Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adelard of Bath

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578485Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01 — Adelard of Bath1885Robert Adamson

ADELARD of Bath (12th cent.), a writer on philosophy, of English birth, flourished about the beginning of the twelfth century. His English name was Æthelhard. His native place is said to have been Bath; but of the facts of his life little is known beyond the few references to travels contained in his own writings, and an entry in the Pipe Roll, 31 Henry I (1130), granting him a small sum of money from the revenues of Wiltshire (Pipe Roll, ed. Hunter, p. 22). He is said to have studied at Tours and Laon, and to have lectured in the latter school. He then travelled much more widely than was at the time common, and appears to have passed through Spain, the north of Africa, Greece, and Asia Minor. He was one of those Englishmen who lived for a time in the Norman kingdom of Sicily, and he is known to have visited Syracuse and Salerno. Later writers have ascribed to him profound knowledge of the Greek and Arab science and philosophy, but in regard to this nothing can be laid down with certainty. That Adelard knew Greek is almost certain; but it has not yet been determined whether the translation of Euclid's ‘Elements’ (undoubtedly executed by him, though often ascribed to Campanus of Novara, with whose comments it was published in 1482 at Venice) was made from an Arab version or from the original. From the character of the translation, the former supposition seems the more satisfactory. On his return from travel, Adelard threw into systematic shape such of the Arab teachings as he had acquired, and the work—printed some time after 1472, though without date, under the title ‘Perdifficiles Quæstiones Naturales’—seems to have enjoyed some popularity. Other treatises, on the astrolabe, on the abacus, and a translation of the Kharismian Tables, exist in manuscript (see Jourdain, Recherches sur les Traductions d'Aristote, 2nd ed., 1843, pp. 97–8). The most notable work in respect of philosophy is entitled ‘De Eodem et Diverso’ (on Identity and Difference), and exists only in manuscript (see Jourdain, as above, pp. 260–273). It is in the usual allegorical form, and unfolds the arguments by which the divinities, Philocosmia (Worldliness) and Philosophia, accompanied respectively by the five foolish satisfactions of fortune, power, dignity, fame, and pleasure, and by the seven wise virgins, the Liberal Arts, endeavour to win the soul of man. Apart from quaintness of form, the work is remarkable as stating one of the many solutions offered by mediæval thinkers to the pressing difficulty of reconciling the real existence of the individual with the equally real existence of the species or genus. Adelard, defining the individual as the only existent, at the same time finds in the said individual, when regarded in various fashions, the species and the genus. Species and genus are, therefore, indifferent to the peculiarities of the individual, identical amid diversity; and the view appears to its author to furnish a means of reconciling Platonic idealism with Aristotelian empiricism.

[On Adelard see, in addition to Pits, whose literary notices are rarely of much value, Jourdain, as above, pp. 97–9, 258–77, 452–4; Hauréau, Phil. Scolastique, 2nd ed. 1872, i. 345–61.]

R. A.