The Medieval University Man And Science
( Originally Published 1911 )
Even after the series of demonstrations which we have given that the great thinkers and teachers at the medieval universities were deeply interested in the problems of what we now call natural or physical science, most people will still not be open to conviction that interest in nature was quite as lively in the Middle Ages as at any subsequent period, even our own. In spite of the fact that the scholastics faced scientific questions in nearly the same mood as we do ourselves, and, curiously enough, anticipated very closely many of the doctrines now current in science, not a few of those who are most interested in the history of education will continue to think that science occupied the minds of the students at the medieval universities very little, and that while the great thinkers may have known something about it, the rank and file of the university men of the time gave scarcely any thought to it. Besides, they will be almost sure to conclude that, whatever they did think was likely to be inept, and in most cases quite ridiculous. Such thoughts are a part of that unfortunate educational tradition which stamps the Middle Ages as neglectful of nature study, as we would call it now, and as lacking in interest in natural phenomena. Nothing could well be less true, and it will require, I think, but the simple tracing of the life and erudition of a single wellknown student of these medieval universities, to show how utterly absurd and unfounded is the popular belief.
I have chosen Dante for this purpose, mainly because so much more is known about the personal details of his life than of anyone else, and we are able to glean from his writings and the contemporary comments on them, a good idea of what the general information on scientific subjects of the educated man of his period was. The fact that Dante was a member of the Guild of the Apothecaries in Florence, an association that included also the physicians of the city, has added an adventitious interest to his attractions as one of the few greatest of poets of all time, and has made details of his career and evidence of the breadth of his education and culture of special import, so that I have frequently taken occasion to call the attention of physicians to the honor implied by Dante's fraternal relation to us. His membership in the Guild of the Apothecaries, however, did not call for any special knowledge of science on his part. He had nothing to do with the sale of drugs, much less with the science of medicine. Originally the Italian apothecaries, as the Greek origin of the word indicates, were shopkeepers selling all sorts of things edible, adorning, or useful for personal service. They sold drugs also, and as some of these were imported from the East, they commonly added to their stock certain other Eastern specialties perfumes, gems and the like. In this way they soon became wealthy, as a rule, and indeed the name of the rich Florentine family who came eventually to rule their native city the Medici is said to be derived from similar connections. It was the sons of these men who became the upper middle classes in Florence. Perhaps one should say they became the upper classes, for Florence had no nobility, in the proper sense of the word, and men made their own positions. Their descendants became the men of culture, until finally the Florentine Guild of the Apothecaries represented the most intelligent class of the population of the city. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, then, most of the artists, the literary men, the architects, the sculptors, were members of the guild. Dante's occupation when he was a peaceful citizen of Florence was, according to tradition, that of architect, and one building designed by him is supposed to be still in existence in Florence.
Dante should represent for us, then, what an architect in Florence at the end of the thirteenth century knew about natural science, as the result of his school and university training. In our time, architects are likely to know more about certain forms of physical science than most other people, and due allowance would have to be made for this in Dante's case. It will be found, though, as we discuss his erudition, that the sciences in which he was particularly interested astronomy and various phases of biology with physical geography were not those which appeal especially to an architect, and certainly have no relation to his occupation. His knowledge of flowers might be thought to be due to his wish to use floral forms for structural decorative purposes, but Dante is rather weak for a poet in the matter of the description of flowers, and it is only from the side of their color that they made any special appeal to him.
