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Isidore of Seville (560 - 636 AD) was the Christian Archbishop of Seville, Spain who spent his life learning and inquiring over the foundations of many fields of knowledge such as music, mathematics, language, rhetoric, time, atoms, zoology, astronomy, astrology, culture, history, historical chemistry, war, history, philosophy, all sorts technologies and sciences, metallurgy, and so much more. He is considered one of the best early Medieval rationalists that existed in that age and his preservation of accounts of the sciences and history and languages should not be overlooked.
Isidore's impact in the West can be seen by the facts that this text was widely used for Medieval education (scientific and otherwise) for around 1,000 years and has over 1,000 extant manuscripts, second only to the Bible in terms of number of extant manuscripts, according to the editor of these volumes.
This work is similar to other books from the ancient world on the Sciences (which was called "Natural Philosophy") such as Natural History: A Selection (Penguin Classics) by Pliny the Elder. In fact he uses Pliny a bit. It should be remembered, that a good chunk of what he says in the work is not new and is generally a summary of the knowledge or issues that people had, or raised, up to that time. He uses many sources and authors to compile an account of humanity and the essentials of the universe at his time. Not all that is said in the work should be automatically believed, like with many other works in history and the present, of course, but lots of the information he presents IS valuable from a historical and scientific point of view since a great deal of the materials mentioned is correct or well reasoned if incorrect.
In this work, which is an encyclopedia, he does his summary of his abundant knowledge of the history and origin of words, or as it is called, "Etymologies", and sheds much light on the views and knowledge of that time and of the ancients. It truly is impressive how much one can learn from such an early Medieval rationalist. Many myths that people have on the "Dark Ages" should be dispelled after reading this encyclopedia and considering what one of the earliest Medieval writers has to say. The Ancients and people from the Medieval times were not foolish or ignorant at all since many of the things that are found within the book are pretty "modern" and it shows how many ideas we have today are not really "new" or unique such as views on atoms, mathematics, and even the spherical shape of the earth. He talks about these things and more in this work, though he is mainly collecting information to give a holistic perspective on many views from the ancient world.
(Yes, the ancients already knew that the Earth was spherical, not flat, since looking at the shadow of a lunar eclipse shows the round shadow of the earth and the oblique rotating motions of the sun imply sphericity since if the world was flat you would expect the same amount of day time and night time throughout the year. Also, with lunar eclipses one can see the the shadow caused by the earth is not uniform, but has a lighter shadow in edge and a darker shadow middle. Read "Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians" by Jeffrey Burton Russell and "The Figure of the Earth in Isidore's De natura rerum" by Wesley M. Stevens, , Isis, 71(1980): 268-277. For fruitful discussion.)
For this work, knowledge of how to read koine Greek and Latin are needed to properly understand this work since the Greek and Latin are found everywhere in every page constantly, aside from the English, with examples of uses in Latin and Greek phrases from other notable authors for the ancient world such as Cicero, Virgil, Pliny the Elder, Lucretius, and many more in Latin too. Truly this is a remarkable work that should shed light on multiple issues, topics, and origins of words from which the English language is generated from since SO MANY words that we use in English are discussed in excellent detail. This was especially a treat for me because I speak Spanish, French, and English and I spotted so many words that are used in all 3 languages that I am now more prone to say that we speak Greek, Latin, and other languages instead of "English". The footnotes are extremely helpful in that they provide a breakdown of so many Greek and Latin words to their "raw" definitions and background if it is needed. The only complaint I have on this edition is that it does not have page #'s. You have to go by Book # and Verse #'s.
