The Foundations of Understanding

“Tender years should first be instructed in rules of the art or grammar, in analogies, in barbarisms, in solecisms, in tropes and schemata.  These are the studies on which Donatus, Servius, Priscian, Isidore, Bede, and Cassiodorus expounded with much diligence, which rest assured they would not have done if the foundation of science could be laid without these.  For Quintilian, too, who transmits this discipline and asserts it should be transmitted, extols it with such praises that he openly protests that without it the name of science cannot exist.  Caius Caesar published books on analogy, knowing that without this science neither prudence, in which he was most perfect, nor eloquence, in which he was most potent, could easily be obtained by anyone.  Marcus Tullius, as is plain from his frequent letters, diligently invites his son to study grammar which he cherished most tenderly.  And what use is it to evolve schedules, to found verbose Summae and invert cunning sophismata, to damn the writings of the ancients, and to reprove everything not found in the syllabi of their masters. It is written, that science is in the ancients….For one does not ascend from ignorance to the light of science, unless the writings of the ancients are pored over zealously.” Peter of Blois, “A Letter Written About 1160 by Peter of Blois, ‘Concerning Two Boys Whom He is Tutoring,’ ” in University Records and Life in the Middle Ages, ed. and trans. Lynn Thorndike (New York: Columbia University, 1944), pp. 16-17.

In this text Peter of Blois described the foundations of understanding in the 12th century: grammar.  ‘Science’ in this reading should be translated as ‘knowledge’ because it does not mean ‘science’ in the current 21st-century meaning.



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