Most people have been led to think of Dante as not a student of nature, because that impression would inevitably be gathered from certain passages of John Ruskin with regard to him. Ruskin was so faithful and loving a student of Dante that he would be expected not to be mistaken in such a matter, nor is he ; but he has dwelt overmuch on certain phases of Dante's lack of interest in nature, until the great Florentine's devotion to creation as he saw it around him is obscured. It is not difficult to show, from Dante's own writings, how much he was interested in nearly every phase of nature and natural phenomena. In the " Westminster Review " for July and August, 1907, Mr. George Trobridge, in articles on Dante as a Nature Poet, has furnished abundant evidence to prove his thesis, though he too has felt the necessity for apologizing for even apparently differing from so great a critic and such an enthusiastic Dante student as Ruskin. Dante's works, however, themselves can be the only appeal in this matter, and Mr. Trobridge has used them with good effect and in such a way as to carry to anyone the conviction that Dante was a profound student of nature in all her moods and tenses. Mr. Trobridge says in the introduction :
" It will appear presumptuous in the present writer to differ from so great a critic and such an enthusiastic student of Dante as Ruskin, but it seems to him that the author of Modern Painters has done scant justice to the intense insight of the poet into the beauties of the world we live in and his wonderful power of expressing what he saw. There are few even modern poets who have taken so wide a view of the field of nature, and even Shakespeare himself scarcely excells the great Florentine in felicity and concentration of expression, The Divina Commedia is full of vivid pictures covering the whole range of natural phenomena. As these pass before our eyes, we can scarcely realize that the painter of them is not of our own day, so thoroughly does he enter into the spirit of modern landscape art. Sometimes his pictures are momentary impressions studies of effects painted with a large brush ; at others his touch is of a Preraphaelitic nicety, and now and then he gives us a studied composition full of doubtful detail like one of Turner's landscapes. He was one with Wordsworth in his sincere delight in every form of natural beauty. Like him, he lived beneath the habitual sway of fountains, meadows, hills and groves ; with him he saw the `splendor in the grass' and the `glory in the flower.' He could `feel the gladness of the May' and rejoiced in ` the innocent brightness of a new day.'
In the matter of science as distinct from poetic interest in nature, quite as much can be said for Dante. This greatest of Italian poets is a fair example to take of the university man of the thirteenth century in this respect. He was thirty-five before the first century of university existence properly so-called closed. He may be considered a typical product of university life. It is true he had had the almost inestimable advantage of the schooling and culture of his native Florence, where at the end of the thirteenth century there were more children, it is said, in attendance at the schools to the number of the population than there is at the present moment even in most of our American cities. Brother Azarias in his Essays Educational,1 said :
" In the thirteenth century, out of a population of 90,000 in Florence, we find 12,000 children attending the schools, a ratio of school attendance as large as existed in New York City, in the year of Grace 1893." This ratio, it may be said, is as great as is ordinarily to be found anywhere, and this fact alone may serve to show how earnest were these medieval burghers for the education of their children. Dante had the advantage of this, and in addition, of the training at two or three of the universities at least of Italy, besides spending some time at Paris, and probably a visit at least to Oxford.
Lest it should be thought that perhaps Brother Azarias gave too favorable an estimate in his account of the schools in Florence, though he quotes as his authority Villani, and other authorities are readily available, it seems worth while to give a very interesting reference to this subject of education in one of the notes in Prince Kropotkin's chapter on Mutual Aid in the Medieval City, from his book Mutual Aid a Factor in Evolution, a work that we have placed under contribution a number of times already in this attempt to picture medieval conditions as they were in reality, and not in the foolish imaginings of outworn traditions. Kropotkin's studies in what the free cities accomplished by the union of the guilds for every fraternal purpose, and the coordination of their citizens for every detail of the commonweal, has made him realize that common or public school education was an important feature of medieval free city life, and strange as that fact may appear to many modern . minds, that such public school education occupied at least as prominent a position as it does with us in our own time. In the quotation from him it will be seen that he considers that Florence was not alone in this matter, and he ventures to place Nuremberg on a level with her. Doubtless other German cities, as certainly other Italian cities, provided similar facilities for general education.
Kropotkin says : "In 1336 it (Florence) had 8,000 to 10,000 boys and girls in its primary schools, 1,000 to 1,200 boys in its seven middle schools, and from 550 to 600 students in its four universities. The thirty communal hospitals contained over 1,000 beds for a population of 90,000 inhabitants. (Capponi, ii. 249 seq.) It has more than once been suggested by authoritative writers, that education stood, as a rule, at a much higher level than is generally supposed. Certainly so in democratic Nuremberg."
The content of this educational system is our main subject of interest at the present moment.