Here is a short summary of what is included within this FIRST half this work. The second half of this work is Isidore of Seville's Etymologies: Complete English Translation, Volume 2. (I will not mention everything, only a few things found in each book):
Book 1 - Grammar
Origin of the word "discipline"; 7 Liberal disciplines; structure and quantity of letters in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; mystic letters; parts of speech in Latin and Greek (noun, verb, syllables, etc.); accents in Greek; punctuation; examples of special marks in manuscripts by the authors or editors; abbreviations; secretive (cipher) writing; sign language; etymology; errors in word usage by ancient authors; rhetoric types; figures of speech; divisions in writings (verses, lyrics, etc.) ; fables; historical writing and the first historians; 3 kinds of history
Book 2 - Rhetoric and Dialectic
Origin of the word "rhetoric"; Fathers of rhetoric; cases and cause types; Cicero's threefold divisions of controversy; argumentation and syllogism; law; maxims; types of inquiry; ways of speaking; difference between rhetoric and dialectic; etymology of "philosophy" and what it includes (science, opinion, logic, ethics, etc.) and other divisions of philosophy; some related works of Porphyry, Aristotle, and Marius Victorinus are named and summarized
Book 3 - Mathematics
Arithmetic; numbers; meaning of numbers; even and odd numbers; divisions of numbers (superparticular, multiplex, discrete, etc.); distinction between arithmetic, geometry, and music; finite and infinite numbers; Origin of the word "geometry"; geometrical figures (pyramid, sphere, etc.); music; inventors of music; divisions in music (harmonic, symphony, voices, etc.); instruments of breath, string, beat; numbers and music; distinction between astronomy and astrology; celestial motions; shape of the skies; zodiac; the Milky Way; sizes of the sun and the moon; the course of the sun; views on the light of the moon (reflection of light from the sun or generates it's own light); course of the moon; distances between the sun, the moon, and earth compared; solar and lunar eclipses (round shadow of the earth blocks light of the sun in lunar eclipse giving the true shape of earth); course and light from stars
Book 4 - Medicine
Inventors of medicine; 3 schools of doctors; long list of illnesses and diseases; remedies and medicine such as pills and antidotes; divisions found in medical writings; some instruments used by doctors; odors
Book 5 - Law and Time Periods
Early law makers; divine and human laws; "jus", "leges", and "mores"; natural, civil, military and international laws defined; early Roman law; function of law; witnesses, cases, and legal jargon; distinctions of property; crime; punishment by law; imprisonment and submission instruments; Cicero's 8 penalties in law; other penalties; divisions of time (day, night, dawn, etc.); origins of the names of days and months; special years; generations; short history of the world
Book 6 - Books and Offices of the Church
Old Testament and New Testament divisions and canons; books of the Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha; books that are not canonical to the Jews; authors of the books of the Bible; libraries; translators of the Bible; varieties of short works (homilies, sermon, etc.); writing tablets; papyrus; parchment; how books were made; codices; scribes; heretical groups; history of Easter; other festivals; elements of Christianity (mass, hymns, baptism, etc.)
Book 7 - God, Angels, and Saints
Origin of the word "God"; characteristics and nature of God; Jesus' name and other titles; Holy Spirit's names and nature; the nature Trinity; angels and their nature; names of people in the Bible; patriarchs; prophets; martyrs; clergymen; monks; alternate titles
Book 8- Church and Sects
Church and synagogue; on religion; Jewish and Christian heresies and sects list; pagan philosophers; poets; magi; lists and histories of deities from non-Christian gentiles
Book 9 - Languages, Nations, Kingdoms, Military, Citizenry, Relationships
Diversity and origin of languages; origins and founders of nations; structure of nations (kings, monarchs, tribunals, etc.); slaves; aspects of the military (squadron, legion, etc.); 3 military duties; citizen and political titles; relational titles and structures (father, mother, family, etc.); marriages
Book 10 - Appellatives
Alphabetical dictionary/glossary of terms related to human affairs
This constitutes the FIRST half of Isidore's "Etymologies". Truly this is a remarkable first half of such a valuable work of science and culture from the "Dark Ages". It turns out that the "Dark Ages" were not so dark, but were instead excellent times of scientific and technological progress and reading the primary sources allows for a better look at their perspectives. They were not ignorant! If anything we built directly on the foundations of the ancients. On the next volume, I will list some discourse on atoms and naming of animals that look very "modern". For more information on the ancient sciences please look at the primary sources such as: Greek Science of the Hellenistic Era: A Sourcebook, The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Islam: A Sourcebook, Aristarchus of Samos: The Ancient Copernicus (Dover Books on Astronomy) (on ancient astronomy with many perspectives from the ancient world, including the heliocentric system before Copernicus, are documented in excellent detail).
For Medieval advances and progress in the sciences from primary and secondary sources please consult A Sourcebook in Medieval Science (Source Books in the History of the Sciences), Opus Majus of Roger Bacon, Part 1 and Part 2, 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, and Science and Technology in Medieval European Life (The Greenwood Press Daily Life Through History Series).