Page images
PDF
EPUB

PART III.

CHAPTER I.

DESIGN OF THE WHOLE-LIMITS AND EXTENT OF THE MIDDLE AGE

THREE CLASSES OF MEN, DURING THAT INTERVAL, CONSPICUOUS: THE BYZANTINE GREEKS; THE SARACENS, OR ARABIANS; AND THE LATINS, OR FRANKS, INHABITANTS OF WESTERN EUROPE-EACH CLASS IN THE FOLLOWING CHAPTERS CONSIDERED APART.

When the magnitude of the Roman empire grew enormous, and there were two imperial cities, Rome and Constantinople, then that happened which was natural; out of one empire it became two, distinguished by the different names of the Western and the Eastern.

The Western empire soon sunk. So early as in the fifth century,“ Rome, once the mistress of nations, beheld herself at the feet of a Gothic sovereign. The Eastern empire lasted many centuries longer; and though often impaired by external enemies, and weakened as often by internal factions, yet still it retained traces of its ancient splendour, resembling, in the language of Virgil, some fair, but faded flower:

Cui neque fulgor adhuc, necdum sua forma recessit. At length, after various plunges and various escapes, it was totally annihilated in the fifteenth century, by the victorious arms of Mahomet the Great.b

The interval between the fall of these two empires, (the Western or Latin in the fifth century, the Eastern or Grecian in the fifteenth,) making a space of near a thousand years, constitutes what we call the middle

age. Dominion passed, during this interval, into the hands of rude,

a About the year of Christ 475, Au- sunk, that early in the seventh century they gustulus was compelled to abdicate the ceased to speak Latin, even in Rome itself. Western empire by Odoacer, king of the See Blair's Chronology. Heruli. As Augustulus was the last Ro- b See the various histories of the Turkish man who possessed the imperial dignity at empire. The unfortunate Greeks, at this Rome, and as the dominion both of Rome period, when, to resist such an enemy as and Italy soon after passed into the hands the Turks, they should have been firmly of Theodoric the Goth, it has been justly combined, were never so miserably dissaid, that then terminated the Roman em- tracted. An union with the church of Rome pire in the West.

was at the time projected. The Greeks During these wretched times, Rome had who favoured it imputed their calamities to been sacked not long before by Alaric, as it their not-uniting ; those who opposed it, to was a second time (about the middle of the their uniting. Between the two factions sixth century) by Totila ; after which events all was lost, and Constantinople taken in the Roman name and authority were so far the year 1453.

illiterate men; men who conquered more by multitude than by military skill; and who, having little or no taste either for sciences or arts, naturally despised those things from which they reaped no advantage.

This was the age of monkery and legends; of Leonine verses, (that is, of bad Latin put into rhyme ;) of projects to decide truth by ploughshares and batoons ;d of crusades" to conquer infidels and extirpate heretics; of princes deposed, not as Cræsus was by Cyrus, but by one who had no armies, and who did not even wear a sword. e See below, chap. xi.

an instance occurs of this trial being insisted # This alludes to the two methods of upon. But that wise princess, though she trial, much practised in those dark times, permitted the previous forms, I mean that the trial by ordeal, and that by duel. of the lists being enclosed, of the judges

Heated ploughshares were often em- taking their seats there, of the champions ployed in trials by ordeal ; and it is remark- making their appearance, &c. (forms which able, that express mention is made of this perhaps could not legally be prevented,) absurd method of purgation by fire, even in had too much sense to permit so foolish a the Antigone of Sophocles. The messenger decision. She compelled the parties to a there says, in order to justify himself and compromise, by the plaintiff's taking an his companions,

equivalent in money for his claim, and "Ήμεν δ' έτοιμοι και μύδρους αίρειν χερούν, making in consequence a voluntary default. Και πυρ διέρπειν, και θεούς ορκωμοτείν, Wyvil, bishop of Salisbury, in the reign Το μήτε δράσαι, μήτε, κ.τ.λ.

of Edward the Third, recurred to trial by

Antig. v. 270. battle in a dispute with the earl of SalisReady we were with both our hunds to lift bury, and ordered public prayers through The glowing mass; or slowly cross the fire, his diocese for the success of his champion, And by the gods to swear, we neither did till the matter, by the king's authority, was The deed, nor knew, &c.

compromised. This carries up the practice to the time But notwithstanding this bishop's conof Eteocles and Polynices, before the Trojan duct, it was a practice which the church

disapproved, and wisely, as well as huPerhaps the poet, by the incidental men- manely, endeavoured to prevent. Trucution of so strange a custom, intended to lentum morem in omni ævo acriter insectacharacterize the manners of a ruder age ; runt theologi, præ aliis Agobardus, et pluan age widely different from his own, which rimo canone ipsa ecclessia. See Spelman, was an age of science and philosophical dis- under the words Campus, Campsius, and quisition.