" Seven hundred young men received the higher education. (This in a city of less than 100,000 inhabitants. How do our cities of 100,000 inhabitants compare with it ?) The very spirit of the arts was scholastic in Dante's day. You read the story in the oratory of Orsanmichele, in which each art with its masterpiece receives a crown ; you read it in the chapters of Santa Maria Novella, in Gaddi's painting of the Trivium and Quadrivium ; you read it in Giotto's sculpture of the same subject upon this marvelous campanile. Here was the atmosphere in which Dante's boyhood and early manhood were passed. "
We shall not be surprised, then, to find in Dante, the typical product of this form of education, an interest in every form of erudition and in all details of information.
I have preferred to take the evidence for Dante's knowledge of science from others, rather than attempt to supply it entirely by means of quotations from his works. This latter would be the most scholarly way, but Dante is not easy reading even in a good translation, and one needs to be familiar with his modes of expression and to be accustomed to the wonderful compression of his style to appreciate his full significance. There is no lack of good authorities, however, who have made deep studies in Dante, to bring out for us the complete import of all the references to the science of his time, which Dante was tempted to make. We have perhaps been prone to think, in English speaking countries, that no poets have ever kept more thoroughly in touch with the progress of science, or at least have ever used references to scientific details with more accuracy, than some of our own nineteenth century poets. A little study of the first great poet of modern times, in whom Carlyle said "ten silent centuries found a voice, " though Dante by no means stands alone in the century, but is the culmination of a series of great poets, will show that he probably must be considered as taking the palm even from our most modern of poets in this respect. If the expressions in text books of the history of education are to be accepted as evidence of the thoughts of educators with regard to the details of education in Dante's time, even a brief sketch of Dante's scientific knowledge will be a supreme surprise to them.
As will be at once appreciated, Dante was not a specialist in science, but used the knowledge of science current in his day in order to drive home his thoughts by means of figures. It is surprising, however, what a marvelous display of scientific knowledge, entirely without pedantry, which anyone who knows his supreme compression of style will realize to be the fault Dante is least liable to, was thus made by this educated literary man of the thirteenth century. Dr. L. Oscar Kuhns, Professor in Wesleyan Universi y, has in his little book The Treatment of Nature in Dante's Divina Commedia, suggested a comparison between Dante and Goethe.
Everyone realizes at once how profound a scientist was Goethe. Professor Kuhns' comparison, then, will bring out the scientific qualities of this great medieval poet, who is the representative scholar of the universities of his time.
"There is perhaps no innate contradiction between science and poetry, but it is not often that they are found together in the same man. Dante, like Goethe, half a millennium later, was not only drawn by the beauty of nature; but he had likewise an unquenchable intellectual curiosity, and sought diligently to understand the meaning of the universe in which he lived.
" No other poet has ever combined the loftiest poetry with the discussion of such complicated topics in all branches of learning. In one place we find a long discussion of the origin and development of life, which, naive and scholastic as it is, shows some lines of resemblance to the modern doctrines in biology ; in another place there is a learned discussion between the poet and Beatrice concerning the cause of the spots in the moon, in which an actual experiment in optics is given."
The first passage to which Professor Kuhns refers, while containing many speculative elements, is a discussion of certain important basic problems in biology that have always appealed to thinking men at every period of the history of science, and never more so than in our own day. They must still be considered undecided, though many volumes have been written on them in the last century. There are thoughts in Dante's exposition of the subject that are startling enough to the modern biologist, and that make it clear how much men's minds run along the same grooves in facing questions that we are prone to think have occurred to men only in the last few generations. The other quotation to which Professor Kuhns refers deserves to be quoted entire. It is perhaps even more striking because of its actual description of an experiment in optics, which shows how much this great poetic intelligence of the medieval time, usually supposed to be so abstracted and occupied with things other worldly and supernal, living his intellectual life quite beyond the domain of sense, still remembered tile teachings of his university days, and even recalled the details of demonstrations that he had seen. The passage occurs in the II. canto of the Paradiso, beginning with line 97 :
"Take thou three mirrors, two of them remove
From thee an equal distance, and the last Between the two, and further from thee move ;
And turned towards them let a light be cast, Behind thy back, upon those mirrors three,
So that from all reflected rays are passed.
Then, though the light which furthest stands from
May not with them in magnitude compete, Yet will it shine in brightness equally."
