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Isidore of Seville, 'Zones of the World,' In A Scientific Textbook

Isidore of Seville, 'Zones of the World,' In A Scientific Textbook

Date: 1122

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Tiberius C I

Item number: f.11v

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

The 16th-century English bibliophile, Robert Cotton, sometimes bound together unrelated manuscripts. This one contains a fragment of an early 12th-century English scientific textbook from Peterborough and an 11th-century pontifical (manual of services conducted by a bishop), part of which was probably made in France but to which additions were made at Sherborne Abbey in Dorset. The scientific textbook comes from two types of sources. First, an early medieval natural science tradition began in the treatises of Isidore of Seville and Bede, and was later expanded by Abbo of Fleury, who lived at Ramsey in the 10th century. To this tradition belong diagrams incorporating Christian doctrine into classical theories on the structure of the heavens and earth. A second component is astrological. Monks and churchmen used this textbook in their theological training. Annals in another part of the book giving the death dates of Peterborough abbots and the handwriting's similarity to that of the Peterborough Chronicle (at the Bodleian Library, Oxford) place the manuscript's origin at that monastery. This page excerpts Isidore of Seville's 'De natura rerum' ('On the nature of things'). Quoting Vergil and Varro among others, he speaks of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers' views of the structure of the world. In these theories, the world and the heavens may be divided into different numbers of zones. The two diagrams show five zones, the upper one those of the heavens, the lower of the earth, with the land of Ethiopia and the Sipheian mountains in the centre--presumably because in classical cosmology Ethiopia, meaning lands south of Egypt, was a mythic utopia with a geography created by cosmologists. These diagrams closely resemble those in other copies of 'De natura rerum' as well as later copies of Bede's 'De temporibus' ('On time').

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