Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]

For the Week of 10/1/08

Assignment 5

Lucretius and Medieval Natural Philosophy


Do you see the universe in this?

Can you identify elements or planets or shapes of things to come?


[It’s looking like we will have an exam on the Wednesday of week # 7, Oct. 15.]

Read: McClellan and Dorn: pp. 99-103 (Chapter 5) 4pp

Read: Lucretius: pp. 95-128 (all of Book IV). 33pp

Read this section on Aristotelian Natural Philosophy by Edward Grant: pp. 27-51 (you can skim/skip pp. 45-47)  20pp


I am having you read this now, as we enter Medieval science and technology, because Aristotle, combined with Plato and grafted onto religion, dominated this time period all around the Mediterranean regions and Europe.

Read the following parts in this book by Grant: Grant_FoundationsMedievalExcerpts-8.2MB.pdf

read PDF page #2

then pp. 33-49 of the scanned text. 16pp

-and optionally pp. 51-53 if you are interested 

Omni-homework: [everyone must do this – to be handed in on Thursday] Type or write up a paragraph of your marginalia from the Lucretius reading.  See mine below for a model, but feel free to alter the format and style. It doesn’t need to make any sense.  I just want to read over your random thoughts.  This could easily be expanded into a regular homework assignment.  Cite your source.


My Lucretius Marginalia (not necessarily from Book IV]:

nature, good ol’ days, pain, fear, conservation theories, collision, light, motion, harmony, microscopic invisible motions, motion of light atoms?, god or no god, gravity and mass relations, free will, cows and calves, sound atoms, touch as basis of sensation, “generative acts of Venus”, venereal disease,  atomic shapes and qualities, entropy, gods as personifications?, color as texture?, qualities, properties, anima/soul as pattern and/or order, funny atoms?, silly quarks, arrangement, does order materially exist?, can sharpness be separated from a knife?, creation, is the world getting  old and tired?, natural law and age, vital spirit, mind-spirit interface, material spirit, nature vs. nurture, Spock, density of spirit?, mind-life relationship, epilepsy, motion and sentience, ghosts, are fingers sentient?, toothaches, spirits lined up to enter babies, bounded infinity?, immortality and the desire for it, death, where is hell?, memento mori, vanitas, Friday evening rush hour, commuter issues, traffic, length of death compared with length of life.

Regular Homework that Counts Towards the 5 (your choice)

Write:  Write a 1.5 (+-) page single-spaced essay on any or all of the above readings. Cite all sources.  Don’t be boring.  Use illustrations if you think they will help.  Feel free to compare Lucretius’ atomic theory to ours or the Medieval university system to Stevens.  I’ve been getting some good essays, so I’ll keep the assignments vague and flexible so long as the quality remains high.

Here are the citations for the above works:


Grant, Edward. The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages : Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts Cambridge History of Science. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.


Grant, Edward. A History of Natural Philosophy: From the Ancient World to the Nineteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.


Hildegard von Bingen: come up with something convincing….


Lucretius Carus, Titus, R. E. Latham, and John Godwin. On the Nature of the Universe. Translated by R. E. Latham and with Introduction and Notes by John Godwin. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.


McClellan, James E., and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology in World History : An Introduction. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Here is an interesting female figure from the Medieval period. 

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).

Here is her Wiki-entry: here.  Look at the pictures on this site closely and see if you can figure out any of the symbols or the numerology or the astrology.  I put a few of these pictures on this web page.  A few more pictures appear here.


Here are two pieces written by Hildegard:

Hildegard-O_frondens.mp3 [2.2MB] – see lyrics below…


Hildegard-Garbarek-O_ignis_spiritus-excerpt.mp3 [2.3MB]

They are a bit idiosyncratic, but quite lovely.  She was a polymath (botanist, physician, illustrator, composer, playwrite, herbalist, natural philosopher, linguist…etc.) and a religious visionary/mystic from the 12th c. 


Follow along with the lyrics to “O frondens virga,” which comes from Ordo Virtutum (The Play of the Virtues),

which was included in some manuscript collections called Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum

("Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations"). 

Following along with the lyrics helps you listen more closely. 

I put my awkward translation on the right.


O frondens virga,                                                        Oh, the leafy scepter sprouting forth,

In tua nobilitate stans,                                     In your nobility standing firm,

sicut aurora procedit.                                                 As the sunrise advances.

Nunc gaude et laetare et nos debiles dignare  Now rejoice and be glad and be free

a mala consuetudine liberare,                         from that evil affair/knowledge that deems us weak

atque manum tuam porrige ad erigendum nos.          and extend your hand to raise us up.




What is going on in these do you suppose?


More information on Hildegard can be found here: Hildegard_of_Bingen-Music-Article-1.3MB.pdf

[Email me for a .doc version if you need all the links to work.]

Review Materials posted 10/10/08








Back to Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]


Me –

PeutingerMapLectureNotes.htm (This is a link to information on Agrippa’s or Peutinger’s Map.  This same link is on the Assignment 4 page.)

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