It is easy to understand, then, that Professor Kuhns should have been enthusiastic with regard to Dante's knowledge of science. He says :
"The whole structure of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise shows a thorough knowledge of the Ptolemaic system ; and we invariably find astronomical facts, mingled with classical quotations, in the description of stellar phenomena. But not only in specific passages do we find evidence of Dante's love for science, but in brief allusions to the various aspects of nature metaphors, figures, descriptions a word or two is added, giving the cause of the phenomenon in question. Examples of this abound."
It is with regard to astronomy, of course, that Dante has given us the most convincing evidence of his knowledge of science, his interest in nature and natural phenomena, his questioning spirit in nature study, and the wonderful anticipations of his generation with regard to knowledge that has usually been supposed to have been hidden from them. The stars appealed to his poetic spirit, and then besides, his great poem occupied itself with all the visible universe, and especially with the parts outside this world. Professor Kuhns has said :
" One may confidently assert that no such perfect lines descriptive of the stars have ever been written. Shakespeare and others can furnish famous passages, but none, I think, equal to those of Dante. They have all the quality of his art truth, clearness, possessing the power of touching deeply the imagination, yet terse and compact, containing not a word too much. We see the stars at all hours of the night, in all degrees of brilliancy, fading away at the approach of dawn, gradually appearing as twilight comes on, shining with splendor on a moonless night, keenly sparkling after the winds have cleared the atmosphere, or eclipsed by the greater effulgence of the moon. The motion of the constellations about the pole is referred to, those which are nearest to it never setting beneath the horizon."
It is often thought that the proper idea of the explanation of the Milky Way was quite modern. Dante, however, discusses in his Convito the theories of it that had been suggested up to his time, and then gives his own views, which he confesses are founded on Aristotle, but which are evidently the result also of his own thinking. Pythagoras, he said, attributed it to the scorching heat of the sun, as if somehow this left a trace of itself even after the sun had sunk. Other Greek philosophers, as for example Anaxagoras and Democritus, explained it as a reflection of the light of the sun which still found its way even though that luminary had passed from sight, Dante himself says that, following Aristotle, he cannot help but think that the Milky Way is composed of a multitude of minute stars which are gathered very closely together in this particular part of the heavens, and which are so small that they cannot be distinguished from one another, though their light causes that special white luminosity which we call the Milky Way. This explanation is the true one, only that the apparent smallness of the stars are due to their distance, and not to their actual minuteness of size.
A brief list of the other astronomical phenomena mentioned by Dante has been made by Professor Kuhns. This serves to show very clearly that Dante's knowledge with regard to the heavens was quite as extensive as that of the modern educated man, indeed, probably more so, and that it was quite as exact. The little touch which shows that he knew, for instance, that August is the month when shooting stars are more frequent, is wonderfully illuminating. His powers of observation are brought out by his having seen them during the day as well as at night. In all this it must not be forgotten that Dante was no mere pedant making a display of his knowledge ; that he was not one to parade his erudition for the sake of show ; that indeed no one has ever written so compressedly as he ; that every word that he used counts in bringing out his meaning, and yet that we find all this wealth of information with regard to astronomy in a book that was meant to proclaim, and has, in the opinion of men for all time since, expressed more sublimely the significance of man's relations to the universe and his reflections on the infinite in lofty poetic thought, than any other that was ever written. Professor Kuhns says :
" The other celestial phenomena mentioned by Dante may be dismissed briefly. We have references to the eclipse and its cause, and the Blessed in the Heaven of the Fixed Stars flame brightly, a guisa di comete (in the guise of a comet). Shooting-stars are referred to several times, almost invariably as a conventional figure for rapidity. August is the month when they are the most frequent, and they are most seen to shoot with lightninglike swiftness across the serene blue sky or pierce the clouds that gather around the setting sun. One fine passage describes the spectator following them with his eyes as they lose themselves in the distance."
It is no wonder, than, that Prof. Kuhns should be quite enthusiastic with regard to Dante's use of astronomical knowledge. He insists, however, that while it was his poetic soul and love for the stars that tempted him to allow his thoughts to wander so frequently into the realm of the celestial bodies, his interest was always profoundly scientific. His passage to this effect is worth while quoting in extenso, because it brings out this fact very clearly. As Prof. Kuhns' only idea in this was to show how marvelously the representative poet of the Middle Ages turned to nature in his poetry, and there was no thought of controverting the foolish notions of those who so lightly declare that the students of the Middle Age universities knew nothing of science, the paragraph is a bit of very striking evidence in this matter.