Campio. As to trials by battle, they were either I must not omit that there is a complete before the earl marshal, or the judges of history of such a duel, recorded by WalWestminster-hall. If before the earl mar- singham, in the reign of Richard the Second, shal, they were upon accusations of treason, between Aneslee a knight, and Karryngton or other capital crimes, and the parties were an esquire. Karryngton was accused by usually of high and noble rank. If before the other of treason, for selling a castle to the judges of Westminster-hall, the cause the French, and, being defeated in the comwas often of inferior sort, as well as the bat, died the next day raving mad. Walparties litigating.

singham's narrative is curious and exact, Hence the combats differed in their ends. but their weapons differed from those above That before the earl marshal was victory, mentioned, for they first fought with lances, often attended with slaughter ; that before then with swords, and lastly with daggers. the judges was victory alone, with no such Walsing. Histor. p. 237. consequence.

e Such was pope Innocent the Third, The weapons, too, differed, as well as the who, besides his crusades to extirpate hereends. The weapons before the earl marshal tics by armies not his own, excommunicated were a long sword, a short sword, and a Philip king of France, Alphonso king of dagger ; that before the judges was a ba- Leon, Raimond earl of Toulouse, and John toon, above mentioned, called in barbarous king of England. Latin druncus, but in words more intelli- Nor is this wonderful, when we view in gible fustis teres.

his own language the opinion he had of his So late as the reign of queen Elizabeth, own station and authority.

war.

Different portions of this age have been distinguished by different descriptions; such as Sæculum Monotheleticum, Sæculum Eiconoclasticum, Sæculum Obscurum, Sæculum Ferreum, Sæculum Hildibrandinum, &c.; strange names, it must be confessed, some more obvious, others less so, yet none tending to furnish us with any high or promising ideas.

And yet we must acknowledge, for the honour of humanity, and of its great and divine Author, who never forsakes it, that some sparks of intellect were at all times visible, through the whole of this dark and dreary period. It is here we must look for the taste and literature of the times.

The few who were enlightened, when arts and sciences were thus obscured, may be said to have happily maintained the continuity of knowledge; to have been (if I may use the expression) like the twilight of a summer's night; that auspicious gleam between the setting and the rising sun, which, though it cannot retain the lustre of the day, helps at least to save us from the totality of darkness.

A cursory disquisition, illustrated by a few select instances, will constitute the subject of the present essay; and these instances we shall bring from among three classes of men, who had each a large share in the transactions of those times: from the Byzantine Greeks, from the Arabians or Saracens, and from the inhabitants of Western Europe, at that time called the Latins. We shall give precedence, as we think they merit it, to the Greeks of Constantinople, although it is not always easy to preserve an exact chronology, because in each of these three classes many eminent men were contemporary.

CHAPTER II.

CONCERNING THE FIRST CLASS, THE BYZANTINE GREEKS—SIMPLICIUS

AMMONIUS-PHILOPONUS-FATE OF THE FINE LIBRARY AT ALEXANDRIA,

SIMPLICIUS and Ammonius were Greek authors, who flourished at Athens, during the sixth century; for Athens, long after her trophies at Marathon, long after her political sovereignty was no more, still maintained her empire in philosophy and the fine arts.s

"I am placed (says he) in the middle, Transubstantionis Joannis Cosin. Episcop. between God and man; on this side God, Dunelm. Lond. 1675. See also the church but beyond man; nay, I am greater than histories of this period. man, as I can judge of all men, but can be Those who would be further informed judged by no one. Sum enim inter Deum concerning these Sæcula, may, among other et hominem medius constitutus, citra Deum authors, consult two very learned ones, sed ultra hominem ; imo major homine, qui Cave, in his Historia Literaria, and Mosheim, de omnibus judicem, a nemine vero judicari in his Ecclesiastical History. possim.” Innocen. III. serm. 2. in Historia & See below, chap. iii.

[ocr errors]

Philosophy, indeed, when these authors wrote, was sinking apace. The Stoic system, and even the Stoic writings were the greater part of them lost. Other sects had shared the same fate. None subsisted but the Platonic and the Peripatetic; which, being both derived from a common source, (that is to say, the Pythagorean,) were at this period blended, and commonly cultivated by the same persons.

