I had heard that St. Isidore of Seville (ca. 560–636) was the unofficial patron saint of the internet but until today (his feast day) I had no idea of his literary accomplishments. Here is a bit from Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
He was a compiler of popular knowledge rather than an original thinker, claiming that his works contained all that the clergy of future generations needed to know. He left a storehouse of knowledge that was extensively quarried for a thousand years. His most encyclopedic work was the “Etymologies” (from the number of words whose meaning he explained) or “Origins” (because explanation of words led to origins of things). Its twenty [!] volumes set out to cover the then sum total of human knowledge, from grammar and mathematics to God and the Church, the earth, living beings, and even domestic management. Its divisions established the seven liberal arts that formed the basis of medieval education. He also wrote on the books of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, as well as on pagan classical literature, and he passed on his own spiritual and pastoral guidance in another major work, The Book of Sentences. The extent of his influence can be seen in the fact that there are more manuscript copies of his works than of those of any other writer from the pre-printing age.
- The first three of these books are taken up with the trivium and quadrivium. The entire first book is devoted to grammar, including metre. Imitating the example of Cassiodorus and Boethius he preserves the logical tradition of the schools by reserving the second book for rhetoric and dialectic.
- Book four, treats of medicine and libraries;
- book five, of law and chronology;
- book six, of ecclesiastical books and offices;
- book seven, of God and of the heavenly and earthly hierarchies;
- book eight, of the Church and of the sects, of which latter he numbers no less than sixty-eight;
- book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles;
- book ten, of etymology:
- book eleven, of man;
- book twelve, of beasts and birds;
- book thirteen, of the world and its parts;
- book fourteen, of physical geography;
- book fifteen, of public buildings and roadmaking;
- book sixteen, of stones and metals;
- book seventeen, of agriculture;
- book eighteen, of the terminology of war, of jurisprudence, and public games;
- book nineteen, of ships, houses, and clothes;
- book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.
Both his Etymologiae and Sententiae Libri can be found at the Latin Library.
I posted a quote from Sententiae Libri at Sister Earth for those who are interested.
UPDATE: A complete translation of The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville is to be published by Cambridge in a couple of months. Who wouldn’t want a copy of the “encyclopedia of the dark ages”?