" Dante's love for the stars was largely scientific ; he knew thoroughly the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, which forms the framework of the whole structure of the Paradiso. We find constant and accurate allusions to the constellations, their various shapes and positions in the heavens ; while the hour of the day and the season of the year are often referred to in terms of astronomical science, frequently interwoven with mythology. But besides this scientific interest, he was deeply touched by the beauty, the mystery and the tranquilizing power of the celestial orbs. There is hardly a phase of them that he has not touched upon ; many of his descriptions and allusions have a truth and vividness unsurpassed even in this present day of nature worship. Here, as elsewhere in the Divina Commedia, science and learning and poetry go hand in hand. We have no mere dry catalogue of facts, but the wonderful mechanism of the starry heavens is brought before our eyes, rolling its spheres in celestial harmony, radiant with light and splendour, while the innumerable company of angels and the `spirits of just men made perfect' raise the chorus of praise to the Alto Fattore."
We cannot but add the reflection that, as our own poets of the nineteenth century indulged themselves in figures drawn from science not only because of their own interest in the subject, but because they realized the interest of the men of their time in matters scientific and appreciated that figures drawn from them would add to the significance of their own thoughts, so Dante would not have used figures drawn from science only that, closely in touch as he was with the educated men of his time in many cities and countries, he felt that he would thus not only be adding to the interest of his work, but would be making his own meaning clearer by a wealth of allusion from things scientific. This is in-deed the side of this study of Dante that deserves the most thorough consideration by educators in our time, if they would understand what the real spirit of the teaching of science in the medieval universities was, and what the attitude of educated people of the time to-ward nature study, which has been so egregiously misrepresented by those who know nothing at all about it, must be considered to have been. All this we must judge, however, from contemporary sources, and not from subsequent supercilious misrepresentations.
It must not be thought, however, that Dante's interest in science was exhausted by his excursions into astronomy. This has already been more than hinted at in some of the passages quoted, which show his interest in other phases of science. In the modern time, however, it is almost the rule, that if a scholar who is not a scientist, and especially if he happens to be, as Dante was, a literary man, indulges in some scientific pursuits, he has at most but an interest in one branch of science. Quite as often as not he rather prides himself on knowing nothing at all about this department of knowledge. Specialism has invaded even scientific education, and a man specializes in some favorite department of science for his avocation, and is apt to know very little about other departments. Dante was not thus constituted, however. It will be comparatively easy to show that every form of scientific thought interested him, and that his love of nature led him into nature study, in the best sense of that very modern term, and caused him to make observations for himself, or so retain the observations of others that he had heard or read, that he was able to use them very forcibly and appropriately in the figurative language of his great poem.
Alexander von Humboldt, the distinguished German naturalist and leader of scientific thought in the early nineteenth century, whose compliment to Albertus Magnus, quoted in the chapter on Science at the Medieval Universities, is probably a surprise to most people, but serves to show how wide was the reading of this great scientist, was also an attentive student of Dante, and has a passage with regard to the Florentine poet's knowledge of science quite as striking as that with regard to the great scholastic's excursions into the same field. In his Cosmos he has the following tribute to Dante as a student of nature and as a loving observer of natural phenomena :
" When the story of the Arabic, Greek or Roman dominion or, I might almost say, when the ancient world had passed away, we find in the great and inspired founder of a new era, Dante Alighieri, occasional manifestations of the deepest sensibility to the charms of the terrestrial life of nature, whenever he abstracts himself from the passionate and subjective control of that despondent mysticism which constituted the general circle of his ideas."
With regard to the famous description of the river of light in the thirtieth canto of the Paradiso, Humboldt declared that the picture must have been suggested to Dante by the phosphorescence seen so beautifully and so luxuriantly in the Adriatic Sea at times. The passage itself is so beautiful and is so well worth the reading a second time, even for those who have read it before, that I give it a place here, followed by Humboldt's comment.
