Basing, John (DNB00)

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BASING or BASINGSTOKE, JOHN (d. 1252), archdeacon of Leicester, takes his name from the town of Basingstoke in Hampshire. According to Leland he laid the foundation of his knowledge at Oxford; and we learn from his friend Matthew Paris that he spent some time in Paris. He seems to have been one of the earliest Englishmen who possessed a real knowledge of Greek, and was probably one of the first natives of our islands—if we except the doubtful instance of Johannes Scotus Erigena—who perfected himself in this language by a sojourn at Athens. Leland assures us that, so far as he could learn ‘from an almost infinite extent of reading,’ he could only recall two similar instances, and both instances given by him are highly mythical. There seem, however, to have been other English students at Athens about the same time, possibly drawn to those parts, as has been suggested, by relationship to members of the Varangian guard. While in this city, according to Matthew Paris, John Basingstoke became acquainted with a remarkable Athenian girl, of whose doings he gave that author an account for the purposes of his history. ‘A certain girl, by name Constantina, the daughter of the Athenian archbishop, though only nineteen years of age, had surmounted all the difficulties of the Trivium and Quadrivium, for which reason Master John used jestingly to call her a second Katerina for the extent of her knowledge. This lady was the instructress of Master John; and, as he used ofttimes to assert, though he had long been a student at Paris, he had acquired from her whatever attainments he possessed in science.’ This girl, according to the historian, used to foretell pestilences, thunderstorms, eclipses, and even earthquakes with unerring certainty. Constantina is generally supposed to have been the daughter of Michael Acominatus, archbishop of Athens in the early years of the thirteenth century (Lequien, Oriens Christianus, ii. 174). On his return home John Basingstoke was, according to Bale, appointed archdeacon of London. But this statement is probably due to a confusion of John Basingstoke with William Basinges, who was dean of London about 1212 (cf. Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 308, and Tanner). If Mr. Luard is right in assigning Letter xvii. of the ‘Epistolæ Grosseteste’ to the year 1235, John had by this time returned to England, and was already archdeacon of Leicester; for Grosseteste appeals to him as witness of his willingness to make W. de Grana an allowance out of his private purse, though, on account of his youth, he refuses to give the boy a cure of souls. John Basingstoke, indeed, seems to have been a great friend of Grosseteste, as might perhaps have been expected in so ardent a lover of letters, and one himself skilled in Greek and Hebrew. It was he, Matthew Paris tells us, who brought under this bishop's notice that strange apocryphal work, the ‘Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs,’ ‘which is acknowledged to be part and parcel of the Bible, but to have been long hidden away by the envy of the Jews, on account of the manifest prophecies of Christ contained therein.’ On hearing of this work from John of Basingstoke, Grosseteste sent into Greece for the book, and with the aid of one Master Nicholas, clerk of St. Albans, translated it into Latin ‘for the strengthening of the christian faith and the confusion of the Jews.’ This took place about the year 1242 according to Matthew Paris, who also tells us that John brought over with him the Greek system of numeration, according to which ‘any number could be represented by a single figure.’ Of this curious method of numeration an upright line forms the basis, and the first three numbers are formed by hooking on a short line to the top of the basis on the left-hand side, so as to form respectively an oblique, a right, and an acute angle; three similar hooks applied to the middle of the upright line stand for 4, 5, and 6; and again three more applied to the bottom for 7, 8, and 9. The numbers 10, 20, 30, &c., are formed on exactly the same principle—the only difference being that the hooks are transferred to the right side. To form any compound number, hooks are added to both sides; as, for example, 55, which thus takes the shape of a cross, and is ‘the worthiest of all these figures,’ according to Matthew Paris. Leland assures us that Basingstoke, on his return home, did much to encourage the rising generation to study Greek; and we know from Matthew Paris that he translated a Greek grammar into Latin, to which he gave the name of ‘Donatus Græcorum.’ He likewise wrote a book on the parts of speech, and another work, ‘which he got from the Athenians,’ in which the order of the Gospel events is set forth. This would seem to be the same work which Leland and his followers call a ‘Concordia Evangeliorum.’ Tanner speaks of a manuscript copy of this as existing in Sion College library in his days. The death of John Basingstoke occurred in the year 1252, greatly to the grief of Simon de Montfort, as Matthew Paris is careful to add.

[Matthew Paris, sub anno 1252 (R.S.), v. 284–7, iv. 232–3; Leland, 266; Bale, 302; Pits, 325; Epistolæ Grosseteste (Rolls Ser.), 63; Finlay's History of Greece, iv. 134; Sp. Lambros in his pamphlet Αἱ Ἀθῆναι, pp. 48–50 (Athens, 1878), adduces very strong reasons against the Acominatus theory of Hopf (see Brockhaus' Griechenland, vi. 176–7, in Ersch and Grüber's Encyclopädie), and considers Constantina the daughter of the Latin archbishop appointed after the Frankish conquest of Athens (c. 1205), rather than of Michael who was metropolitan from 1182–1205.]

T. A. A.