Thursday, March 03, 2005

Romans blamed for loss of science during "Dark Ages"

I see that a recent paper by two Coastal Carolina University scholars blames the Romans for a loss of medical knowledge that occurred in the fifth century, pointing out that Romans did not appear to take much interest in wholesale translation of scientific works from Greek to Latin.

HISTORY OF SCIENCE: "It is scarcely true that, in Cisne's words, 'the germ of...science barely made it through the Middle Ages.' On the contrary, from the 12th through 15th centuries, science and scientific medicine constituted two of the most vigorous disciplines pursued in universities across Europe (2). Most Greek scientific and medical literature surviving today from the ancient world was recovered during this period, the texts of Aristotle and Galen [HN7] being the best examples. In addition, new manuscripts were avidly sought and translated--both from Greek and Arabic--and these texts were commented upon in the university system that was itself a forum for discourse and disputation invented by medieval scholars (3). The sorry state of scientific studies at the close of the Roman Empire in the fifth century reflected Roman, not medieval, failures and shortcomings (4). Although the Latin language was capable of communicating scientific ideas, most Romans showed little interest in wholesale scholarly translations from Greek (5). The precipitous decline in Greek literacy among the Latinate population in the Western Empire by the 3rd century created a crisis in the transmission of scientific literature that was only corrected in the 12th century, after the many disruptions of the early Middle Ages had subsided and the secular school had been reborn (6). Cisne correctly guesses that the leap from papyrus to parchment [HN8] in late Antiquity was one crucial element in the survival of texts, but there were many others (7). Finally, high-to-late medieval enthusiasm for science suffered at the close of the Middle Ages, when humanists of the Renaissance turned away from scientific studies (3, 8). Many humanists impugned the scientific tradition derived from Islam, and only came to embrace science in the 16th century after leading theorist-practitioners had adopted the humanists' own classicizing methods."
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