I saw a glory like a stream flow by,
Dean Plumptre says that Humboldt's suggestion with regard to this description has not been found elsewhere, and as it adds to the completeness of the idea conveyed by the figure, he gives it a place in his studies and estimates of Dante. Humboldt said :
" It would almost seem as if this picture had its origin in. the poet's recollection of that peculiar and rare phosphorescent condition of the ocean when luminous points appear to rise from the breaking waves, and, spreading themselves over the surface of the waters, convert the liquid plain into a moving sea of sparkling stars."
It is with regard to the little things in life, particularly those that are so small that one would be tempted to think at first blush that Dante paid no attention to them at all, that his powers of observation as a student of nature, and his all pervading love for every even smallest manifestation of her power, is especially made manifest. With regard to this subject, Prof. Kuhns, to whom I have already turned so often, has an illuminating passage, which sums up a large amount of reading of the poet. He says :
"The smallest members of the animal kingdom do not escape the observing eye of the poet, and such unpoetical insects as the flea, the gnat, and the fly are brought into use. By means of these latter he has accurately given the time of day and season of the year in one line, where, showing us the farmer lying on the hillside of a summer evening, looking down upon the valley alight with fire-flies, he says the time was that
` When the fly yields to the gnat.'
Those pests of dogs, the flea and hornet, are referred to in a passage already given, where the dog is seen snap-ping and scratching in agony. The butterfly was symbolical, during the Middle Ages, of the. death and resurrection of the body. The various phases of its development are referred to by Dante ; the caterpillar state, the latter referring to the cocoon of the silk-worm, furnishing a figure for the souls in Paradise, swathed in light ; in one passage, backsliding Christians are compared to insects in a state of arrested development."
Dante's passage in the tenth canto of the Purgatorio, in which he compares man to the butterfly, who in this life passes through the caterpillar stage, passing in death, as it were, into the larval stage when in his coffin he is motionless and apparently dead, as the insect in its cocoon, yet finally reaching the glory of the resurrection in the winged butterfly stage, shows how well these medieval observers of nature had studied carefully aspects of nature which we are apt to think were holden entirely from their eyes. The passage would remind one of the story of the Jesuit, three centuries later, who, in the early days of missionary work in this country, wondered how he would obtain a fitting word to express to the Indians the abstract idea of the resurrection of the body. The good Father finally recalled his Dante, and having found a caterpillar that had entered into the larval stage after having spun its cocoon and wrapped itself round with its shroud to lie down in what is a striking similitude of death, presented it to the Indians, and then having waited until the butterfly came out, asked them what they called this process, and applied the word for it to the resurrection. Dante says :
" Perceive ye not we are of a wormlike kind,
It is with regard to bees and ants, however, that Dante's observant love of nature and of natury study is especially to be admired. It is true, as has been often pointed out, that the older poets, of whom Dante was an assiduous and mindful reader, made use of figures with regard to bees, and Virgil, with all of whose works Dante was so intimately acquainted that nothing must have escaped him, devoted one of the four books of his Georgics to what is practically a treatise on Apiculture. In this most of the problems of bee raising are discussed. Lucretius, Lucan, and Ovid, all made use of this interesting insect for figures in their poetry. Dante might have obtained most of the references to the bee, then, from his reading. Prof. Kuhns is of the opinion, however, that some at least of Dante's references to them are due to his observations, quite apart from his literary reminiscences with regard to their habits and instincts. He says : —
"There are certain touches in the Divina Commedia which seem to prove that Dante's use of them was not entirely conventional. In the wonderful passage where he stands contemplating
`La forma general di Paradiso,'
he saw the Blessed in the shape of a great white rose on the banks of the river of light ; and the white-robed angels, with wings of gold and faces of flame, as they fly unceasingly back and forth from the seats of the saints to the effulgent river, are compared to bees, following their inborn instinct to make honey, flying from flower to flower, burying themselves in the chalice, and then rising heavily to carry their burden to their hives. In another passage their buzzing noise is compared to the noise of a distant waterfall;"-a touch of nature that could only have come from familiarity with the insects.