Simplicius and Ammonius, being bred in this school, and well initiated in its principles, found no reason, from their education, to make systems for themselves ; a practice referable sometimes to real genius, but more often to not knowing what others have invented before.

Conscious therefore they could not excel their great predecessors, they thought, like many others, that the commenting of their works was doing mankind the most essential service.

It was this which gave rise, long before their time, to that tribe of commentators, who, in the person of Andronicus the Rhodian, began under Augustus, and who continued, for ages after, in an orderly succession.

Simplicius wrote a variety of comments upon different parts of Aristotle, but his comment upon the Physics is peculiarly valuable, as it is filled with quotations from Anaxagoras, Democritus, Parmenides, and other philosophers, who flourished so early as before the time of Aristotle, and whose fragments many of them are not to be found elsewhere.

As this compilation must have been the result of extensive reading, we may justly distinguish him by the title of a learned commentator.

Ammonius wrote comments on the first and second tracts of Aristotle's Logic, as likewise upon the Introductory Discourse of the philosopher Porphyry. His manner of writing is orderly; his style clear and copious; copious in its better sense, by leaving nothing unexplained, not copious by perplexing us with tiresome tautology.

To those who wish for a taste of this literature, I know no author who better merits perusal. The preface to his Comment on Porphyry is a curious account of philosophy under its many and different definitions, every one of which he explains with perspicuity and precision. The preface to his Comment on the Predicaments gives us an ingenious plan of critical scrutiny; in other words, furnishes us with a suite of leading queries, by which, before we read a book, we may learn what it is, and judge, when analyzed, if it be a legitimate composition."

When things change by uninterrupted continuity, as (to use an idea already suggested) the splendour of the day to the dark

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

b See Philosoph. Arrangements, p. 323. vol. viü. p. 620, &c.

i For a fuller and more accurate account k Scc Fabr. Biblioth. Græc, vol. iv. p. of Simplicius, see Fabricii Biblioth. Græc. 161.

1

successors.

ness of the night, it is hard to decide, precisely, where the one concludes and the other commences. By parity of reasoning it is difficult to determine, to what age we shall adjudge the two philosophers just mentioned; whether to the commencement of a baser age, or rather (if we regard their merit) to the conclusion of a purer. If we arrange them with the conclusion, it is, as Brutus and Cassius were called the last of the Romans.'

We can have less doubt about the disciple of Ammonius, John the Grammarian, called Philoponus from his love of labour. It was his misfortune to live during the time of Mahomet, and to see Alexandria taken by the arms of one of his immediate

What passed there on this occasion with regard to the library, though recorded in modern books, is too curious to be omitted here. I translate it from the accurate version of Abulpharagius's History, made by that able orientalist, Pococke.

“ When Alexandria was taken by the Mahometans, Amrus, their commander, found there Philoponus, whose conversation highly pleased him, as Amrus was a lover of letters, and Philoponus a learned man. On a certain day, Philoponus said to him, You have visited all the repositories or public warehouses in Alexandria, and you have sealed up things of every sort, that are found there. As to those things that may be useful to you, I presume to say nothing; but as to things of no service to you,

them perhaps may be more suitable to me.' Amrus said to him, “And what is it you want?' The philosophical books (replied he) preserved in the royal libraries.' This,' says Amrus, “is a request upon which I cannot decide. You desire a thing where I can issue no orders, till I have leave from Omar, the commander of the faithful. Letters were accordingly written to Omar, informing him of what Philoponus had said, and an answer was returned by Omar to the following purport. “As to the books of which you have made mention, if there be contained in them what accords with the book of God, (meaning the Alcoran,) there is without them, in the book of God, all that is sufficient. But if there be any thing in them repugnant to that book, we in no respect want them. Order them, therefore, to be all destroyed.' Amrus, upon this, ordered them to be dispersed through the baths of Alexandria, and to be there burned in making the baths warm. After this manner, in the space of six months, they were all consumed."

The historian, having related the story, adds, from his own feelings, “Hear what was done, and wonder.”m

some

I See Tacit. Annal. iv. 34.

make from Abulpharagius, we shall always m Vid. Abulpharagii Dynastiar. p. 114. quote from the same edition ; that is, from Oxon. 1663.

the Latin version of the learned Pococke, The reader will here observe, that in the subjoined to the original Arabic. many quotations which we shall hereafter

« PreviousContinue »