The following document is designed to introduce high school students to the concept of the Global Middle Ages, using medieval manuscripts at the gateway. Through the study of the Global Middle Ages we acknowledge that the period of the years 500-1500 BCE in Europe did not happen in a vacuum. There were strong ties between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East that influenced the history and culture in all these areas. These ties are also visible through the study of manuscripts, handwritten books, the study of which shows the same texts being copied directly, translated, and commented on, over centuries and across the global medieval world.
In this lesson, students will be introduced to two scientific texts that were especially popular, and appeared in various forms over at least five hundred years. The specific examples are from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania.
These two pages are from LJS 57, a manuscript from the library at the University of Pennsylvania, an astronomical anthology. An anthology is a collection of various texts on a single topic. Thinking in the context of astronomy, what could these images be depicting?
LJS 57, pages 13-12
In this exercise we’ll look at two manuscript copies of Sphaera mundi, an introduction to the basic elements of astronomy written in the early 13th century by Johannes Sacro Bosco, who was a teacher at the University of Paris. Sacro Bosco wrote the text in Latin, which was the common language for educational texts during the Middle Ages. Although Sacro Bosco wrote Sphaera mundi in the early 13th century (sometime around 1230), it was a very popular text throughout the middle ages and was copied and translated all over Europe and into the Middle East.
The first manuscript is LJS 26, a mid-13th century manuscript from Italy. This copy was written fairly soon after Sacro Bosco wrote the original text, so already within a few decades of its composition the text was already being copied outside of Paris.
LJS 26, 25v
The second manuscript is LJS 42, a 16th century manuscript from Greece. Unlike LJS 26, LJS 42 is not actually a copy of Sphaera mundi. Popular texts in the middle ages would often have commentaries written about them. Commentaries function in a way similar to modern secondary sources: they serve to explain and clarify texts to make them understandable to audiences. LJS 42 is not only a commentary on Sphaera mundi, it is a commentary on a translation of Sphaera mundi into Hebrew. LJS 42 is written in Hebrew as well.
LJS 42, fol. 65v
Note that both of these manuscripts have very similar diagrams:
Section of Chapter 4 of Sphaera mundi, translated by Lynn Thorndike (http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/sphere.htm#chap4)
THE SEVEN CLIMES. — Let a circle be imagined on the earth’s surface directly under the equinoctial. And suppose another circle on the earth’s surface passing from east to west through the poles. These two circles will intersect in two places at right spherical angles and divide the whole earth into four parts, one of which is our habitable region, namely, that which is intercepted between the semicircle drawn from east to west along the equator and the semicircle carried from east to west through the Arctic pole. Nor is that quarter entirely habitable, since parts of it near the equator are uninhabitable because of too great heat, and parts near the pole because of too great cold. Suppose, then, a line parallel to the equator dividing the parts uninhabitable on account of heat from those habitable parts toward the north. And suppose another line equidistant at all points from the Arctic pole dividing the parts which are uninhabitable for cold from the habitable parts toward the equator. Between these two extreme lines suppose six lines parallel to the equator, which, with the two former, divide the whole habitable quarter into seven parts which are called the “seven climes.”
FIRST CLIME. — The middle of the first clime is where the length of the longest day is 13 hours and the pole is elevated above the horizon 16 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Meroe.” It begins where the length of the longest day is 12 3/4 hours and the pole is elevated above the horizon 12 3/4 degrees. And its breadth extends to the place where the length of the longest day is 13 1/4 hours and the pole is elevated above the horizon 20 1/2 degrees, which distance is 440 miles.
SECOND CLIME. — The middle of the second clime is where the longest day is 13 1/2 hours and the elevation of the pole above the horizon is 24 1/4 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Syene.” Its breadth from the end of the first clime to a place where the longest day is 13 3/4 hours and the pole is elevated 27 1/2 degrees, is a distance of 400 miles.