In is with regard to ants even more than bees that Dante's proclivities for nature study are most evident. When in the Purgatorio, in the twenty-sixth canto, Dante would describe the meeting of souls in Paradise who kiss each other as they speed on their way, he compares them to the ants who as they meet one another touch antennae, thus communicating various messages, and then go on their way. The passage is very striking because, as Dean Plumptre remarks, the picture drawn reminds one almost of Sir John Lubbock's ant studies, or the remark-able descriptions of ant life in Bishop Ken's Hymnotheo. Dante's lines are as follows :-
" So oft, within their dusk brown host proceed
Thus did Dante know the whole round of science in his time better than any modem university man. People who take exception to his knowledge fail to realize its environment. They may smile a little scornfully now at his complacent acceptance of the Ptolemaic system with-out a question, but it must not be forgotten that for three centuries after his time educated men still continued to accept it, and that even the distinguished Jesuit. astronomer, Clavius, to whom we owe the Gregorian reformation of the calendar and the restoration of the year to its proper place as regards the heavens, not only accepted it, but worked out his calendar reform problems by means of it. Clavius's great contemporary, Tycho-Brahe, the distinguished Danish astronomer, found no reason to reject it. Even Lord Bacon, who with perverted historical sense is still proclaimed the father of modern experimental science, also accepted the Ptolemaic system, and found that it thoroughly explained all the phenomena of the heavens, while he rejected the Copernican system, then nearly a century before the world, because he thought it did not. The surprise, how-ever, is not in Dante's knowledge of astronomy, but in his familiarity with details of biology that enables him to reason, though in poetic. language, with straightforward and logical directness with regard to basic thought in this science that is usually considered so thoroughly modern.
Another surprising feature is the knowledge of the habits of birds and of insects, Our modern students of nature are supposed to be the first who went deeply enough into these subjects to make them material for literature. Here, however, is Dante describing, in a few picturesque words, characteristic peculiarities of birds and insects, which our modern writers spend pages over, yet tell us scarcely more about them. A little knowledge of Dante is evidently the best antidote that our generation can have for that foolish persuasion that the Middle Ages were ignorant of science and that the universities taught nothing but nonsense about nature.
I am tempted to add just a few pargraphs with regard to another aspect of Dante's scientific interests which assimilates him to the modern educated man. Education itself would seem to be one of the sciences the development of which was surely left to a late and more conscious age. There are, however, as has been pointed out by Brother Azarias, quite enough materials in Dante's works to show that a serious student who was, however, only a literary man and not an educator, had many thoughts with regard to the practical side of education, and had come to many conclusions with regard to how it should be carried on, that are anticipations of the most fruitful thoughts of our modern educators and that have formed the subject of many theses on education down to our own day. Education is, of course, scarcely one of the physical sciences, yet since its subject-matter is mainly the child and the developing human intellect, and in that sense it is nature study in its highest form, this aspect of Dante's thinking also deserves to be given due weight here. Brother Azarias says :
" It is the mission of the poet to reflect in his work the predominant, all-pervading spirit and views of his age. Now, in his day, the universities were the controlling element in thought, in art, in politics, moulding the thinkers and rulers of the age both in church and state. But Dante was a life-long student. He traveled from land to land and from school to school, and sat impatiently, yet humbly, at the feet of masters, imbibing whatever knowledge they could convey. He disputed in public. His bright eyes and strong, sombre, reserved features attracted the attention of fellow students as he wended his way, absorbed in his own thoughts, through the rue de Fouarre and entered the hall in which Siger was holding forth. Tradition has it that he was no less assiduous a frequenter of School Street in Oxford. He has left us no distinct treatise on education ; but he who embodied all the science of his day, who was supreme in teaching so many other lessons, could not be silent in regard to pedagogy. From his writings a whole volume of rules and principles bearing upon education might be gleaned. In `Il Convito' he expresses himself fully on the different ages of human growth and development ; speaks of obedience as an essential requisite for the child ; after his father he should obey his master and his elders. He should also be gentle and modest, reverent and eager to acquire knowledge ; reserved, never forward ; repentant of his faults to the extent of overcoming them. As our soul in all its operations makes use of a bodily organ, it behooves us to exercise the body, that it grow in grace and aptness, and be well ordained and disposed in order that the soul may control it to the best advantage. Thus it is that a noble nature seeks to have a sound mind in a sound body."