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Life Sciences in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

  1. Michael Frampton

Published Online: 15 SEP 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022341

eLS

eLS

How to Cite

Frampton, M. 2010. Life Sciences in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2010

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Abstract

The life sciences in late antiquity (ad300–600) and the early Middle Ages (ad600–1000) centre around the study of three primary categories of ensouled or animate creatures, namely, plants (botany), animals (zoology) and man (anthropology). Major subdisciplines within these general areas of study include pharmacology, medicine, agriculture and veterinary science. The ancient Greek and Roman life scientists of the classical period (600bcad300) established much of the data and many of the fundamental concepts concerning the nature of the cosmos and its living inhabitants which scholars of the post-classical period (ad300–1000) would inherit. The history of the late ancient and the early medieval life sciences is essentially the story of the preservation, dissemination and partial elaboration of classical Graeco-Roman learning within several very different political, linguistic and religious contexts following the dissolution of the political and cultural synthesis that had been established under the Roman Empire (27bcad476).

Key Concepts:

  • Life science in the classical (ad300–600) and post-classical (ad600–1000) periods centres around the study of three primary categories of ensouled or animate creatures, plants (botany), animals (zoology) and man (anthropology), and includes the subdisciplines of medicine, pharmacology, agriculture and veterinary science.

  • Soul (Greek psyche; Latin anima) is the life principle of plants, animals and people, of which there are three broad species: the vegetative, sensitive and rational.

  • Classical anatomy, physiology, medicine, botany and zoology are tacitly accepted in the post-classical period.

  • The interlocking concepts of (1) teleology, (2) the microcosm-macrocosm analogy and (3) the great chain of being provide common conceptual ground for the ancient (classical) and the late ancient/early medieval (post-classical) world views.

  • Classical life science continues to flourish in diverse religious (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) and linguistic (Latin, Greek, Persian, Syriac and Arabic) cultures following the dissolution of the political and cultural synthesis that had been established under the Roman Empire.

  • Greek, Latin, Syriac and Arabic languages are the primary linguistic vehicles in the diffusion of classical knowledge throughout Europe and the Middle East.

  • Linguistic barriers are overcome by a handful of multilingual scholars who live on the borderland of two or more dominant cultures.

  • Christian and Muslim post-classical scholars use their pagan classical heritage selectively by (1) choosing organisation, conciseness and practicality over theoretical and experimental elaboration, and (2) adapting it to the sacred Scriptures of the Judaeo-Christian (Old and New Testament) and Muslim (Koranic) cultures.

Keywords:

  • Graeco-Roman antiquity;
  • late antiquity;
  • Early Middle Ages;
  • religion and science;
  • history;
  • medicine;
  • pharmacology;
  • botany;
  • zoology;
  • veterinary science