THIRD CLIME. — The middle of the third clime is where the length of the longest day is 14 hours, and the elevation of the pole above the horizon is 3O 3/4 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Alexandria.” Its breadth is from the end of the second clime to where the longest day is 14 1/4 hours, and the altitude of the pole 33 2/3 degrees, which is a distance of 350 miles.
FOURTH CLIME. — The middle of the fourth clime is where the longest day is 14 1/2 hours and the altitude of the axis is 36 2/5 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Rhodes.” Its breadth is from the end of the third clime to where the longest day is 14 3/4 hours and the elevation of the pole is 39 degrees, which distance is 300 miles.
FIFTH CLIME. — The middle of the fifth clime is where the major day is 15 hours and the elevation of the pole is 41 1/3 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Rome.” Its breadth is from the end of the fourth clime to where the longest day is 15 1/4 hours and the elevation of the axis is 43 1/2 degrees, which distance is 255 miles.
SIXTH CLIME. — The middle of the sixth clime is where the longest day is 15 1/2 hours and the pole is elevated above the horizon 45 2/5 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Boristhenes.” Its breadth is from the end of the fifth clime to where the length of the longest day is 15 3/4 hours and the elevation of the axis is 47 1/4 degrees, which distance is 212 miles.
SEVENTH CLIME. — The middle of the seventh clime is where the longest day is 16 hours and the elevation of the pole above the horizon is 48 2/3 degrees, and it is called the “clime of Ripheon.” Its breadth is from the end of the sixth clime to where the maximum day is 16 1/4 hours and the pole is elevated above the horizon 50 1/2 degrees, which space of earth is 185 miles.
BEYOND IT. — Beyond the end of this seventh clime there may be a number of islands and human habitations, yet whatever there is, since living conditions are bad, is not reckoned as a clime. Therefore, the whole difference between the initial limit of the climes and their end is 3 1/2 hours, and of elevation of the pole above the horizon 38 degrees. So then we have made clear the breadth of each clime from its beginning toward the equator to its end toward the Arctic pole, and that the breadth of the first clime is greater than the latitude of the second, and so on. The length of a clime may be said to be the line drawn from east to west parallel to the equator; wherefore the length of the first clime is greater than the length of the second and so on, which happens because the sphere narrows down.
LJS 226 is a collection of astrological and astronomical diagrams gathered from 3 earlier manuscripts. The various pieces are all dated from the early 15th century and were bound together in the 19th century. This leaf is fol. 6v, and although it doesn’t have any text it does have two astronomical diagrams of concentric circles, labeled Polus articus and Polus antarticus. A section from chapter one of Sphaera mundi accurately describes these diagrams.
Section of Chapter 1 of Sphaera mundi, translated by Lynn Thorndike (http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/sphere.htm#chap1)
THE FOUR ELEMENTS. — The machine of the universe is divided into two, the ethereal and the elementary region. The elementary region, existing subject to continual alteration, is divided into four For there is earth, placed, as it were, as the center in the middle of all, about which is water, about water air, about air fire, which is pure and not turbid there and reaches to the sphere of the moon, as Aristotle says in his book of Meteorology. For so God, the glorious and sublime, disposed. And these are called the “four elements” which are in turn by themselves altered, corrupted and regenerated. The elements are also simple bodies which cannot be subdivided into parts of diverse forms and from whose commixture are produced various species of generated things. Three of them, in turn, surround the earth on all sides spherically, except in so far as the dry land stays the sea’s tide to protect the life of animate beings. All, too, are mobile except earth, which, as the center of the world, by its weight in every direction equally avoiding the great motion of the extremes, as a round body occupies the middle of the sphere.
THE HEAVENS. — Around the elementary region revolves with continuous circular motion the ethereal, which is lucid and immune from all variation in its immutable essence. And it is called “Fifth Essence” by the philosophers. Of which there are nine spheres, as we have just said: namely, of the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the fixed stars, and the last heaven. Each of these spheres incloses its inferior spherically.