingian Court?

Was the Arab Destruction of Luxeuil (731) Made Up?

“In 731, the great monastery founded by Columbanus at Luxeuil was raided by Arab horsemen. Those monks who could not escape were put to the sword.” So writes Tom Holland in his new book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. It is part of a section on the great ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the Christian… Continue reading Was the Arab Destruction of Luxeuil (731) Made Up?

Gog and Magog: Crossing Boundaries

I spent much of this week at a wonderful conference in Erlangen on Gog and Magog legends, hosted by the generous Georges Tamer and his team. The legends of Gog and Magog are one of those ‘memes’ (as Anna Ayşe Akasoy called them) that have relevance in many different Jewish, Islamic, and Christian traditions. One… Continue reading Gog and Magog: Crossing Boundaries

Paradigms and Authority in Early Medieval Astronomy

How did early medieval writers who engaged with “science” deal with issues of authority? Last week I wrote a post about how the early medieval Church[1] did not “suppress” efforts to understand the natural world in rationalised ways. Religion did not mean that people thought everything was structured by mystery magic. This week Jo Edge… Continue reading Paradigms and Authority in Early Medieval Astronomy